Слике страница
PDF
ePub

Verdun. Since September, 1914, all the terrific fighting on the Franco-Belgian line has resulted in gains which are measured in yards instead of miles. The most tremendous of these battles was fought before Verdun from February to June, 1916. The German Crown Prince sacrificed enormous numbers of men and used vast quantities of ammunition in a sustained effort to break through the French lines at Verdun. His early attacks met with some success, but the French general, Petain, soon organized a brilliant defense. The French held Verdun, their lines were not broken; and since June, 1916, they have gradually won back all the territory lost in this battle.

The Situation in 1917. By this time all the outlying possessions of the Germans had been taken by the British, French, and Japanese; the British navy had kept the German navy bottled up in the Baltic, and not a German vessel, except submarines, attempted to sail the seas. The war had become trench warfare in all sections, and the year 1917 saw no important changes of territory. A tremendous effort launched by the British and French against the Germans along the Somme late in 1916 forced the Germans early in 1917 to abandon considerable territory in France and to retreat to previously prepared positions. Later in the season a “big push” in the vicinity of Ypres forced the Germans to yield more territory to the British,

In the summer of 1917 the Italians gained territory on the Isonzo front; but a tremendous Austro-German drive in the late autumn forced the Italians to abandon all their gains, and the invaders nearly won Venice. Elsewhere the fighting resulted in only minor changes of territory.

The greatest change in the European situation in 1917 was brought about by the revolution in Russia in March.

It had become plain that many of the high Russian officials, through treachery or greed for private profits, were blocking every effort to make Russia efficient, and some, at least, were plotting with Germany to arrange a separate peace. In March a revolution overthrew the Czar and his German-plotting advisers. The Duma assumed control of Russian affairs, and Russia entered the ranks of democratic nations.

After the revolution in Russia her armies began to weaken. The Germans took Riga in September, 1917, meeting with relatively slight resistance. In November, Kerensky, leader of the Socialist Labor party and prime minister since July, 1917, was forced to flee from Petrograd, and the reins of government were seized by Lenine and Trotzky, leaders of the ultra-radical Socialist party, generally called the Bolsheviki. This new government undertook to make peace with Germany and Austria, with disastrous results for Russia.

THE UNITED STATES AND THE WAR

The Proclamation of Neutrality. The first effect of the outbreak of the Great War in August, 1914, upon the people of the United States was one of utter amazement and stupefaction at the collapse of European civilization. On August 18 President Wilson issued a proclamation of neutrality. Early in the war, however, the United States found the position of a neutral a trying one. The situation was similar in many respects to that in Napoleon's day. The same vexing problems of neutral trade, of contraband, and of blockade once more arose. The United States had more than one occasion to protest against what seemed to be unwarranted interference with American trade by the British - an interference which the British

justified on the grounds that the German Government had seized all the food supplies in the Empire, making all food products contraband, and that much of our trade with Germany's neighbors was actually finding its way into Germany, thus running the British blockade by indirection.

The Submarine Warfare and the War Zone. Trade difficulties speedily sank into comparative insignificance, however, on account of the much more serious problem presented by the use of submarines. On February 4, 1915, Germany declared the waters around the British Isles to be a war zone, within which zone it proposed to sink all enemy ships, whether armed or unarmed, and with utter disregard for the lives of passengers. On May 7 the world was horrified by the sinking of the unarmed Lusitania by a German submarine with a loss of 1152 lives, of whom 114 were known to be American citizens. President Wilson immediately dispatched a note to the German Government expressing the concern and amazement of the United States at such wanton destruction of the lives of noncombatants. A long series of notes followed, President Wilson trying by every means to avoid an open clash with Germany. At length, on May 4, 1916, he secured a qualified pledge that the German Government would not sink merchant vessels "without warning and without saving human life unless the ship attempts to escape or offers resistance."

Ruthless Submarine Warfare. Following the Sussex pledge, just referred to, a certain degree of restraint was observed by German submarine commanders for a period of nine months, though often the precautions taken were very meager and haphazard. On January 31, 1917, the German Chancellor announced Germany's purpose to put aside all restraints of law and of humanity and use its

submarines to sink every vessel that sought to approach the ports of Great Britain and Ireland or the western coasts of Europe or any of the ports controlled by the enemies of Germany within the Mediterranean. Said the German Chancellor on this occasion: “When the most ruthless methods are considered the best calculated to lead us to victory and to a swift victory, they must be employed. That moment has now arrived." The new policy swept every restriction aside. Vessels of every description, whatever their flag, their character, their cargo, their destination, their errand, were ruthlessly sent to the bottom without warning and without thought of help or mercy for those on board. Even hospital ships and ships carrying relief to the sorely bereaved people of Belgium, ships to which Germany had guaranteed safe passage, were sunk with the same reckless disregard of compassion or of principle. The German ambassador to Argentina even advised that certain Argentine vessels be sunk without leaving a trace. In all, before April, 1917, 686 neutral vessels had been sunk by German submarines, and 226 American citizens had been the victims of Germany's submarine warfare. Said President Wilson: “Property can be paid for; the lives of peaceful and innocent people cannot be paid for. The present German submarine warfare is a warfare against mankind.”

Position of the United States. The Government and people of the United States had been amazed at the violation of Belgian neutrality; they had been horrified by the sinking of the Lusitania; they had listened unbelievingly to the tales of German cruelty to women and children in conquered territory; they had been dumfounded at the effrontery of the German Government's replies to President Wilson's many notes. Now they were roused to action. It was plain that the most sacred rights of our nation and

our people were being ignored and violated. In March it was revealed that the German Government, in January, 1917, before there were any indications of hostile action on our part, had tried to induce Mexico and Japan to join in a war against us. German money was being spent freely to influence public and congressional opinion. It was plain that the peril was nearer than we had dreamed. The very

existence of democratic governments was threatened by the Prussian autocracy. The course of the German Government became in fact nothing less than war against the United States, and on April 2 President Wilson asked Congress to declare that a state of war with Germany existed. Congress acted with surprising unanimity, and on April 6 the momentous resolution was formally passed.

The New Purpose in the War. Whatever may have been the motives of the nations in beginning the Great War, the Russian revolution and the entrance of the United States into the struggle have given it a new purpose. It has become a war of Democracy against Autocracy, a war to determine whether the ideals of America or the ideals of Prussia are to rule the world.

Contrast these two standards. Von Bethmann-Hollweg when addressing the Reichstag, August 4, 1914, spoke thus :

We are now in a state of necessity, and necessity knows no law. Our troops have occupied (neutral) Luxemburg and perhaps already have entered Belgian territory. Gentlemen, this is a breach of international law. The wrong — I speak openly the wrong we hereby commit we will try to make good as soon as our military aims have been attained.

He who is menaced as we are, and is fighting for his highest possession, can only consider how he is to hack his way through.

« ПретходнаНастави »