Thursday, November 30, 2017

November 1917

In November 1917 British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour issues a declaration stating the British Government’s support for “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.”  The Bolsheviks seize power in Russia and proclaim to the world that the new government intends to negotiate an “immediate democratic peace.”  Prime Minister Kerensky escapes Petrograd and rallies the Army in an attempt to retake control, but is defeated and goes into hiding.  Trotsky publishes the text of confidential diplomatic communications and secret treaties with foreign governments discovered in the Russian Foreign Office.  Armistice negotiations between Russia and Germany begin.  On the Western Front, the battle of Passchendaele comes to an end after weeks of intense combat and high casualties on both sides.  The British Army launches a surprise tank attack at Cambrai; initial gains are lost in German counterattacks.  Allied leaders meet in Rapallo to coordinate strategy.  French Prime Minister Painleve is forced to resign after losing a vote of confidence; former Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau assumes leadership of a new government.  An American delegation led by Colonel House arrives in Paris for the inaugural conference of the Inter-Allied Supreme War Council.  In Great Britain, the Marquess of Lansdowne, a former Foreign Secretary, sends a letter to the Daily Telegraph urging the Government to seek a negotiated peace with Germany.  In an agreement finalized in Washington, the United States agrees that Japan has "special interests" in China and Japan agrees to the "principle" of the "open door" policy; China is not consulted.  President Wilson tells the annual convention of the American Federation of Labor in Buffalo that the way to a permanent peace is through victory.  American forces achieve their first victories and suffer their first casualties of the war.  Woman suffrage, still making slow but steady gains state by state, is approved in New York but rejected in Ohio.  New York City's reform mayor John Purroy Mitchel loses his bid for reelection to Tammany Hall’s candidate.  The Espionage Act survives a First Amendment challenge.



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Arthur Balfour and His Declaration

Zionism is a movement established in the 1890's to promote the establishment of a Jewish homeland in the historic land of Israel in Ottoman Palestine.  It was begun by Theodor Herzl and continued after Herzl's death by Chaim Weizmann.  The movement gained momentum with the outbreak of the World War and the Ottoman Empire's decision to  join the war on the side of the Central Powers.  In last year's Sykes-Picot Agreement, in which Great Britain, France and Russia agreed to the division of large parts of the Ottoman Empire into spheres of influence, the future of that territory, including Jerusalem and its surroundings, was left for future determination.  On November 2, motivated at least in part by a desire to appeal to the Jews of Russia, most of whom are believed to support the Zionist cause, the British Government issued a declaration signed by Foreign Minister Arthur Balfour.  The brief declaration states "His Majesty's government view with favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavors to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing will be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country." 


 Lenin in Petrograd

In the aftermath of the Kornilov Affair (see the September 1917 installment of this blog), Russian public opinion, at least in the streets of Petrograd, moved decisively in favor of the Bolsheviks.  On November 4, reacting to reports that Russian soldiers on the Baltic front were throwing down their arms and fraternizing with the Germans, the Provisional Government ordered the Petrograd garrison to the front.  The only result of Kerensky's order was to cause the Bolsheviks to accelerate their plan to overthrow the government.  On November 6 (October 24 on the Russian calendar) the Bolsheviks seized control of telephone exchanges, post offices, banks, bridges, railway stations and other key locations in Petrograd.  Then they issued an ultimatum to the Provisional Government and surrounded the Winter Palace, where the members of the Provisional Government were in residence.  The Bolsheviks, who greatly outnumbered the forces loyal to the government, were further reinforced by naval forces arriving from the Baltic, including a cruiser that anchored in the Neva River and trained its guns on the Winter Palace.  The government surrendered the next day without bloodshed, and the Military Revolutionary Committee of the Petrograd Soviet promptly issued a statement that it had "deposed the government of Kerensky, which rose against the revolution and the people."  It called on Russian soldiers to "watch closely the conduct of the men in command" and ensure that "officers who do not join the accomplished revolution immediately and openly [are] arrested at once as enemies."  It outlined a four-point program: "First -- the offer of an immediate democratic peace.  Second -- the immediate handing over of large proprietorial lands to the peasants.  Third -- the transmission of all authority to the Council of Workmen's and Soldiers' Delegates.  Fourth -- the honest convocation of a Constitutional Assembly."

As the Bolsheviks stormed the Winter Palace, Premier Kerensky managed to escape in an automobile borrowed from the American Embassy.  He drove to Pskov, where he rallied the troops in an attempt to come to the government's defense.  His troops succeeded in capturing Tsarskoe Selo, but were turned back at Pulkovo.  Kerensky is now in hiding, and the Bolsheviks are firmly in control of Petrograd, and apparently of the Russian army and government.



 
 Leon Trotsky

On November 24 Leon Trotsky, the Foreign Minister of the new Bolshevik government, began releasing the text of secret diplomatic communications and treaties found in the Russian archives.  Among the material disclosed was last year's Sykes-Picot Agreement, dividing post-war spheres of influence in the Ottoman Empire between France and Great Britain (see the April 1916 installment of this blog).  The documents, Trotsky said in a statement, are those of the "Czaristic bourgeois and coalition governments" from which "the Russian nation and all nations in the world must learn the truth of the plans secretly made by financiers and traders through their parliamentary and diplomatic agents."  He said that while German and Austrian politicians might try to take advantage of the release to the detriment of Russian interests, he is confident that when the German proletariat, by means of a revolution, gain access to their nations' chancelleries they will find documents that show those governments in no better light.


 Nikolai Krylenko

The new Russian government has moved quickly to redeem its pledge to get the country out of the war.  Lenin has hedged slightly, saying his party has already fulfilled its promises by releasing the secret treaties and making "an immediate proposal for peace."  He states that "the revolutionary struggle for peace" will now begin.  When General Nikolai Dukhonin, named commander-in-chief of the Russian Army by Premier Kerensky in August, refused Lenin's order to open armistice talks, he was dismissed and replaced by Ensign Nikolai Krylenko, who despite his modest military title is a "People's Commissar" and a member of the inner circle of the new government.  Krylenko sent three representatives to the German commander at the front with instructions to inquire whether immediate negotiations for an armistice might be commenced.  The Russian delegates crossed the German lines on November 27 and began negotiations with the German military authorities with the goal of beginning comprehensive negotiations for an armistice.



 Chancellor von Hertling

Germany has a new Chancellor, Georg von Hertling, who came to power on November 1.  In a speech in the Reichstag on November 29, he responded to the Russian overture by announcing that Germany is prepared to enter into peace negotiations with the new Russian government as soon as it is able to send representatives with full powers to Berlin.  Negotiations are now scheduled to begin on December 2.  The French and American military missions in Petrograd responded to these developments by sending letters to the Russian government formally protesting any separate armistice or peace by Russia.  On November 30 their letters drew a sharp response from Foreign Minister Trotsky, who insisted that Russia "cannot permit allied military and diplomatic agents to interfere in the internal affairs of our country and attempt to excite civil war."



Ground Won by the Canadians at Passchendaele

The British offensive on the Ypres Salient came to an end this month, short of its original goal of the railway junction at Roulers.  Since it began on the last day of July, the offensive gained four and a half miles of muddy ground at the cost of 62,000 British, Canadian and Anzac soldiers killed and 164,000 wounded.  The village of Passchendaele was captured on November 6 and the ridge beyond on November 10.  The final attack, like most of the offensive, was hindered by a steady rain that turned the battlefield into a swamp.



A British Tank at the Battle of Cambrai

After securing Passchendaele Ridge and the little that was left of the village of Passchendaele, Field Marshal Haig turned his attention to the town of Cambrai, an important supply center for the Germans about six miles behind the Hindenburg Line.  At 6:20 a.m. on November 20, without any advance artillery preparation or other indication that an attack was imminent, the British began an intense artillery barrage coordinated with a simultaneous attack by a mass formation of 324 Mark IV "tanks."  Compared to the area around the Ypres Salient, the terrain was dry and solid, ideal for tanks, which rolled effortlessly over the multiple lines of barbed wire the Germans had deployed.  Caught by surprise, the Germans found the tanks on top of them before they could react and the British were able to make substantial gains.  Bells of celebration were rung in London when news of the advance arrived on November 23, but on the 27th the British were forced to break off the action short of the town of Cambrai, and in a counterattack begun the next day the Germans regained much of the lost ground.



