1

Theodore Roosevelt on Lincoln and Free Speech

On May 16, 1918 Congress passed an amendment to the Espionage Act of 1917,  This Amendment is known to history as The Espionage Act of 1918.  Here is the text:

 

Whoever, when the United States is at war, shall willfully make or convey false reports or false statements with intent to interfere with the operation or success of the military or naval forces of the United States, or to promote the success of its enemies, or shall willfully make or convey false reports, or false statements, …or incite insubordination, disloyalty, mutiny, or refusal of duty, in the military or naval forces of the United States, or shall willfully obstruct …the recruiting or enlistment service of the United States, or …shall willfully utter, print, write, or publish any disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language about the form of government of the United States, or the Constitution of the United States, or the military or naval forces of the United States …or shall willfully display the flag of any foreign enemy, or shall willfully …urge, incite, or advocate any curtailment of production …or advocate, teach, defend, or suggest the doing of any of the acts or things in this section enumerated and whoever shall by word or act support or favor the cause of any country with which the United States is at war or by word or act oppose the cause of the United States therein, shall be punished by a fine of not more than $10,000 or imprisonment for not more than 20 years, or both….

About 2000 people were prosecuted under the Espionage Act and the Supreme Court upheld the Sedition portion against a challenge that it violated the First Amendment.  A temporary war time measure, Congress repealed it along with many other war time measures on December 13, 1920.

Theodore Roosevelt was concerned that the Act would be used by the Administration to stifle criticism of the President, and he took up his pen in May of 1917 and wrote the following article:

 

 

LINCOLN AND FREE SPEECH

PATRIOTISM means to stand by the country. It does not mean to stand by the President or any other public official save exactly to the degree in which he himself stands by the country. It is patriotic to support him in so far as he efficiently serves the country. It is unpatriotic not to oppose him to the exact extent that by inefficiency or otherwise he fails in his duty to stand by the country. In either event, it is unpatriotic not to tell the truth–whether about the President or about any one else–save in the rare cases where this would make known to the enemy information of military value which would otherwise be unknown to him.

Sedition, in the legal sense, means to betray the government, to give aid and comfort to the enemy, or to counsel resistance to the laws or to measures of government having the force. of law. There can be conduct morally as bad as legal sedition which yet may not be violation of law. The President–any President–can by speech or action (by advocating an improper peace. or improper submission to national wrong) give aid and comfort to the public enemy as no one else in. the land can do, and yet his conduct, however damaging to the, country, is not seditious; and although if public sentiment is sufficiently aroused he can be impeached, such course is practically impossible.

One form of servility consists in a slavish attitude–of the kind, incompatible with self-respecting manliness–toward any person who is powerful by reason of his office or position.. Servility may be shown by a public servant toward the profiteering head of a large corporation, or toward the anti-American head of a big labor organization. It may also be shown in peculiarly noxious and un-American form by confounding the President or–any other official with the country and shrieking “stand by the President,” without regard to whether, by so acting, we do or do not stand by the country.

 

A distinguished Federal judge recently wrote me as follows:
“Last November [1917?] it seemed as if the American people were going to be converted into a hallelujah chorus, whose only function in government should be to shout ‘Hallelujah!’ ‘Hallelujah!’ for everything that the Administration did or failed to do. Any one who did not join that chorus was liable to imprisonment for treason or sedition.
“I hope that we shall soon have recovered our sense as well as our liberty.“The authors of the first amendment to the Federal Constitution guaranteeing the right of assembly and of freedom of speech and of the press. did not thus safeguard those rights for the sake alone of persons who were to enjoy them, but even more because they knew that the Republic which they were founding could not be worked on any other basis. Since Marshall tried Burr for treason it has been clear that that crime cannot be committed by words, unless one acts as a spy, or gives advice to the enemy of military or naval operations. It cannot be committed by statements reflecting upon officers or measures of government.
“Sedition is different. Any one who directly advises or counsels resistance to measures of government is guilty of sedition. That, however, ought to be clearly distinguished from ‘discussion of the wisdom or folly of measures of government, or the honesty or competency of public officers. That is not sedition. It is within the protection of the first amendment. The electorate cannot be qualified to perform its duty in removing incompetent officers and securing the repeal of unwise laws unless those questions may be freely discussed.
“The, right to say wise things necessarily implies the right to say foolish things. The answer to foolish speech is wise speech and not force. The Republic is founded upon the faith that if the American people are permitted freely to hear foolish and wise speech, a majority will choose the wise. If that faith is not justified the Republic is based on sand. John Milton said it all in his defense of freedom of the press: `Let truth and error grapple. Who ever knew truth to be beaten in a fair fight?’ ”

 

 

Abraham Lincoln was in Congress while Polk was President, during the Mexican War. The following extracts from his speeches, during war-time, about the then President ought to be illuminating to those persons who do not understand that one of the highest and most patriotic duties to be performed in his country at this time is to tell the truth whenever it becomes necessary in order to force our government to speed up the war. It would, for example, be our highest duty to tell it if at any time we became convinced that only thereby could we shame our leaders out of hypocrisy and prevent the betrayal of human rights by peace talk of the kind which bewilders and deceives plain people.
These quotations can be found on pages 100 to 146 of Volume I of “Lincoln’s Complete Works,” by Nicolay and Hay.

In a speech on January 12, 1848, Lincoln justified himself for voting in favor of a resolution censuring the President for his action prior to and during the war (which was still going on). He examines the President’s official message of justification and says, “that, taking for true all the President states as facts, he falls far short of proving his justification, and that the President would have gone further with his proof if it had not been for the small matter that the truth would not permit him.” He says that part of the message “is from beginning to end the sheerest deception.” He then asks the President to answer certain questions, and says: “Let him answer fully, fairly, and candidly. Let him answer with facts and not with arguments. Let him remember that he sits where Washington sat, and so remembering, let him answer as Washington would answer. Let him attempt no evasion, no equivocation.” In other words, Lincoln says that he does not wish rhetoric, or fine phrases or glittering statements that contradict one another and each of which has to be explained with a separate key or adroit and subtle special pleading and constant reversal of positions previously held, but straightforward and consistent adherence to the truth. He continues that he “more than suspects” that the President “is deeply conscious of being in the wrong; that he feels that innocent blood is crying to heaven against him”; that one of the best generals had “been driven into disfavor, if not disgrace, by the President” for insisting upon speaking unpalatable truths about the length of time the war would take (and therefore the need of full preparedness); and ends by saying that the army has done admirably, but that the President has bungled his work and “knows not where he is. He is a bewildered, confounded, and miserably perplexed man. God grant he may be able to show there is not something about his conscience more painful than all his mental perplexity.”
Remember that this is Lincoln speaking, in war-time, of the President. The general verdict of history has justified him. But it is impossible to justify him and not heartily to condemn the persons who in our time endeavor to suppress truth-telling of a far less emphatic type than Lincoln’s.

Lincoln had to deal with various critics of the “stand by the President” type. To one he answers that, “the only alternative is to tell the truth or to lie,” and that he would not “skulk” on such a question. He explains that the President’s supporters “are untiring in their efforts to make the impression that all who vote supplies or take part in the war do of necessity approve the President’s conduct,” but that he (Lincoln) and his associates sharply distinguished between the two and voted supplies and men but “denounced the President’s conduct” and “condemned the Administration.” He stated that to give the President the power demanded for him by certain people would “place the President where kings have always stood.” In touching on what we should now speak of as rhetoric, he says

“The honest laborer digs coal at about seventy cents a day, while the President digs abstractions at about seventy dollars a day. The coal is clearly worth more than the abstractions, and yet what a monstrous inequality in the price!” He emphatically protests against permitting the President “to take the whole of legislation into his hands”–surely a statement applying exactly to the present situation. To the President’s servile party supporters he makes a distinction which also readily applies at the present day: “The distinction between the cause of the President . . . and the cause of the country . . . you cannot perceive. To you the President and the country seem to be all one. . . . We see the distinction clearly enough.”
This last statement was the crux of the matter then and is the crux of the matter now. We hold that our loyalty is due solely to the American Republic, and to all our public servants exactly in proportion as they efficiently and faithfully serve the Republic. Our opponents, in flat contradiction of Lincoln’s position, hold that our loyalty is due to the President, not the country; to one man, the servant of the people, instead of to the people themselves. In practice they adopt the fetichism [sic] of all believers in absolutism, for every man who parrots the, cry of “stand by the President” without adding the proviso “so far as he serves the Republic” takes an attitude as essentially unmanly as that of any Stuart royalist who championed the doctrine that the king could do no wrong. No self-respecting and intelligent freeman can take such an attitude.

The Wisconsin legislature has just set forth the proper American doctrine, as follows
“The people of the State of Wisconsin always have stood and always will stand squarely behind the National Government in all things which are essential to bring the present war to a successful end, and we condemn Senator Robert La Follette and all others who have failed to see the righteousness of our nation’s cause, who have failed to support our government in matters vital to the winning of the war, and we denounce any attitude or utterance of theirs which has tended to incite sedition among the people of our country.”

In view of the recent attitude of the Administration as expressed through the attorney-general and postmaster-general I commend to its attention the utterances of Abraham Lincoln in 1848 and of the Wisconsin legislature in 1918. The Administration’s warfare against German spies and American traitors has been feeble. The government has achieved far less in this direction than has been achieved by a few of our newspapers and by various private individuals. This failure is aggravated by such action as was threatened against The Metropolitan Magazine. The Metropolitan–and the present writer–have stood and will continue to stand, “squarely behind the national government in all things which are essential to bring the present war to a successful end” and to support “the righteousness of the nation’s cause.” We will stand behind the country at every point, and we will at every point either support or oppose the Administration precisely in proportion as it does or does not with efficiency and single-minded devotion serve the country.

From this position we will not be driven by any abuse of power or by any effort to make us not the loyal servants of the American people, but the cringing tools of a man who at the moment has power.
The Administration has in some of its actions on vital points shown great inefficiency (as proved by Senator Chamberlain’s committee) and on other points has been guilty of conduct toward certain peoples wholly inconsistent with its conduct toward other peoples and wholly inconsistent with its public professions as regards all international conduct. It cannot meet these accusations, for they are truthful, and to try to suppress the truth by preventing the circulation of The Metropolitan Magazine is as high-handed a defiance of liberty and justice as anything done by the Hohenzollerns or the Romanoffs. [Roosevelt uses these royal families as examples of German and Russian tyranny, respectively.] Such action is intolerable. Contrast the leniency shown by the government toward the grossest offenses against the nation

with its eagerness to assail any one who tells unpleasant truths about the Administration. The Hearst papers play the German game when they oppose the war, assail our allies, and clamor for an inconclusive peace, and they play the German game when they assail the men who truthfully point out the shortcomings which, unless corrected, will redound to Germany’s advantage and our terrible disadvantage. But the Administration has taken no action against the Hear[s]t papers. The Metropolitan Magazine has supported the war, has championed every measure to speed up the war and to make our strength effective, and has stood against every proposal for a peace without victory. But the Administration acts against the magazine that in straightforward American fashion has championed the war. Such discrimination is not compatible with either honesty or patriotism. It means that the Administration is using the great power of the government to punish honest criticism of its shortcomings, while it accepts support of and apology for these shortcomings as an offset to action against the war and, therefore, against the nation. Conduct of this kind is a grave abuse of official power.

Whatever the Administration does, I shall continue to act in the future precisely as I have acted in the past. When a senator like Mr. Chamberlain in some great matter serves the country better than does the Administration, I shall support that senator; and when a senator like Mr. La Follette perseveres in the course followed by the Administration before it reversed itself in February, 1917 [urging that the U.S. stay out of World War I], I shall oppose him and to that extent support the Administration in its present position. I shall continue to support the Administration in every such action as floating the liberty loans, raising the draft army, or sending our troops abroad. I shall continue truthfully to criticise any flagrant acts of incompetency by the Administration, such as the failure in shipping matters and the breakdown of the War Department during the last fourteen months, when it appears that such truthful criticism offers the only chance of remedying the wrong. I shall support every official from the President down who does well, and shall oppose every such official who does ill. I shall not put the personal comfort of the President or of any other public servant above the welfare of the country.

In a self-governing country the people are called citizens.  Under a despotism or autocracy the people are called subjects. This is because in a free country the people are themselves sovereign, while in a despotic country the people are under a sovereign. In the United States the people are all citizens, including its President. The rest of them are fellow citizens of the President. In Germany the people are all subjects of the Kaiser. They are not his fellow citizens, they are his subjects. This is the essential difference between the United States and Germany, but the difference would vanish if we now submitted to the foolish or traitorous persons who endeavor to make it a crime to tell the truth about the Administration when the Administration is guilty of incompetence or other shortcomings. Such endeavor is itself a crime against the nation. Those who take such an attitude are guilty of moral treason of a kind both abject and dangerous.

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Pershing Compromises

The guiding star of General Pershing in France was that the Americans were to form a separate Army and operate as a cohesive unit.  An Allied Supreme War Council was held on May 1-2, 1918.  The discussions were often contentious with Pershing resisting the idea that American units should be amalgamated with French and British units.  Finally Pershing conceded with the following agreement which allowed temporary service by American units then in France with the British and French armies:

 

It is the opinion of the Supreme War Council that, in order to carry the war to a successful conclusion, an American Army should be formed as early as possible under its own commander and under its own flag.

In order to meet the present emergency it is agreed that American troops should be brought to France as rapidly as Allied transportation facilities will permit, and that, as far as consistent with the necessity of building up an American Army, preference will be given to infantry and machine-gun units for training and service with French and British Armies; with the understanding that such infantry and machine-gun units are to be withdrawn and united with its own artillery and auxiliary troops into divisions and corps at the direction of the American Commander-in-Chief after consultation with the Commander-in-Chief of the Allied Armies in France.

