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Archive for the ‘Primera guerra mundial’ Category

Comparto este interesante ensayo del  profesor Juan F. Correa Luna, miembro de la Facultad de Derecho de la Universidad Interamericana de Puerto Rico, comentando la participación de los famosos Harlem Hellfighters en la primera guerra mundial. Lo que desconocía es que una tercera parte de los músicos de la banda de este regimiento de soldaldos negros, dirigida por  James Reese Europe, eran puertorriqueños. Entre ellos, Rafael Hernández, quien se convirtirá en uno de los más grandes compositores de la música latinoamericana.


James Reese Europe, Rafael Hernández Marín y los “Harlem Hellfighters”

Una de las unidades de combate más valerosas durante la primera guerra mundial se conoció como el Regimiento de Infantería 369 de la guardia nacional de Nueva York, mejor conocida como los “Harlem Hellfighters”. Para la primera guerra mundial el ejército de los Estados Unidos se encontraba segregado racialmente. Por ello el Regimiento 369 estaba compuesto exclusivamente por soldados afroamericanos y puertorriqueños. También contaba con una banda musical dirigida por el teniente James Reese Europe uno de los más famosos y brillantes músicos de Jazz. Reese Europe desempeñó un papel protagónico durante la época conocida como el Harlem Renacentista en Nueva York a principios del siglo pasado. A James Reese Europe se le llegó a conocer como la versión de Martin Luther King en el campo de la música. Fue el primer compositor que ofreció un concierto de música negra en el Carnegie Hall en 1912. El concierto llevó por título en inglés “A Symphony of Negro Music”. Todas las composiciones musicales fueron compuestas por músicos negros. Reese Europe respetaba la calidad musical de los compositores blancos, pero consideraba que los músicos negros no tenían que imitar a los blancos ya que tenían su propia música la cual gozaba de méritos propios y personas de todas las razas debían también tener la oportunidad de escuchar y disfrutarla. Seleccionó a cada uno de los miembros de la banda musical del regimiento 369 de infantería. Por ello no escatimó esfuerzos para allegar a los mejores músicos para su banda.

Lo que muchos no conocen es que una tercera parte de esos músicos eran puertorriqueños. Uno de ellos fue nuestro querido y reconocido compositor, a nivel mundial, Rafael Hernández Marín. Rafael Hernández fue reclutado junto a su hermano Jesús Hernández y otros 16 músicos puertorriqueños por el propio Reese Europe. Ya para ese entonces se conocía de la excelencia, talento, capacidad y profesionalismo de los músicos puertorriqueños y muy en particular la de Rafael Hernández Marín quien ya a la edad de 26 años componía música y dominaba a la perfección seis instrumentos musicales. Entre ellos: trombón, tuba, bombardino, piano, guitarra y clarinete. Rafael Hernández recibió rango de Sargento y fue asistente de Reese Europe en la banda del Regimiento 369.

Al igual que los soldados afroamericanos que le precedieron en la guerra civil y los soldados afroamericanos que le sucedieron hasta el presente, los soldados afroamericanos y puertorriqueños en la primera guerra mundial pelearon en guerras por un país y un gobierno que rehusó y todavía rehúsa reconocerles como iguales en dignidad y derechos. La oficialidad del ejército norteamericano no quería reconocer la capacidad de los afroamericanos y puertorriqueños para pelear en el frente de guerra durante la primera guerra mundial y tampoco favorecía que se mezclaran con los soldados blancos. De ahí que fueran segregados y relegados a tareas de servicios de apoyo. La unidad 369 de Nueva York fue enviada al estado de Carolina del Sur, uno de los estados más racistas para la época y donde los soldados recibirían un adiestramiento deficiente ya que no contaban con el equipo ni los recursos necesarios para el adiestramiento militar. Durante su entrenamiento fueron víctimas de muchos ataques físicos y abusos verbales raciales. Muchos soldados afroamericanos al igual que Reese Europe consideraban que era importante que se les diera la oportunidad para participar en la guerra a fin de demostrarles a los blancos y al gobierno que los soldados negros eran igualmente capaces de defender a su país con valentía y heroísmo. Veían su participación como una oportunidad para educar a los blancos y en el proceso lograr que se les reconocieran a plenitud sus derechos como ciudadanos. A pesar de sus esfuerzos se les negó su participación junto al ejercito norteamericano en el frente de guerra.

La oficialidad militar prefirió enviarle el regimiento 369 a Francia para que estuviera bajo la dirección del gobierno y el cuerpo militar francés no sin antes advertirle que no debían confiar en estos soldados ya que no los consideraban capaces de combatir y de realizar otras tareas importantes durante la guerra. Una carta del Coronel Linard de la Fuerza Expedicionaria Estadounidense (AEF) al cuartel militar francés resume las tensiones raciales entre negros y blancos en el momento en que Estados Unidos entró en la guerra:

“… Los aproximadamente 15 millones de negros en los Estados Unidos presentan una amenaza de mestizaje racial a menos que se mantenga a negros y blancos estrictamente separados [Por lo tanto,] los franceses no deberían comer con ellos, ni estrecharles la mano, ni visitarlos ni conversar, excepto cuando sea requerido por asuntos militares.”

