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Woodrow Wilson and the world war; a chronicle of our own times online

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of the character of the shipment and its destination or source. The
earlier export of goods which had found their way to Germany through
neutral countries was thus curtailed and the blockade on Germany became
strangling. Products necessary to military effectiveness were secured from
neutral states in return for permission to buy essentials here. Two
millions of tonnage were obtained from neutral states for the use of the
United States and Great Britain. Trade in non-essentials with the Orient
and South America was limited, extra bottoms were thus acquired, and the
production of non-essentials at home discouraged. Altogether, the War
Trade Board exercised tremendous powers which, however necessary, might
have provoked intense resentment in business circles; but these powers
were enforced with a tact and discretion characteristic of the head of the
Board, Vance McCormick, who was able successfully to avoid the irritation
that might have been expected from such governmental interference with
freedom of commerce.

The problem of labor was obviously one that must be faced by each of the
war boards or administrations, and nearly all of them were compelled to
establish some sort of labor division or tribunal within each separate
field. The demands made upon the labor market by war industry were heavy,
for the withdrawal of labor into the army created an inevitable scarcity
at the moment when production must be increased, and the different
industries naturally were brought to bid against each other; the value of
any wage scale was constantly affected by the rising prices, while the
introduction of inexperienced workmen and women affected the conditions
of piecework, so that the question of wages and conditions of labor gave
rise to numerous discussions. The Labor Committee of the Council of
National Defense had undertaken to meet such problems as early as
February, 1917, but it was not until the beginning of the next year that
the Department of Labor underwent a notable reorganization with the
purpose of effecting the coördination necessary to complete success.

Unlike the food, fuel, and transportation problems, which were solved
through new administrations not connected with the Department of
Agriculture, the Bureau of Mines, or the Interstate Commerce Commission
respectively, that of labor was met by new bureaus and boards which were
organic parts of the existing Department of Labor. In January, 1918, that
Department undertook the formulation and administration of a national war
labor policy. Shortly afterwards delegates of the National Industrial
Conference Board and of the American Federation of Labor, representing
capital and labor, worked out a unanimous report upon the principles to
be followed in labor adjustment. To enforce these recommendations the
President, on April 9, 1918, appointed a National War Labor Board, which
until November sat as a court of final appeal in labor disputes. An index
of the importance of the Board was given by the choice of ex-President
Taft as one of its chairmen. A month later, a War Labor Policies Board
was added to the system to lay down general rules for the use of the War
Labor Board in the rendering of its judgments.

Not merely enthusiasm and brains enabled America to make the
extraordinary efforts demanded by the exigencies of war. Behind every
line of activity lay the need of money: and the raising of money in
amounts so large that they passed the comprehension of the average
citizen, forms one of the most romantic stories of the war. It is the
story of the enthusiastic coöperation of rich and poor: Wall Street and
the humblest foreign immigrants gave of their utmost in the attempt to
provide the all-important funds for America and her associates in the
war. Citizens accepted the weight of income and excess profit taxes far
heavier than any American had previously dreamed of. They were asked in
addition to buy government bonds to a total of fourteen billions, and
they responded by oversubscribing this amount by nearly five billions. Of
the funds needed for financing the war, the Government planned to raise
about a third by taxation, and the remainder by the sale of bonds and
certificates maturing in from five to thirty years. It would have proved
the financial statesmanship of McAdoo had he dared to raise a larger
proportion by taxation; for thus much of the inflation which inevitably
resulted from the bond issues might have been avoided. But the Government
feared alike for its popularity and for the immediate effect upon
business, which could not safely be discouraged. As it was, the excess
profit taxes aroused great complaint. The amount raised in direct
taxation represented a larger proportion of the war budget than any
foreign nation had been able to secure from tax revenues.

In seeking to sell its bonds the Government, rather against its will, was
compelled to rely largely upon the capitalists. The large popular
subscriptions would have been impossible but for the assistance and
enthusiasm shown by the banks in the selling campaign. Wall Street and
the bankers of the country were well prepared and responded with all
their strength, a response which deserves the greater credit when we
remember the lack of sympathy which had existed between financial circles
and President Wilson's Administration. Largely under banking auspices the
greatest selling campaign on record was inaugurated. Bonds were placed on
sale at street corners, in theaters, and restaurants; disposed of by
eminent operatic stars, moving-picture favorites, and wounded heroes from
the front. Steeple jacks attracted crowds by their perilous antics, in
order to start the bidding for subscriptions. Villages and isolated
farmhouses were canvassed. The banks used their entire machinery to
induce subscriptions, offering to advance the subscription price. When
during the first loan campaign the rather unwise optimism of the Treasury
cooled enthusiasm for a moment, by making it appear that the loan could
be floated without effort, Wall Street took up the load. The first loan
was oversubscribed by a billion. The success of the three loans that
followed was equally great; the fourth, coming in October, 1918, was set
for six billion dollars, the largest amount that had ever been asked of
any people, and after a three weeks' campaign, seven billions were
subscribed. Quite as notable as the amount raised was the progressive
increase in the number of subscribers, which ranged from four million
individuals in the first loan to more than twenty-one millions in the
fourth. Equally notable, as indicating the educative effect of the war
and of the sale of these Liberty Bonds, was the successful effort to
encourage thrift. War Savings societies were instituted and children
saved their pennies and nickels to buy twenty-five cent "thrift stamps"
which might be accumulated to secure interest-bearing savings
certificates. Down to November 1, 1918, the sale of such stamps totalled
$834,253,000, with a maturity value of more than a billion dollars.

