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A War To End All Wars – Home Front Propaganda I THE GREAT WAR – Week 13

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Europe had been at war for less than three months, but already hundreds of thousands
of young men had died horribly. In the interests of morale and patriotism, the media in each
warring nation had portrayed its side as good and the enemy as evil, and what we begin to
see is that there was a gap created between what people believed about the war at home
and what was actually happening on the front. I’m Indy Neidell; welcome to the Great War.
At the beginning of the week, the Russians were crossing the Vistula to try and stop
the Germans, who were intent on capturing Warsaw. The Austrians had broken out of the
siege at Przemsyl but were badly beaten by the Russians on the River San, and the British
had just arrived at a sleepy little Belgian town called Ypres.
German army chief of staff Falkenhayn had assembled a new army under the Duke of Wurttemberg
to take over the right flank of the German forces in Flanders, which is this part of
Belgium and Northern France. A lot of the new units were reservists, though- middle-aged
men past campaigning or young recruits that hadn’t really been trained, and in their
first few days of battle they would make catastrophic mistakes. Now, the only gap on the Western Front through
which either side might possibly make some sort of decisive maneuver was a narrow corridor
right here, and that’s where the action was happening. On Sunday October 18th, the
British headed eastward from Ypres toward Menin, nearly 20 km away and in German hands,
and there were a few skirmishes, but nothing major. The next day, as the advance progressed, British
pilots reported huge columns of advancing Germans who would be upon them in hours so
the British withdrew to a low ridge overlooking Ypres. This area would be known as the Ypres
salient. A salient, in battle, is a projection of the line like a bulge, which means that
the enemy can attack it on three sides. The Ypres salient would be the scene over the
next four years of some of the bloodiest and harshest battles in all of human history. On the 20th, the Germans attacked along the
whole front, 24 divisions against 19, but the main contest this day was around Ypres,
where 14 German divisions attacked 7 British, though most of the German forces were Wurttemberg’s
reservists. The British were outnumbered in men and artillery, but they were equal to
the enemy in machine guns, and they managed to hold their line because of their superiority
in rapid rifle fire. Here we find, as we did at the Battle of the
Mons in August, the stories of the “mad minute”. A mad minute was, according to
the British soldiers of the Great War, the art of hitting 15 targets in one minute with
a bolt-action rifle, which the British professionals were trained to, and legend has it that at
both Mons and the first action at Ypres, German soldiers thought they were facing machine
gun fire when in fact it was intense rifle fire. The German forces made the novice’s mistake
of advancing in large masses and presented huge targets to the British rifles, suffering
terrible casualties, and for the next three days they continued banging their heads against
the British lines, attacking by both day and night on a widening front. Looking at it objectively
after the fact- these attacks were exercises in futility along the lines of the French
attacks we saw at the battle of the Frontiers in August, with devastating losses for the
Germans, and the salient held. At the cemetery of the German volunteer corps
today in nearby Langemarck, the bodies of 25,000 student soldiers lie in a mass grave.
