The Land of the Sleepless Watchdog

by David Starr Jordan

If from almost any given point in the United States you start out towards the Southwest, you will reach in time the Land of the Sleepless Watchdog. On each of the scattered farms, defending it against all intruders, you will find a band of eager and vociferous dogs—dogs who magnify their calling because they have no other, and who, by the same token lose all sense of proportion in life. It is “theirs not to reason why,” but to put up warnings and threats, and to be ready for the fight that never comes.

If you enter a domain without previous understanding with them, you are powerless for mischief, for you are in the center of a publicity beside which any other publicity is that of a hermit’s cell. The whole farm knows where you are, and all are suspicious of your predatory intentions. You can have none under these conditions. Meanwhile the whole pack voices its opinion of you and your unworthiness.

This is supposing that you are actually there. If you are not, it amounts to the same thing. Every dog knows that you meant to be there, or at any rate, that to be there was the scheme of someone equally bad. The slightest rustle of the wind, the call of a bird, the ejaculation responsive to a flea—any of these, anything to set the pack going.

And one pack starts the next. And the cries of the two start the third and the fourth, and each of these reacts on the first. The cry passes along the line, “We have him at last, the mad invader.” There being no other enemy, they cry out against each other. And of late years, since the barbed wire choked the cattle ranges, and gave pause to the coyote, there has been no enemy. But the dogs are there, though their function has passed away. It is but a tradition—a remembrance. Only to the dogs themselves does any reality exist.

Yet, such is the nature of dogs and men, the watchdog was never more numerous nor more alert than today. He was never in better voice, and having nothing whatever to do, he does it to the highest artistic perfection. At least one justification remains. Civilization has not done away with the moon. In the stillness of night, its great white face peeps over the hills at intervals no dog has yet determined. Under this weird light, strange shadowy forms trip across the fields. The watchdogs of each farm have given warning, and the whole countryside is eager with vociferation.

Men say the Sleepless Watchdog’s bark is worse than his bite. This may be, but it is certain that his feed is worse than both bark and bite together. In the language of economics, the Sleepless Watchdog is an unremunerative investment. He has “eaten his master out of house and home,” and by the same token, he imagines that he himself is now the master.


By this time, the gentle but astute reader has observed that this is no common “Dog Story,” but a parable of the times we live in; and that the real name of the Land of the Sleepless (but unremunerative) Watchdog is indeed Europe.

And because of the noisy and costly futility of the whole system in his own and other countries, Professor Ottfried Nippold of Frankfort-on-the-Main, has made a special study of the Watchdogs of Germany.

The good people of the Fatherland some forty years ago were drawn into a great struggle with their neighbors beyond the Rhine. To divert his subjects’ attention from their ills at home, the Emperor of France wagered his Rhine provinces against those of Prussia, in the game of War. The Emperor lost, and the King of Prussia took the stakes: for in those days it was a divine right of Kings to deal in flesh and blood.

The play is finished, the board is cleared, Alsace and Lorraine were added to Germany, and the mistake is irretrievable. A fact accomplished cannot be blotted out. But hopeless as it all is, there are watchdogs who, on moonlight nights, call across the Vosges for revenge—for honor, for War, War, War. And the German watchdogs cry War, War, War. The word sounds the same in all languages. The watchdogs bark, but the battle will never begin.

It is Professor Nippold’s purpose, in his little book Der Deutsche Chauvinismus, to show that the clamor is not all on one side. The watchdogs of the Paris Boulevards are noisy enough, but those of Berlin are just the same. And as these are not all of Germany, so the others are not all of France. A great, thrifty, honest, earnest, cultured nation does not find its voice in the noises of the street. On the other hand, Germany, industrious, learned, profound and brave, is busy with her own affairs. She would harm no one, but mind her own business. But she is entangled in mediæval fashions. She has her own band of watchdogs, as noisy, as futile, as unthinkingly clamorous as ever were those of France. The “Sleepless Watchdog” in France is known as a Chauvinist, in England as a Jingo, in Prussia as a Pangermanist. They all bay at the same moon, are excited over the same fancies; they hear nothing, see nothing but one another. All alike live in an unreal world, in its essentials a world of their own creation. With all of them the bark is worse than the bite, and their “Keep” is more disastrous than both together.

