War's Ugly Harvest
The World at War
The slightest acquaintance with history shows that powerful republics are the most warlike and unscrupulous of nations.
- Ambrose Bierce
America is the only nation in history which miraculously has gone directly from barbarism to degeneration
- Georges Clemenceau
A Plan for Quick Victory
The von Schlieffen Plan was Germany’s plan for quick victory over France, one they felt would quickly free them to attack Russia. They thought Russia would take at least 6 weeks to mobilise and felt France could be easily defeated by then, Belgium would not resist any German attack and Britain would remain neutral - but this was not the reality. On 2 August 1914, the German army invaded Luxembourg and Belgium according to the Plan. Germans were held up by the Belgium army backed up by British Expeditionary Forces which arrived extremely quickly. Russia mobilised in just 10 days and Germany had to withdraw troops to defend her eastern border. Germany did not grab the chance to take Paris, instead deciding to attack east of the capital where they were met by French at the battle of the Marne, halting the German advance. The Schlieffen Plan's assumptions had been flawed.
Tannenberg was the first major engagement between Germans and Russians, which the Germans won - the Russians suffered from incompetent leadership. Two intelligence intercepts had been transmitted unciphered by the two Russian generals, Samsunov and Rennenkampf. The messages’ contents were explosive. The first revealed the distance between the two Russian armies and their imminent marching plans. The second was similarly remarkable, providing a detailed plan for the intended route of pursuit of the German forces.
The Germans cut communications among one branch of the Russian army and confined the left-most branch while the centre was prevented from retreating. Having decided that Rennenkampf’s troops were unlikely to attempt to join Samsunov’s, two German corps were sent south where on the following day they met Samsunov’s forces. Surprised and disorganised, Samsunov troops began a retreat for the Russian border.
Another unciphered intercept allowed the Germans to safely surround Samsunov’s men, who scattered - many throwing down their weapons and running - directly into the encircling German forces. Some 95,000 Russians troops were captured in the action and an estimated 30,000 killed or wounded. Of the original 150,000 men, only 10,000 escaped. The Germans suffered fewer than 20,000 casualties and, in addition to the prisoners, had also captured over 500 guns. Sixty trains were required to transport the captured equipment back to Germany.
Samsonov, lost in the surrounding forests with his aides, shot himself, unable to face reporting the scale of the disaster to his Tsar, Nicholas II. His body was subsequently found by German search parties and accorded a military burial.
The Allies consisted of England, France, and Russia; the Central Powers were Germany, Austria-Hungary, and later the Ottoman Turks. One of the things that brought England into the fight was that Germany marched through Belgium to attack France, which was a violation of international law. Allied propaganda immediately got underway depicting German atrocities on the Belgians in an attempt to get neutral countries such as America to join the Allied cause. One such poster had a gorilla wearing a German hat holding a barbaric club in its hand, with the words “Destroy this mad brute!” under it.
Due to British efforts, Germans were bogged down by Allied resistance, slowing to a stop 20 miles from Paris. Both sides immediately dug trenches, setting the stage for the most brutal trench warfare ever. Poison gas was just one of the weapons used in the trenches, but it could not be controlled well enough to be effective as a weapon even if both sides had not had gas-masks – which they did. The universal horror with which gas was viewed led to a post-war ban on lethal gas which came into effect in 1925. No subsequent conflict has made such large-scale use of poison gas as did the First World War.
By the end of 1914, Germany was winning on the Eastern front, but the Western front was a bloody stalemate.
Over in the Ottoman Empire, Turkey had closed the Black Sea to Russia, so Winston Churchill masterminded a raid on the port city of Gallipoli, in an attempt to open up a way through the Ottoman's blockade and get to Russia. It was a total disaster – so much so that Churchill was forced to resign as head of the admiralty.