Subparagraph A.  It is also agreed that during the month of May preference should be given to the transportation of infantry and machine-gun units of six divisions, and that any excess tonnage shall be devoted to bringing over such other troops as may be determined by the American Commander-in-Chief.

Subparagraph B.  It is further agreed that this program shall be continued during the month of June upon condition that the British Government shall furnish transportation for a minimum of 130,000 men in May and 150,000 men in June, with the understanding that the first six divisions of infantry shall go to the British for training and service, and that troops sent over in June shall be allocated for training and service as the American Commander-in-Chief may determine.

Subparagraph C.  It is also further agreed that if the British Government shall transport an excess of 150,000 men in June that such excess shall be infantry and machine-gun units, and that early in June there shall be a new review of the situation to determine further action.

In hindsight the agreement seems sensible.  American units would gain some combat experience with the British and the French on a temporary basis, with an American army formed as soon as sufficient troops had been shipped to France.

 

 

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Operation Georgette Comes to a Halt

On April 29, 1918 the German offensive code named Operation Georgette ground to a halt.  It had come tantalizingly close, fifteen miles, of the Channel ports of Boulogne, Dunkirk and Calais.  The situation became so critical that on April 11 Field Marshal Douglas Haig issued his famous Backs to the Wall order:

 

Three weeks ago to-day the enemy began his terrific attacks against us on a fifty-mile front. His objects are to separate us from the French, to take the Channel Ports and destroy the British Army.

In spite of throwing already 106 Divisions into the battle and enduring the most reckless sacrifice of human life, he has as yet made little progress towards his goals.

We owe this to the determined fighting and self-sacrifice of our troops. Words fail me to express the admiration which I feel for the splendid resistance offered by all ranks of our Army under the most trying circumstances.

Many amongst us now are tired. To those I would say that Victory will belong to the side which holds out the longest. The French Army is moving rapidly and in great force to our support.

There is no other course open to us but to fight it out. Every position must be held to the last man: there must be no retirement. With our backs to the wall and believing in the justice of our cause each one of us must fight on to the end. The safety of our homes and the Freedom of mankind alike depend upon the conduct of each one of us at this critical moment.

(Signed) D. Haig F.M.
Commander-in-Chief
British Armies in France

General Headquarters
Tuesday, April 11th, 1918

 

The British were saved by logistical problems that plagued the German offensive, and heavy counter-attacks by British, Anzac and French troops.  The Germans had more offensives in 1918, but they had just lost their best chance for victory, and, each day, thousands of American troops were landing in France.

 

 

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ANZAC DAY 1918

Today is Anzac Day, in Australia and New Zealand.   It commemorates the landing of the New Zealand and Australian troops at Gallipoli in World War I.  Although the effort to take the Dardanelles was ultimately unsuccessful, the Anzac troops demonstrated great courage and tenacity, and the ordeal the troops underwent in this campaign has a vast meaning to the peoples of New Zealand and Australia.

At the beginning of the war the New Zealand and Australian citizen armies, illustrating the robust humor of both nations,  engaged in self-mockery best illustrated by this poem:

We are the ANZAC Army

The A.N.Z.A.C.

We cannot shoot, we don’t salute

What bloody good are we ?

And when we get to Ber – Lin

The Kaiser, he will say

Hoch, Hoch, Mein Gott !

What a bloody odd lot

to get six bob a day.

By the end of World War I no one was laughing at the Anzacs.  At the end of the war a quarter of the military age male population of New Zealand had been killed or wounded and Australia paid a similarly high price.  Widely regarded as among the elite shock troops of the Allies, they had fought with distinction throughout the war, and added to their reputation during World War II.   American veterans I have spoken to who have fought beside Australian and New Zealand units have uniformly told me that they could choose no better troops to have on their flank in a battle.

 

 

In 1918 four Australian divisions and the New Zealand division were locked in battle on the Western Front, grinding down the initial German offensives and then helping to lead the way in the battles of the Hundred Days that resulted in Allied victory.  In the Middle East two Australian mounted divisions and a New Zealand mounted brigade performed prodigies in the battles that ended the Ottoman Empire.  In 1919 Field Marshal Allenby praised the New Zealand troops who fought under his command:

 

“Nothing daunted these intrepid fighters: to them nothing was impossible.”

 

 

Let that stand as a tribute to all the Citizen soldiers of the Anzacs who fought in the Great War.

 

 

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April 10, 1918: The Angel of the Trenches Earns His Nickname

 

Joao Baptista DeValles was born in 1879 in Saint Miquel in the Azores.  At the age of 2 his family moved to New Bedford, Massachusetts.  His first name anglicized to John, he quickly proved himself a brilliant student, eventually being fluent in six languages.  Ordained a priest in 1906 he served at Falls River at Espirito Santo Church, founding the first Portuguese language parochial school in the United States while he was there.  He later served at Our Lady of Mount Carmel in New Bedford and was pastor at Saint John the Baptist Church, also in New Bedford.

After the entry of the US into World War I, he joined the Army as a chaplain, serving with the 104th regiment, a Massachusetts National Guard outfit, part of the Yankee (26th) Division, made up of National Guard units from New England.  The Yankee Division arrived in France in September 1917, the second American division to arrive “Over There”.

The 104th was a hard fighting outfit, serving in all of the major campaigns of the American Expeditionary Force.  For heroic fighting at Bois Brule in April, 1918 the French government awarded the regiment a collective Croix de Guerre, an unprecedented honor for an American military unit.  There were quite a few very brave men in the 104th, and among the bravest of the brave was Chaplain DeValles.  For his heroism in rescuing wounded, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the second highest decoration for valor in the United States Army.  Here is the text of the citation:

104th Infantry Regiment, 26th Division, A.E.F.
Date of Action: April 10 – 13, 1918
Citation:
The Distinguished Service Cross is presented to John B. De Valles, Chaplain, U.S. Army, for extraordinary heroism in action near
Apremont, Toul sector, France, April 10 to 13, 1918. Chaplain De Valles repeatedly exposed himself to heavy artillery and machine-gun fire in order to assist in the removal of the wounded from exposed points in advance of the lines. He worked for long periods of time with stretcher bearers in carrying wounded men to safety. Chaplain De Valles previously rendered gallant service in the Chemin des Dames sector, March 11, 1918, by remaining with a group of wounded during a heavy enemy bombardment.
General Orders No. No. 35, W.D., 1920 Continue Reading

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March 21, 1918: Operation Michael Begins

And then, exactly as a pianist runs his hands across the keyboard from treble to bass, there rose in less than one minute the most tremendous cannonade I shall ever hear…It swept round us in a wide curve of red leaping flame stretching to the north far along the front of the Third Army, as well as of the Fifth Army on the south, and quite unending in either direction…the enormous explosions of the shells upon our trenches seemed almost to touch each other, with hardly an interval in space or time…The weight and intensity of the bombardment surpassed anything which anyone had ever known before.

Winston Churchill, who was present at the front when Operation Michael began.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The 1918 German Spring Offensive, known to history as the Kaiserschlacht (Kaiser’s Battle), got underway on March 21, 1918.  Three German Armies struck the British Fifth Army and the right wing of the British Third Army.  The British Fifth Army held the juncture with the French forces in the south.  If the British could be driven away from the French, hopefully being driven into the North Sea, the Germans thought that they could then defeat the French.  This large scale test of the German stosstruppen tactics seemed initially to be a great success.  Rolling artillery barrages protected the German stormtroops as they avoided Allied strongpoints and punched holes in the British trench lines, restoring a mobility to the Western Front warfare that had been absent after 1914.

 

By the time the offensive came to an end on April 5, 1918 the Germans had put a scare into the Allied High Command and made huge, up to 65 miles, almost unbelievable, in the context of the Western Front, gains against the British.  However, there were worrisome factors for the Germans to contemplate.  Each side during the offensive lost a quarter of a million men, but the German losses were mostly among their highly trained, and irreplaceable, stormtroops.  The Germans enjoyed huge tactical successes, but General Ludendorff, perhaps the most overrated commander of the Great War, was unable to use these successes to gain the strategic goal of separating the British from the French.  The Germans had great difficulty in keeping their assault troops supplied over the torn up terrain they were advancing over.  The Germans captured 75,000 British troops, and 1300 pieces of artillery, but they were no closer to ultimate victory than they had been when Operation Michael was launched.

March 1918: The Coming Storm in the West

By March of 1918 most observers of the bloody stalemate on the Western Front realized that it was likely that 1918 would see a great change.

 

 

 

 

 

On March 3, 1918 Imperial Germany signed a treaty of peace with the Bolshevik government of Russia.  This granted Germany a huge part of European Russia and put to a victorious conclusion for the Central Powers the Great War in the East.  This was fortunate for Germany, because it was clearly coming to the end of its tether.  The Allied blockade was bringing the German civilian population to the brink of starvation.  Its ally, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, was completely fought out, unable to even maintain itself against Italy without strong German reinforcements, and its new Emperor was sending out peace feelers to President Wilson. The Ottoman Empire was in the process of losing its war against the Allies in the Middle East.  The German Army was still immensely formidable, but after almost four years of total war, its wiser commanders realized that victory had to come soon or, inevitably, the greater resources of the Allies would grind down the German Army into an increasingly impotent defensive force.

Thus the German high command, rolling the iron dice of war. was ready to launch a great offensive against the British, hoping to drive them from the Continent, defeat France and usher in an era of a German dominated Europe.  The German forces in the West were greatly reinforced by German forces from the no longer existing Eastern Front.  Special units of the German Army, trained in stosstruppen tactics of fire and movement, and avoiding Allied strongpoints, would lead breakthroughs of the Allied trenches, and bring to an end the stasis of the Western Front.

For the Allies, the loss of the Russian Front was terrifying, but they had reasons for optimism. The Allies were in position to perhaps knock out the Ottoman Empire from the war in 1918. The Americans were landing in France in ever greater numbers.  By the middle of 1918 the Americans would have more than a million combat troops ready to enter the line.  The tank had rapidly evolved from a battlefield curiosity into a potentially decisive means to break through the German trench lines.  Complete Allied control of the seas ensured that in the war of material the Allies had an insurmountable advantage against their Central European opponents.  However, the Allies understood that their civilian populations, with the exception of the Americans, were war weary.  The French Army had recovered from a bout of mutinies in 1917, but was still shaky.  The British were nearing the bottom of the barrel when it came to manpower, and found it increasingly difficult to replace infantry losses.

As winter began to end and spring to arrive along the Western Front in 1918, all were aware that decisive events were about to begin.

February 26, 1941: Eddie Rickenbacker Cheats Death Again

Eddie Rickenbacker, America’s Ace of Aces in World War I, cheated death in aerial combat many times over France.  Between April 29, 1918 and October 30, 1918, with several weeks lost due to being grounded for an ear infection, he shot down 26 German planes and observation balloons and earned seven Distinguished Service Crosses, the French Croix de Guerre and the Medal of Honor.  Here is the Medal of Honor citation:

Edward V. Rickenbacker, Colonel, specialist reserve, then first lieutenant, 94th Aero Squadron, Air Service, American Expeditionary Forces. For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty in action against the enemy near Billy, France, September 25, 1918. While on a voluntary patrol over the lines Lieutenant. Rickenbacker attacked seven enemy planes (five type Fokker protecting two type Halberstadt photographic planes). Disregarding the odds against him he dived on them and shot down one of the Fokkers out of control. He then attacked one of the Halberstadts and sent it down also.

One would have thought that with the ending of the War Rickenbacker could have said farewell to the Grim Reaper until his peaceful death in civilian life, but such was not the case with Rickenbacker.  He went on to an extremely successful business career, most notably as the head of Eastern Air Lines.

On February 26, 1941, Rickenbacker was on board a Douglas DC-3 that crashed outside of Atlanta, Georgia.  Rickenbacker suffered grave injuries and was trapped in the wreckage.  Despite his own predicament he did his best to keep up the spirits of the other survivors who were injured, and guided the ambulatory survivors to find help.  Rickenbacker’s death was erroneously reported in the press, and he spent ten days near death, an experience he reported as being one of overwhelming calm and pleasure. Continue Reading

1

State of the Union: 1917

 

 

Woodrow Wilson began the modern custom of Presidents delivering their annual messages on the State of the Union personally to Congress in speech form.  His December 4, 1917 State of the Union speech was necessarily dominated by American involvement in World War I.  Here is the text of the State of the Union address:

 

GENTLEMEN OF THE CONGRESS:

Eight months have elapsed since I last had the honor of addressing you. They have been months crowded with events of immense and grave significance for us. I shall not undertake to detail or even to summarize those events. The practical particulars of the part we have played in them will be laid before you in the reports of the executive departments. I shall discuss only our present outlook upon these vast affairs, our present duties, and the immediate means of accomplishing the objects we shall hold always in view.

I shall not go back to debate the causes of the war. The intolerable wrongs done and planned against us by the sinister masters of Germany have long since become too grossly obvious and odious to every true American to need to be rehearsed. But I shall ask you to consider again and with a very grave scrutiny our objectives and the measures by which we mean to attain them; for the purpose of discussion here in this place is action, and our action must move straight toward definite ends. Our object is, of course, to win the war; and we shall not slacken or suffer ourselves to be diverted until it is won. But it is worth while asking and answering the question, When shall we consider the war won?

From one point of view it is not necessary to broach this fundamental matter. I do not doubt that the American people know what the war is about and what sort of an outcome they will regard as a realization of their purpose in it.

As a nation we are united in spirit and intention. I pay little heed to those who tell me otherwise. I hear the voices of dissent-who does not? I bear the criticism and the clamor of the noisily thoughtless and troublesome. I also see men here and there fling themselves in impotent disloyalty against the calm, indomitable power of the Nation. I hear men debate peace who understand neither its nature nor the way in which we may attain it with uplifted eyes and unbroken spirits. But I know that none of these speaks for the Nation. They do not touch the heart of anything. They may safely be left to strut their uneasy hour and be forgotten.

