World War I (1914–1919)
World War I (1914–1919)
In the 1800s, Europe consisted of a patchwork of realms defined by historical kingdoms, ethnicities, and language groups. These were divided into small vulerable states and sprawling authoritarian empires. Many Europeans dreamed of uniting all their “people”—usually those who shared their culture—into one strong, independent nation. This impulse, called nationalism, dominated European politics throughout the nineteenth century and contributed directly to the outbreak of world war.
The Age of Metternich
From 1796 to 1814, Napoleon Bonaparte (1769–1821) led the French army across Europe. He was, at first, remarkably successful—at its height, the first French Empire directly or indirectly controlled most of the continent.
As the war turned against France, the other major powers met in a series of meetings called the Congress of Vienna (1814–1815) in which they discussed the future of the war-ravaged continent. Largely due to the vision of the brilliant Austrian diplomat Prince Klemens Wenzel von Metternich (1773–1859), the map of Europe was re-drawn. Many small nations fell under the dominion of more powerful nations. Other countries ceased to exist. For example, Poland was divided and shared between Austria, Prussia, and Russia.
As a result, a great many Europeans found themselves ruled by large, multiethnic empires such as Hapsburg Austria or Czarist Russia. Their new governments often did not speak their language or share their culture.
In western and central Europe, native peoples had resented Napoleon’s occupation, but they had also absorbed French soldiers’ republican and egalitarian ideals. These notions made it more difficult for people to submit to the conservative foreign regimes under which they lived. Secret societies dedicated to self-rule, ethnic unification, and political liberalization sprang up in universities everywhere.
Metternich himself loathed radicals of all stripes, and he was convinced that nationalism would tear Europe apart. He declared that radical secret associations were “the gangrene of society.” He instituted a system of censorship, spying, and repression to counter them.
Thus, the next twenty years of European history were marked by stubborn monarchist rule and rising populist discontent. In 1848, this tension led to revolutions throughout Europe. The uprisings were quelled, but nationalist and liberal movements persevered.
After the Congress of Vienna, several attempts were made to unify the thirty-eight independent states of the Germanic Confederation. None succeeded until the emergence of Otto Von Bismarck (1815–1898) as Chancellor of Prussia.
Bismarck represented a new strain of conservative nationalism. A religious monarchist, Bismarck had no interest in liberal politics. He was determined to unite Germany under King Wilhelm I (1797–1888) of Prussia.
A master political manipulator, Bismarck knew that the German states would unite against a common enemy. He engineered and won a conflict with Austria in 1866, which led to the formation of the North German Confederation. In 1870, Bismarck deliberately provoked a war with France. Even the southern Catholic German states, which had distrusted Protestant Prussia, joined in the effort.
The Germans easily overran the French, capturing their emperor, Napoleon III (1808–1873) at the Battle of Sedan. In January of 1871, Wilhelm was crowned kaiser (emperor) of a United Germany.
As spoils of the Franco-Prussian War, Germany absorbed the border states of Alsace and Lorraine. These “lost provinces” formed the focal point of the French nationalist movement. French patriots declared that there could be no peace with Germany while Frenchmen lived under foreign rule. Revanchism (revenge) became a major theme of French politics.
In the 1860s, the Italian peninsula was composed of several small nation-states, including the papal states around Rome. The northern Italian provinces fell under the Austrian empire.
Even after their defeat in 1848, northern Italian nationalists struggled to rid themselves of Austrian rule. One of the most important of these was Victor Emmanuel II (1820–1878), King of Sardinia, who devoted himself to the cause of Italian unity. His prime minister, Count Camillo di Cavour (1810–1861) proved a capable leader and diplomat. Through Cavour’s efforts, Sardinia secured alliances with Britain and France. In 1859, with French military backing, Sardinia went to war with Austria. Though they were forced to abandon the campaign after France withdrew from the conflict, Sardinia eventually gained control of Lombardy, Parma, Modena, Tuscany, and Romagna.
In the meantime, General Giuseppe Garibaldi (1807–1882) drove out the Bourbon king of Naples, King Francis II of the Two Sicilies (1836–1894). After securing most of southern Italy, Garibaldi’s troops eventually decided to join the northern Sardinian movement. The Italian states pledged allegiance—one by one—to Victor Emmanuel II, and he was proclaimed King of all Italy in 1861. In 1870, the last holdout—Rome—joined the new nation.
One of the most aggressive strains of nationalist thought sprang from the writings of English social philosopher Herbert Spencer (1820–1903). In his A System of Synthetic Philosophy, Spencer attempted to wed together modern understandings of biology and sociology. According to his theories, human civilizations follow evolutionary law, as do animal species. In an overcrowded population, he argued, the strongest, most intelligent, and most capable men would naturally triumph.
Although Spencer concentrated on individuals, many Europeans saw “survival of the fittest” as the root of all international conflict. Some ethnic groups used the theory to promote their own genetic superiority, and thus their right to conquer, or even eradicate, weaker peoples. The theory was widely used to justify the Nazi policies in World War II.
The Eastern Empires
While new empires sprung up in Europe, the sprawling Ottoman Empire of Turkey had begun to collapse. Greece and Serbia managed to break free in the 1820s. Britain and France tried to prop up Turkey because they did not want her territories falling under Russian control.
The Austrian empire faced nationalist groundswells in Hungary and the Balkans. In the end, Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph I (1830–1916) had to offer the Hungarian Magyars an equal place in his government in 1867. However, Serbian nationalists fiercely opposed Austro-Hungarian expansion into the Balkans.
Russia itself controlled a large number of non-Russian territories, many of which writhed under the Czar’s despotic government. In 1863, a Polish nationalist uprising was brutally supressed, but the forces of revolution throughout the empire grew more intense. The Russian government hoped that foreign wars would distract the country from their domestic difficulties. But the Russo-Japanese war ended in disaster for them, and the Czarist government was finally forcibly overthrown in the midst of World War I.
Competition for Colonial Holdings
Beginning in the late nineteenth century, imperialism—the acquisition and control of foreign territories—was pursued with great intensity by several European countries. Competition over key parts of Africa and Asia contributed to tensions in Europe, and war in Europe was subsequently exported to the whole world.
The New Imperialism
In the 1880s, the world powers suddenly became aware of the existence of apparently unbounded wealth in Africa. Men like Cecil Rhodes (1853–1902) made enormous fortunes from the natural resources of the “Dark Continent.” As a consequence, western countries flung themselves into “the scramble for Africa.” By conquering, coercing, or buying tribal governments, European nations divided the continent among themselves.
In 1885, the imperialist nations signed the Berlin Act, which regulated free trade in the colonies. They also declared their roles as protectors of their new subjects. The signatories pledged to “watch over the preservation of the native tribes, and to care for the improvement of the conditions of their moral and material well-being.”
Missionary David Livingstone (1813–1873) wrote that colonialism was driven by three C’s: commerce, Christianity, and civilization. In addition, the colonial powers competed over the prestige conferred by a vast empire. They also struggled to achieve strategic military positioning around the globe.
Younger nations were eager not to be left out. Even the United States, with its anticolonial background, joined the rush for overseas colonies in the Spanish-American War of 1898. Only a few years out of feudalism, Japan also became an imperial power after it defeated Russia in 1905.
Queen Victoria (1819–1901) celebrated her Diamond Jubilee in 1897 with an orgy of parade and spectacle. The British people were toasting her sixty years on the throne, but they were also congratulating themselves on their seemingly unassailable position of world power. The British Empire stretched across the globe and dominated Africa, Australia, Canada, India, and large parts of eastern Asia.
At the same time, a note of anxiety crept into these extravagant festivities. Rudyard Kipling (1865–1936), the unofficial poet laureate of imperialism, published the poem “Recessional,” in which he warned against overweening confidence. Such boasting, he declared, smacked of the behavior of “lesser breeds without the law.”
Two years later, Kipling published “The White Man’s Burden.” The poem was aimed at the United States, which was currently enmeshed in the Philippines War. Kipling exhorted Americans to do their duty, as Anglo-Saxons, and to help civilize the barbarous peoples of the world.
Britain and France had clashed over their overseas dominions since the Nine Years War of 1688–1697, and their rivalry continued until the dawn of the twentieth century. By 1888, the French resented England for seizing control of the Suez Canal in Egypt, which a French company had built. In 1898, the two countries nearly came to blows over the Fashoda Incident, a skirmish of French and British forces in the Sudan.
However, politicians like Georges Clemenceau (1841–1929) began insisting that the French should not be preoccupied with colonial affairs. He argued that France should instead concentrate on reclaiming Alsace-Lorraine from the Germans. He and others accordingly promoted closer ties with Britain. In 1904, France and the United Kingdom—unified in their distrust of Germany—settled their territorial differences and signed the Entente Cordiale. England was given free reign in Egypt, and France was given control of Morocco.
From 1813 to 1907, Britain fought a long cold war with Russia over the Middle East, specifically Afghanistan, Persia, and Tibet. England feared Russia’s expansion to the south—towards Britain’s prize colonial possession, India. For decades, the two empires engaged in espionage and diplomatic intrigue, locked in a shadow conflict that Kipling called “the Great Game.”
England had also sided against Russia in the Russo-Japanese War, essentially forcing Russia to fight alone. Also, Russian reinforcements arrived at the warfront months late because Britain had blocked the Suez Canal to Russian ships.
Nevertheless, Russia and Britain came to an accord in the face of the rising threat from Germany. The Anglo-Russian Convention of 1907 ended the Great Game and cemented the Triple Entente between Russia, Great Britain and Ireland, and France.
In the beginning of the First German Reich, Chancellor Otto von Bismarck opposed the acquisition of overseas colonies, believing that they distracted attention from Germany’s precarious situation at home. He once told an imperialist enthusiast, “Your map of Africa is very fine, but my map of Africa is here in Europe. Here is Russia and here is France and here we are in the middle. That is my map of Africa.”
Nevertheless, as the race for colonies accelerated in the 1880s, Germany annexed parts of western, southwestern, and southern Africa, territories that now make up parts of Cameroon, Togo, Namibia, Tanzania, Rwanda, and Burundi.
When Kaiser Wilhelm II (1859–1941) forced the Iron Chancellor (as Bismarck was known) to resign in 1890, Germany adopted even more aggressive expansionist policies. Germany’s watchword changed from Realpolitik(practical politics) to Weltpolitik (world politics).
The Entente Cordiale, between England and France, alarmed and offended Germany. In 1905, Wilhelm responded by delivering a speech in Tangiers in which he supported Moroccan independence. He was, in effect, staking a German claim for the territory. France reacted with predictable outrage, and both countries moved armies a little closer to the border.
Morocco had long been a bone of Anglo-French contention. Doubtless, the German government precipitated the crisis in order to test, and hopefully to break, the Entente. Instead, the Kaiser discovered the depth of his diplomatic isolation. At the international conference at Algeciras, only Austria-Hungary supported the Reich.
In 1911, Germany made another attempt to assert itself in Morocco, when the Kaiser sent the gunboat Panther to the port of Agadir. That action provoked resounding condemnation throughout the world. Nevertheless, Wilhelm did not relinquish his claim until France granted Germany economic rights in Morocco and ceded a large portion of the French Congo to German Kamerun.
The Moroccan crises greatly hastened the coming of World War I. For Britain and France, the crises had confirmed their suspicions about German aggression. The German public, in the meantime, felt put down and conspired against. The French and the English, they believed, were committed to stopping German advancement and were trying to deny them their place in the sun. All around Europe, politicians and generals began to seriously prepare for war.
Tangled European Alliances
In the late nineteenth century, the great powers of Europe involved themselves in a complex network of treaties and informal understandings. Most of these treaties were defensive alliances in which one party promised to come to the other’s aid if either were attacked. In this way, diplomats strove to maintain the balance of power in Europe. In practice, the continent divided itself into two armed camps, a development that anticipated—and arguably caused—war.
The Central Powers
Treaties among European nations were hardly new. In the wake of Napoleon’s march across the continent, Austrian Prince Klemens Wenzel von Metternich constructed a diplomatic web of alliances among the aristocratic governments of Europe. The “Metternich system,” as it was called, was meant to keep the peace in Europe not only by preventing wars between the nations, but by brutally suppressing liberal and nationalist movements.
Metternich was ousted, however, in the Revolutions of 1848—a wave of nationalistic and liberal insurrections. Although conservative forces put down the revolutionaries, their aspirations did not die. From 1815 to 1870, the various Italian states came together as one nation. In 1871, the unified German Empire was born when the northern German states pledged their allegiance to the Prussian King Wilhelm I.
The new nation of Germany emerged strong and victorious from the Franco-Prussian War. Nevertheless, Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, the architect of German unification, was very aware of its vulnerable position. Germany was surrounded by older world powers, and the defeated French made no secret of their thirst for revenge.
In order to forestall a French attack, Bismarck in 1873 formed the Three Emperors’s League, among Wilhelm I, Franz Joseph I of Austria-Hungary, and Czar Alexander II (1818–1881) of Russia. However, when the 1877 Balkan Crisis caused a diplomatic rift between Austria-Hungary and Russia, Germany had to choose one or the other. In 1879, Bismarck concluded the Dual Alliance between Germany and Austria-Hungary.
The new state of Italy also nurtured ambitions of world empire, particularly in northern Africa. Therefore, when the French occupied Tunis in 1881, the Italian government went so far as to approach their traditional enemy, Austria, for support. Thus, in 1882, the Dual Alliance became the Triple Alliance.
In 1887, the ever-cautious Bismarck engineered the Reinsurance Treaty with Russia, in which both countries promised to remain neutral if the other was attacked by a third party. But this treaty was not renewed after Kaiser Wilhelm II took power in 1888. Instead, Wilhelm gave his assurance that Germany would back Austria-Hungary no matter what, giving them a blank check for military support.
Forsaken by Germany, Russia found itself alone. Facing stubborn opposition from Austria-Hungary over the Balkan issue, the Czar entered into a military alliance with France in 1894. France found some measure of security in the arrangement—Bismarck had exerted considerable effort to keep the French diplomatically isolated since 1870.
If the French nursed bitter hatred towards Germany, the fact did not much bother the British—England and France had been persistent enemies for eight hundred years. However, Britain began to view Germany with alarm after the ascension of Wilhelm II. Even though the new emperor was the grandson of Queen Victoria, her government saw him as aggressive, anti-British, and unstable. Indeed, German statesman Friedrich von Holstein (1837–1909) commented that the young man was, “frankly, not quite right in the head.”
Certainly, Wilhelm could behave erratically. In addition, he displayed a fierce Prussian nationalism, and he was unapologetically militaristic. He harbored a passion for martial uniforms; he once suggested that England make him a colonel in a kilt-wearing Scottish regiment.
Actually, while condemning Britain, Wilhelm seemed to long for English respect. He made several sincere—if gauche and impractical—overtures towards an Anglo-German alliance. His proposals were generally snubbed, and Wilhelm resented it. He felt that Britain looked down on him and on his people. This sentiment was shared by a great many of his subjects.
In 1896, Wilhelm sent a congratulatory telegram to one of the South African Boer Republics, who were in the midst of revolting against British rule. The British press exploded in anger, and anti-German feeling began to take root on the island.
The British government was far more alarmed by Germany’s new expansionist foreign policy. When Wilhelm forced Bismarck to resign in 1890, he abandoned the Chancellor’s restraint. Germany began actively seeking overseas colonies and protectorates. More ominously, Wilhelm built up the German navy, challenging England’s supremacy at sea.
In 1904, Britain and France signed a series of agreements known as the Entente Cordiale (the cordial understanding). This was not a formal alliance, but it was extremely significant given the age-old enmity between the two nations.
After strenuous negotiation, Russia also entered into an informal agreement with Britain and France in 1907. The press quickly announced the “Triple Entente” as a counter to the Triple Alliance of Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Italy.
In 1902, Italy signed an agreement with France in which it promised to remain neutral should France be attacked. This directly contradicted Italy’s commitments to Germany and Austria-Hungary. Nevertheless, the Triple Alliance was regularly renewed until 1914. As a result, when hostilities broke out, Italy was technically allied with both sides. Italy remained neutral at first and then joined the war in 1915 on the side of the Entente.
The Domino Effect
When Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia on July 28, 1914, Russia immediately mobilized its army to defend its Balkan commitments. Many top German officials were dismayed by their ally’s actions, which were taken without consulting Berlin. Nevertheless, as they had promised, Germany declared war on Russia on August 1. In the meantime, Germany came to a secret alliance with the Ottoman Empire.
European generals had been preparing their war plans for years. The German army commanders had determined that their best hope for success lay in a lightning strike on Paris. The fastest path to Paris lay through Belgium.
When Germany attacked Luxembourg on August 3, Britain protested. The European nations, including Germany, had guaranteed Belgian neutrality by treaty in 1839. The German chancellor dismissed the neutrality agreement as “a scrap of paper.” His words drummed up indignation in England and in America. The British were not obliged, under the terms of the Entente, to fight for France, but they were committed to defend Belgium.
That night, Sir Edward Grey (1862–1933) gloomily looked out the window of the London Foreign Office. “The lamps are going out all over Europe,” he said sadly, “we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime.” The next day, August 4, the United Kingdom declared war on Germany.
Assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand
In 1914, after years of nationalist posturing and unresolved disputes, Europe stood poised on the brink of war. Britain, Germany, and France had frantically built up their armies and navies while their military commanders had worked out detailed war plans. Diplomats had bound the great powers into a complex network of alliances, pledging their nations to fight. On June 28, 1914, a Serbian nationalist assassinated the presumptive heir to the Austrian throne, Archduke Franz Ferdinand (1863–1914). A month later, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia. One by one, the European powers were dragged into the conflict.
The Balkan Wars
In 1908, the Dual Monarchy of Austria-Hungary annexed Bosnia, a former province of the rapidly dissolving Ottoman Empire. This move infuriated the neighboring Balkan states. Serbia protested particularly vigorously because of the large number of ethnic Serbs in Bosnia.
Although war was narrowly avoided in 1908, Serbians increasingly resented the continued Austrian, Turkish, and Italian incursions into Slavic territories. Backed by Russia, the Balkan League was formed, consisting of Bulgaria, Serbia, Greece and Montenegro. In 1912–1913, the Balkan League fought and won a war against the Ottoman Empire.
Surprised and alarmed by Balkan strength, the Great Powers stepped in. Austria in particular could not permit Serbia to have a port on the Adriatic Coast. At the signing of the Treaty of London on May 30, 1913, the Balkan states were forced to accept—in their view—a thoroughly unsatisfactory set of peace terms.
In the summer of 1913, dissatisfaction with the new territorial assignments led to war between Bulgaria and the other members of the League. Bulgaria was soundly defeated. Serbia emerged from the Balkan Wars stronger and more antagonistic towards Austria-Hungary.
Gavrilo Princip (1894–1918) was a young Bosnian Serb, the son of a postal worker. As a student, he had taken leadership of a national group called Mlada Bosna (Young Bosnia). From there he joined a secret society called Ujedinjenje ili Smrt (Union or Death), also known as the Black Hand. This organization dedicated itself to the creation of a Pan-Slavic state.
The Black Hand also fiercely opposed the Austrian Hapsburg monarchy. They suspected (quite rightly) that the Hapsburg monarchy wanted to absorb the Balkans. Princip was later to declare at his trial: “I am a Yugoslav nationalist, aiming for the unification of all Yugoslavs, and I do not care what form of state, but it must be free from Austria.” When asked how he meant to achieve those ends, he replied, “By means of terror.”
Franz Ferdinand was the nephew of Hapsburg Emperor Franz Joseph. He did not expect to ascend to the throne himself, but Crown Prince Rudolf apparently committed suicide in 1889, making Ferdinand’s father the next in line to be emperor. When his own father died in 1896, Ferdinand then became the heir apparent of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
Ferdinand recognized the power of nationalism in modern Europe and considered it the defining issue of his day. He advocated several solutions to the problem, including a federal “United States of Austria,” which would include Slavic Bosnia. He also suggested a “trialistic” Austria-Hungary-Yugoslav Empire.
As a political leader, Ferdinand was recognized as forceful and ambitious. By 1913, he had risen in the military and had been made inspector general of the armed forces.
Personally, Ferdinand despised Viennese high society, and he did not get along well with his uncle, the Emperor. The feeling was mutual, especially after Ferdinand fell in love below his station. He insisted upon marrying Countess Sophie Chotek (1868–1914), a lady-in-waiting, even though it meant that their children would not have the right to inherit the Hapsburg crown. Because of their difference in rank, Sophie could not appear with her husband on most public occasions.
However, Sophie did accompany her husband on June 28, 1914, when he visited Sarajevo. It is possible the Archduke did not recognize the significance of the date. By the Julian calendar, he arrived on the Feast of St. Vitus, the celebration of the 1389 Battle of Kosovo, a day with special significance for Serbian patriots. The day also had special meaning for Ferdinand and Sophie—it was their wedding anniversary.
Serbian nationalists received advanced word of the visit. They were outraged by what they considered to be a slap in the face to Slavic sovereignty. With members of the Black Hand, including Princip, they lined the street awaiting Ferdinand’s motorcade. One of them managed to throw a hand grenade into his open cab. However, the archduke deflected the bomb. It exploded outside, wounding a few members of his entourage.
Shaken, the couple continued to City Hall, where they were greeted by the mayor. Later that day, Ferdinand left to visit the bombing victims in the hospital. Sophie insisted on coming with him. To be safe, they decided to take a different route through the city, but no one remembered to tell the driver. As a result, the car passed close to the site of the earlier attack, where members of the conspiracy were still loitering.
On realizing that they had gone the wrong way, the driver stopped the car to turn around. Princip, seizing the unexpected opportunity, stepped forward and shot both the Archduke and his wife. She was struck in the abdomen, he in the neck. Ferdinand cried: “Sophie dear, Sophie dear, don’t die. Stay alive for our children.” Bleeding heavily, he held on a little longer, but both of them died within the hour.
The crowd immediately seized Princip and then handed him over, beaten but alive, to the police. He was tried and found guilty. A discrepancy in his birth records made it questionable whether he had reached the age of majority at the time of the crime. The court gave him the benefit of the doubt and sentenced him to the maximum penalty—twenty years in prison. Princip died of tuberculosis in 1918.
No proof has ever been found that the Serbian government conspired in the assassination (though the Serbian chief of intelligence was a member of the Black Hand). Nevertheless, on July 24, Austria issued an ultimatum to Serbia demanding certain measures to curb terrorist activities or face the end of diplomatic relations. It was sharply worded and almost impossible to accept. “It is clear,” the letter read, “that the murder at Sarajevo was conceived at Belgrade.”
As brutal as Austria-Hungary’s demands—including suppression of press, education, organizations, and individuals deemed hostile to Austria-Hungary—were, Serbia agreed to most of them. The Austrian emissary to Belgrade, however, had been ordered to reject any response. On July 28 Austria declared war on Serbia. The fuse was lit; soon Europe would go up in flames.
Kaiser Wilhelm II
Friedrich Wilhelm Hohenzollern ruled Germany as Kaiser Wilhelm II, from 1888 until his abdication in 1918.
A Child of Privilege
Friedrich Wilhelm Hohenzollern (1859–1941) ruled Germany as Kaiser Wilhelm II, from 1888 until his abdication in 1918. Wilhelm was born to royalty, the son of Friedrich Wilhelm, crown prince of Prussia, and grandson of Wilhelm I, ruler of the German empire, and Queen Victoria of England. His mother, Victoria, daughter of the English queen, never shook off her obsession with what she considered the superiority of all things British, and her son grew to resent her controlling, critical, and domineering role in his life. His rebellion against her political teachings, all based on the comparatively liberal British system of government, drove him to pursue a pure authoritarianism during his own rule. The future kaiser’s lack of personal insight, social skills, intellect, and foresight combined with a considerable narcissism to lead Germany into a war that eventually ensnared most of the Western world.
At his birth, attended by the British doctors beloved of his mother, the infant Wilhelm suffered an injury that resulted in a paralyzed, shortened left arm and hearing loss. Wilhelm forever blamed his mother and the British doctors for this disability, a resentment fed by Victoria’s continual criticisms of the handicap. Wilhelm admirably overcame these physical obstacles and forced himself to become a good marksman, horseman, and swimmer.