 German Troops in Vittorio Veneto

The Italian Army has been in retreat since the Austro-German offensive began last month at Caporetto.  Unable to prevent the crossing of the Tagliamento on November 6, the Italian Army fell back to the Piave, the last river between the Austrians and Venice and sixty miles from Caporetto where the attack began.  With help from British troops transferred from the Western Front, the Italians have been successful in preventing a crossing of the Piave, and on November 19 they mounted a counteroffensive on the Asiago Plateau.



 General Cadorna

Political and military leader of Italy, France and Great Britain met at Rapallo, a small town near Rome, on November 5 to discuss military strategy in the midst of the severe setbacks suffered by the Italian Army in the Caporetto offensive.  The delegations were led by the prime ministers: David Lloyd George for Great Britain, Paul Painleve for France, and Vittorio Orlando for Italy.  The conference promised aid to the struggling Italian forces and established a Supreme War Council to coordinate the Allies' future military strategy.  At the insistence of Britain and France, General Luigi Cadorna, the architect of Italy's failed campaign on the Isonzo, was dismissed as chief of the Italian General Staff and replaced by General Armando Diaz.  The conferees agreed to a meeting of the Allied Supreme War Council on November 15 in Paris.



 Georges Clemenceau

When French Prime Minister Paul Painleve returned to Paris from the conference at Rapallo, he immediately confronted a political crisis.  On November 13, an extended debate in the Chamber of Deputies on the question of the new Allied War Council led to a narrow vote in the government's favor, but it was followed by interpellations (formal questions interrupting the regular order in parliamentary procedure) seeking an explanation of accusations in the press of a royalist plot and against former Minister of the Interior Louis-Jean Malvy.  Painleve demanded postponement of those questions until after the conclusion of the inter-allied conference, and made that question one of confidence.  On the ensuing vote of confidence the Socialists refused to support the government, and the government lost by a vote of 277-186.  Painleve and his cabinet immediately submitted their resignations to President Poincare.  The new Prime Minister, who will now represent France on the Supreme Allied War Council, is newspaper editor and former Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau, who will also serve as Minister of War.



 
  American Mission to the Inter-Allied Supreme War Council
(on the sofa: Admiral Benson, "Colonel" House, General Bliss)

Last month an American mission was sent to Paris to obtain information regarding the existing conditions of the Allied nations prosecuting the war against Germany and to determine the most effective contribution the United States could make as an Associated Power.  The mission arrived in London on November 7, the same day the Allies in Rapallo created the Supreme Allied War Council and the Bolsheviks overthrew the Kerensky government in Russia.  The American mission is led by President Wilson's advisor "Colonel" Edward M. House.  He is accompanied by Army Chief of Staff General Tasker H. Bliss and Chief of Naval Operations Admiral William S. Benson, as the military and naval representatives.  On November 17 the United States formally adhered to the Supreme War Council and designated Colonel House and General Bliss as its civilian and military representatives.  The next day, President Wilson sent a cable to Colonel House asking him to attend the first meeting of the Council and emphasizing that "unity of plan and control" between the Allies and the United States is essential to achieving a just and permanent peace.  The Council is now scheduled to meet in Paris on December 1.


 Viscount Ishii Kikujiro and Secretary of State Robert Lansing

Secretary of State Robert Lansing and Viscount Ishii Kikujiro, special ambassador from Japan, entered into an agreement on November 2 in which the United States "recognizes that Japan has special interests in China."  The same agreement, however, states that the two governments "will always adhere to the principle of the so-called 'open door,' or equal opportunity for commerce and industry in China."  Ten days later, the Chinese government formally protested, stating that it does not consider itself bound by agreements entered into by other nations.  By declaring war on Germany in August, China aligned itself, at least formally, with Japan in the World War.  The Lansing-Ishii Agreement, however, highlights the continuing adversarial relationship between the two countries.




The Marquis of Lansdowne

Henry Charles Keith Petty-Fitzmaurice, Fifth Marquis of Lansdowne and former Governor-general of Canada, Viceroy of India and Foreign Secretary of the United Kingdom, has written a letter to the Daily Telegraph which was published on November 29.  In his letter Lord Lansdowne called for immediate negotiations to bring an end to the World War, the prolongation of which, he said, "will spell ruin to the civilized world, and an infinite addition to the load of human suffering which already weighs upon it."  Lord Lansdowne's letter has been widely denounced in the press and disavowed by British politicians of all parties.  Lord Northcliffe's Evening News called the Marquis of Lansdowne the "Marquis of Hands Up."



President Wilson in Buffalo


 President Wilson with Samuel Gompers (Center) and Secretary of Labor William B. Wilson Last Year at the Dedication of the AFL's New Headquarters in Washington

In a speech on November 12 to the annual convention of the American Federation of Labor in Buffalo, New York, President Wilson warned against a premature peace with Germany.  He appealed to American labor for its full cooperation in achieving victory in the World War.  He brought the crowd to its feet cheering when he dismissed the pacifists, saying "I want peace, but I know how to get it and they do not."  The President said he had sent Colonel House abroad to confer with the other nations that are at war with Germany to arrive at a strategy for victory, "and he knows, as I know, that that is the way to get peace if you want it for more than a few minutes."  He paid tribute to Samuel Gompers, the President of the Federation, saluting Gompers as a man of "patriotic courage, large vision, and a statesmanlike sense of what is to be done."  The President addressed indirectly a rumored revolt of pacifists and Socialists against Gompers' leadership when he said "I like to lay my mind alongside a mind that knows how to pull in harness.  The horses that kick over the traces will have to be put in a corral."


U.S.S. Fanning in Port After Its Battle With a German U-boat

This month saw the first combat by American forces, on land and sea.  On November 17, the Navy claimed its first victory of the war.  Two destroyers, U.S.S. Fanning (DD-37) and U.S.S. Nicholson (DD-52), were escorting a convoy in the North Atlantic when an alert lookout on the Fanning sighted a small periscope that was visible for only a few seconds.  Fanning immediately headed for the spot and dropped a depth charge about three minutes after the sighting.  It was joined by Nicholson, which dropped another depth charge, forcing the U-boat to the surface.  The destroyers gave chase, firing their bow guns, and after the third shot the submarine hove to and the crew came on deck with their hands in the air.  The entire engagement lasted about ten minutes. An attempt was made to take the U-boat in tow, but it began to sink and the German sailors jumped into the water and swam to the Fanning.  Most of them were rescued and taken prisoner.

Fighting on the Western Front has claimed the lives of three Americans.  On November 16, Corporal James Gresham and Privates Merle D. Hay and Thomas F. Enright became the first American soldiers reported killed in action in the World War. They were mentioned in the dispatches of the French General commanding the sector, who reported that they "died bravely in hand-to-hand fighting with the enemy, who had penetrated the first line."


 Suffragists on Fifth Avenue

A Women's Suffrage Amendment to the New York Constitution was overwhelmingly approved on November 6.  On the same day a similar proposal was defeated in Ohio.  This is the third time the voters of Ohio have rejected Women's Suffrage proposals.  All the voters in both states, of course, were male.


 John F. Hylan

Tammany Hall swept the November 6 municipal elections in New York City.  The Tammany candidate for mayor, John F. Hylan, easily defeated both the incumbent mayor, John Purroy Mitchel, who ran as an independent, and William Bennett, the man who defeated Mitchel in the Republican primary.  Mitchel came in second.  Morris Hillquit, the Socialist candidate, came in third, barely behind Mitchel and well ahead of Bennett, who finished a distant fourth.  In a statement after the election, Hillquit noted the "tremendous Socialist gains" over the previous mayoral election.  Alfred E. Smith, the Sheriff of New York County, was elected President of the Board of Aldermen.  Conceding defeat, Mayor Mitchel called for unity, saying "with our nation at war, there is no room for division at home."  Charles Murphy, the Boss of Tammany Hall, is considered the real victor.  He said "there was no issue of Americanism or loyalty as far as I am concerned" and "I am as good an American as any man."  Bennett blamed Mayor Mitchel for "turning the city over to Tammany." 


