Monday, November 11, 2019

World War One - The Illusion of U.S. Neutrality


“Our firm had never for one moment been neutral; we didn’t know how to be.”
—J. P. Morgan senior partner Thomas Lamont

After
urging Americans to be “neutral in thought and deed,” the Wilson Administration extended the Allies unlimited credit, cured the 1913 depression on the strength of massive European war orders, and initiated a huge anti-German military “preparedness” campaign dedicated to the proposition that compromise equaled surrender. When Germany responded with unrestricted submarine warfare to bring Britain to its knees before the U.S. could enter the war directly, Washington reacted with the exaggerated outrage of false innocence aggrieved.
 
Quick to denounce Berlin for inevitable American losses incurred shipping supplies through a war zone, the U.S. failed to demonstrate a similar indignation at British-imposed losses. When the British cabinet chose to disregard the 1909 Declaration of London, which would have permitted U.S. ships to dock both at German ports and neutral ports like Rotterdam and Genoa, Washington failed to protest. When the British Navy shut off American trade with the Central Powers (Germany, Austro-Hungary) by imposing a continental blockade—a violation of international law—Washington again said nothing. Then when U.S. trade with the Allies quite naturally soared, entering the war loomed as the only way to protect American investments threatened by German victory.
In fact, the month Wilson declared war (April 1917), major U.S. bankers, in addition to half a million individual investors, had a stake of $2.3 billion in notes and bonds which stood to become worthless if the Allies collapsed. Several weeks earlier Ambassador Walter Hines Page had cabled the State Department from London, warning of impending economic disaster if the U.S. continued to stay out of the war: “The inquiries which I have made here...disclose an international situation which is most alarming to the financial and industrial outlook of the United States.” A danger existed, he said, that “Franco-American and Anglo-American exchange will be greatly disturbed; the inevitable consequence will be that orders by all the Allied Governments will be reduced to the lowest possible amount and that trans-Atlantic trade will practically come to an end.” Page foresaw “a panic in the United States” and found it “not improbable” that “maintaining our present preeminent trade position” would require “declaring war on Germany.”
In the fiscal year 1914 American exports had exceeded imports by $436 million. Three years later war orders had raised the differential to $3.6 billion, an eight-fold increase. But most dramatic was the staggering $22.6 billion the U.S. federal government spent between its declaration of war in April 1917 and the Armistice in November 1918, an expenditure three times larger than what Washington had spent in the entire first century of its national existence combined. Never before had the U.S. economy experienced such an expansion of industry, trade, and agriculture. This extraordinary demand more than compensated for the loss of trade with the Central Powers, even taking into account losses inflicted by German submarines.
With American industrial facilities growing exponentially the U.S. rapidly became a major world power and the unchallenged leader of the American hemisphere. Billions of dollars of liquidated foreign holdings helped transform the U.S. from a debtor to a creditor nation and New York became co-equal with London as the financial center of the world.
Accompanying these sweeping economic and political developments were conflicts on the high seas that steadily drew the U.S. towards war. To prevent delivery of items useful to the German war effort, the British insisted on searching neutral vessels for contraband in Allied ports. This reduced American trade with the Central Powers from $169 million in 1914 to $1 million in 1916. Though the State Department made formal protests to London about the interference, it issued no ultimatum when nothing came of them. Colonel House told German Ambassador Count Johann von Bernstorff that reprisals were impossible because “American commerce was so completely tied up with the interests of the Entente.” What Congressman H. C. Peterson aptly termed the “blood soaked boom” was not to be derailed.
Germany countered the British blockade with a U-boat campaign, a new weapon that delivered sudden death from the invisible ocean depths. President Wilson warned he would hold Berlin to “strict accountability” if U.S. passengers were harmed, without specifying the consequences he had in mind. The Germans took the position that they would call off the submarines only if Britain ended its blockade. Wilson and the British held that the surface blockades were legal and proper because they only affected property, whereas submarine attacks were illegal and barbarous because they cost lives. This overlooked the fact that much of the property involved in U.S.-Allied trade was munitions.
In view of the British domination of the seas that brought this situation about, Washington basically had three options once war broke out. It could embargo all trade with Europe, suffering a reduction in American profits. It could convoy ships through the British blockade with men-of-war, thus maintaining its economic independence but forcing a showdown with the British that might have brought the U.S. into the war right at the start. Finally, it could foster one-sided trade with the Allies, earning fat profits but risking war with the Central Powers. This was the course chosen.
For all its indignation over German “barbarism,” U.S. losses from submarine attacks were actually slight. From 1915 until Washington entered the war two years later, only one American ship, the Gulflight, suffered any deaths as a result of a German attack, while some 200 Americans died traveling on Allied ships. One-hundred-and-twenty-eight Americans perished in the Lusitania sinking in May 1915, which was a British liner carrying 4200 cases of U.S. rifle cartridges, clearly contraband of war. After Wilson demanded the Germans pledge never to attack another passenger liner, Berlin apologized and agreed to pay an indemnity.
War was temporarily averted, but after the Germans caused several American deaths by torpedoing the French Sussex the following April, Wilson threatened to break off relations with Berlin unless Germany suspended unrestricted submarine warfare. Berlin reluctantly agreed, but in achieving this small triumph Wilson had effectively surrendered the initiative. As soon as Germany decided technical American neutrality was less important than the advantages of all-out submarine war, the U.S. would be forced to honor its threat. In February 1917, calculating that a full-scale U-boat campaign would bring Britain to its knees before U.S. participation in the war could prove decisive, Germany announced a resumption of submarine war against belligerent and neutral vessels alike. Feeling its national honor at stake, Washington declared war two months later. 