Se dice que a los franceses les consternó las advertencias racistas de los norteamericanos y aunque ellos también tenían su cuota de abusos raciales en sus colonias como lo fue el caso de Argelia, necesitaban desesperadamente soldados para combatir en el frente de guerra, así que aceptaron al regimiento 369 y decidieron no hacerle caso a la oficialidad militar norteamericana. De inmediato incorporaron a sus unidades de combate a los soldados afroamericanos y puertorriqueños. El gobierno norteamericano solo les proveyó uniformes a los soldados del regimiento 369. Los franceses les tuvieron que suplir las armas que utilizaron durante la guerra, municiones, cascos, cinturones y alimentos.

Reese Europe quien además de ser el director de la banda ocupo el rango de teniente llegaría a decir un poco en broma, pero consiente de la posibilidad de que ocurriese, lo siguiente:

“He estado pensando que si capturan a uno de mis puertorriqueños con el uniforme de un regimiento francés de Normandía y este hombre negro les dice en español que es un soldado estadounidense en Nueva York del Regimiento de la Guardia Nacional, el dolor de cabeza que le provocara al departamento de inteligencia alemán tratar de entender esa realidad”.

Antes de ser embarcadas los regimientos militares estadounidenses a Europa, se decidió realizar un festival y una marcha de despedida a los soldados. La división militar denominada el Rainbow Division o Division Arcoiris en español, estaba compuesta por varias unidades de la guardia nacional provenientes de unos 24 de estados. Las unidades marcharían por toda la 5ta avenida de la ciudad de Nueva York. Sin embargo, le fue denegada la participación a la banda musical dirigida por Reese Europe y a todos los demás soldados del Regimiento 369. Los oficiales militares a cargo del evento expresaron los motivos de su rechazo diciendo que “el color negro no se encontraba entre los colores del arcoíris”. Aunque no les permitieron tocar ni participar en el evento de Nueva York a su llegada al muelle francés, los soldados de la banda musical del Regimiento 369 sorprendieron y deleitaron a los soldados y civiles franceses con una versión impecable de la Marsellesa en Jazz.

La valentía y heroísmo desplegado en el frente de combate durante la primera guerra mundial por todos los miembros del Regimiento de infantería 369 a quienes se dice que los propios alemanes le dieron el nombre de los “Harlem Hellfighters” o Luchadores Infernales de Harlem y los franceses le llamaran “Los Hombres de Bronce” por su valor y heroísmo, le mereció a cada uno, el más alto honor otorgado por el gobierno francés y su presidente, la medalla de la Cruz de Guerra. Estuvieron destacados en el frente de guerra por más de 191 días, más que ninguna a otra unidad militar americana. Nunca retrocedieron en sus incursiones en terreno enemigo y nunca permitieron que los alemanes tomaran como prisionero a uno de sus soldados.

Las proezas, el valor y la disciplina demostrada en el frente de guerra no fue el único legado de importancia que dejo el Regimiento 369 durante la primera guerra mundial, algunos historiadores han expresado, que la destreza en el campo de batalla del regimiento 369 fue casi eclipsada por su contribución a la música, ya que a la banda musical del Regimiento 369 de los “Harlem Hellfighters” compuesta por una selección de los mejores músicos de jazz de Harlem y Puerto Rico, también se le atribuyó la singular proeza de haber exportado por vez primera, la música jazz, por toda Europa. Sus presentaciones en teatros, calles, plazas, muelles y otros espacios públicos no solo levantó la moral de los soldados, expuso además a la población civil y las clases trabajadoras a una experiencia musical memorable.

Finalizada la guerra, la ciudad de Nueva York les recibió con un gran desfile a lo largo de la 5ta Avenida. Un honor que les fue denegado, por motivos raciales, cuando partieron hacia Europa. A pesar de ello la celebración no duró mucho ya que como muy bien expresara el escritor norteamericano Max Brooks: “Regresaron a casa en los momentos de mayor violencia racial en la historia de los Estados Unidos, el verano rojo de 1919”. Lo que se conoció como el verano rojo fue el periodo comprendido entre fines del invierno y principios del otoño de 1919 durante el cual grupos supremacistas blancos desataron una de las peores oleadas de asesinatos, linchamientos, violencia y ataques terroristas contra los afroamericanos en más de tres docenas de ciudades de los Estados Unidos.

