March 16, 1915

by Richard van Pelt, WWI Correspondent

The Capital Journal headlines for the day reported allied setbacks in the Dardanelles:

New Guns of Heavy Calibre Mounted On Heights Above Scutari to Defend Dardanelles Against Attack of Anglo-French fleet – British Cruisers Reported Disabled and Returned to Malta – Big Events Taking Place But Censorship Suppresses Details

The Dardanelles had a diplomatic and propaganda component in addition to opening a route to Russia. Greece, Bulgaria and Romania were neutral and an allied victory over Turkey would encourage them to join the war on the Allied side. The British, especially, hoped that the impression an overwhelming combined fleet would provoke the collapse of Turkey through a coup d’état.

Turkey and Germany knew that an attack on the Dardanelles was possible. With German help, Turkish defenses in the region were greatly improved. Though the allies appeared to have had the advantage at the outset, the waters were heavily mined. Clearing the mines slowed the allied progress up the straits. Clearing the mines was not successful and the fleet suffered significant damage.

The Salem papers closely followed British and German tactics restricting trade by neutrals. Readers clearly understood that the reliance of nations on international trade brought war home to neutrals. From the perspective of the belligerents, there were no neutral parties. Trade with the enemy in any form harmed the belligerents, especially in a world situation evolving into total war. Total war diminishes the distinction between combatants and non-combatants. In a total war all resources are marshaled to one end: victory for one side, defeat for the other. The cargo aboard a merchant vessel could thus be characterized as either for one side or against it. Total war and international law is the subject of an article, “Might, Not International Law, Is Right in War Time” published on the Capital Journal’s front page:

England is trying to starve Germany into submission by means not sanctioned by international law. Germany, for all practical purposes, is largely inland territory, and the new problem facing the allies is how to crush the economic life of an inland enemy. International law provides no method, so England has thrown aside the law and has proclaimed a new way of meeting the issue.

Neutral states are to be drawn within the war area and they are notified that they must not act as intermediaries in handling German goods. In effect, Holland and the Scandinavian countries are now blockaded by the British fleet. England cannot prevent an exchange of goods between Germany and Holland and Germany and Scandinavia. German railroads run directly into Holland and German merchant ships can cross the Baltic to Scandinavian ports.

But England declares, in effect, that the Dutch and the Scandinavian merchants cannot buy goods abroad for reselling to Germany, nor can they send other countries’ commodities purchased from Germany. Only one reason permits England to do this, and that is the known fact that no neutral will go to war to maintain commercial relations with Germany.

The might of the British navy is sufficient to cause every neutral to rest content with the protest. If there were any neutral navy of sufficient strength to overawe the British, the present situation would not have arisen.

On the other hand, it is beyond doubt that any nation possessing sea power to enforce its orders will remake international law for war time to suit its own needs.

The British order in council means that ways devised in peace time for limiting the power of belligerents to harm an enemy will not be respected when hostilities occur.

No neutral nation hereafter can be certain of retaining its rights, based only on peaceful “paper resolutions.” The advance of civilization has brought such devastating possibilities in war time and so many interests for a modern nation to defend, that no country engaged in what may be a death grapple will permit “scraps of paper” to hinder the full employment of its strength. This war is emphasizing the fact that in war time might makes right, not international law.

On the editorial page, the Capital Journal summarizes the editorial opinion of newspapers to the British response to Germany’s submarine blockade:

* * *
Both sides justify their most extreme measures as reprisals for earlier unjustifiable acts of the enemy, and imply that right-minded neutrals therefore ought not to object.

* * *
A blockade, says the New World, is a very definite thing, but “to notify the world in general terms that commerce with Germany is forbidden, without declaring a blockade and without acceptant it responsibilities,amounts to a declaration that neutrals as well as belligerents are involved in war.”

* * *
The effect of the new rule, as the Washington Post sees it, “will be to drive off the ocean all commerce except commerce with the allies. And our duty “is to make such a determined protest to England as shall be heeded. The protest may take the form of an ultimatum, or it may actually result in war. But even that is preferable to being dragged into war on account of cowardly failure to enforce our neutral rights.

The editorial consensus concluded that there are the belligerents fighting each other and neutrals faced with the prospect of fighting both.

Unrelated to the war, but closely followed by readers of both papers were the trials of Harry Thaw. Thaw, the heir to a coal and railroad fortune, murdered Sanford White in 1906. White was a prominent New York architect (Washington Square Arch, Rosecliff (setting for The Great Gatsby with Robert Redford). The trials occupied the news from 1906 through 1924, covered with the same attention the O.J. Simpson trial received. Thaw, with too much money and too little sense, cut a swath across American and European society. He represented a time when money could buy most anything, including a not-guilty verdict. Committed to Matteawan prison for the criminally insane, he was nonetheless able find his way out of prison and, guilty by virtue of temporary insanity, was later judged sane and was released. Readers and cinema goers will recognize the story of Harry Thaw as subjects of “The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing (Joan Collins and Farley Granger) and E. L. Doctorow’s “Ragtime.”


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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