Bitterness against the British
His anger at British doctors was in no way diminished when they were brought in to attend to his father on his sickbed. Wilhelm’s father had become king of Prussia on the death of Wilhelm’s grandfather, Wilhelm I, but he survived only ninety-nine days as emperor. The disease that killed him was throat cancer, misdiagnosed by the English physicians as a lesser malady treatable with rest and proper diet. When Wilhelm’s father succumbed after spending most of his time as ruler infirm in his bed, Wilhelm became kaiser and nursed in his heart a loathing for the British. This loathing extended to his own family, from his grandmother, Queen Victoria, to his many British cousins, with whom he had spent his childhood summers. His mother, the younger Victoria, fed this bitterness with frequent unfavorable comparisons between Wilhelm and his cousins.
Thus, the man who stepped up to the throne of the Hohenzollerns, a line of rulers that included Frederick the Great, was an unfortunate combination of internalized resentment, limited skills, and a powerful sense of entitlement. His strongest interest was the military, but even at these pursuits he was essentially mediocre, placing more emphasis on and deriving more delight from uniforms and parades than from military strategizing or drills.
Clashing with Bismarck
Ready at hand when Kaiser Wilhelm took the throne was Otto von Bismarck, the chancellor who had served for decades as Germany’s chief policy maker. Part of Bismarck’s policy was maintaining friendly relations with Russia, but for Wilhelm, his Russian relatives were only second in line to the British as targets of his dislike. He disdained Czar Alexander and his successor, Czar Nicholas, both of whom considered Wilhelm mentally unstable. When it came time to renew Bismarck’s secret nonaggression pact with Russia, Wilhelm, after consulting with his toadies, decided to let it lapse. A furious Bismarck, who considered this decision a fatal error, tendered his resignation as a mark of his disapproval, not actually intending for Wilhelm to accept it. But Wilhelm did accept it, and the intelligent, guiding mastermind of German international policy was chancellor no more.
One reason Wilhelm argued against renewing the pact was a concern that news of it would leak to Germany’s ally in the “Dual Monarchy,” the Austro-Hungarian empire. His loyalty to this other European empire would eventually set into motion the events that would build into World War I.
Attracting British Attention
Wilhelm, while not necessarily desiring military engagement with the other European powers, had an eye on England when he began building up the German navy. His goal was to make Germany a great naval power in European waters, and he succeeded in making it second only to England’s legendary navy in size. The English warily watched this buildup, certainly with little trust in Wilhelm’s motives, an attitude reinforced by the kaiser’s unwanted interference in international matters. He often stumbled and bumbled his way into situations that did not involve or concern his empire, such as when he sent the infamous “Kruger Telegram,” congratulating South African President Paul Kruger for his defeat of several hundred British raiders in 1895. To paraphrase Queen Victoria on another occasion, the British government was not amused.
Assassination of Franz Ferdinand
Wilhelm’s lacking sense of propriety led him to errors such as the Kruger Telegram and to making dangerous public remarks, such as referring to Serbia as a nation with “her murderers and bandits” that deserved punishment. This latter comment was particularly incendiary because Serbia was an ally of the Russians, which had supported Serbia’s agitation of the Slavs for freedom from Germany’s partner in the Dual Monarchy, the Austro-Hungarians. When the heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, was assassinated by a Bosnian Serb in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914, the first domino of war fell. Even though Serbia itself had nothing to do with the assassination, the Austro-Hungarians saw an opening that would allow them to subdue Serbia and possibly prevent their alliance with Russia to create a Slavic empire.
Acting on their hopes, the Austro-Hungarians delivered to the Serbs an ultimatum containing a list of demands. What Austria-Hungary really seemed to want was an excuse to go to war, and they grasped at the slimmest straw when Serbia accepted the ultimatum with the exception of a single condition: a provision allowing Austro-Hungarian officials to enter Serbia to find and punish the archduke’s killer or killers. This lone equivocation was evidence enough for Austria-Hungary of Serbia’s devious intentions, and not discouraged by Wilhelm himself, the Austro-Hungarians promptly declared war on Serbia. Wilhelm, the other part of the Dual Monarchy, in a fit of self-exoneration, said, “I can do no more.” The second domino had fallen.
With the reality of war practically in his lap, Wilhelm recoiled from the idea of actual military conflict. It was one thing to encourage his ally in the Dual Monarchy from behind the scenes, or to withhold his advice and opinions, but something else entirely to join forces with that ally as it angered half of Europe. He immediately moved to keep the fighting limited only to Austria and Serbia, but he was too late. Russia, on the watch for just such an affront, had already mobilized on the eastern frontier. Wilhelm, unable to talk Russia into halting, was forced to declare war on the Czar as part of his agreement with his Austro-Hungarian allies.
The dominoes now fell apace. Russia had a pact with France that drew the French into the conflict, something the two countries had agreed on in an 1894 alliance. Flanked on the eastern and western fronts by hostile armies, Wilhelm sought to deal a swift blow to at least one of them. His strategy was to avoid a slog over the mountains and instead march directly through the flatter plains of Belgium to the western front and defeat the French. The only problem with this plan was that after the Belgian Revolution in 1830, European countries had recognized Belgium’s long-standing neutrality and barring entry of any foreign army into the country. Wilhelm elected to ignore the treaty and sent his troops marching through Belgium.
With the Treaty of London in 1839, Britain and Prussia, together with other main European powers, made their recognition of Belgium’s sovereignty official. Wilhelm’s aggression was exactly what Britain had been waiting for. They now declared war on their German cousin for his blatant violation of international law. World War I had begun in earnest.
Failure, Armistice, and Exile
As the fighting dragged on through bitter and agonizing trench warfare, Germany did not fare well. The much-vaunted navy could not leave the harbor, because it was trapped there by the British. The heavy losses wore on the German people, who grew disenchanted and fatigued from the hardships the war imposed. When the United States finally entered the war in April 1917 in response to German U-boat attacks, the war was near its end. Germany finally asked for an armistice, ending the fighting, and Wilhelm was forced to abdicate his throne. He was the last of the German emperors.
The deposed monarch fled to the Netherlands and was granted exile by Queen Wilhelmina (1880–1962). The Dutch refused to turn the exiled emperor over to international authorities for trial, and the former kaiser spent the remaining twenty years of his life in the Netherlands, a pathetic figure unable to acknowledge his personal role in any of the tragic events of his life. His wife, a German princess whom he married in 1881 and with whom he fathered seven children, died there in 1921. He wrote a memoir that focused only on the years preceding the war and blamed his defeat on Russian socialists, Jews, or his own relatives in Britain, but never on himself. When Hitler took France, the ex-emperor expressed his pleasure at the success, but Wilhelm did not live to see the outcome of World War II, dying at age eighty-two in the summer of 1941 in Holland.
Ferdinand Foch (1851–1929) was a French marshall and the commander in chief of the Allied armies in World War I. Foch was born on October 2, 1851, in the area of the Pyrenees where his family had lived for centuries. He was the sixth of seven children.
Obviously a bright young man, Foch attended college in Metz, a city in Lorraine. It was there, during a test on May 11, 1871, that he and his classmates learned that France had signed the Treaty of Frankfurt, which end the Franco-Prussian War and ceded the very ground on which the students sat to Germany. Northeastern Lorraine, including Metz, and Alsace now belonged to the Prussians. Undoubtedly, the sorrowful and angry students wanted to see the Germans someday be forced to return their territory, and Ferdinand Foch eventually became leader of the forces that would ensure that return and see France triumph, for a time, over the Germans.
Inspired by the cause of the Franco-Prussian War, Foch had enlisted in the army, but he never engaged in battle in that short conflict. Instead, he went on to the military École Polytechnique in Nancy, another German-occupied French town. After a year, he entered training school for artillery, graduating third in his class in 1872. He then received cavalry training and returned to a career as an artilleryman when he was promoted to captain in 1878. He was married in 1883 to Louise-Ursule-Julie Bienvenue.
An Officer and a Scholar
In 1885, Foch attended the École Superieure de Guerre, a school intended especially for the most promising officers. He continued his streak of successes there, graduating fourth in his class and returning to the school as a professor. Even though he was physically unimposing at five feet, five inches tall, barrel-chested, and bow-legged, his square jaw and fiery way of speaking left a strong impression on anyone who met him. He was very much a student of war and all things military, approaching the execution of war with a scholarly, yet extremely practical, attitude. He argued that fighting was more important than strategy; that a leader must be more stubborn than his enemy; that offense, not defense, brings victory; and that shock is the tactic that wins battles.
His teachings were misinterpreted by some, leading to distortions that had disastrous consequences. In 1914, his followers twisted his ideas about offense before defense and used it as a guiding principle in their conduct of the early part of World War I. Ironically, defense won battles in that war far more frequently than offensive tactics did, and the offenses were often horrific bloodbaths rather than triumphant, shocking victories.
In 1901, Foch’s familial connection to the Jesuits (his brother, Germain, was a Jesuit priest) proved to be a disadvantage. He suddenly stopped teaching at the École Superieure when the government became increasingly anticlerical. Adherence to Catholicism came to be viewed as disloyalty to the Republican government, and Foch was packed off under suspicion to various outposts in the provinces. To add insult to this unwarranted injury, he also saw his promotion to colonel delayed by two years. Through it all, he retained his glass-half-full view of things, telling other disgruntled officers that they would have to put up with a lot worse than that in a war.
Always busy, Foch managed to publish two books while he was banished, and waited for his country to realize how much they needed him. That realization came in 1907 when he was promoted to brigadier general and returned to the École Superieure as commandant, all by the order of a most unlikely comrade: Republican, Protestant, radical Georges Clemenceau, by then premier of France. By the time World War I began in August 1914, Foch had been promoted to division general and had taken leadership of the Twentieth Corps, the French Army’s elite. He was close to retirement when Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated in Sarajevo, which brought the long-simmering global conflict to a boil.
The Right Man at the Right Time
Foch led his corps in Lorraine with relative success, fighting back the Germans, only to have them strike back. Foch was named to command the Ninth Army shortly after this engagement, and he and his regiment distinguished themselves at the first battle of the Marne, which lasted from September 6 through September 9, 1914. Foch never let up, pushing and pushing against the German onslaught. Four days after this triumph, however, he received the crushing news that his only son and his son-in-law had both been killed.
In October, the French commander in chief, General Joseph Joffre (1852–1951), appointed Foch leader of all of France’s troops in the north. Joffre’s intent was for Foch and his men to keep the Germans away from the ports so that they could not cut the British off from their home base. Foch actually found himself organizing all of the Allied forces—the British, French, and Belgian armies—bolstering demoralized commanders with his own fire and will and, without the actual authority to do so, leading this multinational force to victory in horrendous battles that kept the Germans back and stalled out action on the western front.
Although he was appointed commander of the Northern Army Group in January 1915, Foch found himself relieved of that command in December 1916, just days after Joffre himself was fired. The firings were based on Foch’s efforts to break the stalled action on the western front, where his forces had endured huge numbers of casualties during the battles of Artois and the Somme. After these catastrophic losses, Foch spent some time serving as an advisor until General Philippe Pétain (1856–1951) appointed him chief of the general staff on May 15, 1917, a post in which he served as the government’s chief military advisor. He also proved his skills with multinational forces when he went to Italy with some British and French troops to slow down the Austro-German incursion at Caporetto. But the allies were officially on the defensive, and Foch, true to his philosophy, wanted to see them execute an offensive. His French superior and the British leader, Douglas Haig (1861–1928), were both doubtful about Foch’s plans for an offensive, however, and refused to commit any men to it.
Commander of the Allied Forces
The Germans launched their own offensive on March 21, 1918, ending any theoretical discussion about whether or not the Allies should plan one. Now, forced to maintain a defense to keep the Germans from splitting up the western front, the Allied leaders selected Foch to lead the multinational force, appointing him commander in chief of the Allied forces. After a narrowly won victory in a bloody battle at Chemin des Dames that involved the American forces as well, Foch saw the course of the war improve in France’s favor with a subsequent defense against the Germans at Champagne and then his “shock,” a counterattack that he and Pétain had carefully planned. This offensive led to a series of many more targeting Germany’s supply routes, which pushed the German army further and further back toward the frontier. The beleaguered Germans finally asked for an armistice.
Foch was not enthusiastic about peace with the Germans, and at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919, he argued for a permanent military presence in the country and for drawing Germany’s boundary at the Rhine. Clemenceau, however, was forced by the United States and Britain to accept an unsatisfactory compromise that many felt made too many concessions to Germany. Foch lamented the outcome, commenting that the agreement “is not peace. It is an armistice for twenty years.” As subsequent events attest, his observation was remarkably prescient.
Foch himself did not live long enough to see World War II. He died of a heart attack in Paris at the age of seventy-seven on March 20, 1929. He lies entombed at Les Invalides, the final resting place of many of France’s famous military leaders.
Czar Nicholas II
Nicholas II of Russia (1868–1918) was the last of the Russian czars and the last of the Romanov line, which had ruled the Russian empire for almost three hundred years. The dynasty collapsed under Nicholas in 1918, ending with his murder and those of his wife, their five children, two servants, and the family doctor.
Nicholas was born in Russia to Czar Alexander III (1845–1894), a powerful ruler who had suppressed rising discontent among his subjects during his reign. Twenty-six-year-old Nicholas came to the throne of a society with a rigid social structure and a chasm between the haves (the nobility) and the have-nots. He lit the differences in sharp relief by making several autocratic pronouncements, disdaining the idea that the people could at least to some extent rule themselves, and being intractable with the Duma, or Russian parliament, which he had reluctantly allowed to form. His autocratic approach to governing combined with some serious bad luck, a sick heir, and revolts from labor that shook governments across Europe and ultimately ended the rule of the Romanovs.
When his father died suddenly and unexpectedly in 1894, Nicholas came to rule the largest country in the world. Soon after, he fell in love with and married the German princess Alix Victoria Helene Luise Beatrix (1972–1918), granddaughter of Queen Victoria of Great Britain. Through her grandmother, she inherited the genetic mutation for hemophilia, which she would tragically pass to the only son she and Czar Nicholas would have. Alix converted to the Russian Orthodox Church, taking the name Alexandra. The two had been in the course of planning a huge, festive wedding when Czar Alexander died. The couple then had to marry quickly following the funeral. The coronation itself, intended to be a grand and gilded ceremony, ended in horror when thirteen thousand of the half million peasants in attendance were trampled to death in a rush for food stalls. Nicholas was blamed for not having the manpower for crowd control, and his reputation from that point forward with his commoner subjects was unfavorable.
Although Nicholas was a friendly fellow who loved his wife and family—which eventually consisted of four daughters (Anastasia, Tatiana, Olga, and Marie) and his son and heir, Alexis—he was not prepared for his new position. Most of his 130 million subjects were peasants laboring in rural villages, only recently freed from institutionalized serfdom. In spite of their newfound freedoms and small parcels of land to call their own, the peasant class remained constrained by the monarchy and forced to pay heavy taxes. In addition, the Russian population itself was booming.
A Nation in Transition
Russia had fallen behind in the first half of the nineteenth century in terms of industrialization. Government-run efforts to catch up and industrialize led to the growth of large slums filled with underpaid factory workers who were supported by taxes paid by peasants—both the urban and rural working classes were angry about their predicament. The peasants themselves were receptive to the words of revolutionaries who were trying hard to foment rebellion and overthrow the aristocracy. When Czar Alexander died in 1894 at only forty-nine years of age, he left his son a nation made up of one hundred separate nationalities and increasingly open to the efforts of Marxist revolutionaries. Faced with this daunting prospect and the shock of his father’s premature death, a worried Nicholas commented, “I know nothing of the business of ruling.”
The Debacle with Japan
On a visit to Japan two years before the death of his father, Nicholas had been attacked by a would-be assassin. The attempt to kill Nicholas was foiled by a cousin of the future czar, who happened to be with him, but the attacker left a scar across Nicholas’s forehead, one that would always remind him of his hatred of the Japanese, against whom he harbored racist bitterness. His dislike of the Japanese led him to enter into war with Japan in 1904 over territories in the Korean peninsula and Manchuria. This ill-advised venture was a disaster. The Russians were overconfident and eventually lost the center of their power in the Pacific. They also suffered an embarrassing and devastating defeat at the hands of the Japanese fleet at the Straits of Tsushima. The Japanese had defeated the great Russian military.
This humiliating loss did nothing for Nicholas’s reputation at home. Popular unrest intensified, leading to the “Bloody Sunday” in January 1905 when hundreds of the 200,000 Russians trying to peacefully petition for civil rights were shot down in front of the Czar’s Winter Palace. Following this carnage, Nicholas and his family hunkered down in a palace outside St. Petersburg while unrest grew throughout the nation.
Tension over the Duma
In an effort to appease the masses, Nicholas offered to set up a Duma, or parliament, but his terms were unacceptable. Rather than legislating as representatives of the people, this Duma would instead simply serve as advisors to the Czar. The half-hearted effort to appease his people failed miserably. Opposition arose on all sides and was followed by a general strike, in which workers from all levels, industries, and areas refused to work. Nicholas at first sought a military dictator to force the nation into submission. He then gave in and issued the “October Manifesto,” granting the Duma legislative power and a constitution. Yet Nicholas himself insisted on keeping his traditional title of “autocrat,” and was constantly at odds with the Duma, trying to restrict its powers and threatening to get rid of it completely. This attitude, of course, did nothing to improve relationships between the royal family and the people of Russia.
Czarina Alexandra supported her husband’s belief in the monarchy, reminding him of his ancestor, Peter the Great (1672–1725), a powerful monarch who ruled his people with an iron hand. Further undermining trust in the czar was the presence of one of her favorites at court, Grigori Rasputin (1869–1916), who arrived from Siberia in 1903. Rasputin had gained favor with Alexandra through his apparent success in treating Alexis’s hemophilia. This blood-clotting disorder makes even the most minor wounds mortally dangerous, threatening not only the boy’s life but the succession to the throne. As an autocrat, Nicholas could have overturned ancestral law disallowing a female ruler and ensured a Romanov sucession, given that he had four daughters and only one ailing son. But he never did, and Rasputin’s powers over the couple only seemed to grow.
By 1913, the Russian public had had enough of Rasputin, who had gained considerable power as a result of his proximity to the throne. That year, celebrations of the three-hundredth anniversary of the Romanov dynasty were met with silence from the populace rather than with cheers.
When World War I broke out in 1914, in part due to bumbling diplomacy on the part of Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany, Nicholas was no better placed than he had been during his disastrous war with Japan. His army suffered defeat after defeat, and Nicholas himself deemed it right for him to go to the front lines and command his troops. This decision meant, of course, that the army’s failures were now directly his, as well. Remaining behind in St. Petersburg, Alexandra ruled in her husband’s place and was guided by the mysterious and strange Rasputin, disliked by many. Alexandra became the focus of rumors that, being German born, she was a traitor to the Russian people. Eventually, Rasputin was murdered by men tired of the influence he wielded over the royal family.
Downfall of the Romanovs
Disruption and failure on the front lines translated into riots and strikes at home. Revolution was officially underway by March 1917. After even his military commanders refused to help him, Nicholas desperately cast around for a successor, someone who might appease the people. His own son, Alexis, was far too ill. His brother, Grand Duke Michael (1878–1918) refused. In the end, Nicholas was forced to abdicate on March 15, 1917, ending the three-century rule of the Romanov line.
The former Czar had nowhere to go. He could not go to his wife’s family in Britain without causing an international crisis and jeopardizing Britain’s own need to maintain friendly relations with Russia, regardless of who was in charge. In the end, Nicholas and Alexandra and their children were placed under house arrest in Ekaterinburg. In the spring of 1918, the Russian Civil War broke out. The former czar and his family were kept in increasingly less comfortable surroundings. Finally, in the early hours of July 17, 1918, the family and their servants were awakened and marched into the cellar of the house. A firing squad awaited them. Nicholas was the first to be executed, requiring several bullets. His daughters had to be bayoneted after shots failed to kill them; the bullets were somewhat deflected by the jewelry they had hidden under their clothing. After the family, the servants, and the family’s doctor had been executed, most of the bodies were burned with acid and thrown into a well. They later were moved to unmarked graves, where they remained until they were discovered in 1991.
David Lloyd George
David Lloyd George (1863–1945) was an English Liberal Party statesman and the prime minister from 1916 to 1922. He was instrumental in the formation of the Versailles Treaty. Welsh by ancestry, Lloyd George was born in Manchester, England, on January 17, 1863. His father, David George, was a school headmaster who became ill with tuberculosis and died in 1864, leaving Lloyd George’s Welsh mother, Elizabeth, daughter of a Baptist minister, penniless. Her brother, Richard Lloyd, took in his sister and her three children in Wales. This uncle of Lloyd George’s was a politically active Liberal and a Baptist preacher. Thus, early childhood influences molded Lloyd George into a political radical and fervent evangelical.
Lloyd George learned French and Latin from his preacher/shoemaker uncle, a passionate Welsh nationalist who spoke only Welsh at home, and he also attended the village school. Lloyd George most enjoyed geography, history, and Latin. Before he turned sixteen, he had passed the preliminary law examination. In July 1878, he began an apprenticeship in law; writing and speaking on temperance, land reform, and religion; and following in the footsteps of his grandfather and uncle by preaching in the church. He passed the Law Society exam in 1884, qualifying as a solicitor and at the young age of twenty-two, he set up his legal practice in Criccieth in North Wales, eventually opening branches in other villages. Much of his law business focused on defending accused poachers. He also worked to organize a farmers’ union and campaigned against tithing, the practice of supporting the church by giving a portion of one’s wages regularly. He became a growing force in the Liberal Party because of his legal skill and his public-speaking ability.
He married Margaret Owen, daughter of a Methodist farmer, in 1888, but they had an unhappy marriage because of Lloyd George’s numerous affairs. In spite of this, they had five children, but lost a daughter to appendicitis in 1907.
As a Welshman brought up in Wales, Lloyd George felt strongly about the movement for Welsh home rule. He founded a newspaper he called the Trumpet of Freedom and hoped it would help him in his election to Parliament. He was selected to run for his borough in 1888, three years before the next general election. In spite of the time gap, he took the helm of the district party organization and kicked off his campaign. Within months he was rewarded with an appointment as alderman of his borough, Caernarfon.
The conservative incumbent of the borough died in 1890, leading to a by-election, which Lloyd George won, squeaking by with an eighteen- or nineteen-vote lead. The moment was historic for him—he held the seat for the borough until he left the House of Commons in 1945.
His focus in the House was his homeland. He emphasized Welsh home rule, land reform, and disestablishmentarianism. He soon became leader of the radical faction of his own party, earning a reputation as an independent beholden to no platform. He gained a national profile by stumping as a pacifist against the Anglo-Boer War (1899–1902) in South Africa, asserting that Britain’s involvement arose only from greed. This stance resulted in several serious threats on his life.
The Liberals took power in the 1905 election, and Lloyd George’s high profile earned him an appointment as president of the Board of Trade. He served his prime minister, Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman (1836–1908), well in this appointment, creating the Port of London Authority, averting a major railway strike, and passing important reform legislation. Campbell-Bannerman died in 1908 and was succeeded by Lloyd George’s future rival, Herbert H. Asquith (1852–1928), who promptly made Lloyd George chancellor of the exchequer, a powerful position.
As chancellor of the exchequer, Lloyd George found an ally in Winston Churchill (1874–1965). The two men drew up the “People’s Budget,” a plan for unemployment and health insurance modeled after a program Lloyd George had studied in Germany. After an initial defeat, this budget met with approval by the House of Lords in 1910, instituting duties on tobacco, gasoline, beer, and land. The passage of two acts initiated by Lloyd George—the National Health Insurance Act and the National Unemployment Insurance Act—formed the basis of the welfare state in Britain and cast Lloyd George to history as a social reformer.
Putting Pacifism Aside
Because of his domestic focus, Lloyd George had very little time for foreign concerns, an exception being his passionate pacifism during the Anglo-Boer War. He broke with both his distance from foreign policy and his pacifism during the Agadir Crisis in 1911. Germany sent a warship into French-controlled territory in Morocco, triggering Lloyd George to warn the Germans that Britain had every intention of protecting its national interests. Nevertheless, he continued as an advocate of disarmament until as late as January 1914. By August 1914, World War I had broken out, and Lloyd George, driven by Germany’s violation of Belgian neutrality, aligned himself against the kaiser.