But from another point of view I believe that it is necessary to say plainly what we here at the seat of action consider the war to be for and what part we mean to play in the settlement of its searching issues. We are the spokesmen of the American people, and they have a right to know whether their purpose is ours. They desire peace by the overcoming of evil, by the defeat once for all of the sinister forces that interrupt peace and render it impossible, and they wish to know how closely our thought runs with theirs and what action we propose. They are impatient with those who desire peace by any sort of compromise deeply and indignantly impatient–but they will be equally impatient with us if we do not make it plain to them what our objectives are and what we are planning for in seeking to make conquest of peace by arms.

I believe that I speak for them when I say two things: First, that this intolerable thing of which the masters of Germany have shown us the ugly face, this menace of combined intrigue and force which we now see so clearly as the German power, a thing without conscience or honor of capacity for covenanted peace, must be crushed and, if it be not utterly brought to an end, at least shut out from the friendly intercourse of the nations; and second, that when this thing and its power are indeed defeated and the time comes that we can discuss peace when the German people have spokesmen whose word we can believe and when those spokesmen are ready in the name of their people to accept the common judgment of the nations as to what shall henceforth be the bases of law and of covenant for the life of the world-we shall be willing and glad to pay the full price for peace, and pay it ungrudgingly.

We know what that price will be. It will be full, impartial justice-justice done at every point and to every nation that the final settlement must affect, our enemies as well as our friends.

You catch, with me, the voices of humanity that are in the air. They grow daily more audible, more articulate, more persuasive, and they come from the hearts of men everywhere. They insist that the war shall not end in vindictive action of any kind; that no nation or people shall be robbed or punished because the irresponsible rulers of a single country have themselves done deep and abominable wrong. It is this thought that has been expressed in the formula, “No annexations, no contributions, no punitive indemnities.”

Just because this crude formula expresses the instinctive judgment as to right of plain men everywhere, it has been made diligent use of by the masters of German intrigue to lead the people of Russia astray and the people of every other country their agents could reach-in order that a premature peace might be brought about before autocracy has been taught its final and convincing lesson and the people of the world put in control of their own destinies.

But the fact that a wrong use has been made of a just idea is no reason why a right use should not be made of it. It ought to be brought under the patronage of its real friends. Let it be said again that autocracy must first be shown the utter futility of its claim to power or leadership in the modern world. It is impossible to apply any standard of justice so long as such forces are unchecked and undefeated as the present masters of Germany command. Not until that has been done can right be set up as arbiter and peacemaker among the nations. But when that has been done-as, God willing, it assuredly will be-we shall at last be free to do an unprecedented thing, and this is the time to avow our purpose to do it. We shall be free to base peace on generosity and justice, to the exclusions of all selfish claims to advantage even on the part of the victors.

Let there be no misunderstanding. Our present and immediate task is to win the war and nothing shall turn us aside from it until it is accomplished. Every power and resource we possess, whether of men, of money, or of materials, is being devoted and will continue to be devoted to that purpose until it is achieved. Those who desire to bring peace about before that purpose is achieved I counsel to carry their advice elsewhere. We will not entertain it. We shall regard the war as won only when the German people say to us, through properly accredited representatives, that they are ready to agree to a settlement based upon justice and reparation of the wrongs their rulers have done. They have done a wrong to Belgium which must be repaired. They have established a power over other lands and peoples than their own–over the great empire of Austria-Hungary, over hitherto free Balkan states, over Turkey and within Asia-which must be relinquished.

Germany’s success by skill, by industry, by knowledge, by enterprise we did not grudge or oppose, but admired, rather. She had built up for herself a real empire of trade and influence, secured by the peace of the world. We were content to abide by the rivalries of manufacture, science and commerce that were involved for us in her success, and stand or fall as we had or did not have the brains and the initiative to surpass her. But at the moment when she had conspicuously won her triumphs of peace she threw them away, to establish in their stead what the world will no longer permit to be established, military and political domination by arms, by which to oust where she could not excel the rivals she most feared and hated. The peace we make must remedy that wrong. It must deliver the once fair lands and happy peoples of Belgium and Northern France from the Prussian conquest and the Prussian menace, but it must deliver also the peoples of Austria-Hungary, the peoples of the Balkans and the peoples of Turkey, alike in Europe and Asia, from the impudent and alien dominion of the Prussian military and commercial autocracy.

We owe it, however, to ourselves, to say that we do not wish in any way to impair or to rearrange the Austro-Hungarian Empire. It is no affair of ours what they do with their own life, either industrially or politically. We do not purpose or desire to dictate to them in any way. We only desire to see that their affairs are left in their own hands, in all matters, great or small. We shall hope to secure for the peoples of the Balkan peninsula and for the people of the Turkish Empire the right and opportunity to make their own lives safe, their own fortunes secure against oppression or injustice and from the dictation of foreign courts or parties.

And our attitude and purpose with regard to Germany herself are of a like kind. We intend no wrong against the German Empire, no interference with her internal affairs. We should deem either the one or the other absolutely unjustifiable, absolutely contrary to the principles we have professed to live by and to hold most sacred throughout our life as a nation.

The people of Germany are being told by the men whom they now permit to deceive them and to act as their masters that they are fighting for the very life and existence of their empire, a war of desperate self-defense against deliberate aggression. Nothing could be more grossly or wantonly false, and we must seek by the utmost openness and candor as to our real aims to convince them of its falseness. We are in fact fighting for their emancipation from the fear, along with our own-from the fear as well as from the fact of unjust attack by neighbors or rivals or schemers after world empire. No one is threatening the existence or the independence of the peaceful enterprise of the German Empire.

The worst that can happen to the detriment the German people is this, that if they should still, after the war is over, continue to be obliged to live under ambitious and intriguing masters interested to disturb the peace of the world, men or classes of men whom the other peoples of the world could not trust, it might be impossible to admit them to the partnership of nations which must henceforth guarantee the world’s peace. That partnership must be a partnership of peoples, not a mere partnership of governments. It might be impossible, also, in such untoward circumstances, to admit Germany to the free economic intercourse which must inevitably spring out of the other partnerships of a real peace. But there would be no aggression in that; and such a situation, inevitable, because of distrust, would in the very nature of things sooner or later cure itself, by processes which would assuredly set in.

The wrongs, the very deep wrongs, committed in this war will have to be righted. That, of course. But they cannot and must not be righted by the commission of similar wrongs against Germany and her allies. The world will not permit the commission of similar wrongs as a means of reparation and settlement. Statesmen must by this time have learned that the opinion of the world is everywhere wide awake and fully comprehends the issues involved. No representative of any self-governed nation will dare disregard it by attempting any such covenants of selfishness and compromise as were entered into at the Congress of Vienna. The thought of the plain people here and everywhere throughout the world, the people who enjoy no privilege and have very simple and unsophisticated standards of right and wrong, is the air all governments must henceforth breathe if they would live.

It is in the full disclosing light of that thought that all policies must be received and executed in this midday hour of the world’s life. Ger. man rulers have been able to upset the peace of the world only because the German people were not suffered under their tutelage to share the comradeship of the other peoples of the world either in thought or in purpose. They were allowed to have no opinion of their own which might be set up as a rule of conduct for those who exercised authority over them. But the Congress that concludes this war will feel the full strength of the tides that run now in the hearts and consciences of free men everywhere. Its conclusions will run with those tides.

All those things have been true from the very beginning of this stupendous war; and I cannot help thinking that if they had been made plain at the very outset the sympathy and enthusiasm of the Russian people might have been once for all enlisted on the side of the Allies, suspicion and distrust swept away, and a real and lasting union of purpose effected. Had they believed these things at the very moment of their revolution, and had they been confirmed in that belief since, the sad reverses which have recently marked the progress of their affairs towards an ordered and stable government of free men might have been avoided. The Russian people have been poisoned by the very same falsehoods that have kept the German people in the dark, and the poison has been administered by the very same hand. The only possible antidote is the truth. It cannot be uttered too plainly or too often.

From every point of view, therefore, it has seemed to be my duty to speak these declarations of purpose, to add these specific interpretations to what I took the liberty of saying to the Senate in January. Our entrance into the war has not altered out attitude towards the settlement that must come when it is over.

When I said in January that the nations of the world were entitled not only to free pathways upon the sea, but also to assured and unmolested access to those-pathways, I was thinking, and I am thinking now, not of the smaller and weaker nations alone which need our countenance and support, but also of the great and powerful nations and of our present enemies as well as our present associates in the war. I was thinking, and am thinking now, of Austria herself, among the rest, as well as of Serbia and of Poland.

Justice and equality of rights can be had only at a great price. We are seeking permanent, not temporary, foundations for the peace of the world, and must seek them candidly and fearlessly. As always, the right will prove to be the expedient.

What shall we do, then, to push this great war of freedom and justice to its righteous conclusion? We must clear away with a thorough hand all impediments to success, and we must make every adjustment of law that will facilitate the full and free use of our whole capacity and force as a fighting unit.

One very embarrassing obstacle that stands hi our way is that we are at war with Germany but not with her allies. I, therefore, very earnestly recommend that the Congress immediately declare the United States in a state of war with Austria-Hungary. Does it seem strange to you that this should be the conclusion of the argument I have just addressed to you? It is not. It is in fact the inevitable logic of what I have said. Austria-Hungary is for the time being not her own mistress but simply the vassal of the German Government.

We must face the facts as they are and act upon them without sentiment in this stern business. The Government of Austria and Hungary is not acting upon its own initiative or in response to the wishes and feelings of its own peoples, but as the instrument of another nation. We must meet its force with our own and regard the Central Powers as but one. The war can be successfully conducted in no other way.

The same logic would lead also to a declaration of war against Turkey and Bulgaria. They also are the tools of Germany, but they are mere tools and do not yet stand in the direct path of our necessary action. We shall go wherever the necessities of this war carry us, but it seems to me that we should go only where immediate and practical considerations lead us, and not heed any others.

The financial and military measures which must be adopted will suggest themselves as the war and its undertakings develop, but I will take the liberty of proposing to you certain other acts of legislation which seem to me to be needed for the support of the war and for the release of our whole force and energy.

It will be necessary to extend in certain particulars the legislation of the last session with regard to alien enemies, and also necessary, I believe, to create a very definite and particular control over the entrance and departure of all persons into and from the United States.

Legislation should be enacted defining as a criminal offense every wilful violation of the presidential proclamation relating to alien enemies promulgated under section 4o67 of the revised statutes and providing appropriate punishments; and women, as well as men, should be included under the terms of the acts placing restraints upon alien enemies.

It is likely that as time goes on many alien enemies will be willing to be fed and housed at the expense of the Government in the detention camps, and it would be the purpose of the legislation I have suggested to confine offenders among them in the penitentiaries and other similar institutions where they could be made to work as other criminals do.

Recent experience has convinced me that the Congress must go further in authorizing the Government to set limits to prices. The law of supply and demand, I am sorry to say, has been replaced by the law of unrestrained selfishness. While we have eliminated profiteering in several branches of industry, it still runs impudently rampant in others. The farmers for example, complain with a great deal of justice that, while the regulation of food prices restricts their incomes, no restraints are placed upon the prices of most of the things they must themselves purchase; and similar inequities obtain on all sides.

It is imperatively necessary that the consideration of the full use of the water power of the country, and also of the consideration of the systematic and yet economical development of such of the natural resources of the country as are still under the control of the Federal Government should be immediately resumed and affirmatively and constructively dealt with at the earliest possible moment. The pressing need of such legislation is daily becoming more obvious.

The legislation proposed at the last session with regard to regulated combinations among our exporters in order to provide for our foreign trade a more effective organization and method of co-operation ought by all means to be completed at this session.

And I beg that the members of the House of Representatives will permit me to express the opinion that it will be impossible to deal in any but a very wasteful and extravagant fashion with the enormous appropriations of the public moneys which must continue to be made if the war is to be properly sustained, unless the House will consent to return to its former practice of initiating and preparing all appropriation bills through a single committee, in order that responsibility may be centered, expenditures standardized and made uniform, and waste and duplication as much as possible avoided.

Additional legislation may also become necessary before the present Congress again adjourns in order to effect the most efficient co-ordination and operation of the railways and other transportation systems of the country; but to that I shall, if circumstances should demand, call the attention of Congress upon another occasion.

If I have overlooked anything that ought to be done for the more effective conduct of the war, your own counsels will supply the omission. What I am perfectly clear about is that in the present session of the Congress our whole attention and energy should be concentrated on the vigorous, rapid and successful prosecution of the great task of winning the war.

We can do this with all the greater zeal and enthusiasm because we know that for us this is a war of high principle, debased by no selfish ambition of conquest or spoliation; because we know, and all the world knows, that we have been forced into it to save the very institutions we five under from corruption and destruction. The purpose of the Central Powers strikes straight at the very heart of everything we believe in; their methods of warfare outrage every principle of humanity and of knightly honor; their intrigue has corrupted the very thought and spirit of many of our people; their sinister and secret diplomacy has sought to take our very territory away from us and disrupt the union of the states. Our safety would be at an end, our honor forever sullied and brought into contempt, were we to permit their triumph. They are striking at the very existence of democracy and liberty.

It is because it is for us a war of high, disinterested purpose, in which all the free peoples of the world are banded together for the vindication of right, a war for the preservation of our nation, of all that it has held dear, of principle and of purpose, that we feel ourselves doubly constrained to propose for its outcome only that which is righteous and of irreproachable intention, for our foes as well as for our friends. The cause being just and holy, the settlement must be of like motive and equality. For this we can fight, but for nothing less noble or less worthy of our traditions. For this cause we entered the war and for this cause will we battle until the last gun is fired.

I have spoken plainly because this seems to me the time when it is most necessary to speak plainly, in order that all the world may know that, even in the heat and ardor of the struggle and when our whole thought is of carrying the war through to its end, we have not forgotten any ideal or principle for which the name of America has been held in honor among the nations and for which it has been our glory to contend in the great generations that went before us. A supreme moment of history has come. The eyes of the people have been opened and they see. The hand of God is laid upon the nations. He will show them favor, I devoutly believe, only if they rise to the clear heights of His own justice and mercy.

