September 15, 1914

by Richard van Pelt, WWI Correspondent

The Capital Journal headlines consisted of reporting rumors and the high expectations of the Entente allies:


Germans Reach Defenses Prepared in Advance and Turn to Give Battle

Only Report Confirmed Is That Surrender of Austrian Army Is Probability


The Germans in northeastern France had made a definite stand today.

Their line was north of the River Aisne.

The French theory was that they were simply trying to reorganize but their retreat had ceased.

Another battle was deemed imminent.

Their artillery was inflicting increasing loss on the allies.

Most of the Verdun forts continued to hold out against the German crown prince and the French said his force had been driven back.

The allies had reoccupied Rheims.

It was rumored the allies had captured the German General Von Kluk and, according to some accounts, 14,000, according to others 25,000 of his men.

The fifteenth of September marks the beginning of trench warfare.

In a thoughtful editorial, “America’s Opportunity,” the Capital Journal editor wrote

This generation of Americans has never had such an opportunity to become conscious of its blessings as it has now. While the Old World is rocking with the shock of war, while many of the nations involved have to face not only the foe from without, but alienated, unassimilated subjects, who will either refuse to fight or give but half-hearted support to their rulers, people of America have never been more united, more vitally one, than now.

We have two possible foes to face – neither of them from without, both of them from within. One of them is the struggle between capital and labor, with its sharpening of class consciousness until it may become a two-edged sword liable to hurt not only the contending forces, but the vital life of the nation. The other is the growth of race prejudice, which may be strengthened further than weakened by the present conflict in Europe.

The sympathy of the American people must be with the people – with all the people who have been suddenly hurled from twentieth century civilization into primitive barbarism, from peaceful labors into deadly conflict, from severe struggle into deeper poverty.

Victory or defeat for one or the other of the contending armies will bring little or no blessing to the people who suffer, bleed and die; except as it may open the eyes of those who survive to the brutality of war, its waste, its uselessness.

It is now time to emphasize our American unity in spite of our diversity, to glory in it, to be careful not to transplant and propagate the Old World hate upon this newer continent, to realize that America must become a world server.

Now is the most auspicious moment to begin a holy war against war, and this is the one continent on which may be forged the strongest weapon against it – a consciousness of our common likeness, a realization of our brotherhood.

The editor of the Statesman in an editorial, “Fabian Warfare,” provides the paper’s analysis of the war:

It is more than twenty-one centuries since the Roman general, Quintus Fabius Maximus, invented the method of warfare that bears his name. And now General Joffre, commander-in-chief of the allies in France, has been giving an exhibition of Fabianism on a vaster scale and with greater interests at stake than has ever been since the first “Delayer” wore out Hannibal with his invading Carthaginians by letting Hannibal chase him all over Italy.

It will be recalled that the Roman people wearied of Fabius’ continuous retreating performance. They wanted more action. So Fabius was superseded in command by aggressive generals whom Hannibal ingloriously defeated. Then old, reliable Fabius was called back, and he resumed his delaying until he delayed the invader out of Italy and saved the Roman republic.

The retreat of the French and the British forces from Belgium to Paris was masterly in conception and execution. It is all clear now. The defenders were tremendously outnumbered on their left by Germany’s main force, launched straight toward Paris. The allied forces were ranged in a crescent with the Germans pressuring the whole outer rim, but trying particularly to crumble the left tip. They did not dare risk a decisive battle; weight of numbers and guns would have overwhelmed them. So they fell back, always on the defensive, but delivering a bold counter-stroke at every opportunity; always with their faces to the foe, always in regular formation, giving a least as good as they received, and waiting, waiting, waiting.

To the Germans time was everything. Liège had delayed them. They knew reinforcements were due in France, and Russia was thundering at their back door.

The farther the French-English forces fell back, the stronger was their position. As their crescent contracted they gained cohesiveness and mobility, and always at their backs was a friendly country. The plunging German army was more and more exhausted, its losses more and more impressive. Always the Russians in the East become more menacing. Meanwhile reinforcements were pouring into France and Belgium from England and Africa, and others were on their way from Russia, by the northern sea route around Scandinavia, and from Canada, South Africa, India and Australia. The farther the Germans penetrated, the more difficult became their communication, the heavier the opposition and the more perilous the Russian counter-invasion.

It was of no use to take Paris while the field army remained unbroken and confident. That army is France. And masterly delay, continued until the armies could meet on equal terms, may have saved France as it saved Rome.

In 1914 critical readers would have said the editor was guilty of gilding the lily. Today we would call it “spin.” The French and the British failed to coordinate, largely because Sir John French, the British commander-in-chief distrusted the French and feared any direct confrontation with the Germans. The allies had no Plan B; they had no plan as to what to do if they had to go on the defensive. The editor correctly noted that for the Germans “time was everything. Liège had delayed them.” The Germans fell victim to the belief that gobbling up territory meant they were winning. “The farther the Germans penetrated, the more difficult become their communication, the heavier the opposition” is an important point. The editor, as did many other newspapers, reported that Russian reinforcements were on their way to the Western Front when in fact they were absorbing defeats in the East.


About whclarc

We are devoted to providing information fresh from the Archives, Library and Collections of the Willamette Heritage Center in Salem, Oregon. We specialize in the history of Marion County and the greater Salem area.
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