Friday, October 19, 2018

The Great War: October 15, 1918

A hundred years ago, the armistice that ended World War I was less than a month away. Talk of peace had begun, but the front page of the weekly Columbia Republican for October 15, 1918, was filled with news of the war. At the left, above the fold, was a report of the Allied drive in Flanders, under the command of Marshal Ferdinand Jean Marie Foch. 

The account includes this observation: "By the fury with which the attack was launched it is evident that the fighting armies are not paying the slightest attention to the 'peace talk.' They smashed forward with all the dash characterizing the recent operations."

Also on the front page, at the right, above the fold, was printed President Woodrow Wilson's response to Germany's most recent communication.

Wilson's letter read in part:
The President feels that it is also his duty to add that neither the government of the United States [nor], he is quite sure, the governments with which the United States is associated as belligerents, will consent to consider an armistice so long as the armed forces of Germany continue the illegal and inhumane practices which they still persist in. At the very time that the German government approaches the government of the United States [with] the proposal of peace, its submarines are engaged in sinking passenger ships at sea, and not the ships alone but the very boats in which the passengers and crews seek to make their way to safety; and in their present enforced withdrawal from Flanders and France the German armies are pursuing a course of wanton destruction which has always been regarded as indirect violation of the rules and practices of civil warfare. Cities and villages, if not destroyed, are being stripped of all they contain, not only but over their very inhabitants. The nations associated against Germany cannot be expected to agree to a cessation of arms while acts of inhumanity and desolation are being continued which they justly look upon with horror and with burning hearts.
The editorial page of the Columbia Republican that week railed against "the probability of a defeated enemy, one about to be driven from power at the point of the bayonet, calmly preparing to march home with bands playing to a soil untouched by the heel of conquering nations." The editorial goes on, ". . . as the anguished eyes of two stricken nations looked up at us, the thought of this barbarian enemy being allowed to walk out in peace became to us a horror," and then makes this dire prediction:
If we are cowards enough to renew our correspondence school with Germany, the day will come when our children, with more grit, will carve a way into the heart of Germany, when the women will be avenged, the deaths of little children paid for, the sufferings of old men made compound interest and the shattered architecture of Belgium and France to appear beautiful compared with what will be left of Austria and Germany.
The editorial wasn't the only warning against pursuing a premature armistice with Germany. The following headline appeared on page six of the Columbia Republican for October 15, 1918.

The "tense telegram" was sent by Philip M. Harder, Liberty Loan chairman in Philmont, and warned Wilson:
We cannot hope to raise our quota of Liberty Bonds in the face of Germany's peace propaganda, if you, yourself, seem to have fallen a victim to it. Do not jeopardize by further negotiation the victory that is now within our grasp. The great sacrifices already made must not be in vain. . . .
An article on page three of the same paper is a reminder of something else that was going on in the autumn of 1918: the Spanish flu pandemic.

The following are excerpts from the article that followed this headline.
A special meeting of the Board of Health was held Tuesday . . . to take action to stop any further spread of the epidemic of "Spanish" influenza in the city. Health Officer Collins said that last Saturday and Sunday the situation had not appeared to be serious in the city but since Monday morning [the Columbia Republican was published on Tuesday] the epidemic had gotten a start and that there were now approximately 150 cases of influenza in the city and 14 of pneumonia. The Health Officer said that the surest way to stop the epidemic from getting any more of a start in this city would be to close all public places, including schools, theatres and churches. . . .
To-day the public schools will not open, and The Playhouse and the Star Theatre will be closed and will continue closed until any danger of further spread of the disease is well in hand. The parents of children are asked to keep them off the streets and not to let them mix with other children, and every one in general is asked to avoid crowds on streets or other places.
The Liberty Day parade and celebration at the armory has been called off because of the order and all public gatherings will be affected by the orders of the Health Officer.
The Health Officer also suggests that landlords heat the homes where there are convalescent people. It is also suggested that the people keep off the streets and that no one should expectorate on the streets. . . . 
Respect the rights of others and if you have the grip stay at home so as not to spread the disease.
The following week, the obituaries in the Columbia Republican, most no more than six lines long, took up an entire page. There were sixty of them. The vast majority of the obituaries contained a line similar to this one: "Death was due to pneumonia, which followed an attack of Spanish influenza."

timeline of the Spanish flu pandemic found on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website indicates that in October 1918 alone Spanish flu killed an estimated 195,000 Americans. The picture above, showing women assembling flu masks, is from the CDC website.

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