Archive for April, 2017

Are We Americans a Warlike People?

Brander Matthews, Columbia University’s Chair of Dramatic Literature, tackled the question of whether Americans were inherently militaristic in this essay written shortly after the country’s entry into World War I. Matthews’ conclusion was that although we possessed some aspects of that trait, for the most part we weren’t militaristic. However, some of his reasoning arguably doesn’t hold up as well a century later.

He declares that only two of the five wars since independence up through 1917 were fully “necessary” — the Revolutionary War and Civil War — while declaring of the War of 1812, Mexican-American War, and Spanish-American War that “no one of them was absolutely necessary.” Since then, we’ve entered several additional wars that many historians regards as less than “absolutely necessary,” among them Iraq, Vietnam, and Korea.

Matthews also writes: “Whenever we have gone to war we have been found pitiably unprepared for it — which is satisfactory evidence that we are fundamentally unmilitaristic in spirit.” The subsequent rise of what Dwight Eisenhower coined the “military-industrial complex” likely render that critique inaccurate by 2017 as well, given our large standing military, Selective Service, and sizable contingent of weapons and ships.

Are We Americans a Warlike People?: Educator Says the Fact That We Have Entered All Wars Unprepared Shows That We Are Fundamentally Unmilitaristic (PDF)

From Sunday, April 29, 1917

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Written by Jesse

April 27th, 2017 at 12:01 pm

Posted in Debate,War

Censorship Heavier Than Prussian Muzzle

The Espionage Act of 1917 remains one of the most controversial laws ever passed by Congress in American history. Signed into law in June 1917, it was used almost a century later to charge Edward Snowden and convict Chelsea Manning for releasing classified intelligence information. Defenders say the law protects national security, while opposers claim it violates the First Amendment and free speech.

In April of 1917, the bill was still being debated in Congress. Republican Senator William Borah of Idaho opposed the measure, claiming it was more restrictive than the forces we had just entered World War I to fight against:

“The things they are allowed to say and write and publish in autocratic Prussia today will be prohibited in this democratic America by the terms of this very law,” continued the Idaho Senator, “and we propose to enact it as one of the preliminaries to our entering this war to rid the world of Prussianism.”

Alas, Borah’s fight was a lonely one. The measure passed the Senate 77-6. While the House vote attracted a much higher percentage against, it still passed handily 260-107.

Censorship Heavier Than Prussian Muzzle: Senator Borah Characterizes the Espionage Bill — Senator Cummins, in Voicing His Opposition, Criticises President Wilson (PDF)

From Sunday, April 29, 1917

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Written by Jesse

April 26th, 2017 at 12:01 pm

Posted in Politics,War

Pan American University Planned for Panama

The concept of a university linking both North and South America was already off the ground by 1917.

“Now comes Dr. Edwin Grant Dexter, President of the Instituto Nacional de Panama, with a tangible suggestion and plan for the doing of this very thing. He would establish a point of academic, cultural contact between the two continents by means of a Pan American University at Panama, the middle place of the hemisphere, a rallying point for fellowship and a common endeavor for the welfare of all the twenty-one republics, both North and South.

“Such a university already has been authorized by the Republic of Panama, seven acres of land bordering on the United States Canal Zone are immediately available for the purpose, a million dollars’ worth of school buildings and dormitories already in operation…”

What happened? A search for ‘Pan American University’ reveals both the University of Texas – Pan American (a defunct Texas college founded in 1927) and also Panamerican University (a Catholic school in Mexico City founded in 1967). And searching for information on Edwin Grant Dexter doesn’t seem to reveal anything insightful. If anybody knows what happened with this plan, please reply in the comments section.

Pan American University Planned for Panama: New Bond Between North and South America Outlined by Dr. Edwin Grant Dexter — Twenty-one Republics Are Interested (PDF)

From Sunday, April 22, 1917

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Written by Jesse

April 20th, 2017 at 7:38 am

Posted in Education

Conscription Needed – By Mayor John Purroy Mitchel

In the first month and a half after America entered World War I, only about seven percent of the hoped-for number of young men to volunteer for military service actually did so, according to People’s History of the United States. In May 1917, the Selective Service Act of 1917 was enacted, making WWI only the second conflict to require a military draft. Drafts were subsequently enacted for World War II, and the Cold War conflicts of Korea and Vietnam, though since 1973 the country has relied on an all-volunteer military.

On April 22 of that year, though, a draft was not certain. The first branch of Congress to pass the legislation would not occur for another few days, until April 28. New York City Mayor John Purroy Mitchel wrote this opinion column advocating for the measure:

“We have so vividly before us the melancholy experience of England in the present war. We shall never know how many thousands, or hundreds of thousands, were simply slaughtered because of England’s unpreparedness. It has been said, and I believe truly, that if England had had universal service — and that would have meant land forces comparable with those of France and Germany — this war would not have come about.”

