Sunday, April 30, 2017

Today -100: April 30, 1917: Of non-neutrals, offensives, commissions, and processions


Police in Berlin ordered American citizens to report to police stations every day, not leave the city without permission, and to observe a curfew. But the Foreign Office says Americans are being treated as non-neutrals rather than as enemies because Germany hasn’t recognized the American declaration of war. I didn’t know you could just do that.

Robert Nivelle didn’t last very long as commander-in-chief of the French Army. Following the failure of the Nivelle Offensive, he is replaced by Philippe Pétain, or rather he is left in his post but Pétain is given the newly re-created post of chief of staff so the power can be shifted to him without the government having to admit that Nivelle’s appointment was a mistake. The offensive will be abandoned in a week or so.

Following the British commission’s visit to the US last week, there’s a French one this week, headed by former prime minister René Viviani and Marshal Joseph Joffre, who says he’d like to see US troops sent to the front sooner than the US plans, one unit at a time as they become ready.

Austrian socialists and unions will hold a general strike on May Day.

Carrie Chapman Catt of the National American Woman’s Suffrage Association writes to chambers of commerce throughout the US urging that women who replace men at work during the war be paid equal wages. SPOILER ALERT: they won’t be.

In Petrograd, an anti-pacifist, anti-Lenin procession consisting of wounded soldiers (suggesting that they are acting under orders) is addressed by US Ambassador David Francis, who says Americans were thrilled at news of the Russian Revolution. He also rejects Lenin’s idea of a separate peace.


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Saturday, April 29, 2017

Today -100: April 29, 1917: Of separate peaces, conscription, and small nationalities


Austria has been putting out peace feelers towards Russia, suggesting that it has given up its plans to carve out Russia’s Polish territories. This is pissing off the German press, because it means that Austria and Germany may no longer have shared war aims.

Conscription (“selective service”) passes the House 397-24 and the Senate 81-8. Both houses vote to double the current pay of enlisted men. The Senate version would draft men aged 21 to 27, the House version 21 to 40. States will be responsible for providing a number of soldiers proportionate to their population. No sign-up bonus will be allowed, no paying for substitutes as in the Civil War.

200 members of Congress cable Prime Minister Lloyd George, asking him to “settle the Irish problem” in accordance with Woodrow Wilson’s principle of waging war “for the world-wide safety of democracy and of small nationalities.” They don’t mention, oh I don’t know, India, which to be fair is a fucking huge nationality.

Guatemala breaks relations with Germany.


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Friday, April 28, 2017

Today -100: April 28, 1917: Of suspicious, surly, dangerous neighbors, conscription, and olde timey pasttimes


British Prime Minister Lloyd George says getting the Irish to support the war is essential to winning it quickly. “We must convert Ireland from a suspicious, surly, dangerous neighbour to a cheerful, loyal comrade.” Well if that doesn’t do it, I don’t know what will.

Congress is still working on conscription. Opposition to it is fading for no obvious reason. The House rejects an amendment authorizing Pres. Wilson to accept Theodore Roosevelt’s request to be allowed to raise a volunteer regiment to be sent immediately (if not sooner) to France. Actually, there’s nothing stopping Wilson doing this now if he wants; this amendment is TR’s attempt to do an end run around the opposition of Wilson and the War Department to his plan.

The New York State Senate passes a bill banning the past-time practiced at your classier recreational resorts of paying to throw baseballs at the heads of negroes.


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Thursday, April 27, 2017

Today -100: April 27, 1917: The world cannot exist half democratic and half autocratic


A German newspaper says Woodrow Wilson’s reported support for a Jewish state in Palestine (which if true I’ve missed) is “an English war aim against Turkey,” aimed at creating a land bridge between the British territories of Egypt and India.

Former senator, secretary of state and secretary of war Elihu Root, who will soon leave for Russia as part of a commission to coordinate war efforts, tells the American Society of International Law that the war against Germany is the great peace movement. “The world cannot exist half democratic and half autocratic. It must be all democratic or all Prussian.”

Woodrow Wilson writes the editor of the New York Evening Journal to deny any intention to use the broad powers of the Espionage Bill to suppress criticism. He almost sounds sincere. Well, until he adds a few adjectives, saying he wouldn’t want to lose “the benefit of patriotic and intelligent criticism.” “Unless it’s by that fucker Eugene Debs,” he doesn’t add, it’s just kind of implied, but then Wilson’s tolerance for patriotic and intelligent criticism of himself was never very high and declined steadily during the war.

Again, the Espionage Act is still in force and it’s the law Obama used to go after leakers. Or, as Glenn Greenwald would point out, to selectively go after only those leakers who damaged the White House politically.


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Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Today -100: April 26, 1917: Some Americans have at last begun to hit


The US steamship Mongolia sinks a German u-boat. Theodore Roosevelt, on hearing the news: “Thank heaven, some Americans have at last begun to hit.”

In Congress, Speaker of the House “Champ” Clark speaks for an hour against conscription: “So far as Missourians are concerned, there is precious little difference between a conscript and a convict.” And it’s unnecessary because “There is not a scintilla of evidence that we are a race of cowards or mollycoddles.”

The Espionage Bill has been altered in Congress to make it a little less of a threat to the First Amendment. It would now outlaw collecting military information only if done with the intention of injuring the United States.

Russian peasants are seizing land.

Lenin has split from the Social Democrats and formed a Communist party.


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Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Today -100: April 25, 1917: The disgrace of a draft


Speaker of the House “Champ” Clark says he doesn’t think conscription will pass. “I am for letting the flower and youth of this country volunteer before we fasten the disgrace of a draft upon them.”

The NYC Mayor’s Recruiting Committee asks the police to protect recruiting posters, which are being torn down and defaced.

