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THE REGIMENTATION OF THE FREE
Robert A. Woods, President of the National Conference of Social Work; Head of South End House, Boston
The National Conference a year ago placed itself in the fullest accord with the government in the war for elemental justice between the nations. In this great and terrible day, at what seems more nearly the crisis of the world than any other moment in history, it meets again with a still more distinct and ruling purpose. It seeks to gather all the resources that it can represent for their maximum contribution to the great cause which has become none other than that of world-wide humanity.
Extraordinary incitement has come to all our loyal forces as the breadth and profound significance of their service has been more surely realized. At first they seemed like merely moderating and assuaging influences, designed to reduce somewhat the roughness of preparations for war, and the misery and horror accompanying its prosecution. Soon it began to be proved that very many of them, whether or not associated directly with the army and navy or with the industries serving the armed forces, were able to make material, structural contributions to the actual organization and promotion of the war itself. The truth has been rediscovered and far more broadly applied, which was first fully brought to light by Florence Nightingale in the Crimean War, that "the cause of humanity is identified with the strength of armies."
One of the deepest cleavages between the two great groups of warring powers today comes of the fact that the Western Allies are pledged to the principle, that not only is the aggressively humanized process of war the only sort consistent with twentieth century civilization, but that it represents the truly discerning path of national military achievement. The whole process of preparing for and prosecuting war as practiced by the Germans is based on the unconscionable theory that, apart from the most obvious considerations, humanitarian motives are to be relentlessly excluded. The United States is going to make the final surge which will decide the war in favor of liberty and humanity. America will carry to the highest emphasis the kind of warfare which includes the varied results of our national scheme of social work as turned so comprehensively to national service. Among the implications to be projected by the right issue of the war into the future will be a wholly new conviction of the achieving power of the widening subject matter of this Conference.
Social work, on the other hand, is today hardened and sharpened by the inflexible resolve to which the democratic nations are committed. It must do its part with the celerity, the precision, the carried-through effectualness which war demands. It must go forward steeled to its purpose no less surely than if its personnel were fighting at the front. For years those nearest like-minded to ourselves in Germany, when they thought with free minds, have clearly recognized that their only hope lay in an unsuccessful war. We can see now that this has been the fact, so far as Germany is concerned; and, as by the falling of scales from our eyes, we realize that the chance of what to us is human progress lies only in pushing forward every needful military measure toward the overthrow of German autocracy. It is even true that humanitarian democracy, in the light of the real character and power of German militarism, may become more deeply involved in a policy of war to the bitter end than any other body of opinion and sentiment.
It is in marked fulfillment of our hopes that as, under this ultimate conviction, the nation has been summoned to its varied duty in the promotion and re-enforcement of the war, such deep dependence has been placed upon the agencies represented in the Conference. Gladly rendering their contribution to the ranks of the armed forces, to the immediately related services, to the departments of the government and the national and state councils of public defense—they have also in no slight degree provided the framework by which the civilian life of the nation has been brought together into a great system wholly unexampled in the history of the country and representing an achievement on the part of the American people which, in the light of all the facts, is as considerable as the gathering, equipping and training of the armies themselves. "The stupendous organization of the nation for relief and social service," is a fact which from the distinctive point of view of this Conference is quite overwhelming in its significance and potency. That so vast social energies can be elicited and assembled and—under the American principle of "governing partly by administration, partly by liberty"— so converged upon the immeasureable but enthralling task, is a matter to be recorded in a whole new chapter of the evolution of our democracy.
For some years previous to the war period, there has been an encouraging tendency on the part of our social agencies, public and private, to combine their forces for more economic and more productive service. This tendency has greatly aided in preparing them for meeting the vast challenge of the present. Through city federations, state leagues, municipal and state boards of control, and through several hundred national organizations for which the National Conference serves in some part as clearinghouse, the beginnings were wrought out of such a national synthesis as peace no less than war demands. The steadily increasing tendency on the part of all our philanthropic organizations to set their activities over against the needs and possibilities of the objective community, has been broadening and deepening the plan and purpose of each, and bringing all into the sense of a great common cause. It is true that the marked progress of recent years among the churches, away from sectarianism and toward unity has come about largely through the pressure upon all alike of the outside world. In the same way the keen isolations which have often existed among social workers are beginning to disappear as the community is a more and more important watchword among us all. Emphasis upon such tendencies beyond our power to realize is being piled