by Paul R. Spitzzeri
It’s in somewhat of a ragged condition, but given that the 3 December 1918 edition of the Los Angeles Herald from the Homestead’s collection is a century old and is made of cheap newsprint, its shape pales to the wealth of content the issue contains about a variety of news items following the armistice that ended the horrific First World War less than a month earlier.
The main headline was about the ongoing revolution in Russia and the Bolshevik radicals reported to have killed or captured German garrisons in Estonia and other aggressions by those figures in that region. A statement allegedly by a Bolshevik envoy in Stockholm, Sweden concerned a desire to open negotiations for peace with the Allies, though fighting in Russia continued afterward.
One of the items discussed the terrible treatment received by Allied prisoners, primarily British, in camps the Germans operated in Belgium, with observations of a lack of decent clothing and food and the walk in the bitter fall cold that survivors endured when they were unceremoniously released from the camps. Some of them died on the road and were buried in rude graves along the sides of the highways.
Another article discussed conversations held by allied nations about pressing the Dutch to either remand the abdicated Kaiser Wilhelm II to them or to have him return the disgraced monarch to Germany to stand trial. Notably, there was an unnamed source who observed that there could theoretically have been about two thousand German figures executed for war crimes.
In the end, the Kaiser stayed in exile in the Netherlands when its queen refused his extradition and lived long enough to see Germany foment another World War. Adolf Hitler despised Wilhelm for losing the First World War and it was said the aging Kaiser was dismayed by the Nazi’s behavior. Germany seized Holland in May 1940 and Wilhelm died the following year.
Other items related to the situation with Germany was that French Marshal Ferdinand Foch demanded that all of Germany’s railroad stock as part of the terms of armistice ending the war. The German Secretary of State Mathias Erzberger protested that it was impossible for his shattered nation, which was facing all manner of political, economic and social chaos, some reported in the issue, to comply with Foch’s order.
Another major issue was the question of reparations by Germany for the expenses and losses incurred by the Allies during the four-year conflict. A short article discussed the $150 billion amount that was floated as the costs that these nations expended in fighting Germany and its allies. An interesting proposal was offered by Pittsburgh steel magnate Charles H. Read, who suggested that the Germans and those nations who fought with them be forbidden to have any military expenditures, said to total $1.5 billion a year collectively.
His idea was for this amount to be remitted to the allies every year with 1 1/2% interest for a century. If this was to be enacted, Read was quoted as saying, “the allies should furnish them with the raw materials needed to carry on commerce and permit them to do business with the rest of the world as before.”
Moreover, he suggested the allied nations take control of Germany’s educational system “and give the children of that country the honest truth about themselves and the rest of the world. This accomplished, along with the repayment plan, “Germany in 25 years would be a credit to itself and no longer a menace to mankind.” Obviously, a quarter century later the situation was completely different.
There was another notable proposal in the pages of the Herald in the form of a joint resolution offered in Congress by California Senator James D. Phelan. Acknowledging the signing of the 11 November armistice that ended the war, denoted as “the most unjustifiable and destructive of wars ever waged in the history of the world” but the result of which was “liberty triumphed over the barbarous aggressions of autocracy” with “democracy . . . preserved for the benefit of mankind,” the resolution also folded in a 11 November 1620 constitution signed by the Pilgrims in Massachusetts which led to the formation of Thanksgiving Day.
Consequently, Phelan’s resolution continued, let
the President be directed to proclaim as a national holiday the eleventh day of November of each year, or the day following should it fall upon a Sunday, as a day of rejoicing and thanksgiving, and that he be requested to take steps looking to its world-wide observance, and that the day be known as Liberty Thanksgiving Day.
While Phelan’s concept did not take root, Armistice Day became a holiday and then was changed in 1954 to Veteran’s Day.
A recurring feature of local news coverage of the war were tallies of the casualties suffered by American forces and this edition reported on 1,626 men throughout the nation who were counted recently, including over 600 dead, almost 200 in action, 284 who were missing, and 723 wounded.