3

The Long Ride of Colonel Young

“Get a good life insurance policy, with your family as beneficiary. Bring your Bible and yourself.”

Advice of Charles Davis Young to a friend joining the Tenth Cavalry

 

The first black colonel in the United States Army, Charles Davis Young, was born in 1864 in Tennessee, the son of slaves.  His father escaped from slavery in January 1865 and served in the Fifth Regiment Heavy Artillery, United States Colored Troops.  Settling in Ripley, Ohio after the War, Young’s father had saved enough from his military pay to buy land and build a house.  Charles Young attend an otherwise all white school in Ripley and graduated at the top of his class.  Young greatly admired his father, and decided to follow in his footsteps and embark on a military career.  In 1883 he earned appointment to West Point by coming in second on the competitive examination in his Congressional District.  When the first place candidate decided not to go, Young was admitted.

Young’s years at West Point were trying.  He roomed for three years with John Hanks Alexander, the only black cadet at West Point.   The attitude of the rest of his class to him can be gauged by the nickname he was tagged with:  ” the load of of coal”.  As many cadets before and since, he struggled with mathematics and had to repeat his first year as a result.  However, he discovered a hitherto unknown facility for foreign languages and learned several.    The disdainful attitude of most of his fellow cadets was constant, but his endurance and good humor throughout ultimately led to friendships with some white cadets that lasted the remainder of his life.  Young graduated last in his class in 1889.  He was the third black to graduate from West Point and would be the last until 1936.

His service with the Army was largely with the segregated “Buffalo” black cavalry regiments of the Ninth and the Tenth which had earned reputations for valor and professionalism.  On duty Young developed a reputation as all Army, a stern disciplinarian and stickler for regulations.  Off duty he was a kind and cultured man who took an interest in the professional development of his subordinates.  One of those subordinates in 1900 was Sergeant Major Benjamin O. Davis.  Young encouraged him to take the Officer Candidates’ test and tutored him for the test.  Davis passed and was ultimately commissioned.  In 1940 he was promoted to Brigadier General, the first black to attain that rank in US military history.

During the Spanish-American war Young was promoted to the temporary rank of Major of Volunteers and commanded the 9th Ohio, a black volunteer regiment, Young thus becoming the first black to command a regiment in American military history.  Due to the brevity of the War, the 9th Ohio did not see service overseas, a fate common to most of the volunteer regiments raised in that War.  Young did serve in combat in the Philippines, commanding a troop of the Ninth Cavalry in the fight against Insurrectos on Samar.  His courage and leadership caused his men to give him the nickname “Follow me”.

Interspersed with command duties with troops, Young had the usual variety of assignments that were common for Army officers during this time period.  He served as superintendent of two national parks and was assigned as military attache in Haiti and Liberia.  In 1912 he wrote The Military Morale of Nations and Races, which postulated that with good training, and good leadership and fair treatment, the members of any race could make good soldiers.  He dedicated the book to Theodore Roosevelt, a personal friend who had taken an interest in Young’s career.  During the Punitive Expedition in 1916 into Mexico, Major Young attained notoriety due to successful cavalry charges against Mexican bandits while commanding a squadron of the Tenth Cavalry.  Young was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and assigned to command Fort Huachuca in Arizona.

With the US heading to War in Europe it was assumed that Young might become the first black general in the US Army.  That prospect came to an end when Young failed a medical exam in early 1917 due to high blood pressure and damage to his kidneys, a legacy from his service in Liberia.  Young was retired, a retirement that Young protested.  It is likely that racism played a large factor in his retirement, more than a few white officers reacting with dismay to the prospect of serving under a black general.   Writing to Theodore Roosevelt for help in gaining reinstatement, Roosevelt immediately offered him command of one of the two black regiments Roosevelt planned to serve in the Rough Riders that Roosevelt had received Congressional approval to raise for service in World War I. Roosevelt said Young would have carte blanche in choosing the officers of his regiment.  Alas, President Wilson refused to authorize the raising of the Rough Riders.

In June 1918, to show he was physically fit for service, Young rode horseback the 500 miles from Xenia, Ohio to Washington DC.  The trip to Washington took 16 days.  Young experienced both racism and respect from the various Whites he encountered.  In a town with a bad reputation for racism against blacks, Young’s attempt to gain reinstatement was met with sympathy by local whites who asked what they could do to help.  Young responded that there was nothing they could do for him, but he would be grateful if black troops traveling through the town would receive a kind welcome.

Young met with Secretary of War Baker who promised to look into the situation.  On November 6, 1918 Young was placed back on active duty and promoted to Colonel.  He remained on active duty until his death in 1922 when he died of nephritis.  He is buried, appropriately, in Arlington.  When he was buried, an estimated 100,000 people lined his funeral procession.

9

October 30, 1918: Theodore Roosevelt Responds to the Fourteen Points

 

 

As the War was nearing its close, Theodore Roosevelt responded in the Kansas City Star with a blistering assessment of  the Fourteen Points that President Wilson was seeking to make the basis of the peace:

 

THE European nations have been told that the fourteen points enumerated in President Wilson’s message of January last are to be the basis of peace. It is, therefore, possible that Americans may like to know what they are. It is even possible that they may like to guess what they mean, although I am not certain that such guessing is permitted by the Postmaster-General and the Attorney-General under the new theory of making democracy safe for all kinds of peoples abroad who have never heard of it by interpreting democracy at home as meaning that it is unlawful for the people to express any except favorable opinions of the way in which the public servants of the people transact the public business. The first point forbids ” all private international understandings of any kind,” and says there must be ” open covenants of peace, openly arrived at,” and announces that ” diplomacy shall always proceed frankly in the public view.” The President has recently waged war on Haiti and San Domingo and rendered democracy within these two small former republics and has kept all that he has done in the matter absolutely secret. If he means what he says, he will at once announce what open covenant of peace he has openly arrived at with these two little republics, which he has deprived of their right of self-determination. He will also announce what public international understanding, if any, he now has with these two republics, whose soil he is at present occupying with the armed forces of the United States and hundreds of whose citizens have been killed by these armed forces. If he has no such public understanding, he will tell us why, and whether he has any private international understanding, or whether he invaded and conquered them and deprived them of the right of self- determination without any attempt to reach any understanding, either private or public.

Moreover, he has just sent abroad on a diplomatic mission Mr. House, of Texas. Mr. House is not in the public service of the Nation, but he is in the private service of Mr. Wilson. He is usually
called Colonel House. In his official or semi-official biography, published in an ardently admiring New York paper, it is explained that he was once appointed colonel on a governor s staff, but carried his dislike of military ostentation to the point of giving his uniform to a negro servant to wear on social occasions. This attitude of respect for the uniform makes the President feel that he is peculiarly fit to negotiate on behalf of our fighting men abroad for whom the uniform is sacred. Associated with him is an editor of the New York World, which paper has recently been busy in denouncing as foolish the demand made by so many Americans for unconditional surrender by Germany.

I do not doubt that these two gentlemen possess charming social attributes and much private worth, but as they are sent over on a diplomatic mission, presumably vitally affecting the whole country, and as their instructions and purposes are shrouded in
profound mystery, it seems permissible to ask President Wilson why in this particular instance diplomacy does not ” proceed frankly in the public view ” ?

This first one of the fourteen points offers such an illuminating opportunity to test promise as to the future by performance in the present that I have considered it at some length. The other thirteen points and the subsequent points laid down as further requirements for peace I shall briefly take up in another article. Continue Reading

2

January 8, 1918: Wilson’s Fourteen Points Speech

Without a doubt the most consequential speech he ever delivered, Wilson’s Fourteen Point Speech has been carefully analyzed and debated since it was given a century ago.  Delivered to a joint session of Congress, the speech clearly laid out the war aims of the US.  The Fourteen Points quickly caught the imagination of most of the American people and proved highly popular among the populations in Allied nations.  Ultimately Imperial Germany in November 1918, looking at looming military defeat, sued for peace on the basis of the Fourteen Points.  Bearing more than a passing resemblance to the peace plan proposed by Pope Benedict XV, go here to read about it, in 1917, practical statesman, like Theodore Roosevelt, Lloyd George, and Georges Clemenceau, would privately doubt the possibility of the application of all of the Fourteen Points in this fallen world, but neither they, nor any of the critics of the Fourteen Points, then or since, could doubt the impact of the Fourteen Points as that year of destiny, 1918, unfolded.  Here is the text of Wilson’s speech:

 

 

 

Gentlemen of the Congress:

Once more, as repeatedly before, the spokesmen of the Central Empires have indicated their desire to discuss the objects of the war and the possible bases of a general peace. Parleys have been in progress at Brest-Litovsk between Russian representatives and representatives of the Central Powers to which the attention of all the belligerents has been invited for the purpose of ascertaining whether it may be possible to extend these parleys into a general conference with regard to terms of peace and settlement. The Russian representatives presented not only a perfectly definite statement of the principles upon which they would be willing to conclude peace but also an equally definite program of the concrete application of those principles. The representatives of the Central Powers, on their part, presented an outline of settlement which, if much less definite, seemed susceptible of liberal interpretation until their specific program of practical terms was added. That program proposed no concessions at all either to the sovereignty of Russia or to the preferences of the populations with whose fortunes it dealt, but meant, in a word, that the Central Empires were to keep every foot of territory their armed forces had occupied,—every province, every city, every point of vantage,—as a permanent addition to their territories and their power. It is a reasonable conjecture that the general principles of settlement which they at first suggested originated with the more liberal statesmen of Germany and Austria, the men who have begun to feel the force of their own peoples’ thought and purpose, while the concrete terms of actual settlement came from the military leaders who have no thought but to keep what they have got. The negotiations have been broken off. The Russian representatives were sincere and in earnest. They cannot entertain such proposals of conquest and domination.

The whole incident is full of significance. It is also full of perplexity. With whom are the Russian representatives dealing? For whom are the representatives of the Central Empires speaking? Are they speaking for the majorities of their respective parliaments or for the minority parties, that military and imperialistic minority which has so far dominated their whole policy and controlled the affairs of Turkey and of the Balkan states which have felt obliged to become their associates in this war? The Russian representatives have insisted, very justly, very wisely, and in the true spirit of modern democracy, that the conferences they have been holding with the Teutonic and Turkish statesmen should be held within open, not closed, doors, and all the world has been audience, as was desired. To whom have we been listening, then? To those who speak the spirit and intention of the Resolutions of the German Reichstag of the ninth of July last, the spirit and intention of the liberal leaders and parties of Germany, or to those who resist and defy that spirit and intention and insist upon conquest and subjugation? Or are we listening, in fact, to both, unreconciled and in open and hopeless contradiction? These are very serious and pregnant questions. Upon the answer to them depends the peace of the world.

But, whatever the results of the parleys at Brest-Litovsk, whatever the confusions of counsel and of purpose in the utterances of the spokesmen of the Central Empires, they have again attempted to acquaint the world with their objects in the war and have again challenged their adversaries to say what their objects are and what sort of settlement they would deem just and satisfactory. There is no good reason why that challenge should not be responded to, and responded to with the utmost candor. We did not wait for it. Not once, but again and again, we have laid our whole thought and purpose before the world, not in general terms only, but each time with sufficient definition to make it clear what sort of definitive terms of settlement must necessarily spring out of them. Within the last week Mr. Lloyd George has spoken with admirable candor and in admirable spirit for the people and Government of Great Britain. There is no confusion of counsel among the adversaries of the Central Powers, no uncertainty of principle, no vagueness of detail. The only secrecy of counsel, the only lack of fearless frankness, the only failure to make definite statement of the objects of the war, lies with Germany and her Allies. The issues of life and death hang upon these definitions. No statesman who has the least conception of his responsibility ought for a moment to permit himself to continue this tragical and appalling outpouring of blood and treasure unless he is sure beyond a peradventure that the objects of the vital sacrifice are part and parcel of the very life of society and that the people for whom he speaks think them right and imperative as he does.

There is, moreover, a voice calling for these definitions of principle and of purpose which is, it seems to me, more thrilling and more compelling than any of the many moving voices with which the troubled air of the world is filled. It is the voice of the Russian people. They are prostrate and all but helpless, it would seem, before the grim power of Germany, which has hitherto known no relenting and no pity. Their power, apparently, is shattered. And yet their soul is not subservient. They will not yield either in principle or in action. Their conception of what is right, of what it is humane and honorable for them to accept, has been stated with a frankness, a largeness of view, a generosity of spirit, and a universal human sympathy which must challenge the admiration of every friend of mankind; and they have refused to compound their ideals or desert others that they themselves may be safe. They call to us to say what it is that we desire, in what, if in anything, our purpose and our spirit differ from theirs; and I believe that the people of the United States would wish me to respond, with utter simplicity and frankness. Whether their present leaders believe it or not, it is our heartfelt desire and hope that some way may be opened whereby we may be privileged to assist the people of Russia to attain their utmost hope of liberty and ordered peace.

It will be our wish and purpose that the processes of peace, when they are begun, shall be absolutely open and that they shall involve and permit henceforth no secret understandings of any kind. The day of conquest and aggrandizement is gone by; so is also the day of secret covenants entered into in the interest of particular governments and likely at some unlooked-for moment to upset the peace of the world. It is this happy fact, now clear to the view of every public man whose thoughts do not still linger in an age that is dead and gone, which makes it possible for every nation whose purposes are consistent with justice and the peace of the world to avow now or at any other time the objects it has in view.

