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WWI Series- A Hundred Years Ago - August 8 - 15, 1915
Midwest City of Sioux Falls, South Dakota in 1910
One Among Us
Angie, born in 1865, lives on a farm on the eastern South Dakota plains. Angie was born in America weeks after her parents carried all they owned from ship to train to the American plains where land could be had for settling.
Now at age fifty, Angie speaks German at home, at church and among friends. She and her husband work with some success from sunrise to sunset on their eighty acres of black land. In August, 1915, Angie wakes up planning to can apples. Her two married daughters will help. Her oldest son works with her husband on the farm. Her second son works in Sioux Falls as an automobile mechanic.
Angie is proud of her children. All four of them graduated from eighth grade, all four are married. German remains their primary language, but the grandchildren must learn English so more and more Angie hears English around the table at Sunday dinner.
There is nothing to be done about the heat or the flies as the women peal and slice apples. The grandchildren haul cool to the stove, and the steam from the pressure cooker fills the kitchen. Only when the table is covered with glass jars filled with apples and everyone waits for the sound of jar seals to pop does Angie relax. Now she looks at her oldest grandson. Angie's daughter is a town family so her grandson attends high school. He is sixteen years old, tall, lean and handsome. America will not go to war. President Wilson assures them that America will not go to war.
Americans Know the Players
Most evenings Angie reads by the light of an oil lamp or candle. She reads yesterdays Sioux Falls paper aloud to her husband, translating the English into German as she goes. Since the sinking of the Lusitania by the Germans in May the newspaper devotes more and more space to the war in Europe. The words seem to be more and more anti-German which Angie resents. In Angie's opinion if anyone was to blame for death and destruction, that anyone was the Russians. Her son-in-law insists that the Germans started the war by invading Belgium. The invasion of Belgium brought the British into war along with France.
Russia joined the war to prevent unspeakable Austrian-Hungary reprisals against Serbia for the shooting of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife in Sarajevo. No matter why Russia declared war, Germany now faces enemies to both the east and the west. Angie wants Germany to be in the right. She has never been on German ground, but the German heritage is strong.
Angie's husband sums up the cause of the war with one word, Greed. The Germans want to expand their sphere of influence. Great Britain already has a vast empire. Angie believes her husband. However, since her son-in-law's comments made some months ago, Angie no longer allows talk of war in Europe at her table.
In the beginning, Germany fought with Austria-Hungary, the two nations became known as the Central Powers. Fighting a bloody war of attrition against these two countries were Russia, Britain, and France known as the Triple Entente or the Allies. Angie knows the names of Kaiser Wilhelm, Czar Nicholas, King George, David Lloyd George, Joffre, and even Rasputin. Places such as Alsace-Lorraine and Ardennes, the Meuse River and the Marne are familiar sounds. Her husband likes to hear the news, so Angie reads the news. The race to the sea has settled into miles of trench lines from Belgium to Switzerland. The well-trained and well equipped German soldiers defend with machine guns while French soldiers run toward them.
In todays paper, August 15, 1915, the reporter states the war has turned to stagnation and stalemate. Even in stagnation three thousand young men die along the trench lines. She reads an article about Little Willie. The British inventors are working on the worlds first tracked armored vehicle. Named by Winston Churchill as a tank. She reads that Czar Nicholas II is taking personal command of the Russian armed forces. The Russians are fighting around Warsaw. In Belgium, the Germans arrest British nurse Edith Cavell. She is accused of aiding two hundred prisoners-of-war to escape.
News not directly about the war is also in the newspaper. Farm prices are up. A sewing factory is hiring women. A movie, A Fool There Was, is showing in Sioux Falls. Her husband snores lightly in his chair. Angie returns to page five to read again about Edith Cavell.
The Spread of Conflict
Earlier in 1915 the war spread. While America steadfastly refused to enter the war, other countries did enter the fight. Turkey declared war on Russia, France and Britain. That Turkey fought with the Central Powers was a major political German triumph. Bulgaria also joined Germany. Italy became an ally to France, England and Russia. Greece privately agreed to allow the Allies to use Greek land. Why? Secret treaties abound that promise spoils of war. Politicians shuffle in a new dance of alliance and reward. For example, at the end of the war Italy was to get areas of Italian speaking people in Austria.
Angie could not know these political agreements which maintained balance like a teeter-totter. The second more visible equalizer was the British naval blockade of the North Sea, the Mediterranean Sea, and the English Channel to counter the German U-boat and submarine threat. Germany mined the English Channel. Britain declared the entire North Sea as a theatre of war. This precarious balance of war had a negative impact on neutral shipping, most importantly American shipping. Woodrow Wilson had no choice but to respond to American losses at sea. As Angie feared, Germany was falling into distrust by Americans despite the agreement to warn non-combatants and to provide rescue of civilians.
America and WWI in August, 1915
Not our boys to fight so far away in Europe's war.
Growing industry is also growing frustration with neutral shipping loses.
An attitude of sympathy for England and France in the horrific loss of young men.
Americans Are Aware and Informed
All But the Boys
In August, 1915, Americans wanted to isolate themselves. But an industrializing country could not be isolated from the rest of the industrial world. The world was shrinking. Even Angie's friends were beginning to whisper that Germany was wrong to invade France and march toward Paris. Whispers that Germany was wrong to sink neutral ships while Britain was justified in blockading German ports.
Sneaking materials of war, food supplies and weapons to Britain was a well known secret activity. Industry was expanding faster than boys could leave the farm and go to work. The court house in town had a telephone. The banker could send a telegram. The public school had flush toilets. To Angie this was the limit. Food, guns, shells, planes could be sent to Europe from morning to night, but the boys could not go. America had no reason to fight. War fever and patriotism could stop at water's edge. President Wilson was adamant on American neutrality.
So Angie gently wakes her husband to get ready for bed. Before she sleeps, she prays for peace.