In May 1915, the man who had thundered about pacifism was placed in charge of the new Ministry of Munitions, where he pushed for a massive output of munitions and an increase in conscription. A catastrophic loss at the Battle of the Somme, combined with other losses, undermined the people’s faith in Asquith’s government. After the death of Lord Kitchener (1850–1916), the secretary of state for war, Lloyd George was chosen to take his place. He immediately formed a coalition with conservative leaders. Asquith refused, however, to work with the coalition and resigned his office in protest in 1916. Some say that Lloyd George and his coalition pushed him out. Lloyd George reached the pinnacle of his rapid rise by taking Asquith’s place, becoming prime minister on December 7, 1916, even though he was not even the leader of his own party. His accession relied instead on the support he received from the Conservative, and to a lesser extent, the Labor parties. His goal was to streamline the government, and he began by reducing the War Cabinet from twenty-three to five members. In addition, he applied his apparently inexhaustible energy, motivation, and courage to keep the nation inspired in the face of food shortages, military losses, and troubles among the Allies. His attitude differed significantly from that of his predecessor, who had come to be viewed as lacking drive and initiative in fighting the war.
After the war, Lloyd George tried to maintain the Liberal-Conservative coalition he had forged, and he and his coalition members scored a significant victory in the 1918 election. Lloyd George was present at the Versailles Peace Conference, where he helped frame the treaty. But his overwhelming popularity of 1918 gave way to an erosion of support from 1919 to 1921, although he did fulfill some of his goals, including passage of the Housing Act of 1919 and establishing the Irish Free State. In spite of these successes, his administration also bore the repercussions of growing labor unrest, recession, and allegations of corruption. His coalition with Conservatives could not save him from Conservative ire at his spending, while radicals in his party rebelled against his austerity. The British populace and the coalition alike did not like his concessions to the rebellious Irish.
Lloyd George soldiered on through these trials, but he finally met defeat over yet another foreign policy problem: the Turkish crisis of 1922. He again found himself in disagreement with the coalition, and his pro-Greek stance almost resulted in another war for his country, this time with Turkey. Lloyd George, as a result, resigned his office on October 19, 1922, and was succeeded by Andrew Bonar Law (1858–1923). His Liberal party experienced a resounding defeat in the general election that same year.
An Elder Statesman
The former prime minister remained a member of the House of Commons but failed to wield any particular influence for the remainder of his time there. For a short while, he also fell for Hitler’s personal propaganda after meeting with the Nazi dictator in Germany in 1936. He obviously had changed his mind when, in 1938, he joined with Winston Churchill in decrying the appeasement policies of Neville Chamberlain (1869–1940), lambasting Chamberlain in May 1940. Chamberlain resigned as prime minister three days after Lloyd George’s verbal attack, and Winston Churchill, Lloyd George’s old ally, became prime minister. Irascible and unpredictable as ever, Lloyd George then proceeded to criticize many of Churchill’s policies and refused two offers of a position in the War Cabinet.
In 1941, Lloyd George’s wife died, and he was reportedly devastated at losing her, in spite of their tumultuous relationship. In 1943, the aging statesman married the woman who had been his personal secretary (and mistress) for thirty years, Frances Louise Stevenson. In 1944, he retired from the House of Commons and was elevated to the peerage, becoming the First Earl of Dwyfor, named for a mountain stream near his farm in Wales. The proud Welshman fittingly spent his final days in Wales, dying on March 26, 1945, at Ty Newydd.
Manfred von Richthofen
Manfred von Richthofen (1892–1918) was the top German aviator in WW I. Von Richthofen, more commonly known as the Red Baron, was credited with shooting down eighty enemy aircraft before being killed in action.
Von Richthofen was born on May 2, 1892 in Breslau, Germany an aristocratic family. His father was a major in the military, and he decided that his oldest son and second child would also be brought up to a military career. Von Richthofen was schooled at home, learning from tutors and enjoying hunting and horseback riding, before going to military school at age eleven.
Von Richthofen the Horseman
Von Richthofen continued his athletic pursuits as a cadet but did not shine academically. He made few friends, disliked class work, and did only enough to scrape by. In 1909, when he entered the Royal Prussian Military Academy near Berlin, he settled in and began enjoying military life, still excelling in athletics and enjoying the companionship of his comrades. In 1911, he graduated and entered the cavalry, becoming a lieutenant in 1912.
Although his excellence as a horseman made him a natural for the cavalry, his first engagement in the Battle of Verdun showed him and the German commanders that horses were not going to be viable in modern warfare. The riders found themselves hunkered in trenches rather than on horseback, and soon von Richthofen had had enough. He requested transfer to the air service, or Fliegertruppe. He did not intend to become a pilot, because he thought the training would take too long.
Von Richthofen the Flying Ace
Soon, von Richthofen could not resist the impulse to fly and moved from being an observer to flying his own missions, piloting the lightweight fighter planes. After only twenty-four hours of flight training, he took his first solo turn, crashing on landing but emerging unhurt and completely inspired. In 1916, he was assigned to a fighter squadron, making his first kill on September 17, 1916.
Within months, his kill tally had expanded to ten enemy planes shot down, qualifying him as an “ace” in the fighter-pilot lexicon. He loved the flying and the thrill of battle so much that for each plane shot down, he collected a souvenir and bought an engraved trophy to commemorate the event. After witnessing the deaths of many of the other pilots, his arrogance tempered only somewhat.
He earned greater fame in November 1916 for shooting down a famous British ace, Major Lanoe Hawker (1890–1916). In 1917, he took command of his own fighter squadron, which he immediately began to train in his own style. His squad’s air victories escalated, and von Richthofen, still keeping score, had more kills than anyone. At about this time, he decided to paint his plane bright red. Although it seems like an invitation to trouble, his real reason was to let ground troops know not to fire on him. He also wanted any people watching from the ground to know who he was when he shot a plane down. Others in his squadron followed suit, painting their planes in signature designs. The colorful squadron became known as the “Flying Circus.” Von Richthofen himself earned a nickname from the British, the “Red Baron,” while the French called him “le petit rouge,” or “the little red one.” He achieved several kills almost every day.
Admiration in Life and Death
Von Richthofen received a promotion to captain in April 1917. He was a valuable asset to his country both for his skill as a fighter pilot and for his image as a German hero. The German propaganda machine paraded him before crowds, threw parties for him, and urged him to write his life story. In spite of his thirst for fame and his obvious delight in his success, von Richthofen was not comfortable with all of the fawning and the other trappings of celebrity.
He returned to battle, and on July 6, 1917, just after he killed his fifty-seventh pilot, he himself was shot down. He was taken to the hospital with a gunshot wound to the head, which later was blamed for his uncharacteristic behavior when he returned to battle in August. His wound probably never truly healed, but he became known to history as an ace of aces by shooting down an overall total of eighty enemy planes. He did finally write his memoirs, calling them The Red Fighter Pilot (Der Rote Kampflieger).
On April 21, 1918, he was in pursuit of a British pilot, dipping and swooping his plane to keep the quarry locked on target. He broke his own rules in tailing the pilot, going too low and too fast, and his plane was shot down over the Somme River. Von Richthofen died in the crash—someone on the scene reported that his final utterance was the word, “kaput,” German for “broken.” British troops recovered his body and buried him like the warrior he was in a military funeral with honors.
A Rapid Rise
Thomas Woodrow Wilson (1856–1924) was the twenty-eighth president of the United States, serving from 1913 to 1921. He was later awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his work on the Versailles Treaty.
Wilson was born on December 28, 1856 in Staunton, Virginia. His father, the Rev. Dr. Joseph Ruggles Wilson, was a Presbyterian minister and founder of the Southern Presbyterian Church. Wilson’s career trajectory was rapid and impressive. He graduated from Princeton University in 1879. A scholar before he became a politician, the future president then went on to earn a doctorate at Johns Hopkins in 1886, studying political science, history, and economics. Earlier in the 1880s, he studied law at the University of Virginia, a trade he practiced in Atlanta. His postdoctoral curriculum vita reads like an East Coast college guide; he taught history and political science at Bryn Mawr, Wesleyan, and Princeton. By 1902, Wilson took over leadership of Princeton at the age of forty-five. In 1910, Wilson became governor of New Jersey, running as a Democrat. He stunned some of his critics by actually fulfilling all of the pledges made as part of the Democratic platform for that election. By 1912, he was the U.S. president and was elected a second time to the office in 1916.
A Scholarly Approach to the Presidency
Wilson came into the presidency intent on establishing progressive domestic programs and reforms, but he found himself embroiled in a world war and gearing up the U.S. military for that and the other conflicts that marked his time in office. He considered himself a “liberal internationalist,” one who believes that diplomacy, international law, and moral arguments should be brought to bear on a problem in order to achieve a peaceful solution. If that approach failed, then one could apply military force. He had come to his conclusions about the role of the president through his analysis of Theodore Roosevelt’s (1858–1919) time in office. In 1908, Wilson wrote Constitutional Government in the United States, a book that presents what some scholars perceive as the classic view of the modern presidency. In it, he argues for the president as the nation’s lone spokesman, representing the “people as a whole.”
In the presidential election of 1912, Wilson beat Roosevelt, William Howard Taft (1857–1930), and Eugene Victor Debs (1855–1926). His first move as president was to demonstrate his role as spokesperson by holding the first in a series of regularly scheduled press conferences, setting a precedent that most presidents have followed. He employed various outlets to shape public discourse, in addition to the press conferences, turning to newspapers and public statements, and he often claimed to speak not for himself, but for the people he led.
His parliamentary skills became as legendary as his use of words, the news media, and the “bully pulpit” supplied by his office. He used the principle of mutual respect between the executive office and the houses of Congress to reduce the barriers between the two branches of government while keeping himself the spokesperson for both, fulfilling his ideal of the president as representative of all.
Peace Without Victory
Wilson believed, on moral and religious grounds, that his nation existed to serve all of humankind. His initiatives and proposals, such as his “Peace Without Victory” plan, exemplified his belief that the strong and ruthless should never move to crush or exploit the helpless and weak, and he worked to avoid using violence abroad. In a speech to Congress, even as he asked for the authority to occupy Mexico to stop the attacks of Pancho Villa (1878–1923) on American interests, he thundered, “Do you think the glory of America would be enhanced by a war of conquest? Do you think that any act of violence by a powerful nation like this against a weak distracted neighbor would reflect distinction upon the annals of the United States?” He also, however, believed that sometimes force was required, and he turned to it often during his eight years in office.
Wilson’s first use of U.S. armed forces occurred in 1914, when he sent troops to the Mexican port of Veracruz. They occupied the city for seven months in order to restore order and protect American economic interests while Mexican political factions fought one another. The president would most frequently use the armed forces in this way and for this purpose in Latin America, including another occupation in Mexico in which U.S. troops stopped Pancho Villa from continuing his attacks on towns on the New Mexico border. U.S. troops also occupied Haiti in July 1915 to restore order after the murder of its president, and they were deployed in the Dominican Republic in May 1916, again to restore order amid political upheaval.
Diplomacy with Germany
Despite his willingness to use force in the first years of his presidency, Wilson was reluctant to engage militarily when World War I broke out in 1914. For two years, he insisted on declaring U.S. neutrality, but economic factors and German aggression caused him to change his response in 1916. In May 1915, a German U-boat sank the British passenger liner Lusitania, which went down with 1,198 people, including 124 Americans. Wilson initially attempted personal intervention to stop the U-boat attacks, and his efforts had been effective by 1916. But 1916 was also an election year, and the pressures of politics led Wilson to expand the army and national guard, including establishing the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) program, which still exists today.
Wilson still held out hope for a compromise and for keeping his country out of the war. In May 1916, a year after the Lusitania sank, he came out in support of a postwar league that would ensure peace among nations. When he won reelection that November, he again looked for ways to end the war through diplomacy. His efforts failed, and in January 1917, he put forward his “Peace Without Victory” plan, his vision of achieving peace unaccompanied by national gain of land or claims of victory. The Germans were now intent on victory, however, convinced that with some well-applied force, they could overcome the British before any U.S. support could arrive from across the Atlantic. In their hubris, they rejected Wilson’s overtures and accepted the probability that war with the United States would result.
Aggression against the Germans
The Germans announced they would launch open submarine warfare on January 31, 1917. Wilson thus had to choose between continued, well-reasoned neutrality and all-out aggression. The people of the United States were similarly divided. Ultimately, Wilson chose the route of aggression, delivering a message of war in April lambasting the Germans for violating the rights of neutral nations and arguing for his vision of spreading democracy. His draft plan resulted in the rapid mobilization of the army. General John J. Pershing (1860–1948) led U.S. troops in Paris, engaging in the Second Battle of the Marne in 1918, and near the German frontier by September of that year, he led a force of 1.2 million men. Throughout U.S. participation in World War I, Wilson maintained that his nation was an associate power, not a member of the Allies, and that the United States could and would negotiate a separate peace if necessary.
Wilson’s War Message
The following is an excerpt of the president’s address to Congress on April 2, 1917.
Neutrality is no longer feasible or desirable where the peace of the world is involved and the freedom of its peoples, and the menace to that peace and freedom lies in the existence of autocratic governments backed by organized force which is controlled wholly by their will, not by the will of their people. We have seen the last of neutrality in such circumstances. We are at the beginning of an age in which it will be insisted that the same standards of conduct and of responsibility for wrong done shall be observed among nations and their governments that are observed among the individual citizens of civilized states ….A steadfast concert for peace can never be maintained except by a partnership of democratic nations. No autocratic government could be trusted to keep faith within it or observe its covenants. It must be a league of honor, a partnership of opinion. Intrigue would eat its vitals away; the plottings of inner circles who could plan what they would and render account to no one would be a corruption seated at its very heart. Only free peoples can hold their purpose and their honour steady to a common end and prefer the interests of mankind to any narrow interest of their own.
Wilson, Woodrow. “War Message to Congress, April 2, 1917.” World War I Document Archive. Brigham Young University Library. <http://net.lib.byu.edu/~rdh7/wwi/1917/wilswarm.html> (accessed June 15, 2007).
Achievements and Failures
Wilson’s zeal in achieving his goals gave rise to outcomes both positive and negative. The institution of the draft became the model that the U.S. would use to constitute an army for many subsequent wars. Wilson used conscription to raise an army and war bonds to pay for it, tactics that would be used again during World War II. One of his greatest legislative achievements was the passage of the Federal Reserve Act, which he signed into law in 1913. This act, which combined private initiative with public oversight, established the Federal Reserve System, the most important economic institution in the United States. But Wilson never lost sight of his ultimate postwar goal: the creation of an international peace organization focused on cooperation and collective security.
What his administration did lose sight of was the necessity to maintain a nation’s civil liberties, even in times of war. The wartime violations of civil liberties under the Espionage Act of 1917 and the Sedition Act of 1918, some of them extensive, triggered a reaction that ended in the postwar establishment of the American Civil Liberties Union.
Wilson and the Fourteen Points
As a wartime president, Wilson was a forceful commander-in-chief, but he relied on the commander of the American Expeditionary Force, General John J. Pershing, to make decisions on the ground about America’s army in France. Pershing was stopped by Wilson in 1918 when the Germans both begged for an armistice after the tide turned against them and cited Wilson’s “Fourteen Points,” which he had delivered as a presidential address in January 1918. The Fourteen Points included calls to end secret diplomacy, ensure freedom of the seas, reduce armaments, and create an independent Poland. In response to Germany’s pleas, Wilson put a halt to Pershing’s plans to invade Germany. He accepted Germany’s request for an armistice and used his Fourteen Points as a starting point for the negotiations.
After the War
President Wilson traveled to Europe in 1919, becoming the first sitting U.S. president to do so. At the peace talks in Paris, Wilson found himself giving up a number of his Fourteen Points in an effort to achieve his overarching goal of the creation of the League of Nations. The peace talk participants hammered out the Treaty of Versailles, but Wilson did not get a positive reception to it from home. The Republican-controlled Senate refused to ratify the treaty in July 1919 for reasons that included partisanship, fears that the United States would lose power, and concern over the concessions Wilson had made. Wilson’s nemesis, Henry Cabot Lodge (1850–1924), happened to be chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and he and his allies deplored the heavy international responsibilities the treaty would impose on the nation. In addition, Wilson, who had spent his terms in office emphasizing diplomacy, proved an intractable opponent.
Wilson suffered a massive stroke in October 1919. The stroke left Wilson paralyzed on his left side and was actually the largest of a series of small strokes and other vascular problems. He had suffered these problems so long that even as he was preparing to take office his first term, a prominent neurologist examined him and predicted that the new president would not survive to the end of the four years. He obviously did survive, even to complete a second term, but the large stroke left him unable to negotiate and use diplomacy in the old, familiar ways. In fact, through the remainder of his second term, the president did not function completely in mind, body, reason, or spirit. His second wife, Edith Bolting Wilson, whom Wilson had married after the death in 1914 of his first wife, Ellen Louise Axson Wilson, served as the conduit of all information in or out of the president’s office. She blocked efforts to reveal the truth about the president’s health and also refused to allow her husband to resign his office, even after he had agreed to do so at the behest of the doctors.
It was during this period of incapacity at the end of his term that the greatest social achievement of his administration occurred. The Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified on August 26, 1920, conferring on women the right to vote. The outgoing president rode with his successor, Warren Harding (1865–1923), to Harding’s inauguration on March 4, 1921. In spite of Wilson’s physical frailty, however, he outlived the new president and attended Harding’s funeral. Wilson died at home in Washington on February 3, 1924.
Early Life and Career
Ludendorff was born on April 9, 1865, in Prussia, in an area that was primarily Polish. His mother was descended from aristocrats, and his father was a cavalry officer. In spite of his mother’s connections, Ludendorff’s family was not rich, although he is reported to have had a comfortable and pleasant childhood. He did well in school, earning a scholarship to a state military academy, and entered the army after he graduated in 1882. Ludendorff showed an aptitude for mathematics and was consistently first in his class, but he always knew that the military would be his career and intended to follow in the footsteps of both his father and grandfather.
Although his mother was of noble lineage, only men who were paternally noble could traditionally be promoted to general. He was taunted at school, where students made fun of him because he was a commoner. Ludendorff, known throughout his life for his dour severity, may have developed some of his personality traits because of this experience. At any rate, he excelled in the face of such obstacles and was appointed to the German general staff, a prestigious post, when he was only twenty-nine. One reason he climbed the career ladder so rapidly was that he disdained friendships, preferring to focus instead on forming himself into the best soldier he could be.
Ludendorff continued to exhibit this singular obsession with all things military. He read only books on military subjects and for two decades after his appointment to the general staff, where he spent most of his career, he closely studied all aspects of the German military. In spite of his almost religious military fervor, he was generally disliked even among the stereotypically arrogant and rude German officers for his unpleasantness. He is reported to have been filled with rage—he banged on tables, offended his superiors with his tactlessness, and was inflexible in thought. In spite of his obvious social deficiencies, he did marry, and his wife described him as “a man of iron principles.”
Not surprisingly, Ludendorff actually looked forward to the onset of World War I, seeing it as his chance to finally earn the leadership position he had worked so hard to achieve—to the exclusion of almost everything else. At first, he was quartermaster general, ensuring food, clothing, transportation, and supplies got to the troops in Belgium. When a general died in battle at the Belgian line, Ludendorff quickly stepped in at the front to take his place. His first act was to drive a car up to a small tower that his army had been unable to capture. Reports state that he jumped from the vehicle, drew his sword, and banged on the door, yelling, “Surrender in the name of Kaiser Wilhelm!” It seemed like a foolish thing to do, but it had the effect of firing up the German troops, who surged against the outnumbered Belgians and defeated them. Ludendorff earned a medal from the kaiser himself for his audacity and became known as the “Hero of Liege,” after the town where he earned his honor. He also earned himself a place on the eastern front.
On the Eastern Front
The only problem was that Ludendorff was not a noble and therefore could not command the troops on the front. To solve this problem, the general staff put the retired General Paul von Hindenburg (1847–1934) in charge with Ludendorff as second in command as chief of staff. In spite of what must have been a frustration to Ludendorff, the two men dovetailed their duties nicely, with Ludendorff planning and making decisions that von Hindenburg passed along as orders.
Ludendorff’s decisions ended in a rout of the previously immovable Russian army at the Battle of Tannenberg. After this decisive victory, the two German leaders moved on, pushing the Russian forces all the way back across the front, in contrast to the stalemate that lingered on the western front. Ludendorff and von Hindenburg made such a great team that people started calling them simply, “The Duo.”
Given their effectiveness at the eastern front, it was no surprise when they were moved to the western front in August 1916, where von Hindenburg became chief of the general staff, and Ludendorff his first quartermaster general. They planned together to remove from their path any military or political leader who disagreed with their plans, which included renewed, unrestricted submarine warfare. After they forced out Wilhelm’s chancellor, who wanted to sue for peace, the two generals were essentially in charge of the country, which was now a military dictatorship with a figurehead kaiser.
On the Western Front
Ludendorff and von Hindenburg now took up residence in comfortable headquarters while directing movements at the front. They got rid of any concerns about Russia by helping Vladimir Lenin (1870–1924) return from exile to lead the socialist revolution, a move that effectively removed Russia from the war equation for the moment. With the eastern front resolved for the time being, they began planning a huge German offensive on the western front. Their attacks starting in March 1918 leading to battles at Somme, Ypres, and Chemin des Dames were successes, sending the Allies into retreat, but those successes came with tremendous losses. The German Army lost more than 600,000 men in those three months of fighting.
In spite of the horrific losses, the two generals pushed forward with their offensive, launching two assaults that summer that were disastrous. Not only did they fail to push the Allies back any further, but they also saw many of their men desert, unwilling to again walk into a slaughter. The result was a massive midsummer German retreat, and Ludendorff and von Hindenburg knew the end was near—at least von Hindenburg did. Reportedly, when Ludendorff asked him what Germany ought to do, the military nobleman replied, “Make peace, you idiot!”
Ludendorff agreed but knew that Germany had to position itself better on the battlefield before beginning negotiations. They did not want to enter armistice talks at a huge disadvantage and wanted Germany to appear as strong as it could. They attempted to achieve this by a slow retreat, but the Americans turned the slow retreat into a total defeat. Ludendorff was so distraught that those around him worried about his health. Some reported that when word came about Germany’s complete loss, Ludendorff actually fell to the floor of his office, foaming at the mouth. It would have been a powerful emotional display from a man who had prided himself for his intractable strength.
Ludendorff’s strategy of entering peace negotiations from a position of strength failed utterly, and Ludendorff himself was forced to resign in October 1918. The resignation of von Hindenburg followed in the next month, and the kaiser abdicated and fled to Holland. Germany had lost.
After the War
The raging, unloved general ended up fleeing the country as well, ignominiously disguising himself with a wig and colored glasses and taking refuge in Sweden. While there, he engaged in the usual postwar pastime of writing his memoirs, which in his case laid the blame for Germany’s loss on unpatriotic Germans. His argument attracted a certain nationalistic element in Germany, and he returned to his homeland in the 1920s, believing himself to be the living embodiment of Nordic virtues. There, he joined Hitler’s National Socialist Party, was elected to Parliament as a Nazi, and even ran for president. Ironically, he lost the latter contest to the very man he had accused of being an unpatriotic German: Paul von Hindenburg. Ludendorff resigned from Parliament in 1928.
His tendency toward mental instability appeared to reemerge toward the end of his life. His second wife engaged in pseudo-religious, anti-Semitic, anti-Christian mystical teachings, and Ludendorff espoused beliefs that the Jews, socialists, Freemasons, Jesuits—anyone but him—were at fault for Germany’s failure on the world stage. His essays and bizarre behavior eventually became so extreme that even Adolf Hitler (1889–1945) could no longer support him. Ludendorff died on December 20, 1937.
John Joseph Pershing (1860–1948) was a general in the Armies of the United States and went on to be commander in chief of the American Expeditionary Force in Europe during World War I.
Pershing was born on September 13, 1860 near Laclede, Missouri. Pershing was born almost on the eve of the Civil War, and his early memories of that conflict actually led him away from an interest in a military career. He planned instead to become a lawyer. His plans were put on hold, however, with the economic depression of the 1870s, and when his father’s businesses (a store, lumberyard, and real estate) began to falter, he had to look for work. Pershing worked on his family’s farm and attended public school. In 1878, he found a job teaching, and he studied for his degree during vacation, officially earning his teaching credentials in 1880. His first job was teaching at the school for the black children in his hometown. Racial tensions arose on both sides around his appointment, but Pershing handled them with calm, pointing out to one hostile former friend that Abraham Lincoln had given rights to black people, and it was his—Pershing’s—job to teach these children.
