Saturday, March 31, 2018

March 1918


It's March 1918.  The nation whose mobilization against Austria-Hungary and Germany propelled Europe into the World War in 1914 is now the first nation out of the war.  Rid of the Tsar and under a new Bolshevik government, Russia signs without negotiating or even reading the humiliating Treaty of Brest-Litovsk.  Then, recognizing the geographical vulnerability of Petrograd, the Bolsheviks move their capital to Moscow.  Germany, now free to concentrate on the Western Front, mounts a major offensive in France.  The long-range "Paris Gun" begins raining destruction on the French capital.  British Minister of Munitions Winston Churchill, in France when the German offensive begins, returns to Whitehall and joins a War Cabinet meeting, then returns to France and tours the front with Premier Clemenceau.  As their armies are driven back, the Allies give Marshal Foch the responsibility of coordinating military operations on the Western Front.  Great Britain and France appeal to the United States to speed movement of American troops to Europe and to use them to reinforce Allied units already in the field rather than wait for independent American units to be formed.  Great Britain encourages Japan to send troops to Vladivostok to safeguard Allied war supplies and secure the eastern terminus of the Trans-Siberian Railroad.  Daylight Saving Time begins in the United States.  Bernard Baruch is made Chairman of the War Industries Board with broad powers to govern production, purchase and delivery of war supplies.  A virulent strain of influenza breaks out at Fort Riley, Kansas.


*****


 The Conference at Brest-Litovsk

The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk was signed on March 3, bringing an end to the war between Russia and the Central Powers.  Recognizing that it was out of military options and preferring to be perceived as the victim of cruel aggression rather than as party to a dishonorable agreement, the Bolshevik government of Russia refused even to negotiate, instructing its representatives to sign whatever was presented to them.  The actual signing, therefore, was an anticlimax.  Russian Foreign Minister Trotsky did not appear in Brest-Litovsk, and resigned his position on March 8.  German Foreign Secretary Richard von Kuhlmann was also absent, in Bucharest negotiating the terms of Rumania's withdrawal from the war.  In the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, Russia surrendered vast amounts of territory, comprising her most productive agricultural and mineral resources and over one-third of her pre-war population, including Poland, White Russia, the Baltic States, Finland, and the Ukraine.  She also agreed to surrender most of her naval bases on the Baltic and to disarm her Black Sea fleet.  Her Bolshevik government, meanwhile, concerned about the vulnerability of Petrograd to attack, moved the capital to Moscow on March 9.  On March 5, Foreign Minister Trotsky told the Associated Press that the Russian government was prepared to withdraw as far as the Ural Mountains if necessary rather than risk the defeat of the revolution.


A German "Tank" In Roye On the First Day of the Offensive

Russia's capitulation has freed Germany to concentrate its military resources on the Western Front.  In addition to the soldiers and equipment now available for redeployment, Germany has large supplies of artillery pieces, machine guns and other combat equipment captured from the Russians during the recent advance.  Movement of troops, weapons, ammunition and supplies from east to west has been facilitated by improvements made to the German railway system since the war began.  The British and French armies have been weakened by the protracted struggles at Verdun, the Somme, and Passchendaele, and the Italians are still recovering from Caporetto.  The United States has been in the war for almost a year, but at the beginning of the month had only six divisions in France.  The German offensive on the Western Front began on March 21 with massive artillery bombardments followed by attacks designed to drive the British from the Somme and the French from the Aisne, positions that have remained largely unchanged since the war of movement ended in the fall of 1914.  The Germans crossed the Somme on March 24, then drove the French back from the Aisne and captured Montdidier on March 27.  On March 26, in a conference at Doullens, the Allies agreed to give Marshal Foch authority to coordinate the action of all the Allied armies on the Western Front.  Lacking actual command authority, he urged General Gough, the commander of the British Fifth Army, to take a stand in front of Amiens, and General Petain, the commander of the French Army, to ensure that no gap opened between the French and British forces.  Nevertheless the German advance continued until March 30, when British, Canadian and Australian troops halted the German advance on Amiens and mounted a successful counterattack at Moreuil Wood.
 

The German Long-Range Gun in Action

Beginning at eight o'clock on the morning of March 23, Paris was bombarded by 240 mm shells fired from behind German lines, over 100 kilometers (62 miles) away.  Because ordnance experts believed no gun in existence was capable of delivering a 240 mm shell that far, many at first wondered whether the attack had been carried out by unseen aeroplanes or by secret gun emplacements near Paris.  The possibility that the shells might have been fired from a French or British gun seized by traitors or mutineers was also considered.  It now appears, however, that the Germans have developed a gun of extremely long range, capable of reaching Paris from well behind German lines.  In a Swiss magazine article published March 30, a German authority says Paris is being bombarded by a gun with a barrel twenty meters long and a projectile that attains an altitude of thirty kilometers (18.6 miles) before descending like a meteor on its target about three minutes after being fired.  The gun was in action again on March 29, bombarding a Paris church during Good Friday services and killing seventy-five worshipers.  More bombardment on Easter Sunday afternoon killed one Parisian and wounded another.


 Churchill and Lloyd George

When the German offensive began, Winston Churchill was in France on his fifth visit to the front since becoming Minister of Munitions last July.  He returned immediately to London and reported to Prime Minister Lloyd George on March 23, joining a meeting of the War Cabinet later that day.  On March 28, at the Prime Minister's request, Churchill returned to France to assess the ability of the French to mount a vigorous counterattack to relieve pressure on British forces and prevent a German breakthrough.  He went directly to Premier Georges Clemenceau in Paris, and on March 30, as British forces mounted their counterattack at Moreuil Wood, Churchill and Clemenceau visited French and British positions on the front line.


Lord Reading

On March 23, Lloyd George sent a telegram to Lord  Reading, his ambassador in Washington, directing him to explain to President Wilson that the British "cannot keep our divisions supplied with drafts for more than a short time at the present rate of loss" and that Britain would be "helpless to assist our Allies if, as is very probable, the enemy turns against them later."  The telegram told Reading to "appeal to President to drop all questions of interpretation of past agreements and send over infantry as fast as possible without transport or other encumbrances. . . . [I]f America delays now she may be too late."  Lord Reading went at once to the White House, where the President received him and asked what he could do.   Lord Reading asked him to tell General Pershing that American troops already in France should be sent as reinforcements to British and French units without waiting until they were numerous enough to form brigades or divisions of their own.  Wilson replied that he had the constitutional authority to decide the question, and that he would issue the necessary orders.

On March 27 Lloyd George sent another telegram to Lord Reading, this one for public consumption.  At a dinner in his honor at the Lotos Club that evening, Lord Reading read the telegram to the assembled guests.  It read "We are at the crisis of the war.  Attacked by an enormous superiority of German troops, our army has been forced to retire."  Although "the dogged pluck of our troops has for the moment checked the ceaseless onrush of the enemy," the battle "is only just beginning."  "The French and British are buoyed with the knowledge that the great Republic of the West will neglect no effort which can hasten its troops and its ships to Europe," but it is "impossible to exaggerate the importance of getting American reinforcements across the Atlantic in the shortest possible space of time."  After reading the telegram, Lord Reading gave an extended speech, interrupted by frequent and enthusiastic applause, in which he saluted the United States for joining the British and French in "a war in which the very sacred principles upon which humanity is based are at stake."  He said "we are as resolute as ever . . . that, come what may, we will fight on as we are fighting for liberty -- that which is dearer even than life itself," and rejoiced that "we can now walk with you in the path which all humans with great ideals would wish to tread."  Lord Reading was followed by speakers who expressed their strong support for the sentiments he had expressed, including New York Governor Charles Whitman and former Governor and Supreme Court Justice Charles Evans Hughes, the 1916 Republican Party candidate for president.