Earlier this month Prince Friedrich Karl of Prussia’s plane was shot down and he was shot and captured as he tried to get back to his lines. The French are claiming that when he was dying he asked for his wife to be allowed to visit him and the French and British authorities gave permission but Germany refused it – in handwriting Freddy recognized as that of his second cousin Kaiser Wilhelm. He raged, the French say, that the kaiser wouldn’t let the princess leave Germany because she would tell the truth about the hunger and discontent in Germany, even in the Imperial court.

Lenin leads a march on the American Embassy in Petrograd in protest at the death of anarchist Thomas Mooney, who is not in fact dead but in prison for the bombing of a preparedness parade in San Francisco last year, which he did not do.


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Monday, April 24, 2017

Today -100: April 24, 1917: Of turkeys, plots, and glass bullets


Turkey breaks diplomatic relations with the United States because the US is now at war with its ally, though it refrains from declaring war at this time (and indeed for the rest of the war). US Ambassador Abram Elkus is too sick (with typhus) to leave Ankara at the moment.

The NYT hears from “sources intimately familiar with Central American men and affairs” that the Germans plotted to start revolutions in Honduras, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Guatemala, and El Salvador and create a united country under Julián Irías of Nicaragua, and maybe get Colombia to join in with the promise of getting Panama back. But the plot was thwarted last December by “countermeasures.” Yeah, no.

Germany is using glass bullets on the Russian front. Yeah, no.

(I made a late addition to yesterday's post: Buster Keaton's first movie).


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Sunday, April 23, 2017

Today -100: April 23, 1917: Of commissions and war-mad pastors


A British “commission” headed by Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour arrives in the US for consultations.

Headline of the Day -100: 



The Rev. Dr. Robert Berry of the Armour Villa Park Chapel in Yonkers decides that God wants all Prussians killed. Including his wife. Especially his wife.

Now playing: The Fatty Arbuckle movie “The Butcher Boy,” featuring one Joseph Frank “Buster” Keaton in his first role.




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Saturday, April 22, 2017

Today -100: April 22, 1917: Of khaki, neutrality, and German food talk


Sen. Frank Kellogg (R-Minnesota) pressures Canada into ending its advertisements in US newspapers for farm laborers which promised high wages (and escape from the US draft) if they came to Canada.

Before the war, Germany led the world in chemical-based industries like dyes. US companies have had to step in, which is just as well now that it’s going to war, as the only pre-war source of khaki dye was German.

Spain has a new government, and it will maintain the country’s neutrality too.

Greece’s King Constantine is cajoling/threatening the Allies: he’ll allow the formation of a pro-Entente government only if they agree to let him keep being king and not invade Greece. If not, he’ll take Greece into the war on the other side.

Argentina threatens that if Germany doesn’t take responsibility for sinking a sailing ship, it will break off relations and arm its ships.

Headline of the Day -100: 


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Friday, April 21, 2017

Today -100: April 21, 1917: Of reasonable censorship and outrageous monarchies


After days of pissing off every newspaper in the country by persisting with provisions in the Espionage Bill so broad and so vague as to put every reporter covering military matters in jeopardy of prosecution, the White House backs off a bit, and the bill is altered so that the president’s regulations must be “reasonable.” And rules against gathering information or asking questions about national defenses are removed. The bill now specifically says public discussion and criticism of government policies won’t be illegal. So that’s good.

H.G. Wells writes to the London Times suggesting it is time to dump the monarchy and establish a republic to set a good example for other countries, He is especially thinking of Greece, joining the chorus of Allies trying to get rid of King Constantine. “A King has always been an outrage upon the ancient Republican traditions of Athens,” Wells says. The Times does not agree with Wells’s support of republicanism in Britain, nor will it publish George Bernard Shaw’s letter noting that “The fundamental case against monarchy is that it rests on a basis of idolatry that can no longer be maintained.”


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Thursday, April 20, 2017

Today -100: April 20, 1917: It is a marvel you were not lynched


Congressional Democrats will block consideration of prohibition (for the duration of the war) in the extra session, unless Wilson declares it a war measure.

Woodrow Wilson explains to Congress the need for selective service: there are all sorts of patriotic service, and the military “was by no means the only part, and perhaps, all things considered, not the most vital part.” If people are allowed to volunteer for the military, they may be taking themselves away from other tasks which the country needs.

Meanwhile, reserve officers and officer candidates are expected to train – for three months – without pay.

Those men who hurriedly got married to avoid the draft will be drafted anyway if they married after the declaration of war, the War Department says.

Since the US declared war, the NYT has been full of stories, possibly true but not very well sourced, about how Germans are all starving and the German army, or at the very least its morale, is close to collapse.

The NYT is now spelling Lenin “Lenine.” In a reprint from the London Daily Chronicle which says Russians are indignant at his accepting passage from Germany (the famous closed carriage) on his trip from Switzerland to Russia. It says he has no supporters, even among Social Democrats.

The New York Yacht Club drops Kaiser Wilhelm and his brother Prince Heinrich of Prussia as honorary members.

This may not be his actual birth-name, but someone who wrote an anti-war pamphlet entitled “War At Any Price - A Sacrifice of Greed” and signs himself “Shiloh the Theocrat – One With Infinite Authority and Power,” is arrested for distributing that pamphlet at a patriotic parade in New York and sentenced to 6 months for disorderly conduct, which conduct seems to consist entirely of handing out his pamphlet. The magistrate tells him “It is a marvel you were not lynched. And if you had been you would have been receiving your just deserts.”


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Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Today -100: April 19, 1917: Of loyal obedience and patriotic service, selective service, churches, and lenses


NY Mayor John Purroy Mitchel says any teacher who doesn’t sign a pledge to teach children the duty of “loyal obedience and patriotic service” should be fired.