T E Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) became a hero during the period when the British were fighting the Turks: the Arabs fought alongside the British, and Lawrence, well known for sympathising with Arabs and dressing as if he were one, felt that the Arabs should be given total independence for their assistance; however this did not happen. (Britain felt she was promised more help than she got.)
In order of importance, were: The Western Front, the Eastern Front, then the Middle-Eastern Front.
There were two significant battles that attempted to break the stalemate on the Western front. In February, 1916, Germany tried to attack at a different place to bleed off French forces; this was the Battle of Verdun. Verdun was not well defended, however the French found out about the attack in time to get at least some reinforcements there. In an attempt to counteract this, the Germans used their flamethrowers there for the first time in the war. While horrific, the weapon was essentially useless due to its danger to the user, and to its extremely small fuel tank. The Germans had expected to take Verdun quickly, however after the initial attack failed it slid into a war of attrition that lasted for 10 months with massive casualties on both sides. Some 500,000 French troops and 300,000 German troops were injured or killed.
The French, for their part, were becoming very demoralised, and were just trying to hold on. The British rallied the Allied forces together into a combined army and mounted a massive offensive at the Somme River. After an initial failure, British tanks were introduced to try and turn the Battle of the Somme; however these proved slow and unreliable. Within the next 6 months, 600,000 British soldiers, 200,000 French, and 400,000 German troops became casualties of war. More than 2 million people had died between the two battles, yet still no progress had been made. F Scott Fitzgerald, in his novel Tender is the Night called the war “a river of blood.”
Traditionally, wars, for example the Napoleonic Wars, had allowed civilian life to continue more-or-less as normal; however, in WWI this tradition changed. All objectives focused on the war and all men had to be ready and willing to serve. The war relied heavily on machines which had to be supplied. This, coupled with the shortage of males - who had been called off to war - allowed women to get jobs in industries not open to them in the past. Women even became fire fighters and street sweepers. (This helped the suffragette cause immensely.)
What started out as a traditional war took on a new dynamic with the entrance of the US. Many of America’s earlier ideas were being discarded, specifically the idea of not being engaged in “entangling alliances”. America was becoming more powerful and self-confident, and felt she could do whatever she wished. The Spanish-American war was over, and a Realist view of foreign policy, headed by Theodore Roosevelt, felt that the US needed to enter the war just to control Germany, as Germany was now making use of the submarine to evade the British navy and was ruthlessly sinking neutral supply ships without warning. Germany stated that the “rules no longer applied.” This led to outrage on 8 May 1915 when Germany sank the 30,000-tonne British liner Lusitania. The ship submerged in 15 minutes; of the 1,257 passengers, 702 crew and estimated 3 stowaways, 1,201 of them were killed (including 125 of the 128 Americans on board). Though there were ample lifeboats, most were not usable because of the ship's sudden list - made much worse when water poured through lower-deck portholes (opened for air circulation against the rules). President Woodrow Wilson, however, an idealist, said, “A nation must be too proud to fight." At his request, Germany apologised, which settled the public uproar somewhat and enabled Wilson to win re-election on the slogan, “He kept us out of the war!” The Germans apologised and paid $2.5 million in damages.
The Germans themselves were uncertain as to how best to employ their U-boat fleet. Their attacks on merchant vessels without warning were in violation of international law, and risked bringing the US into the war. At the same time, any U-boat that surfaced became vulnerable to attack either by armed merchantmen or by enemy warships nearby. Not until January 1917 did the blustering Kaiser commit his country to the policy of unrestricted submarine warfare that brought the United States into the war. In that year, a number of American cargo ships were sunk in violation of the agreement Germany had with the US. On top of this, the State Department intercepted the so-called Zimmerman Telegram to Mexico (see article "The Tampico Incident" below), indicating that Germany could maybe help Mexico take back what she had lost to the US if she would side with Germany. This, on top of the resumption of submarine warfare, caused Wilson to call a vote to go to war, which succeeded, though it was not unanimous. America felt she was being dragged into war in any case, so, out of practical necessity, might as well get completely involved so that she could influence the aftermath.