Lord Robert Cecil

The Bolshevik takeover in Russia and the ensuing withdrawal of Russia from the war have had consequences beyond freeing Germany to concentrate its military efforts on the Western Front.  War supplies shipped by the Allies to Russia are now stranded in Siberia and in the Arctic regions of Russia near Finland.  In addition, a force of Czech and Slovak partisans, recruited by the Russians to fight against Austria-Hungary in the interest of Czechoslovak independence, is struggling to reach the Pacific coast so it can rejoin the war.  On March 8 British Minister of Blockade Lord Robert Cecil urged Japan to take necessary steps to safeguard Allied interests on the Pacific coast of Russia, potentially including occupation of Vladivostok, the eastern terminus of the Trans-Siberian Railroad.  France and Italy are believed to support the British request, but President Wilson has advised the British and Japanese governments that the United States does not believe conditions in Russia justify Japanese intervention.


 Moving the Clocks Forward in the Capitol

On the last Sunday of March (March 31 this year), pursuant to legislation President Wilson signed into law on March 19, all clocks in the United States were set forward one hour.  The nation has been assured that the "daylight saving plan," which several European countries have already adopted, will go into effect without any disorganization or impairment of existing conditions.  Trains will run as usual, and every other feature of daily life will remain unchanged.  Americans simply moved their clocks forward before going to bed Saturday night and should now be able to forget about daylight saving until the last Saturday of October, when the process will be reversed and  the nation will return to "sun" time.  Among the promised benefits of daylight saving time are conservation of coal, gas, and other sources of heat and light; improved health due to the additional hour available for recreation every day; and improvement in the training conditions for the fighting forces.



Bernard Baruch

While the Overman Bill expanding the President's powers to reorganize and coordinate government agencies is pending in Congress (see last month's blog post), President Wilson has decided not to wait for its passage but to do as much as possible by executive action.  On March 5 he announced the reorganization of the War Industries Board under the chairmanship of Bernard N. Baruch.  In a letter delivered to Mr. Baruch the day before, the President outlined the new functions of the Board, which include making the final determination of all questions of priority in production and deliveries to all agencies of the United States Government and to the Allies.  As Chairman, Mr. Baruch is vested with the sole authority to determine all questions except the determination of prices, with the other members of the Board acting "in a co-operative and advisory capacity."  In the determination of prices the Chairman is to be governed by the advice of a committee including other members of the Board as well as the Chairman of the Federal Trade Commission, the Chairman of the Tariff Commission, and the Fuel Administrator.  "In brief," the letter concludes, Mr. Baruch's new responsibilities mean that he "should act as the general eye of all supply departments in the field of industry."


 The Influenza Ward at Camp Funston

An Army cook at Camp Funston, Kansas was diagnosed with influenza on March 4.  By month's end, hundreds more soldiers at the base, which is a major training ground for American troops on their way to Europe, have reported sick.


*****


March 1918 – Selected Sources and Recommended Reading

Contemporary Periodicals:
American Review of Reviews, April and May 1918
New York Times, March and April 1918

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 
W. Bruce Lincoln, Passage Through Armageddon: The Russians In War and Revolution 1914-1918
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
Jonathan Schneer, The Balfour Declaration: The Origins of the Arab-Israeli Conflict
David Stevenson, Cataclysm: The First World War As Political Tragedy 
David Stevenson, With Our Backs to the Wall: Victory and Defeat in 1918
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

 

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

February 1918

In February 1918 the Bolsheviks, now in control in Russia, decide to pull out of the war at any cost rather than risk losing their revolution.  Germany exploits Russian weakness by increasing its demands and sending its armies forward until Russia capitulates.  In the United States, the President replies to statements made by leaders of the Central Powers in response to his "Fourteen Points," and adds four more.  The British Parliament debates and defeats a pacifist's proposed response to the speech from the throne.  President Wilson, facing a domestic challenge, opposes a Senate proposal to create a War Cabinet to direct the war effort, but supports his own proposal to give himself more power to do so.  The workless Monday rule is suspended after less than a month.  SS Tuscania, a British troop ship carrying American soldiers to Europe, is attacked by a U-boat and sunk off the coast of Ireland.


*****


 Nikolai Bukharin

The negotiations in Brest-Litovsk reached a critical stage this month.  In January the Central Powers presented a series of non-negotiable demands, which included German occupation of vast swaths of territory formerly part of the Russian Empire.  Having prolonged the negotiations as long as he could and faced with a hopeless military situation, Trotsky recessed the talks and returned to Petrograd to confer with Lenin.  They were joined by Nikolai Bukharin, the editor of Pravda, the party's official newspaper, and a powerful member of the Bolshevik Central Committee.  Trotsky advocated a policy of "no war, no peace," by which Russia would simply cease fighting and break off negotiations, refusing to sign any treaty or other agreement, and hope that political pressure in Germany would prevent a resumption of hostilities.  Bukharin wanted to go on the offensive in support of a revolution of the proletariat, still hoping to inspire the working classes of Germany and Austria-Hungary to overthrow their governments.  Lenin opposed both, arguing that in the absence of a widespread proletarian revolution offensive military operations were impossible, and that either Bukharin's offensive or Trotsky's "no war, no peace" strategy would result in a military defeat that would endanger the revolution, which he regarded as far more important than any other consideration.  At a meeting of the Bolshevik Central Committee Lenin agreed to adopt Trotsky's strategy with the understanding that if it failed Trotsky would not oppose Lenin's position in favor of an immediate peace rather than a revolutionary war.



The Central Powers and Ukraine Sign the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk

Also in the conference at Brest-Litovsk was a delegation from the Rada, a parliamentary government that was set up in the Ukraine after the overthrow of the Tsar.  After the Bolsheviks seized power and entered into negotiations with the Central Powers at Brest-Litovsk, Germany invited the Rada to send delegates to represent the Ukraine.  A separate peace would result in Austria-Hungary and Germany having access to the abundant grain resources of the Ukraine, relieving the impending famine in those countries.  The Bolshevik delegation, of course, does not recognize the Rada and denies its authority to speak for the Ukraine.  The Bolsheviks' insistence that the Ukraine is part of Russia and subject to the authority of the Petrograd Soviet is supported by the fact that Bolshevik troops have moved into the Ukraine and now effectively control that territory.  The strong hand at Brest-Litovsk, however, is held by the Germans, who are more than willing to enter into a separate agreement with the Rada, and against whom the Bolsheviks, whether in the Ukraine or elsewhere on the Eastern Front, are virtually powerless.  On February 9 the Central Powers' delegations at Brest-Litovsk formally recognized the Rada delegation as the representative of Ukraine and signed a separate peace that gave Germany and Austria-Hungary the right to buy Ukraine's entire grain surplus.