 September Issue of The Masses


Judge Learned Hand

The Espionage Act, which became law on June 15, makes it unlawful to "interfere with the operation or success of the military or naval forces" or "incite insubordination, disloyalty, mutiny, or refusal of duty" or "obstruct the recruiting or enlistment service" or "utter, print, write or publish any disloyal, profane, scurrilous or abusive language about the form of government of the United States" or "advocate, teach, defend, or suggest" any of those things.  In addition to substantial criminal penalties, the Act empowers the Postmaster General to bar publications that violate the Act from the mail.  Shortly after the Act became law, Postmaster General Albert S. Burleson ordered the August 1917 issue of the Socialist magazine "The Masses" excluded from the mails, citing articles and cartoons criticizing the war and the draft. On July 24, in a case challenging Burleson's order, United States District Court Judge Learned Hand enjoined the Post Office from refusing to deliver the magazine.  He wrote that although articles and cartoons in The Masses might fall within the language of the statute, "they fall within the scope of that right to criticize ... which is normally the privilege of the individual in countries dependent upon the free expression of opinion as the ultimate source of authority," and were thus protected by the First Amendment's guarantee of freedom of speech and the press.  The government appealed, and on November 2 a three-judge panel of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals reversed Judge Hand's order and reinstated the ban.  In an opinion written by Judge Henry W. Rogers, the Court of Appeals held that the Espionage Act was constitutional and that "to obstruct the recruiting or enlistment service within the meaning of the statute it is not necessary that there should be a physical obstruction.  Anything which impedes, hinders, retards, restrains, or puts an obstacle in the way of recruiting is sufficient."  The Court concluded that "considering the natural and reasonable effect of the publication, it was intended to wilfully obstruct recruiting."

Thirteen copies of the September issue of The Masses have been held up at the Post Office for insufficient postage.  Postmaster General Burleson has determined that, because the August issue was not mailed, the magazine is no longer eligible for mailing as a periodical.  Other methods of circulation may also be foreclosed.  The Trading with the Enemy Act, which became law on October 6, forbids any person to "carry, transport, publish, or distribute" any publication that is unmailable under the Espionage Act.


 *****

November 1917 – Selected Sources and Recommended Reading

Contemporary Periodicals:
American Review of Reviews, December 1917 and January 1918
New York Times, November and December 1917

Books and Articles:

John Barrett, Latin America and the War
A. Scott Berg, Wilson
Tasker H. Bliss, Report of the Military Representative on the Supreme War Council to the Secretary of State, U.S. Department of State, Office of the Historian, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1914-20v02/d147
Britain at War Magazine, The Fourth Year of the Great War: 1917
Winston S. Churchill, The World Crisis 1911-1918
John Milton Cooper, Jr., Woodrow Wilson: A Biography
John Milton Cooper, Jr., The Warrior and the Priest: Woodrow Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt
John Dos Passos, Mr. Wilson's War
David Fromkin, A Peace to End All Peace: Creating the Modern Middle East, 1914-1922
Martin Gilbert, Churchill: A Life
Martin Gilbert, The First World War: A Complete History
Martin Gilbert, A History of the Twentieth Century, Volume One: 1900-1933
Martin Gilbert, Winston S. Churchill Volume IV: The Stricken World 1916-1922
Ann Hagedorn, Savage Peace, Hope and Fear in America, 1919
August Heckscher, Woodrow Wilson: A Biography
Godfrey Hodgson, Woodrow Wilson's Right Hand: The Life of Colonel Edward M. House
Roy Jenkins, Churchill: A Biography
John Keegan, The First World War
David M. Kennedy, Over Here: The First World War and American Society
Ian Kershaw, To Hell and Back: Europe 1914-1949 
Anthony Lewis, Make No Law: The Sullivan Case and the First Amendment
Arthur S. Link, Wilson: Confusions and Crises, 1915-1916 
Arthur S. Link, Woodrow Wilson and the Progressive Era, 1910-1917
Robert K. Massie, Nicholas and Alexandra
G.J. Meyer, A World Undone: The Story of the Great War, 1914 to 1918
G.J. Meyer, The World Remade: America in World War I
Michael S. Neiberg, The Path to War: How the First World War Created Modern America
Edward J. Renehan Jr., The Lion's Pride: Theodore Roosevelt and His Family in Peace and War
Jonathan Schneer, The Balfour Declaration: The Origins of the Arab-Israeli Conflict
Richard Sutch, Liberty Bonds, April 1917-September 1918, Federal Reserve History, https://www.federalreservehistory.org/essays/liberty_bonds
J. Lee Thompson, Never Call Retreat: Theodore Roosevelt and the Great War
Adam Tooze, The Deluge: The Great War, America and the Remaking of the Global Order, 1916-1931
Geoffrey C. Ward and Ken Burns, The Roosevelts: An Intimate History
The West Point Atlas of War: World War I





Tuesday, October 31, 2017

October 1917



In October 1917 the Allied offensive in Flanders bogs down in mud and heavy rains near Passchendaele.  The Austro-Hungarian Army, aided by German reinforcements, breaks through the Italian Army’s lines at Caporetto, sending the Italians into a headlong retreat.  French Army forces commanded by General Petain attack German Army positions on the Chemin des Dames, forcing them to withdraw.  In Palestine, the British Army captures Beersheba.  The first American troops arrive in the trenches.  Great Britain declares an absolute embargo on shipments to the Northern Neutrals (Sweden, Norway, Denmark and the Netherlands) to prevent them from supplying Germany with food, ammunition and other war materiel.  Reacting to sinkings of its merchant ships by German U-boats, Brazil declares war on Germany.  Mata Hari is executed for espionage.  In the United States, the Trading with the Enemy Act gives the president broad powers to control trade with enemy countries in time of war.  Using powers conferred by the new law, President Wilson appoints A. Mitchell Palmer to the post of Alien Property Custodian.  Palmer promptly seizes money and property belonging to or owed to German subjects and uses the money to buy Liberty Bonds.  Mayor Mitchel of New York City, having lost his party's primary, is running as an Independent.  The second Liberty Bond campaign is a success.  The special session of Congress, called earlier this year to declare war against Germany, comes to an end.  Columbia University terminates two professors for suspected disloyalty, causing Charles A. Beard, a prominent political science professor, to resign from the faculty in protest.  The Chicago White Sox (including several future Black Sox) win the World Series, defeating the New York Giants four games to two.

*****


Australian Soldiers at Passchendaele

The Anglo-French offensive in Flanders, dubbed the Third Battle of Ypres, has been under way since the end of July.  British Armies under the overall command of Field Marshal Haig continued the "bite and hold" tactic they employed last month at the Menin Road Ridge and Polygon Wood.  On October 4, under a steady rain that had begun the previous day, British armies under the command of Generals Gough and Plumer, mostly Australians and New Zealanders, moved forward about one thousand yards and dug in after occupying Broodseinde Ridge.  By then, the rain had become torrential, filling shell holes and turning the ground into an impassable swamp.  Both generals recommended halting the offensive, but they were overruled by Haig, who insisted that the attack continue with the objective of capturing Passchendaele Ridge.  The offensive continued as scheduled on October 9, but the weather and ground conditions caused the attack to bog down.  At month's end, further attacks by Canadian troops have thus far failed to capture Passchendaele Ridge.


 The French Offensive at La Malmaison

As the British and Canadians were fighting their way toward Passchendaele to the north, French troops under General Henri Petain, in a renewal of last spring's offensive under General Nivelle, attacked German positions along the high ground of the Chemin des Dames and the fort of La Malmaison.  At the end of the month, the French had driven the Germans back to the north bank of the Ailette River and the Oise-Aisne Canal.


