Monday, October 12, 2015

Today -100: October 12, 1915: Patriotism is not enough

The German occupation authorities in Belgium execute Nurse Edith Cavell, age 49. A British nurse who operated a nursing training school in Belgium since before the war, Carvel last November started hiding British soldiers caught behind enemy lines and helping smuggle them out of Belgium. Soon she was performing that service for a stream of French soldiers, Belgian soldiers, young Belgians seeking to join the Belgian army, etc., as part of a loose underground railroad, most of which was rolled up by the Germans simultaneously, thanks to some German-paid infiltrators and a gossipy nurse. One other member of the group was executed, the rest were imprisoned and released at the end of the war; several of them did the exact same things during the Second World War.

Cavell was certainly breaking the rules of war and the Germans were within their rights to try and execute her, but boy it didn’t look good and the British exploited the story and mythologized it for all (and more than) it was worth (one of the posters below illustrates the made-up story that the German firing squad refused to carry out the order to shoot and an officer stepped in with his revolver or, alternately, that she fainted and was shot while laying on the ground unconscious). The night before her execution she told a chaplain: “Patriotism is not enough. I must have no hatred or bitterness toward any one.” In the ‘20s there was some debate over whether these words were too pacifist to be included on her memorial. After the war, her body was repatriated and buried at Norwich Cathedral and her dog Jack was stuffed and displayed at the Imperial War Museum.

For the month after the news of the execution reached England (a few days from now), enlistment doubled. British Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey pointed out in Parliament that Britain never subjected even spies who happened to be women to more than penal servitude. Kaiser Wilhelm ordered that no more women be executed without his personal authorization, although a few more would be.

The NYT describes Minnie Reynolds, President of the Women’s Political Union of New Jersey: “She is a woman of middle age. There is nothing mannish about her except possibly the businesslike way in which she conducts the conversation”. Reynolds says that Woodrow Wilson’s endorsement is very helpful: “it will stop the vacant laughing of shallow minds and check these fools who go about yapping about woman suffrage, trying to make it a joke.”

Abigail Scott Duniway, Northwestern women’s suffragist and publisher, dies at 81. An early (1852) pioneer settler in Oregon, she published the New Northwest (“not a Woman’s Rights, but a Human Rights organ”) for 16 years. She opposed prohibition, mostly because she believed the association of some suffragists with that cause was responsible for the defeat of several women’s suffrage referenda in Oregon. She also blamed the opposition of The Oregonian and its editor – her brother.

Fog of War (Rumors, Propaganda and Just Plain Bullshit) of the Day -100: The German press says there is rioting in Moscow and elsewhere in Russia, while the Italian press says there are mutinies in the Bulgarian army.

At a Daughters of the American Revolution event, Pres. Wilson says that Americans must declare whether they are for America first or not, whether they are “hyphenated Americans” who want to “use the might of America in some manner not of America’s originative.” (Huh, my spellcheck isn’t complaining about originative; I guess it is a real word).

Headline of the Day -100:

William Gillette revives his play “Sherlock Holmes” at the Empire Theatre, New York. Moriarty is played (by Joseph Brennan) as Irish.

By the way, the recently rediscovered 1916 film version, the only film Gillette ever shot, will play on Turner Classics on the 18th.

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