On February 10, at his residence at Bad Homburg, Kaiser Wilhelm replied to the Burgomeister of Homburg's announcement of the peace agreement with the Ukraine.  He acknowledged that the German people "have gone through hard times" and that "the world . . . has not been on the right path."  He said that "Germans, who still have ideals, should work to bring about better times," and that Germany will "seek in every way" to "bring peace to the world."  He said peace has now been achieved "in a friendly manner with an enemy which, beaten by our armies, perceives no reason for fighting longer, extends a hand to us, and receives our hand."  He warned, however, that "he who will not accept peace . . . must be forced to have peace.  We desire to live in friendship with neighboring peoples, but the victory of German arms must first be recognized."


German Troops Advancing Into the Ukraine

As the Kaiser was speaking, Trotsky was in Brest-Litovsk informing the Central Powers of Russia's new policy of "no war, no peace."  General Hoffmann reacted with disbelief, sputtering that such a thing was "unheard of ... unheard of!", and left for Bad Homburg to confer with the Kaiser.  The meeting took place on February 13 and included, in addition to General Hoffmann and the Kaiser, Chancellor von Hertling, Foreign Minister von Kuhlmann, and General Ludendorff.  Hertling and Kuhlmann argued against resuming hostilities, preferring to concentrate Germany's military effort on the Western Front, but the generals argued strongly for an immediate offensive, and the Kaiser agreed.  On February 18 fifty-three divisions advanced against essentially undefended Russian positions from Pskov and Petrograd in the north to the Ukraine in the south.  For the Russians the only choice now was between Bukharin's revolutionary war and Lenin's insistence on saving the revolution by capitulation.  At a meeting of the Bolshevik Central Committee in Petrograd, Trotsky honored his promise not to oppose Lenin if his "no war, no peace" policy failed, and a  narrow majority voted with Lenin to accept Germany's terms.  Lenin sent a telegram that night informing Berlin of the Committee's decision.  Five days passed before an answer was received, and when it came it presented a list of additional demands, including the withdrawal of Russian troops from all of the Ukraine, Finland, Courland, Estonia and Latvia, and recognition of the Rada as the legitimate government of Ukraine.  At Lenin's insistence, the Central Committee voted to accept the additional conditions without further negotiation.  On February 26, when the Germans received word of the Russian acquiescence, they halted their advance on Petrograd.

The events of February have answered, or at least clarified, many of the questions that were raised by last year's revolutions in Russia and were still unanswered when the month began.  First, it is now clear that Russia's allies Great Britain, France and Italy will have nothing to do with the Brest-Litovsk negotiations.  Second, the parties to those negotiations must now recognize that the Christmas Day declaration of "self-determination, no annexations, and no indemnities" was a false hope from the beginning.  Third, the Bolsheviks' hope for a revolution of the proletariat in Germany and Austria-Hungary has been abandoned, at least within any time frame that would affect the negotiations.  Fourth, Russia has now shown that it will do whatever it must to get out of the war, and Germany has demonstrated a determination to take full advantage of Russia's weakness by forcing the issue militarily.  Finally, Austria-Hungary, eager as it is to find a way out of the war, has decided not to pursue a separate peace and will adhere for the time being to its alliance with Germany.


 
Lord Reading

In the United States, President Wilson has again traveled to Capitol Hill on short notice to address a joint session of Congress.  After notifying Vice President Marshall and Speaker Clark the morning of February 11, he appeared in the House chamber at noon that day.  Those present included French Ambassador Jules Jusserand and the new British Ambassador, Rufus Isaacs, Viscount Reading, Lord Chief Justice of England.  Lord Reading arrived in Washington on February 10 to assume his new duties as Ambassador and High Commissioner, an assignment that includes powers greater than those of his predecessor Sir Cecil Spring Rice.  He continues for the time being to hold the post of Lord Chief Justice.

The occasion for the President's visit to Congress was not Russia's "no war, no peace" policy, which was announced only that day in Brest-Litovsk, but the January 24 statements made by German Chancellor von Hertling and Austro-Hungarian Foreign Minister Count Czernin in response to the President's "fourteen points" address of January 8.  The President complimented Czernin, noting that his statement, which he said was "uttered in a very friendly tone," finds in the fourteen points "a sufficiently encouraging approach to the views of his own government to justify him in believing that it furnishes a basis for a more detailed discussion of purposes by the two governments."  Von Hertling's statement, in contrast, is "very vague and very confusing" and "leads it is not clear where."  The President accused Hertling of ignoring his own Reichstag, which passed resolutions on July 19 that "spoke of the conditions of a general peace, not of national aggrandizement or of arrangements between state and state."  Mr. Wilson went on to articulate four principles that he said should be applied in any attempt to arrive at a general peace:

"First -- That each part of the final settlement must be based upon the essential justice of that particular case and upon such adjustments as are most likely to bring a peace that will be permanent,
"Second -- That people and grievances are not to be bartered about from sovereignty to sovereignty as if they were mere chattels and pawns in a game, even the great game, now forever discredited, of the balance of power; but that,
"Third -- Every territorial settlement involved in this war must be made in the interest and for the benefit of the populations concerned, and not as a part of any mere adjustment or compromise of claims among rival states; and
"Fourth -- That all well-defined national aspirations shall be accorded the utmost satisfaction that can be accorded them without introducing new or perpetuating old elements of discord and antagonism that would be likely in time to break the peace of Europe, and consequently of the world."

Having stated these principles, the President placed the responsibility for continuing the war squarely on the German military.  He said that until "a general peace erected upon such foundations . . . can be secured we have no choice but to go on.  So far as we can judge, these principles that we regard as fundamental are already everywhere accepted as imperative except among the spokesmen of the military and annexationist party in Germany. . . . [T]his one party in Germany is apparently willing and able to send millions of men to their death to prevent what all the world now sees to be just."  The President concluded his address with the assurance that "no word of what I have said is intended as a threat. . . . The power of the United States is a menace to no nation or people.  It will never be used in aggression or for the aggrandizement of any selfish interest of our own.  It springs out of freedom and is for the service of freedom."

In a speech in the Reichstag on February 25, Chancellor von Hertling replied.   He said he "can fundamentally agree" with Wilson's four principles, with a single reservation: "These principles must not only be proposed by the President of the United States, but must also be recognized by all states and peoples."  "Unfortunately," he said, "there is no trace of similar statements on the part of the leading powers of the Entente.  England's war aims are still thoroughly imperialistic and she wants to impose on the world a peace according to England's good pleasure.  When England talks about the people's right of self-determination, she does not think of applying the principle to Ireland, Egypt, and India."  Back at the White House on February 28, President Wilson met with Secretary of State Lansing and Colonel House over a long lunch to discuss the Chancellor's speech and the German advance into Russia.



Sir Cecil Spring-Rice

Sir Cecil Spring-Rice, the British Ambassador to the United States who was recalled last month, was on his way back to Great Britain when he died in Ottawa on February 14.  He was a long-time friend of Theodore Roosevelt, and officiated as best man at Roosevelt's wedding in 1886.