Rafael Hernández Marín al igual que su hermano Jesús y los demás soldados puertorriqueños recibieron los reconocimientos otorgados por el gobierno francés y la Cruz de Guerra por su alto heroísmo y valor durante la guerra. Rafael fue dado de baja honorablemente como soldado y desempeñó un rol destacado en la banda musical del Regimiento 369 como Trombonista y asistente del propio Reese Europe. A su regreso a Nueva York participó de las grabaciones de Jazz con la orquesta de Reese Europe. Se ha dicho que muchas de sus composiciones y arreglos musicales como El Cumbanchero y Cachita reflejan cómo fue influenciado por el sonido del “big band” que era típico de las bandas de jazz. Rafael Hernández ha sido y es considerado uno de los más grandes compositores a nivel mundial superando en composiciones musicales, con más de 2000, a otros gigantes compositores latinoamericanos de su época, como lo fueron Agustín Lara de Méjico y Ernesto Lecuona de Cuba.

El discrimen racial que observó y vivió como puertorriqueño y negro en los Estados Unidos y como soldado durante la primera guerra mundial lo llevaron también, al igual que a Don Pedro Albizu Campos a denunciar y criticar el gobierno norteamericano y al estado de sujeción y control colonial de la isla por parte de los Estados Unidos. En 1932 escribió y compuso “Mi Patria Tiembla”. La canción interpretada por Davilita y el trío Borinquen dice que Puerto Rico tiembla porque los nobles patriotas que yacen en sus tumbas al serles imposible salir de su morada para defender la isla de las infamias y tiranías que se cometen contra ella, se rebelan y se agitan en sus tumbas provocando que la Patria tiemble. La letra finaliza expresando que es preferible que Puerto Rico se hunda y se la trague el mar antes de verla esclava.

En 1937 en una de sus más reconocidas y famosas composiciones musicales, “Preciosa”, describe a los Estados Unidos como un tirano que trata a Puerto Rico con negra maldad. Rafael estaba muy claro de que esa maldad siempre provino del blanco americano. Unos años después se dice que Muñoz Marín, le llegaría a pedir que bajara el tono antiamericano en ‘Preciosa’. Sugiriéndosele incluso cambiar la frase “no importa el tirano te trate” por la frase “no importa el destino te trate”. Al final Rafael no cedió ante las presiones que se le hicieron y el tirano americano se quedó como lo que es y ha sido siempre un Tirano. No fue casual que Rafael Hernández decidiera inmortalizar el final de la canción con la frase que más emociona y agita los corazones a todo puertorriqueño y puertorriqueña que la escucha y canta: “Preciosa te llaman los hijos de la libertad”.

Referencias:

Martínez , E (Spring – Summer 2014). Rafael Hernández and the Harlem HellfightersVoices; The Journal of New York Folklore, Volume 40: 1–2: https://nyfolklore.org/wp-content/uploads/Voices-2014a.pdf

 Trickey, E (May 2018): One Hundred Years Ago, the Harlem Hellfighters Bravely Led the U.S. Into WWI; , Smithsonian Magazine https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/one-hundred-years-ago-harlem-hellfighters-bravely-led-us-wwi-180968977/

Brooks M: Harlem Hellfifhters Broadway Books (2014)

Basilio, S. (April 2019) Boricua Pioneer, Rafael Hernández Revista Digital Jazz DeLa:https://jazzdelapena.com/puerto-rico-project/boricua-pioneer-rafael-hernandez/

Moskowitz, D.(June 2020) Jazzman James Reese Europe Taught White America How to SwingHistory net.com : https://www.historynet.com/jazzman-james-reese-europe-taught-white-america-how-to-swing.htm

Hernández R. (1932) Mi Patria Tiembla,, Interpretada por Trio Borinquen; Davilita /Mario Hernandez : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WEwh_Rqg5-s


 

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 The Surprising Evidence hat Woodrow Wilson Was Suffering from a Brain Malfunction Before the Stroke that Crippled Him

Richard Striner

HNN   June 15, 2014

This is part three of a three-part series distilling the thesis of Richard Striner’s new book, Woodrow Wilson and World War One: A Burden Too Great to Bear, published by Rowman & Littlefield in April 2014. (Click here for Part 1 and here for Part 2.) Mr. Striner is a professor of history at Washington College. His other books include Father Abraham: Lincoln’s Relentless Struggle to End Slavery and Lincoln’s Way: How Six Great Presidents Created American Power.   – See more at: http://hnn.us/article/155787#sthash.W5bIvaw3.dpuf

 

Almost everyone who knows anything about Woodrow Wilson agrees he was a tragic figure. But the admirers and detractors of Wilson have differed sharply down the years as to whether Wilson’s tragedy was essentially his own fault. One critical fact about the tragedy was obviously not his fault: the stroke that he suffered on October 2, 1919. And due to the underlying condition of arteriosclerosis (diagnosed as early as 1906), distinguished medical observers have theorized that Wilson suffered from a progressive cerebro-vascular deterioration resulting in episodic dementia as early as 1917.

As one studies the historical record in detail — a record set forth in magnificent abundance by the editorial team led by the late Arthur S. Link that produced the 69-volume Papers of Woodrow Wilson — there is much to support the belief that he was hampered by his medical condition.

Wilson’s judgment seemed grossly impaired by the war years. He was extraordinarily petulant and irrational by 1918, and contemporaneous observers who were in a position to know commented often on his strange and quirky ways.

