The Poison of War

On this day in 1915 in World War I history, Germany first makes large-scale use of poison gas in warfare in the Battle of Bolimów against Russia.

Some three years later, my grandfather was hit with poison gas. He barely survived and lost a lung in the process.

The following is an excerpt from my script Clean Dry Socks: Diary of a Doughboy, based on my grandfather’s World War I diary.

Both mustard and phosgene gases were used at Meuse-Argonne, one causing internal and external blisters. The other had soldiers coughing up pieces of their lungs.

The night of September 28th and 29th were the most disagreeable I had ever spent in my life.

It rained all night and a very cold wind blew. Shells were falling everywhere. As we were coming out of the trenches just east of Montfaucon we received orders to go in support of the 79th division just north of Bois de Montfaucon. We pulled over in a field to prepare supper. Jerry had a good observation and sent over lots of shells.

Some of the shells made a direct hit on a hospital nearby and some landed in the field where we were.

In her commentary my aunt wrote:

Although my father’s diary makes no note of it, this was the time he was gassed. I’m certain that he was wearing his gas mask, otherwise he would have had even more serious complications.

Still the masks were not too effective and were crudely made. They consisted of a pair of goggles with a nose cone attached from which protruded a hose that connected to a metal canister. The idea was to recycle the wearer’s own breath and since their oxygen was soon used up they sometimes had no recourse but to snatch the mask off and many of them were blinded, or even killed.

My grandfather survived, but thousands didn’t. Those who did survive had their live changed forever.

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On this day in 1916

Crater of a Zeppelin bomb in Paris, 1916

On this day in 1916, Germans first bombed the City of Paris from zeppelins.

The Zeppelin was an airship named after the German Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin. They were first formulated in 1874.

During World War I, these German airships were operated by the Army and Navy. The missions flown against Paris killed 23 people and injured another 30. But the aircraft was severely damaged by anti-aircraft fire and crashed during the return journey.

Modern Zeppelins are still in use today, but they’re not to be confused with Led Zeppelin.

Peace Without Victory

Woodrow Wilson announces to Congress on February 3, 1917 that official relations with the German Empire have ceased. (Wikimedia Commons)

On this day in 1917, prior to the United States’ entry into World War I, President Woodrow Wilson addressed the Senate and called for “peace without victory” to settle the European conflict.

Wilson said “The present war must first be ended; but we owe it to candor and to a just regard for the opinion of mankind to say that, so far as our participation in guarantees of future peace is concerned, it makes a great deal of difference in what way and upon what terms it is ended. The treaties and agreements which bring it to an end must embody terms which will create a peace that is worth guaranteeing and preserving, a peace that will win the approval of mankind, not merely a peace that will serve the several interests and immediate aims of the nations engaged. We shall have no voice in determining what those terms shall be, but we shall, I feel sure, have a voice in determining whether they shall be made lasting or not by the guarantees of a universal covenant; and our judgment upon what is fundamental and essential as a condition precedent to permanency should be spoken now, not afterwards when it may be too late.” Full Text.

A little more than two months later, Wilson addressed Congress to request permission to declare war against Germany. A formal declaration of war was issued on April 6, 1917. The war would end the following November. By the end of the war 116,708 American military lives and 757 U.S. civilians would die from all causes associated with the war (influenza, combat, and wounds).

The Paris Peace Conference

Johannes Bell of Germany is portrayed signing the peace treaties on 28 June 1919 in The Signing of Peace in the Hall of Mirrors by Sir William Orpen.

The Paris Peace Conference, also known as Versailles Peace Conference, opened on this day in 1919.

The Conference was the meeting of the victorious Allied Powers following the end of World War I to set the peace terms for the defeated Central Powers. The Conference was led by the five major powers, France, Britain, Italy, Japan, and the United States).

The senior statesmen concluded their personal work on the conference in June 1919 and the conference officially came to an end on January 21, 1920. But the formal peace process did not officially end until July 1923 with the signing of the Treaty of Lausanne.

The conference also led to the establishment of The League of Nations.

Work on my script Clean Dry Socks: Diary of a Doughboy, based on my grandfather’s WWI diary, continues.

The Cartoons of World War I

Over the past few weeks, we’ve been talking about our script Clean Dry Socks: Diary of a Doughboy. The script is finished and being shopped around to production companies.

Over the course of time we’ve been looking at the history and culture of that era.

Through the years, political cartoons have been used to express the mood of a nation. The same was true during World War I when not everyone supported the effort or U.S. involvement. Here are ten examples of the cartoons of the day.

A dentist (Uncle Sam) about to extract a tooth from a patient (Kaiser Wilhelm II); representing America’s successful involvement in the First world war. Pen drawing by P. Forbes-Robertson, 1918. Iconographic Collections Keywords: Uncle Sam; world war, 1914-1918.