The House Military Committee decides to merely “authorize” the president to implement conscription if he thinks a voluntary system of recruitment won’t work, which is of course Congress’s way of avoiding taking blame for a potentially unpopular decision. They know damned well Wilson has no intention of even trying a voluntary system.

Meanwhile, Theodore Roosevelt, realizing that the War Department has been stalling and evading his request to lead a division to France immediately if not sooner (Rough Riders II: This Time It’s Personal), has been secretly lobbying Congress to end-run the White House veto. TR has also been offered a commission in the New York National Guard. He says he might accept if the other thing falls through.

Congress passes a bill allowing Allied countries to recruit their citizens living in the United States. There is some push-back over fears that those countries would use coercion, including from new congresscritter Fiorello La Guardia, who is worried about Italians, pointing out that Italy doesn’t recognize the American naturalizations of Italian citizens.

Anti-German rioting in Brazil, with buildings burned in Porto Alegre.

Emperor Karl of Austria promises God that if He grants Austria an early peace, he will build a really nice church for Him.

Headline of the Day -100: 

“I SAID watch where you step, I dropped my contact lens!”


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Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Today -100: April 18, 1917: Of selective service, war ag, and dangerous magazines


Pres. Wilson consults with members of Congress about selective service. And by “consult,” I mean demand his own way in every detail, shooting down the idea of trying a volunteer military before implementing conscription.

The Pennsylvania Legislature defeats a women’s suffrage amendment to the state constitution.

White House staff are being encouraged to grow food on a vacant bit of government-owned land opposite the White House (where a new Justice Dept building was supposed to be built, but it’s been delayed) to set an example.

The British government has banned the export of copies of The Nation magazine (the British magazine of that name, not the American one) because of “dangerous” articles that could be used in German propaganda. In Parliament, Bonar Law refuses to explain which articles caused the ban or what the objectionable material was, although it was probably an article in the March 3rd issue which said that the Germans were performing well on the Western Front and in their submarine warfare. Churchill notes that Lloyd George himself has made more pessimistic assessments of the military situation than anything the Nation published.


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Monday, April 17, 2017

Today -100: April 17, 1917: Of allegiance, cadavers, and soviets


Woodrow Wilson issues a proclamation telling people not to commit treason, including aliens who, he says, owe “allegiance” to the United States. Do they, though?

Fog of War (Rumors, Propaganda and Just Plain Bullshit) of the Day -100: The Times of London and the Daily Mail report that Germany is producing glycerine by boiling down the corpses of dead soldiers.  British Military Intelligence propagandists are responsible for planting this particular story. The basis for it is that glycerine was generated in Kadaververwertungsanstalt, which the Northcliffe papers choose to translate as Corpse-Exploitation Establishment, pretending that the “kadavers” in question are human rather than horse (the word for human cadavers is leichman).

The Petrograd Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies demands that it retain the power of oversight and control over the provisional government because only it can counteract any counter-revolutionary moves.

Raimes & Co., whatever they might be, tries to screw over Fritz Schultz, Jr., Company Inc., whatever that might be, arguing that the latter’s lawsuits demanding payment from the former for goods received be thrown out because it’s an Enemy Corporation now. The judge says Germans can still sue.


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Sunday, April 16, 2017

Today -100: April 16, 1917: We must all speak, act, and serve together


Woodrow Wilson issues a proclamation about what he expects everyone to do to win “the grim and terrible war for democracy and human rights” (hey, the war finally has a name!) He continues to portray this as some sort of violent social work: “There is not a single selfish element, so far as I can see, in the cause we are fighting for.” He says “we must devote ourselves to the service without regard to profit or material advantage”. Spoiler Alert: US manufacturing is going to get a buttload of profit and material advantage out of the war.

He issues marching orders to every segment of society: “Upon the farmers of this country, therefore, in large measure rests the fate of the war and the fate of the nations.” “there shall be no unwarranted manipulation of the nation's food supply by those who handle it on its way to the consumer.” He asks middlemen to make no “unusual profits” and “suggests” to merchants the motto “small profits and quick service.” He asks housewives to practice strict economy. “This is the time for America to correct her unpardonable fault of wastefulness and extravagance.”

He concludes, “We must all speak, act, and serve together.”

Carranza, speaking  at the opening of the first Mexican Congress in 3 years, says that Mexico won’t abandon its neutrality.

Ludwig Zamenhof, creator of the alt-language Esperanto, dies. Zamenhof was a Polish Jew who thought a universal language would end war so, um, yeah. Ripozu en paco, Dr. Zamenhof.


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Saturday, April 15, 2017

Today -100: April 15, 1917: Wherein is explained what Jesus thought of peace at any price, or something


The House of Representatives unanimously passes the Seven Billion Dollar Bill to finance the war, though Socialist Meyer London only votes “present.” It includes a $3 billion loan to the Allies. The bonds will be tax-free.

Woodrow Wilson creates a Committee on Public Information, i.e. censorship and propaganda. It will be run by George Creel, a journalist, editor, joke writer, etc., who helped run Wilson’s re-election campaign. It’s considered important that censorship be run by (authoritarian) civilians rather than the military.

This is as good a time as any to mention the introduction, some time this month, of this poster,


based on Britain’s similarly posed Lord Kitchener posters. It was created by an illustrator named James Montgomery Flagg, if you can believe it. He based Uncle Sam on... himself.

The New England Methodist Conference comes out  in favor of the war: “Peace at any price is as far from our sanction as it is, we believe, from the New Testament of Our Lord.” It also calls for prohibition as a war measure.

Navy Secretary Josephus Daniels rejects an offer from businessmen Benjamin and Anderson Gratz of $5,000 as a reward for the first US merchant ship to sink an enemy sub. Daniels thinks “money rewards for such bravery is not in keeping with the spirit of our day.”