Walter Millis, The Road To War, 1914-1917, (Houghton Mifflin, 1935), pps. 180-1. 381; Sidney Lens, The Forging of the American Empire, (Thomas Y. Crowell, 1971) pps. 241-3, 253, 258, 260, 263. Walter LaFeber, The American Age, United States Foreign Policy At Home and Abroad Since 1750 (W. W. Norton, 1989) p. 278, Ronald Steel, Walter Lippmann And The American Century (Little, Brown and Company, 1980), p. 94
The Allied Blockade of the Central Powers
The deaths from starvation and disease resulting from the Allied blockade of the Central Powers vastly exceeded the lives lost due to German submarine attacks.
By 1916 the physical effects of malnutrition stemming from the Allied naval blockade were painfully apparent. Germany was reeling from devastating illness, including tuberculosis, rickets, influenza, dysentery, scurvy, keratomalacia (ulceration of the eye), and hunger edema. An incident related by Associated Press correspondent George Schreiner makes this dramatically plain.
Traveling in late 1916 on a Berlin streetcar, Schreiner encountered a woman of Central Europe’s old nobility who complained of the unaccustomed hardships of being forced to use the streetcars. Schreiner replied sympathetically that street-car travel was indeed a trial because the cars were always overcrowded. “It is not that,” responded the woman, “it is the smell.” Schreiner inquired, “Of the unwashed multitude?” She answered, “Yes! And -.” “And, madame?” “Something else,” said the woman, with some embarassment. “I take it that you refer to the odor that comes from underfed bodies,” Schreiner remarked. “Precisely,” assented the noblewoman, who proceeded to say that she first observed the odor only recently and that, “The smell was new to me.” “Remind you perhaps,” asked Schreiner, “of the faint odor of a cadaver far off?” The light of total understanding came into the woman’s eyes. “Exactly, that is it...How do you account for it?” Schreiner explained, “Malnutrition! The waste of tissue due to that is a process not wholly dissimilar to the dissolution which sets in at death.”
Hunger proved especially cruel to German children, whose skeletal systems were ravaged by rickets. Their bones failed to ossify, their teeth fell out, their jawbones broke, their joints became so sore that they could only walk with great difficulty. Allied officials visiting postwar Germany found, along with rickets, rampant anemia, listlessness, poor muscular tone, sunken eyes, and emaciation. As many as 20% of children enrolling in school in the spring of 1919 were sent home as unfit.
Thus, while Americans were being terrified by wartime propaganda alleging Germany was bent on world domination, the German reality was of stunted children with skinny and rickety limbs, sunken and listless eyes, and bloated stomachs—crying out to malnourished parents for nonexistent food.
By war’s end the German Health Office calculated that the blockade had caused 763,000 deaths, not including 150,000 who died from Spanish influenza, but might not have had they been spared four years of increasingly severe malnutrition. One can only wonder how many survivors of this terrifying ordeal grew up to embrace Adolf Hitler’s fascist state. 

Paul C. Vincent, The Politics of Hunger - The Allied Blockade of Germany, 1915-1919 (Ohio University Press, 1985), pps. 43, 137, 139, 140-3
The Propaganda War
To have any hope of victory Britain had to get the U.S. into the war. Convinced that intellectuals were the most gullible members of the American population, British propagandists targeted the liberal intelligentsia, establishing a War Propaganda Bureau at Wellington House that produced books and pamphlets to mold its thought. They steadfastly cultivated the perception that Berlin was a congenitally evil aggressor guilty of staggering atrocities under the leadership of the wicked Kaiser, who was described as the “Beast of Berlin.” While British and French occupations of a host of neutral countries were severely downplayed, the German invasion of Belgium was depicted as an unprecedented criminal act.
Some 260,000 influential citizens, in addition to newspapers, YMCA’s, libraries, universities, and clubs, were deluged with maps, pictures, diagrams, posters, cartoons, and other war propaganda designed to wed the Americans to the Allied cause. Scores of British luminaries toured the U.S. giving lectures on the war, including Rudyard Kipling and Joseph Conrad.
The propaganda blitz paid off. Working with the Committee on Public Information (The Creel Commission), liberals like Walter Lippmann and Edward Bernays took up the British cause, while the New Republic and other liberal journals argued that the U.S. was an enlightened state fighting history’s first war over principles and values rather than spoils and tribute. When the U.S. joined the war in 1917, its participation in the most awesome slaughter in human history was passed off as a selfless “war to end all wars.”
To whet the appetite for German blood, promoters of Liberty loan drives flooded the country with stories of mutilated Belgian children and babies with severed hands. The fact that babies with their hands cut off would not have lived more than a few minutes without a large supply of doctors to tie off the arteries, apply dressings, and deal with shock, did not occur to the hysterics who took such reports seriously. At one point Clarence Darrow, who supported the war but became suspicious of atrocity propaganda, offered a $100 reward to anyone who could bring him one of the “mutilated Belgian children” said to be living in Chicago. He never had to pay off.
An immense success, the Wilson Administration’s war crusade took the largely pacifist American people and transformed them virtually overnight into mobs of raving jingoist fanatics. Among those impressed by the new propaganda triumph was an Austrian corporal who promised that the Germans would use the new technique of public relations to mount a better propaganda showing in the next war. It was one of the few times he ever kept his word.  