 Foreign Secretary Balfour

The British Parliament on February 13 debated and defeated a motion to amend the response to the speech from the throne.  The amendment was proposed by Richard Holt, a radical member of Parliament, who moved to insert language expressing regret that "prosecution of the military effort is to be the only immediate task of the Government."  Speaking in support of his amendment, Holt asked whether President Wilson's four points set forth in his February 11 address to Congress represented the policy of the British Government and its European allies.  If so, he said, the government should reassemble the War Council at Versailles or elsewhere and make an announcement to that effect.  Foreign Secretary Balfour, speaking in opposition to the amendment, said that the conclusion already reached by the War Council was correct, and that nothing in the recent statements by Chancellor Hertling and Foreign Minister Czernin gave any indication of satisfying Allied war aims.  Although President Wilson had detected a difference in tone between the two statements, "when you leave the tone and come to formulated definite propositions you will not find them in Count Czernin's speech, and, so far as I am aware, President Wilson did not profess to find them."  Two weeks later, in a reply to von Hertling, Balfour restated his position, telling Parliament "I should be doing an injury to the cause of peace if I encouraged the idea that there is any use in beginning these verbal negotiations until something like a general agreement is apparent in the distance and until the statesmen of all the countries see their way to that broad settlement which, it is my hope, will bring peace to this sorely troubled world."


*****



Senator Chamberlain

In Washington, Congress and President Wilson are dealing with competing proposals to assign and allocate power and responsibility for the conduct of the war.  Last month Senator George Chamberlain (Dem., Ore.), the Chairman of the Senate Military Affairs Committee, introduced bills that would create a War Cabinet to direct the prosecution of the war and create a new post of Director of Munitions.  Chamberlain argued in a speech to the National Security League that hearings before his Committee indicated that "the military establishment of America has broken down" because of "inefficiency in every department of the United States Government."  On the day the bills were introduced, the President issued a statement attacking Chamberlain and minimizing the committee hearings as insignificant.  Although Senator Chamberlain has been one of his staunchest supporters, the President pulled no punches.  He said that Chamberlain's claim "was an astonishing and absolutely unjustifiable distortion of the truth," and that he was "bound to infer that that statement sprang out of opposition to the Administration's whole policy rather than out of any serious intention to reform its practices."  The President gave a strong endorsement to Secretary Baker, who defended the War Department's record in testimony before Senator Chamberlain's committee.  In his testimony, Secretary Baker denied the charge that the Department had no war plan, saying the plan was to assist the Allies in every way by responding to their needs as they defined them.  Some Congressmen and military experts have found this unsatisfactory, arguing that a war plan should include provisions for calling up a specific number of troops and supplying them with arms, ammunition, clothing, shelter, and transportation to Europe.

On February 1 eleven Democratic senators were invited to the White House.  President Wilson told the senators that he was absolutely opposed to the Chamberlain bills and would accept no compromise.  He told them he was entirely satisfied with the present organization of the War Department and urged the senators to do what they could to put an end to the discussion, which he said would suggest the country was divided and create a bad impression on America's allies.


Senator Overman

Debate on the Chamberlain bills began on February 4.  On February 6, Senator Lee Overman (Dem., N.C.), Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, introduced legislation to give the President sweeping powers to "coordinate and consolidate" government agencies.  The Overman Bill, which was drafted in the White House and has the President's full support, goes far beyond the Chamberlain bills in its proposed delegation of authority, but unlike Senator Chamberlain's proposal its principal thrust is to delegate legislative power to the President rather than assign executive power to a War Cabinet.  The Overman Bill as introduced would give the President power to "make any such re-distribution of functions among executive agencies as he may deem necessary, including any functions, duties and powers hitherto conferred upon any executive department, commission, bureau, agency, office, or officer," to "co-ordinate and consolidate" functions, and to "employ by executive order any additional agency or agencies and to vest therein the performance of such functions as he may deem appropriate."

The Overman Bill was greeted with astonishment on Capitol Hill, several senators saying "we might as well abdicate."  By the end of the month, however, it appeared that a modified version might be acceptable as a substitute for Senator Chamberlain's proposal, which because of the President's opposition is unlikely to become law.  Among other things, the Overman Bill would expand the authority of the War Industries Board to include some of the powers the Chamberlain bills would assign to the War Cabinet and the Director of Munitions.

Other issues raised by Senator Chamberlain are addressed in separate legislation.  The pending War Department Bill, for example, authorizes the appointment of two new assistant secretaries.  One of the new positions, to be charged with overseeing all industrial work and purchasing for the Army, is expected to be filled by Edward R. Stettinius, a partner at J.P. Morgan & Co.

*****


Director-General McAdoo

Last month Fuel Administrator Garfield issued an order requiring industries east of the Mississippi to suspend operations on Mondays to conserve fuel.  Mr. Garfield rescinded the order on February 13, citing a "vast improvement" in conditions, an improvement he attributed to the imposition of priorities for coal deliveries imposed by Treasury Secretary McAdoo in his capacity as Director-General of Railroads.  Also rescinded was the order requiring theaters, cabarets and other places of amusement to close on Tuesdays.  McAdoo issued a statement the same day supporting the suspension, but emphasizing the continuing need to reduce coal consumption, especially in the New England states which are still experiencing shortages due to railroad congestion.

*****

SS Tuscania

SS Tuscania, a Cunard luxury liner, was converted to a troop transport when the war broke out.  On February 6 it was under way from Hoboken to Liverpool carrying 2,179 American troops, mostly National Guardsmen from Michigan and Wisconsin, when it was torpedoed and sunk by a German submarine off the north coast of Ireland.  Most of those on board were rescued and put ashore at Buncranna, about ten miles north of Londonderry, and Larne, about fifteen miles north of Belfast, but 210 passengers and crew were lost.



*****


February 1918 – Selected Sources and Recommended Reading

Contemporary Periodicals:
American Review of Reviews, March and April 1918
New York Times, February and March 1918

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 
W. Bruce Lincoln, Passage Through Armageddon: The Russians In War and Revolution 1914-1918
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
Jonathan Schneer, The Balfour Declaration: The Origins of the Arab-Israeli Conflict
David Stevenson, Cataclysm: The First World War As Political Tragedy
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

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

January 1918

It's January 1918.  As a new year begins, President Wilson outlines his vision for a postwar world in an address to Congress.  His "Fourteen Points," which follow Prime Minister Lloyd George's statement of British war aims by only three days, are based on study and analysis conducted by a group of intellectuals called the "Inquiry," a precursor of the Council on Foreign Relations.  The Bolsheviks walk away from the talks at Brest-Litovsk, but the reality of Russia's military situation forces them to return.  Workers demanding an end to the war go on strike in Austria-Hungary and Germany.  The popularly elected Russian Constituent Assembly holds its first and only session before being shut down the next day by the Red Guards.  In the Mediterranean, the Ottoman Navy loses the two German cruisers it gained in the early days of the war.  In the United States, the government curtails manufacturing industries to conserve fuel.  The House of Representatives approves a woman suffrage amendment to the Constitution.  Americans enjoy music by Jerome Kern and George M. Cohan.

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President Wilson Outlining His "Fourteen Points" to Congress

When the Senate and the House of Representatives convened Tuesday morning, January 8, they learned that Speaker Clark and Vice President Marshall had just been notified that President Wilson wished to address the two houses in a joint session at noon that day. After a resolution calling a joint session was hastily introduced and adopted, the Senators left their chamber and proceeded through the Capitol to the House wing.  At noon the President entered the House chamber and mounted to the podium to deliver one of the most important statements of his presidency, setting forth America's objectives in the World War.