Prime Minister Vittorio Orlando

The two offensives launched on the Isonzo River earlier this year by Italian Commander-in-Chief General Luigi Cadorna resulted in over 280,000 Italian casualties but no appreciable gains.  Responding to the urgent appeal of Austrian Emperor Karl, Kaiser Wilhelm ordered that German reinforcements be sent to aid in an Austrian offensive.  On October 24, led by German divisions under the command of General Otto von Below, the combined armies attacked at Caporetto.  After a short but intense artillery bombardment, the leading units advanced rapidly, using poison gas effectively and bypassing Italian strong points.  By month's end, the Italian Army was in full retreat and attempting to establish defensive positions along the Tagliamento River.  The defeat caused the fall of the government of Italian Prime Minister Paolo Boselli, who was replaced on October 30 by Minister of the Interior Vittorio Orlando.


 General Allenby

The British have failed in two previous attempts to drive the Turks from Gaza, the most direct route from Cairo to Palestine.  General Edmund Allenby, the new commander of British Army forces who assumed command of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force in July, has had more success.  After a campaign of deception and a feint toward Gaza that convinced the Turks that Gaza was again the primary target, Allenby instead attacked the crossroads town of Beersheba, located on the southern edge of the Negev Desert.  The attack began the morning of October 31 and ended with a cavalry charge by the Australian Fourth Light Horse Brigade which forced the surrender of the last of the Turkish defenders.  With the British occupation of Beersheba, the Turkish position in Gaza has become untenable.




American Troops Ashore in France, June 1917

The first Americans have arrived in the trenches.  On October 21 American troops were assigned to French units in the Luneville sector, a relatively quiet part of the Western Front.  Two days later artillery fire inflicted the first American combat injuries; all the injured soldiers were treated and returned to duty.  A few days later the Americans captured their first prisoner, a  German orderly who had wandered into the American lines by mistake.

With the United States in the war and enforcing its own embargo (imposed in July) on exports to the northern neutrals (Sweden, Norway, Denmark and the Netherlands), Great Britain no longer has to worry about offending American interests by cutting off neutral trade.  On October 2, the London Gazette printed a royal proclamation imposing a sweeping embargo on all trade with the northern neutrals.  Under the new embargo, the exportation to those countries of all articles except printed matter and personal effects accompanied by their owners is prohibited.


 President Bras Signing the Proclamation of War

The United States is not the only nation whose neutrality has been threatened by Germany's resumption of submarine warfare against merchant shipping  Several Brazilian ships have been attacked with the loss of lives and valuable cargo. On October 26 the Brazilian legislature declared war on the Central Powers.  The vote was 149 to 1 in the Chamber of Deputies and unanimous in the Senate.  President Venceslau Bras signed the proclamation the same day.  Brazilian torpedo boat destroyers have been ordered to Bahia to take possession of the German gunboat Eber, which is interned there.


Mata Hari

Margarethe Zelle, the Dutch entertainer and courtesan who performed under the name Mata Hari, was arrested in Paris in February and charged with spying for the Germans.  At her trial in July, the French prosecutors accused her of revealing details of the Allies' new weapon, the "tank," causing the Germans to rush work on a special gas to be used against it.  The evidence indicated that she had traveled to the English town where the first "tanks" were being manufactured and that she was subsequently seen in Spain where she aroused suspicion by associating with a man suspected by the French Secret Service.  She was arrested in Paris after being seen there with a young British officer attached to the "tank" service.  She was convicted of espionage, and on October 15 she was taken by automobile from St. Lazaire Prison to the parade ground at Vincennes where she was executed by a firing squad.


A. Mitchell Palmer

The Trading with the Enemy Act, which became law on October 6, creates the post of Custodian of Enemy Property.  On October 22, former Pennsylvania Congressman A. Mitchell Palmer assumed the position and opened offices at 920 F Street, N.W.  He found waiting for him hundreds of letters from American corporations and others offering to turn over large amounts of money in the form of dividends from German-owned corporations in the United States as well as amounts due in settlement of estates and bills owed to German businesses.  In addition to money, Palmer will begin seizing metals and other materials owned by Germans that are useful for war purposes, including millions of bales of cotton.  The value of the money and property subject to confiscation is estimated at one billion dollars.  All proceeds will be used to buy Liberty Bonds.


Mayor Mitchel

New York City's reform mayor, John Purroy Mitchel, was elected as a Republican in 1913.  Since then his popularity has diminished dramatically, and this year he narrowly lost the Republican primary to a relatively unknown former state senator.  He continues to believe, however, that his nonpartisan message of patriotism and reform will carry the day against Democrat John F. Hylan,  Tammany Hall's candidate.  On October 1 Mitchel stood on the steps of City Hall and addressed a crowd that filled City Hall Park from Park Row to Broadway.  With him were former President Theodore Roosevelt, last year's Republican presidential nominee Charles Evans Hughes, and numerous other dignitaries including former ambassador to the Ottoman Empire Henry Morgenthau and Oscar Straus, former candidate for governor and chairman of the Public Service Commission.  A letter of support from former President Taft was read.  Replying to speakers who offered him a "popular nomination" to run for reelection as an Independent, he accepted, promising "to make the fight one against Hearst, Hylan and the Hollenzollerns."  In a tumultuous meeting on October 4 the New York Republican County Committee voted down a resolution to endorse William M. Bennett, the winner of the Republican primary. Republican leaders are lining up behind Mitchel's Independent candidacy, but this may not be enough to defeat Tammany Hall.


Liberty Bond Poster

A second Liberty Loan drive began on October 1 with a goal of 10 million subscribers for a face value of $3 billion dollars worth of bonds.  Reflecting the increase in market interest rates since the first Liberty Bond issue in April at three and a half percent, the interest on this issue is four percent.  Holders of bonds purchased in the first drive are allowed to exchange them for the new bonds.  After a slow start, it appears that this issue, like the first one, will be oversubscribed.  An important element in the success of Liberty Loan drives has been the appeal to patriotism and the mobilization of public opinion through the Committee on Public Information.  On October 24, proclaimed "Liberty Day" by the President, volunteer women stationed at factory gates passed out seven million fliers.  The mail order houses of Montgomery Ward and Sears-Roebuck mailed fliers to farm women, and librarians inserted Liberty Loan reminder cards in public library books.



Vice President Marshall

The special session of Congress that convened on April 2 to hear President Wilson's war message came to an end on October 6.  As required by Article I, Section 4 of the Constitution, Congress will convene in its regular session on the first Monday in December.  In the 188 days it was in session, in addition to declaring war on Germany, Congress enacted important war measures including compulsory military service and legislation authorizing billions of dollars in borrowing and expenditures, as well as.the Espionage Act, prohibiting interference with military operations and recruitment, and the Trading With the Enemy Act.  In the last few hours of its session the Senate confirmed the nominations of several senior military officers, including the promotions of  Major Generals John J. Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Forces in France, and Tasker H. Bliss, chief of the Army General Staff, to the rank of General, which they will hold for the duration of their present assignments.  Before adjournment both houses were read a message from President Wilson thanking the Congress for "the work of this remarkable session" which has "been done thoroughly" and "with the utmost dispatch possible in the circumstances or consistent with a full consideration of the exceedingly critical matters dealt with," leaving "no doubt as to the spirit and determination of the country."  Speaker Clark and Vice President Marshall then addressed the House and the Senate, respectively.  Known for his wit and his self-deprecating sense of humor, Marshall thanked the senators for "the patience and forbearance with which they have dealt at many times with my irascible conduct."  Describing himself as a presiding officer who was "not one perhaps they wanted, but one that an ignorant electorate has thrust upon them," he reminded the senators that "the unfortunate thing in public life is that those who know nothing are placed in the seats of the mighty.  The wise men remain at home, and discuss public questions on the ends of street cars and around barber shops."


 Senator LaFollette

A flood of telegrams and letters have poured into the Capitol in recent weeks demanding the expulsion of Senators Lafollette, Gronna, and Stone, all of whom opposed the declaration of war, on grounds of disloyalty.  The Senate Committee on Privileges and Elections asked Senator LaFollette to answer specific questions about statements he had made in an address in St. Paul, and he responded with a two-hour speech on the Senate floor as the session drew to a close.  He based his defense on the argument that he has a right to free speech, and told the Senate he will continue to oppose the war and call for the administration to state its war aims.  Three of his fellow senators attacked the speech, Senator Joseph T. Robinson (Dem., Ark.) telling him "you can't run for president on a platform of disloyalty."