The successful organizing of national resources to supply military
demands obviously depended, in the last instance, upon the education of
the people to a desire for service and sacrifice. The Liberty Loan
campaigns, the appeals of Hoover, and the Fuel Administration, all were
of importance in producing such morale. In addition the Council of
National Defense, through the Committee on Public Information, spread
pamphlets emphasizing the issues of the war and the objects for which we
were fighting. At every theater and moving-picture show, in the factories
during the noon hours, volunteer speakers told briefly of the needs of
the Government and appealed for coöperation. These were the so-called
"Four Minute Men." The most noted artists gave their talent to covering
the billboards with patriotic and informative posters. Blue Devils who
had fought at Verdun, captured tanks, and airplanes, were paraded in
order to bring home the realities of the life and death struggle in which
America was engaged. The popular response was inspiring. In the face of
the national enthusiasm the much-vaunted plans of the German Government
for raising civil disturbance fell to the ground. Labor was sometimes
disorganized by German propaganda; destruction of property or war
material was accomplished by German agents; and valuable information
sometimes leaked out to the enemy. But the danger was always kept in
check by the Department of Justice and also by a far-reaching citizen
organization, the American Protective League. Equally surprising was the
lack of opposition to the war on the part of pacifists and socialists. It
was rare to find the "sedition" for which some of them were punished,
perhaps over-promptly, translated from words to actions.

* * * * *

The organization of the industrial resources of the nation was
complicated by the same conditions that affected the purely military
problems - decentralization and the emergency demands that resulted from
the sudden decision to send a large expeditionary force to France. The
various organizing boards were so many individual solutions for
individual problems. At the beginning of the war the Council of National
Defense represented the only attempt at a central business organization,
and as time went on the importance and the influence of the Council
diminished. The effects of decentralization became painfully apparent
during the bitter cold of the winter months, when the fuel,
transportation, and food crises combined to threaten almost complete
paralysis of the economic and military mobilization.

The distrust and discouragement that followed brought forth furious
attacks upon the President's war policies, led not merely by Roosevelt
and Republican enemies of the Administration, but by Democratic Senators.
The root of the whole difficulty, they contended, lay in the fact that
Wilson had no policy. They demanded practically the abdication of the
presidential control of military affairs, either through the creation of
a Ministry of Munitions or of a War Cabinet. In either case Congress
would control the situation through its definition of the powers of the
new organization and the appointment of its personnel.

President Wilson utilized the revolt to secure the complete
centralization toward which he had been aiming. He fought the new
proposals on the ground that they merely introduced new machinery to
complicate the war organization, and he insisted that true policy
demanded rather an increase in the efficiency of existing machinery. If
the General Staff and the War Industries Board were given power to
supervise and execute as well as to plan, the country would have the
machinery at hand capable of forming a central organization, which could
determine in the first place what was wanted and where, and in the second
place how it could be supplied. All that was necessary was to give the
President a free hand to effect any transfer of organization, funds, or
functions in any of the existing departments of government, without being
compelled to apply to Congress in each case.

The struggle between Wilson and his opponents was sharp, but the
President carried the day. He exerted to the full his influence on
Congress and utilized skillfully the argument that at this moment of
crisis a swapping of horses might easily prove fatal. Opposing
Congressmen drew back at the thought of shouldering the responsibility
which they knew the President would throw upon them if he were defeated.
On May 20, 1918, the Overman Act became law, giving to the President the
blanket powers which he demanded and which he immediately used to
centralize the military and industrial organization. Bureau chiefs were
bitter in their disapproval; the National Guard grumbled, even as it
fought its best battles in France; politicians saw their chance of
influencing military affairs disappear; business men complained of the
economic dictatorship thus secured by the President. But Mr. Wilson was
at last in a position to effect that which seemed to him of greatest
importance - the concentration of responsibility and authority.