The reason for the urgency was that the President considered it important to make a strong warning to the new government of Russia of the serious dangers to which Russia is exposed in the Brest-Litovsk negotiations, and to assure the Russians of American support.  The President began his address, therefore, by aligning the United States firmly behind Russia in its rejection of the Central Powers' demands.  He referred to the contradictory messages from the German negotiators, saying that although "the spokesmen of the Central Empires have indicated their desire to discuss the objects of the war and the possible basis of a general peace," their "specific program of practical terms" presented at Brest-Litovsk "proposed no concessions at all, either to the sovereignty of Russia or to the preferences of the population with whose fortunes it dealt, but meant, in a word, that the Central Empires were to keep  every foot of territory their armed forces had occupied . . . as a permanent addition to their territories and their power."  Therefore "the negotiations have been broken off.  The Russian representatives were sincere and in earnest.  They cannot entertain such proposals of conquest and domination."

The President asked "for whom are the representatives of the Central Empires speaking?"  Are they speaking for "the majorities of their respective parliaments" or for "that military and imperialistic minority which has so far dominated their whole policy?"  Despite the contradictions in their own statements, the Central Powers "have again challenged their adversaries to say what their objects are and what sort of settlement they would deem just and satisfactory."  The President said "there is no good reason why that challenge should not be responded to," although, unlike the Central Powers themselves,"there is no confusion of counsel ..., no uncertainty of principle, no vagueness of detail" among their adversaries.  "No statesman who has the least conception of his responsibility," he declared, "ought for a moment to permit himself to continue this tragical and appalling outpouring of blood and treasure unless he is sure beyond a peradventure that the objects of the vital sacrifice are part and parcel of the very life of society and that the people for whom he speaks think them right and imperative as he does."

The people of Russia also deserve a clear statement of war aims.  "Whether their present leaders believe it or not, it is our heartfelt desire and hope that some way may be opened whereby we may be privileged to assist the people of Russia to attain their utmost hope of liberty and ordered peace."  The voice of the Russian people is "more thrilling and compelling than any of the many moving voices with which the troubled air of the world is filled.  [They] call us to say what it is that we desire, . . .  and I believe the people of the United States would wish me to respond with utter simplicity and frankness."  He is able to do so, he said, because "the day of conquest and aggrandizement is gone by [and] so also is the day of secret covenants."  It is now "possible for every nation whose purposes are consistent with justice and the peace of the world to avow . . . the objects it has in view."

President Wilson then laid out his "program for the world's peace," which he set forth in fourteen numbered points:

"I.  Open covenants of peace, openly arrived at . . ..

"II.  Absolute freedom of navigation upon the seas . . ..

"III.  The removal, so far as possible, of all economic barriers and the establishment of an equality of trade conditions . . ..

"IV.  Adequate guarantees . . . that national armaments will reduce to the lowest point consistent with domestic safety.

"V.  Free, open-minded, and absolutely impartial adjustment of all colonial claims . . . [giving equal weight to] the interests of the populations concerned . . ..

"VI.  The evacuation of all Russian territory and such a settlement of all questions affecting Russia as will secure the best and freest cooperation of the other nations of the world . . ..

"VII.  Belgium . . . must be evacuated and restored.

"VIII.  All French territory should be freed and the invaded portions restored, and the wrong done to France by Prussia in 1871 in the matter of Alsace-Lorraine . . . should be righted . . ..

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

"X.  The peoples of Austria-Hungary . . . should be accorded the freest opportunity of autonomous development.

"XI.  Rumania, Serbia, and Montenegro should be evacuated . . . and international guarantees of the political and economic independence and territorial integrity of the several Balkan states should be entered into.

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

"XIII.  An independent Polish state should be erected . . . [with] free and secure access to the sea . . ..

"XIV.  A general association of nations must be formed . . . affording mutual guarantees of political independence and territorial integrity to great and small states alike."

The President's statement, which one official described as "an outline of war aims, not a peace address," was praised by members of both parties.  The only criticism has come from some Republicans who have expressed concern that the proposed establishment of free trade as a basis for international commerce might commit the United States to allowing other nations, including Germany, to dump their products in American ports in competition with American businesses.



 Dr. Sidney Mezes


Walter Lippmann

The fourteen points presented to Congress grew from work done by a group of academics and experts called the "Inquiry."  The Inquiry was assembled beginning in September by Colonel House at the request of President Wilson to collect and analyze data on geographical, ethnological, historical, economic and political issues in Europe and throughout the world in preparation for the peace conference likely to follow the war.  To direct the Inquiry, House chose his wife's brother-in-law Dr. Sidney Mezes, the president of the City College of New York and former president of the University of Texas.  Dr. Mezes's secretary and the Inquiry's head of research is Walter Lippmann, an assistant to Secretary of War Newton Baker and co-founder of the New Republic Magazine.  After Colonel House returned last month from his conference with the Allied leaders in Europe, in which he tried to persuade them to formulate an agreed statement of war aims, President Wilson decided to make his own statement and requested a memorandum from the Inquiry.   Shortly before Christmas Colonel House delivered a hastily prepared memorandum, which was followed on January 4 by a revised and expanded version.  That day and the next the President discussed the memorandum with House, making notes on it in shorthand; then he sat at his typewriter and condensed the principal themes into fourteen points and asked House to arrange them in the order he thought best.  House placed the general terms first and ended with those dealing with specific territorial questions.  Wilson agreed with one exception: he moved the "general association of nations" point to the end.  On Sunday, January 6, he secluded himself in his study and used the marked-up memorandum to draft the fourteen points address, first in shorthand and then on his typewriter.



 Prime Minister David Lloyd George

On Saturday, January 5, while they were reviewing the Inquiry's memorandum and preparing the President's address to Congress, President Wilson and Colonel House received word that British Prime Minister David Lloyd George had made a major speech to the Trades Union Congress at Central Hall, Westminster, in which he had laid out Britain's war aims.  Those aims, he said, did not include the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, but did include the achievement of a peace based on "consent of the governed," which he called "self-determination."  The President was afraid Lloyd George had pre-empted what he had to say, but Colonel House persuaded him that his own speech, which was more comprehensive, would have far more impact.  When he prepared the final draft of his address the next day, Wilson included an acknowledgement of the Prime Minister's statement, saying "Within the last week Mr. Lloyd George has spoken with admirable candor and in admirable spirit for the people and government of Great Britain."

Two days after President Wilson's "fourteen points" address to Congress, British Foreign Minister Arthur Balfour gave a speech in Edinburgh in which he said Britain "never went into the war for selfish objects; we did not stay in the war for selfish objects; and we are not going to fight the war to a finish for selfish objects." He warned, however, that the horrors of war, tragic as they are, are nothing compared to those of a "German peace."


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 Central Powers Delegates at Brest-Litovsk (left to right: General Hoffman, Austro-Hungarian Foreign Minister Count Czernin, Grand Vizier Talaat Pasha, German Foreign Minister von Kuhlman)

At Brest-Litovsk, the joint Christmas Day declaration in favor of a peace of "self-determination, no annexations and no indemnities" gave rise to momentary optimism on the part of the Russian negotiators that agreement could be quickly reached.  Revelation of the details of the parties' understanding of those principles, however, led to a face-off that has continued into the new year.  As President Wilson noted in his address to Congress on January 8, the Russian negotiators withdrew from the talks when it became apparent that the German interpretation of the declaration did not mean it was prepared to agree to a return to the pre-war status quo.  The Russians did not stay away long, however.  Even as President Wilson was congratulating the Russians on their firmness, their lead negotiator Leon Trotsky was returning to the negotiating table, recognizing that Russia would be unable to resist if the German Army mounted a determined offensive.  On January 12, General Max Hoffmann, the leading spokesman for an aggressive German strategy, got into a political argument with Trotsky, accusing the Bolshevik regime of being "based purely on violence, ruthlessly suppressing all who think differently."  Rather than deny the accusation, Trotsky embraced it, saying "The general is completely right when he says our government is founded on power.  All history has known only such governments.  So long as society consists of warring classes the power of the government will rest on strength and will assert its domination through force."