Professor Beard

In a  meeting held October 1, the Board of Trustees of Columbia University expelled two professors from the faculty.  Professor James McKeen Cattell of the Department of Psychology and Assistant Professor Henry Wadsworth Longfellow Dana were ousted on charges that they had disseminated doctrines tending to encourage a spirit of disloyalty to the United States Government.  Professor Cattell had written letters to members of Congress urging them to vote against sending drafted soldiers to Europe, and Professor Dana had joined and become active in the People's Council despite a warning from Columbia President Nicholas Murray Butler not to do so because it was engaged in weakening the government's prosecution of the war.  The statement issued by the University stated that it was "the judgment of the university Faculties, in which the Trustees concurred, that both Professor Cattell and Professor Dana had done grave injury to the university by their public agitation against the conduct of the war."  A week later, Professor Charles A. Beard, a distinguished and well-known professor of political science, resigned from the faculty in protest.  While repeating his often-expressed support for the war, he objected to the university's control by "a small and active group of trustees who have no standing in the world of education, who are reactionary and visionless in politics, and narrow and mediaeval in religion."  He states that in light of the trustees' action he can "no longer do my humble part in sustaining public opinion in support of the just war on the German Empire or take a position of independence in the days of reconstruction that are to follow."


 Heine Zimmerman Leaping Over a Scoring Eddie Collins

The Chicago White Sox defeated the New York Giants at the Polo Grounds on October 15 to win the World Series four games to two.  The decisive inning was the fourth, which featured three unearned runs.  The game was scoreless when the inning began with Chicago second baseman Eddie Collins coming to the plate as the lead-off hitter.  He hit a grounder to third baseman Heine Zimmerman, whose errant throw to first bounced off the ground and out of the infield, allowing Collins to advance to second.  Left fielder Shoeless Joe Jackson then hit an easy fly ball to right fielder Dave Robertson, which Robertson dropped, putting Jackson on first and sending Collins to third.  The next batter, center fielder Happy Felsch, hit a ground ball to pitcher Rube Benton, who chased Collins back toward third, then tossed the ball to Zimmerman.  As he did so, Collins wheeled and sped toward home.  Giants catcher Bill Rariden moved up the third base line ready to begin a rundown, but Zimmerman, ignoring shouted advice from fans and teammates to "throw the ball!," chased Collins all the way to the plate in an attempt to tag him from behind.  Collins won the race.  Felsch and Jackson advanced to second and third on the play, and the next batter, first baseman Chick Gandil, drove them in, giving the White Sox a 3-0 lead.  Giants second baseman Buck Herzog hit a two-run triple in the fifth, but that was all the New Yorkers could muster.  The White Sox went on to win the game 4-2.


*****


October 1917 – Selected Sources and Recommended Reading

Contemporary Periodicals:
American Review of Reviews, November and December 1917
New York Times, October 1917

Books and Articles:

John Barrett, Latin America and the War
A. Scott Berg, Wilson
Britain at War Magazine, The Fourth Year of the Great War: 1917
Winston S. Churchill, The World Crisis 1911-1918
John Milton Cooper, Jr., Woodrow Wilson: A Biography
John Milton Cooper, Jr., The Warrior and the Priest: Woodrow Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt
John Dos Passos, Mr. Wilson's War
David Fromkin, A Peace to End All Peace: Creating the Modern Middle East, 1914-1922
Martin Gilbert, Churchill: A Life
Martin Gilbert, The First World War: A Complete History
Martin Gilbert, A History of the Twentieth Century, Volume One: 1900-1933
Martin Gilbert, Winston S. Churchill Volume IV: The Stricken World 1916-1922
Ann Hagedorn, Savage Peace, Hope and Fear in America, 1919
August Heckscher, Woodrow Wilson: A Biography
Godfrey Hodgson, Woodrow Wilson's Right Hand: The Life of Colonel Edward M. House
Roy Jenkins, Churchill: A Biography
John Keegan, The First World War
David M. Kennedy, Over Here: The First World War and American Society
Ian Kershaw, To Hell and Back: Europe 1914-1949
Arthur S. Link, Wilson: Confusions and Crises, 1915-1916 
Arthur S. Link, Woodrow Wilson and the Progressive Era, 1910-1917
Robert K. Massie, Nicholas and Alexandra
G.J. Meyer, A World Undone: The Story of the Great War, 1914 to 1918
G.J. Meyer, The World Remade: America in World War I
Michael S. Neiberg, The Path to War: How the First World War Created Modern America
Edward J. Renehan Jr., The Lion's Pride: Theodore Roosevelt and His Family in Peace and War
Jonathan Schneer, The Balfour Declaration: The Origins of the Arab-Israeli Conflict
Richard Sutch, Liberty Bonds, April 1917-September 1918, Federal Reserve History, https://www.federalreservehistory.org/essays/liberty_bonds
J. Lee Thompson, Never Call Retreat: Theodore Roosevelt and the Great War
Adam Tooze, The Deluge: The Great War, America and the Remaking of the Global Order, 1916-1931
Geoffrey C. Ward and Ken Burns, The Roosevelts: An Intimate History
The West Point Atlas of War: World War I

Saturday, September 30, 2017

September 1917




In September 1917, the Central Powers reply to Pope Benedict’s peace initiative, saying they welcome it as a basis for negotiation but not agreeing to any specific concessions.  In a supplemental message delivered to the Papal Nuncio at Munich, the German government says it would consider evacuating Belgium and contributing to reparations for war damages in return for certain guarantees from Belgium, an offer the Allies consider unacceptable.  In Russia, following General Kornilov’s failed coup, Prime Minister Kerensky assumes personal command of the armed forces.  There is another change of government in France as Prime Minister Alexandre Ribot is replaced by War Minister Paul Painleve.  In the United States, parades honoring draftees are held in Washington and New York.  The Washington parade, which takes two hours to pass the reviewing stand, is led by President Wilson and includes members of Congress and Cabinet members leading contingents of draftees from their respective departments.  On the Western Front the British offensive on the Ypres salient continues with attacks on the Menin Road Ridge and Polygon Wood.  The Italian offensive against the Austro-Hungarians at the Isonzo River achieves modest gains.  Argentina comes close to declaring war against Germany when American Secretary of State Lansing releases intercepted and decoded messages sent from the German Charge d’Affaires in Buenos Aires to his government suggesting that two Argentine ships en route to France should be “sunk without a trace.”  

*****



Emperor Charles I

Last month President Wilson, in a reply adopted by the other nations at war with Germany, rejected Pope Benedict's peace initiative, saying no peace was possible as long as Germany is ruled by its present government.  Germany and Austria-Hungary have now submitted separate replies to the Pontiff's proposal.  The Austrian note was delivered to the Papal Nuncio in Vienna on September 20, and the texts of both notes were made public in Amsterdam the next day.  The Austrian note was addressed directly to the Pope by Emperor Charles I.  It welcomed "this fresh gift of fatherly care which you, Holy Father, always bestow on all peoples without distinction," and embraced "the leading idea of your Holiness that the future arrangement of the world must be based on the elimination of armed forces and on the moral force of right and on the rule of international justice and legality."  It supported "your Holiness's view that the negotiations between the belligerents should and could lead to an understanding by which, with the creation of appropriate guarantees, armaments on land and sea and in the air might be reduced simultaneously, reciprocally and gradually . . . and whereby the high seas, which rightly belong to all the nations of the earth, may be freed from domination . . . and be opened equally for the use of all."

 

Chancellor Michaelis

Germany, like France, Italy and the United States, has no diplomatic relations with the Vatican.  Its reply, sent by mail, arrived in Rome on September 26.  The Pope's note had been sent to Kaiser Wilhelm with a letter from the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Gasparri.  Chancellor Michaelis replied to Gasparri on behalf of "the Kaiser and King, my most gracious master," who has "deigned to acquaint me with your Eminence's letter and to entrust the reply to me."  He says the Kaiser "has been following for a considerable time and high respect his Holiness's efforts, in a spirit of true impartiality, to alleviate as far as possible the sufferings of the war and to hasten the end of hostilities" and asserts that the Kaiser has kept his promise never to "cut short the benefits of peace unless war were a necessity."  He says that "in the crisis which led up to the present world conflagration his Majesty's efforts were up to the last moment directed toward settling the conflict by peaceful means" but that a "disastrous concatenation of events in the year 1914 absolutely broke off all hopeful course of development and transformed Europe into a bloody battle arena."



