The world has come too far to allow a barbarous war like this to happen and to really destroy what we have built. She saw alliances among women across national boundaries to be a very important pathway to peace. And I think it clearly influences him by making him think that his instinct that America should have a leadership role in settling the peace is a correct one.
Directly below the ad was a notice placed by the German Embassy.
Travellers sailing in the war zone do so at their own risk. Christopher Capozzola, Historian: They were getting on the grandest ship of its day. The cruise ship from the era of the Titanic.
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And they thought no civilized nation would attack such a ship. Narrator: What no one on board realized was how enmeshed in the war the Lusitania really was. The Germans saw the ship as part of a critical supply line supporting the British war effort. Richard Rubin, Writer: Part of American neutrality from the very beginning was that American companies were free to do business with any of the combatants, on paper. Jay Winter, Historian: Neutrality is almost always a fiction. In this case, the fiction was that the United States was neutral in word and deed.
The United States tilted towards the allies from the very beginning. Narrator: When war broke out, the U. A typical British division of 18, soldiers required a staggering nine million pounds of ammunition, fodder and food each month. There was a seemingly bottomless market for barrels of beef, tons of iron and steel, bushels of oats and wheat. American companies also sold Britain and France massive quantities of bullets, artillery shells, and high explosives. The Germans desperately wanted to sink ships transporting these supplies. But since their Navy was no match for the British on the high seas, their only solution was to attack from under the surface.
Western navies were unprepared to deal with it. They had no idea how to counter submarine warfare.
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It was unknown, it was unseen. You never knew where an attack was going to come from. And it terrified people. Narrator: German submarines were technological wonders that were transforming the nature of warfare. The captain and crew of the Lusitania dismissed fears of submarines, and encouraged passengers to enjoy the elegant amenities on board the foot luxury liner.
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From intercepted communications, the British knew the German submarine U was lurking in the path of the Lusitania. Yet they chose not to send destroyers out to meet the ship and escort it into Liverpool. Within the halls of the British Admiralty, some argued that if the Lusitania was lost, it might precipitate American entry into the war. Edward A. Right from the beginning there is a sense of, we need you here.
Your shipping is [not] going to be enough, we are your brethren, you must support us. The explosion ripped a huge gash in the Lusitania. It took only 18 minutes for the leviathan to slide beneath the waves. For months after the Lusitania went down, dead bodies washed ashore. Hundreds of others were pulled lifeless from the Irish Sea, their corpses stacked on the docks.
Many of the casualties could not be identified, and were buried in mass graves. In all, 1, men, women, and children were lost. John M. Cooper, Historian: What the Lusitania did was to bring the war home to Americans.
Up to that time it was this awful thing that was happening to other people far away. Now the war had reached out and touched us.
The American media had been covering the war for months and months now. We knew what it was like. Americans had been imagining their sons at the battlefront. How do we maintain a position of neutrality? Christopher Capozzola, Historian: The Lusitania sinking creates a crisis within the Wilson administration, in part because it reveals that this public and official face of neutrality was actually no such thing.
Narrator: Germany argued that the speed with which the Lusitania was sent to the bottom was proof that it was loaded with tons of ammunition for the Allies. Scott Berg, Writer: The Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan, who was a great pacifist, he said the one thing I want to know is, were there in fact arms on that ship?
And the truth of the matter is, there were arms on that ship. Adriane Lentz-Smith, Historian: Actually from the German side, not an irrational or indefensible act. In some ways you have these two visions of what is a legitimate act of violence, just sort of colliding and not being able to reconcile themselves. Jay Winter, Historian: How far can you tolerate the deaths of American citizens is a very legitimate question today, as it was a hundred years ago.
And I think being the man who protects American lives on the one hand and on the other hand protecting American lives by not going into war, presented [Wilson] with a very difficult high wire act. In protest, William Jennings Bryan resigned. The German government pledged to put limits on their submarine warfare. Alan Axelrod, Writer: For those who were strong advocates of neutrality it was too stern and for others such as Teddy Roosevelt, it was an ignominious, cowardly kind of weasely way out of avoiding a fight.
And the Lusitania opens up that debate. What should we do about this? There is such a thing as a nation being so right that it does not need to convince others by force that it is right. Voice: Edith Wharton: Since leaving Paris yesterday we have passed through streets and streets of such murdered houses, through town after town spread out in its last writhings. At worst they are like stone-yards, at best like Pompeii. But Ypres has been bombarded to death, and the outer walls of its houses are still standing, so that it presents the distant semblance of a living city, while near by it seems to be a disemboweled corpse.
Every window-pane is smashed, nearly every building unroofed, and some house-fronts are sliced clean off, with the different stories exposed, as if for the stage-setting of a farce.
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Michael Neiberg, Historian: Edith Wharton is symbolic of a lot of Americans who are living in France, already had a deep passion and interest in France, a deep love of France. Narrator: At the outset of the war, Wharton had organized a series of American hostels to shelter the wave of dislocated families pouring into Paris. In little more than a year, her relief organization had provided clothing and jobs for more than 9, refugees and served nearly a quarter of a million meals.
She also begged Americans at home to help finance her efforts. The hospitals in Dunkirk were struggling to absorb the casualties from artillery, but they were also confronting the effects of a shocking new weapon that had just been introduced. Soon the unsuspecting men were writhing in agony, choking to death as chlorine gas burned their throat and lungs. In a panic, the survivors abandoned their positions.
More than a thousand soldiers were killed, most of them slowly drowning as their lungs filled with fluid. Helen Zoe Veit, Historian : World War I used a combination of really traditional fighting techniques with all these brand new technologies that turned traditional battle into slaughter or things like poisonous gas which seemed like this insidious and unpredictable new weapon that just killed indiscriminately, that had nothing to do with individuals fighting each other and that was really just about mass death.
Dan Carlin, Podcast Producer: Gas was something that was a new horror. And for people that already thought that the Germans were evil personified, it just played in to those sorts of attitudes. Richard Rubin, Writer: Gas in a way was as terrifying to people as the submarine. Gas could blind you, very quickly. It could make you cough up blood very quickly. It could break down your lungs very quickly. Dan Carlin, Podcast Producer: Eventually both sides would use gas. It would just be part of something that was a descent into 20th Century warfare. And so gruesome. And truthfully to take things to a level that had never been seen before.
No civilized race can remain neutral in feeling now. Andrew Carroll, Writer: Edith Wharton really wanted to create kind of a sympathetic character in the French people and in France itself and she was even accused by some of her fellow authors of being a propagandist. But she was writing in a way that I think she knew would have as powerful an effect as possible. I think she was changing the tide of how people viewed the war and whether America should at long last get involved. Dan Carlin, Podcast Producer: The way that German atrocities were played up in the media helped create a good guy-bad guy scenario.
This is the idea of the Germans as Huns, as destroyers, as barbarians. Jay Winter, Historian: The moral depravity of German soldiers suggested a moral cause. It made it about the sons of light against the sons of darkness.
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