In 1919, Wilson’s pre-existing medical and mental conditions arguably led to a breakdown months before his paralytic stroke, which occurred on October 2. The nature of this breakdown could be seen as early as February, in a series of words and actions that prefigured his behavior of November and December, at which point he was clearly out of his mind.

When Wilson sailed to Europe aboard the USS George Washington, he had — typically — no substantive strategy for preventing the kind of vindictive peace that he had warned against in his 1917 “Peace Without Victory” speech. One of the advisers recruited for the U.S. peace delegation, Yale historian Charles Seymour, recalled that Wilson turned to him during the voyage and asked, “What means, Mr. Seymour, can be utilized to bring pressure upon these people in the interest of justice?” It was very late indeed for Wilson to be thinking in these terms, especially after the many missed opportunities in 1917 and 1918 to build the political pre-conditions for “peace without victory.”

John Maynard Keynes, at that time serving as an adviser to David Lloyd George, argued in his best-selling book The Economic Consequences of the Peace that Wilson could have come to Europe with a formidable basis for pressuring the allies. Keynes wrote that “Europe was in complete dependence on the food supplies of the United States; and financially she was even more absolutely at their mercy. Europe not only already owed the United States more than she could pay; but only a large measure of further assistance could save her from starvation and bankruptcy.” Referring to Wilson, Keynes wrote that “never had a philosopher held such weapons wherewith to bind the princes of this world.”

If Wilson had explored the possibility of offering a debt moratorium to the allies, the reparations that the British and the French would inflict upon the Germans might have been far less severe. But Wilson never seriously considered that option in 1918 or 1919, as the historical record demonstrates.

The negotiations over reparations and territorial settlements were grueling, but Wilson consoled himself with the fact that the League of Nations won general approval at the Paris Peace Conference in January, though the task of hammering out the details of its overall plan and structure was difficult. Wilson returned briefly to the United States in late February to sign legislation that the lame-duck Congress had passed in its final session. Here was an opportunity to test and adjust the domestic politics regarding both the League and the overall treaty.

Wilson’s behavior in February and early March shows clearly that a mental breakdown was beginning. Some of his behavior, to be sure, was quintessentially Wilsonian: his proclamations, for instance, that pure idealism had won the war and that power politics had nothing to do with the outcome were symptomatic of the escapism that was intermittently a factor in his thinking. In Boston, he delivered the following incantation: “In the name of the people of the United States I have uttered as the objects of this great war ideals, and nothing but ideals, and the war has been won by that inspiration.” He had engaged in this sort of hyperbole many times and it had rendered him largely incapable of strategic thinking since the war began. But some other episodes during this visit showed a new and shocking deterioration.

At the suggestion of Col. House, he sponsored a dinner at the White House to explain the preliminary terms of the League covenant to select members of Congress. The results of this meeting showed clearly that the League was in trouble on Capitol Hill. Several worried Democrats suggested that Republican feedback should supply the basis for revisions that Wilson could bring with him when he returned to Paris. But Wilson refused to consider this.

Two days later, Henry Cabot Lodge made a powerful and persuasive speech on the floor of the Senate denouncing the preliminary structure of the League. Wilson’s response was appallingly simple: he threw a public temper tantrum. In remarks at a meeting of the Democratic National Committee, he proclaimed that all who opposed the preliminary plans for the League were imbeciles. Listen to him: “Of all the blind and little provincial people, they are the littlest and most contemptible . . . . They have not even got good working imitations of minds. They remind me of a man with a head that is not a head but is just a knot providentially put there to keep him from raveling out . . . . They are going to have the most conspicuously contemptible names in history. The gibbets that they are going to be erected on by future historians will scrape the heavens, they will be so high.”

Just before Wilson returned to Paris, Lodge circulated in the Senate a document in which the signatories declared that they would under no circumstances vote for the League in its existing form. Lodge obtained more than enough signatures to show Wilson he was beaten unless he made revisions to the League.

Wilson did so when he returned to Paris, and these new deliberations were as grueling as the earlier ones had been. But Wilson refused to have any contact with Lodge and his supporters, which meant that all of his work was a waste of time, for Lodge was engaging in a simple game of payback, an exercise for the fun of it to make Wilson humble himself and give Republicans a “piece of the action.” Surely at some level Wilson sensed what was going on, but his vanity, his stubbornness, and his indignation were becoming more severe.

Wilson’s signature in 1913

 

 

His health began to give way in recurrent bouts of illness. But something drastic seemed to happen to him on April 28 — something that did not come to light until many years later, when historian Arthur S. Link was editing the Wilson documents from 1919. Let Link and his editorial colleagues tell the story: “It became obvious to us while going through the documents from late April to about mid-May 1919 that Wilson was undergoing some kind of a crisis in his health . . . . Whatever happened to Wilson seems to have occurred when he was signing letters in the morning of April 28” when his handwriting changed and became almost bizarre.