And as each nation should look after its own, Dr. Nippold lists—blacklists if you choose—the Chauvinists of Germany.

At first glance, they make an imposing showing. A long series of newspapers, dozens of pamphlets, categories of bold and impressive warnings against the schemes of England and France, a set of appeals in the name of patriotism, of religion, of force, of violence. A long-drawn call to hate, to hate whatever is not of our own race or class; and above all the banding together of the “noblest” profession as against the encroachments of mere civilians, of men whose hands are soiled with other stains than blood.

We have, first and foremost, General Keim, Keim the invincible, Keim the insatiable, Keim of the Army-League, Keim the arch hater of England and of Russia and of France, Keim the jewel of the fighting Junker aristocracy of Prussia—the band of warriors who despise all common soldiers—“white slave” conscripts, and with them all civilians, who at the best are only potential common soldiers. “War, war, on both frontiers,” is Keim’s obsessing vision. War being inevitable and salutary, it cannot come too soon. The duty of hate, he urges on all the youth of Germany, maidens as well as men. It is said that Keim is the only man of the day who can maintain before an audience of Christians such a proposition as this: “We must learn to hate, and to hate with method. A man counts little who cannot hate to a purpose. Bismarck was hate.”

From Gaston Choisy’s clever character sketch of General Keim, we learn that as a soldier or tactician, he was a man of no note. He has no ability as a thinker or as a speaker, but this he has: “the courage of his vulgarity.” “At the age of 68, suffering from Bright’s Disease, he travelled all Germany, his great head always in ebullition, gathering everywhere for the war-fire all the news, all the stories and all the lies susceptible of aiding the Cause.” “Without Bismarck’s authority, he had his manner—a mixture of baseness, of atrocious joviality, a studied cynicism and a lack of conscience.” “How generous are circumstances! The spirit of Von Moltke the silent, with the speech of an enfant terrible, an endless flow of language, an endless course of words.”

To the Chauvinists of France, Keim is indeed Germany. As to his own country, Von Ferlach sagely remarks: “Keims and Keimlings unfortunately are all about us. But they are a vanishing minority.” The great culture peoples do not hate one another. (“Die grossen Kultur-volker hassen einander nicht.”)

Next on the black list, comes General Frederick von Bernhardi, with his Germany and the Next War, the need to obliterate France, while giving the needed chastisement to England. A retired officer of cavalry, said to be disgruntled through failure of promotion, a tall, spare, serious, prosy figure, a writer without inspiration, a speaker without force. Germany has never taken him seriously; for he lacks even the clown-charm of his rival Keim, but the mediæval absurdities and serious extravagances in his defense of war are well tempered to stir the eager watchdogs in the rival lands. In spite of his pleas, “historical, biological and philosophical,” for war, he is a man of peace, for which, in the words of General Eichhorn, “one’s own sword is the best and strongest pledge.”

Doubtless other retired officers hold views of the same sort, as do doubtless many who could not be retired too soon for the welfare of Germany. Into the nature of their patriotism, the Zabern incident has thrown a great light. “Other lands may possess an army,” a Prussian officer is quoted as saying, “the army possesses Germany.”

