...How the Great War Came to America
The Underlying Causes of the War---Racial Hatreds and National Enmities---Germany's Ambition to Rule the World---The Gathering of the War Clouds---Germany's Attempt to Stir Up Trouble Between the United States and Mexico---Events that Led to America's Participation in the War.
As all the world now realizes, the Great War which came to an end by the surrender of Germany and the signing of an Armistice on November 11, 1918, had its roots in racial hatred and international jealousy between the peoples and rulers of different European countries. What directly brought on the war was the resentment of the Serbians of the effort of the Germanic Austrians to rule them. For centuries the oppression of one race by another had been going on in Europe. All over Europe there were races ruled and exploited by people of another race. The Poles had no government of their own, but were divided among Germany, Russia and Austria. Italians bitterly resented the rule of Austria over large territories, including some great cities, whose population was almost wholly Italian. On the west, the French people of Alsace-Lorraine were held in subjection by Germany. The Czecho-Slovaks of Bohemia were under the control of Austrians; Turkish authority tyrannized over the Armenians, and the Lithuanians were the subjects of Russian masters.
Confident of her ability to overcome all resistance, determined to reduce still more nations and races to subjection and to extend her dominion from the North Sea to the Indian Ocean, Germany entered upon this war to crush friend and foe. The whole civilized world revolted when the German Government declared that its solemn treaty in which it had agreed to the permanent independence of Belgium was only "a scrap of paper," and sent its army into that neutral country. The invasion of Belgium was the act that brought England into the war against Germany; the atrocious treatment of the Belgians and the French by the Germans was the moving force that stirred the American people and prepared them for this country's own entrance into the war even before atrocities committed upon our own citizens forced the issue.
So, in a very literal sense, it may be said that our American soldiers of the Negro Race went over to France to fight for the liberation of the oppressed peoples of Europe. It was a marvelous thing to have occurred, that a race itself so long oppressed should have had the opportunity to help save others from oppression. It is something for every man and woman of the Negro race to be proud of, that our people did eagerly welcome this opportunity and play so glorious a part. The pistol shot which put an end to the life of Archduke Francis Ferdinand, heir presumptive to the AustroHungarian throne, at Serajevo, June 28, 1914, turned Europe into a battlefield six weeks later. The Serbians were blamed for the assassination, and on July 23 Vienna sent an ultimatum to Belgrade demanding the punishment of the offenders and Austria's participation in their trial in Serbia. Russia supported Serbia in rejecting the last demand; Germany supported Austria. England, France, and even Italy, then the ally of Austria and Germany, suggested arbitration by the Great Powers. By treaty Germany was obliged to support Austria if attacked by two or more powers, France to support Russia for a similar reason, and Italy to support her allies in case of a defensive war.
Germany deemed Russia's mobilization tantamount to a declaration of war against her and declared war on August 1, 1914. Alleging that France had already begun hostile action against her, Germany declared war on France on the third of August and invaded Belgium in order to attack France. Great Britain declared war on Germany the fourth of August. Italy, deeming Austria the aggressor, proclaimed her neutrality.
But these were merely the culmination of a long-standing conspiracy on the part of Germany and Austria-Hungary soon to. be revealed by German propaganda. Germany wished to render France impotent and absorb the Germanic provinces of Russia; she would then be in a position to coerce Great Britain. Austria-Hungary wished to absorb the Balkan Slavs and make her way to the AEgean. For Germany there was a corollary to the success of the Austro-Hungarian scheme, which, by the bribery of Turkey, would establish German dominion from the North Sea to the Persian Gulf. In November Turkey entered the war on the side of the Central Empires. All this was arranged, even to the minutest detail, at the German Kaiser's Potsdam conference on July 5, 1914. There it was believed that if the corollary did not come into evidence too soon, both Great Britain and Italy would remain neutral. That Japan would enter the war on account of her treaty with Great Britain was thus discounted. Germany attempted to defend her position morally on the ground that she had been attacked by Russia on account of the Pan-Slavonic ambitions of that empire, and by Great Britain on account of the latter's jealousy of her world trade and industry. She was, therefore, "fighting for her existence."