Wilson’s signature in spring 1919

 

The editors continue: “Wilson’s handwriting continued to deteriorate even further. It grew increasingly awkward, was more and more heavily inked, and became almost grotesque.” Link summoned some medical specialists who told him that in their own opinion there was simply no doubt about it: Wilson had suffered a stroke on the morning of April 28.

And then he threw away yet another opportunity to strike a blow for “peace without victory.” When the terms of the Versailles treaty were made public there was widespread outrage regarding their severity. David Lloyd George, the British prime minister, was stricken, and he called the British delegation together on June 1. Their decision was unanimous: the terms of the treaty should be softened.

But when Wilson was approached, he declared that the severe terms were perfectly appropriate. According to one account, he proclaimed that “if the Germans won’t sign the treaty as we have written it, then we must renew the war.”

When he returned to the United States, his mental decline proceeded rapidly. He seemed to be more and more convinced that a religious drama was being enacted, a drama that he could understand more than others. When he presented the treaty to the Senate on July 10, he declared that “the stage is set, the destiny disclosed. It has come about by no plan of our conceiving, but by the hand of God who led us into this way. We cannot turn back. We can only go forward, with lifted eyes and freshened spirit, to follow the vision.” A Democrat, Senator Henry Fountain Ashurst, reacted to the speech as follows: “Wilson’s speech was as if the head of a great Corporation, after committing his company to enormous undertakings, when called upon to render a statement as to the meanings and extent of the obligations he had incurred, should arise before the Board of Directors and tonefully read Longfellow’s Psalm of Life.” Republican responses to the speech were even less charitable.

In August Wilson came to his senses and began to engage in discussions with congressional opponents, including some Republicans known as “mild reservationists” who supported the treaty but insisted on some clarifications to the League covenant, especially in regard to the issue of military force. But on August 11, his mood changed abruptly, and he made his fateful decision to appeal to the American people on a speaking tour that would take him to the West Coast and back.

Before he left, however, he made a significant (if private) concession: he gave his preliminary assent to some secret text for a possible “reservation” to the League covenant that was drafted by Democratic Senator Gilbert Hitchcock.

The speaking tour broke his health permanently, and after falling ill in Pueblo, Colorado, he returned to Washington, where the paralytic stroke occurred on October 2. After a medical team diagnosed the stroke, Wilson’s wife made the very bad decision to conceal the diagnosis from the public. Wilson could and should have been relieved of his presidential duties. As an invalid who had suffered a severe brain injury, he became more irrational and petulant than ever before.

The preliminary showdown in Congress over the Versailles treaty and its League covenant happened in November. Lodge had drafted a series of reservations, the most important of which concerned Article 10, which pertained to collective security and the use of military force under League auspices. Lodge’s text was negative and grudging: it declared that the United States would never participate in collective security actions as recommended by the League unless Congress approved through its constitutional prerogative to declare war. As Arthur Link noted years ago, the Lodge reservation was essentially the same as the Hitchcock reservation that Wilson had secretly approved, though the tone of Lodge’s reservation was of course nasty and negative. But both of them said essentially the same thing: the United States could never be drawn into war against the opposition of the people’s elected representatives.

Wilson, however, was convinced that the Lodge reservation “cuts the very heart out of the treaty.” A caucus of Democratic senators had voted to obey the president’s wishes, so bipartisan discussions with Republican “mild reservationists” were called off. The treaty went down to defeat on November 19.

The reaction was one of bipartisan shock, especially with Republicans such as former President William Howard Taft, who supported the League and who declared that the Lodge reservation “does not modify the original article nearly so much as a good many people have supposed it did.”

So bipartisan discussions resumed in January 1920. Success was approaching as more and more Democrats rebelled against Wilson’s delusional position. Wilson ranted that he would never tolerate “disloyalty,” and he did his best to use party discipline to force recalcitrant Democrats into line. When the treaty was considered again on March 19, twenty-two Democrats broke with Wilson and voted for the treaty with the Lodge reservations attached. But that was seven votes shy of the necessary two-thirds majority. The treaty of Versailles was rejected once and for all on that spring day in 1920. And the blame must be placed where it belongs: at the bedside of Woodrow Wilson.

In the opinion of John Milton Cooper, Jr., one of Wilson’s greatest admirers among academic historians, “in the first three months of 1920” Wilson seemed to be in the grip of “mental instability, if not insanity . . . . He should not have remained in office.”

As this series has attempted to argue — and as my book Woodrow Wilson and World War I: A Burden Too Great to Bear seeks to demonstrate at length — the catastrophe of Wilson’s wartime leadership started long before his madness. For a long time, qualified medical observers have theorized that Wilson suffered from a cerebro-vascular condition that warped his judgment for several years before the stroke. To the extent that these theories are justified, Wilson was not to blame for the blunders and follies that characterized his behavior during World War I. On the other hand, if his mistakes — especially his earlier mistakes when his mind was more lucid, the mistakes that resulted from aversion to strategic thinking — sprang from character flaws that can afflict any one of us, the judgment of history must be severe.