We entered this war because violations of right had occurred which touched us to the quick and made the life of our own people impossible unless they were corrected and the world secured once for all against their recurrence. What we demand in this war, therefore, is nothing peculiar to ourselves. It is that the world be made fit and safe to live in; and particularly that it be made safe for every peace-loving nation which, like our own, wishes to live its own life, determine its own institutions, be assured of justice and fair dealing by the other peoples of the world as against force and selfish aggression. All the peoples of the world are in effect partners in this interest, and for our own part we see very clearly that unless justice be done to others it will not be done to us. The program of the world’s peace, therefore, is our program; and that program, the only possible program, as we see it, is this:

I. Open covenants of peace, openly arrived at, after which there shall be no private international understandings of any kind, but diplomacy shall proceed always frankly and in the public view.

II. Absolute freedom of navigation upon the seas, outside territorial waters, alike in peace and in war, except as the seas may be closed in whole or in part by international action for the enforcement of international covenants.

III. The removal, so far as possible, of all economic barriers and the establishment of an equality of trade conditions among all the nations consenting to the peace and associating themselves for its maintenance.

IV. Adequate guarantees given and taken that national armaments will be reduced to the lowest point consistent with domestic safety.

V. A free, open-minded, and absolutely impartial adjustment of all colonial claims, based upon a strict observance of the principle that in determining all such questions of sovereignty the interests of the populations concerned must have equal weight with the equitable claims of the government whose title is to be determined.

VI. The evacuation of all Russian territory and such a settlement of all questions affecting Russia as will secure the best and freest coцperation of the other nations of the world in obtaining for her an unhampered and unembarrassed opportunity for the independent determination of her own political development and national policy and assure her of a sincere welcome into the society of free nations under institutions of her own choosing; and, more than a welcome, assistance also of every kind that she may need and may herself desire. The treatment accorded Russia by her sister nations in the months to come will be the acid test of their good will, of their comprehension of her needs as distinguished from their own interests, and of their intelligent and unselfish sympathy.

VII. Belgium, the whole world will agree, must be evacuated and restored, without any attempt to limit the sovereignty which she enjoys in common with all other free nations. No other single act will serve as this will serve to restore confidence among the nations in the laws which they have themselves set and determined for the government of their relations with one another. Without this healing act the whole structure and validity of international law is forever impaired.

VIII. All French territory should be freed and the invaded portions restored, and the wrong done to France by Prussia in 1871 in the matter of Alsace-Lorraine, which has unsettled the peace of the world for nearly fifty years, should be righted, in order that peace may once more be made secure in the interest of all.

IX. A readjustment of the frontiers of Italy should be effected along clearly recognizable lines of nationality.

X. The peoples of Austria-Hungary, whose place among the nations we wish to see safeguarded and assured, should be accorded the freest opportunity of autonomous development.

XI. Rumania, Serbia, and Montenegro should be evacuated; occupied territories restored; Serbia accorded free and secure access to the sea; and the relations of the several Balkan states to one another determined by friendly counsel along historically established lines of allegiance and nationality; and international guarantees of the political and economic independence and territorial integrity of the several Balkan states should be entered into.

XII. The Turkish portions of the present Ottoman Empire should be assured a secure sovereignty, but the other nationalities which are now under Turkish rule should be assured an undoubted security of life and an absolutely unmolested opportunity of autonomous development and the Dardanelles should be permanently opened as a free passage to the ships and commerce of all nations under international guarantees.

XIII. An independent Polish state should be erected which should include the territories inhabited by indisputably Polish populations, which should be assured a free and secure access to the sea, and whose political and economic independence and territorial integrity should be guaranteed by international covenant.

XIV. A general association of nations must be formed under specific covenants for the purpose of affording mutual guarantees of political independence and territorial integrity to great and small states alike.

In regard to these essential rectifications of wrong and assertions of right we feel ourselves to be intimate partners of all the governments and peoples associated together against the Imperialists. We cannot be separated in interest or divided in purpose. We stand together until the end.

For such arrangements and covenants we are willing to fight and to continue to fight until they are achieved; but only because we wish the right to prevail and desire a just and stable peace such as can be secured only by removing the chief provocations to war, which this program does remove. We have no jealousy of German greatness, and there is nothing in this program that impairs it. We grudge her no achievement or distinction of learning or of pacific enterprise such as have made her record very bright and very enviable. We do not wish to injure her or to block in any way her legitimate influence or power. We do not wish to fight her either with arms or with hostile arrangements of trade if she is willing to associate herself with us and the other peace-loving nations of the world in covenants of justice and law and fair dealing. We wish her only to accept a place of equality among the peoples of the world,—the new world in which we now live,—instead of a place of mastery.

Neither do we presume to suggest to her any alteration or modification of her institutions. But it is necessary, we must frankly say, and necessary as a preliminary to any intelligent dealings with her on our part, that we should know whom her spokesmen speak for when they speak to us, whether for the Reichstag majority or for the military party and the men whose creed is imperial domination.

We have spoken now, surely, in terms too concrete to admit of any further doubt or question. An evident principle runs through the whole program I have outlined. It is the principle of justice to all peoples and nationalities, and their right to live on equal terms of liberty and safety with one another, whether they be strong or weak. Unless this principle be made its foundation no part of the structure of international justice can stand. The people of the United States could act upon no other principle; and to the vindication of this principle they are ready to devote their lives, their honor, and everything that they possess. The moral climax of this the culminating and final war for human liberty has come, and they are ready to put their own strength, their own highest purpose, their own integrity and devotion to the test.

 

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Theodore Roosevelt on 50-50 Loyalty

 

 

 

During World War I Theodore Roosevelt contributed what we would call op ed pieces to The Kansas City Star.  They make fascinating reading.  It is interesting how many of the issues he discusses remain hot topics today.  On March 2, 1918 he wrote about what he called 50-50 loyalty.  It should be noted that as a teenager Roosevelt had lived and studied in Germany and was fluent in German.  Here is the text of his piece: Continue Reading

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1917 Thanksgiving Day Proclamation

By the President of the United States of America
A ProclamationIt has long been the honored custom of our people to turn in the fruitful autumn of the year in praise and thanksgiving to Almighty God for His many blessings and mercies to us as a nation. That custom we can follow now even in the midst of the tragedy of a world shaken by war and immeasurable disaster, in the midst of sorrow and great peril, because even amidst the darkness that has gathered about us we can see the great blessings God has bestowed upon us, blessings that are better than mere peace of mind and prosperity of enterprise.

We have been given the opportunity to serve mankind as we once served ourselves in the great day of our Declaration of Independence, by taking up arms against a tyranny that threatened to master and debase men everywhere and joining with other free peoples in demanding for all the nations of the Worworld what we then demanded and obtained for ourselves. In this day of the revelation of our duty not only to defend our own rights as nation but to defend also the rights of free men throughout the world, there has been vouchsafed us in full and inspiring measure the resolution and spirit of united action. We have been brought to one mind and purpose. A new vigor of common counsel and common action has been revealed in us. We should especially thank God that in such circumstances, in the midst of the greatest enterprise the spirits of men have ever entered upon, we have, if we but observe a reasonable and practicable economy, abundance with which to supply the needs of those associated with us as well as our own. A new light shines about us. The great duties of a new day awaken a new and greater national spirit in us. We shall never again be divided or wonder what stuff we are made of.

And while we render thanks for these things let us pray Almighty God that in all humbleness of spirit we may look always to Him for guidance; that we may be kept constant in the spirit and purpose of service; that by His grace our minds may be directed and our hands strengthened; and that in His good time liberty and security and peace and the comradeship of a common justice may be vouchsafed all the nations of the earth.

Wherefore, I, Woodrow Wilson, President of the United States of America, do hereby designate Thursday, the twenty-ninth day of November next as a day of thanksgiving and prayer, and invite the people throughout the land to cease upon that day from their ordinary occupations and in their several homes and places of worship to render thanks to God, the great ruler of nations.

In Witness Whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done in the District of Columbia this 7th day of November in the year of our Lord one thousand nine hundred and seventeen and of the independence of the United States of America the one hundred and forty-second.

 

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La Marseillaise

God of mercy and justice
See our tyrants, judge our hearts
Thy goodness be with us
Defend us from these oppressors
You reign in heaven and on earth
And before You all must bend
In your arms, come support us
You Great God, Lord of the thunder.

Rarely sung stanza of La Marseillaise

 

 

 

Something for the weekend.   La Marseillaise, sung by New Zealand born opera singer Frances Alda, the toast of New York.  Recorded on June 1, 1917, the week after the US entered World War I, the song was number 22 of the top 40 for the US that year, reflecting the crusade like atmosphere felt by most Americans to save France from the Germans.

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Gas

GAS! Gas! Quick, boys!– An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And floundering like a man in fire or lime.–
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

Wilfrid Owen

 

 

 

One of the horrible features of World War I was the military use of chemical agents.  Although gas attacks rarely produced decisive results, from 1915 both sides made use of gas in attacks.  The US, along with almost every other element necessary to wage modern war, entered World War I ill-prepared to deal with gas.  Initially gas training consisted of a brief lecture followed by rudimentary instruction on the use of gas masks which the Army was badly supplied with in any case.  Training improved as the War went on, but US troops sustained unnecessary gas casualties due to the original shoddy training.

The US formed the 1rst Gas Regiment which deployed phosgene gas, a nasty compound which produced about 85% of the 100,000 gas fatalities incurred during the War.  US artillery batteries were supplied with mustard gas shells.  All told there were 1.3 million gas casualties during the War.  Although conventional artillery was the overwhelming killer during World War I, most veterans came out the conflict with a great horror of gas weapons, which might help explain why they were not used militarily in World War II, when most of the high command of the nations involved were Great War veterans.

How Ya Gonna Keep ’em Down On the Farm?

 

 

Something for the weekend.   How Ya Gonna Keep ’em Down On the Farm?  With music by Walter Donaldson and words by Joe Young and Sam M. Lewis, the humorous song became immensely popular in 1919, especially with troops awaiting demobilization.  The song reflected a real concern among parents and wives that their doughboys would come back changed men.  Well, they did, but most of them resumed their former lives with little fuss or bother. Continue Reading

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Patton and the Tank: A Love Affair Begins

 

Through the mud and the blood to the green fields beyond.

Brigadier General Hugh Elles, Commander British Tank Corps, Battle of Cambrai

 

 

 

Captain George S. Patton was not a happy man.  A personal aide to General John J. Pershing, and in command of the Headquarters Company of the AEF, he lacked sufficient work for his vigorous mind and nature.  Writing to his wife he poured out his frustration:  “nothing but [a] hired flunky. I shall be glad to get back to the line again and will try to do so in the spring. These damn French are bothering us with a lot of details which have nothing to do with any- thing. I have a hard time keeping my patience.”  Pershing had promised him an eventual command in an infantry unit, but for a cavalry trooper like Patton that was a prospect he met with a decided lack of enthusiasm.

Tanks were a natural option, but surprisingly the tank initially aroused no enthusiasm in Patton.  “Tanks aren’t worth a damn” he had written in July 1917, and, indeed, the battlefield record of these primitive first steps in armored warfare were unimpressive.  Used in penny packets by commanders with no idea of how to utilize these newfangled gadget, manned by officers and men who did lack courage but did lack knowledge and skill, and suffering the birthing pangs of cutting edge technology in war, tanks had failed to make much impact thus far in the Great War.  In the months ahead that would all change at the Battle of Cambrai on November 20, 1917 when the massed use of 437 tanks led to an unprecedented advance on the Western Front and sent the church bells in Britain madly ringing.  The Germans counterattacked and took back most of the ground the British had gained before the battle sputtered out on December 7, 1917, but perceptive Germans saw that a new factor had entered into the conflict: Continue Reading

Goodbye Broadway, Hello France

 

Something for the weekend.  Goodbye Broadway, Hello France.  A century ago the first American units had landed in France, the vanguard of the American Expeditionary Forces that would grow to over two million men.  To commemorate this vast event, Billy Baskette composed this song in 1917 with C. Francis Reisner and Benny Davis writing the lyrics.  The song became one of the mega-hits of the War.

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August 27, 1917: President Wilson Responds to the Peace Plea of Pope Benedict

Eventually President Wilson would incorporate parts of the peace plan, go here to read about it, Pope Benedict proposed on August 1, 1917 in his Fourteen Points Peace Plan, but on August 27, 1917 Wilson formally rejected the Pope’s Plan:

AUGUST 27, 1917

To His Holiness Benedictus XV, Pope:

In acknowledgment of the communication of Your Holiness to the belligerent peoples, dated August 1, 1917, the President of the United States requests me to transmit the following reply:

Every heart that has not been blinded and hardened by this terrible war must be touched by this moving appeal of His Holiness the Pope, must feel the dignity and force of the humane and generous motives which prompted it, and must fervently wish that we might take the path of peace he so persuasively points out. But it would be folly to take it if it does not in fact lead to the goal he proposes. Our response must be based upon the stern facts and upon nothing else. It is not a mere cessation of arms he desires; it is a stable and enduring peace. This agony must not be gone through with again, and it must be a matter of very sober judgment that will insure us against it.

His Holiness in substance proposes that we return to the status quo ante bellum, and that then there be a general condonation, disarmament, and a concert of nations based upon an acceptance of the principle of arbitration; that by a similar concert freedom of the seas be established; and that the territorial claims of France and Italy, the perplexing problems of the Balkan States, and the restitution of Poland be left to such conciliatory adjustments as may be possible in the new temper of such a peace, due regard being paid to the aspirations of the peoples whose political fortunes and affiliations will be involved.

