Chronicle of a Generation
European and American Police Systems
Raymond Blaine Fosdick
THE venture in Detroit proved abortive. I was asked to assist in the legal and financial reorganization of a large concern, and while I never thought of it as anything more than a stepping stone, it became obvious in less than a month that the company was too near the brink of bankruptcy to be salvaged. Just as I was returning to New York I received a letter from Woodrow Wilson, who had been nominated for President the preceding June, asking me if I would serve as comptroller and auditor of the finance committee of the Democratic National Committee. "I should myself feel greatly honored," he added in a warm and gracious sentence, "that a former pupil of mine, who has so distinguished himself in a position of trust, should turn to me at this time."
Without a moment's hesitation I complied with his request, for while I had always thought of myself as a Republican of the progressive stripe, I believed that in Woodrow Wilson the country would find inspiring leadership of a new and unique kind. Until election time, therefore, I had offices in the old Fifth Avenue Hotel in New York, the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee. At Wilson's direction we introduced, for the first time in the party's history, a strict budget system,
(123) with lines of accountability definitely established, and with periodic audits. In following this activity I visited the party's offices in Cleveland, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Chicago, and St. Louis. Our methods came as a shock to the old guard of the Democratic Party. They were not used to that sort of thing and they doubtless put it down as one of the inexplicable peccadilloes of the man to whom in more disparaging moments they referred as "that Princeton professor."
It was an interesting lot of people stationed at the headquarters in New York. William G. McAdoo was there, later Secretary of the Treasury—tall, lean and incisive; and Josephus Daniels, afterward Secretary of the Navy, with his North Carolina accent, his black string ties, and his genial friendliness; and the affable Henry Morgenthau, whom we immediately dubbed "Uncle Henry" and who subsequently served as our Ambassador to Turkey. Billy McCombs was also there—the tragic figure whose promising career was brought to an end by ill health and an ill-adjusted temperament. And then there was a tall, slender, handsome young fellow of great charm—a year older than I was—a man of whom we were all deeply fond. We called him Frank or Franklin. Twenty years later we called him Mr. President.
Wilson himself occasionally dropped in at the headquarters, and some of us went down to Princeton to get his advice. It was a time of intense excitement, especially when Theodore Roosevelt was shot by a would-be assassin, and Wilson temporarily suspended his campaign. The night before election Wilson spoke before a madly cheering audience at Madison Square Garden. He was hoarse and tired, and the meeting was not the kind of occasion for which he was adapted or which he particularly enjoyed. But he acquitted himself magnificently and sent the crowd away with the feeling that a new kind of intelligence had been recruited to serve the public interest.
With the close of the campaign I found myself confronted with a number of possible openings. District Attorney Whitman renewed an earlier offer to appoint me as a special assistant in the trial of Lieutenant Charles Becker of the police department, which promised to be, as indeed it became, one of the most sensational murder cases in the history of the city. But this seemed to me to lead to no concrete goal, and I declined. The governor-elect of New York, William Sulzer, wanted to appoint me chairman of an investigating commission which would serve the state as the Commissioners of Accounts office was serving the city; but this would have taken me back into public life again, and after my five years experience it held no illusions. Two or three attractive business offers developed, but business did not in any way appeal to me. I was interested in law and government, and in my heart I cherished the somewhat nebulous notion of a law practice which would enable me to concern myself with the problems of government without the necessity of holding office.
It was at this moment that John D. Rockefeller, Jr. approached me with a suggestion which after considerable deliberation I accepted. In brief he wanted me to make a broad study of police organization in Europe for the Bureau of Social Hygiene which he had recently created. I had first met Mr. Rockefeller in 1910 when he was chairman of the special grand jury in Manhattan investigating the so-called white slave traffic. A trim, youthful-looking figure, eight or nine years older than I, he had called at my office to discuss the problems growing out of his grand jury experience. The findings of the jury had profoundly disturbed him, and in his earnest way he was searching for some method by which what was then euphemistically known as "the social evil"—as if there were no others--could be continuously and scientifically studied. Thereafter I had seen him on two or three occasions, and once I had been the
(125) speaker at the annual dinner of his Bible class.
