CHAPTER I

THE LAND DIVIDED—THE WORLD UNITED

Americans, your dream of an interoceanic canal is near to realization!

Where the Spanish scoffed and the French failed, the Americans have triumphed.  South America, like Africa, soon will become an island, and the heroic searchings after a passage to the Spice Islands, by Columbus, will reach fruition in 1913, by the hands of a nation, not of the world which he knew, but of that very new world which he discovered!

The Panama Canal has its broadest significance in the prodigious transformations it will make in the world's geography.   It is a literal fulfillment of the Scriptural promise to man that he should have domination over all the earth.

There is poetic justice in the snatching of this vast enterprise from the parental hands of Europe by the lusty offspring of the Western Hemisphere.  We thereby vindicate our slogan of America for Americans, because we have demonstrated our sufficiency in the face of the largest demand upon man's engineering acumen.

If it should have been said in 1904 that in nine years we would have removed more than 200,000,000 cubic yards of earth and rock, laid 5,000,000 cubic yards of concrete, made dams and fills of more than 50,000,000 cubic yards, relocated the Panama Railroad, spent less than $300,000,000, and put the first ship through from the Atlantic to the Pacific, Europe would have smiled at our youthful temerity!  Yet, in 1913, we will have done precisely that.

Today there is no reason for revising the statement by Theodore Shonts that: "The physical construction of the Panama Canal is, all things considered, the greatest task of modern times.  It is in the highest degree exceptional in magnitude, complexity, and cost."

The American-Panama Canal has risen phoenixlike out of the ruins of the French enterprise.  For four centuries events have been shaping at Panama to make our final attempt successful.  When we began, crude as the conditions were, the sting of the Isthmus, except its diseases, had been drawn.  There was a beaten road from ocean to ocean, on every hand were landmarks to warn our footsteps from perilous paths, the lives that had been lost, the money that had been spent, all served to make our task achievable.  We justly may be proud of our deeds, but we should not forget.

It may be asserted that the exigencies of world convenience justified the manner by which we acquired the Canal Zone; but in declining thus far to make reparation to Colombia we are violating the essential ethics of Americanism.  Certainly the American people cannot afford to dedicate their crowning achievement in this age with one single nation entertaining a sense of wrong because of it!

The canal entered upon its last phase with the announcement by Chief Engineer Goethals that the first ship would go through in September, 1913.  Thence-forward a definite goal was seen and, despite the slides in the mountain cut, or any other obstacles, that program will be kept.  Not a sign of slackness, but rather stimulated activities have followed the bringing of the end of the task in sight.  In 1912 all records for excavation and concrete work were smashed!

During the first two years and a half the canal was in its first phase.  It was the period of pioneering, preparation, and adjustment.  Two Chief Engineers were tried, from the ranks of civil life, accomplishing the main preliminaries to canal construction before their departure.   Both were men of unquestioned integrity and of impressive ability, but neither was the one of destiny to complete the task.

The second phase of the canal was from the beginning of 1907 to the spring of 1912.  During these six years the heart of the task was accomplished.  President Roosevelt had found the man who was to take the organization built up by the men from the ranks of private industry and hurl it against the natural obstacles that stood in the way of success.  Col. Goethals was to take the blue-prints, and a head full of theories, and work them out into the locks, dams, and cuts in concrete mold today.

The third and last phase, as noted began in 1912 when the Chief Engineer set a date for the substantial completion of the canal. It is distinguished by the gradual dispersion of the army of workers, by the reverse process of the first two years, and by the creation of a permanent operating force with the detail finishing work that attends every large project.

The East has furnished the canal with its Chief Engineers—Wallace from Massachusetts, Stevens from Maine, Goethals from New York.  But every State in the Union has furnished the rank and file, as well as every nation in the world.

Standing out distinctly from the construction phase of the enterprise is the figure of Col. Gorgas, the Chief Sanitary Officer, now, as in the critical days of 1905, quiet, alert, confident.  The last days of the canal find a perfect mechanism of his creation recording his ideas with dispatch and precision, receiving the plaudits of this and secure in the admiration of succeeding generations.

With the long ascent behind, standing upon the crest of the work of construction, looking down-grade at the early completion of the canal, one fact is emphasized in the minds of all laymen and engineers who view the project with open eyes.  It is this.  A sea-level canal, if not an impossibility, would have been an indefinite number of years in building and would have cost an indefinitely greater number of millions.  The precipitation of more than 20,000,000 cubic yards of extraneous material into the Culebra cut, by slides, rivets that fact in the minds of all observers.