Headline of the Day -100: 

Theodore Roosevelt’s youngest son (19) joins the Canadian Aviation Corps, which will train him as a pilot for service in the US version. But maybe not well enough (spoiler alert). Quentin’s older brother Archie graduates Harvard and gets married.

The NYT mentions Lenin again, chiefly as a supporter of peace.


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Friday, April 14, 2017

Today -100: April 14, 1917: Of internment, less intelligent workers, and rubber men


Bolivia breaks diplomatic relations with Germany, because why not.

Since the US won’t intern all German citizens here, Germany won’t intern US citizens there.

The NYT mentions Lenin. For the first time? In a piece from the London Daily Chronicle, which says the Lenin crowd’s agitation “has had a bad effect on the less intelligent workers”.

Headline of the Day -100: 



Wartime Story of the Day -100: a chauffeur in NYC tries to get out of a speeding ticket by claiming his passenger is an Army lieutenant carrying vital dispatches. (He isn’t).


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Thursday, April 13, 2017

Today -100: April 13, 1917: Of women’s suffrage, disaffection, and the simple life


Women get the vote in Nova Scotia.

Congress is working on the Wilson Admin’s Espionage Bill, but some are worried about the vagueness of some of the provisions, in particular the criminalizing of speeches or writings causing “disaffection” in the military, which could criminalize anyone, including reporters, asking questions about the national defense.

It should be noted that this is the law that Obama used to aggressively prosecute leakers.

Pres. Wilson is telling congresscritters who are offering to resign to join the military not to.

First Lady Edith Wilson and the wives of the vice president and Cabinet members start a “simple life” movement to cut down unnecessary spending and entertaining, so their energy and resources can be channeled into killing fucking Germans, or something.


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Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Today -100: April 12, 1917: Of degenerate brains, conscription, and corn bread


Brazil breaks diplomatic relations with Germany.

Eddystone Ammunition Corp officials are still insisting that the explosion at their explosives plant was not an accident or the result of their negligence, but “the result of a diabolical plot conceived in the degenerate brain of a demon in human guise.”

Men who are married or have parents or children as dependents are ordered to quit the National Guard.

The White House not only wants conscription, it doesn’t want volunteers, even though the machinery of conscription will take months to set up. Rep. Daniel Anthony (R-Kansas) asks Secretary of War Newton Baker if he wouldn’t rather have volunteers beginning training within 30 days rather than wait 6 months for conscripts. Evidently he wouldn’t.

Herbert Hoover is appointed chairman of the new Food Board in the US. His first official act is to ask Americans to eat corn bread, so wheat can be shipped to Europe.


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Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Today -100: April 11, 1917: Save some carnage and death for us, huh, Europeans?


The US plans to slow-walk its entry into the war, not sending any soldiers over until 1 million are trained. In theory they could send the (not very large) existing army over now, but those soldiers are needed to train the incoming soldiers for like a year or so.

The announced plans to conscript unmarried 19-to-25-year-old men has predictably led  to a sharp increase in marriages among 19-to-25-year-old men.

Theodore Roosevelt meets with Woodrow Wilson and asks permission to raise his own division. Wilson stalls him. TR will try to get Congress to over-ride the War Department.

I’m not sure if “drafted” in this story means actual conscription, but the government plans to “draft” Native Americans in Oklahoma for farm labor to free up farmers to be soldiers, and will pull them out of school to do so.

An explosion in the Eddystone Ammunition Corp shell factory in Chester, Pennsylvania kills 130+ workers, the vast majority of them young women. The company says it’s absolutely not their fault that their high-explosive powder went boom, it must be German saboteurs.

The Russian Provisional Government is confiscating all of Tsar Nicholas’s stuff.

Headline of the Day -100: 



The First National Registration Society wants everyone in the US fingerprinted. Which is not ominous at all (although many of the Eddystone factory bodies will never be identified, so they may have a point).

The Society for the Suppression of Vice, the late Anthony Comstock’s outfit, seizes the May issue of Pearson’s and orders the editor and publisher into court because of an article, written by the editor, Frank Harris, “calculated to corrupt the morals of youth.” The article is part of the series “The Night Court Inquisition” investigating abuses in the New York City women’s night court, where people can be imprisoned for prostitution and other vice crimes on the word of a single corrupt cop. It will be announced two days from now that the court will be abolished. Journalism works.


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Monday, April 10, 2017

Today -100: April 10, 1917: Who ya gonna call? Divorce lawyers!


The US takes advantage of Austria breaking off relations to seize its interned merchant ships.

Woodrow Wilson is facing opposition in Congress to conscription. Many congresscritters think a volunteer military would be perfectly adequate. The administration’s argument is for “selective service,” a newly coined term meaning that every adult male is liable for service, but the government gets to select who it wants. In an all-volunteer service, as Britain found out early in the war, you get a lot of farmers, miners, factory workers etc joining up who would be more useful staying in their jobs.

The NYT thinks the US entering the war will not take the form of a formal alliance with the Entente nations, just a “gentleman’s agreement” on coordination. One obstacle to alliance: despite Wilson having constantly asked the Allies to spell out their war aims, they have failed so far to do so.

Fog of War (Rumors, Propaganda and Just Plain Bullshit) of the Day -100: Philipp Scheidemann, head of the German Social Democratic Party, is rumored to be on a secret mission to Russia to convince his fellow socialists there to make a separate peace.

Josephine Cahane applies for her marriage to Benjamin Cahane to be annulled because her husband is afraid of ghosts and hid the fact until the day of their wedding when he insisted on going to a cemetery (as you do). Afraid of his (unspecified) cruelty, she took an apartment overlooking a graveyard: “When he tried to abuse me I told him to look into the cemetery and see the ghosts. It had the desired effect.”

A new issue of the Wipers Times, aka the B.E.F. Times, is out.