Her enemies in defending themselves entered into treaties for mutual advantages after the war, in case of the defeat of the Central Empires. There was cooperation, but no great unity of action or purpose among them.. This gave Germany a great advantage until the spring of 1917, when the United States entered the war. That event, besides bringing the material deciding factor to the Allies' cause, established their war aims upon a world basis of a fight for humanity of republicanism against absolutism, for the rights of small nations, and "to make the world safe for democracy." All this was to be done by annihilating Prussian militarism and Hohenzollern absolutism. On these humane principles twenty-nine nations arrayed themselves against Germany, of which twenty-four declared war.
The war, which brought to the state of practical application the. principles for which the enemies of Germany have been fighting, has been prodigious in geographic and social extent and unprecedented in expenditures of lives and treasure. Through battle, atrocities, and massacres it is estimated that 10,000,000 lives have been sacrificed; that $50,000,000,000 of property, not including the waste of war material, has been destroyed in various ways; that the productive wealth of the belligerents, which in 1914 was estimated at $600,000,000,000, has now been mortgaged for over $200,000,000,000, much of which now seems unrecoverable.
Germany's initial plan was to place France hors de combat and then obtain a victorious peace over Russia. Austria-Hungary, meanwhile, would attend to the Balkans. The intervention of Great Britain brought this to nought. Germany then directed Turkey to attack Egypt and the Suez Canal, and so strangle Great Britain in the East. The first act of Great Britain was to isolate the German fleet; her second to send an expeditionary force under the command of Sir John French to Belgium and France. The Germans advanced into France to within fifteen miles of Paris, and were then driven back to the Aisne at the battle of the Marne, September 5-12, 1914. Russian armies advanced into East Prussia, were held in the center of Posen and overran Austrian Galicia. The Turks were defeated at the Suez Canal on February 24,1915. In the following April the Austro-Germans began a drive in Galicia, which by the following November had carried them eastward to a 450-mile perpendicular extending from near Riga to the Russian frontier.
Bulgaria and Italy in the War
From March until October the Allies attempted to gain Constantinople from the Peninsula of Gallipoli, and then withdrew to Saloniki in an attempt to defend Serbia, Bulgaria having joined the. Central Empires on September 22. Bulgaria overran Serbia and established communication between Berlin and Constantinople via the Orient Railway. Meanwhile Italy had declared war on Austria on May 23, and had invaded Austrian territory, isolating the Trentino and advancing to the River Isonzo. The Russians, advancing through the Caucasus, were defeating the Turks in Armenia.
The sinking of the Lusitania on May 7, 1915, and the atrocities of the Germans in Belgium, the Austrians and Bulgars in Serbia, the Turks in Armenia, and the criminal propaganda in the United States to prevent supplies from going to the Allies, all tended to
lower Germany's moral standard in the war. By the naval battle off the Falkland Islands on December 8,1914, Germany's only fleet on the high seas had been put out of existence; a similar fate soon followed her commerce destroyers. Japan had taken the German leased territory of Kiao-Chau in China, and soon, out of Germany's oversea possessions of 1,027,820 square miles, none remained. Japan has been fighting down to the end of the -war.
The second year of the war, 1915-1916, saw the Germans completing their occupation of the Balkans down to the Saloniki line. held by the Allies; there was a British defeat on the Tigris, with the surrender of Kut-el-Amara, on April 28. There were also the battle of Verdun, which began on February 21 and cost the Germans half a million casualties; the sea fight off Jutland on May 31, which left the British Navy in control of the sea; the battle of the Somme in France, July 1-November 13, which regained 170 square miles of territory and secured several strategic positions which five months later forced the great German retreat; General Brusiloff's campaign on the eastern front, which regained 7,300 square miles of territory and captured 358,000 prisoners from June 4 till December, 1916.