There are gravestones that read such names as Musketeer Braun and Volunteer Schmidt over
graves that contain several bodies each, a testament to the “kindermord bei Ypern”
the Massacre of the Innocents at Ypres, which it was, when in a desperate attempt to break
through, the Germans sent untrained men who had no business being on a battlefield against
the best trained soldiers in Europe, the British regulars. Those Germans were volunteers, doing their
part for the fatherland, and they had heard for three months that the British troops were
a joke and would be easily overcome, so they rushed off to die. On the British side, we also see the public
failing to understand what was actually happening. British General Smith-Dorrien wrote “I was
struck by the fact that people in England didn’t in the least realize the strenuous
nature of the fighting at the front, or that we were a long thin line without reserves
which might be broken through at any time. Their minds seemed set on what appeared to
me a ridiculous fear of an invasion of England.” There was no danger of that at the moment,
for it was true stalemate in Belgium and would be for four more years. Further north along the line, the remnants
of the Belgian army, now down to around 60,000 men, were holding the cost at Nieuport, at
the mouth of the Yser River. The Yser is a narrow river, but it has embankments and it
was a major military obstacle for the Germans, and the Belgians fought valiantly, earning
the praise of even their enemy, who were unable to break through. There were, however, breakthroughs on the
Eastern Front, where the war had become a war of perpetual motion for the time being. The Russians had been sending troops across
their bridgehead on the Vistula River for over a week now, fighting off the Germans
who had been trying to take Warsaw. Early on, the Germans had the advantage, but Generals
Hindenburg and Ludendorff had completely underestimated the size of the enemy, as Russian reinforcements
never stopped coming in, being cleverly and secretly well deployed by the Russians. From
October 18th-23rd, the Russian army, after weeks of preparations, began its own attack,
even threatening to surround the Germans, who began to retreat on the 20th realizing
that with the mud and the sheer number of opponents, they would not be able to take
Warsaw. Further south, the Austrian Chief of Staff
Conrad tried again to take on the Russians with his army, this time at Ivangorod. This
was not as prudent as the German retreat. On the 22nd, the Austrians attacked, and four
days later they were forced to retreat, with 40,000 Austrian casualties. Once again, the
Russians would surround Przemsyl fortress- garrisoned by 150,000 men- and it would once
again be an Austrian island in an ocean of Russian territory.
And since I mention oceans, we should turn out attention to the (Yellow Sea) South China
Sea, where the Japanese had the German port of Tsingtao under total blockade. This week the German torpedo boat S-90 slipped
out of the harbor and sank the Japanese cruiser Takachiho with a single torpedo. 271 sailors
were drowned. The S-90 was, however, unable to run the blockade and return to Tsingtao
afterward and was scuttled by the Germans when she ran low on fuel. There was one very important non-battlefield
even that happened this week that really shows the divide between the reality of the battlefield
and what the public thought at home. This week saw the signing of the Manifesto
of the 93. What this was was a proclamation by 93 famous German, artists, scholars, and
scientists giving their total support to the German cause in the war. In the comments section
you can find a link to read the whole thing yourself, but basically it says that the signers
are responding to the lies of their enemies. They say that it is not true that Germany
caused the war and it is not true that Germany trespassed in neutral Belgium or carried out
the reported atrocities there, such as the destruction of Louvain – everything was done
in self-defense. A counter manifesto- the “manifesto to Europeans”-
was drafted by the pacifist Professor Nicolai but gathered only three signatures, and one
of them had actually also signed the other manifesto. The other two who signed were both
scientists, Otto Buek from Heidelberg and a scientist from Switzerland named Albert
Einstein. So at the end of the week the Austrians are
defeated once again, the Germans are retreating from the Russians, the war is heating up in
the far east, and on the Western front huge German offensives are being stopped, with
devastating losses in men, many of them too young or too untrained to belong in battle. Lloyd George, the British Chancellor of the
Exchequer and later Prime Minister made one of the most legendary speeches of the war
on September 19th to address the costs of the war. He said that this war- a war to end
all wars- was being fought to free Europe from the rule of a military caste, and that
the people of the allied nations would in the end gain more than they could comprehend,
in a new moral regeneration and a political rejuvenation and realignment. This was a bill
of false goods, because when none of this happened in 1918 the anger and disillusionment
of the people was enormous. He could have simply chosen to tell the truth:
that the British, French, and Russians had to pay a terrible price in blood, to lose
the cream of a generation to win a victory that really gave no new advantages, but that
this sacrifice must be borne simply to avoid worse things if Germany won the war. After watching our weekly episodes, you might
have some questions about certain details or just general want to know something about
us. For exactly these kind of questions, we have a new format called OUT OF THE TRENCHES
where I am giving you answers. You can check them out right here. You can also leave more
questions in the comments, on Twitter or on Facebook and we will answer them in the future.

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