Excerpt from “–th Infantry Brigade Intelligence Summary. No. 30”




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Sunday, April 09, 2017

Today -100: April 9, 1917: Of sticking to Germany, vexing workmen, sedition, and Prussian reform


Austria breaks diplomatic relations with the United States.

Two suspected Germans are arrested in Corona, Alabama for attempting to induce negro miners to quit their jobs and come to Mexico. Two black men are also arrested for treason in Ashford, Alabama for urging blacks to revolt and “stick to Germany.”

Samuel Gompers, president of the American Federation of Labor, promises that unions won’t strike or press any demands of any kind during the war. He does not explain why union members should continue paying dues.

Headline of the Day -100: 



The Workers’ and Soldiers’ Soviet is functioning as an alternative source of authority in Petrograd, which is very vexing to the administration. And the workers are not producing supplies for the soldiers because they’re so busy attending meetings.

Francis Widmar, the editor of the anarchist newspaper New Era, is arrested in Paterson, New Jersey, along with his printer, for sedition for putting out a pamphlet calling for a general strike against war.

Under pressure from Socialists at home and the example of the Russian Revolution abroad, Kaiser Wilhelm promises some constitutional reforms in Germany and Prussia – after the war is won. He commits to ending the three-tier franchise system and introducing the secret ballot in Prussia, but fails to mention universal suffrage or equal suffrage, leaving the way for some people to have more than one vote.


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Saturday, April 08, 2017

Today -100: April 8, 1917: Rise up! rise up, crusaders, to meet the hosts of Hell!


Orders are issued to militia sentries to shoot anyone who ignores orders to halt. Two men are indeed shot by the New Jersey National Guard, and a marine guarding a lighting plant on Long Island shoots up an automobile, killing a 12-year-old Boy Scout.

The crews of seized German ships, being held as prisoners of war on Ellis Island, discover to their horror that there is no booze.

Cuba declares war on Germany.

And so, I guess, do the Boy Scouts:




The Secret Service is investigating German-language and other anti-war newspapers.

Aleksandr Kerensky suggests Germans overthrow the Hohenzollerns if they want peace.

With the one-year anniversary of the Easter Rising coming up, the British ban all meetings and processions in Dublin.

Atrocious Doggerel of the Day -100:



Etcetera.


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Friday, April 07, 2017

Today -100: April 7, 1917: It’s War!!


Woodrow Wilson signs the war declaration, and it’s away we go. (Yes, Congress alone has the authority to declare war, but they wanted to do it in a form he’d also have to sign). The only actual acts of war seem to be the seizure of 91 German-owned ships, many of whose crews sabotaged them as soon as they heard about the declaration of war, and an order to arrest 60+ alleged spies. This is done without a court order under the president’s powers derived from the Alien Enemy Act of 1798, one of the Alien and Sedition Acts. FDR used it to intern Japanese-Americans.

The war proclamation warns non-naturalized Germans in the US to preserve the peace and says that if they do they won’t be rounded up. Oh, and they can’t have guns or radios or aircraft or ciphers or invisible writing materials or come within a half-mile of any fort, navy ship, munitions factory etc etc or write anything attacking the government or any of its policies. It will be pointed out that this half-mile radius includes the heart of Manhattan surrounding the state arsenal on 35th.

William Jennings Bryan, 57, asks Wilson to enroll him as a private.

Pro-war suffragist leaders forgive Jeanette Rankin for voting against the war. There is some debate about whether she cried after or while announcing her vote.

The Tobacco Merchants’ Association objects to a provision in the Chamberlain Military Bill banning the sale of tobacco at army and navy training facilities, contrasting it with the benevolent policy of European nations which “encourage” and even supply tobacco to their soldiers.


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Thursday, April 06, 2017

Today -100: April 6, 1917: It’s War!


At 3:12 a.m. today, Congress voted 373 to 50 to declare war on Germany (“that a state of war between the United States and the Imperial German Government which has been thrust upon the United States is hereby formally declared”). The war formally begins at the more civilized hour of noon. (Update: wait, no, it only goes to the Senate at noon.)

Jeanette Rankin (R-Montana) utters the first words spoken in Congress by a female member: “I want to stand by my country, but I cannot vote for war. I vote no.”

The no votes largely came from the Midwest, with its many ethnic Germans. 9 of the 50 are from Wisconsin. And 4 from Mississippi for some reason. 32 were Republican, 16 Democrat, 1 Socialist and 1 independent.

Clarence Miller (R-Minnesota), a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, claims during the debate that there is a paragraph of the Zimmermann Telegram, not previously made public, in which Germany offers to establish a submarine base in Mexico, and supply Mexico with unlimited weaponry and German reservists from the US. He even reads it out, ending with “Arrange to attack all along the border.” This is a lie, and is immediately contradicted by Secretary of State Lansing. Miller refuses to accept that, saying he “got it from a man who is in a position to know.”

Headline of the Day -100:


Headline of the Day -100:


Funny thing is, that headline is not wrong.


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Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Today -100: April 5, 1917: Freedom is the messiah


Headline of the Day -100: 


Count Michael Borzatovsky, recently arrived from Russia, in his room in Baltimore. Was he shot by a German spy? Did he accidentally shoot himself getting undressed?

The latter.

Russia repeals all laws that discriminate on the basis of religion. Rabbi David Philipson of Cincinnati says this solves the Jewish problem and eliminates the need for Zionism. “Freedom is the messiah,” he says.

The US Senate continues to debate going to war, increasingly testily. George Norris (R-Nebraska) says declaring war would “put the dollar mark on the American flag.”  Sen. James Reed (D-Missouri) accuses him of giving aid and comfort to the enemy. Sen. James Vardaman (D-Mississippi), who opposes entry, complains about the atmosphere in the Capitol, “supercharged with the spirit of prejudice, hate and love. ... Self-assumed superiority of mind, intolerance and bigotry are attributes of little minds”. That’s James Fucking Vardaman, possibly the biggest racist in the Senate.

