September 16, 1914

by Richard van Pelt, WWI Correspondent

“Germans Take Up Position On The Aisne” read the headline in the Daily Oregon Statesman, which marks the start of the First Battle of the Aisne. To forestall any further retreat, the Germans began digging defensive trenches. The Battle of the Aisne saw the start of entrenched and dug-in positions that would spread along the length of the Western Front. Gone was the mobile warfare both sides envisioned in their pre-war strategic planning, replaced now by a war rooted in trenches from which neither side could be moved without tremendous and often futile cost. During the course of the war, trenches would become deeper and more sophisticated and would be the norm for warfare over the following three and a half years.

Readers interested in trench warfare and how trench warfare affected those involved can learn more at the BBC interactive website: Trench Warfare. The BBC website on World War I also has excellent resources for students and teachers that invite viewing the war from the perspectives of an observer, soldier, nurse, survivor, and from headquarters. A further BBC website, Schools World War I provides further resources. With the war now a century in the past, archeologists have begun research on the trenches. The Durand Group has a series of videos that describe their work and the continuing danger that exists on these battlefields from unexploded ordnance.

In an unusual front page op-ed piece, prominently placed just under the masthead, the Capital Journal published an opinion by a prominent financier, Henry Clews:

Henry Clews Says All Peoples Should Unite in Peace Demand

New York, Sept. 16 – After the experience of this devastating and brutally cruel war on life and property, no permanent peace can be effected unless it provides for disarmament of all the nations involved, and a binding peace compact made between them for a pro rata combination of forces ample to police both the land and sea of the entire combatants, also to include all other nations. If that is accomplished as a result of the war, then it will be an important gain to humanity, and in part some compensation growing out of the costly and dreadful slaughter of human life will be derived. If such a settlement is not accomplished, then recuperation with vindictive intentions will be likely to bring about another similar war in due course of time, which may include our Continent and the whole of Asia, thereby making a greater deluge of blood and destruction of property than the present upheaval. The only possible gain that this war can produce is what I propose, as stated above, and the people of all nations should rise up and insist upon it. It is a question for the people of the world to solve for their own protection, provided the various governments will not accomplish that result, as the lives of the people and their interests are where the suffering and losses strike.

At the end of the war, President Woodrow Wilson would champion the idea of a League of Nations, an idea reluctantly adopted by the victors, but defeated in the United States Senate by Republican Senators William Borah of Idaho and Henry Cabot Lodge of Massachusetts. Clews’ fear was justified and his prediction would come true in 1939, and for the very reason he predicted, when Germany, “with vindictive intentions” initiated the second phase of a war, the end of which in 1918 merely opened the period of recuperation that Clews feared.

The editor carried this theme onto the editorial page:

It may be “grape juice” diplomacy and it may be something else, but whatever it is, it surely is worthy of a place in history that on September 15, 1914, in the city of Washington, United States of America, the representatives of Great Britain, France, Spain, China and the United States, representing two-thirds of the people of the earth, signed for their respective governments, and so bound them, a solemn treaty that these countries would under no circumstances declare or make war on any of the others until it had submitted its cause to an international tribunal, and until one year had passed after the cause of dispute had arisen.

It may be “grape juice,” but it has all the brands of a magnificent victory of Peace. Had Germany, France and the other warring nations of Europe signed this agreement six weeks ago, what a deluge of blood would have been turned aside! What a holocaust would have been avoided! What unutterable woe and what bitter tears would have been still unknown! The brave fellows who fell at Louvain would be now pursuing their usual avocations, speeding the nimble shuttle through the whirring looms or guiding the machinery that produced the dainty laces and beautiful things for human adornment, instead of rotting under their destroyed forts and sending up to heaven an unbearable stench in protest against man’s wickedness and inhumanity.

What poignant grief, what scalding tears, what unbearable sorrow, what aching hearts would have been prevented had that “grape juice” diplomacy been followed by the leaders of the unhappy warring nations!

Ask the mother left desolate in age, whose son’s body is rotting in an unknown grave; ask the widow whose eyes shall never again behold the father of her children, and who must take up in his place the burden of their support and upbringing; ask the boys and girls the war made orphans who dry-eyed and afraid saw their father for the last time as he marched away bravely in answer to the call to arms, and whose ears are deaf forever more to their prattle, whose eyes are blind to their winsomeness and whose heart never again will thrill with delight at the clasping of their arms around his neck, or the touch of their confiding hands. Ask these if the signing of a treaty of peace is a thing to be sneered at; ask these if so great and grand a thing is to be dismissed from human consideration as a trifle, a bit of “grape juice” diplomacy.

Our country is great and grand, and with the example we are setting the nations of the world may well be proclaimed as “glorious,” and this because of these efforts for peace and the adoption first in all the-world of “grape juice” diplomacy.