Conscription Needed: Mayor Mitchel Urges Support of Administration So That Country May Be Able to Protect Itself (PDF)

From Sunday, April 22, 1917

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Written by Jesse

April 19th, 2017 at 7:38 am

Posted in Politics,War

U.S. May Yet Raise $75,000,000,000 for War

Immediately after the United States entered World War I, the country was making plans to potentially collect as much as $75 billion to cover the American financial cost of the conflict. According to an estimate from the Congressional Research Service, WWI ended up costing the U.S. about $20 billion, or a little more than a quarter of the original drastic estimate.

Adjusted for inflation to 2008 dollars (the year the cost estimate was made), that cost would come to about $253 billion. In constant inflation-adjusted dollars, that made WWI by far the war with the highest American financial cost up to that point, at more than quadruple the combined Union and Confederacy costs in the Civil War. But WWI would go on to be dwarfed by WWII, coming in at a staggering 16.2 times higher cost. WWI would later be overtaken in cost as well by Korea, Vietnam, and Iraq.

U.S. May Yet Raise $75,000,000,000 for War: Milton W. Harrison of the American Bankers’ Association Believes Americans Can Produce This Sum to Fight Germany (PDF)

From Sunday, April 15, 1917

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Written by Jesse

April 14th, 2017 at 9:02 am

Posted in War

Where College Boys Prefer Study to Baseball

Reed College in Oregon, which held its first classes in 1911 only six years prior to this article, undertook several unusual initiatives among colleges at the time to created a student body excelling in academics. Among them was a mandatory senior thesis for undergraduates, not just graduates, and a lack of official intercollegiate sports teams. Both the undergraduate senior thesis and lack of NCAA sports teams still exist to this day.

Where College Boys Prefer Study to Baseball: Reed College of Portland, Oregon, Now in Its Sixth Year, Has Emerged Successfully from Unique Experiment in Education (PDF)

From Sunday, April 15, 1917

 

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Written by Jesse

April 13th, 2017 at 9:02 am

Posted in Education,Sports

Democracy of the Joke And Lack of German Humor Discussed by Leacock

On the very week that America entered World War I, Stephen Leacock explained in an article how one of the Allies’ unheralded strengths in the battle of ideas was their sense of humor, while one of Germany’s greatest weaknesses was their lack thereof:

“Do you know what is the most democratic form of literature? It is humorous literature. For of humorous literature the only test is: Do they laugh or do they not laugh? No King ever posed as a humorist. No King ever was a humorist, that is, an intentional humorist.

And one proof of the democracy of humor is its absence in Germany. Is there any one not a German to whom the German joke appeals? The German joke, like the peace of God, passeth all understanding.

Real humor is universal in its appeal; its popularity extends beyond national boundaries. Mark Twain has been translated into every language, and he is as funny in French or modern Greek as he is in English… Charles Dickens is the property of all the world; we think of him as a great humorist instead of as a man who wrote to amuse the English. But German humor does not cross the Rhine. The world knows German philosophy and German science and German scholarships, but it knows nothing of German humor. And the reason for this must be that there is no German humor to know.”

The best example of so-called ‘German humor’ ever might be this early Steve Carell clip with American comedians as “Germans who say nice things” —

 Democracy of the Joke And Lack of German Humor Discussed by Leacock: Famous Canadian Wit Also Gives His Views on the Perversity of the Russian Verb (PDF)

Published Sunday, April 8, 1917

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Written by Jesse

April 10th, 2017 at 4:02 pm

Posted in Humor,War

What It Costs in Money and Effort to Devise a Circus Spectacle

You might recognize the name of the man featured in the above photo: Alfred T. Ringling, more famous as half of the Ringling Brothers. It took a lot of work for him to run the circus:

“The working basis of a spectacle is 1,000 people, 100 to 150 horses, 10 to 25 elephants, about as many camels, sacred cows, zebras, and other exotic animals as needed, and about 30 minutes by the clock. When the spectacle is being given in Madison Square Garden a couple of hundred “supers” are hired; but when the show gets on “the road” under canvas and the Barnum & Bailey army is recruited up to its full marching strength by the addition of its corps of canvasmen and its corps of cook-house men, etc. every actor in the spectacle is a circus person and, conversely, practically every circus person is a spectacle actor.”

The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus stopped using elephants in May 2016, and in January 2017 announced their circus would end completely in May after 146 years. Check here to see if their farewell tour will be stopping by you in the next month.