In spite of his aspirations to the law, Pershing applied to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1881. He was not suddenly interested in a military career, but he had realized that he could obtain a free college education via this route, one that might help him realize his dream of attending law school. Pershing flourished at West Point, achieving the highest student position possible at the academy and serving as class president, although public speaking made him uncomfortable. His reputation at West Point set the tone for his future—that of a strong leader and strict disciplinarian. He had developed his interest in strict discipline as a child. He and his brothers had a near-fatal accident with a gun they were playing with, and since that incident, Pershing took guns and the details pertaining to them very seriously.
On the Western Frontier
He left West Point in 1886 to go to New Mexico as a second lieutenant. In what would be a repeated scenario in Pershing’s life, he just missed the main action in New Mexico; the Sixth Cavalry Regiment of the U.S. Army had just captured the elusive Geronimo, the Apache chief who had evaded army patrols for years. But after Pershing arrived, the Sixth simply engaged in routine patrols in New Mexico.
Pershing served with the Sixth in New Mexico for four years, until the regiment traveled to South Dakota to deal with another Native American leader, Sitting Bull, and with the Ghost Dance Rebellion of the Sioux tribe. Pershing arrived after the massacre at Wounded Knee and the shooting of Sitting Bull. His only involvement in the action was a short skirmish at Little Grass Creek on January 1, 1891.
Turning again to a teaching life, Pershing went to the University of Nebraska in the fall of 1891 to serve as a military instructor and to teach remedial math. While he was there, he finally achieved his lifetime dream of earning a law degree, an accomplishment that left him with the difficult choice of pursuing a legal career or continuing with the military. He decided to stick with the military.
While at the University of Nebraska, Pershing made a name for himself by whipping a group of undisciplined, uninterested students into a superior cadet corps. It was at this time that the future general first had his name associated with weaponry: his cadets became known as the Pershing Rifles, and they were good enough to win a national drill competition in Nebraska.
Pershing then moved on to Montana, where he commanded a unit of black soldiers with the Tenth Cavalry. Pershing spent only a year in Montana and then spent an unsuccessful year at West Point with the derisive cadets who resented Pershing for his strict attention to details about marching, saluting, standing at attention, and dress. This response to Pershing’s close attention to military form would bring him criticism in later years, as well. It was at West Point that a group of white cadets he taught gave him the nickname “Black Jack,” a reference to his command of the Tenth, meant to insult him.
The lieutenant finally got his chance to catch some of the action when he went to Cuba as the officer in charge of supplies (quartermaster) for the Tenth. Spain and the United States were at war over Cuba, and Pershing earned kudos for his bravery during the attack on San Juan Hill, the signature event of that war in Cuba. The colonel of his regiment even said to Pershing that the lieutenant was “cool as a bowl of cracked ice” under fire.
Pershing continued his success in the Philippines, where he made captain and distinguished himself for suppressing uprisings. During an assignment in Washington, D.C., he met the daughter of a powerful Wyoming senator and told a friend that he had met the girl he was going to marry. After two years, he did marry Frances Warren, in 1905, and the two spent their honeymoon in Tokyo, where Pershing served at the American embassy.
His star was on a swift rise from then on, and in 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt chose Pershing over 862 officers with more seniority to become the youngest brigadier general in the U.S. Army. After his brief stint as an observer in the Russo-Japanese War, the new brigadier general returned to the Philippines, where he became, in addition to his military command, governor of the Moro province, which he and his forces had captured during his previous duty there. While the provincial governor, Pershing oversaw introduction of the minimum wage and initiated the building of new schools and medical facilities while still quelling the occasional rebellion.
After four years in the Philippines, the general found himself ordered to El Paso, Texas, to help battle the Mexicans, who were making border raids. Pancho Villa, the Mexican leader, led one raid in March 1916 that killed seventeen Americans. In response, Pershing led what President Woodrow Wilson referred to as a “punitive expedition” into Mexico on Villa’s trail. Villa proved as elusive as Geronimo, and even after eleven months, Pershing still had not managed to capture or kill the Mexican rebel, although he did scatter the rebel army.
While he was in El Paso, Pershing’s wife and three of his children died in a fire in their home in San Francisco; only his son, Warren, survived. The loss so devastated him that at his promotion to major general in 1916, he commented, “All the promotion in the world would make no difference now.”
Command in Europe
War in Europe pulled Pershing from the Mexican border to Paris, France. The United States finally declared war on Germany on April 6, 1917, after final attempts at diplomacy with the kaiser failed. Wilson, evidently still impressed with Pershing, selected the fifty-seven-year-old experienced general to command U.S. forces on the European continent. It was something the British and French had anticipated and had hoped for, but they soon became frustrated with Pershing’s delay in engaging in battle. Pershing’s reason for the delay was that he wanted his troops trained and fighting together as an American—not an Allied—army, and he forcefully refused to place them under Allied command. The United States insisted on remaining a separate party from the Allies, retaining its right to negotiate a separate peace, if necessary.
For almost a year after his appointment as commander, Pershing did not lead his troops into battle. He spent this time laying the groundwork carefully and completely for a full-scale invasion of Germany, including troop training and buildup, supply flow, intelligence gathering, and strategizing. He also spent much of his time inspecting his ever-improving soldiers, ruthlessly attending to the smallest details of their uniform and riding the division commanders without mercy.
In spite of the U.S. intention to maintain a separate presence, Pershing did allow some of his troops to fight alongside the British and French forces as the Germans began a major offensive in March 1918. Eventually, in August 1918, Pershing unleashed his forces, the First American Army, on the Germans, rooting them out of Saint-Mihiel in September and launching a major U.S. offensive later that month that drew German divisions away from other parts of the front where beleaguered Allied forces were faltering. In spite of American firepower, the U.S. force experienced a large number of casualties, but after an unsuccessful start, they finally began pressing down the German army as November began. Ten days after the tide turned in favor of the United States, on November 11, 1918, the Germans conceded and signed the armistice.
Pershing did not want the peace of the armistice; he wanted war, and hoped to continue the fighting and to force the Germans into unconditional surrender. His reason for wanting to avoid concessions to Germany was not a thirst for blood. With considerable farsightedness, Pershing worried that the Germans would rise again to threaten the world. In 1944, during World War II, the general commented, “If we had gone to Berlin then, we would not be going there now.”
With his European aspirations thwarted, Pershing turned to politics. He did not, however, make a great politician and did not make it past the primaries in his two efforts to run for president. Eventually, he became the first possessor of a rank revived from the time of General Washington, General of the Armies, and became the Army’s chief of staff, which he remained until 1924. Pershing published his memoirs in 1931, which although lacking in verbal flair, won the Pulitzer Prize in history. Ailing during his final years, he lived from 1941 until his death on July 15, 1948, at Walter Reed Hospital. General Pershing was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
Georges Clemenceau (1841-1929) was a French journalist and statesman. He was twice premier of France, in 1906-1909 and 1917-1919, leading his country through the critical days of World War I and heading the French delegation to the Paris Peace Conference.
A Study in Contrasts
Clemenceau (1841–1929) was was born on September 28, 1841, in Mouilleron-en-Pareds, a village on the French coast. Clemenceau was a man of contrasts and overwhelming energy who became the most famous political figure of his time in France. He was known for being strong-willed, tough, hard, and even cruel, and his rapier wit spared no one. As an able and wily politician, Clemenceau was renowned and feared as one of the greatest public speakers of his time, and as a newspaper columnist through much of his career, his wit gained him a wide audience.
On the outside, his roughness and cruelty earned him the nickname “The Tiger,” but inside, as one friend once said, he had the “soul of an artist.” A contradiction of a man, he was extremely well educated and highly cultured, a man who appreciated the liquid delicacy of the Impressionist artists, and exhibited enormous generosity, easily making and keeping friendships. But he also had a facility with making enemies, and he made many. In spite of his power and position, he never indulged in pretentiousness of person or lifestyle, living in a modest Parisian apartment even when he was France’s premier.
Education and Early Career
Gifted with a brilliant mind, Clemenceau was educated at home, the oldest son and second of six children. His father Benjamin ceased his medical practice and retired to the family land. Clemenceau followed in his father’s footsteps, earning a medical degree by studying at the school of medicine in Nantes, near the family home. He completed his studies at the University of Paris in 1865, a bright student but difficult to keep focused. Among his distractions were political activities, which at one point landed him in jail for two months for organizing a Republican demonstration.
Ultimately rejected by the leader of the Republican rebellion, however, and also by the lady of his heart, Hortense Kestner, Clemenceau made for the United States. He intended to settle there but remained only from 1865 until 1869, working as both a physician and as a political writer for French-language newspapers. Supplementing his income by teaching French at a girls’ school, Clemenceau met the orphaned daughter of a dentist, Mary Elizabeth Plummer, who was one of his students. After overcoming reluctance on the part of her wealthy guardian, Mary finally married Clemenceau in 1869. The couple returned to France, where Clemenceau eventually found himself in Paris, participating in the overthrow of Napoleon III.
After establishment of the Third Republic in 1870, Clemenceau was elected to the National Assembly. He almost died at the hands of a lynch mob during a rebellion that broke out in his home district of Montmartre, in which radicals hanged two generals on behalf of the Paris Commune, which briefly governed Paris in 1871. According to Clemenceau, as he attempted to rescue the generals, he almost fell into the hands of the murderous crowd. He ended up resigning his office and failed to win reelection the following July.
Clemenceau then served on the Paris City Council after Paris returned to French governmental jurisdiction, where he became council president in 1875. In addition, he continued practicing medicine and fought a duel with a man who had insulted him over the revolt in Montmartre. It was not his first duel. His fame grew as a result of his tending to the poor and his more dramatic exploits, and he returned to national politics as a representative in the Chamber of Deputies for Montmartre in Paris. After a few more reelections, he established a newspaper, La Justice, and became a leader of the Radical Republicans, a party with a distinct socialist bent.
In keeping with his socialist nature, Clemenceau became politically quite like his future British counterpart, David Lloyd George. Like Lloyd George, Clemenceau argued for old age and unemployment insurance, nationalization of railroads, religious reform, and separation of church and state. His debating skills could reduce an opponent to his rhetorical knees, and he used his verbal fencing to knock out several successive moderate ministries. Yet he was consistently considered too radical to take the lead himself.
In the Private Sector
Clemenceau had a bad few years as he weathered unsubstantiated charges of bribery over the failure of the Panama Canal Company, and he suffered an electoral defeat in 1893. A year earlier he had divorced his wife for adultery, although he was not faithful himself. To take refuge from his problems, he turned to writing for his and other papers, writing enough to combine his several thousand columns into sixteen books. Most of his writing was political, but some of it addressed art and literature. He also indulged in his love of the arts by writing a novel and a play.
He used his writing as a way to advocate for Captain Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish officer accused on forged evidence of spying for Germany. Dreyfus was convicted but retried, due to Clemenceau’s efforts. He was then reconvicted, and then finally declared innocent in 1906.
A Return to the Political Stage
Clemenceau returned to politics in 1902 as a senator, and by 1906, he was a leading power in the Senate. At age sixty-five, he finally had begun to advance in politics, becoming a minister of the interior and then premier. In office from 1906 to 1909, he instituted a number of reforms and strengthened ties with Great Britain and Russia, a mark of foresight given future events. He suddenly lost a vote of confidence in 1909 and turned again to his writing, also doing a lecture tour.
War broke out in 1914, and Clemenceau hoped to be recalled to lead his country, but not being offered the top post, he declined any other appointment. He began politicking for a better conduct of the war through a new paper, L’Homme Enchaine, “The Chained Man,” and as chairman of the Senate committees on foreign affairs and the army. Then came the darkest days of World War I in 1917, with the Allies failing on all fronts, and Clemenceau stepped to the forefront again. The French president, Raymond Poincaré (1860–1934), turned to him, and Clemenceau worked for his country with inspiring zeal. He toured the front dozens of times, negotiated improved cooperation among the Allies, named Ferdinand Foch commander of the allied forces, and generally proved himself, although a dictator of sorts, an effective wartime leader.
Forced to Compromise
After the armistice, Clemenceau presided at the Paris Peace Conference that began in January 1919 and survived an assassination attempt the next month. In spite of his efforts with Great Britain and the United States at the conference, the legislative bodies of these two nations refused to ratify the treaty the Allies had hammered out. Some accused Clemenceau of being too easy on the Germans. In answer, he pointed out that regardless of personal feelings, Germany had sixty million men with whom the other European powers must try to get along.
His past and perceived compromising with the Germans caught up with him in his run for the presidency in 1920. He was defeated, and soon after, he retired from the premiership and the Senate. In his final years, he traveled and lectured, arguing powerfully against the increasing isolationism of the United States. As an octogenarian, he authored several more books, one of which he completed four days before he died, on November 24, 1929, of complications of diabetes. At his own request, he lies buried next to his father in a nameless grave in his home province of Vendée.
Battle of the Marne
The Battle of the Marne was one of the first major confrontations in World War I on the Western Front. This horrific encounter between the allies of France and Britain against Germany took place in early September 1914 in France on the Marne River, east of Paris and west of the German border. The French Army and the British Expeditionary Forces proved strong enough to drive the Germans back, which signaled that the war would last longer than the German aggressors had planned.
The battle resulted from a long-standing German contingency plan for war known as the Schlieffen Plan. General Alfred von Schlieffen (1833–1913) had served as chief of staff to the German Army until 1906. Long before World War I began in August 1914, as alliances were developing between Britain, Russia, and France—Germany’s adversaries at the turn of the century—the Germans saw a need for a war plan, and they began creating it. The Schlieffen Plan simply dictated that Germany would fiercely attack France, encircling Paris and the entire region with seven of the eight German armies. Then, once Paris was defeated, the German Army would quickly head across Germany on the country’s advanced rails and roads to stop the Russian Army before it could get to Germany.
Soon after war was declared, Germany began to carry out this scheme with the Battle of the Marne near Paris. German General Helmuth von Moltke (1848–1916) succeeded Schlieffen and modified his plan somewhat. Moltke strengthened the left flank and sent thirty-two out of the seventy-eight German infantry divisions through Belgium. The French met the advancing Germans. From August 20 to 24, bloody battles between the two sides occurred along the border between Belgium and France. By August 25, French commander Joseph Jacques Cesaire Joffre ordered a retreat, and the Germans followed closely behind.
The French and their British allies soon regrouped. Within days, the British Expeditionary Force, under Field Marshall John French (1852–1925), landed in mainland Europe and began to assist the French forces. Also, a new French Army was organized under Paris Military Governor General Joseph Simon Gallieni (1849–1916). Meanwhile, the Germans advanced toward Paris. General Alexander von Kluck (1846–1934) and General Karl von Bulow (1846–1921) were now both to the east of Paris but miles away from each other. When General Joffre got word of this separation, he ordered a counterattack and sought more support from the British. On the afternoon of September 5, the beginnings of this great battle began when the advancing French collided with Kluck’s left flank north of the town of Meaux. By the next day, the Allies were waging an all-out assault. Kluck shifted his army to the west to begin a stern counterattack, which slowed the French advance for two days. But when Gallieni arrived with the newly formed Sixth Army, some of whom were in commandeered taxi cabs from Paris, the German advance was halted.
The gap between the two German forces had been enlarged, and it was now some thirty miles. The British forces and another French division marched right into this opening. General Molkte, disappointed and bewildered, had reached a point of mental collapse. By the afternoon of September 9, the Battle of the Marne was over and the Germans were headed back toward the Aisne River.
The battle resulted in heavy casualties on both sides. The German death toll is unknown, but fifteen thousand men were taken prisoner. The French losses over several days of fighting around this battle reached eighty thousand. It was also a reality check for the Germans. The Schlieffen Plan essentially failed for several reasons. Poor communication among the different German army divisions confused the attack. The French, with Paris close to their backs, were able to supply themselves during the onslaught. Moltke, who had become frantic during the conflict, was relieved of his command. Kaiser Wilhelm II fired him on September 14.
Though the Allies had successfully driven the Germans back, the impact of their victory is questionable. None of the generals on either side proved to be great leaders. The German army reorganized, and a stalemate of trench warfare followed on the Western Front.
The First Battle of Ypres
On October 20, 1914, General Erich von Falkenhayn (1861–1922), the relatively new chief of staff of the German Army, began executing his Flanders offensive. Falkenhayn’s plan was to break through the enemy line and overtake the French ports of Dunkirk, Calais, and Boulogne on the English Channel. He thought he found a weak point—the Belgians defended a small position by the Yser River between Dixmude and Nieuport, where the river emptied into the sea. German heavy artillery bombarded the Belgians relentlessly, and they could not prevent the Germans from crossing the Yser River.
Belgium’s King Albert I (1875–1934) personally commanded his country’s army, which numbered only sixty thousand troops. King Albert knew he controlled the high ground and that the Germans were on land below sea level. He ordered the sluices opened on the dikes that held back seawater. Soon the ground the Germans wanted to control was flooded—a twenty-mile stretch from Dixmude to Nieuport. This two-mile wide lake kept the Germans from attacking the Belgians for the rest of the war.
Falkenhayn was determined to reach the coast, and he focused his attention on the city of Ypres. The Allies chose to defend the high ground in a salient east of the city. The French held the line south of Dixmude—from the Yser River and the Ypres canal as far as Langemarck, in the suburbs of Ypres. The British had a thirty-five mile front around Ypres toward the low ridge of higher ground at Passchendaele. Sir John French led six British infantry divisions, one in reserve, and three cavalry divisions. For reinforcements, he had several divisions of Indian infantry and cavalry; however, they were not equipped or trained for winter weather. The Indians would later have to be thrown into the battle, and they were to fight bravely.
Field Marshal French and Field Marshal Ferdinand Foch had plans to attack and lead a breakout to Brussels, but the Germans were better prepared for battle. The Allies were outnumbered, because Falkenhayn brought in the Duke of Württemberg’s (1865–1939) Fourth Army and Prince Rupprecht’s (1869–1955) Sixth Army from Lorraine. The British Expeditionary Force began by attacking toward the eastern part of Ypres. The Germans pushed back—sending the British Fourth Corps toward the city itself. Haig’s First Corps arrived to relieve the Fourth Corps, and the British slowed to a crawl from exhaustion and high casualties. The Germans picked this time to attack. On October 20, 1914, twenty-four divisions of German troops lined up against nineteen Allied divisions. Haig showed his prowess at defensive warfare and held the Germans back, while the British sharpshooters slowed the German advance.
Falkenhayn began a new attack on October 31, with cavalry attacks at Messines Ridge in the southeast of Ypres. The British cavalry abandoned their positions there. Other German forces attacked General Sir Douglas Haig’s First Corps in the north. They broke through at first, but were later pushed back by a British counterattack.
On November 11, the Germans tried again with an attack by only two elite divisions along the Menin Road. This surprised the British, and the Germans again made a short-lived breakthrough, but they were slow to exploit it. The British took every man available, including cooks and clerks, and sent them to the gap in the lines. The last-ditch effort worked to slow down the Germans. The fight see-sawed until November 22, with no side gaining an advantage. Winter came, and the fighting slowed down.
The British and French began to dig in. The French held territory they won in the north and south of the city. The Germans now held the high ground, but it was clearly a stalemate.
The first battle of Ypres symbolized more of the horror of World War I that was to come. Casualties were incredible on both sides, and the war was just beginning. At this battle, 134,315 German soldiers were killed or wounded, the British lost 58,155, and the French lost some 50,000. The British suffered the most because their army was the smallest.
Trenches now spanned 475 miles from the North Sea to Switzerland, and no attack could be successful without artillery. The winter of 1914 was mostly quiet. French Marshal Joseph Joffre tried two more unsuccessful and costly attacks in December, one in Artois and one in Champagne.
During Christmas of 1914, both sides declared a truce at many different locations in the trenches. Troops decorated Christmas trees and exchanged gifts. Both sides sang Christmas carols, and some even went out to No Man’s Land and exchanged pleasantries and tobacco. In one place between the trenches troops from both sides even started a soccer game. They allowed each other to bury the dead in No Man’s Land. The truce went on for a few days after Christmas until the generals ordered the men to cease these activities and begin fighting again. Many commanders from both sides believed the war could be won outright—that one decisive offensive in one battle could end the war. Others knew that the modern weapons—machine guns, magazine rifles, and quick-firing artillery—would only serve to lengthen the war of attrition.
Sinking of the Lusitania
On May 7, 1915, a German U-boat sank the Lusitania, a British passenger liner traveling from New York to Great Britain. Attacked off the coast of Ireland without warning, the ship sank in eighteen minutes, and 1,198 people were lost, including 124 Americans. Such tactics, essential to German submarine warfare, outraged the American public. While the incident did not cause the United States to declare war, it strained American-German relations and set the stage for America’s eventual entry into the conflict.
President Woodrow Wilson firmly believed that the United States should remain neutral in the European conflict. His attitude on this question perfectly reflected the prevailing mood of his country in 1915. It is true that a great many Americans, particularly on the East Coast, felt sympathy for the English. However, most Americans were disinclined to embroil their sons and brothers in a distant war.
Wilson also shared the average American’s distaste for the rapidly developing field of underwater warfare. On the whole, Americans found ambush on the high seas (the submarine’s entire raison-d’être) particularly dishonorable. On February 10, 1915, the American government declared unannounced U-boat attacks to be inhumane and illegal and vowed that the German government would face “a strict accountability” should it impede America’s freedom on the water.
America’s attitude left the Germans in a predicament. England’s naval blockade had a stranglehold on their country. Germany had retaliated with a U-boat cordon around Great Britain. However, Germany’s strategy was frustrated by neutral American merchant ships (and British passenger liners carrying American citizens), which brought foodstuffs and military supplies into Great Britain. The Germans dared not come down too hard on these leaks, for fear of bringing the United States into the war.
Nevertheless, on May 1, 1915, a German submarine attacked an American tanker, the Gulflight, on its way to the French coast. Three Americans were killed. The same day, New York newspapers ran an advertisement from the German Embassy in Washington that said: “Travelers intending to embark on the Atlantic voyage are reminded that a state of war exists between Germany and Great Britain and its allies.” Americans were warned that any ships flying Allied colors were “liable to destruction in those waters and that travelers sailing in the war zone on ships to Great Britain or its allies do so at their own risk.”
The commander of the Lusitania, Captain William Turner (1856–1933), was more than aware of the risks he ran. The British would later deny it, but the Lusitania was carrying small arms ammunition into England. The British Admiralty had issued strict guidelines for all their national ships—they were to avoid headlands, around which submarines found their best hunting, they were to steam at full speed, and they were to follow a zig-zag course in the middle of the channel. For some unknown reason, Turner ignored all of these recommendations as he cruised past Old Head of Kinsale, Ireland, on May 7, 1915.
As it happened, the German U-boat U-20 had been hunting in those very waters. Commanded by Captain Walther Schwieger (1885–1917), the U-20 had sunk the British Candidate and the Centurionjust the day before.
Around noon on May 7, Schwieger unsuccessfully chased the cruiser Juno. An hour and a half later, the Lusitania (traveling in a straight line at reduced speed) bore directly down on the submarine. The U-20 fired a single torpedo into the hull of the Lusitania. The ship sank rapidly, and nearly twelve hundred passengers—including more than one hundred Americans—drowned.
The British and the American public reacted with predictable fury. Even if the Lusitania had been smuggling ammunition, they argued, that did not justify such wholesale slaughter of civilians. At the very least, tradition demanded that civilians should be given time to board the lifeboats.
Six days later, Wilson reprimanded the Germany embassy for their newspaper “warning” of May 1. He vigorously denied that the advertisement in any way absolved them of responsibility. Despite British hopes, however, Wilson declined to be pushed into a declaration of war. In a May 10 address to newly naturalized Americans at Convention Hall in Philadelphia, he reaffirmed American neutrality: “There is such a thing as being too proud to fight.”
Nevertheless, Wilson continued to hound the Germans on the issue. The Reich reluctantly agreed to pay compensation for the lives lost on the Lusitania, and the kaiser ordered that passenger ships no longer be targeted.
