By Noha El Toumie and Brandon Carr
By the middle of 1915 the ideological struggle concerning U.S. involvement in the first world war reached a fever pitch and not even literary publications like The Little Review could resist printing bold war critiques. Although war editorials in The Little Review often attempted balanced liberal presentations, The Little Review was forced to consolidate its views if only to prevent a political misstep in the emotionally charged months that followed the sinking of the Lusitania. Specifically, we will argue, The Little Review war editorials use the question of a growing military industry and anxieties over religion to criticize both pacifists and nationalists and develop a political position without specifically recommending a course of action for U.S. involvement in the war. A brief comparison with another 1915 war editorial from the conservative French publication l’Action Française and a 1915 Scribner’s advertisement contextualizes the conflict between nation and religion showing the ways in which a secular nationalism developed in response to French and American conceptions of the Central powers and a nascent Marxist and Christian internationalism.
What emerges between editorials like Alexander Kaun’s June piece“Notes of a Cosmopolite,” and Emma Goldman’s December piece “Preparedness: The Road to Universal Slaughter” is the sense that in 1915 even a literary publication had to balance its criticism of the nationalist sentiment generated in support of the war by ex-president Roosevelt with criticism of the pacifist statements being made by Woodrow Wilson. Kaun is slightly more critical of the pacifist sentiment, deriding Wilson’s “obsolete verbosity” (9), “nearly each eloquent Note [of which] has been responded to by a German Torpedo” (9) and sarcastically praising the Germans for their bravery. Both Kaun and Goldman, however, share a similar reading of the total situation. In the words of Goldman, “the difference between Wilson and Roosevelt is this: Roosevelt, the bully, uses the club; Wilson, the historian, the college professor, wears the smooth polished university mask, but underneath it he, like Roosevelt, has but one aim, to serve the big interests, to add to those who are growing phenomenally rich by the manufacture of military preparedness” (8). Both Goldman and Kaun conclude that militarism as an industry renders pacifist and pro-war ideologies bedfellows in the common cause of selling armaments.
Although The Little Review war editorials recognize the influential role of military industry, their Marxist positions struggle with directly promoting a secular worldview. For example, in response to Wilson’s use of “humanity” and similar evocations of the term after the sinking of the Lusitania, Kaun questions these rhetorical appeals asking, “who is this Mme. Humanity in whose name we demand the right to send shells to Europe,” (9) and, “why these appeals in the name of humanity” (10). Kaun’s argument is a part of his sarcastic praise for the Germans. Unlike Wilson’s empty threats, the sinking of the Lusitania “merely proved the consistent and consequential policy of Germany” (10). Kaun is clear, however, that whatever we may have thought about the cultural factors influencing the division between the Central Powers and the Allies (a division commonly thought through religious terms), German efficiency is not the result of a “Christian militarism” (11). Citing a letter written by the painter Wilhelm Heine nearly forty years earlier, Kaun refutes the idea of a “sanctimonious Prussia,” whose corporal officer dips his weapon “in holy water” (11). Instead, both Goldman and Kaun argue that the modern Prussian is defined by an “efficiency and preciseness” (Kaun, 11) directly attributable to the new relations of production developed under the modern stage of capitalism. Goldman takes this connection even further by suggesting that the influence of “the family Krupp, which owns the largest cannon munition plant in the world . . . extends to the press, the school, [and] the church” (11). The attention paid in these passages to separate religious influence from the mechanized world view created by modern industry testifies to a certain anxiety over presenting a strictly secular worldview even in a liberal literary publication.
The Little Review’s struggle with a secular worldview can be contextualized by briefly reviewing the intersection of war related nationalism and religion in other artifacts from 1915. A 1915 Scribner’s advertisement added to the Modernist Magazines Timeline by Nickeisha Grey includes an eclectic selection of titles, including a book on the manuscript tradition of the Bible, an agricultural book titled The Holy Earth, a book detailing the history of Constantinople and an ad for Frederic Howe’s Socialized Germany. In this advertisement, the history of Constantinople clearly marks religious tensions over Ottoman involvement in the war and anticipates the post-war attempts to establish a nationalist and secular government in the region. The Biblical scholarship, while appealing to Christian interests, is clearly secular in focus and the agricultural book couches a scientific presentation in religious terms. In a another 1915 war editorial from the conservative French publication l’Action Française, Louis Dimier objects to the conservative publication’s recommendation for a broad war defense strategy that upholds the rights of different European territories, developing a secular nationalism in direct opposition to Christian appeals for more inclusive defense strategies. Dimier states that “under current circumstances, we can not accept that people allow themselves in the name of religion to express opinions or lecture on French patriotism” (1). Like The Little Review war editorials, Dimier’s position examines, from the conservative side, the anxiety over an internationalism at once Marxist and Christian and challenges it with a secular nationalism.
The Little Review war editorials choose to focus on a specific reading of Marxism, one that emphasizes a mechanization that subjugates the soul and genius. Specifically, The Little Review continues to defend a position between active military engagement and pacifism by developing a new typology of the “German barbarian” one that challenges ideas of a Prussian Christian militarism by emphasizing capitalism’s effect on the artist. And, here the parallels in these passages are so exact that they demonstrate the extent of unification in the editorial direction for The Little Review towards the war in 1915. Goldman explains that “you cannot have militarism with freeborn man; you must have slaves, automatons, machines” (9) and Kaun describes the Germans, saying that “they are not geniuses . . . [but] the reverse of geniuses. They do not rise above reality; they adapt themselves to facts” (11). As a literary publication with an educated and largely upperclass readership The Little Review is attempting to articulate and maintain a socialist sympathy in terms that are not alienating. To do so, they create an image of the genius oppressed, his individual expression restricted by the mentality of modern industry.
The Little Review war editorials attempted to resolve the conflict between pacifism and pro-war sentiment in the United States by appealing to an industrial militarism, focused on the manufacture and sale of munitions, that operates unaffected whether the U.S. entered the war or not. Their Marxist critique, however, had to find a place within a 1915 political sphere in which the war had created a tension between nation and religion. This tension was in part due to the use of secularism to consolidate nationalist programs that saw the Central Powers and Marxist Internationalism as jeopardizing the security of the nation during the war. The Little Review manifested this tension as a reluctance to fully embrace a secular worldview and as a specific focus on the subjugation of genius by industrial militarism. Although often framed between block quotes and numerous references to Nietzsche, this theory was just one way The Little Review developed a political position without specifically recommending a course of action for U.S. involvement in the war.
Dimier, Louis. “Les Droits De Nations.” l’Action Française. January 1915: 1-2.
Goldman, Emma. “Preparedness: Universal Slaughter.” The Little Review. December 1915: 7-12.
Kaun, Alexander S. “Notes of a Cosmopolite.” The Little Review. June-July 1915: 9-17.