While the military situation on the Eastern Front is encouraging for the Central Powers and dire for Russia, that is not the only incentive at work in Brest-Litovsk.  Just as it is in the interest of the Allies to keep Russia in the war, it is in Germany's interest to get Russia out as quickly as possible so it can concentrate its effort on the Western Front.  The political turmoil in Russia, meanwhile, has opened the door to independence movements throughout the empire.  Many of the provinces of Tsarist Russia, including Poland, Ukraine, and the Baltic provinces of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, have little or no sympathy for the Bolshevik regime, and are moving toward declaring their independence and entering into separate understandings with the Central Powers.

Political unrest is not confined to Russia.  Austria-Hungary is on the brink of starvation.  Reflecting bitter disappointment following collapse of the hopes raised by the Christmas Day declaration, widespread strikes swept Vienna on January 14.  In Germany, strikes began in Berlin on January 28 and spread quickly to other cities.  The political pressure from civilian workers and the Reichstag majority to achieve a peace settlement is matched by the determination of the German military to reap the benefits of their recent military success.

The Bolsheviks now in control in Russia have no reason to help the Allies, but they are unwilling to sacrifice vast territory and population to German control.  Russia's military situation, however, offers little in the way of leverage.  Trotsky's strategy at the moment appears to be to keep the talks going while pursuing his Marxist goal of a worldwide revolution of the proletariat.  The strikes in Berlin and Vienna are providing some encouragement for that strategy.



The Constituent Assembly

The Provisional Government that took power in Russia following the Tsar's abdication in March was so named because it was designed to remain in power only until elections could be held and a permanent government, to be called the Constituent Assembly, could be formed.  Nationwide elections on the basis of universal suffrage were originally scheduled for September but were postponed until November 25, by which time Lenin's Bolsheviks had driven the Provisional Government from power and gained control of the government buildings and streets of Petrograd.  Because of the popular support for the elections, the first in Russian history, the Bolsheviks allowed them to go ahead, but to the Bolsheviks' dismay the result was a convincing victory for the Socialist Revolutionaries, with the Bolsheviks coming in a distant second.


 Victor Chernov

When it became apparent that the Bolsheviks would not control the Constituent Assembly, Lenin denounced it as a betrayal of the revolution.  Prior to its meeting on January 18, supporters of the Assembly marching toward the Tauride Palace where it was to be held were shot at and driven from the streets by armed Bolsheviks.  Dozens of demonstrators were killed.  During the Assembly, which began at 4:00 P.M., Red Guards trained cannons on the building and the Bolshevik minority inside the hall made raucous attempts to interrupt the proceedings as Lenin watched from the balcony.  The Socialist Revolutionary majority, made up of many of the leaders of the February (O.S.) Revolution that overthrew the tsar, proceeded to conduct business, electing Victor Chernov president.  The Assembly adjourned in the early morning hours after enacting an egalitarian land law and proclaiming the birth of the "Russian Democratic Republic."  When the delegates returned the following afternoon, they found the doors locked and barricaded by the Bolsheviks.  Russia's experiment with representative government had lasted less than twenty-four hours.


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S.M.S. Goeben Aground at the Dardanelles

Shortly after the outbreak of war between Great Britain and Germany in August 1914, the German cruisers SMS Goeben and SMS Breslau were pursued by Royal Navy forces in the Mediterranean and escaped into the Dardanelles, where they were taken with their officers and crews into the Turkish Navy and renamed Jawus Sultan Selim and Midilli (see the August 1914 installment of this blog).  They remained in the Black Sea until this month, when they ventured back into the Mediterranean to support Ottoman operations in Palestine.  In the ensuing Battle of Imbros, they attacked and sank two British monitors, but as they were attempting to return to the Dardanelles they struck mines that sank the Midilli (Breslau) and forced the Jawus Sultan Selim (Goeben) onto the  beach.


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Fuel Administrator Garfield

The Federal Fuel Administration was created by executive order last August to address concerns about shortages of coal and oil caused by the unusually harsh winter, railroad congestion, and the demands of American participation in the World War.  Harry A. Garfield was appointed Administrator.  On January 16, with President Wilson's approval, Garfield issued an order directing all industries east of the Mississippi River to suspend operation for five days beginning Friday, January 18, and to shut down operations thereafter every Monday from January 28 to March 25.  The order, issued without any advance notice or discussion, took the country by surprise.  In response to widespread protests, the Senate adopted a resolution calling for the Fuel Administrator to postpone the effective date of the order

In a statement issued January 18.  President Wilson said he had been "of course, consulted by Mr. Garfield" and "fully agreed with him."  He said "sacrifices of the sort called for by this order are infinitely less than sacrifices of life that might otherwise be involved.  It is absolutely necessary to get the ships away, it is absolutely necessary to relieve the congestion at the ports and upon the railways, it is absolutely necessary to move great quantities of food, and it is absolutely necessary that our people should be warmed in their homes, if nowhere else, and halfway measures would not have accomplished the desired ends."



Suffragists March for Woman Suffrage

During his 1916 campaign for reelection, President Wilson announced his support for woman suffrage but insisted, along with most of his Southern Democrat supporters, that it was an issue to be resolved by individual states.  He voted for woman suffrage in New Jersey, but disagreed with his Republican opponent, Charles Evans Hughes, who advocated a Constitutional amendment granting nationwide woman suffrage.  Despite Wilson's narrow victory, the issue has not gone away, and a proposed Constitutional amendment, which supporters called "the Susan B. Anthony resolution," came up for a vote in the House of Representatives on January 10.  The day before the vote the President announced that he had changed his opinion and now supported amending the Constitution.  Many Democrats, however, refused to follow his lead, arguing that it violated the party's platform.  After a five-hour debate, the House adopted the resolution by a vote of 274-136, meeting the two-thirds requirement with no votes to spare.  Two members, Representative Thetus W. Sims (Dem., Tenn.) and the minority leader James R. Mann (Rep., Ill.), rose from sick beds to vote for the
resolution, and the vote in favor cast by Representative Joseph J. Russell (Dem., Mo.) was counted only after a hard fight led by Representative Edward W. Saunders (Dem., Va.), the leader of the opposition, to disqualify it on the ground that Russell had not been present in the chamber when the voting began.  Champ Clark (Dem., Mo.) is known to favor the amendment, but as Speaker of the House did not vote.  The proposed amendment now heads for the Senate, where it faces challenges at least as formidable as those it faced in the House.

Well ahead of woman suffrage in the pipeline is the proposed Constitutional amendment prohibiting the "manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors," which was approved by Congress and submitted to the states last month.  On January 8 Mississippi became the first state to ratify what will be, if adopted, the eighteenth amendment.  By month's end, four more states had followed suit.