But one thing seems certain to me after studying the record in detail: Woodrow Wilson was not the right leader for the United States during World War I.

 Richard Striner (Washington College) is a historian focused on political and presidential history.

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Woodrow Wilson’s Four Mistakes in the Early Years of World War I 

HNN  June 1, 2014

This is part one of a three-part series distilling the thesis of Richard Striner’s new book, Woodrow Wilson and World War One: A Burden Too Great to Bear, published by Rowman & Littlefield in April 2014.  Mr. Striner is a professor of history at Washington College. His other books include Father Abraham: Lincoln’s Relentless Struggle to End Slavery and Lincoln’s Way: How Six Great Presidents Created American Power 

 

Wilson addressing the U.S. Congress, April 8, 1913

Wilson addressing the U.S. Congress, April 8, 1913

The case can be made that Woodrow Wilson made some profound mistakes when World War I broke out in the summer of 1914. He made four particularly bad mistakes, and he admitted to one of them later: he refused to listen to people like Theodore Roosevelt who argued at the time that the United States should build up its military power to be ready for future contingencies.

The second mistake was understandable and pardonable in its early phases: he envisioned himself as a peace-maker who could end the war through mediation. He offered his services to the belligerents during the first month of the war. This was of course a noble gesture, but the casualties in the first few months of the war —— hundreds of thousands dead by the end of 1914 —— would make the prospect for peace in the years that followed an empty hope. As the fortunes of war veered back and forth, the leaders of the side that was losing would naturally be receptive to the idea of a cease-fire through which they could contain their losses. But the leaders of the side that was winning would of course be motivated to press their advantage, redeeming all the sacrifice and death through total victory. More than one observer in the war years regarded the leaders of the allied and central powers as akin to so many Macbeths, “in blood stept in so far that should I wade no more, returning were as tedious as go o’er.” Even the most gifted of political strategists would probably have found it impossible during these years to bring the leaders of both sides to the peace table.

But Wilson clung stubbornly to the illusion that he could end the war through a single magnificent gesture. And that illusion was abetted by the man who during most of the war years served as Wilson’s closest confidante —— and, appallingly, who served at times his sole adviser on issues of war and foreign policy —— Col. Edward M. House. House was a flatterer who reveled in the thrill of making history behind the scenes. At times he was capable of giving shrewd advice, but he also worsened some of Wilson’s worst delusions. On September 18, 1914, he told Wilson that “the world expects you to play the big part in this tragedy, and so indeed you will, for God has given you the power to see things as they are.”

155786-WWilsonJacketThe third mistake that Wilson made in the first year of the war was his failure to engage in bipartisan consultations on issues of war and peace. Wilson’s own party was profoundly anti-interventionist during these years. As a consequence, contingency planning for the possible use of force would have been enhanced by quiet behind-the-scenes consultations with Republicans like Theodore Roosevelt and Henry Cabot Lodge. But instead of cultivating such men, Wilson antagonized them.

All through 1915 —— the year of the Lusitania sinking when the Germans commenced their submarine campaign against allied shipping —— Wilson was motivated first and last by his hope of acting as a mediator. In a speech in Indianapolis, Wilson asked the following rhetorical question: “Do you not think it likely that the world will some time turn to America and say: ‘You were right, and we were wrong. You kept your heads when we lost ours; you tried to keep the scale from tipping, but we threw the whole weight of arms in one side of the scale. Now, in your self-possession, in your coolness, in your strength, may we not turn to you for counsel and assistance?’”

But even as Wilson strove to maintain impeccable neutrality, he was complicit in American policies that “tipped the scale” of the wartime power balance. For American firms began selling weapons and munitions, and only one of the two sides could purchase the arms. The German high seas fleet was bottled up in the North Sea, unable to escort German freighters across the Atlantic. But the British Royal Navy was supreme in the Atlantic sea lanes —— except for the fact that the Germans were able to send their submarines hunting for British freighters. To reduce the risk of interruptions to the wartime shipping, the British started to ship arms and weapons in the holds of passenger liners like the Lusitania. And the Germans knew it. American civilians were travelling on these liners.

Wilson had a number of options for confronting this oceanic peril. One was the option of banning the sale of arms and munitions to nations at war —— the sort of thing that the isolationist Neutrality Act of 1935 was crafted to achieve a generation later. A bill introduced by Rep. Richard Bartholdt proposed to ban the sale of arms and munitions, but Wilson opposed it. Another option was proposed by Wilson’s first secretary of state, William Jennings Bryan: warning Americans not to travel on British passenger vessels or advising them that they did so at their own risk. Wilson opposed this policy as well. And this, it could be argued, was his fourth major mistake.

He was committed to upholding every single neutral right that the United States and its citizens possessed. If international law permitted the sale of arms, then Americans had to make vigorous use of that right. If international law permitted American civilians to travel the seas unmolested, that right must be exercised as well to the fullest extent possible. Wilson’s attitude was so rigid that Bryan resigned as secretary of state. Wilson replaced him with Robert Lansing, a state department official whom Wilson promoted. But Wilson had no respect for Lansing, and he continued to use House as his paramount adviser.