It is manifest that no part of this program can be successfully carried out unless the restitution of the status quo ante furnishes a firm and satisfactory basis for it. The object of this war is to deliver the free peoples of the world from the menace and the actual power of a vast military establishment controlled by an irresponsible government which, having secretly planned to dominate the world, proceeded to carry the plan out without regard either to the sacred obligations of treaty or the long-established practices and long-cherished principles of international action and honor; which chose its own time for the war; delivered its blow fiercely and suddenly; stopped at no barrier either of law or of mercy; swept a whole continent within the tide of bloodпїЅnot the blood of soldiers only, but the blood of innocent women and children also and of the helpless poor; and now stands balked but not defeated, the enemy of four-fifths of the world. This power is not the German people. It is the ruthless master of the German people. It is no business of ours how that great people came under its control or submitted with temporary zest to the domination of its purpose; but it is our business to see to it that the history of the rest of the world is no longer left to its handling. Continue Reading

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August 14, 1917: Food Administration Grain Corporation



 

One of the frequently overlooked aspects of American involvement in World War I, is the massive shipments of food from the United States to the Allies that kept them from experiencing the type of dearth of food that afflicted Germany in the latter years of the War.  Behind the success of this effort was one of the greatest geniuses of organization in American history, future president Herbert Hoover.  Since the onset of the War he had organized food relief for occupied Belgium, and is still honored there, for his central role in preventing mass famine in that war devastated country, where the German conquerors had little concern of whether the Belgian civilians had food to eat.   Hoover performed similar  miracles of humanitarian relief in occupied France.

I his Executive Order of August 14, 1917 President Wilson established the Food Administration Grain Corporation with Herbert Hoover on the Board.  This was part of the United States Food Admninistration which Wilson appointed Hoover to lead.  Future posts will explore Hoover’s actions in charge of this organization.  Here is the text of the Executive Order of August 14, 1917:

 

 

Continue Reading

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Joan of Arc, They Are Calling You

I commend you to God; may God watch over you and grant you grace so that you can maintain the good cause of the Kingdom of France.

Joan of Arc

 

 

Something for the weekend.  Joan of Arc, They Are Calling You.  A hit song a hundred years ago in the US.  Music by Jack Wells and lyrics by Al Bryan and Willie Weston.  Although the Maid of Orleans would not be canonized until 1920, the French had regarded her as a saint since her death.  In World War I French soldiers would usually have an image of Joan of Arc on them as they went into battle in a War most of them regarded as a Crusade to save France.

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Quotes Suitable for Framing: Alvin C. York

The American-born boys and the Greeks, Irish, Poles, Jews, and Italians who were in my platoon in the World War. A heap of them couldn’t speaker write the American language until they larned it in the Army. Over here in the training camps and behind the lines in France a right-smart lot of them boozed, gambled, cussed, and went A. W. O. L. But once they got into it Over There they kept on a-going. They were only tollable shots and burned up a most awful lot of ammunition. But jest the same they always kept on a-going. Most of them died like men, with their rifles and bayonets in their hands and their faces to the enemy. I’m a-thinkin* they were real heroes. Any way they were my buddies. I jes learned to love them.

SERGEANT ALVIN C. YORK

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Benedict XV, Rudyard Kipling, John Bunyan and G. K. Chesterton

Benedict-XV

The cheapest and most childish of all the taunts of the Pacifists is, I think, the sneer at belligerents for appealing to the God of Battles. It is ludicrously illogical, for we obviously have no right to kill for victory save when we have a right to pray for it. If a war is not a holy war, it is an unholy one — a massacre.

G.K. Chesterton, October 23, 1915

(Pope Benedict issued his peace proposal on August 1, 1917.  To observe the occasion I am reposting this post from 2011.  Of all that I have written about Kipling, and that is now a considerable amount, this is my favorite piece. I would observe in passing that both Chesterton and CS Lewis, although they differed considerably from Kipling’s views on many topics, were both fans of him as a writer.)

The eighth in my ongoing series examining the poetry of Rudyard Kipling.   The other posts in the series may be read here, here , here , herehere , here and here.   Kipling wrote quite a few poems during his lifetime.  Some are world-famous, most are not, and some are today almost completely forgotten.   The Holy War (1917) is today one of Kipling’s most obscure poems, but caused something of a stir when he wrote it in Advent during 1917.

A tinker out of Bedford,
A vagrant oft in quod,
A private under Fairfax,
A minister of God–
Two hundred years and thirty
Ere Armageddon came
His single hand portrayed it,
And Bunyan was his name!_

He mapped, for those who follow,
The world in which we are–
‘This famous town of Mansoul’
That takes the Holy War
Her true and traitor people,
The gates along her wall,
From Eye Gate unto Feel Gate,
John Bunyan showed them all.

All enemy divisions,
Recruits of every class,
And highly-screened positions
For flame or poison-gas,
The craft that we call modern,
The crimes that we call new,
John Bunyan had ’em typed and filed
In Sixteen Eighty-two

Likewise the Lords of Looseness
That hamper faith and works,
The Perseverance-Doubters,
And Present-Comfort shirks,
With brittle intellectuals
Who crack beneath a strain–
John Bunyan met that helpful set
In Charles the Second’s reign.

Emmanuel’s vanguard dying
For right and not for rights,
My Lord Apollyon lying
To the State-kept Stockholmites,
The Pope, the swithering Neutrals,
The Kaiser and his Gott–
Their roles, their goals, their naked souls–
He knew and drew the lot.

Now he hath left his quarters,
In Bunhill Fields to lie.
The wisdom that he taught us
Is proven prophecy–
One watchword through our armies,
One answer from our lands–
‘No dealings with Diabolus
As long as Mansoul stands.

_A pedlar from a hovel,
The lowest of the low,
The father of the Novel,
Salvation’s first Defoe,
Eight blinded generations
Ere Armageddon came,
He showed us how to meet it,
And Bunyan was his name!_

At one level the poem is a fairly straight-forward paean to John Bunyan, the English writer who penned Pilgrims’s Progress, which every school child used to read back in days when schools spent far more time on academics and far less time on political indoctrination and fake subjects like “Consumer Ed”.  He also wrote quite a few other books and pamphlets, perhaps the best known of which is The Holy War, which portrays a war for the City of Mansoul between the good defenders and the evil besiegers.  I need not spell out the allegorical meaning of the work when the city’s named is rendered as Man Soul.  Kipling had been a devotee of Bunyan since his childhood, and I suppose that part of his motivation in writing the poem was to pay back a literary debt. Continue Reading

August 1, 1917: The Pope’s Peace Plan

 

 

On August 1, 1917 Pope Benedict addressed a peace plan to the heads of the belligerent nations.  The plan had not a prayer of success, as both the Central and Allied Powers had reasons to believe that a military victory was still within their grasp.  The plan is not a mere plea for peace but has some interesting features including:  freedom of the seas, the recognition of the rights of submerged nations, including Armenia and Poland, no war reparations, some sort of league of nations.  Although President Wilson, along with the heads of all the other powers, other than Austria-Hungary, would reject the Pope’s plans, his later Fourteen Points would reflect a borrowing from the Pope’s peace plan.  Here is the text of the Pope’s message:

 

From the beginning of Our Pontificate, amidst the horrors of the terrible war unleashed upon Europe, We have kept before Our attention three things above all: to preserve complete impartiality in relation to all the belligerents, as is appropriate to him who is the common father and who loves all his children with equal affection; to endeavour constantly to do all the most possible good, without personal exceptions and without national or religious distinctions, a duty which the universal law of charity, as well as the supreme spiritual charge entrusted to Us by Christ, dictates to Us; finally, as Our peacemaking mission equally demands, to leave nothing undone within Our power, which could assist in hastening the end of this calamity, by trying to lead the peoples and their heads to more moderate frames of mind and to the calm deliberations of peace, of a “just and lasting” peace.

Whoever has followed Our work during the three unhappy years which have just elapsed, has been able to recognize with ease that We have always remained faithful to Our resolution of absolute impartiality and to Our practical policy of well-doing.

We have never ceased to urge the belligerent peoples and Governments to become brothers once more, even although publicity has not been given to all which We have done to attain this most noble end has not always been made public.

At the end of the first year of war, in addressing to them the most forceful exhortations, we also identified the road to follow to achieve a peace which was lasting and dignified for all. Unfortunately, our appeal was not listened to: the war continued fiercely for another two years with all its horrors; it grew worse and indeed it extended by land, sea and even air, where on defenceless cities, on quiet villages, on their innocent inhabitants, there descended desolation and death. And now nobody can imagine for how long these shared evils will multiply and become worse, whether for a few more months, or even worse whether another six years will become added to these bloodstained three years. Will the civilised world, therefore, be reduced to a field of
death? And will Europe, so glorious and flourishing, almost overwhelmed by a universal madness, rush to the abyss, to its true and authentic suicide?

Continue Reading

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August 2, 1917: The Green Corn Rebellion

 

US participation in the Great War was popular but not completely so.  The Socialist Party of America was strongly anti-war, and held 1200 elective offices around the country, including one seat in Congress, 32 seats in state legislatures  and 79 mayorships.  Its anti-war stance cost it membership.  Socialists however, and other rural radicals, were apparently the instigators of an armed anti-draft riot that began on August 3, 1917 in rural Oklahoma among a gathering of tenant farmers.  This fed off years of disputes between radicalized tenant farmers and the much more conservative residents of towns in Seminole and  Pontotoc  counties in Oklahoma.  August 3, 1917 was to be the end of the annual Muscogee Creek Indian tribe Green Corn Festival.  On August 2, 1917 the Seminole sheriff and a deputy were ambushed, bridges burned and telephone lines cut.  The next day  800 to 1000 armed men, a mix of white tenant farmers, Indians and black tenant farmers, assembled near the adjoining borders of Seminole, Pontotoc and Hughes counties in southeastern Oklahoma.  Their plan was allegedly to march on Washington, eating green corn and barbecued beef on the way, overthrow the government and end the draft.

The whole scheme proved abortive when a well armed posse of townsfolk showed up.  The embattled farmers fired a few shots and scattered. Continue Reading

On the Firing Line With the Germans

The things you find on Youtube.  Thirty-two year old  Wilbur H. Durborough, an American reporter, for seven months in 1915 followed the German army taking photographs for the Chicago Newspaper Enterprise Association.  He was also producing a movie documentary on the German army in the field, the documentary being financially backed by several Chicago businessman.  Durborough hired cameraman Irving G. Ries, who would later work in Hollywood and who received an academy award nomination for his work on the movie Forbidden Planet (1956).  Driving a Stutz Bearcat, one of the fastest cars of its time, flying an American flag, Durborough and Ries followed in the wake of the German army on the Eastern front, creating  a historically priceless visual record of the German army in action.  Lost for decades, the film was restored recently by the Library of Congress. Durborough went on to serve in the US Army as a public relations officer after the US entered the War.

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The Choice

 

The thirty-third in my on-going series on the poetry of Rudyard Kipling. The other posts in the series may be read here, here , here , here, here , here, here, here, here, here, here, here , here, here, here , here, here, here , here, here, here , here, here , here , here , here , herehere, here , here here and here.  Like most Brits of his generation, Kipling had ambivalent feelings towards the United States.  He had married an American and had lived with her in Vermont from 1892 to 1896 when the family moved to England.  He found much to admire in the Great Republic and much to criticize.  It could be said that Kipling, the quintessential Englishman, adopted an American attitude of both love, and the freedom to speak his mind about what he perceived to be wrong, as to America.  In any case there was nothing ambivalent about the poem he published in April of 1917 after the US entered the Great War on the side of The Allies:

THE AMERICAN SPIRIT SPEAKS:

  To the Judge of Right and Wrong
With Whom fulfillment lies
Our purpose and our power belong,
 Our faith and sacrifice.
  Let Freedom’s land rejoice!
 Our ancient bonds are riven;
Once more to us the eternal choice
Of good or ill is given.
Not at a little cost,
 Hardly by prayer or tears,
Shall we recover the road we lost
In the drugged and doubting years.
  But after the fires and the wrath,
 But after searching and pain,
His Mercy opens us a path
To live with ourselves again.
  In the Gates of Death rejoice!
 We see and hold the good—
Bear witness, Earth, we have made our choice
For Freedom’s brotherhood.
  Then praise the Lord Most High
Whose Strength hath saved us whole,
Who bade us choose that the Flesh should die
And not the living Soul!

Continue Reading

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The Lion’s Brood

 

Theodore Roosevelt had advocated American entry into World War I, and wanted to fight himself.  Being denied that privilege by President Wilson, he took solace in the fact that each of his sons volunteered for the War.

His son Archie would be a decorated, and wounded, veteran, serving as an officer with the 16th and 26th Infantry.   He would serve in combat in the Pacific during World War II.  He would have the distinction of being determined to be 100% disabled from war wounds in both World Wars.

Theodore Jr, who would attain general rank in World War II and earn a Medal of Honor, also served as an officer in the 26th and would be gassed and wounded.

Son Kermit served as a Captain in the British Army, serving in combat in Mesopotamia (Iraq), and then transferred to the US Army serving as a Captain of artillery during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive.  In World War II he would serve again in both the British and American armies.

Son Quentin, age nineteen, the baby of the family, sailed for France on July 23, 1917 with the 95th Aero Squadron.  His parents and his fiance saw him off.

Not only the Roosevelt brothers saw service in the War.  Sister Ether was the first to see service in the War, as a nurse in the Ambulance Americane  Hospital where her husband served as a surgeon.

 

Continue Reading

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Bastille Day and Les Sammes

Uncle Sam shaking hands with the Marquis de Lafayette, French poster-1917

On Bastille Day 1917, General John J. Pershing reviewed French troops and pinned the Croix de Guerre on men who had earned the award by their valor.  The Star Spangled Banner and the Marseillaise were played and many of the civilian observers wept with joy and emotion that American help was on the way.  Today the French are honoring Les Sammes, as they are all year, who came to France in World War I to fight to keep France free.  US Marines will march down the Champs-Elysees with French troops in Paris, a symbol of the good relations that have usually existed between the old Allies. Continue Reading

Harley Goes to War

 

Harley-Davidson had been building motorcycles since 1904.  During World War I the War Department purchased about 20,000 from Harley. ( Indian supplied the most motorcycles for the War, approximately 50,000.)  The Harley military motorcycle was based on their series J and had a 15 horsepower engine.  The electric headlamp was replaced with a gas powered one.  At the time this was a fairly complicated piece of machinery for an army that was going from the horse age to the engine age in one bound.  Harley founded the Harley-Davidson Quartermasters School which gave  a three week crash course in the construction and maintenance of the motorcycles for Army quartermasters and mechanics.  The course was so successful that Harley made it a permanent part of its operation after the War as the Harley Davidson Service School.

