by Paul R. Spitzzeri
A century ago yesterday, Germany surrendered to the allied nations (primarily Britain, France and the United States) ending the four-year nightmare of World War I that ravaged western Europe and a generation of young men from the main combatant countries. In greater Los Angeles, as noted in posts the last couple of days, joyous celebrations marked the news of the conflict’s end.
News continued to address the shifting and evolving situation as the adjustment to peace began. Today’s highlighted artifact from the Homestead’s collection is a copy of the 12 November 1918 edition of the Los Angeles Herald newspaper and its coverage of events.
The large front-page headline read “TERMS SPLIT HUN RANKS” as the conditions placed on the defeated Germans caused a great deal of consternation among many of its political and military leaders who believed the terms were overtly harsh, with some of them reportedly moved to tears and sobbing when they first received the document stipulating the conditions of the armistice. Mathias Erzberger, for example, begged Marshal Ferdinand Foch, commander of French military forces, “Marshal, have you any sympathy for the German populations? We want peace!”
Yet, much of the armistice was modeled on terms issued by the Germans against the defeated French after the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-71, which “makes them poetic in their justice. It was reported, however, that “revolutionary leaders” in the nation’s navy were threatening to resume hostilities, while others claimed that a faction opposed to the armistice terms demanded that “Germany fight to the death rather than submit to destruction by the allies.”
On the other hand, it was asserted that Germany could hardly offer much resistance to Allied forces, who could march on Berlin within a few weeks, a position, in fact, advocated by some in the victorious nations. Meanwhile, there were reports of widespread violence and anarchy throughout Germany as groups vying for power made their move in the nation’s largest cities.
One claim by Germany’s foreign minister, Wilhelm Solf, was that the terms insisted upon by the Allies “make it an impossibility to provide Germany with food and would cause the starvation of millions of German women, children and men.” Moreover, Solf continued, the armistice conditions “would produce a feeling among the German people contrary to the reconstruction of the community of nations.”
A short article observed that the U.S. could be expected to provide 20 million tons of food to Europeans in 1919, with Herbert Hoover, placed in charge of the effort and later president, noting that exports were to be far larger than previously. It was also estimated that America was to provide 60% of the food needs of the planet during the upcoming year.
Another front-page article concerned the disgraced and abdicated Kaiser Wilhelm, who fled to Holland, where, it was stated, he’d invested $25 million and, thereby, “is amply supplied with funds” in his exile. It was reported, however, that the former dictator was “constantly in tears” and concerned for the welfare of two missing sons and a brother, Prince Henry, said to be wounded by gunfire when fleeing Germany. Notably, it was also observed that the Kaiser was comparing himself to Napoleon and his exile just over a century before after the Battle of Waterloo.
Other material in the issue related to the likelihood that a peace conference would soon be convened in Paris and specifically held at the Palace of Versailles. Much was being made of the role America would take at the conclave and who would be the primary representative of the nation. At the time, it seemed there were several candidates and President Woodrow Wilson was not named among them, although he took the unusual and much-criticized step to lead the American delegation when the conference convened in early 1919.
One of the issues noted early on was the question of self-determination, especially as Wilson made this a central tenet of his “Fourteen Points,” which became a central and controversial centerpiece of the conference. The Herald noted that “Germany, which has proved tricky to the utmost degree in the past, may be expected to bring this question up and to make the most of it” if allies demanded that its sovereignty and exercise of self-dominion be lessened as a result of its central role in the instigation of the war. The paper, though, claimed
Germany as a power among the nations is gone. She has been shattered and consumed by the recoil of her own inordinate ambition. Germans may argue and object to their hearts’ content, [but] they are robbed of the power of prevention.
Other articles included the latest list of Los Angeles, California and western soldiers killed, missing or wounded in the closing days of the war; a statement that shipbuilding, which was ramped up significantly at facilities at Los Angeles Harbor and the Port of Long Beach, would continue for a period; and that draftees were being sent home, some of them complaining that they’d wanted to serve as the war came to an end.
There was also an interesting poem by Reed Heustis, a Herald contributor and film screenwriter, titled “Jingles from the News Jungles.” Here is an excerpt:
For four long years the wires at dawn, have opened with a crash
Of war’s dire deeds, of cities gone, of some titanic smash.
Today—no war—no desperate drives, no planes in wild foray.
Peace in the west—we have to guess the biggest news today
Here’s to you, husky doughboys, and here’s to you, gay marines;
Here’s to you, gobs on battleships, destroyers, submarines.
Here’s to you all, where e’er you be—to you, for whom tears flow,
Who’ve paid the price for peace on earth—may tender flowers blow.
Among the many advertisements sprinkled throughout the issue, a couple addressed the hard-fought peace and also linked that to the coming holiday season. Feagans and Company, located on Fifth Street and Spring in the Hotel Alexandria (the structure of which still stands), stated that “The News of Victorious Peace Herald the Most Joyous Christmas in All History.” It suggested to its customers that “the spirit of good fellowship which prompts Christmas giving is dominant today” and listed some gifts to consider, including “A Compass for the Aviator” and military rings, in keeping with the martial spirit that prevailed.
Meanwhile, Newmark’s Pure High Grade Coffee, sold by a mercantile business that traced its roots to the early 1850s arrival in Los Angeles of the Jewish family from what later became Germany, was touted as a way to “Drink to Victorious Peace.”
At Blackstone’s, a department store, proclaimed that it was time to “Ring Out Liberty Bell!” with “Paeans of Victory this Joyous Christmastide.” The store had a “Soldiers’ Booth” where loved ones could arrange for the sending of Red Cross-issued packages to troops, with “combinations” meeting Army regulations for size ranging from $5.00 to $20.50 and including personal care items, cigarettes, pens, chewing gum, chocolate, and other items.
Because a worldwide flu pandemic was decimating populations throughout the world, a notable ad for “Nature’s Remedy,” a tablet for constipation and digestive ailments, promoted the product under the guise of “How to Avoid Influenza.” The claim was that by “keeping your organs of digestion and elimination active and your system free from poisonous accumulations” a customer was better equipped against the epidemic.
Finally, a small notice in the paper observed that the Los Angeles City Council was considering renaming Central Park, created in 1866, in honor of American Expeditionary Force commanding General John J. “Black Jack” Pershing. We’ll pick that story up tomorrow.