On August 27, 1916, Rumania entered the war on the side of Germany's enemies and by the dawn of 1917 had been crushed. In March and April, 1917, took place the German retreat to the Hindenburg line, which surrendered to France nearly 1,500 square miles of territory. There were British victories at the ridges of Vimy and Messines, respectively April 19 and June 7, and the great attack of the French from Soissons to Rheims, which secured 100,000 prisoners. In Mesopotamia the British recovered Kut-el-Amara and on March 11 occupied Bagdad; the Arab kingdom of Hedjaz joined the Allies.
Political Events of the Third Year
But the most important events of the third year of the war were political, however---the Russian revolution, March 15, and the entrance of the United States into the war, April 6. The former was brought about without any premeditation by the Cossacks refusing to fire on the Petrograd mob and the Duma taking advantage of the situation and establishing a mild Provisional Government, which opened the country to destructive German propaganda and the rise of the anarchy known as Bolshevism. The moral and material grievances of the United States against Germany culminated in a series of revelations showing the latter's criminality. On January 31 she proclaimed her intensified U-boat campaign, repudiating the promise of May 4, 1916, and on February 28th came the revelation of the Zimmerman note to Mexico, and Japan. Up to the time the United States declared war this country had lost by the illegal operation of U-boats twenty-two ships, amounting to more than 70,000 tons, together with hundreds of lives, most of which, however, had been lost on other neutral ships or on the passenger ships of Germany's enemies.
Early in the fourth year of the war, November 7, 1917, saw the collapse of the Russian Provisional Government and the dominance of the Bolsheviki. They finally drove Russia from the war by the betrayal at Brest-Litovsk, which culminated in the treaty of peace of March 3, 1918. Rumania was forced to make peace on May 6, at Bucharest.
Other events which occupied the closing months of 1917 were equally discouraging for the Allies, whose morale, however, was kept firm through the rapidly augmenting evidences of American aid, which would be decisive. Even here there was fear that this aid could not be brought overseas, due to the intensified action of the U-boats, whose toll of merchant shipping for 1917 had been in the first quarter 1,619,373 tons; in the second, 236,934; in the third, 1,494,473; and in the fourth, 1,272,843. And as vet there were no sure grounds to believe in the great victories which were to come to the Allies a year afterward.
On the western front the battle of Flanders, which had been begun by the British on July 31, ended with the capture of Paschendaele Ridge on the 6th of the following November. There was the abortive battle of Cambrai, November 20-December 5. In October Pétain secured the Chemin des Dames on the Aisne front. Italy advanced over the Bainsizza to within 35 miles of Laibach, between August 20 and October 1, only to be defeated at Caporetto and driven back to the Piave, losing a large part of the Regione of Veneto.
The allied front in Macedonia continued to remain inactive save for the excursions of Greek troops, whose now Government had entered the war on the side of the Allies on the second of July. The war against the Turk, however, showed encouraging signs; in Palestine General Allenby captured Jerusalem on the 22nd of . December; in Mesopotamia General Marshall, who had succeeded to the command on the death of Maude on the 18th of November, extended his advance to the Euphrates, and was still ascending the Tigris toward Mosul.
It was known before 1917 closed that Germany, released from war with Russia, was preparing a great offensive. The Austro-German reply to the Pope's peace note of August 1 revealed merely a readiness to talk peace on the basis of the military status quo. President Wilson, in his reply to the Pope on the 27th of September, reaffirmed the great moral issues at stake, but in the chancelleries of the Allies in Europe men like the Marquis of Lansdowne lowered the morale by constantly asking for the war aims of the belligerents, and there was anti-war propaganda abroad. France had her Caillaux and Bolo Pacha, Italy her Giolitti, and England her Irish Sinn Fein.
