April 28, 1917: Executive Orders

 

It is sometimes assumed that executive orders are only a feature of modern American life.  Actually they have existed since the beginning of the Republic.  A century ago two war related executive orders were issued by President Wilson:

Whereas, the existence of a state of war between the United States and the Imperial German Government makes it essential to the public safety that no communication of a character which would aid the enemy or its allies shall be had,

Therefore, by virtue of the power vested in me under the Constitution and by the Joint Resolution passed by Congress on April 6, 1917, declaring the existence of a state of war, it is ordered that all companies or other persons, owning, controlling or operating telegraph and telephone lines or submarine cables, are hereby prohibited from transmitting messages to points without the United States, and from delivering messages received from such points, except those permitted under rules and regulations to be established by the Secretary of War for telegraph and telephone lines, and by the Secretary of the Navy for submarine cables,

To these Departments, respectively, is delegated the duty of preparing and enforcing rules and regulations under this order to accomplish the purpose mentioned.

This order shall take effect from this date.

WOODROW WILSON
THE WHITE HOUSE,
April 28, 1917. (more…)

Published in: on April 28, 2017 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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Anzac Day 2017

[19] Wilt thou give strength to the horse, or clothe his neck with neighing? [20] Wilt thou lift him up like the locusts? the glory of his nostrils is terror.

[21] He breaketh up the earth with his hoof, he pranceth boldly, he goeth forward to meet armed men. [22] He despiseth fear, he turneth not his back to the sword, [23] Above him shall the quiver rattle, the spear and shield shall glitter. [24] Chasing and raging he swalloweth the ground, neither doth he make account when the noise of the trumpet soundeth. [25] When he heareth the trumpet he saith: Ha, ha: he smelleth the battle afar off, the encouraging of the captains, and the shouting of the army.

Job 39:  19-25

 

 

 

Today is Anzac Day, in Australia and New Zealand.   It commemorates the landing of the New Zealand and Australian troops at Gallipoli in World War I.  Although the effort to take the Dardanelles was ultimately unsuccessful, the Anzac troops demonstrated great courage and tenacity, and the ordeal the troops underwent in this campaign has a vast meaning to the peoples of New Zealand and Australia.

At the beginning of the war the New Zealand and Australian citizen armies, illustrating the robust humor of both nations,  engaged in self-mockery best illustrated by this poem:

We are the ANZAC Army

The A.N.Z.A.C.

We cannot shoot, we don’t salute

What bloody good are we ?

And when we get to Ber – Lin

The Kaiser, he will say

Hoch, Hoch, Mein Gott !

What a bloody odd lot

to get six bob a day.

By the end of World War I no one was laughing at the Anzacs.  At the end of the war a quarter of the military age male population of New Zealand had been killed or wounded and Australia paid a similarly high price.  Widely regarded as among the elite shock troops of the Allies, they had fought with distinction throughout the war, and added to their reputation during World War II.   American veterans I have spoken to who have fought beside Australian and New Zealand units have uniformly told me that they could choose no better troops to have on their flank in a battle.

A century ago in 1917 the Anzac troops were still fighting in the Great War.  They accomplished many remarkable feats of arms during that year, but perhaps the most remarkable was the charge of the 4th Australian Light Horse Brigade at Beersheba, a battle in which both Australian and New Zealand troops fought.  The long day of cavalry was almost over, but the mounted infantrymen of the 4th Light Horse, waving their bayonets in lieu of sabers, routed the entrenched Turks and only suffered light casualties themselves:  a true military miracle.  The war horse, ridden by Anzacs, had his last moment of military glory.