Upon the shoulders of the President, accordingly, must rest in the last
instance the major portion of the blame and the credit to be distributed
for the mistakes and the achievements of the military and economic
organization. He took no part in the working out of details. Once the
development of any committee of organization had been started, he left
the control of it entirely to those who had been placed in charge. But he
would have been untrue to his nature if he had not at all times been
determined to keep the reins of supreme control in his own hands. His
opponents insisted that the organization was formed in spite of him. It
is probable that he did not himself perceive the crying need for
centralization so clearly in 1917 as he did in 1918; and the protests of
his political opponents doubtless brought the realization of its
necessity more definitely home to him. But there is no evidence to
indicate that the process of centralization was forced upon him against
his will and much to show that he sought always that concentration of
responsibility and power which he insisted upon in politics. The task was
herculean; ironically enough it was facilitated by the revolt against his
war policies which resulted in the Senate investigation and the Overman
Act. His tactics were by no means above reproach, and his entire policy
nearly went on the rocks in the winter of 1917 because of his inability
to treat successfully with the Senate and with Republican Congressmen.

When all is said, however, the organization that was developed during the
last six months of the war transported and maintained in Europe more than
a million and a half American soldiers; at home it maintained two
millions more, ready to sail at the earliest opportunity; and it was
prepared to raise and equip an army of five and a half millions by June
30, 1920. The process had been slow and the results were not apparent for
many months. Furthermore, because of the intensity of the danger and the
absolute need of victory, cherished traditions were sacrificed and steps
taken which were to cost much later on; for the price of these
achievements was inevitable reaction and social unrest. But with all the
mistakes and all the cost, the fact still remains that the most gigantic
transformation of history - the transformation of an unmilitary and
peace-loving nation of ninety million souls into a belligerent power - was
successfully accomplished.



The encouragement given to the Allies by the entrance of the United
States into the war injected a temporary ray of brightness into the
situation abroad, but with the realization that long months must elapse
before American aid could prove effective, came deep disappointment. The
spring of 1917 did not bring the expected success to the French and
British on the western front; and the summer and autumn carried intense
discouragement. Hindenburg, early in the spring, executed a skillful
retreat on the Somme front, which gave to the Allies the territory to
which their previous capture of Peronne and Bapaume entitled them. But
the Germans, losing some square miles, saved their troops and supplies.
British attacks on the north gained little ground at terrible cost. The
French offensive, planned by Nivelle, which was designed to break the
German line, had to be given up after bloody checks. There was mutiny in
the French armies and the morale of the civilian population sank.

The hopes that had been aroused by the Russian revolution were seen to be
deceptive; instead of a national movement directed towards a more active
struggle against Germany, it now appeared in its true colors as a demand
for peace and land above everything. The Brusilov attack, which the
Allies insisted upon, proved to be a flash in the pan and ended with the
complete military demoralization of Russian armies. The collapse of the
Italian forces at Caporetto followed. Italy was not merely unable to
distract the attention of the Central Powers by a determined offensive
against Austria, but she threatened to become a liability; no one knew
how many French divisions might have to be diverted to aid in the defense
of the new Piave front. General Byng's break of the German lines at
Cambrai was more than offset by the equally brilliant German
counter-attack. And every day the submarine was taking its toll of Allied

Following the Italian débâcle, the Bolshevik revolution of November
indicated that Russia would wholly withdraw and that that great potential
source of man-power for the Allies could no longer be counted upon.
Allied leaders realized that Germany would be able to transfer large
numbers of troops to the western front, and became seriously alarmed.
"The Allies are very weak," cabled General Pershing, on the 2d of
December, "and we must come to their relief this year, 1918. The year
after may be too late. It is very doubtful if they can hold on until 1919
unless we give them a lot of support this year." Showing that the
schedule of troop shipments would be inadequate and complaining that the
actual shipments were not even being kept up to programme, Pershing
insisted upon the importance of the most strenuous efforts to secure
extra tonnage, which alone would make it possible for the American army
to take a proper share in the military operations of 1918.

The serious representations of General Pershing were reinforced by
Colonel House when he returned from abroad on the 15th of December. For
six weeks he had been in conference, as head of a war mission, with the
Allied political and military leaders, who now realized the necessity of
unity of plan. Because of his personal intimacy with French and British
statesmen and his acknowledged skill in negotiations, House had done
much to bring about Allied harmony and to pave the way for a supreme
military command. Like Pershing, he was convinced of the danger
threatening the Allies, and from the moment of his return began the
speeding-up process, which was to result in the presence of a large
American force on the battle front at the moment of crisis in the early
summer of 1918.

Tonnage was obviously the vital factor upon which effective military
assistance depended. The United States had the men, although they were
not completely trained, but the apparent impossibility of transporting
them formed the great obstacle. The problem could not have been solved
without the assistance of the Allies. With the threat of the German
drive, and especially after the first German victories of 1918, they
began to appreciate the necessity of sacrificing everything to the
tonnage necessary to transport American soldiers to France. After long
hesitation they agreed to a pooling of Allied tonnage for this purpose.
Most of the Allied ships ultimately furnished the United States were
provided by the British, whose transports carried a million American
troops to France. French and Italian boats transported 112,000; our own
transports, 927,000.