Noam Chomsky in Edward. S Herman, The Myth of The Liberal Media, p. xi, Noam Chomsky, Propaganda and the Public Mind - Conversations With Noam Chomsky, (South End, 2001) pps. 150-2; Sidney Lens, The Forging of the American Empire, (Thomas Y. Crowell, 1971), pps. 255-6, Oswald Garrison Villard, Fighting Years - Memoirs of a Liberal Editor, (Harcourt Brace and Co., 1939), pps. 313-14; Arthur and Lila Weinberg, Clarence Darrow - A Sentimental Rebel, (Atheneum, 1987) p. 286
Versailles
Only after the war did President Wilson admit that high ideals were not behind it: “The real reason that the war we have just finished took place was that Germany was afraid her commercial rivals were going to get the better of her, and the reasons why some nations went into the war against Germany was that they thought Germany would get the commercial advantage of them. The seed of the jealousy, the seed of the deep-seated hatred was hot, successful commercial and industrial rivalry.”
When the U.S. entered the war Wilson knew that the secret diplomacy he claimed to abhor had arranged for a redivision of Empires as a reward for the victorious powers. The originally secret treaties were syndicated in nine newspapers in addition to the Evening Post and were reprinted in pamphlet form in many cities by 1917. Two copies of the treaties were mailed to every Senator and Congressman and two to the White House. And in the summer of that year Lord Balfour complied with Colonel House’s request that copies of the treaties be sent to Washington so the U.S. would know what it was fighting for. So while Wilson piously declaimed his undying support for self-determination for all, the treaties and the territorial spoils they called for became the basis of the Versailles Treaty.
In other words, with millions dead and Europe ruined, the Big Powers resumed arranging patent pools, cartels, trusts, and power networks, the very structures that had just drenched the continent in blood. The staggering loss of life and the legions of mutilated and maimed were forgotten in strains of dance music, a clatter of tea cups, “points” and “principles” of Eternal Peace mediated by rival empires forever at each other’s throats.
Wilson had promised a “peace between equals.” But at Versailles he and the Allies imposed a harshly unjust peace, forcing the defeated Germans to humiliate themselves by admitting to sole responsibility for the war. Rational territorial settlement, disarmament, the League of Nations, and the working out of permanent peace took a back seat to age-old vengeance.
The Germans, who had agreed to an armistice based on the idealism of President Wilson’s 14 Points, were quickly disabused of their illusions. While champagne flowed freely in Paris, the Allied blockade imposed starvation on millions of Central Europeans well beyond the armistice. Hunger was the weapon of choice to force the Germans to sign any peace treaty the Allies dictated.
The treaty might have been even harsher than it was had it not been for the shadow of Lenin and the Bolsheviks hanging heavily over the negotiations. But with hunger, chaos, and misery reigning throughout Central Europe, Allied diplomats worried that Bolshevism might well sweep to the Rhine. In fact, Communist governments did briefly take power in Hungary and Bavaria, which seceded from the Reich for three weeks in April 1919.
In a letter home liberal journalist Oswald Garrison Villard wrote that the architects of Versailles were making a mockery of democratic ideals: “It is enough to make an anarchist out of anybody to see the world in such hands. The calm way they go on carving up Europe without consulting the Russians, Germans, Austrians, Hungarians, etc., is beyond words. No one knows where it will end. The Poles and Czechoslovaks, Italians, and others have about as much idea of making this a better world and ending war as the cows in New Jersey.” Aggravating his distress were the hospitals of Dresden and Berlin, where he found “many children with the swollen limbs and bellies of famine sufferers. Children six and seven years of age were the size of normal children four or five.” The Big Four (UK, US, France, and Italy) acted on the premise that they and they alone had the right to establish the terms of peace, kill millions of Germans, rob them of their territory, steal half their coal supply and three-fourths of their iron ore, annex their colonies and seize their great steamships, meanwhile making free use of German railways and exercising unlimited and perpetual rights to dispose of German industrial production. They had the right to do all this, they felt, without suffering any threat of retaliation for their acts.
Meanwhile, Germany was prepared to agree to a Peace Treaty calling for a League of Nations, cession of Alsace-Lorraine and all German colonies, surrender of the German fleet, reduction of the army to a domestic police force, demilitarization of the Rhine, and indemnities for war damages to France and Belgium. U.S. Secretary of State Robert Lansing said that such a treaty could have been drafted in 24 hours. After that, the blockades could have been terminated and normal life reestablished. But such was not to be.
In May, 1919, nine attaches of the American Peace Commission resigned en masse to protest the punitive Peace Conference that emerged instead. Among them was William C. Bullitt, who stated in his resignation letter to President Wilson: “I am one of the millions who trusted implicitly in your leadership and believed you would take nothing less than ‘a permanent peace based on unselfish, unbiased justice.’ But the government has consented now to deliver the suffering peoples of the world to new oppressions, subjections, and dismemberments—a new century of war...Unjust decisions regarding Shantung, Tyrol, Thrace, Hungary, East Prussia, Danzig, and the Saar Valley and abandonment of the principle of freedom of the seas make new international conflicts certain.”
Wilson could not invoke the excuse that he was working within constraints, for he had the whip hand. In France, he had the freshest, best-equipped, and the only expanding army. He had all the money left in the world and control over a majority of the world’s food supply. Without his approval the Allies were helpless. Had he threatened to negotiate a separate treaty with Germany and withdraw the U.S. Army without loaning Europe a penny more, there is little the Allied leaders could have done but concede to any peace terms Wilson felt were appropriate.
For a compilation of the disaster, see below. 

Oswald Garrison Villard, Fighting Years - Memoirs of a Liberal Editor, (Harcourt Brace and Company, 1939) pps. 136-7




1914: Washington
“Neutrality”
A Serbian hit man guns down the Austrian archduke in Sarajevo, plunging "civilized" Europe into total war.
The day the disaster headlines leap off American breakfast tables the British Navy hauls up the German cables and cuts them. The next day the U.S. press lacks even a single Berlin or Vienna date-line. The American people are to learn nothing of the Central Powers’ views of the war for over a year, and will not be told that President Wilson has a similar outlook until after the bloody cataclysm is all over.
British censors, aspiring to control the thought of the entire world, prudently identify intellectuals as the most gullible sector of the population and target propaganda at the American intelligentsia. At the same time, U.S. correspondents are denied access to the Allied front, forcing leading U.S. papers to rely on the British press. The starvation imposed on the Central Powers by the British Naval blockade is deemed unfit for American ears.
The U.S. Legation at Brussels hears little more than fevered tales of German savagery running amok, of nuns raped, and women, children, and old men coldly shot. These stories are swallowed whole and dutifully transmitted to the American public.
President Wilson urges Americans to be “impartial in thought as well as in action,” but stigmatizes German-American immigrants as “hyphenated-Americans,” a thinly veiled euphemism for Kaiser loyalists. Immigrants favoring the Allies he praises as “patriotic.”
In discussions with an officer of the National City Bank, Assistant Secretary of State Robert Lansing learns of Wall Street’s need to extend short-term credits to European governments so they can buy U.S. supplies. Lansing wins Wilson’s agreement to “look the other way” at credit accommodations facilitating the Anglo-French war effort. Thus is the president’s policy calling for a “true spirit of neutrality” replaced by the more expedient “strict legality.”
While Germany is shut out of the U.S. arms market, American munition stocks boom on the strength of Allied war orders. The blood of German youth lifts the U.S. out of recession.  