At the end of the Nineteenth Century and during the years leading up to World War I, many in Europe and this country sought a mechanism to resolve international differences short of war. The treaty the editor referred to was to have been the culmination of an international conference that would have committed the signatories to arbitration instead of war.

The editor’s caustic reference to “grape juice diplomacy” refers to Wilson’s Secretary of State, William Jennings Bryan. Bryan, a prohibitionist, banned wine and alcohol from all official diplomatic functions, hence the term “grape juice diplomacy.”

The Statesman reported on the war tax pending before Congress. Congressional opposition to a freight tax led to the substitution of a stamp tax. Stamp taxes (which in the 1770’s led to revolution here) on articles sold – tobacco, playing cards, stock transaction, etc., were used to finance the Civil War and the Spanish-American War:


Abandoning the proposed tax on freight transportation, the Democrats of the house caucus today agreed to a war revenue measure which will include the Spanish war stamp tax on commercial and legal papers, the Spanish war taxes on bankers, brokers, theaters and other amusement places, a tax of 2 cents a gallon on gasoline, a special tax on tobacco manufactures and dealers, domestic wines and beer.

The Statesman also reported an address before the German Society of Salem by Dr. G. Wislicensus:

So Holds Local Physician in Address to German Society of Salem
Dr. Wislicensus Gives What He States Is Authentic Information of Struggle
to Fellow Members – Feels Terrible Fate Is Threatening

My Dear Brethren and Sisters:

It is not given to me without any premeditation and with highflying words to create enthusiasm, but nevertheless I hope through that which I’m going to say, to render service to you inasmuch as I may be able to give authentic information about the mixed up conditions which have led to this war. I also hope to enthuse your hearts, not only that which is German in you – no – but to inflame your sympathy; to stir you up to a lasting emotion: to resolutions and deeds, in order to help to prevent the terrible fate, which seems to envelope not only the fatherland but humanity as a whole. This spectre is about to tear down into the pit of hell all that was great, beautiful and ideal. If I thus speak, my words are not only for you, that are assembled here, but are for all Germans in America.

Society Does Much Good

In the first place, to the mighty German National society, under the leadership of our president, Dr. Hexamer, this society has done much not only for our German element but for the United States, as well as for the entire world. But our aims are not confined to our society. I wish to impress every heart, every thinking brain, immaterial to which church, party, or race, that it may hold to. May all the world be sure about that which is now happening in Europe! May all the world be informed that it is Paris which is telling the universe that the stage of her theater is the world! It is Paris that would impress the earth that French paint, French veneer, the hollow emptiness which they call civilization: that all this is the last step of human progress. It is Paris that would make us believe that the German is a mere, brutal invader. Induced by jealousy and imperialism, to tear down from her throne Marianne on which she placed herself not by God’s grace, but by her own might and power, and from which throne she fooled the world by means of her illusive arts.

For this, my brethren, is the heart of the conflict over yonder. It is nothing less, but the question, shall French or German thought predominate in the world? Do not misunderstand me. I do not speak of German world empire in the former meaning of the word which adheres to it from the time of the Romans, which Napoleon a hundred years ago in vain tried to revive, and which England through her dominion and supremacy over the seas in part realized. Nothing lies farther from the German spirit than this old meaning of the word.

What Germans Want

What the German wants is: To employ all powers in a legitimate rate, to unfold all talents, which may incite the world to progress, in order that the world may be incited to seek that which is true; that it may find the good and the beautiful, that it may know and fight the mean in order that humanity may become better, more beautiful; that it may reach that measure of perfection and happiness to which it is entitled, to which it is talented; that humanity, the crown of creation may give honor to the Almighty only, by walking his ways an by fulfilling the mysterious, deep and holy meaning of life.

This is the German spirit: this is the spirit of the new German culture, which from ancient time slowly but steadily and uninterrupted, developed itself, and now at last, after a struggle of two thousand years with the Roman civilization, attempted to triumph.

Yes, the German spirit was at the point of triumph; not with iron and blood. The sword, sharp on both edges, rested for forty-three years. Nobody can accuse us of blood-thirstiness. We are lovers of peace and we have kept it honestly. We have guarded it sincerely. But we do not love peace on every condition, the peace, the hidden rot which they wish to enforce on Germany from the west and from the east! That kind of peace we not only do not love, but we hate it, for we know that such peace is useless. Such peace is built on lies, hypocrisy and murder; such a peace we cut down with our pure, sharp sword.

Yes, our sword is pure and sharp, and it will work until the road is free for the truth. The German “Michael” does no longer sleep; he woke up; he arose, and like the archangel, whose name he bears, he swings his sword and cuts the chain which French and Slavic hypocrisy tried to throw around his body. Not the chains around his body only but the nets and traps, too, woven about the sanctuary of truth and life. All these must be broken and thrown to the four winds.