 

‘Bravo, Belgium !’ Political cartoon showing a Belgian farmer standing up to the German aggressor.

Blessed are the Peacemakers by George Bellows. Anti-war cartoon depicting Jesus with a halo in prison stripes alongside a list of his seditious crimes. First published in The Masses in 1917.

 

Cartoon by Jay N. Darling. Uncle Sam carries a dead soldier, representing the first reported U.S. casualties from World War I

 

The Cartoon Book was published by the US Government in 1918, with the intention of promoting the third Liberty Loan; various cartoonists, including Bushnell, donated their work. Here, the accusing hand of Uncle Sam points at an arrogant Prussian officer standing before the flaming wreckage of Europe.

 

His Best Customer (1917) by Winsor McCay. Anti-war cartoon depicting War serving Death with the caption “His Best Customer.”

 

Uncle Sam with empty treasury. Reference to economic situation at end of World War I.

 

This is likely Will Dyson’s most famous cartoon of World War I.

 

Cartoon shows the figure of Peace as a pretty woman and angel, standing in the aisle of a train or bus, while Senators Borah, Lodge, and Johnson occupy the seats. The cartoon refers to the successful efforts of the Republican isolationists after World War I to block Senate ratification of the Treaty of Versailles establishing the League of Nations.

 

“The Spirit of ’76”, cartoon about the U.S. entry to World War I. Uncle Sam (U.S.) handing Marianne (France) a sack labeled One Billion Dollars while Lafayette looks on.

 

The War wasn’t popular. War never is. American reluctantly entered near the end of the war and most of the country rallied behind the cause. This was the war to end war that did nothing of the kind. But, it changed the course of the 20th century and we still feel the effects some 100 years later.

Cartoon Source: Wikipedia

 

The Christmas Truce

An artist’s impression from The Illustrated London News of 9 January 1915: “British and German Soldiers Arm-in-Arm Exchanging Headgear: A Christmas Truce between Opposing Trenches”

Well before the United States entered into World War I the Christmas Truce took place as French, German, and British soldiers crossed the trench lines to exchange food and souvenirs and to sing Christmas carols.

This truce was unofficial and did not happen everywhere there were hostilities.  In some cases, the fighting continued. But some 100,000 troops were involved in the truce along the Western Front. When the Germans placed candles on their trenches and began singing carols, the British responded with carols of their own.

British writer Henry Williamson, a nineteen-year-old private at the time, wrote to his mother:

Dear Mother, I am writing from the trenches. It is 11 o’clock in the morning. Beside me is a coke fire, opposite me a ‘dug-out’ (wet) with straw in it. The ground is sloppy in the actual trench, but frozen elsewhere. In my mouth is a pipe presented by the Princess Mary. In the pipe is tobacco. Of course, you say. But wait. In the pipe is German tobacco. Haha, you say, from a prisoner or found in a captured trench. Oh dear, no! From a German soldier. Yes a live German soldier from his own trench. Yesterday the British & Germans met & shook hands in the Ground between the trenches, & exchanged souvenirs, & shook hands. Yes, all day Xmas day, & as I write. Marvellous, isn’t it?

Books and movies tell the story of the Christmas Truce. But this “Peace on Earth” didn’t last.

Soon the fighting resumed and although there were additional instances of cessations in the fighting the war would rage on for another four years. Before the end, some 40 million military and civilian lives would be lost.

While not of the same magnitude by any stretch, we’re calling for a cessation of posting here for the next few weeks.

We’ll be back in January with new information and updates about the script and perhaps a new direction for this blog.

Best wishes for the Christmas season.

Let us all continue to pray for peace.

Photo credit: By A. C. Michael – The Guardian [2] / [3]Originally published in The Illustrated London News, January 9, 1915., PD-US, [Wikipedia]

Wilson heads to Versailles

The “Big Four” at Versailles peace treaty, 1919. From left, Lloyd George (Britain), Emanuele Orlando (Italy), Georges Clemenceau (France), and Woodrow Wilson (United States).

 

On December 4, 1918, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson set sail for Versailles for the World War I peace talks. Wilson was the first U.S. President to travel to Europe while in office. The world was changing.

The world continued to change after World War I with the types of warfare and weapons used. Airplanes were used for the first time during this war. Poisonous gas killed many and destroyed many more.

While Wilson traveled to Versailles, my grandfather was in a hospital in a different part of France recovering from his contact with mustard gas. His world was changing as well.

In reality, we are still seeing the results of that war. While it was supposed to be the War to End all Wars, it was far from it, and it set in place conflicts that would shape the course of the century to come.

It’s important that we recognized that history. It’s important that we tell those stories.

That’s what I’m trying to do with Clean Dry Socks: Diary of a Doughboy.

More to come…