Walter Millis, The Road To War, 1914-1917 (Houghton Mifflin, 1935), pps. 37, 48, 54-8, 62-3, 72-4, 101. Noam Chomsky, "Analysis of Mainstream Media," talk delivered at Z Media Institute, June 1997; Philip S. Foner, Labor And World War I, 1914-1918 (International Publishers, 1987), , p. 23; Richard O. Boyer and Herbert M. Morais, Labor's Untold Story, (United Electrical, Radio & Machine Workers of America, 1955) pps. 193-4

1914: Washington
Germans 100% Evil, Allies 100% Innocent
The fact that European states emerged from centuries of slaughter is quickly dismissed as a relevant context for interpreting the present war. Prussian militarism and the undemocratic intrigues of the autocracies of Central Europe are assigned all the blame.
The U.S. press frames the issue as a wanton Austrian attack on “little Serbia,” and when Germany does not restrain Serbia the air is rife with accusations that the Kaiser has forced war on peace-loving nations.
The New York Times boldly calls for “the crushing out of the imperial idea, the end, once for all time, in those three empires [Turkey, Austria-Hungary, Germany] of the absolute rule and the substitution for all powerful sovereigns and their titled advisers of an executive with power to carry out only the will of the people.” The Times’ editors say nothing of the Allies’ blood-soaked imperial idea, represented by the Czar and the Anglo-French alliance.
The American labor movement remains skeptical of this call from on high for Europe’s working-classes to exterminate each other with weapons produced by modern industry.  

Walter Millis, The Road To War, 1914-1917 (Houghton Mifflin, 1935) pps. 39-41, 45, 66

1914: Paris
Hun Atrocities Fictitious, U.S. Reporters Say
“In spirit fairness we unite in declaring German atrocities groundless as far as we were able to observe. After spending two weeks with German army accompanying troops upward hundred miles we unable report single instance unprovoked reprisal. Also unable confirm rumors mistreatment prisoners or non-combatants.... Numerous investigated rumors proved groundless... Discipline German soldiers excellent as observed. No drunkenness. To truth these statements we pledge professional personal word.”
—U.S. correspondents permitted by the Germans to tour the Belgian front, cable to Associated Press, September 1914 

Sidney Lens, The Forging of the American Empire (Thomas Y. Crowell, 1971) p. 257; Walter Millis, The Road To War, 1914-1917, (Houghton Mifflin, 1935), p. 68



1915: New York City
The New York Times Hails Peaceful War Trade
“The promise of the new year is that we shall accomplish a peaceful penetration of the world’s markets to an extent we have never dreamed of. What others have shed blood to obtain through politics and force we shall attain while bestowing our benevolence...It is a new translation of the old beatitude, revised: ‘Blessed are the keepers of the peace for prosperity shall be within their homes and palaces.’”
Walter, Millis, The Road To War, 1914-1917, (Houghton Mifflin, 1935) p. 177

                                                      1915: Amsterdam
“Europe’s Soil Reeks In Blood,”
scream the invitations to the International Congress of Women. In history’s first recorded session of women from warring and neutral nations assembling to protest the slaughter of their husbands, fathers, brothers, and sons, a grim stoicism prevails: overwhelming fear and grief have obliterated all desire to agitate.
Women who sent their men off to the front singing have received back corpses, cripples, and basket cases. Four Belgian delegates saw Antwerp fall, its population reduced to miserable refugees, its old women collapsed in exhaustion, its broad and fertile fields blasted to ruin. Little girls too young to know their names still wander the wreckage there.
The Polish delegate tells of the Eastern front where thousands of villages have been destroyed, their former inhabitants now starving in the forests. A woman whose family owned estates in the Masurian Lakes tells of the swamps into which first the Germans were driven and then the Russians, and where both slowly drowned together.
The Italian delegate speaks of a nation in limbo waiting for the war to determine the exact nature of its cruel fate. “Our people are starving,” she says, “and some say: ‘Let us make a revolution’ and others, ‘Let us go to war, then at least our women and children will be given something to eat.’”
The women of Bavaria warn starkly that, “There will be no Bavarians left if this war continues.”
Frau Hofrath von Lecher, entrusted with the care of 500 wounded in an Austrian hospital, tells American delegate Mary Heaton Vorse of her experience watching soldiers suffer and die: “I ask as they lie there wounded, ‘What are you fighting for?’ and they all answer, ‘We do not know—we were told to fight.’ When I told them of this Congress, they begged me to come and, in the name of their wives and children, implore the nations of the earth to make peace.” 

Dee Garrison, Mary Heaton Vorse - The Life of an American Insurgent, (Temple University, 1989), p. ix, x, xii, xiv, 32-3, 48-9; Mary Heaton Vorse, A Footnote To Folly, (Farrar & Rinehart, 1935) pps. 32, 93

1915: Washington
The Lusitania
A German submarine torpedoes it off the coast of Ireland.  It sinks in eighteen minutes. Twelve hundred of the British Cunard Liner’s eighteen hundred passengers drown, including 128 Americans. Forty-two hundred cases of rifle ammunition intended for the Allies rust on the ocean floor.
Ignoring warnings that its ships would be sunk on sight, the Cunard Line sold passage through a declared war zone with the endorsement of the British government. Four other vessels have been destroyed in the same waters in recent days, and the Lusitania sailed in spite of news of three more submarine attacks off the Scilly Isles—news that was kept from the passengers.
Passengers who inquired about the danger when they booked passage were told there wasn’t any, at the same time receiving assurance that a naval convoy would escort them through the war zone. London papers laughed off Berlin’s warnings, with the Daily Telegraph headlining the news as “Berlin’s Latest Bluff; Ridiculed in America.”
Captain Turner took almost no measures to avert attack or manage emergency in the event one arose. He did not even know that zigzagging was required when passing through submarine infested waters. When disaster struck, he ran his ship right on top of the enemy, allowing the submarine to fire a torpedo point-blank into his side.
The drowned passengers represent roughly the same number as perish on the battlefield every six hours. The ninety-four children who drowned join the German babies who continue to die from Winston Churchill’s “economic pressure.” The U.S. contributes to both sets of deaths with its economic support of the Allies.
Amidst an angry chorus of American voices calling for revenge, the U.S. adopts its customary false posture of aggrieved innocence and continues sending massive economic support to the Allies.
Secretary of State Bryan somehow maintains the calm detachment that will soon make it impossible for him to continue in the government: “Germany has a right to prevent contraband going to the Allies and a ship carrying contraband should not rely upon passengers to protect her from attack.” Clifton Daniel, ed. Chronicle of America (DK Publishing, 1987) p. 58; Walter Millis, The Road To War, 1914-1917, (Houghton Mifflin, 1935) p. 155, 167-70, 172, 176-7; Charles  Callan Tansill, America Goes To War, (Little, Brown and Co., 1938) p. 286