Why was Wilson’s attitude in these matters so legalistic? Because —— far-fetched though the proposition might appear —— he had convinced himself that to have any hope of ending the war through mediation, the United States had to prove itself impeccably neutral, and the only way to prove this was to insist upon every single jot and tittle of neutral rights under international law. He wrote to Walter Hines Page, the American ambassador to Great Britain, as follows: “If we are to remain neutral and to afford Europe the legitimate assistance possible in such circumstances, the course we have been pursuing is the absolutely necessary course.” And the course he had been pursuing, he explained, was to do “everything that it is possible to do to define and defend neutral rights.”

And so instead of pulling the United States out of harm’s way —— instead of preventing American policy from being held hostage by heedless citizens who chose to put themselves in peril —— Wilson warned the Germans he would hold them to “strict accountability.” But how did he mean to enforce this threat? Realizing by summer 1915 that his previous opposition to preparedness had stripped him of leverage, he instructed his secretary of the navy and his secretary of war to draft preparedness legislation.

This was a wise thing to do under the circumstances, and Wilson —— in one of his better moments —— admitted in a speaking tour that he made on behalf of his preparedness program in January 1916 that his previous opposition to preparedness had been a mistake. But the task of pushing this legislation through Congress proved arduous because of opposition from Wilson’s own party. The politics of election year 1916, when Democratic speakers touted the claim that their party and its leader had “kept us out of war” made the task even harder. By the time the legislation went into effect in the autumn of 1916, only half a year of peace remained for the United States. Wilson’s delay in preparedness planning would rob him of critical leverage with the allies on the issue of war aims in 1917 and 1918. The lead time necessary for mobilization was considerable. And he would not be able to deliver the troops when the British and French needed them.

In the meantime, Wilson continued to promote himself as a mediator. In the winter of 1915-1916, he and House had pursued a strategy of demanding that both sides declare themselves ready for peace talks at the risk that America would help the enemies of whichever side refused first. House enthused in a message to Wilson that “a great opportunity is yours, my friend, the greatest perhaps that has ever come to any man.”

This initiative led to an early but meaningless agreement with the British foreign minister —— meaningless because events overtook it right away and the process led nowhere. Various details of these negotiations were botched to an extent that prompted Wilson scholar Arthur S. Link to describe the results as demonstrating “the immaturity and inherent confusion of the President’s policies.”

Repeatedly in 1916 he spoke about the providential role that he and the American people were destined to play in world history. “What Europe is beginning to realize,” he claimed in one speech, “is that we are saving ourselves for something greater that is to come. We are saving ourselves in order that we may unite in that final league of nations . . . which must, in the providence of God, come into the world.”

Wilson’s intense Christian piety —— he was the son of a Presbyterian minister —— was not unusual in his own time or (for that matter) in our own. But Wilson’s piety was perhaps quite unusual in its millennial expectations. More and more, as America was drawn into the maelstrom of war, Wilson expressed his belief that the providence of God was about to usher in the great peace foretold in Isaiah, and with divine providence guiding events in this way, there was little need for presidential strategy. God would make it all happen in the end.

And so it was that Wilson proceeded to ignore —— or throw away —— a long series of opportunities when strategic thinking and contingency planning might have given him a real opportunity to shape the flow of events, and especially so when it came to the war aims of the allies. It was beautiful ideals expressed in beautiful words that would turn the tide of war, Wilson thought.

He was pre-positioning the American people for a colossal and catastrophic let-down.

Richard Striner is a writer and historian whose books and articles have covered political and presidential history, literature, economics, film, architecture, and historic preservation.

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The Cartoon that Made People Scare to Go War in 1914

 Charles F. Howlett

HNN   May 1i, 2014

Historians, journalists, and leading political figures are now commemorating the one hundredth anniversary marking the beginning of World War 1. At the time of this tragic event it was called the Great War and would be referred to in history textbooks as such for a mere twenty-one years after its conclusion. Sadly, the world experienced another global conflict starting in 1939 and the Great War became World War 1.

At the time armed conflict began in August 1914, it was considered the Great War because it was total and its impact felt worldwide. Primarily, in the low countries of Western Europe and France fierce battles were waged marked by trench warfare so graphically depicted by German soldier Eric Remarque’s powerful work All Quiet on the Western Front and visually displayed in the 1939 movie of the same name starring American actor Lew Ayers; Ayers, by the way, though classified as a conscientious objector, served as my dad’s Army combat medic in the Philippines in 1944-45. Battles were also fought on the high seas, principally in the North Atlantic where the submarine came to symbolize a new twist to conventional warfare, abandoning all forms of civility with respect to terms of engagement. There were also large cannons capable of launching shells twenty-plus miles, mechanized tanks, battleships, which the Germans proudly referred to as dreadnoughts, and worst of all, mustard gas. Indeed, over the course of four years, Europe, America, and parts of the decaying Ottoman Empire were thrust into the worst war civilization had ever encountered. It was a game changer and by the time it was over, November 11, 1918, at least 8.5 million combatants were killed and many more wounded, untold numbers of civilians died, whole empires were destroyed, and societies were devastated by modern technological warfare. Physical, moral, and psychological shock reverberated throughout the European continent and elsewhere.