The New York Legislature creates a state police force. Its purpose seems to be to break strikes so the National Guard doesn’t have to and more people will be willing to join the Guard.

Fog of War (Rumors, Propaganda and Just Plain Bullshit) of the Day -100: The Morning Post (London) reports that it’s heard from German bankers that Kaiser Wilhelm is sick and will totally die soon.

Two countries with very different approaches to rationing:






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Tuesday, April 04, 2017

Today -100: April 4, 1917: International nuisances are the worst kind


Former President Taft says if the US is invaded, it will be through Mexico. He considers Carranza “not the most reliable person imaginable” and Mexico “an international nuisance.”

The US is not at war with Germany yet, because Robert La Follette is filibustering it. The NYT says “There is, of course, but one explanation of Mr. La Follette’s conduct; which one it is we have not the least idea.”

The NY State Senate is holding contempt hearings into New York City Mayor John Purroy Mitchel, for accusing Minority Leader Robert Wagner of “working in the interest of Germany”. Mitchel, who denies their jurisdiction over him but attending the hearing out of, um, politeness, says he never meant to accuse Wagner of treason.

Municipal elections in Chicago are won decisively by the Democrats, reversing the results of 1915. And Springfield votes itself dry, along with five other Illinois towns; one dry town goes wet.

The Kaiserin (Mrs. The Kaiser Wilhelm) will sell some of her jewels in the Netherlands to give the cash to charity. The fate of the Romanovs is having a salubrious influence on the other royals of Europe.

Frederick Pethick-Lawrence runs for Parliament in the South Aberdeen by-election on behalf of the anti-war Union of Democratic Control on a platform of peace by negotiation. He loses 10 to 1. P-L, who went to jail for the suffragist cause before the war, will eventually be elected as a Labour MP, rising to the Cabinet under Attlee and before that official leader of the opposition during World War II, meaning he was head of the few Labour MPs who didn’t join the Coalition and was the guy who stood across from Churchill at Prime Minister’s Questions.

100,000 political prisoners are leaving Siberia. By sledge, mostly. Blacksmiths have been busy removing people’s shackles.

There is a record demand for flags. Flag companies can’t keep up.


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Monday, April 03, 2017

Today -100: April 3, 1917: The world must be made safe for democracy


Woodrow Wilson addresses Congress.

He twice calls them “gentlemen of the Congress.” Dude, Representative Rankin is sitting right there.

The bulk of his justification for going to war is based on submarine warfare. The Zimmermann telegram gets a single sentence, and of course there’s the “make the world safe for democracy” thing, but mostly it’s about making war to vindicate the United States’s god-given right to sell stuff, including munitions, to one side in a war. “The present German submarine warfare against commerce is a warfare against mankind.” Interestingly, he doesn’t mention the Lusitania.

He expresses surprise that Germany actually meant to implement unrestricted submarine warfare when it said it was going to implement unrestricted submarine warfare: “I was for a little while unable to believe that such things would in fact be done by any government that had hitherto subscribed to the humane practices of civilized nations.” He explains how his previous idea for responding to this, putting guns and Navy gunners on commercial ships, proved insufficient:
But armed neutrality, it now appears, is impracticable. Because submarines are in effect outlaws when used as the German submarines have been used against merchant shipping, it is impossible to defend ships against their attacks as the law of nations has assumed that merchantmen would defend themselves against privateers or cruisers, visible craft giving chase upon the open sea. It is common prudence in such circumstances, grim necessity indeed, to endeavor to destroy them before they have shown their own intention. They must be dealt with upon sight, if dealt with at all.
That’s Woodrow Wilson for you: trying to make entering a brutal war sound like an exercise in logic. Indeed, “We must put excited feeling away. Our motive will not be revenge or the victorious assertion of the physical might of the nation, but only the vindication of right, of human right, of which we are only a single champion.” So with that said,
With a profound sense of the solemn and even tragical character of the step I am taking and of the grave responsibilities which it involves, but in unhesitating obedience to what I deem my constitutional duty, I advise that the Congress declare the recent course of the Imperial German Government to be in fact nothing less than war against the government and people of the United States; that it formally accept the status of belligerent which has thus been thrust upon it
It’s not clear how far he intends to go in “accepting the status of belligerent.” He talks about sending massive quantities of resources to the Entente and cooperating with them in unspecified ways. Also, “the organization and mobilization of all the material resources of the country”, and increasing the military immediately to 500,000 men by conscription. But is he sending them to the trenches of Western Europe? Unclear at this point.

But there’s good news for Germans: “We have no quarrel with the German people. We have no feeling towards them but one of sympathy and friendship. It was not upon their impulse that their government acted in entering this war.” But we will have to kill quite a few of them. #SorryNotSorry.

There’s a sentence in the address I can’t for the life of me figure out: “Self-governed nations do not fill their neighbor states with spies or set the course of intrigue to bring about some critical posture of affairs which will give them an opportunity to strike and make conquest.”

He explains why Germany must be violently democratized: “A steadfast concert for peace can never be maintained except by a partnership of democratic nations. No autocratic government could be trusted to keep faith within it or observe its covenants. It must be a league of honor, a partnership of opinion. ... Only free peoples can hold their purpose and their honor steady to a common end and prefer the interests of mankind to any narrow interest of their own.” [the copy of the speech I linked to says “Only free peonies...” Which is a very different sort of war.]

He asks, “Does not every American feel that assurance has been added to our hope for the future peace of the world by the wonderful and heartening things that have been happening within the last few weeks in Russia?”

Saint Woodrow calls for a gentle, humanitarian bloodbath: “The world must be made safe for democracy. Its peace must be planted upon the tested foundations of political liberty. We have no selfish ends to serve. We desire no conquest, no dominion. We seek no indemnities for ourselves, no material compensation for the sacrifices we shall freely make. We are but one of the champions of the rights of mankind.”