The result of his deliberations was the formation of the Bureau of Social Hygiene, and one of its first steps was to send Abraham Flexner to Europe to study the methods in various countries of controlling prostitution. Flexner's book, Prostitution in Europe, is even today one of the great classics in its field. He came back from Europe with the idea that the regulation of prostitution is so intimately related to efficient police organization that until that problem was solved there was little hope of advance in the field which he had been studying. It was this thinking, therefore, that led Mr. Rockefeller to ask me to undertake the investigation. I had had an intimate acquaintance with the police department of New York, and my experience seemed to provide the necessary background.
I estimated that it would take me a year to carry out the assignment—six months in field work and six months to write the book; and because it promised to be an interesting experience I decided that I could afford that amount of time. If I had known that it would take two years instead of one to finish the task, and that I would then go on for another two years to a similar study of police organization in America; if I had realized that this specialized interest would lead in turn to a government assignment on the Mexican border, and later, by a natural step to similar duty in Washington in the First World War; if I had foreseen that the path from Washington would take me into an entirely new concept of governmental activity—the League of Nations—I doubt if I would have had the courage or the desire to wander so far from my original pattern.
Early in January, 1913, my wife and I sailed for Europe, and we were gone for ten months. My first stop was Scotland Yard where I spent nine weeks getting an intimate acquaintance with British concepts and methods of police organization. I carried letters of introduction which opened all doors not only in Lon-
(126) -don but in every European city which I visited, and everywhere I was most hospitably received. The Home Secretary arranged for an office for my use in Scotland Yard where I could see the inside working of the system, and this was the practice in almost every city I went to, even in bureaucratic Berlin, where I had a room in the headquarters on Alexanderplatz. My itinerary took me to practically every large city in Europe except those in Russia. I tried to obtain permission to visit St. Petersburg and Moscow, but when the imperial Russian authorities—for these were the days of the empire—learned the nature of my errand, I was politely informed that such an inquiry would be impossible, which indicates, perhaps, that what we think of today as Communist suspicion and intransigence have their age-old roots in Russian character and custom.
In every city I visited I tried to see the police in actual operation. I went on patrol with the London "Bobbies" and watched their courteous procedures in arresting and arraigning prostitutes and drunks. I listened to them testify in the police courts and occasionally in Old Bailey. I saw them handle with the greatest good nature and gentleness crowds of violently disposed suffragettes. "Now lady," I heard one of them say, as he picked up his battered helmet from the ground, "if you do that again I shall be obliged to take you into custody." I saw a large squad of them standing unmoved and apparently unobservant as well-aimed stones were being hurled at them by a group of strikers. When ordered to charge they did so calmly and deliberately. Scorning to use their truncheons—the only weapons they carried—they rolled up their rubber ponchos and with these implements beat back their assailants. The disorder was effectively quelled and nobody was hurt.
In Berlin where methods of crime detection had been highly developed I joined the squad of specialists created to deal with the next murder ( there were less than a dozen murders a year
(127) in Berlin at that time) ; and when the anticipated crime occurred I watched the careful scientific analysis by which it was promptly solved. In Budapest I went with a group of detectives when they raided an illegal gambling establishment and an unregistered house of prostitution; and in Paris I had many opportunities to watch the Brigade de Sūreté in its daily work with important felonies.
During my study I met some extraordinarily interesting and able people attached to the various police forces. Sir Edward Henry was at that time Commissioner of Police in London. A university graduate, he had spent his entire life in police work—in India, South Africa, and later as head of the Criminal Investigation Department of Scotland Yard. He had introduced from India the fingerprint system of identification, and there was scarcely a problem in police theory or practice which he was not equipped to handle. Karl Ritter von Brzesowsky, president of the police force of Vienna, was another outstanding man —a university graduate who had served for twenty-eight years in various police posts before he had been appointed to his present position. A man of charm and wide cultural interests, he and I kept in touch with each other for several years, and his photograph was on my desk long after the First World War had rung down the curtain between Austria and the United States.