Clifton Daniel, ed. Chronicle of America, (DK Publishing, 1987) p. 58; Walter Millis, The Road To War, 1914-1917,  (Houghton Mifflin, 1935) p. 155, 167-70, 172, 176-7; Charles Callan Tansill, America Goes To War, (Little, Brown and Company, 1938) p. 286

1915: Berlin
“The Germans Have Been Frightfully Lied About,”
writes Indiana Senator Albert Beveridge to his wife after a series of talks with German leaders and thinkers on why their side is in the war.
Professor Von Harnack, the leading German theologist, refutes the Allied myth that historian Heinrich von Treitschke has brainwashed Germans into accepting that might makes right. He also denies that a book by General Bernhardi enjoys huge popularity because it expresses a unique German ruthlessness. “Incorrect both,” says Von Harnack, “Treitschke merely interpreted history as it actually was, not as it ought to be [and] I doubt if many of the German people know that Bernhardi ever wrote a book.” Only 6000 copies of it are in print, some still unsold.
Albert Sudekem, leader of the German Social Democrats, tells Beveridge that one can hardly rest easy with the assumption that Germany owns the patent on militarism. “Modern militarism was not made in Germany. Napoleon III was its father and it was made in France.” As for the invasion of Belgium, “It was a question of life or death with us. If we had not marched through Belgium, England and France would have done so.” To the charge of waging war against humanity and civilization, he responds, “Is our care for the aged through old-age pensions, our industrial insurance, our provisions against sickness and accidents, our system of labor exchanges to bring the employers and laborers together—are these examples of barbarism?”
A stunned Admiral von Tirpitz can’t believe Washington puts sole blame on Berlin. “Our ships were abroad,” he protests. “Many of our warships were in foreign ports; much of our vast merchant marine was far away in the harbors of every country—do you think that if we had planned war, or even foreseen it, we should not have got all our ships home before war was declared?” On the subject of German submarine warfare, he says, “Well, why not? England is trying to starve us. Are we not to retaliate?”
German General Electric president Walter Rathenau and Albert Ballin of the Hamburg-American Line blame the war on British-German commercial rivalry. Only after the war will President Wilson concede that he believes the same. 

Sources: Claude G. Bowers, Beveridge and the Progressive Era, (The Literary Guild, 1932) pps. 462-4, 470; Richard O. Boyer and Herbert M. Morais, Labor's Untold Story, (United Electrical Radio & Macine Workers of America, 1955) p. 193
1915: London
British Caused War, Says George Bernard Shaw
Invited by Senator Beveridge to share his views of the war, George Bernard Shaw writes that all blame belongs with Earl Grey, who secretly assured France of British support a decade ago. For this reason alone, says the legendary Irish playwright, London entered the war.
Shaw scoffs at the notion that Britain was pained or surprised at Germany’s invasion of Belgium. “Why everyone knew for years,” he says, “that Germany would march through Belgium in case of war with France. There were Germany’s strategic railroads built right up to the Belgian frontier—what other object could they have had? There was no secret about it at all.”
The balance of power and British naval domination produced Europe’s catastrophe, concludes Shaw. 

Source: Claude G. Bowers, Beveridge and the Progressive Era, (The Literary Guild, 1932) p. 479


1916: Nationwide
Patriotism
Last year big business called for converting the Fourth of July into national Americanization Day, a day for “great nationalistic expression of unity and faith in America.” The Committee for Immigrants in America, a business lobbying group, issued a pamphlet describing the good citizen as “the natural foe of the I.W.W.,” someone dedicated to a “conscious effort to forge the people in this country into an American race.” The new race was to consist of efficient citizens loyally supporting the best ideals and traditions of America, including the laissez-faire doctrine that had so recently plunged the country into disastrous depression.
In a thinly veiled allusion to immigrants from the Central Powers, President Wilson criticized “hyphenated” ethnicities for speaking with “alien sympathies.” Such people were “thinking first of other countries,” whereas real citizens were “those that are for America, first, last and all the time.” Hyphenated Americans were “creatures of passion, disloyalty and anarchy,” who deserved only to be “crushed out.”
Up for re-election, President Wilson now prepares to ride a wave of martial indignation into the European slaughter. On Flag Day he reiterates that “disloyalty” at home “must be absolutely crushed.” He promises that the U.S. will turn “with a might and triumph of sentiment” against ethnic political action and will “teach these gentlemen once for all that loyalty to his flag is the first test of tolerance in the United States.” He roundly condemns “certain groups....born under foreign flags” for having “injected the poison of disloyalty into our own most critical affairs, laid violent hands upon many of our industries and subjected us to the shame of divisions of sentiment and purpose in which America was condemned and forgotten.” Submission to authority is the only American value.
Martial frenzy grips the country.  Huge military parades are held from coast to coast. In New York City 125,000 demonstrators march past an electric sign celebrating “Absolute and Unqualified Loyalty to Our Country.” 