He says Austria, while adhering to Germany’s u-boat policy, “has not actually engaged in warfare against citizens of the United States on the seas,” so he won’t be asking for a declaration of war on them at this time (that will come in December).

“It is a fearful thing to lead this great peaceful people into war, into the most terrible and disastrous of all wars, civilization itself seeming to be in the balance.”



And as if having war declared on them isn’t enough:


Speaking of armed neutrality, a u-boat sinks the armed US steamship Aztec off the French coast.

Since Congress is back in special session, the suffragettes of the Congressional Union resume their picketing of the White House. “The women want to take their part in the responsibilities of government,” Alice Paul says.

Headline of the Day -100: 


Lenin arrives at the Finland (railroad) Station in Petrograd.


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Sunday, April 02, 2017

Today -100: April 2, 1917: Unimpressed


The NYT’s Berlin correspondent reports: “Everybody knows that within a few days America will declare war against Germany, but no one seems particularly impressed by it.” He also says there is little American news in the German newspapers, and what there is is mostly extracts from French newspapers, which are more propaganda than fact. Germans are far more concerned with the prospects for constitutional reform in both Prussia and Germany.

A mob in Baltimore break up a meeting of the American League Against Militarism and are in turn violently attacked by the cops.

Czar Nicholas’s entourage is imprisoned in the Peter and Paul Fortress because of a supposed plot amongst various grand dukes & grand duchesses to proclaim Grand Duke Nicholas as the new tsar.

Polish members of the Russian Duma resign, because Poland is independent now, right?

Vermont, tired for some reason of elopers coming to their state to marry, passes a law requiring couples from other places than where their license is issued to wait 5 days before the ceremony. There’s an exemption for soldiers.


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Saturday, April 01, 2017

Today -100: April 1, 1917: History is now marching with seven-league boots


Some Socialist deputies in the German Reichstag are openly calling for a republic. SPD deputies just voted against the budget (with its new taxes), which is something they used to do before the war. They’re also not happy that the military is ordering newspapers not to print anything favorable about the Russian Revolution. Georg Ledebour tells the Reichstag, “We regard a republic as a coming inevitable development in Germany. History is now marching with seven-league boots.”

Sheboygan, Wisconsin will hold a referendum tomorrow on whether the US should go to war. Women will have the vote. (Results:  4,177 to 17 against; non-German-Americans boycotted the vote.)

Fog of War (Rumors, Propaganda and Just Plain Bullshit) of the Day -100: The Providence Journal, a key cog in the British disinformation wars, claims that German u-boats have been dropping off mail in the US, thousands of letters which a New York banker with “Austrian affiliations” has re-mailed all over the country. With sabotage/espionage instructions, is the implication.

Headline of the Day -100: 


Well, Chicagoans are famously a full-size people.

The US purchase of the Danish West Indies is complete, 50 years and one day after the purchase of Alaska for 1/3 the price. So how does that work? Denmark is getting a piece of paper it can exchange for $25 million in gold, which it will keep in New York banks for the time being, the trans-Atlantic crossing being a trifle risky lately. The three islands will now be called the Virgin Islands of the United States of America. I must have missed when that decision was made.

The New York Legislature will make another attempt to require driving licenses for operators of motor vehicles in New York City. There won’t be a driving test or anything like that, but those convicted of reckless driving can have their license revoked.




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Friday, March 31, 2017

Today -100: March 31, 1917: Let the spy hunts begin!


NYC high school principals are ordered to hold a “patriotic meeting” on April 2nd. But the School Board is running into difficulties in implementing its plan to fire pacifist teachers: that wouldn’t actually be legal. Yet. The Board is now asking the Legislature for a law requiring an oath of allegiance, on pain of dismissal.

German Foreign Secretary Arthur Zimmermann defends the eponymous telegram, saying the offer of alliance was to be made to Mexico only in the event of a US-German war. Which isn’t quite true, since he sent a second telegram two days after Wilson broke off diplomatic relations, telling the ambassador to Mexico to make the approach immediately. Since British Naval Intelligence hadn’t made this telegram public (or, indeed, told the Americans about it), Zimmermann thinks, wrongly, that it wasn’t intercepted. He says Carranza was never actually approached, which is a lie.

The Reichstag votes to appoint a committee to investigate whether to democratize the constitution a bit. Making the cabinet responsible to the Reichstag rather than to the kaiser, that sort of thing. Of course this is a stalling action, but the Russian Revolution has created pressure, not only from German lefties, but from the fact that the war now looks more like a bunch of parliamentary democracies, more or less, fighting a bunch of, well, not democracies.

The Russian government says the Polish people should decide on their own form of government in an independent state, although it still talks about that Polish state being “bound to Russia by a free military union.” Germany, meanwhile, finding very few Poles joining the puppet military of its puppet Polish kingdom, is planning to start conscripting them.

Headline of the Day -100: 



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Thursday, March 30, 2017

Today -100: March 30, 1917: If this action warrants an increase of bloodshed, we shall not have to bear the burden of responsibility for it


The British Parliament is working on a bill to let the military re-examine men previously rejected for service as unfit, as well as men discharged for wounds, to use them behind the lines. Winston Churchill suggests taking married men in their 40s rather than convalescents.

German Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg tells the Reichstag that Germany does not want war with the United States. He says that if Germany’s unrestricted submarine warfare – which was adopted entirely in self-defense – leads the US to declare war, “if this action warrants an increase of bloodshed, we shall not have to bear the burden of responsibility for it.”

Russia: women will be allowed to take any governmental job.

Neutral Spain is put under martial law to prevent a general strike. The economy is in a shambles in part because Germany has sunk a lot of Spain’s shipping. There is also tension over the fact that the majority of the population is neutralist or pro-Allies while the government, army, and clergy are pro-German.