Germany refused, however, to apologize for the sinking itself, pointing out that the Lusitania had been illegally carrying weapons into England. Schwieger’s U-20 was welcomed back into port with cheers, and the government even struck a celebratory medal to commemorate his attack. The Kölnische Volkszeitung newspaper proclaimed that “the sinking of the giant English steamship is a success of moral significance which is still greater than material success. With joyful pride we contemplate this latest deed of our Navy.”
In the meantime, the Allies were disgusted by Wilson’s reserve, as were some Americans. Former president Theodore Roosevelt launched his own propaganda campaign, calling stridently for immediate entry into the war.
On July 21, Wilson again condemned unannounced attacks, saying that they “must be regarded by the Government of the United States, when they affect American citizens, as deliberately unfriendly.” Considering this last statement to be too strongly worded, Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan (1860–1925) resigned his post.
On August 19, the unarmed British Arabic sank with forty-four passengers, three of them American. In revenge, that same day the British Baralongapproached the German U-27, flying American colors. When she came close enough, the Baralong lowered the Stars and Stripes, raised the Union Jack, and fired on the U-27 and sank it.
While deploring this use of the American flag, Wilson pressured Germany into promising that “liners would not be sunk without warning and without safety of the lives of non-combatants, provided the liners do not try to escape or offer resistance.”
Nevertheless, the issue continued to dog U.S.-German relations for the next two years. In 1917, Germany declared that its navy would resume unrestricted submarine warfare. Shortly afterwards, the United States officially entered World War I.
The Battle of Gallipoli in 1915 resulted from a British plan to attack Turkey, an ally of Germany and the Central Powers. This strategic plan was developed and promoted largely by Winston Churchill, Britain’s first lord of the admiralty at the time and prime minister during World War II. The Western Front had proven to be a stalemate, so Churchill and the British War Council decided to make use of Britain’s strong navy to take the Dardanelles, the strategic straits connecting the Aegean Sea with the Sea of Marmara. The straits are also where Europe and Asia meet within Turkey. If successful, this strategy would have given the Allies a valuable link to Russian ports on the Black Sea. It was also planned to drive Turkey into submission and encourage the neighboring neutral nations of Romania, Bulgaria, and Greece to enter the war against the Central Powers.
The Allies began with a combined British and French naval attack on Turkey on February 19, 1915. The goal was to sail their fleets up the narrow straits, shelling Turkish forces and landing at the city of Gallipoli. The Allies, however, ran into some unexpected problems. Bad weather and a delay of the support from Australian and New Zealand forces arriving from Egypt postponed or canceled some of the plans. By March 18, another attack was planned. The Turks in many ways were ready for such attack. A series of underwater Turkish mines had been planted in the straits and were successful in damaging the Allied warships. One French ship, the Bouvet, was sunk, killing seven hundred men. Three others were partially destroyed and rendered useless.
Eventually, the combined forces decided to land on unoccupied beaches on Turkey’s shore and then head uphill to take Turkish strongholds inland. The Allies never expected the fierce resistance they got from the Turks. Commander Mustafa Kemal (1881–1938), who would become Atatürk, the founder of modern Turkey, led the defense of his nation. Under his direction, the Turks dug machine-gun nests and bunkers atop the mountains and awaited the advancing British and French ground forces. The attackers landed on April 25, some on the open and unfortified beaches. But as many of these Allied soldiers charged uphill, carnage followed. Some waited quietly until their attackers charged the hill. At other beachheads, Turkish machine guns and artillery fired into British boats as they hit land but before the soldiers ever departed. Soon these barges were filled with the dead and the water around the boats turned red from the spilled blood.
The British plan to take Turkey was far more difficult than they expected. They found themselves digging trenches not far inland and holding only what was open when they arrived. The stalemate near Gallipoli paralleled the one on the Western Front. Throughout May and June, the Allies tried to advance several times but were continually repulsed by the Turks. A war of attrition had developed. The final Allied assault on Gallipoli started on August 6, which resulted in small gains. Within three days, this attempt also failed. With no sign of change in sight, the allies withdrew from Gallipoli Peninsula in late 1915, and by January 9, 1916, the last Allied troops departed the area. The plan to divide and conquer had failed.
In late 1915, the Allies and the Central Powers were both bewildered and frustrated at the progress of the war. Each front and each battle was inconclusive. Both sides looked for the one decisive battle that would end the war quickly. The Allies thought 1916 would be the year for victory. French Marshal Joseph Joffre wanted a deliberate attack coordinated by all the Allied forces. He thought previous Allied operations lacked coordination. The Allies met on December 15 in Chantilly, twenty-six miles north of Paris, to plan their master stroke. The French hoped Britain and Russia would be better prepared in the summer. The British had to resort to a draft for the first time in their history. Their new soldiers needed to train and equip in the spring for operations on the continent in the summer. The Russians had to recover from dreadful losses of the previous year. They were also training with new equipment. Both the British and the Russians needed to close the gap in artillery pieces. The Germans had more heavy guns.
On February 14, 1916, Marshal Joffre and British General Sir Douglas Haig agreed that they would attack the Central Powers in June with a joint offensive near the Somme River, twenty miles east of the city of Amiens. They hoped that the Allies would have a surge in troops and equipment and that the combined personnel of France and Britain would overtake Germany.
The Germans had their own ideas for an offensive in 1916. Their strategy—“Starve Britain and Bleed France”—consisted of continued German submarine attacks against British shipping. These attacks would cut British supply lines and starve Britain. The Germans thought that destroying the French Army in 1916 would force the British to surrender, because the British Expeditionary Force would not be ready to fight in time. German General Erich von Falkenhayn figured that a war of attrition against France would bleed the French until they lost the will to fight. The Germans had inflicted great losses against the French in 1915 by staying on the defensive. It appeared Germany could continue to bleed the French that way.
However, Falkenhayn was under pressure to mount an offensive in 1916. The emperor and other German generals on the eastern front believed the time for a German offensive should come sooner rather than later. Falkenhayn wanted to break the will of the French with a decisive attack. He thought if the Germans attacked along a narrow front, the French would send their armies to reinforce the break-through point, and then the superior German artillery would destroy the French. Falkenhayn chose Verdun, near the Meuse River, as the target of his main effort. Verdun was a powerful symbol to the French and an important area in military history. Verdun played a pivotal role from the time of Atilla the Hun to the Franco-Prussian War. It was currently a fortress city made up of sixty forts and was part of a major line of defense between France and Germany. Falkenhayn believed France would overplay its hand to protect the city. The French would be lured into a killing ground for German artillery near Verdun.
Unfortunately, Falkenhayn did not communicate the subtleties of the German plan to his subordinate commanders, and the troops thought their objective was to take the city. The German Fifth Army was used to attack Verdun—six divisions with four more in reserve. The artillery collected for the attack was an awesome arsenal—1,100 pieces, including 542 heavy guns with two and a half million shells. There were thirteen “Big Bertha” siege howitzers, thirteen 420-mm guns, and seventeen 305-mm howitzers that had already been used to annihilate the Belgian forts. The German plan was simple. The French did not want to give up Verdun. They would have to keep sending reinforcements to the area of operations, and the Germans would use their artillery to cut the French to pieces.
On February 21, 1916, after delaying the attack because of the weather, the Germans began the artillery siege. However, the artillery attack did not kill as many of the French as planned. The German infantry did not attack in great strength, and the French fought back better than expected. But they eventually started retreating from many of the forts. Only Forts Vaux and Douaumont were left against the attacking Germans. These forts were on high points overlooking the Meuse and the city of Verdun; if the Germans took these objectives, they could fire at will into the city. When Fort Douaumont fell without firing a shot, the French situation looked bleak.
French General Noël de Castelnau (1851–1944) visited the front and decided that the Verdun salient could be held. This decision played right into the German strategy. Joffre agreed to raise a new French army to reinforce Verdun. He named Henri Pétain to lead this force. Pétain understood modern warfare better than many generals of his day. He had predicted that artillery and machine guns would destroy attacking infantry quickly. He also was a master of logistics. Pétain widened a main supply route and used trucks instead of the railways that the Germans already shelled. Soon the French were back in business as a steady stream of reinforcements and supplies reentered Verdun.
The German advance slowed on February 28 as French artillery were able to catch German infantry in the open on the west bank of the Meuse. Falkenhayn was again encouraged to attack by Kaiser Wilhelm and other generals. The Germans sought a hill called Le Mort Homme (Dead Man’s Hill) that held most of the French artillery.
The German advance looked good at first, when three thousand French troops surrendered after the first German bombardment. But then French resistance stiffened, and the battle for Le Mort Homme lasted almost three months. Both sides engaged in ferocious hand-to-hand combat with bayonets, pistols, and grenades. An adjacent terrain feature called Hill 304 was actually reduced in height by twenty-five feet from the nonstop shelling. French casualties were 89,000; German casualties were 82,000.
The daily momentum swayed back and forth, but the overall stalemate lingered. Different French commanders attempted attacks. The Germans focused on Fort Vaux, to the southeast of Douaumont. The battle went down into the darkened underground tunnels of Fort Vaux. Only six hundred French soldiers held out there by fighting in the dark with pistols and grenades against German troops armed with flamethrowers. The French finally surrendered. The Germans needed only one more French objective, Fort Souville, to be able to bombard the city of Verdun from the heights. The French were down to their last hope of resistance. But then the Germans shifted their attack. Falkenhayn had to redirect three of his divisions to the eastern front to help the Austro-Hungarian forces against the Russians. The German infantry made it to within twelve hundred yards before the last ridge in front of Verdun, but they could get no farther.
The failure of this attack helped the French gain momentum. Kaiser Wilhelm fired Falkenhayn and replaced him with General Paul von Hindenburg as the army chief of staff. Erich Ludendorff joined Hindenburg as chief of logistics, but they made the main operational decisions together. Once Hindenburg and Ludendorff visited the Verdun front, they were shocked at the carnage and stopped all German offensives in the area.
Meanwhile, Pétain began building up the French stock of artillery pieces. French Second Army Commander Robert Nivelle (1857–1924) used this artillery well. He perfected use of the “rolling” artillery barrage—firing on targets directly in front of the infantry as they charged the Germans. The artillery rounds served as a curtain of explosion that shielded the advancing French infantry. These soldiers could advance one hundred yards every four minutes. The Second Army began an attack using these tactics on October 19. The thick fog allowed the French to roll up on the enemy before the Germans knew what happened. The French won back Fort Douaumont on November 2 and Fort Vaux soon after the Germans retreated. The new lines formed with the Germans back two miles behind Fort Douamont.
During the ten months of fighting, nearly one million men on both sides were killed or wounded. Verdun symbolized the horror and futility of World War I. There were heavy losses with hardly any decisive outcome. Many troops on both sides never saw the enemy. Heavy rains filled trenches and bomb craters with water, and soldiers drowned when they could not climb out of the muddy slopes. Some villages in the Verdun area were never rebuilt, and vegetation never grew again because the ground was so full of explosives.
In February 1917, the German government announced its intention to recommence unrestricted submarine warfare. Knowing that this would almost certainly draw America into the war, German Secretary of Foreign Affairs Arthur Zimmermann (1864–1940) sent a coded message to Mexico proposing a military alliance against the United States. Germany promised to restore to Mexico the territories of Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona, which had been ceded to the United States in 1848.
The telegram was intercepted and decoded by the British, who immediately handed it over to Woodrow Wilson. The subsequent outrage helped to push the American public into World War I.
The Zimmerman Note
A transcript of the fateful telegram follows.
Berlin, January 19, 1917
On the first of February we intend to begin submarine warfare unrestricted. In spite of this, it is our intention to endeavor to keep neutral the United States of America.
If this attempt is not successful, we propose an alliance on the following basis with Mexico: That we shall make war together and together make peace. We shall give general financial support, and it is understood that Mexico is to reconquer the lost territory in New Mexico, Texas, and Arizona. The details are left to you for settlement ….
You are instructed to inform the President of Mexico of the above in the greatest confidence as soon as it is certain that there will be an outbreak of war with the United States and suggest that the President of Mexico, on his own initiative, should communicate with Japan suggesting adherence at once to this plan; at the same time, offer to mediate between Germany and Japan.
Please call to the attention of the President of Mexico that the employment of ruthless submarine warfare now promises to compel England to make peace in a few months.
Zimmerman (Secretary of State)
“The Zimmerman Note to the German Minister in Mexico, January 19, 1917.” World War I Document Archive. Brigham Young University Library. <http://net.lib.byu.edu/~rdh7/wwi/1917/zimmerman.html> (accessed June 15, 2007).
In August 1914, the kaiser had said that the war would be over before the autumn leaves fell. The British, French, and Russians had been equally sanguine, and equally wrong. By 1917, however, both sides were near exhaustion. The war had devolved into a bloody stalemate, expensive and apparently unwinnable.
The German high command reached a desperate decision. The British Isles, they reasoned, had not been self-sufficient for over a century. If the Reich’s impressive U-boat fleet could effect a total blockade of the islands, the English would starve out of the conflict within a matter of months.
Germany knew that such a policy would cause the United States to join the war on the Allies’ side. However, military leaders saw no other way to break out of the European impasse. They were encouraged by reports of Russia’s imminent collapse, and they grossly underestimated America’s possible impact on the war. German generals expected at most 100,000 American troops to join the war effort, and those would have to be transported through submarine infested waters. In any case, Germany hoped that the United States would not be able to fully mobilize in time to save Great Britain.
On February 1, 1917, Germany declared that any ship on approach to the British Isles, the coast of France, or the Mediterranean would be sunk. Two days later, the German U-53 sank an American cargo ship, the Housatonic, off Great Britain’s Scilly Islands. The crew was saved, but the grain cargo was lost. Apparently Zimmermann told the American ambassador in Berlin that, “everything will be alright. America will do nothing, for President Wilson is for peace and nothing else. Everything will go on as before.”
The next day the United States broke diplomatic relations with Germany.
On February 23, British agents intercepted the encrypted “Zimmerman” telegram from Berlin to the German ambassador to Mexico. Because of the combined efforts of cryptanalysts and spies, they had been able to crack the code. It revealed Germany’s plan to engage in all-out submarine warfare and suggested an alliance with Mexico. Germany offered to return Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona to Mexico in exchange for the country’s help.
The intelligence break placed the British government in a quandary. On one hand, the Germans had just handed them a magnificent piece of propaganda. The Allies had campaigned to bring America into the war for two years; they could not pass up such a golden opportunity.
On the other hand, if they published the note, Germany would know that Britain had cracked their latest codes. Furthermore, since the note had been sent to Mexico via Washington, the United States would know that Britain had tapped American communication channels.
To sidestep the problem, the British asked one of their Mexico City agents to intercept the message at the telegraph office. On February 24, the translated note was handed over to the U.S. ambassador in London.
Woodrow Wilson had run his 1916 campaign with the slogan: “He kept us out of the war.” However, he privately feared that American participation in the conflict was inevitable. The Reich’s conduct of the war had convinced him that a victorious Germany would not be conducive to world peace.
Nevertheless, Wilson could not drag his country into war even if he had wanted to—he simply did not have popular or congressional support. The Zimmermann telegram changed that. Midwestern Americans did not care much about the Somme or Verdun, but they minded about Mexico, which was just emerging from a long civil war. A southern attack on America did not seem too far-fetched. The United States had recently sent the Pershing Expedition into Mexico after a raid on New Mexico by Pancho Villa.
All the same, the popular outrage might have blown over if Germany had not vigorously resumed unrestricted submarine attacks. Five American ships were sunk in March alone. On April 2, Wilson went to Congress and asked for a declaration of war. “To such a task we can dedicate our lives and our fortunes, everything that we are and everything that we have, with the pride of those who know that the day has come when America is privileged to spend her blood and her might for the principles that gave her birth and happiness and the peace which she has treasured. God helping her, she can do no other.”
On April 14, Mexican President Venustiano Carranza formally declined Germany’s proposals.
The spring of 1918 saw the Germans mount what in some ways was one of their most successful offensives. By April, the Germans had moved to within five miles of Amiens. Their front extended over twenty miles, but it was in danger of bogging down again. The original plan was a single, massive thrust north by northwest along the sea. But the German commanders changed this strategy and decided to divide the attacking forces into three prongs. They had hoped to take advantage of a break in the British lines near the old Somme battlefield.
Dividing the German troops in this way reduced the impact of the main attack. The three groups were not strong enough to create their own breakthrough in the Allied lines. To make matters worse, the Germans encountered obstacles from the Old Somme battlefield—craters, barbed wire, and unexploded ordnance. Some of the German units actually stopped to plunder Allied supplies of food and alcohol instead of resuming their attack. Others got lost and attacked the wrong sector.
The British and Australian troops seized upon the German disorganization and launched a counterattack on April 4. The Germans lost some of their most elite troops, and the pressure was on for German General Erich Ludendorff to act quickly. He proposed a new attack that was one of the contingency plans for the current operation. ‘Operation George’ would probe the British at the old Ypres battlefield. The British had improved their defenses at this location. They had worked on these positions since 1914, and it was probably their strongest defense on the whole western front. Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig was concerned that this was the decisive point of the war. He sent a message to the troops in this sector known as the “Backs to the Wall” order, to fight to the end.
“Backs to the Wall”
On April 11, 1918, British Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig issued this special order to his troops in France and Flanders:
Three weeks ago to-day the enemy began his terrific attacks against us on a fifty-mile front. His objects are to separate us from the French, to take the Channel Ports and destroy the British Army. moment.In spite of throwing already 106 Divisions into the battle and enduring the most reckless sacrifice of human life, he has as yet made little progress towards his goals. moment.We owe this to the determined fighting and self-sacrifice of our troops. Words fail me to express the admiration which I feel for the splendid resistance offered by all ranks of our Army under the most trying circumstances. moment.Many amongst us now are tired. To those I would say that Victory will belong to the side which holds out the longest. The French Army is moving rapidly and in great force to our support. moment.There is no other course open to us but to fight it out. Every position must be held to the last man: there must be no retirement. With our backs to the wall and believing in the justice of our cause each one of us must fight on to the end. The safety of our homes and the Freedom of mankind alike depend upon the conduct of each one of us at this critical moment.
“Sir Douglas Haig’s ‘Backs to the Wall’ Order, 11 April 1918.” FirstWorldWar.com. <www.firstworldwar.com/source/backstothewall.htm> (accessed June 15, 2007).
Luckily for the British, they had air support, and the Germans used unimaginative tactics with full frontal assaults. There were plenty of enemy targets for the British artillery and machine guns. There was even one of the first tank battles in history between the Germans and the British. The British tanks were superior in number and quality, and they were able to beat back the German attack. Ludendorff then decided to gamble, and he set his sights on Paris. He planned a hasty attack down the Oise Valley, because Paris was only seventy miles away. The German artillery now had six thousand guns with two million shells trained on the Allies. Fifteen divisions of the German Sixth Army began the attack. They were followed by twenty-five more divisions. The Germans had mass, speed, and momentum as they attacked from the heights of a ridgeline down to the reverse slope and the flatlands below.
Ludendorff’s force got as far as Soissons and Château-Thierry; they were only fifty-six miles from Paris. The Allies began calling in their reserves, and this is how the Americans finally got in the fight. The U.S. Marine Corps had a brigade at Belleau Wood, along with the U.S. Army Second and Third divisions. The mission was to block the German advance at the road near Reims. The marines fought bravely and the German offensive ground to a halt. The U.S. Second Division counterattacked with the French at Belleau Wood. They stopped the Germans cold by June 6. However, the Germans were too close to Paris for comfort. Plans were made to evacuate the government and the people.
French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau tried to rally his country with a rousing speech similar to Haig’s “Back to the Wall” talk. One mass attack might have been too much for the Allies, because the Americans were not initially deployed correctly and were also inexperienced. But Ludendorff had decided to break his attacking force into three prongs and have one rush to Paris. Paris had looked like the lower-hanging fruit, but he was not able to grasp it. Now the Germans were again defending a narrow salient; they were overextended, and they invited more counterattacks. Unfortunately, they had broadcast what they thought was a successful attack to the citizens of Germany. Withdrawing now would look like defeat and hurt morale. Ludendorff felt he had no choice and decided on yet again another offensive.
During the preceding spring offensive, the Germans had lost another 100,000 troops. It seemed like the Allies could go on forever because reinforcements kept pouring in. The Americans now had twenty-five divisions in or near the area of operations. Fifty-five more were on their way. Despite a rocky start, General John J. Pershing had found a way to get along with Allied generals Foch and Haig. The American soldiers, known as “doughboys,” were proving their mettle in combat. It finally appeared that the Allies were gaining momentum in the war. Belleau Wood appeared to be one of the decisive contests of the war. The American Expeditionary Force came to the aid of the French at the right time, and they were able to build momentum with further counterattacks against the Germans in their sector on the way.
The Battle of the Somme, fought from July 1 to November 18, 1916, was one of the costliest battles of the First World War. Long held up as a prime example of the futility of attritional warfare and the inability of the Allied leadership to capitalize on the rapidly shifting fortunes of battle, the battle did achieve some positive ends, but at an outrageous price in human life and misery.
1916 Battle Plans
In December 1915, the Allies met in Chantilly, France, to decide on the general strategy for the coming year. They decided that simultaneous attacks would be launched on every front in order to overwhelm the German defenses—the British and French would attack in the west, the Italians in the south, and the Russians in the east.
For the British contribution to this plan, Douglas Haig, the newly appointed commander in chief of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF), favored an attack in northern Flanders along the Channel Coast, due to its proximity to British supply points and the chance it offered of driving the Germans from the Belgian ports from which they waged their devastating U-boat campaign.
At that time, however, the British were still unofficially considered the junior members of the Anglo-French alliance, and when General Joseph Joffre decided to shift the planned British offensive south to the point where the BEF joined up with the French army, there was little Haig could do about it.
On February 21, as preparations were being made for three large Anglo-French offensives, the Germans launched their Verdun offensive. The French were suddenly committed to a major battle, one that would last the remainder of the year. They were in no position to participate in the planned Allied attack in any major capacity.
The promised French contribution to the British offensive (thirty-nine divisions attacking along a twenty-five-mile front) was reduced in April to thirty divisions along a fifteen-mile front. In the end, the actual French contribution at the opening of the battle was a mere twelve divisions attacking along ten miles of front. On the positive side, however, this reduced front allowed the French to more effectively concentrate their artillery.
Such small contributions were of little comfort to the British, who, after centuries of relying on their navy and an elite army to win wars, found themselves for the first time in history committing a huge army to war on the Continent.
The Battle of the Somme would mark the debut of what was called the New Army, or Kitchener’s Army, after Field Marshal Horatio Herbert Kitchener, the secretary of state for war who pushed through the policy to build the New Army. Thought laughable at the outset of the war, that policy was based on the idea that the Allies could only win by bringing overwhelming force to bear on the Germans. Thus, starting in August 1914, a massive army had been recruited and trained in England.
As more and more French units were pulled into the “meat-grinder” at Verdun, General Joffre began insisting that the British launch their planned offensive. The goal was no longer to put pressure on Germany and force a breakthrough but rather to pin down German reserves, preventing reinforcement elsewhere. Haig, however, was optimistic that a breakthrough could be achieved, especially in light of the German commitments at Verdun, and so he ordered the offensive planned accordingly.
The BEF committed 400,000 troops to the Somme sector, along with 1,400 guns, more than the Germans had deployed for their Verdun offensive. The attack, however, was to be carried out over a wider front, reducing the overall effectiveness of such a concentration.
Worse still, the terrain chosen for the offensive was not supportive of a major offensive. It was a quiet, rural sector that had seen little action so far and did not have the infrastructure that modern armies required. New railways, seventeen miles in all, had to be laid; unpaved gravel roads had to be shored up for the massive amounts of traffic they would soon be forced to bear; and British engineers even had to sink several dozen wells because the area was lacking in readily available sources of water. These preparations occupied the army’s time and attention for three months, taking away from time that might have been spent in training and operational planning.
The First Day
On June 24, the preliminary bombardment of the Battle of the Somme began. It lasted a week and lobbed 1.5 million shells at the German lines. Simultaneously, four mines packed with TNT at the terminal points were dug from the British lines to positions directly under the German front line trenches.
The mines were detonated at 7:30 a.m. on July 1 as the artillery barrage lifted off the front lines and bombarded positions in the German rear. With those tremendous blasts, the signal was given to go “over the top.” Thirteen British and eleven French divisions left their trenches and moved forward.