 Sources: E. G. Hartman, The Movement To Americanize The Immigrant, (Columbia University Press, 1948) pps. 93, 105, 107, 115, 125; Robert Justin Goldstein, Political Repression in Modern America, (Schenkman, 1978), p. 100; Arthur S. Link, Woodrow Wilson and the Progressive Era, 1910-1917 (Harper & Brothers, 1954) p. 233
 

1916: Washington
The Profits of Doom
While American munitions sales to the Allies soar, the British naval blockade chokes off U.S. trade with Central Powers Germany, Italy, and Austria-Hungary. A U.S. Congressman remarks on Washington’s “blood-soaked boom,” an eager and one-sided extension of credit to the Allies’ sausage grinder. By next year, total funds advanced to their war effort will exceed $2.25 billion.
Free trade means military trade and military trade means militarization. The British arm their merchant ships, train their captains in the art of attack, and lure the Germans to destruction with men-of-war “Q-ships” disguised as commercial vessels. Since this makes it quite impossible to distinguish a merchant ship from a military vessel, Berlin dismisses the distinction as meaningless and insists all ships are now legitimate targets.
Mistaking it for a minelayer, Germany torpedoes the unarmed French steamer Sussex, killing fifty passengers. Though no Americans die, twenty-five are injured. President Wilson dispatches a virtual declaration of war to Berlin: “Unless the Imperial Government should now immediately declare and effect an abandonment of its present methods of submarine warfare against passenger and freight-carrying vessels, the Government of the United States can have no choice but to sever diplomatic relations with the German Empire altogether.”  

Sources: Walter Millis, The Road To War, 1914-1917, (Houghton Mifflin, 1935) pps. 262-3, 266-7, 287, 293, 296-7, 300; Julius W. Pratt, Challenge and Rejection - The United States and World Leadership, 1900-1921, (Macmillan, 1967) pps. 122-8, Sidney Lens, The Forging of the American Empire, (Thomas Y. Crowell, 1971) p. 258

1916: The River Somme
The Glory of War
The German troops curse Prussian militarism. The British troops curse secret diplomacy. Everyone curses those who find war glorious or a patriotic adventure, along with the politicians whose boasted liberty is a mountain of corpses.
Europe’s Old Order perishes here, and the survivors are dead to the world that prepared the frightful massacre. Churches are blown up, orchards and parks demolished, fruit trees felled, graves ransacked for lead, and villages reduced to heaps of bricks. Doctors carve into those that can be saved; old men direct fresh troops to the slaughter; arms merchants grow rich; editors and politicians inflame the vilest hatreds, and French soil is drenched in the blood of youth.
The shell-shocked survivors go stark, raving mad, clawing frantically at their mouths or lying motionless with a distant gaze in their eyes. Some just shake uncontrollably, emitting agonized moans bespeaking unfathomable suffering.
A letter from a German soldier reports on the many thousands gone: “The attack lasted till the evening of the 18th, when the English wrote on our bodies in letters of blood, ‘It is all over with you.’ A handful of half-mad, wretched creatures, worn out in body and mind, were all that was left of a whole battalion. We were that handful.”

 Source: Philip Gibbs, Now It Can Be Told, (Harper and Brothers, 1920), p. 372, 374, 411, 423, 438, 445)
 
1916: Washington
Newsreel
German Chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg sends an anxious cable to Washington stating Berlin’s willingness to guarantee the evacuation and restoration of Belgium if President Wilson will initiate peace talks. Otherwise, “unrestricted submarine warfare would have to be seriously considered”—a promise of more Lusitania sinkings.
J. P. Morgan and Company, awash in a staggering $272 million in profits for the year, seizes the opportunity to float large new war loans to France and Britain.
U.S. Ambassador Gerard cables the State Department from Berlin: “Germany anxious to make peace. I can state on best authority that if the President will make an offer of good offices in general terms...Germany will accept in general terms immediately and state readiness to send delegates to proposed peace conference.”
The very same day Lloyd George tells the United Press that Britain seeks a “lasting peace” through a fight to the finish and a “knock-out blow.” A sagging Stock Market revives at the news that peace will not be breaking out.
Continuing to denounce the U-boat for “barbarity,” President Wilson overlooks the miniscule number of lives it costs compared to the massive slaughter on the deadlocked Western Front that the U-boat seeks to circumvent.
While U.S. editors rail against German “militarism,” Major-General Hugh Scott calls for an American military draft like that used in “Germany, Japan and France.”
Russia teeters on the brink of revolution; the French army flirts with mutiny; staggering shipping losses drive Britain to the brink of financial disaster.
Five days before Christmas the Stock Market goes into sharp decline on news of a possible U.S.-mediated end to the war. 

Sources: Walter Millis, The Road To War, 1914-1917, (Houghton Mifflin, 1935) p. 329, 333-4, 341-2, 344, 362, 363, 371; Sidney Lens, The Forging of the American Empire, (Thomas Y. Crowell, 1971) p. 247


1917: Nationwide
Unity—Or Else
Congress passes the Espionage Act, converting “false statements” into crimes. Anyone whose speech impedes U.S. military success is subject to arrest.
In Grand Rapids, Detroit, Kansas City, Minneapolis, Boston, and Seattle, police throw opponents of the war in jail. In Tulsa, a crowd of hooded men relieves local police of custody of 17 Wobblies, slashes them with whips, then tars and feathers them. In Newport, Kentucky, a mob seizes a pacifist clergyman, throws him in a car and drives him miles to a forest where they strip him and lash him with a blacksnake whip. The attackers are only scared off after they have soaked his head in gasoline and prepared to burn him alive.
In Ohio, Socialist Party leaders are arrested and charged with advocating draft resistance. Elsewhere, anarchists Alexander Berkman and Emma Goldman are railroaded to jail merely for advocating internationalism, a fact neither prosecutor nor judge see any reason to hide. Kate Richards O’Hare gets five years for giving a speech stating that American women are “brood sows [who] raise children to get into the army and be made into fertilizer.” Big Bill Haywood is sentenced to 20 years while his 110 Wobbly co-defendants get one to ten years each.  Eugene Debs gets ten years for making an anti-war speech, and his hometown Terra Haute Tribune editorializes that he got off easy, since he and the other peacenik defendants deserve“the firing squad.”
While police look the other way, mobs wreck the meeting halls and stone the homes of anti-war critics. The Justice Department bans radical publications from the mails. Raiding I.W.W. and Socialist headquarters, swarms of “espionage agents” attack socialists, pacifists, and government opponents. Trying to explain the civil liberties disaster, John Reed comments that, with “a hideous apathy, the country has acquiesced in a regime of judicial tyranny, bureaucratic suppression and industrial barbarism.”
In a New York Times interview Ohio Senator Warren Harding calls for “a supreme dictator” to win the war in Europe. 

