May 4, 1914

by Richard van Pelt, WWI Correspondent

What is the purpose of argument? What is the purpose of reporting? Or of history for that matter? We argue to persuade, not to elaborate the truth. The editor addresses this distinction in the following editorial from the Capital Journal:

“CHRISTIAN ETHICS” AND “TRUTH”

The Rev. Dr. Thomas Cuming Hall, professor of Christian Ethics in Union Theological Seminary, addressing the members of the American Truth Society in Brooklyn, denounced the United States government for permitting shipment of arms and munitions to belligerents, and charged that American manufacturers are supplying the Allies with dumdum bullets.

Such tales as these come with conspicuous inappropriateness from a professor of Christian Ethics and under the auspices of a society with “Truth” in its title.

The American Truth Society was organized in 1912 “To propagate a spirit of pure Americanism” and “to preserve the tradition of the United States inviolate.” Among its accomplishments, the society noted:

. . . [I]t conducted public forums at the Cort Theatre, exposing the methods of the newspapers, and attacking the export of arms, ammunition and dumdums.

It has divided the Congressmen and United States Senators into three classes: 1st, those who are right; 2nd, those who are wrong, and 3rd, those who are afraid to say whether they are right or wrong.

It has sent broadcast thousands of copies of its Plan and Scope, a pamphlet which contains alarming and convincing facts about the pernicious operations of British influences in our country.

The editor takes on the speaker and the organization, suggesting that truth is a matter of getting your facts straight:

The charge that American manufacturers have supplied dumdum bullets to its customers among the belligerents has twice been made officially by the German Embassy to this country. In each case the Department of State caused a careful and painstaking examination to be made, having the cordial assistance of the arms manufacturers. In each case it was roved conclusively that the charge was absolutely without foundation, and the Embassy was so informed.

On both occasions the facts of complaint, inquiry and disproof were widely published, and the complete records should have come to the attention of any Professor of Christian Ethics whose intention it was to discuss the subject on the platform, or even in the privacy of personal conversation.

Dumdum  bullets were outlawed for use in warfare:

The ‘dum-dum’ was a British military bullet developed for use in India – at the Dum-Dum Arsenal – on the North West Frontier in the late 1890s.

The dum-dum comprised a jacketed .303 bullet with the jacket nose open to expose its lead core. The aim was to improve the bullet’s effectiveness by increasing its expansion upon impact.

The phrase ‘dum-dum’ was later taken to include any soft-nosed or hollow pointed bullet. The Hague Convention of 1899 outlawed the use of dum-dum bullets during warfare.

During the First World War the Belgian government faced German charges of having used dum-dum bullets in battle. Kaiser Wilhelm II wrote a telegram to U.S. President  Woodrow Wilson on 7 September 1914 protesting such use; the Belgians strongly denied the Kaiser’s charges.

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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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