February 24, 1915

by Richard van Pelt, WWI Correspondent

Truth suffers when righteousness abounds, as this article in the Capital Journal illustrates:

EXCERPTS FROM LETTER TELLS GERMAN ATTITUDE
Father of Salem Residents Says Not to Send Any More Newspaper Clippings As They Are Full of Lies.

The following is an except from a letter written by the father of J. G. and Fred Voget who is now in Germany. The letter is dated January 16, 1915:

Please do not send us any more newspaper clippings, we are only grieved at the lies, and cannot change matters anyway. Let them write about constant victories over “dying Germany,” they can neither lie our armies out of France nor out of Russia, and “dying Germany” still will have enough strength left to settle with John Bull. If the big english fleet would only come out into the open North sea, but they keep in hiding and dare neither attack Borkum nor Heligoland. We expected that they would – Buzzard like – take our few scattered cruisers, but Germany hopes confidentially that we shall win over all our enemies, impossible as it may seem at this time. The Germans fear nobody, and will know to sweep their country with iron brooms, and keep it free from any enemy whatever. Yes the allies shall find out that it is not so easy to ransack houses and to outrage German some “in Germany.” The poor Jewish women and girls in Poland, in large numbers are committing suicide, because of the terrible conduct of the Russians. Things too terrible to tell are happening there, and [they] are the allies of Christian England. But no cock crows for that, even in America. “Poor Belgium, Belgium” they have looked themselves blind looking at Belgium, it would be far more necessary to send food to Poland than to Belgium. Last Monday Timo Bahn entered service with the guard at Berlin. His brother Julius is with his regiment before Verdun. But although many regiments are in the field in double and even triple strength, yet every garrison in the country is just as full of soldiers as during times of peace. If you should come to Schwerin, Garfield, you would find your regiment in full numbers, yes, even in war strength, and likewise the infantry regiments. It seems as though the string will never break. Everywhere you hear the heavy step of the Prussian military boot. Kitchener will have to drum some, before he will be able to send better trained soldiers in sufficient numbers across the channel. He will have to call on Canada and Australia for more cannon fodder.

From here I can bring nothing but good reports, I know of no nephew that he had fallen or been wounded. Of Aunt N’s sons only the youngest is in France. We are all well and we lack or suffer nothing except for the sympathies that we have for our soldiers, who endure so much for us.

On our own persons we have suffered nothing so far from the war, while millions suffered so terribly. Our enemies are suffering enormously, that all our soldiers say and write. Recently 1000 English solders had to have their legs amputated because they had almost decayed in the mud trenches from lack of release.

This chronicle has reported letters from Herr Voget in prior posts (see August 26, 1914 and October 28, 1914). The letter from Voget père relates the feelings of a father toward his country at war, but it also tells us something about ourselves. A newspaper’s purpose is to bring some order to the chaos of information about us; the purpose of history is to bring order to the chaos of the past. This chronicle of one event of a century past tries to show to readers today what informed our grandparents of the chaos about them. Inevitably it does more, for the virtue of both history and literature is that it allows us to experience vicariously the strengths and weaknesses of those who preceded us.

History matters. The purpose of history is to bring order to the chaos of the past. Alternatively, failure to learn the lessons of the past doom us to repeating them. Implicit is the assumption that what motivated our forebears motivates us (which is also why literature is important for the same reasons). What we have here, and which plagues us to this day, is someone who, confronted with evidence that does not comport with the conclusions about the world that the person wants to be, rejects the evidence. When the facts don’t fit, change the facts; in such a world where error reigns, truth suffers.

On the editorial page, the Capital Journal sets out “Our Rights On the Seas:”

President Wilson has stoutly affirmed the fundamental principle that no power can close the high seas to neutral commerce. He has firmly declared that though the belligerents may work havoc against one another, no warship can attack a neutral American vessel without being held to strict accountability for committing a hostile act against the American flag, American property and American lives.

This is perfectly simple, and it is the international law which is beyond question.

It makes no difference whether a belligerent is flying the Stars and Stripes to deceive an enemy. It makes no difference whether a warship overhauls 99 merchantmen of a belligerent sailing under false colors. If the 100th is an American ship sailing under her true colors, she may be visited, she may be searched to determine her character, she may be sent to a prize court; but she may not be destroyed, deliberately or accidentally.

Too much is made of the fact that during our Civil War the United States declared a blockade of all southern ports and compelled all foreign commerce to recognize that blockade. It is not a parallel case. The South was not a separate nation, but a part of our own in rebellion. No foreign power recognized the Confederacy as a sovereign power. The United States government was blockading territory of its own jurisdiction, which fact was disputed by none but the South and was in the end maintained.

We cannot protest against the German program to exterminate British and French shipping. We cannot protest against the equal right of Britain to drive the German shopping off the seas, if she can do it.

As a neutral we cannot interfere with the allies in anything they may do or aim to do against Germany. We cannot interfere with Germany in anything she may do or aim to do against the allies.

As a neutral we retain and must not be restrained from exercising our full rights on the high seas, whatever the belligerents may do or aim to do to one another.

This is the international law which has always been recognized, and must be recognized now, whether Great Britain or Germany likes it or not.

If either side can establish and maintain an effective blockade, not a paper one, the case will be different. To that we would have to submit. But it has not come to that.

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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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