 Representative Rankin

During the vote on  the woman suffrage amendment the galleries were filled to capacity with supporters, many of them women, whose increasing concern was palpable as one Democrat after another refused to follow their president's lead.  In contrast to the galleries, only two women were on the floor of the House chamber.  One was the clerk of the House Suffrage Committee, who sat next to Representative John Raker (Dem., Calif.), the committee's chairman.  The other was Representative Jeannette Rankin (Rep., Mont.), the only female member of Congress, who led the fight for the Republican supporters of the amendment.  When the resolution was introduced Mr. Raker was standing before the Speaker's desk ready to begin the debate when Representative Joseph Walsh (Rep., Mass.) stood and asked whether "it would seriously interfere with [Mr. Raker's] plans if Miss Rankin should open the debate."  Raker stepped aside and allowed Miss Rankin to deliver what proved to be the longest and most impassioned speech of the day in favor of the resolution.  She told her fellow congressmen "We are facing a question of political evolution," and although "we are mobilizing all our resources for the ideals of democracy [in the World War], . . . something is still lacking in the completeness of our national effort."  She declared that "today as never before the nation needs its women -- needs the work of their hands and their hearts and their minds."  Miss Rankin challenged the Congress to live up to its "protestations of democracy," asking "How can we explain if the same Congress that voted for war to make the world safe for democracy refuses to give this small measure of democracy to the women of our country?"


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One of 1917's most successful Broadway shows is "Oh, Boy!," a musical comedy with music by Jerome Kern and lyrics by Guy Bolton and P.G. Wodehouse.  It opened in February and is still being performed in the new year.  The most popular song in the play is "Till the Clouds Roll By," performed by Anna Wheaton and James Harrod (click to play):

Anna Wheaton

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Nora Bayes

With America's entry into the World War, patriotic songs have enjoyed a surge of popularity.  The most popular is "Over There," written by George M. Cohan and performed by several artists, including Enrico Caruso and Billy Murray.  Leading the charts at year's end is this recording by Nora Bayes (click to play):




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January 1918 – Selected Sources and Recommended Reading

Contemporary Periodicals:
American Review of Reviews, February and March 1918
New York Times, January and February 1918

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 
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
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

Sunday, December 31, 2017

December 1917



One of the most consequential years in world history, highlighted by the Communist revolution in Russia and the United States' entry into the World War, has come to an end.  In December 1917 the Bolsheviks, having driven the Provisional Government from power, occupy Russian Army headquarters and murder the Army's former commander-in-chief.  An armistice is declared on the Eastern Front and negotiations begin for a permanent peace treaty between the new Russian government and the Central Powers.  The announced goal of the talks is a peace on the basis of no annexations and a withdrawal of occupying forces, but the difficulty of achieving that goal in practice becomes apparent when the two sides present their proposals.  In Palestine, a British Army commanded by General Edmund Allenby occupies Jerusalem.  On the Western Front the British stall German counterattacks at Cambrai and dig into defensive positions for the winter; Italian forces, aided by British reinforcements, turn back the Austrians on the Asiago Plateau.  Ships collide in Halifax harbor, causing a fire and a massive explosion that kills thousands.  An American destroyer is torpedoed and sunk by a German submarine.  The United States declares war on Austria-Hungary.  Colonel House returns from Paris where he has been meeting with the Allies.  President Wilson, using his war powers, takes control of the nation’s railroads.  The House of Representatives joins the Senate in approving a prohibition amendment to the Constitution.


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 General Dukhonin

Bolshevik troops led by Ensign Nikolai Krylenko, who replaced General Nikolai Dukhonin as commander-in-chief of the Russian Army last month, entered Mogilev on December 1 and seized the Russian military headquarters.  Two days later, as he was attempting to depart for Petrograd, General Dukhonin was dragged from his train and beaten to death by a mob of Bolshevik sailors.  General Lavr Kornilov, whose attempted right-wing coup earlier this year ended in failure, escaped Mogilev the day before the Bolsheviks took over.  A statement issued by Krylenko on December 4 announced that the Army headquarters had been occupied without fighting, and that as a result "the last obstacle to the cause of peace" had fallen.  He said he regretted "the sad act of lynch law practiced upon the former highest commander-in-chief, General Dukhonin," which was the result of  "popular hatred [that] surpassed the limits of reason" caused by "the flight of General Kornilov the day before."


Representatives of Russia and the Central Powers at Brest-Litovsk

Representatives of Russia's new Bolshevik government are in Brest-Litovsk, a city behind German lines at the confluence of the Bug and Mukhavetz Rivers in western Belorussia, where they are meeting with representatives of the German, Austro-Hungarian, Bulgarian and Turkish governments.  On December 15 the parties agreed on an armistice extending to all the land, air and naval forces on their common fronts.  The armistice will remain in effect until January 14, after which it will continue automatically unless seven days notice is given.   Negotiations for a permanent peace treaty began on December 22.  The negotiators have agreed on a series of important points, including liberation of war prisoners and resumption of diplomatic and commercial relations.  The question of the disposition of occupied territories, however, has been more difficult.  Both sides invoke the principle of no annexations, and both sides offer to withdraw from occupied territory, but their views of how that is to be accomplished differ markedly.  Russia proposes to "withdraw her troops from all parts of Austria, Hungary, Turkey and Persia occupied by her, while the powers of the Quadruple Alliance will withdraw theirs from Poland."  Then an opportunity will be given for "all peoples living in Russia" to decide "entirely and freely the question of their union with one or the other empire, or their formation into independent states."  Invoking the same principle, Germany has made a very different proposal.  She offers "as soon as peace is concluded with Russia and the demobilization of the Russian Armies has been accomplished to evacuate her present positions in occupied Russian territory" but asserts that peace can be achieved only upon the basis of "a full state of independence and separation from the Russian Empire for Poland, Lithuania, Courland, and portions of Estonia and Livonia."  Russia has replied that "only such manifestation of will can be regarded as a de facto expression of the will of the people as results from a free vote taken in the districts in question, with the complete absence of foreign troops."  At year's end negotiations are at an impasse.



 General Allenby Entering Jerusalem

The British Army in Palestine, after capturing Beersheba, advanced through Gaza and surrounded Jerusalem.  On December 9 the Turks surrendered the city, and two days later the British commander General Edmund Allenby entered the Old City through the Jaffa Gate.  In order to avoid any appearance of triumphalism, and to show respect for the City's holy places, he entered on foot rather than horseback.  No Allied flags were allowed to be flown over the City, and Muslim soldiers from India were assigned to guard the Dome of the Rock.


Asiago

On the Western Front, the British push toward Cambrai, which began last month with a successful attack spearheaded by "tanks," has bogged down.  German counterattacks have regained much of the ground lost in the early days of the battle, and on December 2 Field Marshal Haig directed a withdrawal to secure defensive positions for the winter.  At year's end, German counterattacks were continuing with mixed results.  On the Italian Front, British troops transferred form France have aided the Italians in turning back the Austro-German advance on the Asiago Plateau.



 Halifax Harbor After the Explosion

On December 6, the SS Mont Blanc, a freighter loaded with munitions en route from New York to France, was entering the harbor at Halifax, Nova Scotia to join a transatlantic convoy when it collided with a departing steamship.  The ensuing fire and explosion destroyed or damaged every building in the city, killed 2,000 people and injured over 9,000.  Rescue efforts were hampered by a fierce blizzard that struck Halifax the day after the explosion.




U.S.S. Jacob Jones (DD-61)

For the first time in the war, the United States Navy has lost a warship to enemy action.  On December 6, the U.S.S. Jacob Jones (DD-61) was en route independently from Brest to Queenstown after participating in the escort of a transatlantic convoy when she was torpedoed and sunk by a German submarine near the Isles of Scilly.  Sixty-six officers and men of her 107-man crew were lost.
 