 

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Published in: on April 25, 2017 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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April 17, 1917: Message From the President

 

On April 17, 1917 President Wilson issued a message to the American people in which he discussed harnessing the American economy for the War effort.  Note that in the video above sheep are grazing on the White House lawn.  Their wool was harvested and auctioned with the funds received being used to support the War effort.  Here is the text of Wilson’s message;

 

 

My Fellow-Countrymen:
The entrance of our own beloved country into the grim and terrible war for democracy and human rights which has shaken the world creates so many problems of national life and action which call for immediate consideration and settlement that I hope you will permit me to address to you a few words of earnest counsel and appeal with regard to them.
We are rapidly putting our navy upon an effective war footing and are about to create and equip a great army, but these are the simplest parts of the great task to which we have addressed ourselves. There is not a single selfish element, so far as I can see, in the cause we are fighting for. We are fighting for what we believe and wish to be the rights of mankind and for the future peace and security of the world. To do this great thing worthily and successfully we must devote ourselves to the service without regard to profit or material advantage and with an energy and intelligence that will rise to the level of the enterprise itself. We must realize to the full how great the task is and how many things, how many kinds and elements of capacity and service and self-sacrifice, it involves.

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Published in: on April 17, 2017 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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Over There

Something for the weekend, Over There, the anthem of the American war effort in World War I.

 

 

My friend and co-blogger Darwin Catholic at The American Catholic put together the above video, which I believe is one of the best videos I have seen on World War I.  George M. Cohan of course wrote Over There, the song which became the battle hymn of the American war effort in World War I.  George M. Cohan was immortalized by James Cagney in the 1942 film biopic Yankee Doodle Dandy.  Dying on November 5, 1942 of stomach cancer, Cohan saw the film shortly before its release in a private screening.  I do not know if the ending of the film in the clip below brought tears to his eyes, but it always does mine: (more…)

Published in: on April 8, 2017 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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April 6, 1917: Congress Declares War on Germany

 

WHEREAS, The Imperial German Government has committed repeated acts of war against the people of the United States of America; therefore, be it resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That the state of war between the United States and the Imperial German Government, which has thus been thrust upon the United States, is hereby formally declared; and that the President be, and he is hereby, authorized and directed to employ the entire naval and military forces of the United States and the resources of the Government to carry on war against the Imperial German Government; and to bring the conflict to a successful termination all the resources of the country are hereby pledged by the Congress of the United States.

The Declaration of War against Imperial Germany in 1917 was highly popular among the American people in general, so it is not surprising that the votes in each chamber of Congress were lopsided.  In the Senate on April 4 the vote was 82-6 with eight senators not voting.  On April 6 the House passed the Declaration of War 373 to 50.

Published in: on April 6, 2017 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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Killing People Won’t Help Matters

 

 

That quote comes from Congresswoman Jeannette Rankin, the lone dissenting vote in the House against declaring war on Japan after Pearl Harbor.  A Republican from Montana, Rankin is an interesting figure.  The first woman elected to Congress, she served two terms.  In her first term she voted against declaring war on Germany in World War I and in her second term she voted against declaring war on Japan.  Both votes stemmed from her deep-seated pacifism, both votes were immensely unpopular and both votes effectively ended her political career at two different points in her life.  I give her the courage of her convictions.  However, her stance after Pearl Harbor illustrates the folly of pacifism as a national policy.  The sad truth is that in this vale of tears it is sometimes necessary to take up arms to avoid greater evils than war, and those peoples who forget that truth of the human condition will experience such evils sooner or later. (more…)

Published in: on April 3, 2017 at 5:18 am  Leave a Comment  
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April 2, 1917: Wilson Asks Congress to Declare War on Germany

 

 

Gentlemen of the Congress:

I have called the Congress into extraordinary session because there are serious, very serious, choices of policy to be made, and made immediately, which it was neither right nor constitutionally permissible that I should assume the responsibility of making.