The vanities and follies of Prussian militarism are concentrated in the movement called Pangermanism. Behind this, there seem to be two moving forces, the Prussian Junker aristocracy, and the financial interests which center about the house of Krupp. The purposes of Pangermanism seem to be, on the one hand, to prevent parliamentary government in Germany; and on the other, to take part in whatever goes on in the world outside. Just now, the control of Constantinople is the richest prize in sight, and that fateful city is fast replacing Alsace in the passive role of “the nightmare of Europe.” The journalists called Conservative find that “Germany needs a vigorous diplomacy as a supplement to her power on land and sea, if she is to exercise the influence she deserves.” And a vigorous foreign policy is but another name for the use of the War System as a means of pushing business. From the daily press of Germany may be culled many choice examples of idle Jingo talk, but analysis of the papers containing it shows their affiliation with the “extreme right,” a small minority in German politics, potent only through the indiscretions of the Crown Prince, and through the fact that the Constitution of Germany gives its people no control over administrative affairs. The journals of this sort—the Tägliche Rundschau, the Berliner Post, the Deutsche Tageszeitung, and the Berliner Neueste Nachrichten are the property of Junker reactionists, or else, like the Lokal Anzeiger, the Rheinisch-Westphalische Zeitung, the organs merely of the War trade House of Krupp. Out from the ruck of hack writers, there stands a single imposing figure, Maximilian Harden, the “poet of German politics,” who “casts forth heroic gestures and thinks of politics in terms of æsthetics, the prophet of a great, strong and saber-rattling nation,” whose force shall be felt everywhere under the sun.

Bloodthirsty pamphlets in numbers, are listed by Nippold. But the anonymous writers (“Divinator,” “Rhenanus,” “Lookout,” “Deutscher,” “Politiker,” “Activer General” and “Deutscher Officier”) count for less than nothing in personal influence. They do little more than bay at the moon.

Impressive as Nippold’s list seems at first, and dangerous to the peace of the world, after all one’s final thought is this: How few they are, and how scant their influence, as compared with the wise, sane, commonsense of sixty millions of German people. The two great papers that stand for peace and sanity, the Berliner Tageblatt and the Frankfurter Zeitung, with the Münchener Neueste Nachrichten, are read daily by more Germans than all the reactionary sheets combined. The Socialist organ Vorwaerts, avowedly opposed to monarchy as well as to militarism, carries farther than all the organs of Pangermanism of whatever kind.

We may justly conclude that the war spirit is not the spirit of Germany, a nation perforce military because the people cannot help themselves. So far as it goes, it is the spirit of a narrow clique of “sleepless watchdogs” whose influence is waning, and would be non-existent were it not for the military organization which holds Germany by the throat, but which has pushed the German people just as far as it dares.

A second lesson is that while forms of government, and social traditions, may differ, the relation of public opinion towards war is practically the same in all the countries of Western Europe. It is in its way the test of European civilization. Each nation has its “sleepless watchdogs,” and those of one nation fire the others, when the proper war scares are set in motion by the great unscrupulous group of those who profit by them. The war promoters, the apostles of hate, form a brotherhood among themselves, and their success in frightening one nation reacts to make it easier to scare another.

This the reader may remember, as a final lesson. There is no civilized nation which longs for war. There is nowhere a reckless populace clamoring for blood. The schools have done away with all that. The spread of commerce has brought a new Earth with new sympathies and new relations, in which international war has no place.

If you are sure that your own nation has no design to use violence on any other, you may be equally sure that no other has evil designs on you. The German fleet is not built as a menace to England; whether it be large or small should concern England very little. Just as little does the size of the British fleet bear any concern to Germany. The German fleet is built against the German people. The growth of the British army and navy has in part the same motive. Armies and navies hold back the waves of populism and democracy. They seem a bulwark against Socialism. But in the great manufacturing and commercial nations, they will not be used for war, because they cannot be. The sacrifice appalls: the wreck of society would be beyond computation.

But still the sleepless watchdogs bark. It is all that they can do, and we should get used to them. In our own country, whatever country it may be, we have our own share of them, and some of them bear distinguished names. No other nation has any more, and no nation takes them really seriously, any more than we do. And one and all, their bark is worse than their bite, and the cost of feeding them is doubtless worse than either.