German Foreign Minister von Kuhlmann

According to a German official statement released on September 26, Foreign Minister Richard von Kuhlmann delivered a supplemental verbal note to the Papal Nuncio in Munich in response to the Pope's peace initiative.  The statement says that Germany would agree to evacuate Belgium and contribute to compensation for war damages under certain conditions, among which are unspecified Belgian guarantees against "any such menace as that which threatened Germany in 1914."  In equally general terms, Germany says it wants to be free to develop its economic enterprises freely in Belgium and to have free access to the port of Antwerp.  Finally, in accordance with its own interests as well as those of the Belgian people, it wants Belgium to maintain separate administrative districts for the Flanders and Walloon areas of the country.  The Allies regard these conditions as unacceptable.


 The Petrograd Soviet in Session

Events are moving fast in Russia.  The Army suffered a major defeat on September 3 when a German attack drove the Russians from the important Baltic port of Riga. In Petrograd, General Kornilov's attempt to take over the government has failed, due in large part to Prime Minister Kerensky's decision to rearm the left-wing Petrograd Soviet and seek its support.  By strengthening the Soviet, Kerensky has greatly increased the threat to the Provisional Government from the left.  The Soviet, and in particular the Bolsheviks, who were marginalized in the aftermath of the "July Days" (see the July and August 1917 installments of this blog), are now in a position to control events.  Leon Trotsky, arrested during the July Days, has been released from prison, and Vladimir Lenin, who fled to Finland, has returned to Russia.  In an attempt to maintain control, Kerensky assumed personal command of the Russian Army on September 12, and on September 14 he established a directorate of five men, himself included, to run the government.  The next day he dissolved the Duma and proclaimed Russia a republic.  The Bolsheviks, meanwhile, have lived up to their name by gaining majority control of the Petrograd Soviet, and have adopted a program favoring exclusion of all property-owning classes from power.



Paul Painleve

France has a new Prime Minister.  Alexandre Ribot, who became Prime Minister in March, resigned on September 12.  He was succeeded by Minister of War Paul Painleve.  Ribot remains in the cabinet as Minister of Foreign Affairs.


President Wilson Leading the Draft Parade

In Washington on September 4, young men from the District of Columbia chosen for the new national army through the Selective Service draft were honored in a parade.  Numbering some 26,000 marchers including 1,400 draftees, the parade began at the Peace Monument at the foot of Capitol Hill and proceeded up Pennsylvania Avenue to Eighteenth Street, two blocks past the White House.  It was led by President Wilson, who strode up Pennsylvania Avenue at a vigorous pace, flanked by a committee of citizens dressed in formal frock coats and silk hats.  The President himself, carrying a large American flag, stood out for the simplicity of his attire: a short blue jacket, white flannel trousers, white canvas shoes, and a straw hat with stiff brim.  He was followed by seventy members of the Senate, in the front rank of which were Senate leaders including John Bankhead of Alabama, who wore the uniform of a confederate soldier, and Knute Nelson of Minnesota in the uniform of the Grand Army of the Republic.  Also marching was Senator Thomas Martin of Virginia, who in 1864 was among the cadets at the Virginia Military Institute who were called out to battle Northern troops at the Battle of New Market.  After the Senate came a Boy Scout band followed by most of the Members of the House of Representatives.  Draftees who are civil servants marched in contingents led by the Secretaries of their respective Departments.  Tens of thousands of spectators lined Pennsylvania Avenue waving American flags as the marchers, most of them also carrying flags, passed by.

At the White House the President left the procession and ascended to a reviewing stand erected in front of the White House grounds, where he remained for two hours as the parade passed in review.  He was accompanied on the reviewing stand by Secretary of State Lansing, Speaker of the House Clark, and the ambassadors of Great Britain, France, Belgium, Italy and Japan.  Mrs. Wilson sat nearby with the wives of Cabinet officers.

Most of the marchers were white, but several hundred Negro draftees also marched.  The spectators' steady ovations gave way to cheers as they saw the large banner they were carrying, which read "Selected by the Nation to Assist in Upbuilding World Democracy."  The cheering was interspersed with laughter when some of them broke into cake-walk steps as they passed the reviewing stand.

New York City staged its own draft parade the same day.  Beginning at Washington Square and proceeding up Fifth Avenue to Fiftieth Street, it was reviewed by a distinguished array of present and former officials, including former President Theodore Roosevelt, his Democratic opponent in the 1904 presidential race Judge Alton B. Parker, former New York Governor and Supreme Court Justice and 1916 Republican Presidential Nominee Charles Evans Hughes; and New York City Mayor John Purroy Mitchel.  When the parade disbanded, several thousand marchers continued to the Polo Grounds to watch the game between the New York Giants and the Boston Braves.  All the draftees had been given brassards with the legend "N.A." for National Army, which served as tickets of admission.  Unfortunately for the New Yorkers, the Braves won the game 3-1.  By month's end, however, the Giants had clinched the National League pennant.  They will face the Chicago White Sox in the World Series.


Welsh Fusiliers at Polygon Wood

The Third Battle of Ypres continued this month with attacks on the Menin Road Ridge and Polygon Wood.  Earlier offensive operations on the Ypres Salient had been frustrated by the Germans' strategy of defense in depth, in which the German front line was lightly defended but backed up by strong points that were effective in disrupting further Allied advances and setting the stage for counterattacks mounted by troops kept to the rear out of artillery range.  In attacking the Menin Road Ridge, the Allies tried a new tactic, called "bite and hold."  Attacking and occupying the lightly defended ground, the Allied troops consolidated their defensive positions, moved up their artillery, and began preparations for another modest advance.  In this way they remained prepared for any counterattack and minimized the risk of being caught in the midst of a disorganized advance.  The new tactic, which was successful in taking and holding the Menin Road Ridge on September 20-25, was repeated, again with apparent success, at Polygon Wood in a battle that began on September 26.

On the Italian Front, the Eleventh Battle of the Isonzo came to an inconclusive end on September 12 when the Italian Army's offensive, after initial gains, proved unable to make further advances.  The Austro-Hungarians, also exhausted, were unable to mount a counterattack.
 

Count Karl von Luxburg

Argentina came close to breaking diplomatic relations, and perhaps going to war, with Germany this month.  Relations between the two countries have been strained since April, when a German U-boat torpedoed and sank the Argentine sailing ship Monte Protegido near the Sorlingas Islands (Isles of Scilly) en route to Rotterdam with a cargo of linen.  Other submarine attacks resulted in the loss of another sailing ship, Oriana, on June 6 and the steamship Toro on June 22, both in the Mediterranean en route to Genoa.  The Argentine government filed a protest on July 4, threatening to sever diplomatic relations if the reply was unsatisfactory, and the German government promised no further occurrences.  There matters stood until September 9 when American Secretary of State Robert Lansing released transcripts of intercepted and decoded telegrams that had been sent by the German Charge d'Affaires in Buenos Aires, Count Karl von Luxburg, to the German Foreign Office in Berlin notifying his superiors of the departure of two Argentine ships bound for Bordeaux.  The telegrams had been sent through Stockholm by way of the Swedish Embassy.  Luxburg reported that "in view of the settlement of the Monte [Protegido] case there has been a great change in public feeling" in Argentina, and recommended that the ships nearing Bordeaux "be spared if possible or else sunk without a trace being left ('spurlous versenckt')."

The "sunk without a trace" advice caused a political firestorm in Argentina.  On September 12 Argentina sent a note to Germany declaring Count Luxburg persona non grata and demanding an official apology and disavowal of Luxburg's statements.  On September 19 the Argentine Senate passed a resolution with only one dissenting vote demanding the immediate severance of diplomatic relations with Germany.  On September 23 the German government sent a note disapproving Luxburg's statements and dismissing him from his post in Buenos Aires.  Unsatisfied, on September 25 the Argentine Chamber of Deputies followed the Senate's lead, demanding the breaking off of diplomatic relations by a vote of 53-18.  The President, however, has decided to accept Germany's apology and take no further action.