On the 3d of February last I officially laid before you the extraordinary announcement of the Imperial German Government that on and after the 1st day of February it was its purpose to put aside all restraints of law or of humanity and use its submarines to sink every vessel that sought to approach either the ports of Great Britain and Ireland or the western coasts of Europe or any of the ports controlled by the enemies of Germany within the Mediterranean. That had seemed to be the object of the German submarine warfare earlier in the war, but since April of last year the Imperial Government had somewhat restrained the commanders of its undersea craft in conformity with its promise then given to us that passenger boats should not be sunk and that due warning would be given to all other vessels which its submarines might seek to destroy, when no resistance was offered or escape attempted, and care taken that their crews were given at least a fair chance to save their lives in their open boats. The precautions taken were meagre and haphazard enough, as was proved in distressing instance after instance in the progress of the cruel and unmanly business, but a certain degree of restraint was observed The new policy has swept every restriction aside. Vessels of every kind, whatever their flag, their character, their cargo, their destination, their errand, have been ruthlessly sent to the bottom without warning and without thought of help or mercy for those on board, the vessels of friendly neutrals along with those of belligerents. Even hospital ships and ships carrying relief to the sorely bereaved and stricken people of Belgium, though the latter were provided with safe-conduct through the proscribed areas by the German Government itself and were distinguished by unmistakable marks of identity, have been sunk with the same reckless lack of compassion or of principle.

I was for a little while unable to believe that such things would in fact be done by any government that had hitherto subscribed to the humane practices of civilized nations. International law had its origin in the at tempt to set up some law which would be respected and observed upon the seas, where no nation had right of dominion and where lay the free highways of the world. By painful stage after stage has that law been built up, with meagre enough results, indeed, after all was accomplished that could be accomplished, but always with a clear view, at least, of what the heart and conscience of mankind demanded. This minimum of right the German Government has swept aside under the plea of retaliation and necessity and because it had no weapons which it could use at sea except these which it is impossible to employ as it is employing them without throwing to the winds all scruples of humanity or of respect for the understandings that were supposed to underlie the intercourse of the world. I am not now thinking of the loss of property involved, immense and serious as that is, but only of the wanton and wholesale destruction of the lives of noncombatants, men, women, and children, engaged in pursuits which have always, even in the darkest periods of modern history, been deemed innocent and legitimate. Property can be paid for; the lives of peaceful and innocent people can not be. The present German submarine warfare against commerce is a warfare against mankind.

It is a war against all nations. American ships have been sunk, American lives taken, in ways which it has stirred us very deeply to learn of, but the ships and people of other neutral and friendly nations have been sunk and overwhelmed in the waters in the same way. There has been no discrimination. The challenge is to all mankind. Each nation must decide for itself how it will meet it. The choice we make for ourselves must be made with a moderation of counsel and a temperateness of judgment befitting our character and our motives as a nation. We must put excited feeling away. Our motive will not be revenge or the victorious assertion of the physical might of the nation, but only the vindication of right, of human right, of which we are only a single champion.

When I addressed the Congress on the 26th of February last, I thought that it would suffice to assert our neutral rights with arms, our right to use the seas against unlawful interference, our right to keep our people safe against unlawful violence. But armed neutrality, it now appears, is impracticable. Because submarines are in effect outlaws when used as the German submarines have been used against merchant shipping, it is impossible to defend ships against their attacks as the law of nations has assumed that merchantmen would defend themselves against privateers or cruisers, visible craft giving chase upon the open sea. It is common prudence in such circumstances, grim necessity indeed, to endeavour to destroy them before they have shown their own intention. They must be dealt with upon sight, if dealt with at all. The German Government denies the right of neutrals to use arms at all within the areas of the sea which it has proscribed, even in the defense of rights which no modern publicist has ever before questioned their right to defend. The intimation is conveyed that the armed guards which we have placed on our merchant ships will be treated as beyond the pale of law and subject to be dealt with as pirates would be. Armed neutrality is ineffectual enough at best; in such circumstances and in the face of such pretensions it is worse than ineffectual; it is likely only to produce what it was meant to prevent; it is practically certain to draw us into the war without either the rights or the effectiveness of belligerents. There is one choice we can not make, we are incapable of making: we will not choose the path of submission and suffer the most sacred rights of our nation and our people to be ignored or violated. The wrongs against which we now array ourselves are no common wrongs; they cut to the very roots of human life.

