Robert Docter, Editor-In-Chief
As I write this more than a day late and always a dollar short, I notice on our very handy New Frontier calendar that it’s Nov. 11. We always used to call this day Armistice Day—the day we celebrated the end of World War I—The Great War. It was always a big holiday with parades, bands and marching troops down the main street of every town. All the veterans living in that community would wear their soldier suits or their jumpers and bell bottoms, get their free drinks in bars and celebrate “old times” with buddies.
Now, we’ve had so many wars since “the war to end all wars” that only the banks, schools, and post offices even recognize it as a holiday, and we’ve changed the name to Veterans Day. I guess that’s okay, but that little twinge of nostalgia I seem to feel more and more sends echoes through my heart as the informality of post modernity takes over, and different celebrations, atypical events thrust themselves upon us. Whatever they do to celebrate what I call “six-ones” day, they better enjoy it today, for this confluence of similar numbers will never happen again, and, next year, the day simply will be called, Nov. 11.
For me, it’ll always be Armistice Day, Nov. 11—even though the VFW halls no longer echo voices telling stories of the Argonne Forest. The “old” vets there now fought hard in WWII and on the icy slopes of the hostile hills of Korea. Now, their places in the line of march are taken by Viet Nam vets and the young ones, the survivors of two Iraq wars and an entire decade of unfinished conflict in Afghanistan.
Those teen years of 20th century America, once again, found many heroes, many leaders, many willing to sacrifice life itself for a cause. One was Woodrow Wilson, the 28th president of the United States, the only president to have a Ph.D., a Princeton University president, an historian, and a governor of New Jersey.
Wilson, son of a Presbyterian minister, a devout Christian and a Democrat, ran at a good time. Theodore Roosevelt ran as a Progressive member of the “Bull Moose” party and Republicans nominated William Howard Taft. The nation elected Wilson in 1912.
In his first year, he successfully persuaded Congress to pass significant progressive reforms with a legislative agenda unequaled until the New Deal record of Franklin Roosevelt. These pieces of legislation still affect our lives today.
The war broke out in 1914 due to a number of complicated issues and immediately involved trench warfare, artillery and charges across “no man’s land” into the face of hostile gunfire. Wilson quickly declared American neutrality.
On May 1, 1915, the RMS Lusitania sailed from New York bound for Liverpool carrying a very large number of American and British citizens. Seven days later German torpedoes blasted it out of the water with tremendous loss of life.
Wilson ran again in 1916 under a banner stating that “he kept us out of war.” Nevertheless, recognizing the peril that could impale the nation at any time, he increased the size of the army. The citizenry re-elected him with a narrow majority.
On Jan. 31, 1917, Germany announced a campaign of unrestricted submarine attacks anywhere. At about the same time, the “Zimmerman Telegram” was published in the U.S. It communicated to Mexico that Germany would assist Mexico in regaining territory in Texas and Arizona if it so desired. American public opinion changed quickly as Wilson broke off all diplomatic relations with Germany and, in April 1917, asked Congress for a declaration of war.
We were drastically under prepared to enter the war. The army had only 300,000 men at the time.
Another hero emerges
Wilson named General John J. (Black Jack) Pershing to lead the American Expeditionary Force (AEF). Europe wanted both troops and the vast industrial complex that was America. He left for Europe after consultation with Wilson. Europe wanted the troops as replacements for their own losses. Pershing said that AEF forces would fight in their own units, separate while working within the over- all strategic plan of the allies.
The buildup was slow, but by war’s end in November of 1918, America had 1.2 million men in the war, and names of victories like Chateau-Thierry, Belleau Wood, Meuse-Argonne, and Saint Mihiel reverberated through the homes of America and into the annals of American triumphs.
It was costly in human life with more than 50,000 men killed in action.
A third hero emerged, The Salvation Army National Commander, Evangeline Booth. She talked Pershing into allowing young Salvation Army women and men to serve in France immediately behind the lines and in military hospitals with the purpose of “bringing a bit of home” for troops coming out of the trenches for a brief respite.
This action and the work of those young men and women changed the image of The Salvation Army in America in the minds of returning service men, their parents and all who heard the stories of the doughnut girls caring for the doughboys.
The war ended with Germany’s surrender on November 11, 1918. Wilson dictated the content of the Treaty of Versailles with his 14 points. The U.S. Senate, however, never approved U.S. participation in the 14th point—the establishment of the League of Nations, for which Wilson received the Nobel Prize.