Lloyd George tells a deputation of suffragists (which the London Times describes as “picturesque”) that he realizes that the minimum age of 30 or 35 being proposed for women voters is illogical and without justification, but they should just shut up and accept it because reasons. Emmeline Pankhurst says sure because reasons.


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Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Today -100: March 29, 1917: No one can now contend that we are yielding to violence what we refused to concede to argument


Albert Staub, head of the Atlanta branch of the American Red Cross, calls for a purge of “disloyal” members because SOMEONE poisoned a batch of bandages and put ground glass in dressings in New Jersey. (Update: Staub will deny ever having said anything about poison).

British Prime Minister David Lloyd George declares himself in favor of women’s suffrage. Actually, NYT, he always claimed in the past to be in favor, even while plotting to undermine it. Rather more remarkable is former prime minister Asquith’s announcing his conversion, claiming that his previous vehement opposition was always based on “expediency” but that women’s war work has proved them worthy etc etc and “we have had no recurrence of that detestable campaign which disfigured the annals of political agitation in this country, and no one can now contend that we are yielding to violence what we refused to concede to argument.” Lloyd George also goes on and on about women munition workers. Parliament votes in favor of the Speakers’s Conference’s recommendations for changing the franchise, which include reducing the residency requirement, a complicated experiment in proportional representation in a few constituencies, and other provisions. Women’s franchise will be on unequal terms, with a minimum age that hasn’t been settled on yet, probably 30 or 35.

The Nebraska State Senate votes down partial women’s suffrage.

Headline of the Day -100: 
By “invading,” the NYT means “are looking for work.” Long Island businessmen are not happy about it.

German Food Dictator Adolf Tortilowicz von Batocki-Friebe says the state needs to seize the entire food supply of Germany.

Germany is threatening to intern American relief workers in Belgium for 4 weeks before letting them go home, to keep them revealing military news.

The witch hunt begins: Alexander Fichlander, a school principal in Brooklyn, is rejected for promotion because he’s a pacifist who refused to sign the loyalty pledge. George Wingate, a Civil War general who is on the Board of Education, leads the charge against Fichlander and wants to fire any teacher who expresses pacifist views, even if only outside the schoolhouse. Oh, and maybe make them take a loyalty oath.


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Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Today -100: March 28, 1917: Of cobblers, Canadian concentration camps, literacy, and tango pirates


Alexis Korvanov, a former Russian general and political exile who has been working as a cobbler in New York, sails for home. I don’t think he’ll do did much when he gets there.

While the NYT doesn’t give the name of the ship Korvanov sailed on, it might well have been the Kristianiafjord, whose more famous passenger is Leon Trotsky. Certainly the date is right. The Kristianiafjord will dock in Halifax, where Canadian authorities will detain him for a month alongside interned German POWs, as he later described in the chapter of his memoirs entitled “In a Concentration Camp.” He spent the month trying – with some success – to convert the Germans to revolutionary socialism.

Forced by the law Congress passed over Wilson’s veto to make prospective immigrants take a literacy test, the Labor Department says it will use the Bible, not for religious reasons but because it has been translated into every language, including Klingon.

Former President Taft calls the Russian Revolution and the fall of the Romanovs “the first great triumph of this war.”

Headline of the Day -100: 



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Monday, March 27, 2017

Today -100: March 27, 1917: Of Russian Jews, declarations of war, Belgiums, and crying czars


Russia will grant full equality to Jews, eliminating educational, residential and other restrictions. Which also means that the passports issued by the US to American Jews will now be honored. Under Taft, the US abrogated its treaty with Russia over this issue.

The Wilson administration is debating whether to ask Congress, at its special session next week, to declare war rather than have it declare that a state of war is already in existence. Evidently in all US history, Congress has only ever done the latter. By directly declaring war, rather than saying that the war began, for example, with the sinking of the Housatonic on February 3rd, the US can later demand compensation for the ships sunk right up to the time the US declared war.

Secretary of War Newton Baker says Germans in this country won’t be interned. If they behave.

Germany will start administering Belgium as two separate countries.

Headline of the Day -100: 



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Sunday, March 26, 2017

Today -100: March 26, 1917: Of spy fever, redeployments, and of course polo


A Swedish man is arrested for sketching the Brooklyn Bridge. And a guest at the Hotel Majestic in New York is investigated by the police after a guest becomes suspicious that he is operating an illicit wireless transmitter. He is in fact testing electrical medical equipment before demonstrating it to doctors, which is his job.

Germany has been withdrawing troops from positions on the Western Front in order to mount a major offensive against Russia.

The head of the Polo Association says polo should not be stopped if war is declared.


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Saturday, March 25, 2017

Today -100: March 25, 1917: Everyone hates a finicky war


Woodrow Wilson orders the US ambassador to Belgium to leave Belgium along with all other consular officials and the Commission for Relief, since the Germans are sinking all the ships bringing relief supplies anyway.

Theodore Roosevelt says he can raise a division of soldiers and have it in France in 4 or 5 months. And then he went off to “hunt devilfish.”

Headline of the Day -100:


The Russian Provisional Government fires Grand Duke Nicholas as army commander-in-chief.

In the German Reichstag, socialist (SPD) deputy Fritz Kunert blames Kaiser Wilhelm and Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg for starting the war and says he’d be proud if Germany made such progress as Russia has.

The US rejects Germany’s proposed protocols interpreting the 1799 and 1828 US-Prussia treaties in ways that would allow all German nationals in the US (well over a million of them) to go about their business with no restrictions in the event of a war.

If war is declared, Princeton will immediately suspend all athletics. But they probably won’t shut down the whole university for the duration (or let in women).

Headline of the Day -100: 

Something about paprika, right?


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