Thus by relying largely upon the shipping assistance of our associates in
the war we were able to respond to the demands of General Pershing and,
later, Marshal Foch. And thus came about the extraordinary development of
our military programme from the thirty to the eighty and one hundred
division plans, which resulted in tremendous confusion, but which also
ultimately ensured Allied victory in 1918. Until the end of the year
1917, we had put into France only 195,000 troops, including 7500 marines,
an average of about 28,000 a month. From December to February the average
rose to 48,000; from March to May it was 149,000; and from June to August
it was 290,000 men a month. During the four months from May to August
inclusive, 1,117,000 American troops were transported to France.

Altogether about two million Americans were sent to France, without the
loss of a single man while under the escort of United States vessels. No
navy troop transports were torpedoed on east-bound trips although three
were sunk on the return trip with loss of 138 lives. To the American and
British navies must go the credit for carrying through this stupendous
feat, and in the work of assuring the safety of the troop transports the
navy of the United States may claim recognition for the larger share,
since 82 per cent of the escorts furnished were American cruisers and
destroyers. It was a nerve-racking and tantalizing experience - the troop
ships sailing in echelon formation, preceded, followed, and flanked by
destroyers; at night every glimmer of light eclipsed, the ships speeding
ahead in perfect blackness, each inch of the sea swept by watchful eyes
to discover the telltale ripple of a periscope or the trail of a torpedo,
gun crews on the alert, depth bombs ready. Nor was the crossing anything
like a vacation yachting cruise for the doughboys transported, packed as
they were like sardines two and three decks below the waterline, brought
up in shifts to catch a brief taste of fresh air, assailed at once by
homesickness, seasickness, and fears of drowning like rats in a trap.

The work of the navy was far more extensive, moreover, than the safe
convoying of troop ships, important though that was. The very first
contingent of American overseas fighting forces was made up of two
flotillas of destroyers, which upon the declaration of war had been sent
to Queenstown where they were placed under the command of Admiral William
S. Sims. Their main function was to hunt submarines, which, since the
decree of the 1st of February, had succeeded in committing frightful
ravages upon Allied commerce and seriously threatened to starve the
British Isles. Admiral Sims was two years older than Pershing and as
typical a sailor as the former was soldier. With his bluff and genial,
yet dignified, manner, his rubicund complexion, closely-trimmed white
beard, and piercing eyes, no one could have mistaken his calling. Free of
speech, frank in praise and criticism, abounding in indiscretions, he
possessed the capacity to make the warmest friends and enemies. He was an
ardent admirer of the British, rejoiced in fighting with them, and
ashamed that our Navy Department was unwilling to send more adequate and
immediate assistance to their fleet. Sims's international reputation as
an expert in naval affairs was of long standing. Naval officers in every
country of Europe knew of him as the inventor of a system of fire control
which had been adopted by the great navies of the world, and it was
largely because of his studies and devices that the extraordinary records
of the American fleets at target practice had been secured. The British
naval officers reciprocated Sims's admiration for them, and, according to
popular belief, it was at their special request that he had been sent to
command our overseas naval forces. No one else could have obtained such
effective coöperation between the British and American fleets.

While at first the major portion of the American fleet was retained in
home waters for the protection of American coasts and ports, a policy
which aroused the stinging criticism of Admiral Sims, gradually the fleet
added strength to the Allied navies in their patrol of European coasts
and the bottling-up of the German high seas fleet. Destroyer bases were
maintained at Queenstown, Brest, and Gibraltar, from which were
dispatched constant patrols. Individual destroyers, during the first year
of service overseas, steamed a total of 60,000 miles. Their crews were on
the watch in the dirtiest weather, unable to sleep, tossed and battered
by the incessant rolling, without warm food, facing the constant peril of
being swept overboard and knowing that their boat could not stop to pick
them up. American submarine-chasers and converted yachts, mine-sweepers
on their beneficent and hazardous duty, were equally active. Naval
aviators coöperated with the British to patrol the coasts in search of
submarines. Late in 1917, six battleships were sent to join the British
Grand Fleet, which was watching for the Germans in the North Sea, thus
constituting about twelve per cent of the guarding naval force. More
important, perhaps, was the American plan for laying a mine barrage from
the Scotch coast across to Norwegian waters. The Ordnance Bureau of the
navy, despite the discouragement of British experts, manufactured the
mines, 100,000 of them, and shipped them abroad in parts ready for final

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Online LibraryCharles SeymourWoodrow Wilson and the world war; a chronicle of our own times → online text (page 10 of 20)