With these distracting and discouraging influences lightened only by the hope placed in the United States and the faith that the U-boat campaign was being neutralized, the combat was carried for three months into 1918 with forebodings for a long war.
Germany's Last Great Struggle
Then Germany on March 21, 1918, began her great offensive on the western front with the object of separating the British and French armies by reaching the Channel ports at the mouth of the Somme and then defeating each army in turn and occupying Paris. Between March 21 and July 15 her offensive had passed through four phases, giving her Lys, the Picardy and the Marne salients. She had stretched a 195-mile front to one of 250. However, the Allies held the sectors which bound the salients and also strategic positions on their perimeters. Germany's huge losses prevented her from proceeding further unless at a given point she could break the Allies' line. This in a desperate effort she attempted to do on July 15 by driving across the Marne. She failed and began a highly organized strategic retreat to save her armies.
Meanwhile, the Allies had decided, in April, on unity of command and had placed the conduct of the war in the hands of General Foch. The arrival of nearly 1,000,000 American bayonets in Prance gave him the opportunity to organize an army of manoeuver.
His attacks begun between Soissons and Chateau-Thierry against the Marne salient on July 18 were unceasing down to the time of the armistice, steadily pushing the German armies east through Belgium and north to the French frontier, a series of battles in which the First American Army played its full part west of the Meuse.
The series of sledge-hammer blows administered by Foch's army began to have their effect not only on the battlefront, but in Berlin and Vienna, in Sofia and Constantinople. The enemy was not reaping the material benefits he had expected to derive from a Bolshevist Russia. There the Czecho-Slovak armies---former prisoners of war released by the Provisional Government---were fighting against the Germans and Bolsheviki and were soon joined by contingents of the Allies and Russians of the educated class. The Allies recognized the belligerency of the Czecho-Slovaks' country---Bohemia----and the national aspirations of the Slavonic subjects of Austria-Hungary.
On the 14th of September the allied armies in Macedonia under General Franchet d'Esperey made an attack which, on the last day of tile month, drove Bulgaria to seek unconditional surrender.
On the 15th of September the forces under General Allenby in Palestine annihilated three Turkish armies, which forced the Turks out of the war, on the same terms, October 31.
Austria Sues for Peace
On the 4th of November, Austria-Hungary, whose note to President Wilson on the 5th of October, asking for a peace parley, had been rejected on the 15th of October, and which was being severely punished by an Italian offensive begun on the 27th of October, accepted an armistice which left her helpless, with revolutionary movements in Vienna, Prague, and elsewhere tending toward the complete dissolution of the dual monarchy of the Hapsburgs. As far back as the 14th of September Austria-Hungary had attempted to have all the belligerents meet in conference, and President Wilson had rejected the proposal on the .17th of September.
On the 6th of October the new German Chancellor, Prince Max of Baden, prepared a peace parley on the basis of the President's 14 Articles of January 8 and subsequent utterances of formulae for permanent peace. On the 8th of October President Wilson asked. for the Chancellor's mandate---did it come from the authorities who bad begun and carried on the war or from the people? Germany on the 12th of October pointed out the reforms that were going on in the empire and asked for a mixed commission on the evacuation of the occupied territory in Belgium and France.
To this note President Wilson replied the next day, defining the process by which Germany might receive terms for an armistice, but insisting that the mandate must come from the German people and be preceded by an evacuation of the occupied territories.
Other notes were exchanged, Germany answering on the 21st of October and the President on the 23rd of October; and, respectively, on the 27th and the 5th of November, when the President sent to Germany a memorandum saying that the military advisers of the associated governments were prepared to submit to Germany the terms on which an armistice might be secured.
On the 8th of November. the German commissioners received the terms of the armistice at General Foch's headquarters and seventy-two hours were allowed them in which to make answer. The armistice was signed on November 11., 1918.
Chapter II. The Call to the Colors
Table of Contents