Five of these were from Los Angeles, including Army Sergeant Joseph L. Kauffman, whose brother, Milton, was Walter P. Temple’s business manager and whose story, including a memorial Temple erected in his memory and which is now in Temple City, has been covered in this blog. Kauffman died in action in the last days of the war in the Battle of the Argonne Forest.
To date, total casualties during the war were over 217,000. Army deaths totaled over 43,000, with over a quarter of these due to disease and a little more than half killed in action while just under 20% died from injuries. Another 62,000 Army personnel were wounded, captured or missing. There were also just under 6,000 Marine casualties, about half comprised of those who died and the other half wounded, captured or missing.
Meanwhile, President Woodrow Wilson was en route to Europe to represent the United States at the peace conference at Versailles Palace, outside of Paris. This was a highly unusual occurrence, with the first time a chief executive left the country only taking place a dozen years before as Theodore Roosevelt traveled to Panama to check on the progress of the canal that was to be controlled by the U.S. His successor, William Howard Taft, made the same trip in 1909.
Wilson, however, was the first president to take an extensive overseas trip and the first to go to Europe. His steamship voyage across the Atlantic took nine days and his stay, excepting a short return in February 1919, was nearly seven months. This caused much controversy concerning his ability to oversee the executive branch of government, but even before his departure, there was an outcry.
Republicans, who were increasingly isolated or ignored by Wilson, decided as he left to try to pass a resolution forcing Vice-President Thomas R. Marshall to take active control of the executive branch as soon as Wilson’s ship passed the three-mile mark into international waters.
The resolution failed to pass, but signaled the G.O.P.’s anger at not being included in the planning and execution of America’s representation at the peace conference. One outgrowth of this was the vote of Congress to remain out of the League of Nations, one of Wilson’s pet projects and a major reason for his receiving the 1919 Nobel Peace Prize.
There were some lighter war-related items in the paper. For example, there was one piece about some of the commentary made by American troops as the armistice was signed. The article began “for the benefit of certain historians, some remarks by America soldiers, uttered at one of the greatest moments in all history, are here set down.”
Soldiers in Stenay, France, in the Argonne-Meuse area, were quoted as saying “Well, she’s [the war] is off. I wonder when they’ll send us home;” “I wouldn’t trade Topeka for this burg;” and “Hell’s fire, I’ve got so all I know about this war is ‘fall out,’ ‘fall in,’ and ‘forward march.””
Elsewhere, there was a short article about the proclivity of troops to curse and an explanation by the Reverend Daniel L. Marsh about why that was. According to the Army chaplain, restraint was missing in a habit acquired from childhood, and that it was a way for a lazy person to be emphatic, among other claims of knowledge. He added “soldiers will think that a profuse use of profanity will impress their comrades with the idea that they are full-fledged soldiers that have received their ‘third degree.'”
Meanwhile, Reed Heustis, whose poems frequently appeared in Los Angeles newspapers had a comical piece of verse to offer concerning recent war-related developments. In his “Jingles from the News Jungles,” he offered some choice lines:
The Allies plan to nab His Nobs [the Kaiser]—but, oh—it is to weep
Why don’t they step out Holland way and grab him like a sheep?
If it were an absconder that the Allies craved like that
They’d snatch the gent bald=headed; so to speak, a coup d’etat
It seems the Kaiser Sunday went and heard a pastor preach
And sang a hymn concerning what humility doth teach.
But has a picture of His Nobs? His glitt’ring retinue—
The angels must cast down their harps in sheer disgust—would you?
Finally, because the Christmas holiday was fast approaching, it is interesting to see some of the advertisements from Los Angeles stores like the City of Paris, J.W. Robinson, and Barker Brothers mingle sentiments of the holiday with relief of the end of the war and the cessation of travel restrictions because of the ongoing flu epidemic.