Veracity to the facts concerning the Panama Canal requires that a writer not merely view the object which he describes, but that he actually become a part of the mechanism that is giving it form. He may thus practically illuminate observation with experience, and so vivify the object in his won thought, that his attempt to present it to others will be a close approximation of the truth.
In the five months the author spent in Panama, he was for slightly more than three months an employee of the Isthmian Canal Commission, living the routine life of a canal employee. He discovered that, had he followed the usual method of coming into the Canal Zone on one steamer, taking notes, and leaving on the next steamer, he would have missed many fundamental facts, which absolutely must be known if a really trustworthy account of the greatest task of the age is desired.
The Panama Canal is not the monument of any one individual American, nor of any select few individual Americans. In generations to come, the canal, like the skyscrapers of our cities, will be viewed as a manifestation of the building genius of the American people, just as the Pyramids of Egypt are not remembered so much as the work of a a given Rameses as a manifestation of the big building instinct of the entire race.
This book is unjust to the generality of Americans who have helped to make the canal a success. Some day the government will authorize a history of the canal that will give the proper prominence to the rank and file as well as to the subordinate officials. But the treatment here undertaken, through the necessity for condensation, touches only the men who have affected the canal in the broadest way.
The average American layman desires an authoritative history of the project, but he particularly desires a nontechnical review, and decidedly one which distinguishes events from mere incidents, so that he may not be burdened with a mass of details which make it difficult for the essential facts to be kept in mind and at the tongue's end for immediate and intelligent conversation.
Those who prefer a more exhaustive treatment must look to the formidable annual reports of the isthmian Canal Commission, to the files of the Canal Record, the speeches of Col. Goethals, and to a bibliography that already is extensive and is growing at a lusty rate.
Central America and the islands of the Caribbean Sea afford a rich field for historical writing of the most intensely interesting character, but one volume cannot adequately cover so much ground. the scope of this book is limited to the Isthmus of Panama, covering a period of four hundred and ten years. Only so much of the history of theIsthmus under the Spanish, and during the construction of the Panama Railroad and the French attempt to dig a canal, is given as was necessary to lend a perspective to the work of the Americans.
W. R. S.