*****


September 1917 – Selected Sources and Recommended Reading

Contemporary Periodicals:
American Review of Reviews, September and October and November 1917
New York Times, September 1917

Books and Articles:

John Barrett, Latin America and the War
A. Scott Berg, Wilson
Britain at War Magazine, The Fourth Year of the Great War: 1917
Winston S. Churchill, The World Crisis 1911-1918
John Milton Cooper, Jr., Woodrow Wilson: A Biography
John Milton Cooper, Jr., The Warrior and the Priest: Woodrow Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt
John Dos Passos, Mr. Wilson's War
David Fromkin, A Peace to End All Peace: Creating the Modern Middle East, 1914-1922
Martin Gilbert, Churchill: A Life
Martin Gilbert, The First World War: A Complete History
Martin Gilbert, A History of the Twentieth Century, Volume One: 1900-1933
Martin Gilbert, Winston S. Churchill Volume IV: The Stricken World 1916-1922
Ann Hagedorn, Savage Peace, Hope and Fear in America, 1919
August Heckscher, Woodrow Wilson: A Biography
Godfrey Hodgson, Woodrow Wilson's Right Hand: The Life of Colonel Edward M. House
Roy Jenkins, Churchill: A Biography
John Keegan, The First World War
David M. Kennedy, Over Here: The First World War and American Society
Ian Kershaw, To Hell and Back: Europe 1914-1949
Nicholas A. Lambert, Planning Armageddon: British Economic Warfare and the First World War
Arthur S. Link, Wilson: Confusions and Crises, 1915-1916 
Arthur S. Link, Woodrow Wilson and the Progressive Era, 1910-1917
Robert K. Massie, Nicholas and Alexandra
G.J. Meyer, A World Undone: The Story of the Great War, 1914 to 1918
G.J. Meyer, The World Remade: America in World War I
Michael S. Neiberg, The Path to War: How the First World War Created Modern America
Daniel Okrent, Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition
Edward J. Renehan Jr., The Lion's Pride: Theodore Roosevelt and His Family in Peace and War
Jonathan Schneer, The Balfour Declaration: The Origins of the Arab-Israeli Conflict 
J. Lee Thompson, Never Call Retreat: Theodore Roosevelt and the Great War
Adam Tooze, The Deluge: The Great War, America and the Remaking of the Global Order, 1916-1931
Geoffrey C. Ward and Ken Burns, The Roosevelts: An Intimate History
The West Point Atlas of War: World War I

Thursday, August 31, 2017

August 1917



It's August 1917.  As the World War enters its fourth year, there's no end in sight.  Pope Benedict XV makes a peace proposal, which President Wilson rejects after conferring with the other nations at war with Germany.  Former Secretary of State Elihu Root returns from a mission to Russia designed to keep Russia in the war.  An attempted coup by the commander-in-chief of the Russian Army fails, but the Provisional Government is weakened and the Bolsheviks are strengthened.  Recently arrived American troops parade in London.  The Allied offensive on the Western Front, after initial success, bogs down in the mud of Flanders.  Italy attacks Austria-Hungary again at the Isonzo River.  On the Eastern Front, the German Army advances in Romania to the south and moves against the Baltic port of Riga to the north.  In the United States, racial tensions flare as African-American troops are based in segregated southern cities and a deadly race riot breaks out in Houston.  The Senate passes a proposed Constitutional Amendment prohibiting the manufacture, sale or transportation of intoxicating liquor.

*****


 Pope Benedict XV

Pope Benedict XV, who ascended to the Papacy as the World War broke out in Europe three years ago, has made a peace proposal to the warring nations.  In a letter dated August 1 and addressed to the King of England, the Pope offered a seven-point plan for peace: (1) that "moral force . . . be substituted for material force of arms," (2) "simultaneous and reciprocal diminution of armaments," (3) establishment of a mechanism for international arbitration, (4) recognition of "liberty and common rights over the sea," (5) "renunciation of war indemnities," (6) evacuation of occupied territories, and (7) arbitration of rival claims regarding Alsace-Lorraine, Poland, Trieste and the Trentino.  The Papal Secretary delivered the proposal to the British government with the request that it be transmitted to the governments of France, Italy and the United States, all of which lack diplomatic relations with the Vatican.  The proposal was received in the United States on August 16, and after conferring with the Allies President Wilson politely but firmly rejected it.  In a reply expected to be substantially adopted by the other nations at war with Germany, he said that "every heart that has not been blinded and hardened by this terrible war must be touched by this moving appeal," but that the object of the war is to free the people of the world from the power of the German government, “the ruthless master of the German people,” and that no possibility of peace exists as long as the present German government is in power.  In an interview with the Associated Press on August 31, British Minister of Blockade Lord Robert Cecil expressed satisfaction with President Wilson's reply, indicating that no further reply from Great Britain would be necessary.  At the Vatican, Pope Benedict expressed his admiration of the "lofty sentiments" of the President's note but made no attempt to conceal his disappointment that his effort to bring about an end to the war had apparently failed to bear fruit.



 Elihu Root

Former American Secretary of State Elihu Root, returning from his mission to Russia, addressed a welcoming luncheon in Seattle on August 4.  Ending what he termed "a long and fatiguing journey to a new sister republic," he said he could not talk about what the mission had learned until it had submitted its report to the Department of State, but he expressed "the greatest sympathy and the greatest admiration for that young democracy, now struggling to solve problems within a few months that this country has been struggling to solve for 140 years -- and has not solved."  Upon its return to the east coast, the Commission submitted its report to the State Department.  It stated "the unanimous opinion of the mission that the Russian people have the qualities of character which will make it possible to restore discipline, and coherent and intelligently directed action, both in military and in civil life, notwithstanding the temporary distressing conditions . . . which are not the result of weakness or fault in the Russian people but are the natural and inevitable results of the conditions under which the people were held before the revolution, the misgovernment of the bureaucracy, and the astounding suddenness with which the country was deprived of its accustomed government."  The report urges continued support of the Provisional Government and encouragement that it continue the war, stating that this is "the only course by which the opportunity for Russia to work out the conditions of her own freedom could be preserved from destruction by German domination."  It recommends "substantial aid to Russia . . . both in supplies and in credits," and asserts that "the benefit of keeping Russia in the war, and its army in the field will be so enormous that the risk involved in rendering the aid required should not be seriously considered."



Prime Minister Kerensky

Alexander Kerensky, the new Premier of Russia, formed a new cabinet on August 6.  Kerensky will continue as Minister of Defense and Mikhail Tereshchenko remains Foreign Minister.  From August 25 to 28 (August 12-15 on the Russian calendar), Kerensky convened a national conference in Moscow.  In an attempt to represent all shades of opinion, he invited representatives of a wide variety of organizations and social bodies, all of whom were given free rein to express their views.  Kerensky told the conference that Russia is “passing through a period of mortal danger,” in which it confronted threats from both left and right.  He warned that any attempt to bring down the Provisional Government would be repressed “by blood and iron.” 


 General Kornilov

General Lavr Kornilov, who began the month as the new commander-in-chief of the Russian Army, ended it as the leader of a failed coup.  Convinced that the Petrograd Soviet was the most dangerous threat to the Provisional Government and that the government itself was too weak to counter the threat, he moved troops into Petrograd at the end of August and demanded the Soviet's dissolution with the apparent intention of establishing a military dictatorship.  The effect of his attempted takeover, however, appears to be the opposite of what he intended.  Although Prime Minister Kerensky was quick to put down the leftist disturbances in Petrograd last month, he continues to consider the workers and soldiers of the Soviet an important part of his coalition.  Thus in an equally swift response to Kornilov's threat from the right, he denounced Kornilov as a traitor and permitted the Petrograd Soviet to be rearmed.  It now appears that the Kornilov threat has been defeated, but at the cost of strengthening the position of the Soviet and of the Bolshevik faction within the Soviet.