Sources: Ray Ginger, The Bending Cross - A Biography of Eugene Victor Debs, (Rutgers, 1949) p. 344-5; Eric Foner, The Story of American Freedom,  (W. W. Norton, 1998) p. 177; Helen C. Camp, Iron In Her Soul - Elizabeth Gurley Flynn and the American Left, (Washington State University Press, 1995), p. 88; Howard Zinn, A People's History of the United States, (Harper, 1995) p. 363; Philip S. Foner, History of the Labor Movement in the United States, Vol. 7 - Labor and World War 1, 1914-1918, (International Publishers, p. 271-5; Lewis Mumford, Men Must Act, (Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1939) p. 145; Michael Zezima, Saving Private Power - The Hidden History of the 'Good War', (Soft Skull Press, 2000) p. 20; Emma Goldman, Living My Life, (Garden City Publishing Company, 1931) p. 666; Joseph Freeman, An American Testament - a narrative of rebels and romantics, (Farrar & Rinehart, 1936) p. 97; David F. Schmitz, Thank God They're On Our Side - The United States and Right-Wing Dictatorships, 1921-1965, (University of North Carolina, 1999) p. 17-18
 


1917: New York City
A Dissenter in Wartime
Oswald Garrison Villard, anti-war owner of the New York Evening Post, passes a trying summer amidst the war hysteria.
Rumors of his despicable character sweep the neighborhood. He is accused of maintaining daily contact with the Kaiser, of not being willing to defend his wife and daughter from attacks by rapist Huns, of intending to fight the drafting of his sons—aged one and six, and of having sworn not to help a wounded man if he should ever see one.
Villard’s daughter finds herself the target of merciless ridicule for having a cowardly, disloyal, pro-German traitor for a father. In desperation she asks him permission to recover her good name by expressing hearty agreement that every last German in the world deserves to be exterminated.
For being of German name and breed even the family dachshund Fritz arouses controversy. One of the neighbor women—a devout disciple of Jesus Christ who attends one of the city’s most fashionable churches—informs Villard’s wife that the community cannot stomach a pacifist husband and German dog simultaneously disgracing its once decent reputation.
Villard’s children report that the neighborhood kids are planning to stone Fritz to death. The dog is evacuated to Thorwood for safekeeping. 

Source: Oswald Garrison Villard, Fighting Years - Memoirs of a Liberal Editor, (Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1939, p. 330-1)


1917: Nationwide
German-Americans
Vilified as Huns, baby killers, Kaiser lovers, and alien enemies, they are tarred, feathered, beaten, and lynched. Jeering mobs force them to sign loyalty oaths, kiss the American flag, and buy Liberty bonds. Their homes and churches are vandalized, their schools dynamited and burned.
All trace of their foul culture must be erased.  Patriotic associations call for changing German street names and banning the German language. The Governor of Iowa issues an edict declaring that “English...must be the only medium of instruction in...schools...[and] conversation on trains or over the telephone must be in the English language.” Those who cannot understand English are to conduct religious services at home, though it is not known how they are to be informed of this.
Beethoven records are broken, Wagner boycotted, and German books burned. German Lutheran churches and Goethe’s monument in Chicago are painted over. German dishes are deleted from restaurant menus or have their names changed. Boycotts are imposed against German books, songs, and other tainted products. Mennonite preachers are strung up and hanged; lay members refusing conscription are imprisoned and tortured.
A Liberty loan speaker denounces Germans as “the snakes of the human race,” who deserve only to be “stamped out.” Then he apologizes—“to the snakes and to the animal kingdom.” “There is nothing in it,” he explains, “so low and vile as a German.” 

Sources: Page Smith, A People's History of The Progressive Era and WWI - America Enters The War, (McGraw Hill, 1985) p. 557-9; Eric Foner, The Story of American Freedom, (W. W. Norton, 1998) p. 178
 

1918: Washington
The Government Decides Belief Is A Crime
Congress passes the Sedition Act, making it a crime to criticize the Wilson Administration. Under penalty of a 20-year prison term, the new law bans derogatory reference to the American flag, Constitution, or U.S. government.  But citizens are guaranteed the right “to publish or speak what is true, with good motives, and for justifiable ends.”
Also passed is the Immigration Act, allowing the government to deport any alien who is an “anarchist” or believes in “the violent overthrow of the American government,” or advocates “assassination of public officials.” Simply belonging to organizations labeled anarchist or subversive can result in deportation, and the government need not prove individual guilt, merely establish guilt by association.
Attorney General Palmer boasts of the good news before the U.S. Congress: “Never in its history has this country been so thoroughly policed.” 

Sources: Eric Foner, The Story of American Freedom, (W. W. Norton, 1998) p. 177, John Higham, Strangers in the Land - Patterns of American Nativism, 1860-1925, (Atheneum, 1973) p. 209-11; Charles and Mary Beard, The Rise of American Civilization, (Macmillan, 1930) , p. 640-1)
1918: Nationwide
Scenes From a Well-Policed Nation
Exercising vastly more power than Lincoln did at the height of the Civil War, Woodrow Wilson elevates himself to Divine Kingship, assuming dictatorial control of finance, the press, the farms, and commerce and transportation.
Critics of the war are arrested without warrants, detained without bail, and tried in an atmosphere charged with vengeful hysteria. After berating them in court, the judges assign them long prison terms. At Angel Island guards hang them by their wrists.
Newspapers are censored, editors arrested, mail permits canceled. The American Socialist, the New York Call, the Masses, the International Socialist Review, and Frank O’Hare’s Social Revolution are forced out of business.  
Germans, and those who fail to persecute them, are marked for abuse. A banker beats up a German grocer while a policeman holds the victim’s arms. A mob in Staunton, Illinois tars and feathers two Wobblies, and drags suspected German sympathizers out of bed, forcing them to kiss the flag. An Indiana State college professor is made to resign for holding “pro-German views.”  A schoolteacher of German parentage is fired for belonging to the Socialist Party and instructing her pupils to remain seated while singing the Star-Spangled Banner. The Boston Symphony Orchestra is forbidden to play Beethoven, and no concert may conclude without the playing of “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee.” Vigilantes raid the libraries of private citizens and burn their German books in the streets. Liberty Loan speakers insist everyone buy war bonds, screeching that the killing must continue until not a single German is left.
Mary Turner, a black woman eight months pregnant, is attacked for saying that if she but knew who lynched her husband she would have warrants issued for their arrest. A mob burns off her clothes, cuts her unborn baby out of her womb and stamps it to death.
Mary is found hanging head down from a tree riddled with hundreds of bullets. 

