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:
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.
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.
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 , here, here , 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,
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.
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?
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.
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.
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 , here, here, 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!
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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: