Archive for the ‘Military / War’ Category

One Soldier on “Three Soldiers”

Even the most popular cultural phenomena can fade away. A 1921 New York Times Magazine article begins: “Every one now seems to have taken part in the discussion of John Dos Passos’s brilliantly written novel” Three Soldiers.

Today, the novel’s Wikipedia article barely contains any information, while its Goodreads page has 1,131 user ratings. For comparison, the most famous fellow World War I-set novels include 378,971 user ratings for All Quiet on the Western Front and 281,251 for A Farewell to Arms.

This 1921 analysis by Harold Norman Denny criticized Three Soldiers for an excessive focus on the negative in its tale of combat soldiers, particularly galling when the novel’s author himself did not serve in combat but rather was an ambulance driver.

Mr. Dos Passos has combed the army for every rotten incident that happened, could have happened, or could be imagined as having happened, and welded it into a compelling narrative. He pictures this conglomeration as the army. This was not the army, of course, any more [sic] than a graphic description of Jefferson Market Police Court would do for a picture of New York.

“Three Soldiers” purports to be a description of the actions and reactions of men in the combat forces; even to describe them on the battlefield, and in so doing it makes them out abject or malignant. The offense of the book is that Mr. Dos Passos does not know what he is talking about. He was a non-combatant.

Then again, when Bruce Springsteen began writing his iconic songs about cars and the open road, he didn’t know how to drive.

 

One Soldier on “Three Soldiers” (PDF)

Published: Sunday, October 16, 1921

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Written by A Step in the Write Direction

October 16th, 2021 at 12:28 pm

The League and the Washington Conference

As the first multinational arms control conference in history approached in fall 1921, this preview article asked:

Will the spirit that defeated the work of Mr. Wilson [the U.S. Senate’s failure to ratify the country’s entry into the nascent League of Nations] also defeat the plans of Mr. Harding? After the disillusionment and reaction that followed the armistice [which ended World War I], can public opinion once more be raised to a level of clarity and strength that will make partisan issues and personal interests subservient to the welfare of the whole human race?

The answer, perhaps surprisingly, was yes. Or rather, it was yes… for a time.

The Washington Naval Conference would be attended by representatives of nine nations — Belgium, Britain, China, France, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Portugal, and the U.S. — and result in three major arms control treaties.

However, the treaties were not renewed and ultimately expired in 1936. World War II started in 1939, with U.S. involvement beginning in late 1941. It’s unlikely that the treaties would have prevented World War II even if they’d remained in effect, though, since Germany was not a party to the agreements.

 

The League and the Washington Conference (PDF)

Published: Sunday, September 18, 1921

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September 17th, 2021 at 1:01 pm

How Germany Will Pay

This 1921 article questioned how Germany would ever pay off its World War I debts. The answer: very, very slowly. They only finished paying those debts in 2010.

Some day Germany will pay. How much and when are problems still to be decided. Cotinuance of divided councils among the Allies, more particularly within France, may defer the solutions for some time; but pay she will.

Part of the solution came from future Vice President Charles G. Dawes, who as a member of the Allied Reparations Commission in 1924 suggested a system whereby them U.S. would lend money to Germany, which in turn would pay back what they owed to the U.K. and France. The plan won Dawes the 1925 Nobel Prize.

Alas, the plan’s success proved short-lived. First, Germany suspended the payments in 1931 during the global Great Depression, although they’d only paid about one-eighth of what they owed at the time. Then, Hitler refused to continue the payments once in power. Germany split into East and West in 1949, and West Germany specifically agreed to resume World War I debt payments in 1953, paying off the principle during the 1980s. After Germany’s reunification in 1990, the country continued paying off the interest — not finishing until 2010.

Slow and steady wins the race.

 

How Germany Will Pay (PDF)

Published: Sunday, February 20, 1921

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February 21st, 2021 at 9:59 am

A World Ruled From the Air

Three 1920 predictions by the British Air Ministry’s Cuthbert Hicks about the future speed, carrying capacity, and military influence of aircraft — two predictions proved wild underestimates, while a third proved a wild overestimate.

At the moment the fastest officially recognized speed attained by aircraft is one hundred and eighty-seven miles an hour — three miles every minute. What it will be in ten years’ time no one can say, but, remembering that ten years ago the record speed was barely fifty miles an hour, I do not feel that it would be extravagant to prophesy a three-hundred-mile-an-hour rate in 1930. In other words, aircraft could reach from Europe in ten hours.

This prediction proved an underestimate. A 300 mile per hour flight airspeed was surpassed in 1928, and by 1930 the record stood at 357.7 miles per hour. The modern-day record: 2,193.16 miles per hour.

It is well to remember, also, that there are machines being built today that will carry one hundred men or their equivalent in weight or bombs. Perhaps in ten years’ time it will be possible to carry two hundred and fifty men or their terrible equipment. Why not?

The prediction was that in 1930 planes could carry approximately 50,000 pounds. That was a considerable underestimate as well. 1929’s Dornier Do X aircraft had a maximum takeoff weight of 123,460 pounds.

The time is coming when aircraft will be so perfected that land and sea forces will cease either to be useful or necessary, for a squadron of aircraft will have more value than an army division or a navy squadron… So I repeat that aerial supremacy will rule the world; and when that supremacy is temporarily in the hands of an unscrupulous nation, then flying will be a curse. For an invincible air fleet will be able to force its will upon any country, however large, with ease.

Land and sea forces hardly ceased to be useful or necessary. Today, the U.S. Air Force has fewer active duty members than the Army, or about the same number as the Navy. And although some nations certainly maintain greater air power than others, no one single country gained true “aerial supremacy” or “an invincible air fleet.”

 

A World Ruled From the Air (PDF)

Published: Sunday, October 3, 1920

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September 30th, 2020 at 12:01 pm

China Chief Problem in Maintaining World Peace

This 1920 article named China as the country most threatening world peace. As the Chinese-originated COVID-19 disease shuts down life and economies across the globe, that prophecy appears prescient.

Indeed, President Trump has increasingly and controversially taken to calling it “the Chinese virus.” However, many medical experts including the World Health Organization have called on him to stop:

But aside from the coronavirus, is China otherwise the country most threatening world peace today? That’s hard to say — depending on who you ask, that ignominious title probably goes to North Korea, Russia, or Iran. China is likely up there, but probably not #1 in most experts’ minds.

Or maybe the country most threatening world peace is actually America? A 2017 Pew research poll found that globally, 35% of respondents thought America’s power and influence was a major threat, compared to 31% who said the same of Russia and China.

This 1920 article about China was written by Theodore E. Burton, a Republican former U.S. senator from Ohio. (He would later return to the position again for less than a year in 1928-29.) Burton suggested that China had massive potential, but that its poor economy and lack of national unity at the time would hamper it.

The result of all these conditions is that the Chinese are a people, not a nation, an aggregation of families and clans, so distinct in their aspirations and interests as to create almost insuperable obstacles to unity and political organization. With most of them life is a constant struggle for daily bread, and in that struggle the obligations of each day are primarily to relatives and neighbors. Thus loyalty is not to any Government, but to family and friends.

Since then, China’s economy has skyrocketed thanks to its partial embrace of free-market principles, and its national unity has also soared ever since the Chinese Communist Party’s takeover in 1949.

Burton quoted former Secretary of State John Hay about China: “Whoever understands this mighty empire, socially, politically, economically, and religiously, has the key to the world’s politics for the next three centuries.”

Yes and no. China has absolutely surged as a global power, now claiming the world’s largest population and second-largest economy. But the country that truly became the “key to the world’s politics” between 1920 and 2020 was less China and more the U.S., which a century ago was certainly a major player but arguably not yet the global superpower, as it would become in earnest post-WWII and especially post-Cold War.

 

China Chief Problem in Maintaining World Peace: Country Is Backward Politically Because Its Gaze Is Backward, and Its Enormous Natural Riches Are a Temptation to Stronger Powers (PDF)

Published: Sunday, March 21, 1920

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March 19th, 2020 at 12:01 pm

The Next War

In 1920, Harvard government professor Albert Bushnell Hart accurately predicted Germany and Italy might launch another world war. His prediction that it may occur within five years was a bit pessimistic — it actually took 19.

When you turn to Eastern Europe and Western Asia, the patient has taken not ether but hasheesh [sic], and is either submerged in dreams or raving with terror and fury. Germany undoubtedly wants peace for the present, but, as a vigorous and intellectual German has recently written: “We Germans in general remain sound and complete; so much the world will certainly experience in the future.” Nobody can believe that the German people have been made a peace-loving nation by their defeat.

He was right about Germany, which later became one of the three main Axis powers in World War II, along with Japan and Italy. Speaking of which, Hart was also concerned about Italy too.

The cry which went through the world in 1917 was that civilization was dying unless the Western powers could band together “to make democracy safe” and, much more directly, to make safe their capitals, ports, factories, mines, and fields. For this, 2,000,000 American soldiers crossed the sea, and by their actual fighting and their presence turned the balance. And who can fail to see that democracy is still at least unsatisfied, even in the democratic countries of Great Britain, France, and Italy? Public opinion in those countries is still a boiling pot; nobody can say with any confidence what party or what political group will be in power and make the decisions in those three countries five years hence. And all those countries are in a dangerous, and some in a desperate, financial situation.

So what do to if international tensions boiled over into a worldwide conflict again? Hart’s answer reflected a perceived inevitability:

What would we do in those circumstances? What could we do, but what was done in 1917? Declare war and trust in Providence!

He was right… for better or for worse.

The Next War: Demoralized but Bellicose World May Come to It in Five Years, Unless the League and Universal Training Are Adopted as Protection (PDF)

Published: Sunday, February 8, 1920

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February 6th, 2020 at 12:01 pm

Carillon Tower Planned as a Victory Memorial

In 1920, a tower of bells to honor America’s WWI victory — one bell provided by each U.S. state — was planned for Washington, D.C. The structure was never built.

Further to enhance the proposed carillon with a peculiar memorial significance, bills have been introduced in Congress to grant the use of 200,000 pounds of brass shell cases, or other brass or copper salvaged from the battlefields of France, to be used in the making of the bells. War metals from each of the allies will also be sought for the bells.

Although several of these bell towers — called “carillons” — were built to honor WWI globally, including several in the U.S., none were built in the Washington, D.C. area.

The nation’s most prominent WWI carillon today is probablythe 240-foot structure in Richmond, Virginia. Although not a carillon because it contains no bells, the 217-foot Liberty Memorial in Kansas City, Missouri is also a prominent memorial to the war.

The primary carillon in the Washington, D.C. area today is the Netherlands Carillon to honor WWII, erected in 1954 just outside Arlington National Cemetery.

Construction on the long-awaited WWI memorial in the nation’s capital only began last month: December 2019.

 

Carillon Tower Planned as a Victory Memorial: Music of Bells, One Provided by Each State and Territory, Would Sound Over Washington as Daily Reminders of America’s Part in the World War (PDF)

Published: Sunday, February 1, 1920

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January 28th, 2020 at 12:01 pm

Posted in Art,Military / War

If the Treaty is Rejected — What Then?

Although WWI fighting ended November 1918, the Treaty of Versailles to formally end the war was registered in late October 1919. Requiring territorial changes and reparations, enough U.S. senators opposed it to prevent 2/3 passage by Congress.

Here, two U.S. senators debated the pros and cons of the treaty: Nebraska Democrat Gilbert Hitchcock in favor and Idaho Republican William Borah against.

Sen. Hitchcock, in favor:

This treaty… was secured from Germany at the cannon’s mouth. They all represent concessions which Germany would not willingly grant.

We have withdrawn our armies from Europe except a few thousand men, and have practically completed demobilization. We are through fighting, and Germany knows it. If we fail to hold her to the bargain made at Versailles when the armies were in the field and when Germany was helpless, we will be compelled to negotiate as equals and lose a large part of all that was granted in the settlement.

Sen. Borah, against:

If the treaty is rejected, the United States will be relieved at once of all obligations, legal or moral, to take part in European affairs, and we will as a people be enabled to take up at once and devote our entire time and attention to the solution of impending domestic problems.

Whatever we should see fit or think proper to do in the way of friendly assistance, advice, or support for other peoples anywhere, we should be able to do of our own volition and in our own way, relieved entirely of the embarrassment of carrying forward the plans and schemes of other nations.

Two Senate votes were taken on November 19, 1919, exactly a month after this article’s publication. One vote rejected the treaty 41-51, the other vote later in the day rejected the treaty 39-55.

However, enough other nations signed the treaty that it went into effect regardless. This is similar to other international agreements during the Trump administration, such as the Paris climate accords, which remain in effect with almost every nation besides the U.S. still party to its provisions.

Also, clearly 1919 was an era when referring to “Hitchcock” by last name alone — as this article does — meant the Nebraska senator Gilbert, not the film director Alfred.

If the Treaty is Rejected — What Then?: The Question Answered by Hitchcock and Borah (PDF)

Published: October 19, 1919

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October 16th, 2019 at 12:43 pm

Our Twenty-one Generals of Forty Years and Under

In World War I, 21 men were promoted to General at age 40 or younger. The youngest was John N. Hodges, at 34.

Another was Douglas MacArthur at 38, who would go on to far greater acclaim in World War II as General of the Army and leader of U.S. forces in Japan.

How many generals are 40 or younger today? That appears surprisingly difficult to find out.

The lowest such level is a one-star general, also known as a brigadier general. There are currently more than 400 brigadier generals, and I was unable to find a definitive list of even their names, let alone their ages as well. Searching for things like ‘youngest brigadier general’ didn’t turn up any answers, either. The main results for such searches were primarily about Galusha Pennypacker, the youngest brigadier general ever, who reached that rank at age 20 during the Civil War.

If anybody has an answer, please reply in the comments.

Our Twenty-one Generals of Forty Years and Under: Youthful Brigadiers to Whom the Great War Brought Rapid Promotion in Different Branches of the Army (PDF)

Published: Sunday, August 24, 1919

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August 22nd, 2019 at 11:19 am

Posted in Military / War

Skyrockets and Flares as Aids to Our Fighters

While telephone and radio had become widespread by WWI, different colored fireworks were also used to send coded messages.

While the telephone was extensively employed for communication purposes, absolute reliance was not placed on it, and the troops were profusely equipped with numerous methods of night signaling. The code was changed from day to day, and great attention was paid to drilling the men in the use of pyrotechnic signals. The chief advantage lay in the rapidity of sending and receiving. There was no carrying of messages: there was no ambiguity of language, and there was no “listening in” on the part of the enemy.

An example in battle: signaling to your troops an imminent gas attack using green fireworks.

For instance, on some special night, green might be the signal for gas. When the advanced positions detected gas, a green light was shot up from the Véry pistol, this signal was relayed from the trenches with V.B. cartridges, and eventually a rocket ascended high into the heavens, expelling at the height of its trajectory a little green light suspended from a paper parachute. More detailed information eventually found its way over the telephone communication. A similar signal the next night might call for the barrage.

Hey, if it works, it works. The newest tech isn’t always the best way to communicate.

Skyrockets and Flares as Aids to Our Fighters: Uncle Sam Had to Learn How to Make Fireworks When He Got Into the War, Because Telephones and Wireless Were Inadequate for Communication at the Front (PDF)

Published: Sunday, August 17, 1919

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Written by A Step in the Write Direction

August 16th, 2019 at 1:43 pm

Posted in Military / War