Another interesting figure was Alphonse Bertillon, head of the Criminal Identification Department of the police force of Paris. In 1883 he had introduced his system of anthropometry, or bodily measurements, as a means of criminal identification. It was based on the fact that the dimensions of certain bony portions of the human frame do not vary between adolescence and old age, and Bertillon employed this principle as a primary method of classifying criminals, although he used fingerprints as a sub-classification. When I was in Europe a bitter struggle
(128) was being waged between this method and Sir Edward Henry's fingerprint system, and I listened to many fiery arguments from the likable Bertillon. The inability of the Paris police to discover the perpetrator of the theft of Mona Lisa from the Louvre was the final blow to the anthropometric system, and Bertillon died the following year. It seems that the thief had been in the hands of the Paris police on a previous occasion when his fingerprints, along with his measurements, were taken. Fingerprint impressions were left on the frame of the picture, but his record in the file was not found, because measurements rather than fingerprints constituted the primary classification. As a Paris newspaper satirically commented: "Unfortunately this discourteous thief neglected to leave his measurements at the scene of the crime." Under the Henry system his identity could have been established in a matter of minutes.
The outstanding impression I received from my study in Europe was that police administration there was a distinct career which attracted the best brains obtainable. With few exceptions it was divorced from politics. Its elaborate training schools for recruits had no counterpart in the United States. Its methods of crime detection were based on scientific procedures far beyond anything that was known in America at that time. As I said in the conclusion of my book, European Police Systems:
The European police department is on the whole an excellent piece of machinery. To its construction a high order of creative intelligence has been devoted; in its operation an equally high order of intelligence is constantly employed. . . . [It] bears an excellent reputation. Scandals are infrequent. With few exceptions both officers and men have the confidence of the public. It is only occasionally that one hears of dishonesty. Even suspicions of dishonesty are not common. The police are not associated with dishonesty in public imagination.
Perhaps the most important safeguard against police corruption is negative in character. The European police are not called upon to enforce standards of conduct which do not meet with general public approval. There is little attempt to make a particular code of behavior the subject of general criminal legislation. The high moral standards of a few people are not the legal requirements of the state.... The distinction between what is criminal and what is merely vicious is on the whole clearly drawn ... and the functions of the police are not confused with those of the church, the school, and other organizations and influences by which civilization is advanced.
In the middle of 1914 I went back to Europe to have my manuscript read by the police authorities in London, Paris, Berlin and Rome. I wanted to be certain that the factual basis of my narrative, as distinct from its elements of judgment and interpretation, was unquestionably accurate. While in Rome, at the request of Arthur Woods, police commissioner in New York City, I succeeded in making an arrangement with the Ministry of the Interior by which the fingerprints and photographs of Italians arrested for serious crimes in New York would be sent to Rome to determine whether the defendants had had previous criminal records in their home country. If so, under United States laws, they could be deported. ,This agreement worked admirably under the Woods' administration, and was continued, so I understand, in later years.
My book was published at the end of the year, and while it was widely reviewed in the United States it seemed to excite more interest in Europe. My friend, Henry A. Moe, of the Guggenheim Foundation, tells me that when he first enrolled in Oxford as a Rhodes scholar in 1924, he was given two books: Sir Henry Maine's Ancient Law, and my book on European police! It was translated into a number of languages, and while
(130) time and two world wars have now rendered it out of date, it was, I think, the first systematic attempt to paint on a broad canvas the workings of the police systems of an entire continent. "It is surprising," said the New Statesman of London in its review, "that no one should have thought of writing this book before."
Coming back from Europe in 1914 the ship on which I was traveling was rammed by another boat in the English Channel during a fog, and we were transferred to a German liner, the Imperator. Among its passengers was Theodore Roosevelt, who was returning from the marriage of his son, Kermit, in Spain. Several times I had heard him speak on public occasions, but I had never met him. Learning from a mutual friend that I had been studying police systems in Europe he invited me to have dinner with him in his stateroom. I was the only guest. As I entered the room he rose from his chair, shook me warmly by the hand, and exclaimed in his falsetto voice: "Fosdick! Dee-lighted! I hear you have been looking into police methods in Europe. I have always wanted to know about them. Sit down and tell me everything. Now when I was a police commissioner in New York ..."