Sources: Oswald Garrison Villard, Fighting Years - Memoirs of a Liberal Editor, (Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1939)  p. 335n, Ray Ginger, The Bending Cross - A Biography of Eugene Victor Debs, (Rutgers, 1949) p. 351-3; Robert Rosenstone, Romantic Revolutionary - A Biography of John Reed, (Knopf, 1975) p. p. 321-2;  Robert Justin Goldstein, Political Repression in Modern America, (Schenkman, 1978), p. 126
1918: Chicago
A Wobbly Explains To the Court His Lack of Patriotism
 “If you were a bum without a blanket...if you had left your wife and kids when you went West for a job and never located them since; if your job never kept you long enough in one place to vote; if you slept in a lousy bunkhouse and ate rotten food; if every person who represented law and order beat you up...how in hell do you expect a man to be patriotic?”  

Source: Source: Patrick Renshaw, The Story of the IWW and Syndicalism in the United States, (Ivan R. Dee, 1999)
1918: New York City
Jack Reed Describes The European War For The Court
“We were in this trench, up to our waists in running water; in the back of the trenches, where it was slightly drier, were dugouts...the walls of these dugouts were of soft mud; they moved slowly down as the men lay down; and the only sounds were the snores of the exhausted people sleeping, and....the screams of rats. As we could look at the people...you could see over their faces where insects were crawling, vermin crawling. From the German trench...we looked through the port-hole, to the enemy trench, the French trench, eighty yards away. It had been raining for two weeks, two solid weeks of rain had come down...Between these two trenches, in the mud, forty yards from each trench, there lay a heap of bodies, all that was left of the last French charge, and these bodies were slowly sinking in the mud, had been left out there wounded to die. Nobody dared to come out...There had been no cessation of fighting; the wounded had lain out there screaming and dying in the mud, and they were sinking in the mud, and in some cases there wasn’t anything left of those bodies but an arm or a leg sticking up out of the soft mud with the flesh rotten on it.” 
Source: Granville Hicks with John Stuart, John Reed - The Making of a Revolutionary, (Macmillan, 1936) p. 316-17)
1918: New York City
Jack Reed Describes Martial Trendiness For The Court
“At the time I came back, which was at the beginning of 1916, the society columns were full about people getting up war benefits, giving war plays, and the hotels and the houses of the upper West Side, upper Fifth Avenue, were full of knitting parties, knitting socks for soldiers. They were not knitting socks for soldiers because their sons were in the trenches, as they knit socks for soldiers now; they were knitting them for soldiers because it was the thing to do. They had [Italian tenor] Caruso sing there in the afternoon while they were knitting socks for soldiers, and the talk was all of frivolity about the fact there was a war going on in Europe; England and France were in it, it was fashionable to be in it, and we were not in it—why weren’t we in it? It made me sort of sick.” 

Source: Granville Hicks with John Stuart, John Reed - The Making of a Revolutionary, (Macmillan, 1936)p. 317-18)

1918: Paris/Washington
“Blood ceases to flow,”
declares the official proclamation from Paris. “Our dead can sleep in peace.”
World War I is finally over. Ten million soldiers and thirteen million civilians are dead; six million people are imprisoned or missing; twenty million are wounded or maimed; tens of millions are dead of disease and starvation; ten million refugees, five million war widows, and nine million war orphans emerge from the nightmare of war to confront a shattered world.
On the luckier side are 20,000 American millionaires, almost double the number that existed before the war. They are directly enriched by the very system of monopolies President Wilson came to office affecting to tame with regulation, but which has now become not just the dominant force in the U.S. political system, but in the world economy as well. In fact, U.S. bankers have amassed more capital under the liberal Wilson than under a long line of Republican presidents, while U.S. international trade has nearly tripled its pre-war peak, raising the U.S. from a debtor state to the world’s leading creditor. The U.S. now stands at the apex of world markets, awash in surplus goods, surplus money, and surplus industrial capacity.
These blessings are not celebrated by America’s black soldiers, for whom the war has been an object lesson in how white people will fight harder to keep blacks down than for any other cause. Routinely denying them the privileges of soldiers, white officers have continually shouted “nigger” and “coon” right in their face.
With ecstatic celebrations of peace breaking out everywhere, black troops are refused permission to leave their muddy encampments—an official precaution against the rape of French women. 


Sources: Gabriel Kolko, Century of War - Politics, Conflict, and Society Since 1914, (New Press, 1994) p. 103-4; Richard O. Boyer and Herbert M. Morais, Labor's Untold Story, (Cameron Associates, 1955) p. p. 192-3; David Levering Lewis, W. E. B. DuBois - Biography of a Race, 1868-1919, (Henry Holt and Company, 1998), p. 535-6, 570; Page Smith, A People's History of the Progressive Era and WWI - America Enters The World, (McGraw Hill, 1985) p. 623-4, 628-9, George Seldes, Witness To A Century, (Ballantine, 1987) p. 92; Dee Harrison, Mary Heaton Vorse - The Life of an American Insurgent, (Temple University, 1989) p. 123-4; Mathew Josephson, The President Makers - The Culture of Politics and Leadership In An Age of Enlightenment, 1898-1919, (Harcourt, 1940), p. 541-2; Sidney Lens, The Forging of the American Empire, (Thomas Y. Crowell, 1971) p. 264

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