America felt that she needed to help shape the post-war world, called WWI “the war to end all wars” and Americans told each other that the war’s outcome would be to make the world safe for democracy. American soldiers were called Doughboys, and back home everyone was singing the song Over There. When the Yanks finally arrived, they found that they were exposed to the same awful conditions that the French soldiers had been. Eddie Rickenbacher soon distinguished himself as a hotshot fighter pilot. Back home, newsreels shown in all the theatres urged people to buy Liberty Bonds; there was a backlash against Evil Germany: sauerkraut was renamed Liberty Cabbage, and hamburgers were then called Liberty Sausage. German was no longer taught in schools.
The Bolshevik Government, rallied by Lenin, took Russia out of the war. Some months before, the Tsar had been removed as head of state. This allowed Germany to win on the Eastern Front, so that she could concentrate all her efforts on the Western Front. British and US troops (the latter under the control of General George Pershing), were squeezing the Germans, cutting off their supplies. Finally, in 1918, the Kaiser was forced out and went into exile. The Austrian government collapsed soon after, signifying the Allied victory, and the Armistice was signed in a rail car soon after. Germany was not subjected to humiliation during the war, but rather due to the terms of peace.
President Woodrow Wilson had proposed Fourteen Points which he saw as essential to a longstanding permanent peace. Among these points were:
Wilson also said that new nations would be carved out of the losing empires. This included Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland and Yugoslavia; further, parts of Turkey became Iran, Iraq, and Palestine. German colonial holdings in Asia and Africa were to be divvied up as well.
Wilson went to Paris to try and get his Fourteen Points ratified - most importantly, the last one setting up a League of Nations. No American president had ever left the US while in office and, though he was cheered at his reception when he arrived, Wilson had significantly blundered already. The constitution states that no president can make a treaty unless ratified by Congress by a 2/3 majority vote. Wilson was a Democrat, and the Senate was Republican, so it was understandably insulting to the entirety of the Senate when Wilson declined to take a single Republican with him to Paris. On top of this, the British Prime Minister David Lloyd-George and the French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau did not agree with Wilson – they felt that “to the victor go the spoils.” The French wanted revenge for the Franco-Prussian War; the first thing they ensured was the return of Alsace-Lorraine as reparation.
The Allies could not agree on whether or not Germany should pay full reparation. Wilson said “No”, the French said “Definitely” and the British said “Maybe”. The Treaty of Versailles that eventually emerged, however, placed full blame on Germany for the war – Germany had to admit it was at fault, promise it would never have an army bigger than 100,000 men, and pay huge reparations. The average German did not feel he had really been beaten and rebelled. In the end, however, Germany was left with bitter feelings and no real choice in the matter.
Throughout the armistice the Allies maintained the naval blockade of Germany begun during the war. This blockade is estimated to have caused the deaths of 800,000 German civilians from malnutrition during the final two years of the war. The continuation of the blockade after the fighting ended would "torment the Germans - driving them with the fury of despair into the arms of the devil." Historians have since argued the harsh post-war treatment was one of the primary causes of World War II; others advocated that the Allies should have been even harder on Germany.
Back in Versailles, Wilson essentially forced his last point, regarding the League of Nations, through but once he managed that, he still had to return to America and get it ratified there. Opposing him were two major factions in Congress: The Irreconcilables - the ones who had not wanted to go to war to begin with, much less become active in a League of Nations (who were in the minority) and the majority, the Reservationists, or Realists. Roosevelt had died, so Senator Henry Cabot Lodge took up his mantle, and became the Senate leader. The Senate did not like Article X of the League of Nations, which stated essentially that the League of Nations would have the power to override even the president on matters which the League deemed of international concern. It was felt that only Congress should have the right to declare war, and so they demanded the League remove Article X for the US to join. Wilson refused to compromise and stumped the country trying to get the masses to back his idea.