What It Costs in Money and Effort to Devise a Circus Spectacle: Just a Short Curtain-Raiser, But It Means Nearly as Much Work as All the Rest of the Performance (PDF)

Published Sunday, April 8, 1917

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Written by Jesse

April 9th, 2017 at 3:36 pm

Posted in Entertainment

Each Worker Loses 9 Days Yearly by Illness

In 1917, the average worker lost nine days annually due to illness, according to Frederic W. Loughran, then medical adviser to the New York State Insurance Fund. In 2013, the average worker only called in sick 4.9 days per year. This even though the average full-time private sector employee had eight paid sick days off.

Each Worker Loses 9 Days Yearly by Illness: Lack of Attention to Principles of Modern Industrial Hygiene Responsible at Present for Enormous Waste in Our Factories (PDF)

Published Sunday, April 8, 1917

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Written by Jesse

April 8th, 2017 at 3:25 pm

Posted in Business

Individual’s Day Is Over, Says Geo. W. Perkins

This passage written by George Walbridge Perkins, then Chairman of the New York City Mayor’s Food Supply Commission, could just as easily have been written today — if not even more applicable today, considering the massive technological changes brought about by the Internet, smartphones, email, automation, and more:

We are just entering a new electrical world, where everything is done, as it were, on the instant.

Our fathers had none of the modern machinery with which social and business intercourse is now carried on. Their sons are wrestling with the problem of how to use these new methods of intercommunication and still adhere to the laws, the precedents, and the book learning of their fathers.

This is our great problem. It is a difficult, complicated problem, and is causing a struggle of titanic proportions — a struggle to throw off in a night, as it were, the precedents of an Old World for the realities of a new.

Precedent makes cowards of us all. But the educator, the scientist, and the inventor have left us no choice. We must adjust our thought and action to new conditions.

The changes of the last twenty-five years, socially, industrially, and economically, have been great, yet I believe they are infinitesimal compared to the changes that are coming.

As for the headline’s prediction that the “individual’s day is over,” that prediction did not turn out true. As my 2011 Washington Post article noted, the first 10 songs to reach #1 on the Billboard music sales chart were by eight groups and only two individuals, while as of the column’s publication, the 10 most recent #1 songs were by an almost-reversed nine individuals and only one group.

Individual’s Day Is Over, Says Geo. W. Perkins: And the Process of Curtailing His Privileges in Favor of the Community Is Still Only in Its Infancy, According to Him (PDF)

Published Sunday, April 1, 1917

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Written by Jesse

April 7th, 2017 at 2:56 pm

Posted in Life

Hunters in Autos Exterminating Big Game

The relatively new invention of the automobile was producing unforeseen consequences for hunters. William T. Hornaday, director of the New York Zoological Park, thought that lawmakers should ban the practice:

“There is not the slightest doubt,” he said, “that if things are allowed to remain for the next three years as they have been during the last three, there will be no wild game left excepting wolves and coyotes, skunk, and weasels.” This deplorable state of things is due, according to Mr. Hornaday, to crude and ineffective game laws, which allow ridiculously liberal bag limits, open seasons which are nothing less than exterminatory, the use of automatic and pump guns, and worst of all, the automobile: swift, silent, and terrible in its efficacy as a destroying agent.

Today, New York state law says “It is illegal to take or hunt wildlife while in or on a motor vehicle,” according to the state Department of Environmental Conservation. When exactly this law was passed, and whether or not it was passed shortly after this article, I couldn’t easily ascertain.

Hunters in Autos Exterminating Big Game: Unless Law Prevents Slaughter by “Sportsmen” in Motor Cars Our Wild Game Will Disappear, Says William T. Hornaday (PDF)

Published Sunday, April 1, 1917

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Written by Jesse

April 6th, 2017 at 2:54 pm

The Funniest Things in the Current Plays

What were the most uproarious lines in theatrical productions from a century ago? Reading most of them mostly confirms my belief that people weren’t funny until the late 1970s or early 1980s.

But this line from Have a Heart by Guy Bolton and P.G. Wodehouse was at least somewhat funny, reminiscent of something Woody Allen might have written in his 1970s slapstick comedy days:

“You’re Michael Robinovitch.”

“Robin – Robin – the ‘ovitch’ is silent. In New York we never pronounce our ‘ovitches.'”

The Funniest Things in the Current Plays: Lines to be Heard Just Now in New York’s Theaters Which Have Succeeded in Getting Heartiest Laughs from Audiences (PDF)

Published Sunday, April 1, 1917

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Written by Jesse

April 5th, 2017 at 2:29 pm

Posted in Humor,Theater