No one could have predicted how catastrophic it would be. But at the start of hostilities when Germany officially invaded Belgium on August 4, 1917, bringing Great Britain into the war on the side of France and Russia, a cartoonist by the name of John Tinney McCutcheon burst upon the scene in an effort to capture the realities of the time. He would not disappoint as his vivid imagination and poignant realism gave instant credibility to the popularity of wartime cartoons as a serious form of journalism. Indeed, other cartoonists such as J.N. Ding (Jay Norwood Darling), James Harrison “Hal” Donahey, and Edwin Marcus would follow suit as they, too, used their artistic talents to depict the costs of war.

But it was McCutcheon who got the ball rolling. He was certainly an interesting and dynamic person who loved the thrill of adventure; he went where the story was, regardless of the dangers involved. He was born on an Indiana farm in 1870, but destined to travel worldwide. At the age of sixteen he entered Purdue University, switching majors from mechanical engineering to industrial arts because he hated math. He chose wisely as his skills as a graphic artist would eventually garner him a Pulitzer Prize in 1931 for his cartoon, “A Wise Economist Asks a Question.” He worked for the Chicago Tribune for forty years, entertaining thousands of readers each day as his cartoons appeared on the front page just above the fold. But none would have as much long lasting impact as the one that was published on August 7, 1914.

It was while he was working for the Chicago Tribune covering the political turmoil in Mexico, where he also met Pancho Villa and drew a cartoon of this Mexican revolutionary sitting at a table with a pistol laying on top, that war officially broke out in Europe. McCutcheon, the adventurer, promptly left Mexico for Chicago to obtain correspondent credentials. While awaiting a ship bound for England to cover the hostilities—he was one of only four American newspapermen to be on-the-scene reporters at the war’s beginning and would make two others trips, one riding in a French warplane that was shot at by the Germans—he sketched five noted war cartoons capturing his feelings about the European conflict. One stood out. He succinctly titled it “The Colors.”

The cartoon quickly captured the attention of a wide readership not only among Tribune subscribers but also among readers throughout the country. His cartoon was widely distributed and supporters of peace relied upon it to call attention to the dangers of war. Peace activists were moved by the depictions of McCutcheon’s cartoon. It provided anti-preparedness advocates with a simple, yet powerful, message that the burden of war is shouldered by all. “The Colors” also inspired a later effort by the newly-established Woman’s Peace Party to display its own “War Against War” exhibit, replete with peace/antiwar cartoons, attracting thousands of visitors in May 1916 in cities across the United States. In 1919, moreover, when George J. Hecht published his The War in Cartoons: A History of the War in 100 cartoons by 27 of the most prominent American Cartoonists, he promptly took notice of McCutcheon’s “The Colors.” It remains one of the most famous antiwar cartoons of all time.

When it first appeared no one, not even McCutcheon, could have guessed how influential it would become. But at the top of the first page in The Chicago Tribune on August 7, readers were instantaneously focused on a simple, yet compelling, cartoon with four panels. As readers gazed at each panel they were suddenly drawn to the words below each one: “Gold and green are the fields in peace”; “Red are the fields in war”; “Black are the fields when the cannons cease”; “And white forevermore.”

Each line takes on even greater significance when attached to the picture above. Readers are first drawn to a harvest of peaceful abundance as a farmer tills his soil while bundling his wheat. Then reality sets in as the field is littered with dead soldiers and smoke billowing upward from exploding cannon shells. In the aftermath of the battle are the mourners, grieving at the loss of so many innocent lives. Finally, one is led to white gravestones marking the place where the soldiers died. All the while three of four trees remain intact—nothing goes unscathed from war’s wrath—as witness to the tragic events that just took place, yet symbols of survival and future hope. Civilization must press on. His words, coupled with such powerful images, highlight the somber significance of war’s real impact on life.

And so, we have “The Colors.”

One hundred years later as we reflect on McCutcheon’s words and images in “The Colors,” we should be reminded, as the eminent peace historian Lawrence Wittner points out, that in the past century wars led to the deaths of over a hundred million people, and today, we live in a world armed with some 17,000 nuclear weapons. Many additional lives continue to be lost in the present century due to ongoing internal fighting and external war. Sadly, “the colors” haven’t changed.

This is the black and white version readers saw in the Chicago Tribune:


 Charles F. Howlett is a Professor in the Education Division’s Graduate Programs at Molloy College. He has authored, co-authored, and co-edited books numerous book in American history and education, including the forthcoming Antiwar Dissent and Peace Activism in World War I America with Scott Bennett. He will be presenting a talk, “Images of Peace Activism in World War 1,” at the First World War Conference in October at Georgian Court University in New Jersey.

 

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