Some British units actually had already done so. Tactics had been left up to individual regimental commanders, and some had ordered their troops to infiltrate “No Man’s Land”—the area between the two forces’s front lines—under the cover of darkness. Other commanders had their troops march forward from the trenches in waves, moving across hundreds of yards of shell-pocked earth at a walking pace.
The Germans, who had largely weathered the barrage in concrete-reinforced underground bunkers, quickly returned to their posts. At some points, where the British had been able to sneak up close enough during the night, the Germans were quickly overwhelmed. Elsewhere along the line, however, the advancing waves were mowed down by machine-gun fire. Those units that made it to the German positions were decimated and alone, and were quickly overwhelmed.
Communication with the rear areas was ineffective and confusing. German artillery, ignored by the preliminary bombardment, quickly sealed off No Man’s Land with a curtain of fire, preventing reinforcements from moving up. Units were dispatched to reinforce nonexistent breakthroughs, and there were cases of some of these units, such as the First Newfoundland Regiment, being mowed down by German machine-gun fire before they even crossed their own front line.
The French, meanwhile, were meeting with considerably more success. Their concentrated artillery had battle-hardened crews and were much more effective. By the end of the day, they had met or even surpassed their objectives. But because they had outpaced their allies, they were forced to stop.
The setting sun marked the end of the bloodiest single day in British military history. Total BEF casualties were 57,740. Of that number, 19,240 were dead.
Haig ordered continued attacks over the next ten days. With many units still in disarray after the massive casualties of July 1, these attacks were launched sporadically and with little planning. A total of forty-six of these localized attacks took place over a ten-day period at a cost of 25,000 casualties and no gain.
Battle of Attrition
As the hoped-for breakthrough failed to materialize, the Allied commanders began to waffle, unsure of what their objectives were, moving between the extremes of seeking a breakthrough and waging a battle of attrition. Their tendency in one direction or the other would often be based upon the day-to-day events of the battle. A small success somewhere along the front would prompt hopes of a breakthrough, and reinforcements would be ordered in. But these uncoordinated, unsupported attacks were doomed to fail, and Haig and his generals then settled again on the strategy of pinning the Germans in a bloody attritional battle.
From mid-July to mid-September, the British and the French, in exchange for an advance of three square miles, sustained a total of 82,000 casualties. Haig, finally resigned to a battle of attrition, began planning for another push, at Flers.
The Tank Rolls Out
Haig’s decision to launch a final attack was no doubt influenced by the arrival of the new British “secret weapon”: the tank. Impervious to rifle and machine-gun fire and able to cross wires and trenches with impunity, the new war machine carried with it high hopes.
On September 15, at the town of Flers, the first tanks to roll into battle seemed to achieve their promise. The German defenders, unsure of what to make of the metal monstrosities approaching them, fled in terror. An optimistic newspaper dispatch was filed from the front: “A tank is walking up the High Street of Flers with the British Army cheering behind.”
Once again, however, the promised breakthrough failed to materialize. The new tanks were too slow and mechanically unreliable—only twenty-one of the initial forty-nine even made it past their starting positions—and there was no doctrine yet developed on how best to use tanks in battle. As rains set in, turning the ground to a morass of mud and slime, the Flers offensive ground to a halt.
The offensive at Flers stalled in the mud, but Haig was still convinced he had the Germans on the brink of defeat. He would launch two more offensives along the Ancre River through October and into November, but with the failure of the second Ancre attack on November 18, the Battle of the Somme finally came to an end.
Casualties and Aftermath
In all, fifty-one British and forty-eight French divisions participated in the battle’s bloodbath. The BEF lost 420,000 men, and total Allied casualties were 614,000. German casualties are not known for certain, but estimates range between 465,000 and 650,000. Even at its most conservative estimates, total casualties in the Battle of the Somme were over one million men killed, wounded, missing, or captured, one of the gravest tallies of the war.
As the Battle of the Somme was winding down, the Germans were adopting a new strategy, constructing an elaborate trench system behind their current lines. In February 1917, the Germans withdrew to these new positions—the Hindenburg Line, as the British called it—abandoning the Somme battlefield, razing villages, and poisoning wells as they went.
Although some claimed that this retreat showed the Battle of the Somme’s effectiveness, the Germans were simply shortening their lines, which had followed the irregular boundary of the 1914 advance, to free up units and resources. Nevertheless, the Germans had indeed suffered grave losses in the battle, losing more of its irreplaceable trained soldiers.
The Somme offensive also taught the British many important lessons that would bear upon the 1918 offensives, but the price in blood these lessons demanded was almost more than the BEF could endure. But with the French nearly knocked out of the war by Verdun, it fell to the British to continue the attacks. Once again meeting at Chantilly, plans were drawn up for the next year’s offensives.
The Allies agreed on a major operation in September 1918. U.S. General John Joseph Pershing’s First Army and French General Henri Gouraud (1867–1946) would mass their attack on September 26. Pershing would strike in the area surrounded by the Meuse River on the right and the Aisne River to the left. Gouraud would attack to the west of the Aisne. Both armies would seize Sedan and Mezieres. On September 27, British General Sir Henry Horne’s (1861–1929) First Army and General Sir Julian Byng’s (1862–1935) Third Army would move toward Cambrai. The next day, the Belgian Army and General Sir Herbert Plumer’s (1857–1932) British Second Army would strike Flanders between the Lys River and the North Sea. General Sir Henry Rawlinson’s (1864–1925) Fourth British Army and Marie-Eugene Debeney’s (1864–1943) First French Army were ordered to attack St. Quentin.
The Allies now had the upper hand. German morale was dissipating. The Allies had 220 divisions to the 197 divisions for the Central Powers. Many of the German units were not full-strength, and only about fifty were ready for combat. The Allies had more artillery, tanks, and airplanes as well. However, the Germans were dug in and experienced in defense.
U.S. troops handled the portion of the offensive located near the Meuse River and the Argonne Forest. The Argonne was difficult terrain consisting of dense trees and thick underbrush. This area had been a quiet sector since 1914. Visibility and movement were difficult. The Germans took advantage of the natural obstacles and placed their defenses in the only avenues of approach—through the narrow Aire and Meuse valleys on two sides of the ridgeline.
Colonel George C. Marshall (1880–1959), a key officer on Pershing’s staff, was assigned the job of moving the 500,000-man U.S. Army from the battle at Saint-Mihiel salient to the Argonne offensive. He completed these maneuvers in ten days, even though there were only three usable roads from Saint-Mihiel. The difficult terrain of the Argonne Forest made it a challenge to keep these troops resupplied. Four of the nine U.S. divisions had no combat experience and were known as the “thin green line.” Some of the experienced troops from Saint-Mihiel never made it to Argonne. The American troops had trouble with combat in the thick forest at first. But they made steady progress—four miles the first day and three miles the next. However, the Americans showed their inexperience by attacking in waves, shoulder-to-shoulder. They were easy targets for the German machine guns, and casualties were heavy.
On September 28, Pershing decided to bring in reinforcements. The U.S. First Division, or “Big Red One,” joined the fight. The attack started again on October 4. Progress was still slow. Units had difficulty communicating and maneuvering in the Argonne Forest. Autumn brought nasty weather, fog and sleet. The First Battalion of Three-Hundred-Eighth Infantry Regiment of the American Seventy-seventh Division became lost and was cut off from friendly forces. It took two other American divisions to save it. Of the original 600 men in the battalion, only 194 troops survived.
But the battle also had the main American hero of the war—Sergeant Alvin York (1887–1964) from Tennessee. York’s platoon was ambushed by German machine-gun fire, and most of his fellow soldiers were killed. He then rushed alone to the German position, firing his rifle all the way. York killed twenty-five German soldiers and took an astounding 132 prisoners in actions he conducted by himself that day.
The battle of the Argonne continued to ebb and flow, but the Americans kept up their advance. The fresh troops with new equipment overwhelmed the exhausted Germans. By October 12, the Americans had moved through and cleared the Argonne and were now tracking toward the Meuse. Their front enlarged to ninety miles. Pershing now had enough replacements to create two separate armies. He remained the group commander over General Robert Lee Bullard (1861–1947), who commanded the Second Army, and General Hunter Liggett (1857–1935), who led the First Army. Although Foch complained that the Americans were moving too slow at first, German resistance began to weaken. The Americans had done what they set out to do, and by November 6, had come to a few miles of Sedan. Two days later, they shelled the city from the heights overlooking it.
The Germans had come to the end of their road. Since 1914, they had fought the Russians, the Italians, the Romanians, and of course the French and the British. After all that, the Americans were just too much for them at the end. The British and French were proficient at using their tanks with infantry attacks. This proved too much for the Germans at Amiens, who were now retreating to the Hindenburg Line. The Americans appeared, it seemed, out of nowhere.
The Hindenburg Line was one of the strongest German defensive systems of the war. The Allies had to bombard the barbed wire separately before they attacked. Natural obstacles remained, such as the Canal du Nord and the St. Quentin Canal. On September 27, the ground assault began. The Allied Fourth Army attacked, and the losses were heavy—5,400 Americans killed and 2,400 Australian lost. The Ninth Corps broke through at Bellenglise and Germany’s allies were ready to call it quits. Bulgaria began negotiating for peace with the French and British on September 29. It was over for the Germans. They would soon begin the peace process as well, and their fate would be in the hands of Allied politicians and diplomats.
The Fourteen Points
On January 8, 1918, nine months after the United States entered World War I, President Woodrow Wilson went before Congress and presented his program for peace, which became known as the Fourteen Points. In it, Wilson outlined the basic principles he believed would bring about a just and lasting peace among the nations of the world. The Fourteen Points are significant because they translated many elements of American domestic reform, known as Progressivism, into foreign policy. Wilson argued that morality and ethics—not self-interest—serve as the basis for a democratic society’s foreign policy. The program made clear that America’s goals for the war differed from those that motivated France, Italy, and Great Britain. The United States, unlike its European allies, did not have imperial ambitions, designs on European territory, or desires for monetary reparations. The Fourteen Points profoundly affected the outcome of the war, the peace negotiations at the Paris Peace Conference of 1919, and the Treaty of Versailles.
Inspiration for the Fourteen Points
The United States was a reluctant participant in World War I, and Wilson had tried to remain neutral for as long as he could. It was only after repeated entreaties from Allied forces and the resurgence of the German U-boat campaign, especially the sinking of the Lusitania, that Wilson finally gave in and declared war on the Central Powers in April 1917.
The European nations, on the other hand, had been preparing for war for many years. Motivated by aspirations of seizing enemy empires, both the Allied and Central Powers had, over time, managed to construct a complex web of secret treaties and agreements that served to bind various nations together. The United States had never been a party to any of these agreements, and Wilson desperately sought a basis for ending the war that would allow both sides to participate in building a lasting peace. He began by asking all combatants to state their war aims, but both sides refused, because many of their aims involved territorial ambitions. Frustration led Wilson to approach Congress with his Fourteen Points—basic principles, including freedom of the seas, geographic arrangements upholding the principle of self-determination, and the formation of a League of Nations, an organization designed to enforce global peace.
The Principles Behind the Fourteen Points
More than just a shortsighted prescription for a peaceful resolution to World War I, Wilson’s Fourteen Points captured the president’s idealistic vision of future world diplomacy. As a progressive, Wilson promoted notions of free trade, open agreements, democracy, and self-determination in his domestic programs. Those notions were carried into the Fourteen Points and served to influence foreign policy beyond World War I. One of Wilson’s more contentious motives behind the Fourteen Points, at least in the opinion of the many countries that let self-interest guide their foreign policy, was his belief that for democracy to endure, ethics and morality had to serve as the basis for foreign policy decisions. Many subsequent American presidents shared Wilson’s view of morality and its role in foreign and domestic policy. Finally, the Fourteen Points constituted the only statement by any of the active World War I nations of its war aims. Therefore, they became the only standard with which to craft the peace treaty that would end the war.
The Fourteen Points, inspired by world events and Wilson’s assessment of the path to a just and lasting peace, were these: 1) an end to secret treaties and the beginning of open agreements among nations; 2) freedom of the seas; 3) free international trade; 4) a reduction of armaments; 5) an impartial adjustment of colonial claims to respect the rights of both the colonizers and the colonized; 6) the evacuation (withdrawal of foreign forces) of Russian territory; 7) the evacuation of Belgium; 8) the evacuation of French territory and the return of Alsace-Lorraine to France; 9) the redefinition of Italian frontiers; 10) autonomy for Austria and Hungary; 11) the evacuation of Romania, Serbia, and Montenegro, and security for the Balkan states; 12) self-determination of the peoples of the Turkish empire; 13) independence for Poland; and 14) the formation of a general association of nations. Because Wilson knew his allies and Europe’s neutral states would not be in favor of all of his points, he decided not to consult with those allies and states prior to his speech before Congress. Great Britain, for instance, would surely be wary of the second, “freedom of the seas” point. The island nation had long relied on the strength of its navy and its control of the seas for security reasons. According to the Fourteen Points, Britain would, for example, be unable to repeat the blockade of Germany that had successfully weakened that nation.
The Effect of the Fourteen Points
The Germans did not respond publicly to the Fourteen Points until late September 1918. At that time, it was becoming clear to the German forces that the Allied counterattacks in the summer and fall were having their desired effect. The German armies were being pushed back and their defeat seemed imminent. A new civilian government took office in Germany and appealed to Wilson directly for an armistice based on his Fourteen Points. Wilson and the new German administration under Prince Max von Baden (1867–1929) immediately began a complex and delicate series of negotiations while the Allies watched warily from the sidelines. In the end, Wilson negotiated a settlement that equaled a German surrender. In addition to evacuating all occupied territories, Germany agreed to the Allied occupation of portions of western Germany as a guarantee against the resumption of the war. The Fourteen Points, then, guided the end of World War I on November 11, 1918.
The Fourteen Points continued to play a vital role in negotiations for peace following the armistice. Wilson was one of the “Big Four” at the Paris Peace Conference of 1919, which was held in the Palace of Versailles. The other three leading negotiators for peace were David Lloyd George of Great Britain, Georges Clemenceau of France, and Vittorio Orlando (1860–1959) of Italy. Of the five treaties they wrote during the conference, the German treaty, more famously known as the Treaty of Versailles, was the only treaty to include any of Wilson’s Fourteen Points. But it was one that meant a great deal to Wilson. Although it was a struggle, he had finally convinced his European counterparts that the formation of a general association of nations “for the purpose of affording mutual guarantees of political independence and territorial integrity to great and small states alike” was necessary. This association, the League of Nations, was the precursor to the United Nations, an institution that continues to work for international peace to this day.
The Home Front
During World War I, the decades-long effort by American women to capture the right to vote reached a new high. The war played a significant role in women’s gaining enfranchisement a few years after its end with the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment in August 1920.
Origins of the Movement
After originally possessing the right to vote in several states in the late eighteenth century, women could not vote at all in the United States from 1807 onward. The modern call for American women’s suffrage began in the mid-nineteenth century with the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention, also known as the first Women’s Rights Convention. There, a group of women activists, primarily from the Northeast, resolved to pursue equality with men in a number of areas—political, social, economic, legal, and religious. The right to vote was a prominent issue. In Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s (1815–1902) “The Declaration of Rights and Sentiments,” a manifesto created for the convention, she stated that women had been denied their unassailable right to vote by men and that women were duty-bound to seek it.
For the next five decades, a number of American women promoted the idea of women’s suffrage, often while campaigning for other causes like the temperance movement. They focused their efforts on the state level and sought changes to state constitutions. Suffragists also gave public speeches to other women explaining why the right to vote was important. After the Civil War, suffrage supporters equated freedom for slaves with the rights they desired for women.
Though Stanton and another prominent suffrage leader, Susan B. Anthony (1820–1906), hoped to gain the vote nationwide in the post–Civil War period, the courts denied their claims. Beginning in 1870, their National Woman Suffrage Association presented a resolution to Congress each year called the Susan B. Anthony Amendment to allow women’s suffrage. It never received an affirmative vote. Only Idaho, Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming gave women the right to vote on a state level before the dawn of the twentieth century.
While the Susan B. Anthony Amendment continued to be presented to Congress annually through 1914, national women’s sufferage was never really supported, though additional states gave women the right to vote. Soon, the women’s suffrage movement became divided, with the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA), which had merged with the former rival American Woman Suffrage Association, retaining a more conservative approach to promoting their cause, focusing only on winning the right to vote state-by-state instead of any broader isues of women’s rights. Other women’s organizations, such as the National Women’s Party (NWP), formed in 1915 to promote a similar agenda, though often taking more controversial stances. The NWP, for instance, would be satisfied with nothing less than a constitutional amendment and often used tactics of civil disobedience to advance their cause.
The NWP consisted primarily of young women and took a more radical approach than NAWSA. Organized by Lucy Burns (1879–1966) and Alice Paul (1885–1977), the National Women’s Party was inspired by the radical campaigns employed by the women’s suffrage movement in Great Britain, which gained enfranchisement for British women over the age of thirty in 1918. The National Women’s Party used such publicity techniques as parades, demonstrations, and rallies to garner attention for the movement. The group also organized in every state to ensure the suffrage issue remained at the forefront of the public’s consciousness.
Importance of World War I
As World War I began in the spring of 1917, NAWSA and the National Women’s Party continued their contrasting approaches to gaining the vote. NAWSA focused on supporting the war cause and encouraging women to act patriotically. This included working for the war effort outside the home. The group’s suffrage work was put aside for a time, believing that their show of patriotism in the short run would help further their cause in the long run.
The National Women’s Party continued to push its suffrage agenda throughout the war in a very public way. Because President Woodrow Wilson declared that war was being waged for democracy in the world, the group used his words on banners to argue for the suffrage cause: “We shall fight for the things which we have always held nearest our hearts—for democracy, for the right of those who submit to authority to have a voice in their own government.” Members also picketed the White House and were sometimes denounced as traitors. Some party members were arrested on charges like “obstructing traffic” during their demonstrations, and often convicted and sent to jail. During their incarcerations, privileges such as letter writing were denied. Alice Paul, one member who was imprisoned, claimed she and the other suffragettes in prison were political prisoners.
World War I helped the suffrage movement in another way as well. The war compelled many women to take jobs in businesses, industry, farming, and retail stores to support the war effort. Women also volunteered their skills where they might be needed. Such activities highlighted the changing role of women in American society and showed that the war’s purpose of freedom and democracy also resonated at home. Opinions of many Americans on the subject began to change.
Passage of the Nineteenth Amendment
The work of both NAWSA and the National Women’s Party finally bore fruit in early 1918. President Wilson at that time modified his long-standing opinion that suffrage was a state issue, not a federal one. He told Congress to make women’s suffrage legal, and after failing to pass a measure in 1918, the constitutional amendment passed in June 1919. The Nineteenth Amendment was ratified by the thirty-sixth needed state (Tennessee) in August 1920.
Founded early in the twentieth century, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) worked to promote equality for African Americans. During World War I, the group dealt with discrimination faced by black soldiers and pursued litigation to improve the lives of all African Americans.
In the post–Civil War era, African Americans gained few real rights and freedoms, especially in the South. Jim Crow laws were particularly repressive, and blacks were often not allowed to vote. Some African American leaders, like Booker T. Washington (1856–1915), believed that the best way to deal with the situation was to practice a policy of accommodation. Others, like W. E. B. DuBois (1868–1963), opposed this idea and formed a black civil rights group in 1905 called the Niagara Movement.
NAACP Begins Its Activities
Because of funding and organizational issues, the Niagara Movement failed, but the recognized need for a national African American civil rights organization remained. This need intensified after a destructive race riot in Springfield, Illinois, in 1908. Labor leader William English Walling (1877–1936) wrote about the riot in the New York–based weekly the Independentand included a call for people to help African Americans fight for equality. Mary White Ovington, who was a white social worker, Walling, Du Bois, and other organizers both white and black met on February 12, 1909, and began a campaign to form such a group.
Additional leaders, including socialists, newspaper publishers, and religious leaders, joined the discussions about the focus of the new organization. Oswald Garrison Villard (1872–1949), the New York Post’s publisher, wrote a significant document that stated that the group should stress that African Americans had political and civil rights. Called the National Negro Committee when the group first met on May 31–June 1, 1909, the organization was renamed the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People when it was formally organized a short time later. In addition to the demand for rights, public education soon became important to the cause as well.
Based in New York City, Du Bois joined the NAACP in 1910 as the director of publications and research. He founded the group’s primary publication, the magazine The Crisis. Its popularity contributed to the NAACP’s becoming the primary African American group in the United States by 1915. The organization soon won significant victories in court.
In 1915, Moorfield Storey (1845–1929), the first NAACP president, successfully argued a Supreme Court case, Guinn v. United States. The Court struck down an Oklahoma law that did not allow any man to register to vote who was illiterate or whose grandfather had not voted. At the same time, and in a related case, the Court Beal v. United States, struck down that state’s “grandfather clause” in Maryland, stating that such voting restrictions were now illegal and violated the Fifteenth Amendment. These victories were the NAACP’s first wins in court.
In 1916, the Supreme Court gave the NAACP another triumph in the case of Charles Buchanan v. William Warley. The court stated it was unconstitutional to pass ordinances that forced blacks to live in certain sections of cities—in this case, Louisville, Kentucky—because it violated the Fourteenth Amendment. While public restrictive covenants were illegal, the practice continued privately, with whites deciding only to sell or rent housing to members of their own race.
World War I and the NAACP
World War I provided an opportunity for African Americans to make strides toward making the United States fully democratic, by drawing attention to racial inequality. The NAACP encouraged African American support for American military efforts in the belief that such support would lead to more backing for racial civil rights.
African American soldiers were specifically recruited by the American military during World War I, but they were forced to serve in units segregated by race and were generally limited to non-combat support roles. The NAACP kept “Soldier Trouble” files that recorded the organization’s work to ensure that African American soldiers did not suffer further discrimination while acting in defense of their country.
Increased backing for African American civil rights, however, did not come with the end of World War I. Racial tensions had been growing during the war along with the migration of many African Americans from the South to jobs in northern urban areas. Blacks also became more assertive in their demands for full protection of their civil rights. The migration pattern continued after the war’s end, and hostilities between blacks and whites led to race riots, especially during the summer of 1919.
The NAACP’s numbers continued to increase. In 1917, there were over 9,200 members, but just two years later, more than 91,000 members belonged to 310 local branches. The organization was instrumental during the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, and remains active in promoting the rights of African Americans to this day.
The Espionage Act (1917) and its modifying Sedition Act (1918) were both highly controversial measures passed by Congress that limited civil liberties in an attempt to protect the United States from German espionage during World War I. While the federal government greatly supported the laws, they were not backed unanimously by the American public. There were also significant numbers of radicals in opposition to the war. The laws were widely used to stifle criticism of the war.
Congress adopted the Espionage Act in response to demands that the security of the United States be guarded from its enemies, including Americans who might aid foreign enemies. The country’s entry into World War I was not supported by all its citizens. There were pacifists who did not believe in military service and did not want to be part of the war. Others sympathized with Germany and its allies who fought against the American-supported side.
Rumors over the activities of foreign spies in the United States flourished. With the help of sympathizers, these spies were believed to be plotting to undermine and sabotage aspects of American life, including American industry. Though officially neutral when World War I began, American armaments and information were shared with Great Britain and France. Germany tried to damage America’s support of these allies by sending spies to interfere with factories, warehouses, and ships in the United States that were involved in the production and distribution of munitions used against Germany. The Espionage Act was intended to offer a legal remedy for this situation.
Provisions of the Espionage Act
As passed in 1917, the Espionage Act curbed freedom of speech and other civil liberties while affording the federal government the ability to ensure security matters were under control in the United States. Some of the provisions that were less controversial included making it a crime to impede recruitment of soldiers by the military, to refuse to serve in the military if conscripted, or to start a revolution within the armed forces. The release of any information related to national defense as related to government or industry was also prohibited. In addition, the Espionage Act declared illegal any false newspaper reporting that could help the enemy.
The law’s restrictions on what could be sent through the mail was even more controversial. People who sent any type of written item—from a newspaper to a book to a personal letter—through the mail that encouraged active resistance to any American law would be breaking the law. The Espionage Act stated that such lawbreakers could be punished not only with fines but with jail time as well. The law gave the federal government the ability to clamp down on nearly all dissent in the United States.