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July 4, 1917: Lafayette We Are Here!

 

 

One hundred years ago a moving scene occurred in Paris.  After official American and French ceremonies at noon to commemorate Independence Day, a battalion of the American 16th regiment, from the newly formed 1rst Division, marched through Paris to the tomb of the Marquis de Lafayette, who had done so much to help the Americans in their Revolutionary War.  French troops home on leave, some of them wounded, in impromptu fashion joined the Americans in marching along.  The people of Paris went wild, showering the American troops with flowers, hugs and kisses.  After the troops arrived at the tomb, Colonel Charles Stanton, a nephew of Lincoln’s Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton, gave a short speech with an unforgettable ending: Continue Reading

Fortnight For Freedom: Over There

 

 

 

 

Something for the weekend.  George M. Cohan wrote Over There, the song which will always be associated with America in World War I.  He was immortalized by James Cagney in the 1942 film biopic Yankee Doodle Dandy.  Dying on November 5, 1942 of stomach cancer, Cohan saw the film shortly before its release in a private screening.  I do not know if the ending of the film in the clip brought tears to his eyes, but it always does mine.  Cohan wrote the song in under two hours on April 7, 1917, two days after the US declared war on Imperial Germany.  Over There would be introduced to the public during a Red Cross benefit in New York City during the fall of 1917, and swiftly became the American anthem for the war effort.  Son of Union veteran Jeremiah Cohan, who lied about his age to serve as a Union surgeon’s orderly during the Civil War, Cohan attempted to enlist during World War I in the Army but was rejected due to his age.  I have always liked this song.  It has a brash exuberance matched with a determination to accomplish a hard task, traits which have served the US well in dark times.  We could use much more of that spirit today.

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June 5, 1917: Alvin C. York Registers for the Draft

As millions of other American men registered for the draft, so did twenty-nine year old Tennessee mountaineer Alvin C. York.  On June 5, 1917 he filled out his registration form.  He claimed exemption with the simple words:  “Yes.  Don’t Want to Fight.”

 

York arrived in this world on December 3, 1887, the third of the eleven children of William and Mary York.  He was born into rural poverty.  Although both of his parents were quite hard-working, the Yorks lived in a two-room log cabin at a subsistence level.  None of the York children received more than nine-months education, as their labor was desperately needed to farm the few hard scrabble acres that the Yorks owned, and to hunt for food to feed the large family.

When his father died in 1911, Alvin took on the responsibility of helping his mother raise his younger siblings, and supporting the family.  Alvin early developed the reputation as both a hard-worker during the day and a drunken hell-raiser at night, something that constantly distressed his mother, a Christian and a pacifist.

Continue Reading

Good-bye Broadway, Hello France

Something for the weekend.  Good-bye Broadway, Hello France.  Like the Civil War, World War I produced endless songs, most of which were never heard of again after the  War was concluded.  Quite popular during the War was Good-bye Broadway, Hello France, written in 1917 by by Billy Baskette, with lyrics written by C. Francis Reisner and Benny Davis.  Whenever a World War I documentary has ever been produced, this song is often played as US troops are shown being shipped to France.

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June 14, 1917: Pershing Arrives in France

On June 14, 1917 General John J. Pershing and 190 of his staff, military and civilians, arrived in France.  The first American combat troops would land on June 26, 1917.  America would not have a full division in France until the arrival of the last elements of the First Division in October 1917.  Eventually two million doughboys would serve in France but the buildup was initially a slow process.  No doubt many Allied leaders were wondering if the Americans would arrive in time to turn the balance against a Germany that was in the process of winning the War in the East.  Perilous times for America and its allies a century ago.  We forget today what a monumental task it was to raise an army of millions, train and equip it and to ship it across the Atlantic, and to do this from a starting stop in about a year’s time.  No wonder that some Allied leaders were skeptical, as Winston Churchill noted after Pearl Harbor: Continue Reading

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1917: The Star Spangled Banner

 

Thomas Alva Edison, among his many other achievements, was the first entertainment mogul in the United States which was only fair since he invented the motion picture camera.  His favorite singer was soprano Anna Case, who appeared on Edison records frequently, and who in 1917 gave the rendition of The Star Spangled Banner above.  Born in 1888, she would live until 1984.  An ardent patriot, in 1917 she lent her talents to selling Liberty war bonds and volunteered to sing the national anthem to troops waiting to ship out for France.

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Roosevelt’s Letter to His Volunteers

 

With the entry of the US into World War I, Theodore Roosevelt began organizing a volunteer force of four divisions.  The reaction around the nation was enthusiastic with over 100,000 men volunteering, and many professional officers in the Regular Army seeking to serve with the divisions.  Congress authorized the raising of the four volunteer divisions, at the discretion of the President, in the Selective Service Act of 1917.  Roosevelt was not named as the commander of the divisions, but everyone knew who this provision was intended for.  Wilson quickly decided that he would not authorize the divisions, fearing that Roosevelt would either get killed, in which case he might be blamed, or Roosevelt would return a national hero and be a formidable Republican candidate for the White House in 1920.  Wilson’s decision was perhaps the bitterest disappointment in Roosevelt’s life, a disappointment that echoes in his May 21, 1917 letter to his volunteers:

 

The President has announced that he will decline to permit those divisions to be organized or to permit me to have a command in connection with such a force. After consultation yesterday, personally or by wire, with some of the men who have volunteered to raise units—regiments and battalions—for the divisions, including John C. Groome, of Pennsylvania; Seth Bullock, of South Dakota; John C. Greenway, of Arizona; John M. Parker, of Louisiana; Robert Carey, of Wyoming; J. P. Donnelly, of Nevada; Sloan Simpson, of Texas; D. C. Collier and F. R. Burnham, of California; I. L. Reeves, Frazer Metzger, and H. Nelson Jackson, of Vermont; Harry Stimson, W. J. Schieffelin, and William H. Donovan, of New York, and Messrs. James R. Garfield, Raymond Robbins, R. H. Channing, David M. Goodrich, W. E. Dame, George Roosevelt, Richard Derby and various others who were immediately accessible, it was decided unanimously that in view of the decision of the President the only course open to us is forthwith to disband and to abandon all further effort in connection with the divisions, thereby leaving each man free to get into the military service in some other way, if that is possible, and, if not, then to serve his country in civil life as he best can. Continue Reading

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June 1, 1917: Hank Gowdy Enlists

Hank Gowdy was a great ball player and a great patriot.   The high point of his ball career was in the 1914 World Series where he was the most valuable player for winning the World Series for the Boston Braves.  In 1917 he was 28 years old and at his peak as a ball player.  On June 1, he turned his back on fame and fortune, enlisting in the Army, the first major leaguer to do so .  He served in the 166th regiment of the Rainbow Division in France, going through some of the worst trench fighting that American troops experience in the War.  Coming home from the War in one piece, he resumed his career with the Braves.  In 1923 he was traded to the Giants.  After he retired from ball played, he served as a coach with the Braves, the Giants and the Reds.

When the US entered World War II, Gowdy enlisted in the Army again, despite being 53.  Among other duties he served as chief athletic officer at Fort Benning.  He was the only major leaguer to serve in both world wars.  After the War he served as coach and manager for the Reds, retiring from baseball in 1948.  He passed away in 1966 at age 76. Continue Reading

The Big Red One Goes to France

 

President Wilson realized it would be many months before the US ground forces could be trained, equipped and shipped across the Atlantic in numbers sufficient to make a difference on the battlefields of France.  However, he also knew that Allied, and American, morale would soar with the news that the Americans had landed in France, no matter how many they were.  Thus on May 19, 1917 Wilson ordered that the First Expeditionary Division be formed, and that units of the Division sail to France as soon as possible.  Thus was born the First Infantry Division, the Big Red One.  By the end of the War the Division would incur casualties of 4,964 killed in action, 17,201 wounded in action, and 1,056 missing or died of wounds.  It would be the first Division to cross the Rhine into occupied Germany.  Five soldiers of the Division earned Medals of Honor during the War, out of a total of 92 earned by the Army.   The Big Red One has been in continuous service with the Army since its creation in 1917. Continue Reading

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May 18, 1917: Wilson Signs Selective Service Act of 1917

 

The first draft imposed since the Civil War, the Selective Service Act of 1917, passed by overwhelming majorities in Congress, was signed by President Wilson a century ago.  The Act provided for the enlistment, at the discretion of the President, of the four volunteer divisions that Theodore Roosevelt planned to lead.  Go here to read about this provision.  Wilson, alarmed that Roosevelt would either be killed in France and he would be blamed, or that he would come back a national hero and be swept into the Presidency in 1920, would refuse to ever authorize the four volunteer divisions.  By the end of the War some 2 million Americans volunteered for service and some 2.8 million were drafted.

Individuals who belonged to religions or organizations opposed to War were exempted from combatant service but not from noncombatant service.  Members of the clergy were exempted from conscription as were seminarians. Continue Reading

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May 10, 1917: Pershing Appointed to Lead the AEF

After the death of Frederick Funston on February 19, 1917, it was inevitable that the newly promoted Major General John J. (Blackjack) Pershing would command the American Expeditionary Force that would be sent to France.  It must have seemed somewhat dizzying to him.  Nineteen years before he had been an overage thirty-eight year old First Lieutenant who would be lucky to make Major before retirement.  In 1893 he obtained a law degree in case he decided to leave the Army, fed up by the slow promotions offered by the minuscule peace time Army.

The Spanish-American War and Theodore Roosevelt made him.  At the battle of San Juan Hill he made a lifelong friend of Theodore Roosevelt.  Under fire he was as “cool as a bowl of cracked ice”, as one observer noted.  Rising to the temporary rank of Major of Volunteers he gained a reputation as a good combat officer in both Cuba and the Philippines and would serve as Adjutant General of the Philippines Department.

After the Spanish-American War he reverted to the regular army rank of Captain.  In 1905 Captain Pershing was promoted to Brigadier General Pershing by President Roosevelt over the heads of 835 officers more senior than him.  Surprisingly there was not much animosity over this, Pershing enjoying a reputation of extreme professional competence in the Army, a soldier’s soldier. Continue Reading

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Fearless Freddie Dies

Frederick_Funston_001

All but forgotten today, Major General Frederick Funston would almost certainly would have led the American Expeditionary Force in World War I if he had not died at age 51 of a heart attack on February 19, 1917.  Nicknamed “Fearless Freddie” he was perhaps the most famous American soldier between the Civil War and World War I.  He had a very unique career.  Always in ill health, he was a physically small man, 5 foot, 5 inches, and throughout his life never weighed more than 120 pounds.  After failing an admissions test to West Point in 1884 he pursued a career in botany.  Tiring of the quiet life he enlisted in the Cuban Revolutionary Army fighting against Spain.  Contracting malaria his weight fell to an alarming 95 pounds and he was granted medical leave in the United States.

After the declaration of war against Spain he was commissioned colonel of the 20th Kansas Infantry.  Fighting against the Filipino Insurrection, he became a national hero by capturing the Filipino leader Emilio Aguinaldo.  A separate action earned him a Medal of Honor.  Playing a leading role in putting down the Insurrection, Funston came under attack by critics for the severe measures he took.  The pen of Mark Twain was enlisted against him:

If this Funstonian boom continues, Funstonism will presently affect the army. In fact, this has already happened. There are weak-headed and weak-principled officers in all armies, and these

are always ready to imitate successful notoriety-breeding methods, let them be good or bad. The fact that Funston has achieved notoriety by paralyzing the universe with a fresh and hideous

idea, is sufficient for this kind—they will call that hand if they can, and go it one better when the chance offers. Funston’s example has bred many imitators, and many ghastly additions to

our history: the torturing of Filipinos by the awful “watercure,” for instance, to make them confess—^what? Truth? Or lies ? How can one know which it is they are telling ? For under

unendurable pain a man confesses anything that is required of him, true or false, and his evidence is worthless. Yet upon such evidence American officers have actually—but you know about

those atrocities which the War Office has been hiding a year or two; and about General Smith’s now world-celebrated order of massacre—thus summarized by the press from Major Waller’s

testimony:

“Kill and burn—this is no time to take prisoners—the more you kill and burn, the better—Kill all above the age of ten—make Samar a howling

wilderness!

Funston was completely unrepentant:

I personally strung up thirty-five Filipinos without trial, so what was all the fuss over Waller’s ‘dispatching’ a few ‘treacherous savages’? If there had been more Smiths and Wallers, the war would have been over long ago. Impromptu domestic hanging might also hasten the end of the war. For starters, all Americans who had recently petitioned Congress to sue for peace in the Philippines should be dragged out of their homes and lynched. Continue Reading

Anzac Day 2017

[19] Wilt thou give strength to the horse, or clothe his neck with neighing? [20] Wilt thou lift him up like the locusts? the glory of his nostrils is terror.

[21] He breaketh up the earth with his hoof, he pranceth boldly, he goeth forward to meet armed men. [22] He despiseth fear, he turneth not his back to the sword, [23] Above him shall the quiver rattle, the spear and shield shall glitter. [24] Chasing and raging he swalloweth the ground, neither doth he make account when the noise of the trumpet soundeth. [25] When he heareth the trumpet he saith: Ha, ha: he smelleth the battle afar off, the encouraging of the captains, and the shouting of the army.

Job 39:  19-25

Today is Anzac Day, in Australia and New Zealand.   It commemorates the landing of the New Zealand and Australian troops at Gallipoli in World War I.  Although the effort to take the Dardanelles was ultimately unsuccessful, the Anzac troops demonstrated great courage and tenacity, and the ordeal the troops underwent in this campaign has a vast meaning to the peoples of New Zealand and Australia.