With a profound sense of the solemn and even tragical character of the step I am taking and of the grave responsibilities which it involves, but in unhesitating obedience to what I deem my constitutional duty, I advise that the Congress declare the recent course of the Imperial German Government to be in fact nothing less than war against the Government and people of the United States; that it formally accept the status of belligerent which has thus been thrust upon it, and that it take immediate steps not only to put the country in a more thorough state of defense but also to exert all its power and employ all its resources to bring the Government of the German Empire to terms and end the war. (more…)

Published in: on April 2, 2017 at 6:41 am  Leave a Comment  
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Theodore Roosevelt and His Four Divisions

 

In 1917 a century ago Theodore Roosevelt was 58 years old.  He was not in the best of health and he had put on a fair amount of weight since his “crowded hour” leading the charge up Kettle Hill in the Spanish American War.  Nonetheless, he was eager once again to fight for the Stars and Stripes.  An advocate of preparedness, he had assembled a staff and plans to recreate his Rough Riders on a corps level to fight in France, and over a 100,000 men had indicated their willingness to join this force.  Congress in March of 1917 authorized him to raise such a force of volunteers of up to four divisions.  In May of 1917 President Wilson indicated that no such force of volunteers would be accepted by the Army, Wilson not wanting to be held responsible if the beloved ex-President died fighting.  Roosevelt was crushed and never forgave Wilson, who he despised in any case.  He kept busy making speeches in support of the War and selling war bonds, but it was not the same as fighting himself.  On April 1 we will explore the “what if” had Wilson allowed Roosevelt to take his new Rough Riders into battle.

 

Published in: on March 29, 2017 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Theodore Roosevelt and His Four Divisions  
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March 21, 1917: Loretta Perfectus Walsh Enlists in the Navy

 

A bit of naval history was made a hundred years ago when twenty year old Loretta Perfectus Walsh enlisted in the Navy as a Yeoman F, becoming the first woman to be a member of the US military.  Some 13,000 women would serve in the Navy as Yeomen, or Yeomanettes as they were often unofficially called,  during World War I as clerical personnel, freeing up men for sea duty.  Walsh served her four year tour and tragically died of tuberculosis at age 29 in 1925.  She was buried in Saint Patrick’s Cemetery in Olyphant, Pennsylvania.  Her tombstone bears the following inscription:

Loretta Perfectus Walsh
April 22, 1896–August 6, 1925
Woman and Patriot
First of those enrolled in the United States Naval Service
World War 1917–1919
Her comrades dedicate this monument
to keep alive forever
memories of the sacrifice and devotion of womanhood

 

Published in: on March 21, 2017 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on March 21, 1917: Loretta Perfectus Walsh Enlists in the Navy  
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March 20, 1917: Lansing Memorandum

 

On March 17, 1917, President Wilson met with his Cabinet to consider the question of whether the US should enter the Great War.  Fortunately for historians of this period, Secretary of State Robert Lansing drafted a detailed memorandum of the meeting:

 

 

The Cabinet Meeting of today I consider the most momentous and therefore, the most historic of any of those which have been held since I became Secretary of State, since it involved, unless a miracle occurs the question of war with Germany and the abandonment of the policy of neutrality which has been pursued for two years and a half….

The corridors of the State Department and Executive Office swarmed with press correspondents seeking to get some inkling of what would be done from passing officials. It was through these eager crowds of news-gatherers that I forced my way at half-past two Tuesday afternoon under a bombardment of questions, to which I made no reply, and entered the Cabinet room where all the other members had arrived.

Three minutes later the President came in and passed to his place at the head of the table shaking hands with each member and smiling as genially and composedly as if nothing of importance was to be considered. Composure is a marked characteristic of the President. Nothing ruffles the calmness of his manner or address. It has a sobering effect on all who sit with him in council. Excitement would seem very much out of place at the Cabinet table with Woodrow Wilson presiding. (more…)

Published in: on March 20, 2017 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on March 20, 1917: Lansing Memorandum  
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