No longer could Americans speak out against the war or express their pacificism or beliefs that conscription was wrong. The Espionage Act was used to prosecute and imprison Americans, who faced a maximum $10,000 fine and/or twenty years in prison under certain provisions of this law. Though no one was convicted of spying or committing acts of sabotage under the Espionage Act, well-known anarchists Alexander Berkman (1870–1936) and Emma Goldman (1869–1940) were convicted and put in prison for putting together public assemblies at which participants spoke out against compulsory service in the military. At least 450 conscientious objectors were also successfully prosecuted for refusing military service.
Well-Known Cases Prosecuted Under the Law
One of the most famous cases involving charges stemming from the Espionage Act involved Eugene V. Debs. He served as the leader of the American Socialist Party and was a significant person in the labor movement. Debs was charged with violating the Espionage Act after an appearance before a socialist meeting in Ohio at which he expressed the Socialist Party’s doctrinal beliefs and offered his personal opinion on the war.
Debs was found guilty of violating the law under the military recruitment and mutiny-related provisions and sentenced to ten years in prison, although he received a presidential pardon and was released after less than three years. Debs attempted to get his conviction overturned, but the U.S. Supreme Court upheld it in 1919. A similar case involving the Socialist Party’s general secretary, Charles T. Schenck, was also upheld unanimously by the Supreme Court in 1919. In the opinion, written by Associate Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. (1841–1935) freedom of speech was not absolute. If the speech would create a “clear and present danger,” Holmes wrote, it was not protected speech.
The Sedition Act
In 1918, before the Debs and Schenck cases were heard by the Supreme Court, Congress passed the Sedition Act, which further limited speech that criticized the government. This law stated that when the United States was at war, nothing “disloyal” or “abusive” could be stated or written about the government, the Constitution, the American flag, or any branch of the military. The passage of the Sedition Act created an even greater reaction among Americans than did the Espionage Act and resulted in a new wave of prosecutions. One conviction under the new law involved Robert Goldstein, a film director, who was given a ten-year prison sentence because his film The Spirit of ’76 showed Great Britain, the United States’ ally in World War I, in somewhat of a negative light.
Other Americans were convicted under the Sedition Act for speaking out against American support for counterrevolutionary forces rising up against the Bolsheviks in Russia in 1918. Five men were convicted for passing out pamphlets that asked President Woodrow Wilson to change this policy and that criticized the militarism of Germany. Their leaflets were not written in English, nor were they clearly working against American interests in World War I, yet the jail terms of the men were upheld by the Supreme Court.
Laws on the Books
At the end of World War I, both the Espionage Act and the Sedition Act remained in force. By 1920, they were seen as necessary to preserve security in the United States during the Red Scare. In 1921, however, the Sedition Act was repealed. Americans convicted under it began to be pardoned around the same time.
The Espionage Act remained in effect for far longer. As written, the law continued to be enforced until March 1940. At that time, it was rewritten, and its provisions were similar to what had been the standard before World War I. The Espionage Act remained a law and was again modified at the end of World War II. It continues to be a viable law today.
By 1917, the Russian people were wearied by centuries of autocratic rule, confused by a rapidly changing society, and weakened by bloody external wars. In one year, two revolutions had completely changed the face of the country. First the February Revolution threw off the czarist regime, establishing a moderate provisional government. Then the October Revolution brought the Bolshevik Communist Party to power and established the Soviet Union.
Czar Nicholas II was by all accounts a loving and devoted husband and father. Unfortunately, as the heir of the three-hundred-year-old Romanov dynasty, he clung to political power despite his total lack of political ability. Nicholas had seen his progressive-minded grandfather, Alexander II, assassinated in 1881. The experience haunted the czar, and he swore not to repeat his grandfather’s indulgence for reform.
Unfortunately, Russia was in desperate need of reform at the turn of the century. The country had only recently emerged from feudalism—serfdom had been abolished in 1861. This did not prevent landowners from exploiting their tenant farmers. Overcharged for land and constantly fighting against famine and crop failures, many peasants barely scraped by.
To escape the miseries of the country, many commoners fled to the miseries of the city. Urban centers like Moscow and Petrograd experienced population explosions. Thousands of unemployed Russians struggled to survive, while the employed had to endure long working hours, dangerous conditions, abusive bosses, and low wages.
Others were caught by military conscriptions. The army drafted millions of young men to fight, first in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904–1905, and then in World War I. The czar’s government had entered these conflicts partially in order to distract the people from their grievances. The tactic backfired when the Russian military suffered costly defeat after costly defeat. The enormous army suffered from poor leadership and an appalling lack of supplies. Only one-third of its soldiers carried weapons—the others were sent onto the battlefield anyway and told to find a weapon among the dead bodies of those who had gone before.
Although the Russian people initially supported the war against Germany, their fervor quickly waned. Quite aside from the staggering casualty list, the war caused massive food shortages and deprivation. The cities grew even more overcrowded as refugees fled from the eastern war zone.
In 1915, Nicholas left Petrograd for the warfront, determined to personally lead his country to victory. He left his inept wife Alexandra in charge of the government. The czarina’s most coherent political strategy was to consult “the Mad Monk,” Grigori Rasputin, a drunken, sexually depraved mystic. Embarrassed, a band of Russian aristocrats murdered Rasputin in 1916, but only after he had severely damaged the monarchy’s reputation.
By February 1917, Petrograd had reached its breaking point. Starving women took to the streets, screaming, “End the war!,” “Down with the autocracy!,” and “Give us bread!” Demoralized troops deserted the army and joined the demonstrations. The president of the Duma, Mikhail Rodzianko (1859–1924) sent a telegram to the czar reporting, “anarchy rules in the capital. The government is paralyzed. The transportation of food and fuel is completely disorganized. Social unrest is mounting. The streets are the scene of disorderly shooting. Military units are firing on one another.”
Apparently Nicholas waved aside the warning, saying, “once again, this fat-bellied Rodzianko has written me a lot of nonsense, which I won’t even bother to answer.”
Even the czar could not continue to ignore the problem for long. Realizing that his entire ministry and the military had turned against him, Nicholas abdicated on March 2. He offered the crown to his brother, Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovich. Wisely, Michael turned down the honor.
By default, the Provisional Government took control of Russia, initially headed by Prince Georgy Lvov (1861–1925). Before long, a young lawyer in the Social Revolutionary Party named Alexander Kerensky (1881–1970) took power. He faced a difficult task. Czarist loyalists threatened the new government, as did the communist Social Democratic Labor Party (SDLP). In addition, a workers’s association, the Petrograd Soviet (labor council), gained power in the capital. Soon the association was functioning as a kind of rival government.
An even more lethal threat entered the country in the person off Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov (1870–1924), better known as Lenin. The February Revolution had found the famed communist agitator exiled in Switzerland. The Germans, knowing that a communist government would not pursue the war, allowed Lenin rail passage back to Russia. They insisted that he travel in a sealed train, worried that he would infect Germany with his subversive ideas.
Kerensky made the fatal mistake of continuing the war effort. England and France exerted heavy pressure for Russia to remain in the fight. Victory—which alone would justify the deaths of nearly 1.7 million Russians—seemed possible once America declared war on Germany in April. Kerensky spurred the military on to one more offensive in June. This proved a miserable failure. Deserting troops streamed back into Russia, sowing chaos wherever they went.
As public sentiment turned against the Provisional Government, increasing numbers of Russians turned to the communists. Lenin headed up the Bolsheviks, an extremist branch of the SDLP. Their slogan, cheered across Russia, was “Peace, land, and bread.”
In October, the Bolsheviks pulled off a well-organized coup, seizing the Winter Palace and other major government buildings. The Bolsheviks, who owed much of their success to the disgruntled military, unconditionally withdrew from the war. They also executed Czar Nicholas and his family, which had been kept safe until then by the Provisional Government.
Lenin proclaimed a new policy for Russia: “All Power to the Soviets!” Thus the Soviet Union was born. The nation almost immediately plunged into a civil war between the counterrevolutionary “White Army” and the communist “Red Army” that lasted until 1921. The Bolsheviks emerged victorious. Soon they established a regime that would surpass the czar’s in oppression and bloodshed.
From around 1910 to 1920, Mexico underwent a series of revolutions and coups d’état. These struggles involved a large number of separate factions: conservatives, moderates, radicals, nationalists, opportunists, and bandits. Throughout the prolonged (though sporadic) fighting, the United States interfered on a regular basis, trying to protect American investments in Mexico. In more subtle ways, Germany also meddled in the affair, trying to distract American attention away from Europe.
Porfiro Diaz (1830–1915) served as president of the Republic of Mexico from 1877 to 1880. He then stepped down from office, true to his belief that no president should serve more than one term. Because of the incompetence of his successor, however, Diaz returned to office in 1884 and occupied it continually for the next twenty-six years. The president-turned-dictator abandoned the liberalism of his early career on the grounds that Mexico was not yet ready for true democracy.
While in power, Diaz opened the country both to laissez-faire capitalism and foreign investments. By 1910, foreigners (particularly Americans) owned the vast majority of mines, rubber plantations, and petroleum reserves in Mexico. Diaz’s legislation allowed a small band of wealthy landowners (haciendados) to put small farmers out of business, turning the peasants into poor tenants or ranchero employees.
An economic downturn in 1908 prompted a wave of discontent, particularly among the rural poor. In the north, reformer Francisco Indalécio Madero (1873–1913) founded the National Anti-Reelectionist Party and announced his candidacy for the presidency. His speeches began attracting large, enthusiastic crowds.
Diaz, despite having promised open elections in 1910, became intimidated by Madero’s popularity. The president had his rival arrested before the election. Shortly afterward, however, Madero escaped and fled into exile. From San Antonio, Texas, he urged his countrymen to “throw the usurpers from power, recover your rights as free men and remember that our ancestors left us a heritage of glory which we are not able to stain. Be as they were: invincible in war, magnanimous in victory.”
Across the country, a multitude of small, disunited rebel forces organized to support Madero as a means of opposing Diaz. Radical Emiliano Zapata (1879–1919) led a group of zapatistos in the south. Zapata, who had been born in a poor farming village, vowed to return Mexican farmland to the peasants. Meanwhile, former bandit Francisco “Pancho” Villa (1878–1923), sometimes called the “Robin Hood of Mexico,” commanded guerrilla fighters in the north. Under this mounting pressure, Diaz resigned on May 25, 1911.
Francisco Indalécio Madero
Francisco Indalécio Madero led the provisional government, but his policies did not make him popular. A cautious reformer rather than a radical revolutionary, Madero did not hold Diaz’s hard line. He also did not implement land reform or industry nationalization, as socialists like Zapata had demanded. This moderation cost him a great amount of support on both sides.
Madero’s clearest and most enduring reform was to limit the presidency to one term of service. His own presidency was cut short in 1913, during the Decena Tragica (Ten Tragic Days), when reactionary General Victoriano Huerta (1850–1916) pulled off a coup d’état. Huerta had Madero and his vice president executed. Eight months later, he arrested 110 members of the Mexican Congress, establishing himself as military dictator.
The newly elected American president, Woodrow Wilson, could not countenance the summary murder of the Mexican head of state. Brushing aside the advice of American businessmen, who wanted stability in Mexico at any price, Wilson refused to “recognize a government of butchers.”
In the meantime, Mexicans throughout the country rose up against Huerta’s regime. To the north, Venustiano Carranza (1859–1920) gathered a group of “Constitutionalists” and formed an alternate provisional government at Hermosillo. (His was not the only one—at one time, more than two hundred revolutionary groups had declared Mexican governments.)
Eventually, the southern Zapatistas also allied themselves with the Constitutionalists. President Wilson sent a representative to meet with Carranza and offered to declare war on Huerta, to blockade Mexican ports, and to supply the Constitutionalists with American troops. Carranza flatly refused. He felt that to accept Wilson’s offer would be to bargain away Mexican sovereignty. Wilson bristled at the snub but nevertheless lifted the arms embargo against Carranza’s forces.
The United States’ navy seized the port of Veracruz in 1914. Its justification for this action was patently ridiculous: the local representative of the Huerista government had accidentally arrested two American sailors. The commander had released the prisoners and apologized, but he had refused to salute the American flag with a twenty-one gun salute. By May, more than six thousand American troops occupied the city.
The Veracruz episode demoralized Huerta and cut off his supply of arms. Carranza’s forces, working with both Villa and Zapata, toppled his government in August.
The revolution had bound together the ultranationalist Carranza, the radical Zapata, and the bandit-populist Villa. With victory, their shaky coalition soon crumbled. Both Villa and Zapata broke with Carranza and orchestrated sporadic violence against his government.
After Wilson recognized Carranza’s regime in 1915, Villa led an attack on Columbus, New Mexico, killing seventeen Americans. No one knows precisely what motivated the Columbus raid, but the incident almost brought about another Mexican-American war. In March 1916, Wilson sent a punitive expedition after Villa, led by Brigadier General John Pershing. The Americans quickly scattered the ragged little army of theVillistas, but Villa himself escaped. Undaunted, Pershing and his men pushed deep into the heart of Mexico, searching for the rebel leader. Despite furious complaints from Carranza and armed resistance from Mexican villagers, Pershing did not withdraw his troops until February 1917.
Despite these difficulties, Carranza drafted an important new constitution that included significant political and economic reforms. With the help of his very capable general, Álvaro Obregón, (1880–1928), he managed to fend off continued attacks by Villa and Zapata.
Unfortunately, Carranza’s career followed those of his predecessors. In 1920, he tried to impose Ignacio Bonillas as his hand-picked successor. Obregón, who had already announced his own candidacy, found himself threatened by federal troops.
Obregón and his political allies, known as the “Sonora Clique” launched a new revolution, announcing that Carranza was unfit for office. The country rallied behind him. Carranza was driven out of the capital and killed in May 1920.
The newly elected Obregón served the country faithfully, tackling many of its intractable problems. He managed to bring some stability and order back into Mexican life. Villa was assassinated in 1923; Zapata had already been killed by one of his followers in 1919.
The Irish Revolution
Long-standing tensions between the Irish and the English turned violent toward the end of World War I and eventually burst into open warfare. The Irish War of Independence, characterized by guerrilla warfare, police action, and military reprisals, ended with a truce in 1921. The Irish Free State was founded, but the violence flowed over into the Civil War, which lasted until 1923. Fighting also broke out over Unionist Northern Ireland. The bitterness of the conflict haunts Irish politics even today.
The Easter Uprising
In 1914, the British Parliament voted for Home Rule to Ireland, granting a measure of self-governance to the island. However, the outbreak of World War I delayed its implementation.
In Northern Ireland, Protestants did not want to become a minority under Catholic rule and preferred union with Great Britain. So-called Unionists organized the Ulster Volunteer Force to fight Home Rule. They were backed by a Protestant society known as the Orange Order. In response, the ultranationalist Catholic Irish Volunteers were formed. Another radical group, Sinn Féin (Ourselves Alone), established by Arthur Griffith (1871–1922) in 1905, vowed “to make England take one hand from Ireland’s throat and the other out of Ireland’s pocket.”
World War I deeply divided the Irish. Many initially supported Britain’s war aims. Others believed that the European conflict provided the perfect opportunity for a definitive break with England. In 1916, one of these extremist groups declared the Irish Republic and launched the Dublin Easter Uprising.
The English responded quickly and with a heavy hand. Within a week, the insurrection had been quelled. Under the umbrella of martial law, the British troop executed nationalist leaders, made sweeping arrests, and even murdered some civilians. These deaths deeply shocked the Irish, who began to lean more towards independence.
Before long, the people of Ireland had tired of the seemingly pointless war in France. Furthermore, they bitterly resented the United Kingdom’s conscription of young Irish men. In the general elections of 1918, voters sent a majority of Sinn Féin members to Parliament.
Armed with this mandate, the newly elected representatives refused to travel to London. Instead they reaffirmed Irish independence and created their own Parliament (the Dáil Éireann or First Dáil) and ministry (the Aireacht). The Irish Volunteers became the Irish Republican Army (IRA). In early 1919, members of the IRA killed two members of the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC), the loyalist Irish police force.
The next two years witnessed an escalating pattern of guerrilla attacks and reprisals. The IRA, led by Michael Collins (1890–1922), attacked police barracks and tax offices across the island, seizing weapons and driving out Crown officials. The Dáil established an alternate police force and tax collection agency. In this way, the nationalist Irish government slowly but surely took practical control of the country.
The British reinforced the besieged RIC with two paramilitary units: the “Black and Tans” and the Auxiliaries. These groups were largely composed of soldiers newly returned from World War I. Shell-shocked, cynical, and contemptuous of the Irish, the new policemen were often drunk and disorderly. Their reprisals against the civilian population went largely unpunished by the British government.
On November 21, 1920, Collins organized the assassination of fourteen Dubliners who had been identified as British spies. Later that day, Auxiliaries drove trucks onto a local Gaelic football field and fired into the crowd. Fourteen civilians were killed, and over sixty were wounded.
The incident, known as “Bloody Sunday,” precipitated a sharp increase in violence. Only a week later, the IRA ambushed and slaughtered an Auxiliary patrol in County Cork. The English responded by burning seven houses in Midleton, and then setting central Cork on fire.
Casualties on both sides mounted as skirmishes broke out across the country. The IRA mounted a bloody series of ambushes on British targets that culminated in the burning of the Dublin Customs House. Frustrated by their losses, the British executed Republican leaders, and the IRA executed suspected English informers.
In the meantime, the largely Protestant northern Irish felt threatened by the rebellion, and they lashed out against their Catholic neighbors. What followed was a kind of civil war between the IRA and the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF). Riots seized Belfast and Derry. Revenge killings and mob violence quickly spiraled out of control.
England faced an embarrassing dilemma. By 1921, it was clear that the Crown security forces could not suppress the Irish nationalists, and the British people viewed royalist tactics with increasing dismay. A full-scale British military invasion would have only deepened the public disapproval.
On June 22, 1921, King George V (1865–1936) delivered a speech in Belfast in which he urged that a truce be agreed to. He asked “all Irishmen to pause, to stretch out the hand of forbearance and conciliation, to forgive and to forget, and to join in making for the land they love a new era of peace, contentment, and good will.”
In July, British Prime Minister David Lloyd George and First Dáil President Éamon de Valera worked out a ceasefire. Some members of the IRA refused to honor the truce, and sporadic attacks against RIC barracks and Protestant loyalists continued.
The Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921 established the Irish Free State, which was to be a Dominion of the British Empire. Members of the new Irish government were asked to swear allegiance both to the Free State and to the Crown. In practice, however, the Dáil and the Aireacht ruled southern Ireland.
The northern counties, given the choice, opted to remain with England. Violence continued almost unabated between the Catholics and Protestants in the north.
The compromise agreement did not suit all of the revolutionaries. While Collins viewed the treaty as a stepping-stone towards true independence, de Valera saw it as a betrayal of the Irish Republic. He angrily resigned as president, taking an anti-treaty faction of the IRA with him. Even when elections made it clear that the majority of Irishmen supported the treaty, de Valera and others continued to fight it.
In June 1922, the Irish Civil War broke out and continued for eleven months. Michael Collins, after a lifetime of service, was murdered by Irishmen in 1922. Ireland approved a new constitution in 1937, and it left the Commonwealth and became the Irish Republic in 1949.
Treaty of Versailles and Its Implications
The Treaty of Versailles, which sealed the defeat of Germany and officially ended World War I, was the result of the arduous and often bitter negotiations of the Paris Peace Conference of 1919. Signed in the Hall of Mirrors of the Palace of Versailles on June 28 of that year, the treaty also represented the attempt of the winning powers to regulate the radical and far-reaching social, political, and cultural changes that emerged during the last two years of the war. The most significant of these changes was the actual or impending political and territorial collapse of the Russian, German, Austrian, and Ottoman Empires—and their ruling dynasties.
The primary negotiators of the treaty—the “Big Four,” as they were known—were Georges Clemenceau, premier of France and president of the peace conference; David Lloyd George, prime minister and chief representative of Great Britain; Woodrow Wilson, president and chief representative of the United States; and Vittorio Emanuele Orlando, prime minister of Italy and head of the Italian delegation to the peace conference. But the Treaty of Versailles was not the only treaty drawn up at the Paris Peace Conference. Five treaties, one for each of the Central Powers, were created. The Treaty of Versailles just happens to be the most well-known and significant of the five. Besides calling for Germany to admit guilt for starting the war and payment of reparations that were unspecified in the terms of the treaty, the treaty realigned geographic boundaries of certain European countries and set the specifications for the establishment of the League of Nations, an organization created to foster international cooperation by offering a forum for peaceful settlement of international disputes.
The negotiators of the Treaty of Versailles have been criticized for focusing on “vendetta” rather than peace, while the League of Nations has been blamed for behaving as an international body that officially sanctioned imperialism. Frustrations related to these points and others eventually led to events resulting in World War II.
The Fourteen Points
President Woodrow Wilson delivered an address to the U.S. Congress in January 1918, long before the surrender of the Central Powers, that outlined a proposal he called the Fourteen Points. The proposal detailed goals the Allies should aim for when they approached international conflict resolution after the war. In essence, the Fourteen Points captured Wilson’s idealistic vision of future world diplomacy. His plan to make the world “safe for democracy” included the key principles of national self-determination, disarmament as a means of preventing future armed aggression, the fair treatment of people in colonial-ruled countries, just terms for peace (including justified punishment and free trade), and the creation of the League of Nations. Wilson’s idealistic vision was largely rejected both by the victorious Allied nations, which were stunned by the devastating effects of war on their countries and by the U.S. Congress, which was entering an era of isolationism. The Allies’ refusal to accept Wilson’s Fourteen Points would be a major obstacle to progress in the Paris Peace Conference.
The Peace Conference of Paris
On January 18, 1919—the anniversary of the 1701 proclamation of the Kingdom of Prussia and of the 1871 proclamation of the German Empire—the Peace Conference of Paris officially convened in the Hall of Mirrors at the Chateau of Versailles. After the armistice on November 11, 1918 (the surrender of the Central Powers), the Allies had agreed, in opposition to President Wilson’s desire for both Central Powers and Allied nations to be present, that the Allied nations of Italy, Japan, the United States, Great Britain, and France would alone dictate the terms of peace to the Central Powers. The European Allies, embittered by the war, felt that the aggressors should be punished. Five treaties, one for each of the Central Powers (Germany, Austria, Bulgaria, Hungary, and the Ottoman Empire) were to be drawn up.
At the beginning of the conference, major decisions were made by the Council of Ten—two representatives from each of the five Allies. After March 24, the Council of Ten became the Council of Five when the foreign ministers of the great powers withdrew and left negotiations to their respective heads of state. The Big Four, intent on expediting the completion of the German treaty (the Treaty of Versailles), constituted themselves the Council of Four (all the Allies except Japan). The delegates labored over the provisions of the treaty for three months.
President Wilson came to the Paris Peace Conference determined to make creating the League of Nations a top priority. On January 25, 1919, creation of the organization was approved by the Allies. Its purpose was to provide safeguards against future wars and to serve as an integral part of treaty negotiations. Wilson was appointed chair of the commission chosen to draft the new organization’s covenant. The draft was finished in record time. The covenant’s text was adopted by a unanimous decision on April 28, 1919, and was incorporated into the Treaty of Versailles on January 10, 1920.
Germany’s Treaty and Its Implications
The dual goal of the Big Four during the drafting of the Treaty of Versailles was to provide safeguards to ensure the perpetuation of peace and German contrition. Beyond these generalities, Wilson, Clemenceau, Lloyd George, and Orlando found it difficult to agree on the provisions of the treaty. Clemenceau vigorously opposed German annexation of the new state of Austria. Lloyd George rejected the French effort to perpetuate a fragile Germany and called for restoration of the traditional European balance of power along with guarantees that Germany would not again attack France. Wilson was prepared to sacrifice most of his Fourteen Points, except the fourteenth—the creation of the League of Nations. Orlando played a relatively minor role in negotiations, asking only to secure the territories in the Adriatic region that had been lost during the secret Treaty of London in 1915. His bid was unsuccessful. Despite their disagreements, the Big Four completed the German treaty by the end of April.