At the beginning of the war the New Zealand and Australian citizen armies, illustrating the robust humor of both nations,  engaged in self-mockery best illustrated by this poem:

We are the ANZAC Army

The A.N.Z.A.C.

We cannot shoot, we don’t salute

What bloody good are we ?

And when we get to Ber – Lin

The Kaiser, he will say

Hoch, Hoch, Mein Gott !

What a bloody odd lot

to get six bob a day.

By the end of World War I no one was laughing at the Anzacs.  At the end of the war a quarter of the military age male population of New Zealand had been killed or wounded and Australia paid a similarly high price.  Widely regarded as among the elite shock troops of the Allies, they had fought with distinction throughout the war, and added to their reputation during World War II.   American veterans I have spoken to who have fought beside Australian and New Zealand units have uniformly told me that they could choose no better troops to have on their flank in a battle.

A century ago in 1917 the Anzac troops were still fighting in the Great War.  They accomplished many remarkable feats of arms during that year, but perhaps the most remarkable was the charge of the 4th Australian Light Horse Brigade at Beersheba, a battle in which both Australian and New Zealand troops fought.  The long day of cavalry was almost over, but the mounted infantrymen of the 4th Light Horse, waving their bayonets in lieu of sabers, routed the entrenched Turks and only suffered light casualties themselves, a true military miracle.  The war horse, ridden by Anzacs, had his last moment of military glory.

 

Continue Reading

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April 6, 1917: Congress Declares War on Germany

WHEREAS, The Imperial German Government has committed repeated acts of war against the people of the United States of America; therefore, be it resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That the state of war between the United States and the Imperial German Government, which has thus been thrust upon the United States, is hereby formally declared; and that the President be, and he is hereby, authorized and directed to employ the entire naval and military forces of the United States and the resources of the Government to carry on war against the Imperial German Government; and to bring the conflict to a successful termination all the resources of the country are hereby pledged by the Congress of the United States.

The Declaration of War against Imperial Germany in 1917 was highly popular among the American people in general, so it is not surprising that the votes in each chamber of Congress were lopsided.  In the Senate on April 4 the vote was 82-6 with eight senators not voting.  On April 6 the House passed the Declaration of War 373 to 50.

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Killing People Won’t Help Matters

 

That quote comes from Congresswoman Jeannette Rankin, the lone dissenting vote in the House against declaring war on Japan after Pearl Harbor.  A Republican from Montana, Rankin is an interesting figure.  The first woman elected to Congress, she served two terms.  In her first term she voted against declaring war on Germany in World War I and in her second term she voted against declaring war on Japan.  Both votes stemmed from her deep-seated pacifism, both votes were immensely unpopular and both votes effectively ended her political career at two different points in her life.  I give her the courage of her convictions.  However, her stance after Pearl Harbor illustrates the folly of pacifism as a national policy.  The sad truth is that in this vale of tears it is sometimes necessary to take up arms to avoid greater evils than war, and those peoples who forget that truth of the human condition will experience such evils sooner or later. Continue Reading

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April 2, 1917: Wilson Asks Congress to Declare War on Germany

Gentlemen of the Congress:

I have called the Congress into extraordinary session because there are serious, very serious, choices of policy to be made, and made immediately, which it was neither right nor constitutionally permissible that I should assume the responsibility of making.

On the 3d of February last I officially laid before you the extraordinary announcement of the Imperial German Government that on and after the 1st day of February it was its purpose to put aside all restraints of law or of humanity and use its submarines to sink every vessel that sought to approach either the ports of Great Britain and Ireland or the western coasts of Europe or any of the ports controlled by the enemies of Germany within the Mediterranean. That had seemed to be the object of the German submarine warfare earlier in the war, but since April of last year the Imperial Government had somewhat restrained the commanders of its undersea craft in conformity with its promise then given to us that passenger boats should not be sunk and that due warning would be given to all other vessels which its submarines might seek to destroy, when no resistance was offered or escape attempted, and care taken that their crews were given at least a fair chance to save their lives in their open boats. The precautions taken were meagre and haphazard enough, as was proved in distressing instance after instance in the progress of the cruel and unmanly business, but a certain degree of restraint was observed The new policy has swept every restriction aside. Vessels of every kind, whatever their flag, their character, their cargo, their destination, their errand, have been ruthlessly sent to the bottom without warning and without thought of help or mercy for those on board, the vessels of friendly neutrals along with those of belligerents. Even hospital ships and ships carrying relief to the sorely bereaved and stricken people of Belgium, though the latter were provided with safe-conduct through the proscribed areas by the German Government itself and were distinguished by unmistakable marks of identity, have been sunk with the same reckless lack of compassion or of principle.

I was for a little while unable to believe that such things would in fact be done by any government that had hitherto subscribed to the humane practices of civilized nations. International law had its origin in the at tempt to set up some law which would be respected and observed upon the seas, where no nation had right of dominion and where lay the free highways of the world. By painful stage after stage has that law been built up, with meagre enough results, indeed, after all was accomplished that could be accomplished, but always with a clear view, at least, of what the heart and conscience of mankind demanded. This minimum of right the German Government has swept aside under the plea of retaliation and necessity and because it had no weapons which it could use at sea except these which it is impossible to employ as it is employing them without throwing to the winds all scruples of humanity or of respect for the understandings that were supposed to underlie the intercourse of the world. I am not now thinking of the loss of property involved, immense and serious as that is, but only of the wanton and wholesale destruction of the lives of noncombatants, men, women, and children, engaged in pursuits which have always, even in the darkest periods of modern history, been deemed innocent and legitimate. Property can be paid for; the lives of peaceful and innocent people can not be. The present German submarine warfare against commerce is a warfare against mankind.

It is a war against all nations. American ships have been sunk, American lives taken, in ways which it has stirred us very deeply to learn of, but the ships and people of other neutral and friendly nations have been sunk and overwhelmed in the waters in the same way. There has been no discrimination. The challenge is to all mankind. Each nation must decide for itself how it will meet it. The choice we make for ourselves must be made with a moderation of counsel and a temperateness of judgment befitting our character and our motives as a nation. We must put excited feeling away. Our motive will not be revenge or the victorious assertion of the physical might of the nation, but only the vindication of right, of human right, of which we are only a single champion.

When I addressed the Congress on the 26th of February last, I thought that it would suffice to assert our neutral rights with arms, our right to use the seas against unlawful interference, our right to keep our people safe against unlawful violence. But armed neutrality, it now appears, is impracticable. Because submarines are in effect outlaws when used as the German submarines have been used against merchant shipping, it is impossible to defend ships against their attacks as the law of nations has assumed that merchantmen would defend themselves against privateers or cruisers, visible craft giving chase upon the open sea. It is common prudence in such circumstances, grim necessity indeed, to endeavour to destroy them before they have shown their own intention. They must be dealt with upon sight, if dealt with at all. The German Government denies the right of neutrals to use arms at all within the areas of the sea which it has proscribed, even in the defense of rights which no modern publicist has ever before questioned their right to defend. The intimation is conveyed that the armed guards which we have placed on our merchant ships will be treated as beyond the pale of law and subject to be dealt with as pirates would be. Armed neutrality is ineffectual enough at best; in such circumstances and in the face of such pretensions it is worse than ineffectual; it is likely only to produce what it was meant to prevent; it is practically certain to draw us into the war without either the rights or the effectiveness of belligerents. There is one choice we can not make, we are incapable of making: we will not choose the path of submission and suffer the most sacred rights of our nation and our people to be ignored or violated. The wrongs against which we now array ourselves are no common wrongs; they cut to the very roots of human life.

With a profound sense of the solemn and even tragical character of the step I am taking and of the grave responsibilities which it involves, but in unhesitating obedience to what I deem my constitutional duty, I advise that the Congress declare the recent course of the Imperial German Government to be in fact nothing less than war against the Government and people of the United States; that it formally accept the status of belligerent which has thus been thrust upon it, and that it take immediate steps not only to put the country in a more thorough state of defense but also to exert all its power and employ all its resources to bring the Government of the German Empire to terms and end the war. Continue Reading

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Theodore Roosevelt, the Rough Riders Corps and the Great War

I make no pretense to accuracy. I shall be quite content if the sensibilities of no one are wounded by anything I may reduce to type.

Recollections of Thomas R. Marshall:  A Hoosier Salad (1925)

 

 

Something for the weekend:  Onward Christian Soldiers by Mahalia Jackson.  This stirring hymn was the campaign song of the Bull Moose Party in 1912 and was the unofficial anthem of the Rough Riders Corps that Major General Theodore Roosevelt led in the Great War.  We are almost a century away from the day when the US intervened in that War, and it is a good time to look at the controversial role that our 26th President played in that conflict.

In March of 1917 Congress passed a bill allowing Roosevelt to raise four divisions of volunteers, similar in nature to the Rough Rider regiment he raised and led in the Spanish American War.  It is said that President Wilson opposed this move.  There was certainly no love lost between Wilson and Roosevelt, Roosevelt having been the harshest critic of Wilson.  However, the stroke that killed President Wilson on April 1, 1917 rendered any such opposition moot, except to historians or writers of alternate history.  Vice President Thomas R. Marshall who now became President had no personal animosity towards Roosevelt, rather the reverse, and after his call for a declaration of war on Germany appeared at the White House with Roosevelt and former President Taft, the three men urging that now there were no Republicans and no Democrats, but only Americans united for victory.  After this there was no way that Marshall could probably have kept Roosevelt out of the War if he had wanted to, and he did not attempt to do so.

One other man could have stopped Roosevelt, however, if he had wished to, the commander appointed by President Marshall to lead the American Expeditionary Forces in France.  General John J.Pershing was a friend of Theodore Roosevelt who he had served with at the battle of San Juan Hill when Pershing was a thirty-eight year old First Lieutenant, and whose career Roosevelt had jump started when he was President by promoting him from Captain to Brigadier General, over the heads of 835 officers more senior to Pershing.  Pershing had every reason to be grateful to Roosevelt, and he was, but he was also concerned with a military amateur commanding a corps in the American Expeditionary Forces that he was to lead onto the deadly battlefields of France.  Going to visit Roosevelt at Oyster Bay, he was quickly relieved by their talk, which he discussed in his Pulitzer Prize winning memoir, My Experiences in the World War:  

“President  Roosevelt demonstrated that he had been keeping up with military developments in the Great War and was intrigued with the coordination of artillery and infantry with the newfangled air power and tanks.  He told me that he was willing to serve as a private in the force he was raising, and that as far as he was concerned no man would have a commission for any officer rank in the Rough Riders without my permission.  Touched by his self-less patriotism, I suggested that he serve as second in command of the Rough Riders with General Adelbert Cronkhite, currently in command of artillery in the Canal Zone, appointed as commander.  A worried frown passed over his face:  “The Rough Riders are not going to spend the War guarding the Canal Zone are they?”  I laughed.  “No Mr. President, I will need the best troops available with me on the Western Front, and, as was the case in Cuba, I suspect the Rough Riders in this War will be second to none.”  We shook hands and parted, still friends.”

Roosevelt made it known that he was seeking men for the Rough Riders with this advertisement he placed in all major newspapers.

Rough Riders are being recruited by Theodore Roosevelt for service in France.  Roosevelt expects that he and his Rough Riders will be constantly in the forefront of the fighting and their casualties will likely be extreme.  Only fighters with courage need apply.   Regional recruiting offices are being established at the following locations:

Roosevelt’s recruiters were quickly besieged by endless lines of volunteers.  Estimates are that some three million men filled out applications for the 100,000 slots in the four divisions of the Rough Rdiers.  Roosevelt, as with his original Rough Riders, favored men from dangerous out door occupations, men with prior military experience, athletes, and those from unusual backgrounds, like the troupe of circus clowns he allowed to enlist as a group.  Cowboys with nothing in this world except the shirts on their backs, as in the original Rough Riders, rubbed shoulders with the scions of families of great wealth.  Roosevelt made it clear that no man without prior military experience would be commissioned in the Rough Riders, and all other commissions would be earned in battle in France.  Regular Army officers looked askance at all this and referred to the Rough Riders as Teddy’s Wild West Show and by less printable terms.  Pershing assigned a number of junior officers to the Rough Riders to help bring order out of chaos, giving them the temporary rank of full Colonel.  Among them were Douglas MacArthur, George Patton, George Marshall and Dwight Eisenhower.

As in the original Rough Riders, Latinos and Indians from the West served.  A group of black regular officers, headed by Colonel Charles Young, wrote a letter to Roosevelt requesting to serve in the Rough Riders.  Although not wholly free from the racial prejudice of his day, Roosevelt got the approval of Pershing for these officers to serve on detached status with the Rough Riders, and enlisted two black regiments to serve in one of his divisions.  When a group of white Rough Rider officers protested this decision, Roosevelt had the complaining officers immediately cashiered from the Rough Riders. Continue Reading

Theodore Roosevelt and His Four Divisions

 

 

In 1917 a century ago Theodore Roosevelt was 58 years old.  He was not in the best of health and he had put on a fair amount of weight since his “crowded hour” leading the charge up Kettle Hill in the Spanish American War.  Nonetheless, he was eager once again to fight for the Stars and Stripes.  An advocate of preparedness, he had assembled a staff and plans to recreate his Rough Riders on a corps level to fight in France, and over a 100,000 men had indicated their willingness to join this force.  Congress in March of 1917 authorized him to raise such a force of volunteers of up to four divisions.  In May of 1917 President Wilson indicated that no such force of volunteers would be accepted by the Army, Wilson not wanting to be held responsible if the beloved ex-President died fighting.  Roosevelt was crushed and never forgave Wilson, who he despised in any case.  He kept busy making speeches in support of the War and selling war bonds, but it was not the same as fighting himself.  On April 1 we will explore the “what if” had Wilson allowed Roosevelt to take his new Rough Riders into battle. Continue Reading