Burden of war can’t shift to the future (1918)

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Burden of carrying on the war cannot be shifted to the future

by Roy G Blakely, PhD, University of Minnesota

When we stop to think, we know that it is not twenty-one billions of of dollars which our government wants ultimately, but twenty billion dollars’ worth of commodities and service. Our national income does not consist of forty-five or fifty billions of dollars of gold, silver, and paper, but of that many dollars’ worth of wheat, lumber, minerals, clothing, automobiles, etc. There are less than five billions of actual gold, silver and paper dollars in existence in the United States.

These dollars are the counters in terms of which the real things are measured, and by means of which they are exchanged more easily. For our present purposes, to have gold or silver or paper is not to have anything of value in itself, but merely to have a claim upon real things for which it can be exchanged. It is obvious that our government needs money in order that it may exchange it for men and commodities, for it is with these that it must fight the German military forces. It is obvious, also, that it must have these men and commodities now. Munitions of 1930 and men not yet born cannot be hurled against the enemy’s lines. The burden of furnishing all of these things must be assumed now; it cannot be put off till the future.

If we could borrow from other nations, we might fight the war with what they loaned to us and we ourselves go ahead consuming what we produce, as we have been doing before the war. In that case, we could shift the paying of them — that is, the burden of the way — to the future. But there are no other nations who can lend to us at this time; we ourselves must raise an army, equip it and keep it supplied. Not only must all of this be done at home, but in addition we must help to feed and equip our allies. None of this can be left to the future.

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Of course the next generation will be injured because of this war. Billions of dollars’ worth of labor and food and steel and other materials that are now absolutely destroyed in war are diverted from the construction of railroads, irrigation systems, manufacturing plants, improved roads, houses, all of which might have aided our descendants and made their lives fuller and happier. If a man’s property is destroyed, his children receive an impaired heritage; both he and they suffer. Our descendants must suffer in this fashion because much of their patrimony is being destroyed.

But their sacrifice in the future cannot relieve our present sacrifice by one jot or tittle. We cannot, as a nation, postpone our burden if we would, nor can the future help us. Then why delude ourselves with thinking that it can?


WWI poster illustration at top: “Nothing stops these men, let nothing stop you” by Howard Giles/ John H Eggers Co Inc, New York, for the United States Shipping Board Emergency Fleet Corporation (1918)

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