What followed was the most fascinating monologue I ever listened to. It continued during the dinner and through the evening. Except for an occasional question I never said a word. Early in the proceedings he left the police field entirely. One topic would suggest another and he never came back to his point of departure. His police experience in New York suggested the policing of the Panama Canal, and from that he jumped to a great variety of subjects, talking with the animation and vivacity which were so characteristic.
I remember that he told me among other things of his difficulties with South American republics, of his relations with the Vatican, of his talks with the German emperor and his opinion
(131) of the German army. It was as enjoyable an evening as I ever spent, and when I rose to go he again shook me warmly by the hand and said with his staccato emphasis: "Fosdick! I appreciate this very much. I always wanted to know how Europe managed its police!" He was entirely sincere, and I am certain he was unaware of the fact that I had scarcely spoken a sentence during the evening.
We reached quarantine in New York harbor too late at night for the passengers to disembark, but Roosevelt and a few friends were taken off in a private yacht and I was invited to go with them. As Roosevelt stood on the yacht, with the side of the massive ship towering above him, and the searchlights focused on him, every deck and every porthole were lined with faces. With his sense of the dramatic, he took off his hat and waved it again and again with a youthful enthusiasm, while the passengers and the crew answered with a burst of cheering such as I have seldom heard. It would have been impossible for Woodrow Wilson to do this; he would have found it ostentatious and distasteful. But with Roosevelt it was a spontaneous outpouring of his own inner ebullience; it was part of the magnetic charm which gave him so wide a following.
Just as I was finishing the police book Woodrow Wilson asked me to take the position of Commissioner of Immigration at the Port of New York, with headquarters at Ellis Island. I had no desire to return to public office and I declined. Whereupon the President wrote me urging my reconsideration of the matter. "I should not deem myself faithful to my public responsibilities," he said, "if I did not make a very earnest effort to open your mind again on the subject, and to turn it toward acceptance, so strongly do I feel that you are the very man we need for just that place." He asked me to come to Washington to see him if I had further doubts.
With a heavy heart I went to the White House. I knew from
(132) long experience how irresistibly persuasive he could be. And it was as I expected. He reverted to his favorite theme of "Princeton in the Nation's service." He drew a vivid picture of what Ellis Island could be made to be. Here hundreds of thousands of immigrants every year got their first impression of America. It must be a good impression—an impression of America at her best. The tawdry surroundings of Ellis Island could be transformed into a kind of laboratory of human relations. We could make these future citizens feel that they were indeed coming to a new home—a home that was glad and proud to welcome them, and that would do everything within its power to unite them with the family of democracy. The job required high imagination and patience. It was a challenge—a worthy challenge to a Princeton man.
I do not know how I escaped his spell. I am sure I was not entirely articulate. He was courteous as always, but I could sense his displeasure, and I left the White House feeling that I had sinned against the light. Even today, more than forty years later, my conscience occasionally troubles me when I recall my stubborn refusal.
The problems of police administration as they affected the lives of human beings in modern society had become for me a fascinating study, and while I was finishing my book I was chosen as associate editor of the American Journal of Crime and Criminology, through whose columns I tried to develop public interest in the studies of criminal methods and criminal psychology which were being carried on in European universities by such experts—then unknown in America—as Hans Gross, Alfredo Niceforo and R. A. Reiss. In such circumstances Mr. Rockefeller's suggestion that I undertake a survey of the American police problem appealed to me, and I entered upon it with enthusiasm.
In the course of the inquiry I visited every city in the United States with a population of 100,000 or over. My European book gave me easy access, and I had the same hospitable reception which I had received abroad. The contrast between the situation on the two sides of the Atlantic was disillusioning. As I traveled from east to west across the continent I could not help remembering the conscious pride of European cities in their police, and the atmosphere of public confidence in which they carried on their work. I recalled the unbroken record of rectitude which many of their forces maintained, and their endeavor to create, with the aid of expert leadership, a maturing profession. I remembered, too, the infinite pains with which the police administrators were trained and chosen, and the care with which the forces were shielded from political influence.