The major provisions of the treaty included the covenant of the League of Nations, territorial arrangements affecting Germany’s frontiers and former colonies, German disarmament, and the payment of reparations. Germany had suffered tremendous territorial losses along its western and eastern frontiers. To the west, the Saar Valley was surrendered to international control for fifteen years; at the end of that time period, its citizens could decide whether they wanted to join France or Germany. To the east, Germany was obliged to recognize a new Polish state that included substantial portions of Prussian territory. With regard to disarmament, German military and naval forces were reduced considerably. The army was not to exceed 100,000 men, and the navy was reduced to a token force that could not use submarines. More dramatically, the treaty forbade a German air force. In addition to the reparations Germany was forced to pay, the country had to acknowledge its responsibility for starting the war and for all the destruction caused by it.
On May 7, the Allies presented the Treaty of Versailles to the newly arrived German delegation, which was led by the country’s foreign minister, Count Ulrich von Brockdorff-Rantzau (1869–1928). He was given three weeks to provide a written response to the harsh treaty. After denouncing, among other things, the provision forbidding the German-speaking peoples of Czechoslovakia and Austria from uniting with Germany, the Germans finally accepted the terms. The treaty was signed on June 28, 1919, the fifth anniversary of the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand. The United States was the only great power that refused to ratify the Treaty of Versailles.
The Treaty of Versailles remains a subject of great debate. Great Britain and France, the major guarantors of the peace settlement, found their task difficult to accomplish due to conflicting foreign policies. Bolshevik Russia, besides never fully recognizing the treaty, promoted worldwide revolution—the opposite of the peace the Treaty of Versailles was meant to ensure. The United States, which contributed so much to the final draft, wound up turning its back in isolation against Europe. Against great odds, the Treaty of Versailles held until 1935.
Map of the World Redrawn
The most significant consequence of World War I was the demise of the German, Austro-Hungarian, Russian, and Ottoman empires. New states, ostensibly nation-states bound by common ethnicity, arose in their place. These territorial changes resulted in the map of Europe being redrawn significantly. Boundaries were changed in Africa, the Middle East, and eastern and western Europe. These redrawn borders resulted in political and geographic consequences that in some instances continue to reverberate throughout the world to this day. Peace settlements lasting from 1918 to 1923 physically and politically shaped the modern Middle East, for example. Treaties decided during the Paris Peace Conference of 1919 contributed greatly to the redrawn world map, but secret agreements during World War I also affected the political and geographic outcome. Historians still debate the wisdom of using some of these secret commitments as the basis for certain postwar settlements. These same historians point to the conference’s controversial preference for soothing the victorious Allies’ differences, appeasing their territorial desires, and punishing Germany instead of reaching a just and lasting resolution to the war.
The Paris Peace Conference of 1919
Following the official surrender of the Central Powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary, the Ottoman Empire, and Bulgaria) on November 11, 1918, President Woodrow Wilson expressed a desire for both the Central Powers and the Allied nations to meet at the Paris Peace Conference in January 1919 to discuss reconstruction efforts. European allies, embittered by the ravages of the war, opposed the idea and insisted that they should dictate the terms of peace. They relished the opportunity to punish the Central Powers for being aggressors during the war. In advance of the official negotiations, the “Big Four,”—British Prime Minister David Lloyd George, French Premier Georges Clemenceau, Italian Premier Vittorio Orlando, and United States President Woodrow Wilson—discussed settlement terms. It was decided that five treaties, one for each of the Central Powers, would be drawn up. France demanded the return of its former provinces of Lorraine and Alsace and required possession of territories west of the Rhine River and the Saar Valley. Great Britain insisted on the German-held African territories of German East Africa, German West Africa, the Belgian Congo, Angola, Algeria, and Morocco. Italy fully expected to gain possession of the Tirol region and the cities of Fiume and Trieste, but Wilson disputed the country’s claim to Fiume. Orlando, frustrated by the refusal, left the conference in anger. Japan, despite not having representation at the conference, was given the formerly German-held territories of the Caroline, Mariana, and Marshall Islands, Quindau, and the Chinese peninsula of Shandong. Russia, also not represented, lost territories that became the states of Finland, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. The Treaty of Versailles, which officially ended the war and is the most well-known and significant of the five treaties, took the Saar Valley from Germany. This territory was occupied by the League of Nations for fifteen years, during which time the coal mine from the region was given to France. The formerly German territory of Poland was restored and given access to the Baltic Sea. This move created a geographic split between East Prussia and Germany. Finally, it was decided that the League of Nations would occupy the German city of Danzig.
Eastern Europe experienced the most drastic post–World War I territorial changes. The Austro-Hungarian Empire which had existed since 1526, was reduced to two truncated states, Austria and Hungary. Poland, for the first time since 1795, reappeared as an independent entity. The peoples of Ruthenia and Slovakia, who had not enjoyed self-government since the remote past, joined with Bohemia and Moravia—Habsburg-ruled since 1620—and became the new state of Czechoslovakia. Serbia, the fate of which had started the war, rose to become part of the Kingdom Yugoslavia, today recognized as the Republic of Serbia. Romania greatly increased its territorial base after seizing Transylvania from Hungary and Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina from the Russian Empire.
The new states required governments that would satisfy all the constituents within their borders. Because the populations of states such as Romania, Yugoslavia, and Poland had such diverse social, territorial, and political traditions, majority interest and coalitions were difficult to create. Many new states could not agree on even a basic system of government. Beyond their political problems, the new states were fraught with socioeconomic crises. Despite declarations to the contrary, the United States and Western Europe failed to assist and support the development of these states during this difficult time.
The Middle East
The 1918 defeat of the Ottoman Empire marked the end of an era. Postwar peace settlements, with origins in secret wartime agreements made by France, Russia, Italy, and Great Britain, shaped the modern Middle East—politically as well as geographically. Historians note that the geographic partitioning of the Ottoman territories by victorious Allied forces was less important in the long term, though, than the introduction of a new system of political organization based on the European nation-state.
One of the first secret agreements between France, Great Britain, and Russia was the 1915 Constantinople Agreement. In it, Russia was offered one of the most highly prized regions involved in the whole war—Istanbul and the Turkish Straits. In another secret treaty, the 1915 Treaty of London, Italy was urged to join the war after claiming the Dodecanese Islands and Libya. The country was also given political and economic influence over Adalia in western Asia Minor. The 1916 Sykes-Picot Agreement, which later became the key to the future settlement of Ottoman Arab lands, gave France Cilicia, coastal Syria, and Lebanon. Great Britain received Basra, Baghdad, and the Palestinian lands of Haifa and Acre. Four years later, at the Conference of San Remo, Great Britain and France agreed to modify the lines of the Sykes-Picot Agreement slightly. France was given command of Syria and Lebanon and waived claims to Mosul in exchange for shares in the Turkish Petroleum Company. Great Britain received command of Iraq, Transjordan, and the whole of Palestine. During the 1920 Treaty of Sévres, the victorious Allies attempted to enforce a similar settlement on the defeated Ottoman government. The Allies tried to partition Turkey into very small units, taking Anatolia and Thrace. But Turkish nationalists challenged the settlement and regained the whole of Anatolia in the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923. Turkey’s resistance against the humiliating terms of Sévres offered a glimpse of future challenges to the newly formed nation-states.
League of Nations
The League of Nations, an organization intended to preserve international peace and serve as a forum for open diplomacy, came about as a result of World War I. U.S. President Woodrow Wilson, its most vocal supporter, played a leading role in its creation. Although the League of Nations was a product of the 1919 Treaty of Versailles, it was planned years before World War I even started. In the waning years of the nineteenth century, many governments predicted the coming of a major war and began taking steps to avoid it.
In 1899, twenty-nine nations came together at the First Hague Peace Conference to explore ways to preserve international peace and reduce armaments. The scale of the conference was unprecedented, and its goal of maintaining a stable and peaceful international order was unique. That governments were acting proactively, not reactively, was a sign of real progress. But because the real threat of war was not present, and no major international tensions existed at the time, the participants were not compelled to devise any radically innovative plans. The only attempts they made to reduce the risk of war came in the form of improved international arbitration. The issue of armaments was not even addressed. Finally, and rather ironically, the representatives codified various laws and customs of war in an effort to reduce its devastation but did not adjust or modify the right of states to resort to war. The most tangible and progressive effect of the conference was the unanimous agreement that conferences of its kind should be repeated. Again, because they were not driven by circumstance, the Second Hague Peace Conference did not take place for another eight years. Even then, when the international political climate was tense, delegates failed to devise new ways of protecting world peace and reducing armaments. They agreed to meet again in another eight years, but World War I changed their plans.
Post–World War I
The magnitude of World War I forced Hague Peace Conference representatives to rethink their objectives and perceptions. Toward the end of the war, it was clear that some kind of international organization was needed to prevent another world war. U.S. President Woodrow Wilson supported the idea enough to include it in his January 1918 speech to Congress that outlined his strategy—the Fourteen Points—for postwar international conflict resolution. In that speech, Wilson laid out a plan to make the world “safe for democracy” and listed national self-determination, fair terms for peace, and the creation of a forum for open diplomacy—the League of Nations—as its key principles. As one of the “Big Four” at the Paris Peace Conference of 1919, he insisted the issue of the League of Nations be one of the first considered. On January 25, 1919, the Big Four decided that the League of Nations should be created and that it should be an integral part of the Treaty of Versailles.
Creating the League of Nations
Wilson was appointed chairman of the commission charged with drafting the covenant of the new organization. The covenant was created quickly, and the text was unanimously approved on April 28, 1919, but went into effect as a part of the Treaty of Versailles on January 10, 1920. In the meantime, a preparatory committee was appointed and Englishman Sir Eric Drummond (1876–1951) was named the organization’s first secretary general so that implementation work could begin immediately.
During the Paris Peace Conference, they decided that League headquarters would be in Geneva; that the main branches would be the Assembly, the Council, and the Secretariat; and that the Assembly would be composed of the entire membership. The Assembly was to meet once a year, when members could discuss any issue deemed worthy. Nonbinding resolutions required a unanimous vote, which meant that any member could veto any recommendation, though this rarely happened. The Council initially contained four permanent members—France, Great Britain, Italy, and Japan—and four nonpermanent members. The number of nonpermanent members was subsequently increased to six, then nine, and finally, eleven. The Council met four times a year and gathered for special meetings as needed. Each League branch adhered to the rule of unanimity, and there was no clear differentiation of duties between the Assembly and the Council specified in the covenant.
The covenant also provided for the establishment of the Permanent Court of International Justice. The League of Nations was responsible for creating the Court, and its structure was approved by the Assembly in 1920. The Court was kept independent from the rest of the League and was highly respected for the quality of its decisions. Another body kept separate from the League was the International Labor Organization (ILO), which promoted the rights of working people around the globe. Like the Permanent Court of International Justice, the ILO later became an agency of the United Nations, the organization that replaced the League of Nations after World War II.
Despite its international intent, the League did not achieve global membership. Ironically, the U.S. Congress refused to ratify the Treaty of Versailles, and therefore never joined the League of Nations. When Japan, Germany, and Italy put into place expansionist policies, they decided to leave the organization. The Soviet Union was expelled from the League when it invaded Finland in 1939.
The League Grows
The League of Nations became an increasingly complex structure as subsidiary groups were created to meet the Assembly’s various needs. Bodies dealing with economic and social matters grew the fastest and often included subsidiary groups of their own. As the League grew, members came to realize that peace could not be achieved by dealing with power relationships, armaments, and political resolutions alone.
The League of Nations became defunct during World War II. Despite its inability to prevent that war from occurring, the League acted as a stepping-stone toward a more elaborate international peace organization. As imperfect as it was, the League provided a forum where weak nations as well as strong, could have a voice. More importantly, it allowed organized society the right to assess the legitimacy of aggression. For the first time in the history of international affairs, public agencies served the economic and social needs of a global society. For these reasons and more, the League of Nations is remembered as a success.
Communism in America
Fears about the threat of Communism in post–World War I America led to the Red Scare of 1919–1920. Two events, the rise of organized labor during World War I and the Communist Revolution that took place in Russia in 1917, created an atmosphere of anxiety that led to the Red Scare. The great waves of southern and eastern European immigrants arriving on American shores at the time only intensified the rampant fear and suspicion. Thousands of foreign-born residents accused of being sympathetic to leftist causes were detained and eventually deported. Left-wing organizations became more secretive, and many groups and individuals were accused of supporting communism—including such famous Americans as actor Charlie Chaplin and educator John Dewey. The Red Scare made even the most innocent citizens afraid to express their ideas for fear of being labeled a communist. Fortunately, the Red Scare ended almost as quickly as it began. The U.S. government, especially the attorney general’s office, had overstepped its authority in many cases, and the citizenry had tired of their unlawful conduct. When leading Americans stood up and demanded that the Justice Department obey the law, they effectively turned the tide of communist fear that had gripped the country. The Red Scare was over.
Communism is the social and political system that calls for all property to be communally owned and the distribution of wealth among citizens to be determined by need. Outlined by Karl Marx (1818–1883) and Friedrich Engels (1820–1895) in their 1848 publication, The Communist Manifesto, communism is most often associated with the 1917 Russian revolution and the establishment of the federalist Soviet Union (USSR) in 1922. Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, the first Soviet head of state, espoused his own version of Marxism, known as Marxism-Leninism. His particular brand of communism became the dominant economic and political theory adopted by communist groups around the world. A product of nineteenth-century industrialization, communism profoundly influenced global politics and economics. Communists and communist parties first appeared in the United States in 1919.
The Labor Movement
In 1905, the International Workers of the World (IWW) organized thousands of immigrants working as unskilled labor in the country’s growing industries. During World War I, the IWW led a number of strikes in an attempt to get employers to improve working conditions. Although President Woodrow Wilson was a longtime supporter of organized labor, he objected to strikes that shut down factories that produced goods necessary for the war effort. Further, striking foreigners provoked the ire of nativists who deemed the international working class unpatriotic and disloyal for putting their needs above the country’s. The workers heeded the president’s request to wait until after the war to demand better pay and working conditions, but the damage to the reputation of the largely southern and eastern European populations had already been done.
As soon as the war ended in 1918, laborers of all kinds began striking in huge numbers. In 1919, almost two million workers went on strike. Meat cutters, house builders, steelworkers, and train operators went on strike. Walkouts occurred in shipyards, shoe factories, telephone companies, and even police departments. Coal miners demanded government control of their industry. Even conservative farmers, numbering in the hundreds of thousands, organized and demanded major economic changes. Traditionalists saw little need for labor unions and were frightened by the rising tide of revolt. Recalling Lenin’s warning that the Bolshevik Revolution would spread to workers around the world, they feared a communist revolution in their own country.
The police strike in Boston in 1919 brought their fear to a fever pitch. When the Boston police chief refused to negotiate with policemen demanding higher wages, the policemen walked out. As a result, thieves began breaking into unprotected homes and businesses. Massachusetts Gov. Calvin Coolidge was forced to call on state troops to protect the city, an action that ended the strike. It seemed to most Americans that labor unions and union sympathizers were planning a revolution. A campaign to protect the country from these radicals and extremists was launched. Leaders of the campaign blamed the communists, or “Reds,” and so the “Red Scare” was on.
The Red Scare
Individuals and groups suspected of being communist extremists were violently attacked across the country. In Centralia, Washington, four people were killed in a fight between union members and their opponents. In New York City, a group of men attacked the office of a socialist newspaper, destroying the equipment and beating the people working there. The growing violence exacerbated public feeling against political leftists and labor unions. People with leftist views were thought to be revolutionaries bent on overthrowing the government. Soon, local and state governments began passing laws making it illegal to belong to revolutionary groups.
Americans demanded the national government step in. President Wilson was ill and distracted by the League of Nations, but Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer (1872–1936) saw an opportunity to gain public support for his upcoming presidential bid. He believed that taking strong action against communism would gain the attention of voters, so he ordered a series of raids on leftist leaders. Many of these people, guilty or not, were arrested and jailed for weeks without being charged. Foreigners accused of participating in revolutionary activities were expelled from the country. Eight thousand foreign-born residents supposedly sympathetic to leftist causes were deported. Among them was famed anarchist Emma Goldman. Palmer and many others believed that communists were criminals intent on overthrowing the U.S. government.
The Red Scare effectively tied immigrants to radicalism, but white Americans of northern European descent were not immune to suspicion. Many innocent people began keeping their views to themselves for fear of being labeled a communist. The entire country was suffering from violence wrought by the Red Scare. Palmer’s extreme actions left a bad taste in the mouths of Americans tired of social change. They were eager to enjoy postwar peace, the return of free speech, and the rule of law. Palmer could no longer be trusted, so political leaders, including Republican Charles Evans Hughes (1862–1948), demanded that the Justice Department stop illegal actions against suspected communists. By the summer of 1920, the Red Scare had effectively ended, for the time being.
Modernism in the Arts
Modernism refers to the post–World War I international cultural movement that deliberately shunned tradition in favor of innovations in literary and artistic expression. Influenced by the political and cultural fragmentation of Europe, the resulting rise of nationalism, and revolutionary changes in scientific thought, modernism reflected the dramatic changes of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Impressionism was the first visual art form to break with tradition. The emergence of this style led to the birth of the other major modern art forms of the early twentieth century, including post-impressionism, expressionism, cubism, abstractionism, surrealism, and socialist realism. Music also underwent a revolutionary change after World War I. Modern music, like the visual arts, abandoned tradition and traded harmony and tonality for abstract mathematical patterns, atonality, and dissonance. Literature and drama followed suit. Writers of the time rejected romantic themes of liberty and progress; they instead began to explore realistic depictions of life, including social problems and family tensions. Realism, as this literary and dramatic form came to be known, paved the way for the philosophy of existentialism, another modern innovation.
Modernism and Visual Art
Impressionism was the first art form to challenge the strict representation of external forms of objects, people, and nature in paintings. As its name implies, impressionism was more interested in capturing the overall feeling or impression of what the artist saw in a particular moment than in representing the realistic appearance of the subject. One of the first impressionist painters was Claude Monet. His Impression: Sunrise, painted in 1873, lent the movement its name. The use of color and a heightened sensitivity to composition and light helped impressionist painters like Edoard Manet, Claude Monet, Edgar Degas, and Pierre-Auguste Renoir convey impressions rather than depictions of what they painted. But realism was not totally abandoned.
The post-impressionists broke with the tenets of realism altogether. Instead of representing or interpreting the world, these artists believed the function of art was to create a new world with its own meaning. From about 1870 onward, this way of thinking influenced many artists. They experimented with styles that allowed them to create new worlds on canvas. Paul Cezanne, one of the leaders of the post-impressionist movement, for instance, chose to depict objects as patterns of flat surfaces and forms, pushing painting to near abstraction. Paul Gauguin fled his native France, immigrated to Tahiti, and painted a series featuring vivid colors, distorted figures, and nearly nude indigenous people. Vincent Van Gogh’s painting of a common starry night, for example, reveals a vivid mental state with its movement, vibrancy, and swirling colors.
The next modern artistic leap came in the form of expressionism, a trend that found artists expressing emotion in more nonrepresentational and abstract ways. Borrowing from Van Gogh’s emotional intensity and Gauguin’s bold lines and colors, expressionist artists, writers, and musicians attempted to express hidden human drives rather that surface realities. Vasily Kandinsky, the founder of expressionism, experimented with disassociating shape, color, and line from his subject. The resulting paintings were wildly colorful and complex abstractions that reflected Kandinsky’s background as a musician. Pablo Picasso, another expressionist, pushed the movement further by inventing cubism, a visual style that breaks up, analyzes, and reassembles objects into abstracted, largely geometric forms. Art historians link Cezanne’s reliance on the cone, the sphere, and the cylinder to cubism and credit the artist for giving the movement its roots. American artists, like Georgia O’Keeffe, pushed expressionism into abstractionism, a style that interpreted rather than represented everyday objects and scenes. Her flowers and southwestern landscapes, for instance, are richly depicted examples of abstract symbolism. Salvador Dalí, on the other hand, used expressionism as a jumping off point for surrealism, a literary and artistic movement that drew heavily from Sigmund Freud’s theories concerning the unconscious mind. Surrealism, therefore, sought to unite conscious and unconscious realms of experience and inspired painters like Dalí and Renee Magritte to depict fantastic dreamscapes loaded with complex symbols.
In Socialist countries, modern art took a different path—and served as political propaganda. The Socialist principle that art must glorify political and social ideals of communism led state-controlled artists to paint idealized scenes of Soviet building projects and political leaders. Socialist realism, as it was known, influenced Mexican painter Diego Rivera, who painted murals aimed at inspiring the illiterate masses to revolt.
Modernism in Music
As with modernism’s new visual and literary art forms, modern music relied on experimentation and a heightened awareness of the unpredictable nature of the universe to create new sounds. Expressionist composer Arnold Schoenberg, for example, led the musical movement to abandon traditional harmony in favor of abstract mathematical patterns. Claude Debussy and Igor Stravinsky were more impressionistic, composing music that inspired listeners to imagine the sounds of springtime or other natural sounds, such as running water. One of the most significant modern musical innovations was jazz, a style of music influenced by the Harlem Renaissance, the flourishing of African American art and culture centered in New York’s Harlem between the first and second World Wars. Defined by its improvisational methods, the artistic, cultural, and social movement that became jazz grew out of African American participation in World War I.
Modernism in Literature
The literature of the post–WW I to pre–WW II era clearly reflects the worldwide shock and postwar disillusionment brought on by World War I. From this period of lost innocence emerged the Harlem Renaissance, the all–encompassing artistic movement that exalted the unique culture of African–Americans; the radical literary innovations of Gertrude Stein, Virginia Woolf, James Joyce, William Faulkner, and Marcel Proust; and modernist poetry by Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot.
In the 1920s, a period widely known as the “Jazz Age” and/or the “Roaring Twenties,” the United States experienced a radical cultural shift. Americans enjoyed the world’s highest national average income in the world at the time and celebrated the fact by frequenting nightclubs, listening to jazz music, drinking cocktails, touring in automobiles, and dancing like never before. The exuberance—and the lost sense of identity—inherent to the age are reflected in the work of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Harlem Renaissance writers like Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston. Fitzgerald, widely regarded as one of the greatest writers of the twentieth century, wrote four novels and dozens of short stories that deal with the extravagance and disillusionment of the age known as the “lost generation,” including The Great Gatsby (1925), the epitome of the age. Hughes, one of the many talented poets of the Harlem Renaissance, incorporated blues, spirituals, and colloquial speech into his poetry. “The Negro Speaks of Rivers,” which was published in 1921 and became one of his most beloved poems, explores the journey of African–Americans through history. Hurston, a strikingly gifted storyteller, wrote from the perspective of a folklorist. Her most important work, the novel Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937), vividly portrays the lives of African Americans working the land in the rural South. Hurston was a harbinger of the women’s movement and an inspiration to contemporary writers Alice Walker and Toni Morrison.
Writers like Ernest Hemingway and Erich Maria Remarque pushed the boundaries of Realism to include works about the war itself. Hemingway, arguably the most popular American novelist of his generation, brought the horrors of war to life in his trademark understated, clean style in A Farewell to Arms (1929). Remarque, badly wounded in World War I, presented a grimly realistic portrayal of a soldier’s experience during wartime in his staunchly anti–war All Quiet on the Western Front (1929). Virginia Woolf, remembered as both a feminist and a modernist, ignored traditional plot structure and focused on the inner lives and musings of her characters. An innovative novelist and perceptive critic and essayist, Woolf made a major contribution to the development of the novel with Mrs. Dalloway (1925), To The Lighthouse (1927), and Orlando (1928). Each writer of the period was, in his or her own way, experimenting, forging a new path during a critical time in world history.
Two of the most influential poets of the era were Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot. Pound founded a new school of poetry known as Imagism, which championed a clear, highly visual style that drew on classical Chinese and Japanese poetic techniques. His most famous work is the encyclopedic epic poem entitled “The Cantos”. Besides advocating a thoroughly modern aesthetic in poetry, Pound was responsible for nurturing an exchange of work and ideas between British and American writers. Famous for advancing the work of contemporaries such as William Carlos Williams, Robert Frost, James Joyce, and Marianne Moore, Pound was especially moved by the poetry of T. S. Eliot, whom he regarded as a genius. Eliot, an American who became a British citizen in 1927, received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1948. His first book of poems, Prufrock and Other Observations (1917), immediately established him as a leading poet of the avant-garde. By the time The Waste Land was published in 1922, Eliot had secured his standing as the most influential writer of poetry and literary criticism in the English–speaking world.
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