The locks may grow too small, the Gatun dam may break, a caving in of the foundations of the colossal structures may occur, and other convulsions of nature may disable the canal, but nothing can rob the Americans of a wonderful achievement, nor will the work have been without glory and justification, no matter what the future holds.  We still could rejoice in the sheer courage, persistence, and indomitable ability that have wrought the work in Panama.

Just as the Civil War developed Grant, and the Spanish-American War Dewey and Schley, so has the Panama Canal developed Goethals.   He justly is celebrated in the periodical and daily press and in books as a splendid embodiment of Americanism—the ideal combination of ability and integrity.

It is true, of course, that the completion of the canal substantially fourteen months before the estimated, January 1, 1915, and the saving of $20,000,000 in the estimated cost, may mean simply that both items were overestimated in 1908 by Col. Goethals; but the tremendous increase in necessary excavations, due to slides and changes in plans, more than offsets this consideration and forces the acknowledgment that the savings in time and money represent the increased efficiency his own preeminent abilities have been able to produce.

A perspective view of the whole enterprise shows that Theodore Roosevelt, by his individual actions, on at least three occasions, vitally affected the canal and its successful consummation.  When he cut the Gordian knot of diplomacy and took the Canal Zone, he made the first long stride toward interoceanic communication.  When he threw his weight into the scale for a lock type canal, he decided the most critical question that ever arose in the career of the enterprise.  The third time his judgment prevented a great mistake was when the project definitely was taken from the possibility of private construction and placed in the hands exclusively of government supervision.  There were lesser decisions of great moment, notably the order for widening the locks and the Culebra cut, and his whole connection with the project was such as to rank as the most brilliant phase of his administrations.

Before ten years have passed the American people will realize that the canal would have been cheap at twice the cost.  The estimated cost, $375,000,000, is an impressive figure, but this age is moving fast.   As great as the enterprise is, it is not probable that, in the item of cost at least, it will long remain the record achievement.  But it is probable that when the record is broken, it will be the Americans who break it.

To July 1, 1912, the canal had cost, fifteen months before its completion, $260,000,000.  This was divided as follows:  Canal Zone, $10,000,000; French purchase, $40,000,000; engineering and construction, $152,000,000; general expenditures, $36,000,000; sanitation, $15,000,000; civil administration, $5,500,000; fortifications, $1,000,000.

The canal was half done as to excavation and cost in 1910.  The toll in human lives, approximately 6,000 by 1914, for a period of nine and three quarter years, is impressive only for its cheapness.  It is estimated the building of the Panama Railroad, in 1850-55, cost that number of lives, and for the Americans to build the world's greatest enterprise in ten years at so low a life cost constitutes for the tropics a profoundly admirable achievement.  Whether the government has been economical in the physical construction of the canal may be questioned, but it has been positively parsimonious in the expenditure of human life on the project.

It would be fitting for the first ship to pass through the canal on September 25, 1913, or just four hundred years to the day from the discovery of the Pacific by Balboa.  Thousands of Americans may desire to go through the canal on their way to San Francisco's Exposition, a really delightful cruise from New York of eighteen days, but if they do, it will be in foreign ships, because we have no vessels that could handle the traffic.  It will be a vivid object lesion of our pitiful lack of a merchant marine.

Less than 100,000 Americans will have seen the canal in course of construction out of a population of 90,000,000.  President Roosevelt truly said that a trip to see this great project in the building was more profitable than a trip to Europe.  But at the San Francisco Exposition some compensation will be found for a failure to see the canal by an exhibit of every kind of machinery used by the French and the Americans in the thirty-five years of construction, or from 1880 to 1915.  When the government finally sold off the old French machinery that had littered the Canal Zone for three decades the best specimen of each kind of apparatus was reserved for this graphic exhibit.

Panama now becomes the farthest outpost of Americanism in Latin America.  The peoples of that continent have profited immeasurably by the practical demonstrations in sanitation, civil government, and engineering construction.  They have learned, and so has the rest of the world, that the tropics are not necessarily deadly, that order can be maintained, not only among a homogeneous population, but among the heterogeneous races that have thronged the Isthmus, and they have seen that no natural obstacle is insuperable before the intelligence of man.   The canal should be a means of cementing these lessons, or disabusing mutual prejudices between the Americans to the North and the Americans to the south.  The American conquest of Latin America should be more through uplifting ideals than through bald commercialism leading to discord and unbrotherly relations.