And what did I find in the United States in that study of over forty years ago? Perhaps a paragraph from my book can best summarize the situation:
In America the student of police travels from one political squabble to another, too often from one scandal to another. He finds a shifting leadership of mediocre calibre—varied now and then by flashes of real ability which are snuffed out when the political wheel turns. There is little conception of policing as a profession or as a science to be matured and developed. It is a job, held perhaps by the grace of some mysterious political influence, and conducted in an atmosphere sordid and unhealthy. Instead of confidence and trust, the attitude of the public toward the police is far more often than not one of cynicism and suspicion, expressing itself, occasionally, in violent attacks which are as unjust as they are ineffective. In the interim between these spasms of publicity the average police force sinks in its rut, while crime and violence flourish.
There were mitigating factors, however, which tended to cancel out some of my harsh comment. In the first place I found
(134) that American police were overwhelmed with a volume of crime which would have broken the backs of even the best forces in Europe. In the year that I was abroad, London with a population of seven millions and a quarter had nine murders. That year Chicago, one third the size of London, had 105, while New York City had over 200. Indeed New York and Chicago each had annually more murders than the whole of England, Scotland and Wales put together. Equally significant were the burglary statistics. New York and Chicago had eight times the number of burglaries that London had; and even cities like Detroit and Cleveland far exceeded London in this category of crime. Robberies or "hold-ups" showed an even more amazing disparity, with London's annual quota of approximately twenty matched by New York's average of goo. Continental statistics were difficult to obtain due to dissimilar definitions of crime, but it was obvious that Europe's figures were far below ours.
In the second place, Europe's police dealt with homogeneous populations with long established traditions and fixed patterns of social habit; while American police, on the other hand, were called upon to enforce the same laws among a score of races and maintain a standard of conduct in a population coming from radically diverse environments. As I said in my book: "To see a London `Bobby' at work, dealing with people of his own race who understand him and whom he understands, is to learn a larger sympathy for his brother officer who walks the beat in New York, Chicago or San Francisco."
Nevertheless, with all allowances for the peculiar conditions which made our police task so difficult, America, forty years ago, had little to be proud of. The achievement was sordid and unworthy, and our progress, such as it was, had fallen far behind our needs. We had failed in the elemental responsibility, laid on all peoples who call themselves civilized, of preserving
(135) order in their communities. If the frankness of my book disturbed the complacency of many citizens—and the countrywide outcry that greeted its publication indicated that it did —that was the purpose I had in mind in writing it.
As I say, this was forty years ago, and I have had no contact with the police problem in the decades intervening. But my old friend and associate, Dr. Luther Gulick, whose life work has been given to governmental affairs, tells me that the situation has vastly improved. The rise of state police systems and of the Federal Bureau of Investigation has been accompanied in many parts of the country by new standards in municipal police work, and while America is still overburdened by its volume of crime, and there is still much to be done if our methods and effectiveness are to keep step with our problems, the old days that I knew are apparently gone—days when in a few cities the entire police personnel changed with an overturn on election day, when fingerprints were filed in the order in which they were taken because there was no one in the department who knew how to classify them, and when policemen on patrol duty in the streets smoked cigars!
It seems odd to say that my work for the next three years was determined by a Mexican bandit, but it is true. His name was Pancho Villa, and his raid across the border in March, 1916, had consequences which reached into many American lives. That summer our entire National Guard was hastily mobilized on the Mexican border, and complaints began to pour into Washington about the evil and demoralizing conditions surrounding the camps. The newspapers carried lurid stories of lack of discipline, drunkenness and the rise of venereal disease. Newton D. Baker, who had only recently been appointed Secretary of War, was much disturbed, and one day early in July he sent me
(136) a telegram asking me, if possible, to come to Washington to see him.