Hauling a Field Gun Through the Mud at Langemarck

In Flanders, the major Anglo-French offensive that began July 31 at the Ypres Salient succeeded in driving the Germans from Pilckem Ridge, but came to a halt on August 2 due to flooded streams and waterlogged ground, aggravated by years of artillery bombardment that had destroyed what little natural drainage existed in the lowlands of Flanders.  After ten rainless days, the decision was made to continue the offensive.  As the attack began on August 16 the heavy rains resumed, requiring duckboards to be laid across the flooded fields.  Two days later, when the attack was called off due to the condition of the ground and the continued bad weather, the village of Langemarck had been captured.  Meanwhile on the North Sea coast, the crews of the battleships aboard the German High Seas Fleet at Wilhelmshaven are becoming restless.  It has been over a year since the Battle of Jutland, the last time the fleet was at sea, and boredom is setting in, aggravated by poor rations, stern naval discipline and extended shipboard confinement.  On August 2, four hundred sailors from the Prinzregent Luitpold marched through the streets of Wilhelmshaven calling for an end to the war.  There was no violence and the sailors were persuaded to return to their ship.  Their leaders have been arrested.

The war continued without respite on the Russian and Italian fronts.  On the Isonzo River, the Italian Army mounted another offensive against Austria-Hungary on August 18.  It occupied the Austrian stronghold of Monte Santo and beat back an Austrian counterattack on August 28.  The Italians gained six miles of mountainous terrain but are experiencing a growing number of desertions.  On the Eastern Front, the Russian offensive ordered last month by Kerensky has already turned into a major defeat for the Russian Army.  On August 8 the Russians were able to halt an Austro-Hungarian advance and stage a counterattack at Kowel, the site of the Russian breakthrough last year under General Brusilov.  This time, however, the Russian attack failed to gain any ground.  To the south in Romania, a counterattack by the German Ninth Army under General Mackensen gained five miles and took 18,000 prisoners.  In fighting beginning August 6 at Marasesti, however, the Romanian Army has halted any further German advance.



American Troops in London

The Americans are now arriving in Europe in substantial numbers.  On August 15 a contingent of American troops interrupted their training to parade through Westminster, in the heart of London.  From the Horse Guards Parade to Trafalgar Square, to Piccadilly, to Grosvenor Gardens, to Buckingham Palace and the Mall, to Westminster Bridge, millions of Londoners turned out to cheer the new arrivals.  For security reasons, no advance announcement of the parade was made until the night before, so the enthusiastic turnout was truly spontaneous.  As the parade approached Whitehall, Prime Minister Lloyd George adjourned a meeting of the Cabinet and went with his colleagues to the War Office.  There, accompanied by Foreign Secretary Balfour, Chancellor of the Exchequer Bonar Law, Minister of Munitions Churchill, First Sea Lord Admiral Jellicoe and other dignitaries, they greeted the Americans from the War Office windows.  At Buckingham Palace King George, joined by Queen Mary, Queen Mother Alexandra, and Commander of the Home Forces Sir John French, stood at the gate and saluted the passing Americans.  After the parade the American soldiers retired to Green Park, where hundreds of tables were covered with white tablecloths and hundreds of waitresses served lunch as Londoners looked on through the iron railings around the park and from windows in nearby clubs and residences.


Camp Logan

The recently instituted draft and accompanying nationwide mobilization has had the unintended but perhaps predictable effect of increasing racial tensions, especially in the South where cities are strictly segregated and many new Army bases are being constructed.  One such base is Camp Logan, the mobilization camp for the Illinois National Guard, which is under construction on the outskirts of Houston, Texas.  A Negro battalion of the 24th Infantry Division was sent last month from its base in Columbus, New Mexico to guard the construction site.  Tensions rose between the soldiers, who were unaccustomed to strictly enforced racial segregation, and white construction workers and other white citizens of Houston as the Negro troops encountered segregated streetcars, water fountains, and other facilities.  Violence broke out on the afternoon of August 23, resulting in seventeen deaths.  Houston has been placed under martial law and the Negro battalion has been sent back to its base in New Mexico.

The next day, in an attempt to retain custody and assert state jurisdiction, the Harris County District Attorney filed murder charges against thirty-four of the soldiers.  A resolution was introduced in the Texas legislature asking the Texas congressional delegation to attempt to have Negro soldiers removed from the state.  In Washington, without waiting for the resolution, Senator Morris Sheppard called on Secretary of War Baker and made the request in person.  On August 25 he and Charles Culberson, the other Texas Senator, presented a petition to the President and the Secretary of War signed by all Texas congressmen.  The petition reads "In view of the appalling tragedies involving the destruction of life and property which the presence of negro troops in Texas has caused and is causing, and in view of the imminence of further outbreaks involving possibilities too terrible to mention, we, the Texas delegation in the national House and Senate, earnestly urge that the negro troops be taken out of Texas and kept out permanently."  Many other Southerners in Congress, most of whom refrained from raising the issue when the draft law was enacted to avoid embarrassing their fellow Democrat in the White House, are now voicing the same concern.



 Senator Sheppard

Senator Sheppard's other cause this month was prohibition.  He is the author and principal sponsor of a proposed amendment to the Constitution banning the sale of alcoholic beverages.  On August 1 the Senate adopted the Sheppard Resolution by a vote of 65 to 20, more than the necessary two-thirds.  It will become part of the Constitution if it gets a two-thirds vote in the House of Representatives and is then ratified by three-quarters of the state legislatures.  The proposed amendment would prohibit "the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States and all territories subject to the jurisdiction thereof, for beverage purposes."  In order to ease its passage through the Senate and the House, Senator Sheppard added a provision that the proposed amendment will be "inoperative unless it shall have been ratified within six years of the date of the submission thereof to the States by the Congress."


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August 1917 – Selected Sources and Recommended Reading

Contemporary Periodicals:
American Review of Reviews, September and October 1917
New York Times, August 1917

Books and Articles:

A. Scott Berg, Wilson
Britain at War Magazine, The Fourth Year of the Great War: 1917
Winston S. Churchill, The World Crisis 1911-1918
John Milton Cooper, Jr., Woodrow Wilson: A Biography
John Milton Cooper, Jr., The Warrior and the Priest: Woodrow Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt
John Dos Passos, Mr. Wilson's War
David Fromkin, A Peace to End All Peace: Creating the Modern Middle East, 1914-1922
Martin Gilbert, Churchill: A Life
Martin Gilbert, The First World War: A Complete History
Martin Gilbert, A History of the Twentieth Century, Volume One: 1900-1933
Martin Gilbert, Winston S. Churchill Volume IV: The Stricken World 1916-1922
Ann Hagedorn, Savage Peace, Hope and Fear in America, 1919
August Heckscher, Woodrow Wilson: A Biography
Godfrey Hodgson, Woodrow Wilson's Right Hand: The Life of Colonel Edward M. House
Roy Jenkins, Churchill: A Biography
John Keegan, The First World War
David M. Kennedy, Over Here: The First World War and American Society
Ian Kershaw, To Hell and Back: Europe 1914-1949
Nicholas A. Lambert, Planning Armageddon: British Economic Warfare and the First World War
Arthur S. Link, Wilson: Confusions and Crises, 1915-1916 
Arthur S. Link, Woodrow Wilson and the Progressive Era, 1910-1917
Robert K. Massie, Nicholas and Alexandra
G.J. Meyer, A World Undone: The Story of the Great War, 1914 to 1918
G.J. Meyer, The World Remade: America in World War I
Michael S. Neiberg, The Path to War: How the First World War Created Modern America
Daniel Okrent, Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition
Edward J. Renehan Jr., The Lion's Pride: Theodore Roosevelt and His Family in Peace and War
Jonathan Schneer, The Balfour Declaration: The Origins of the Arab-Israeli Conflict 
J. Lee Thompson, Never Call Retreat: Theodore Roosevelt and the Great War
Adam Tooze, The Deluge: The Great War, America and the Remaking of the Global Order, 1916-1931
United States Department of State, Report of the Special Diplomatic Mission to Russia to the Secretary of State, August 1917, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1918Russiav01/d108
Geoffrey C. Ward and Ken Burns, The Roosevelts: An Intimate History
The West Point Atlas of War: World War I
Woodrow Wilson,  Letter of Reply to the Pope, August 27, 1917, http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=65401