 Meyer London

The 65th Congress convened on Monday, December 3 for its regular session.  The next day President Wilson journeyed to the Capitol to deliver his annual State of the Union message.  Many Congressmen had been calling for a declaration of war against Germany's allies Austria-Hungary, Turkey and Bulgaria, but no one knew when the President began speaking what the President would ask Congress to do.  For most of his address, he called for a concentrated effort in the war against Germany.  He told Congress that "our immediate task is to win the war, and nothing shall turn us aside until it is accomplished" and that "those who desire to bring peace about before that purpose is achieved I counsel to carry their advice elsewhere.  We will not entertain it."  He said "we shall regard the war as won only when the German people say to us, through properly accredited representatives, that they are ready to agree to a settlement based on justice and the reparation of the wrongs their rulers have done,"   Among those wrongs are "a wrong to Belgium, which must be repaired," and "establish[ing] a power over other lands and peoples than their own -- over the great empire of Austria-Hungary, over hitherto free Balkan States, over Turkey, and within Asia -- which must be relinquished."  The President was more than half way through his speech before he addressed the question of adding to the nation's list of enemies.  In pursuing the goal of pushing "this great war of freedom and justice to its righteous conclusion," he cited "one very embarrassing obstacle that stands in our way."  That is "that we are at war with Germany, but not with her allies."  He therefore recommended "very earnestly" that Congress declare war against Austria-Hungary because that nation is "not her own mistress, but simply the vassal of the German government."  He acknowledged that "the same logic would lead also to a declaration of war against Turkey and Bulgaria," but said that although those nations "also are the tools of Germany, . . . they are mere tools and do not yet stand in the direct path of our necessary action."

The war resolution submitted to Congress, which did not include Turkey and Bulgaria, passed both houses of Congress on December 7 with only one dissenting vote.  The single no vote was cast by Representative Meyer London of New York, the only Socialist member of Congress, who explained that "as a Socialist, I am pledged to vote against a declaration of war.  In matters of war I am a  teetotaler.  I refuse to take the first intoxicating drink."  Senator Robert LaFollette, who was a vocal opponent of the war with Germany in April, was absent from the chamber and later claimed he had not heard the bell announcing the roll call.  Representative Jeannette Rankin, another no vote in April, voted for the resolution.  She said "I still believe that war is a stupid and futile way of attempting to settle international difficulties," but "the vote that we are now to cast is not on the declaration of war. . . . This is merely a vote on a technicality in the prosecution of the war already declared.  I shall vote for this, as I voted for money and men."



Colonel House With President Wilson

President Wilson's close advisor "Colonel" Edward M. House returned on December 15 from Paris, where he represented the United States at a meeting of the Inter-Allied Supreme War Council.  Upon his return he issued a statement to the press proclaiming his mission "a great success."  He told the reporters meeting his ship that before the conference the efforts of the Allies were "not focused," but that "they are working together now, and the promises are that they will continue to do so."  Asked about peace prospects and war aims, he said "I didn't talk peace with a soul in Europe.  I didn't discuss war aims. ...  As for peace, perhaps what was accomplished was a great peace step, because it was a step toward winning the war. ... Please don't let anyone get the idea that we discussed peace."  Three days later in a meeting at the White House he was more forthcoming, telling President Wilson that he had tried without success to persuade the Allies to join in a broad declaration of war aims that would unite the world against Germany.  The President is now considering making such a declaration on his own.



 Secretary McAdoo

When Congress passed the Army Appropriations Act in August 1916, it included the following language: "The president, in time of war, is empowered, through the Secretary of War, to take possession and assume control of any system or systems of transportation, or any part thereof, and to utilize the same, to the exclusion as far as may be necessary of all other traffic thereon, for the transfer or transportation of troops, war material, and equipment, or for such other purposes connected with the emergency as may be useful or desirable."  Now that the United States has entered a "time of war," the President has decided to exercise that power.  On December 26, using "powers ... granted me by the act of Congress of August 1916," he announced his decision to take control of the nation's railroads in an attempt to deal with the critical problem of increasing railroad congestion.  As required by the legislation, the action was taken "through the Secretary of War," but the President delegated actual control of the railroads to Secretary of the Treasury William G. McAdoo.  At noon on Friday, December 28, all 257,000 miles of the nation's railroads passed into government control as McAdoo became Director General of Railroads with authority to direct and finance the country's transportation facilities for the duration of the war.  On December 29 he completed the process of unifying the railroads into a national system of transportation when he issued an order directing that "all transportation systems covered by [the President's December 26] proclamation and order shall be operated as a national system of transportation, the common and national needs being in all instances held paramount to any actual or supposed corporate advantage.  All terminals, ports, locomotives, rolling stock, and other transportation facilities are to be fully utilized to carry out this purpose."  Among other things, the order ended the Pennsylvania Railroad's exclusive right to the use of the huge Pennsylvania terminal station in New York City and the tubes under the Hudson River leading into it.  Those facilities are now available to all carriers.

On December 31 Secretary McAdoo addressed a critical coal shortage in the northeast by ordering that coal be given priority over passengers and freight on the nation's railroads.  One of the major causes of the shortage is the back-up of unloaded coal cars at the New Jersey terminals on the Hudson River.  After conferring with Fuel Administrator Harry A. Garfield, McAdoo asked New York City Mayor-elect Hylan, who will assume office on New Year's Day, to detail as many city employees as possible to help get the cars unloaded, and he is working with Edward N. Hurley, Chairman of the Shipping Board, to increase the number of ships available to carry the coal to New England.



 Senator Sheppard

The campaign to make America dry passed a major milestone this month.  A proposed amendment to the Constitution prohibiting the "manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within the United States," which was passed by the Senate in August, was approved by the House of Representatives on December17.  The Senate, which is dominated by rural interests, has historically been more receptive to the dry forces than the House, which represents a more urban and ethnically diverse constituency, including a number of recent immigrants from Germany, Ireland and Italy.  The next day the Senate agreed to minor changes made by the House and the proposed amendment was submitted to the states for ratification.  It includes a provision, never before included in proposed amendments to the Constitution, that it will be inoperative unless it is ratified by the necessary three-fourths of the states within seven years.


Representative Hobson

In 1914 an earlier version of the prohibition amendment was passed by the Senate but fell short in the House.  That vote, however, was encouraging to the dry forces because for the first time a majority (though less than the necessary two-thirds) of representatives had voted for the amendment.  The sponsor of the amendment that year was Representative Richmond P. Hobson (Dem., Ala.).  His advocacy for prohibition was popular in his home state, but his racial views found less favor, especially outside his Birmingham congressional district.  A former naval officer, he had introduced legislation to allow residents of Porto Rico and the Philippines to apply for admission to West Point and Annapolis, and other legislation to make it unlawful to discriminate against Negro soldiers and sailors in uniform in the District of Columbia.  Also undermining his support among the white voters of Alabama was his criticism of President Roosevelt's dishonorable discharges of Negro soldiers following racial unrest in Brownsville, Texas in 1906.  In 1914, he left his House seat to run for an open Senate seat, but lost the Democratic primary (the only competitive race in Alabama) to Representative Oscar W. Underwood, the House majority leader.  With Hobson's departure from Congress, leadership of the dry forces passed to Senator Sheppard.


*****


December 1917 – Selected Sources and Recommended Reading

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

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 
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
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