I had first met Baker on some legal business in 1909, when he was City Solicitor of Cleveland, and I was Assistant Corporation Counsel in New York; and later during the Wilson campaign of 1912, I had had several conferences with him. A graduate of Johns Hopkins University, he was, like Woodrow Wilson, a scholar in politics, and between the two men, as I was later to discover, were strong ties of mutual respect and affection. He shared with Wilson a deep social insight, a supreme ability to articulate his ideas in felicitous words, and a superb courage. In addition he had what Wilson did not possess, at least to the same degree: a singularly serene and gracious mind. The President in 1913 had tried to appoint him Secretary of the Interior, but Baker had felt that his first allegiance was to the mayoralty of Cleveland to which he had recently been elected. Now in 1916 Wilson had finally persuaded him to enter his cabinet. Short in stature and frail in physique, he was to prove himself a giant of strength in the titanic struggle which was so soon to overwhelm the nation. When I took the train for Washington on that hot day in July, I could not foresee that I was entering upon an intimate friendship which would last over many years.
Baker had in mind a challenging suggestion. In brief he wanted me to go to the Mexican border as his personal representative and find out just what the situation was. Was it as bad as it was being painted? "Let's first get the exact facts," he said, "and then we can come to a conclusion as to what, if anything, we ought to do." Within a week, therefore, I was on my way to the border, preceded by military orders to General Frederick Funston, the regular army officer in command of the entire area, giving me complete access to all types of army installations.
I could not have asked for a more cordial reception than I
(137) received at Funston's headquarters in San Antonio. And yet there was a quizzical twinkle in the eyes of the general and of some of his fellow officers. They never put it in words but their implied question was what did this new Secretary of War think that soldiers were like. Men were men and "sissies" were not wanted in the army. If anyone supposed that human nature could be changed, particularly in the fighting forces, he was headed for disillusionment. Indeed, Funston, whom I came to like very much, bestowed on me the nickname "Reverend." It was not that he confused me with my brother Harry, for Harry was not known in army circles at that time. But he assumed that anybody interested in such an errand as mine, and whose report to the Secretary of War would undoubtedly be geared to some impracticable ideal, was probably a professional "do-gooder" to whom an ecclesiastical title should be attached. It was as "Reverend," therefore, that I was passed on from one army command to another along the Mexican border from Brownsville, Texas, to western Arizona.
What I found out in that five-weeks trip was recorded in my confidential report to the Secretary of War. It was an almost unrelieved story of army camps surrounded by growing batteries of saloons and houses of prostitution. Ten new saloons to accommodate the troops had opened in Laredo in the month before my visit, and others were being planned: 'In other parts of Texas new saloons had sprung up on the roads leading to the camps and even on property immediately adjoining the military establishments. In still other places temporary shacks fringing the camps had been erected for the sale of liquor to the soldiers. In Douglas, Arizona, a prohibition state, liquor was freely and openly sold to the troops in so-called "resorts."
As for prostitution, town after town was enlarging its facilities to meet the military demand. "Crib" buildings, similar to the vicious type which I had seen in San Francisco and New
(138) Orleans during my study of police systems, were being erected in many of the red light districts, and according to the police large numbers of prostitutes from all over the country were flocking into such centers as San Antonio, Laredo and El Paso. The red light districts at night, particularly on pay-day nights, were crowded with hundreds of troops, and drunken riots which were not infrequent had to be suppressed by the Provost Guard. Meanwhile the venereal disease rates were soaring.
The difficulty with the situation, as I told the Secretary of War, was that no uniform policy in relation to this situation had been developed by the army, and the ideas and attitudes of the divisional and camp commanders showed the widest variation. Most of the regular army officers, including Funston, shrugged it off as a hopeless problem, but occasionally a camp commander would take the initiative. In Columbus, New Mexico, the town authorities, at the request of the army officials, had created two restricted districts—one for white soldiers and one for colored soldiers—located on the edge of the encampment. On the other hand, one or two of the National Guard commanders—notably General O'Ryan of the New York militia—rigorously used his military police to put saloons and houses of prostitution out of bounds for the troops. Many enlightened citizens in places like El Paso, for example, were concerned about the growing demoralization of their communities, and looked in vain to the top army command for light and leadership.
