by Richard van Pelt, WWI Correspondent
The day’s headlines from The Daily Capital Journal speak to the difficulty journalists had in reporting and covering the war:
WAR SITUATION AS IT APPEARS TO ONE WHO IS UNBIASED
Thinks Stories of Russian Prowess Told By Russians Need Censoring
GERMANS SEEM TO BE HOLDING THEIR OWN
It is Seen Though that Russians Are Able to Keep Germans Busy at Warsaw
While the allies were reporting today progress in the western theatre of the European war measurable by scarcely more than inches, Russia was claiming victories on a stupendous scale in the east.
Previous experience has shown the necessity of discounting the over-enthusiastic accounts furnished by Petrograd news writers of Russian prowess. These authorities seem to measure all engagements on the gigantic scale of Russian distances.
STORY OF THE WAR AFTER BOTH SIDES BLUE-PENCILED IT
Some One Is Going to Do Something, Sometime, at Some Place, Somehow
FRENCH ARE BRAVE AMMUNITION POOR
Correspondent Says French Line Is Bent in Places But Nowhere Is It Broken
His frustration clearly showing, Karl H. Von Wiegand writes:
Montmedy, France, Oct. 21, via Metz, Berlin, the Hague and London. – (Passed on and edited by both German and British censors.) – The German central armies are endeavoring determinedly to reduce Verdun.
Heavy batteries have been mounted, and with them some of the outer fortifications have already been destroyed. The officer commanding, General Von (name deleted by censor), told me today that he was confident the strong French fortress would be overwhelmed and taken within a fortnight at the outside.
He praised French bravery unstintedly, saying the Gallic artillery was excellent, but that its work was partly nullified by inferior ammunition. In this connection he called attention to the many French shells which had failed to explode because of imperfect manufacture.
Reporting on the Belgians, William Sims wrote:
BELGIAN KING IS RISKING HIS LIFE AT BATTLE FRONT
King Who Had Nothing to Do With Starting War, Only One Fighting
WITH REMNANT OF ARMY AGAIN STOPS GERMANS
Mixes With His Soldiers and By Example Arouses Intense Enthusiasm
“My life is not more valuable to the country than yours and my place is on the fighting line,” was King Albert of Belgium’s reply to his personal staff’s importunities to him to leave the front.
Thursday I saw his majesty in action at (deleted by censor), fighting with the remnant of his army for his native land. The Belgians are unterrified and unconquered. The king wore a general’s field uniform. He is constantly encouraging his men everywhere.
The paper attempted to report and reconcile contradictory reports:
FIGHTING IS BLOODY BUT NO IMPORTANT ADVANTAGE GAINED
Level and Open Country Makes the Losses on Both Sides Heavy
GERMANS SHELL MEUSE AND ALLIES OSTEND
Russians, Servians and Austrians All Claim Sweeping Victories
“In general, there has been no material change,”: was today’s report by the allies in the situation in the western theatre of the European war.
“The enemy,” was the German version, “is slowly retreating along the entire battle front.”
The Capital Journal’s editorial page also reflected a growing disgust with how the war has turned personal:
A child’s quarrel in which one tells the other “take your dishes and doll baby and go home. You can’t play in our yard, slide on our cellar door, swing on our gate, scratch our pig’s back or paddle in our rainwater barrel,” is dignified and sensible compared to the actions of some grown folks angry over the present war. Saint Saens, the great French composer, says: “It is wrong for any Frenchman to listen to Wagner’s music, just as it would be criminal to applaud a singer who had just injured one’s mother.” Still Germany is fighting France. The German musicians would boycott all French music because France is fighting Germany, and all Italian sons because Italy refused to stand in with Germany and Austria. Germany also hesitates about allowing Shakespeare’s plays to be presented in her theatres since she is at war with England. The whole matter is “silliness gone to seed.”
In the Oregon Statesman an op-ed piece penned by Miriam Russell, “War and Mush” reflects on American reactions to the war:
“The first two weeks after war was declared I did nothing but buy extras, read them, talk about the horror and weep,” said a young woman teacher the other day. “I was studying at Columbia this summer, and I just wasted two weeks of my course worrying about the war. Then I suddenly realized that whoever happened I could not afford to throw away the benefit of my summer term, and that as long as I was not doing any good with my fussing it was just silly sentimentality. So I stopped.”
How many of us had had the same experience? I remember the definition of a wise old educator. “Sentiment is feeling that leads to useful action and does some good. Sentimentality is feeling that uses itself up in emotion and gets nowhere. Sentiment is wholesome. Sentimentality is mush.”
It is well that the horror of war should have struck deep into the souls of Americans, particularly American women. It is well that we should have been forced to realize how bad war is. It means that American public sentiment will be so strongly set against war that this country will always stand for peace.
But unless the effect of the emotion is to make us bestir ourselves to useful action, then all the feeling will waste itself in must. Mush in this sense is demoralizing, too. It weakens character.