Unfortunately while travelling Wilson suffered a massive stroke and became paralysed. Wilson’s wife took over and subsequently controlled all access to him. This succeeded only because everyone agreed that the Vice President was an insignificant figure. Over time, Wilson became even more rigid in his position, until finally the Secretary of State quit in disgust.
Wilson was so firm in his belief that he was right that he told his supporters to vote down the amendments. However what he missed was that the unamended treaty would also be voted down, so the US was never a member of the League of Nations. Most scholars, however, discredit claims that this was one of the seeds of WWII.
The whole legacy of WWI is an ugly harvest. It was inevitable that there would be some conflict with the Germans, but WWI made that situation infinitely worse – there was no moral clarity.
The "W" shape of fatalities is unique, perhaps representing a generation that had built up no immunity
The US rejected the Versailles treaty and negotiated a separate peace with Germany in 1921. The focus of the West was shifting from Europe to the US, and this sped the rise of communism and Nazism, which ultimately caused more suffering than the Great War had. A separate but related event was the great influenza pandemic. A virulent new strain of the flu, originating in the United States but misleadingly known as "Spanish Flu", was accidentally carried to Europe by infected American forces personnel. The disease spread rapidly through both the continental US and Europe, eventually reaching around the globe. The exact number of deaths is unknown but 20 - 50 million people are estimated to have died from the flu worldwide.
The Tampico Incident
It is understanding that gives us an ability to have peace.
- Harry S Truman
The value systems of those with access to power and of those far removed from such access cannot be the same.
- Aung San Suu Kyi
The Tampico Incident of April 1914, which ultimately almost led to the outbreak of war between the US and Mexico, began with the arrest of 9 American sailors from the USS Dolphin on Mexican territory - Tampico - for allegedly entering a prohibited area.
Consequently paraded through the streets of Tampico the plight of the US sailors outraged the regional US naval commander Admiral Henry Mayo who demanded that the Mexican government, under dictator General Victoriano Huerta (left) since his coup in February 1913, promise to punish officials involved in the arrest of the seaman, and that the US flag be given a formal 21-gun salute on Mexican land within 24 hours.
While the Mexicans were willing to issue an apology and punish over-zealous local officials, they were not prepared to concede the humiliation of formally saluting the US flag on Mexican land (particularly as the US refused to accept the legitimacy of Huerta's government). US President Woodrow Wilson was nevertheless insistent, exasperated by what he regarded as the latest in a line of Mexican incidents.
There was no love lost between Wilson and Huerta. The former had unambiguously declared Huerta to be "false... sly... full of bravado... seldom sober and always irresponsible" and a "scoundrel". Huerta in turn regarded Wilson disdainfully as the "puritan of the north". Consequently Wilson spoke before the US Congress on 20 April 1914 and requested authorisation to use military force if necessary to resolve the issue. He argued "the incident cannot be regarded as... trivial... especially as two of the men arrested were taken from the boat itself - that is... from territory of the United States". Congress granted its permission some two days later.
Wilson responded by despatching a force of US marines to the Mexican port of Veracruz, an action that led to the overthrow of Huerta. Wilson felt his actions to be justified but came under fire from European governments for his supposedly heavy-handed approach (notably from Germany).
Huerta's departure from the Mexican capital was not the end of the matter. Festering Mexican ill-will toward the US was fanned by the despatch of a telegram by the German government (as represented by Arthur Zimmermann) in January 1917 - the so-called Zimmermann Telegram - in which he intimated that Mexico would gain the possibility of annexing US territory were it to join Germany in a combined campaign against the US. Although the US was at that stage neutral in its attitude to the warring powers in Europe, British interception - and transmission to Washington - of Zimmermann's telegram effectively decided Wilson to go to war with Germany in April 1917.
Source: firstworldwar.com Sunday 20 October 2002
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