In my report to the Secretary I recommended that the War Department take a definite stand "in the interest of the efficiency of its troops" against the unrestrained excesses of prostitution and the saloon. "Under present conditions," I said, "every commanding officer deals with it as he sees fit, without relation to anything that any other division is doing. What is needed is a strong word from Washington." I advocated that
(139) all "crib" sections be put out of bounds. "The Provost Guard could starve out these vicious areas in a week." I suggested close cooperation between the army and the municipal authorities in enforcing existing laws, and I recommended that if a community proved recalcitrant or bowed to the powerful forces behind these evils, the troops be moved to another site.
The "strong word" from Washington was immediately forthcoming. Secretary Baker sent my report, through Funston, to all commanding officers on the Mexican border. "I am entirely satisfied," he wrote, "that the time has come when the health of the army must be safeguarded against the weakness that derives from venereal disease and the excessive use of alcohol." He endorsed my suggestion that unless communities cooperated in preserving more wholesome conditions, "the troops be removed to other places"; and he ended his letter with the sentence which rattled around the ears of the commanders on the border: "I want you to realize that I will support and sustain every effort you make for the accomplishment of the object set forth." The letter was supplemented by a general order.
Baker was no novice in this field. He had been mayor of a large city, and had dealt with these problems for years. As he said in his letter, he realized that "gradual and wise restraint and restriction are more effective and more permanently helpful than sudden and spasmodic attempts at complete suppression." But he knew, too, that there was no excuse for a wide open community and that determination and vigilance were the price that had to be paid for reasonably decent conditions.
For me he had another suggestion: would I return to the border to talk not only with the army people, but with the mayors, the chiefs of police, and the citizens, and underscore the new thinking and the new directives of the War Department? On the long, dusty train ride back to Texas—for there were no commercial airplanes in those days—I began to sort
(140) out some of the impressions I had received in my trip along the Rio Grande and beyond. I remembered the five thousand troops encamped just across the railroad tracks from Columbus, New Mexico, and the way they used to come to town every evening —almost in a body—to escape the monotony of camp life. And what did they find when they came to town? There were no moving picture shows and no pool tables; there was no place where they could read or write letters; there were no homes to which they could go; there wasn't even a newsstand where they could purchase a magazine or a newspaper. The only attractions in town were a few disreputable saloons and a red light district. These institutions had the field all to themselves; there was nothing to compete with them.
I remembered, too, that in most of the camps there was no athletic equipment of any kind—no baseballs, bats or mitts, no footballs, no basketballs, no playing fields or courts of any kind. And there were no books or magazines, either, and sometimes when the train stopped at a crossroads a group of soldiers would come aboard and ask the passengers if they had any reading material they could spare—even a newspaper. I remembered how the train crews used to lock the doors of the coaches as we approached some of the stations because otherwise the soldiers would come in and drink up all the ice water. I remembered the utter boredom and dejection with which groups of men in uniform would walk the streets of the town or village near their camp, in a pathetic hunt for diversion or for any normal or familiar sight or sound. And I recalled, too—and it was the one bright spot in the picture—the imaginative beginnings of the work of the Army and Navy Branch of the Y.M.C.A. in supplying athletic equipment for some of the army posts. It was a task far beyond their limited funds and was totally inadequate to the need, but it was at least an affirmative gesture in an otherwise melancholy environment.
"The situation has improved on the Mexican border," I wrote Secretary Baker on my return to New York. "The cribs are closed, at least for the moment, and so are most of the fly-by-night saloons on the roads to the camps. But you and I have had enough experience in city government to know that this verboten approach isn't going to accomplish a great deal. It's part of the answer, but it isn't the whole answer, although in terms of precedence it may have to come first. The real question to which as yet we have no answer is what are we going to substitute for the things we want to drive out. We can't operate in a vacuum. We're up against a competitive situation here, and something on a pretty ambitious scale will have to be done."
Baker picked up the challenge with enthusiasm. "Come on down here," he wrote, "and we'll put our feet on the desk and talk it over." That fall, therefore, he and I had two or three long conferences in his office in the War Department. We thought we were talking about the Mexican border. In fact, although we were unaware of it, we were discussing ways and means of normalizing the life of the American soldier in the greatest war in which the United States, up to that time, had ever been involved.