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100 Years Ago: August 2017 — US War Prep Continues (part 1)


Selected from the pages of the Penny Press and lightly annotated by Sally Haase.  

Huge Air Ships Planned, Washington, Aug. 2, 1917: Great battle planes will fly across the Atlantic ocean before this war is done.  Huge air planes carrying tons of explosives will bombard German cities. Speedy aircrafts will amaze the world.  [So says] Major R. Perfetti, the master aviator of Italy. “We of Italy have come to America to give you brains, in exchange for your raw material. We want to give you the benefit of our lessons, if you give us your raw material,”  the little aviator said.

Oil Shells, London, Aug. 2, 1917: Oil shells are being used by the British artillery in West Flanders. These projectiles contain quantities of oil which scatters and burst into flames as they explode above the German trenches.

Take Over All Shipping, Washington, Aug. 4, 1917: Orders commandeering practically every ship under construction in the country of over 2,500 tons were sent out today.  The direct orders to American ship builders, in part, follows: “You are hereby required to complete the construction of said requisitioned ships …and will prosecute such work with all practicable dispatch. The compensation to be paid will be determined, hereafter, and will include ships, material and contacts requisitioned. “ [Thus the beginning of cost plus?]

What To Do With Negro Soldiers, Washington, Aug. 4, 1917: What to do with the negro soldier? This question is perplexing war department officials. Within a few days nearly five thousand negro national guardsmen will be called to federal service. Within a few weeks several thousand more negroes will be drafted in the national army. Winter [training] quarters must be in the south.  War department officials are hesitating to send colored troops into the south, in view of recent race troubles. White soldiers and negroes in the national army cannot mingle. Present plans call for sending drafted negroes to cantonments with drafted men. The negroes will be placed in separate companies and separate barracks… [But when] called for drill the negro companies must drill with the white. Officials have no fears for the negro soldiers. Their fears are based entirely on the prejudices of the whites. “Negro soldiers have been fighting side by side for fifty years,” one officer said, “The trouble lies with the civilians.”

24th Infantry WWI

Europe Faces Hunger, New York, Aug. 6, 1917: (From a report by Karl H. von Wiegand, the last American newspaper man to leave Berlin.)  “All Europe will stand on the very edge of a catastrophe this winter, which may prove to be the greatest in modern history. It is no longer a question of Germany alone hungering and freezing this winter. The greater part of Europe is facing various stages of famine in food and coal, some worse than Germany. What all the belligerent armies of Europe have not been able to bring about, namely the end of the war, may be successfully achieved by the horrible spectre of famine. The winter will bring peace to thousands of non-combatants—the peace of death. … To many of us, it seems that the American people either have but a poor knowledge of conditions in Europe or do not realize their significance and possible consequences. “

Outlawing Strikes In War Time, Washington, Aug. 7, 1917: The administration is determined to get a firm grip on organized labor while the war is being fought. If the administration has its way unions will find themselves under restrictions making strikes practically impossible during war.

Wilson Handles The Coal Situation, Washington, Aug. 7, 1917: Apprehension over the serious coal situation caused President Wilson to take the shortest cut by the administration. Rather than wait for the report of the federal trade commission, he walked to the office of Chairman Harris and personally went over the figures with the commission. At the end of the conference, President Wilson characterized the meeting as “merely a business talk.”  Following the president’s call, the commission authorized this statement: “The president was here to confer with the commission as to the progress being made in the cost determining work now being considered at his request.

Before returning to the White House the president called at the department of justice to confer with Attorney General Gregory. At the end of the president’s call, Mr. Gregory said the visit was “largely social.” Immediately after the president left, Mr. Gregory held a conference with Solicitor General Davis, assistant attorney general in charge of neutrality cases, and Assistant Attorney General Todd in charge of anti-trust prosecution. [Perhaps they talked about their grandchildren.]

Protect Laboring Women, Washington, Aug. 8, 1917: Women must not be sacrificed to war industry. The American Federation of Labor is taking steps to protect women in war industry. Labor unions throughout the entire country are being urged to accept women into membership.  Organized labor will protect women workers as well as men, according to the plans adopted by every great labor leader. Employers are exploiting women for advertising purposed. Numerous cases are specified where women have been employed to do men’s work. It is claimed that employers are doing this in order to make advertising capital and claims of patriotism. Men must not go to war and return to find their positions filled by women at lower wages, labor leaders declare.

“Four Minute Men” Arousing Nation, Washington, Aug. 9, 1917: The revolution had its “minute men.’ The present war has is “four-minute” men, and when history is written, the “four-minute” men will take their place by the sides of the “minute men.” Four thousand “four-minute” men are working today in 30 states and in more than 700 cities, arousing America to action to preserve the honor established years ago by the minute men. “Four-minute” men are speakers, lawyers, doctors and merchants, who are giving their time to the nation, to tell the citizens what this war means. They speak but for four minutes and cram those minutes full of truths about the war.

100 years ago, much has changed and, then again, nothing has changed.