“Michael” Is Awake

The German Michael is awake and rises. Already he has begun his work. Woe to the deluded, that put themselves in his way! And if the world rises against him, and if the world were full of devils, the German Michael will succeed.

Yesterday evening my eyes caught an article giving England’s position. I read and did not believe my senses. Winston Churchill, the English secretary of the navy, granted an interview to an American correspondent, to whom he made the most curious revelations.

All of you remember the terrible surprise it gave you when you learned that England had declared war against Germany. We had builded [sic.] on England’s neutrality. The situation was clear. French and Slavs against Teutons. Could anybody doubt England’s neutrality? Who could believe that the Anglo-Saxon cousin yonder on his islands would fight against his own flesh and blood and the one, already wedged in between two sides? Nevertheless, the incredible happened. You know the excuse which sufficed to find a reason for this race treason. Germany desired to march through Belgium. She had given all guarantees that a gentleman could give that Belgian territory should not be annexed; that all damage incurred by a march through Belgium should be made good. Openly the German chancellor admitted that they committed a wrong, which they had to rectify, and which they would make good. At what time in the world’s history has a great nation in such a moment confessed itself so courageously?

All of this was in vain. England desired the war. Why? That we all suspected, without believing in it. Who would have believed that the English secretary of the navy with cynic carelessness, shortly after hostilities began, would herald to the world the true motives of English diplomacy and politics?

The English secretary of the navy accuses, without thinking it necessary to furnish a single proof, the Prussian military aristocracy, whose insane desire for empire knew no limits, of having brought about this war. In his profound confusion in order to make believable his nonsense, he praises the quiet, sober, industrious German people with all its splendid achievements, but he thinks that a German victory would not help this people, but that it would help the blood and iron militarism. But in the next sentence he continues: “I cannot understand why Germany has not been contented with her wonderful progress since the battle of Waterloo.” And then: “No country has had such a reign of prosperity and splendor. Yet all this and still she has been discontented: solicitous of admiration, careless of international law, worshiping force and giving us all to understand that her triumphs in the past and her power in the present were little compared with what she sought in the future.”

Should Use His Brains

Thus Winston Churchill. Above, he accused the blood and iron aristocrats and now it is “Germany.” Winston Churchill does not deem it necessary to support his nonsense with an attempt of a single proof. He only says: “I cannot understand,” and it does not occur to him, that if one fails to understand something, one should employ his brain, in order to understand it.

Into the hands of such a man England has placed its fate and that of the world.

Brethren, this is hard to realize, but nevertheless it is cruel reality. To what end will this lead? How will it end? The struggle of Germany against France and Russia alone is insignificant in comparison with the fight against deluded England. Although the spilling of blood on the continent is a terror for frightened humanity, the awfulness of it decreases a little through the belief that it is a necessity, as there can be no peace possible between German and French spirit until France is humiliated. But for rending each other, cousins massacring each other, there is no excuse. Teutonic and Anglo-Saxon spirit are not opposites. They are not only not extremes, but they are two branches of the same tree whose trunk and root are the great Germanic race. They ought to supplement each other to united pollinating. No blossoms bloom, no fruit ripens on one of these branches that has not been nourished from the other side, that would not benefit from the opposite side.

Great Ones of Germany

Think of Luther, of Shakespeare, of Goethe, of Wellington, of Blucher, of Kant and Darwin. Are they not all one flesh and blood? And all these common triumphs of these giants of the world or intellect should be annihilated amid the insane laughter of the French, the Slavs and the Mongolians?

May you not, my brethren, through the awfulness of this struggle of brothers, be led on to blind hatred against England. Collect all your nerves, sharpen all your wits, to find an honorable compromise with the deluded cousin. Who could do that better than the American people in who Teuton and Anglo-Saxon is molded together to a great unity? Here or nowhere is the ground to bring about a reconciliation. And the German-American National society must achieve this. May this society be conscious of its mission and able to perform it successfully.

Long and turgid though this is, Dr. Wislicensus was a spokesperson for the German community and his audience did not find his opinions to be extreme. Margaret MacMillan, in and essay, The Rhyme of History wrote:

In the Europe of a hundred years ago the growth of nationalist feeling—encouraged from above but rising from the grass roots where historians, linguists, and folklorists were busy creating stories of ancient and eternal enmities—did much to cause ill will among nations who might otherwise have been friends. Teutons had always been menaced by Slavs from the east, or so learned German professors assured their audiences before 1914, and therefore peace between Germany and Russia must be impossible. In the Balkans, competing nationalisms, each with its own story of triumphs and defeats, drove apart peoples such as Serbs, Albanians, and Bulgars who had lived in relative harmony for centuries—and are still driving them apart today.

The geopolitical reasons for the sides aligning as they did were eventually subsumed by the dark side of nationalism that seeks to demonize the “other.” Germany fell into this pit, and it did not take long for the belligerents to demonize each other in ways that has had corrosive effects down to the present day.


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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