Wake Up, America!

Review: Wake Up, America!: World War I and the American Poster, Walton Rawls, 1988.Wake Up, America

A beautiful, big coffee table book not only full of well-reproduced posters but also a brief history of the American war effort as touched upon by the subjects of those posters.

Rawls starts out with a brief history of the lithographic poster, an art form still in its golden age during the war. The art poster, not only advertising a product but also aesthetically interesting to collectors, started in France. He also talks about some of the famed European poster artists and their American counterparts on the eve of the war.

The poster was an ideal form of communication in the days before radio and tv, a form that yanked eyes to it and imparted a message even to the illiterate or those not speaking the language of the land they found themselves in. Every nation in the war used them. A German artist who later achieved some political prominence said that American and British posters were the best of the war, uncluttered and effectively conveying their demands to the viewer, conveying and persuading.

Destroy This Mad BruteThe book has a number of non-American posters illustrating events in the pre- and early war years or those few that inspired American imitators.

Americans were producing posters concerned with the war even before the country joined the conflict. Most begged for money to relieve suffering in France and Belgium, an effort very efficiently managed by future President Herbert Hoover. Others were affiliated with the 1915 preparedness efforts of groups like the private National Security League to get ready for a war they thought inevitable.1918_WillYouSupplyEyes_work

On April 17, 1917, a mere 11 days after America entered the war, the president of the Society of Illustrators, Charles Dana Gibson, the man who created the famous pictures of Gibson girls, was asked by illustrator George Creel to let the latter form a committee to produce whatever artwork the government needed. On April 22nd, Gibson met with Creel and the Division of Pictorial Publicity of the Committee on Public Information was born.

By the end of the war, they had produced 700 poster designs to the U.S. government as well as hundreds of other advertisements, cartoons, banners, seals, and buttons.

The subjects were multiple: recruiting for the military, food and fuel conservation, war bonds, war films, counterespionage and security awareness, book drives, the Veterinary Corps, the Y.W.C.A and Y.M.C.A, women in factories, war gardens, and admonitions to immigrants (often in foreign languages) to prove their loyalty.

2d043046493acb017581933931306827The book talks about American at war through the context of these posters with some mostly forgotten stories like the largely unsuccessful attempt to produce a purely American fighter plane, the Liberty Plane (proclaimed by American ace Eddie Rickenbacker as “Flaming Coffins”) or the specifics of the Liberty Loan drives or a call by the U.S. Navy for citizens to loan them binoculars and spy-glasses.Pennell_That-Liberty-Shall-Not-Perish-From-The-Earth,-Buy-Liberty-Bonds,-First-World-War-poster

There are a few post-war posters about hiring veterans, getting other veterans to re-enlist, and the “Watch on the Rhine” overseeing defeated Germany.Poster-Weapons_For_Liberty-Boy_Scouts

Of definite interest for those interested in poster art and World War One. With 279 pages of text and at least one poster on almost every page, there are hundreds of things to look at here.Poster_-_Food_will_win_the_war

 

 

More reviews of World War One related topics are here.

Instrument of War

Review: Instrument of War: The German Army 1914-18, Dennis Showalter, 2016.Instrument of War

The problem with the German Army in World War One, argues Dennis Showalter, is that it was an instrument of war and not for war.

It started with the insouciance of Prussian War Minister Erich von Falkenhayn. On July 5, 1914, he told Moltke the Younger (known as “Gloomy Julius” to the higher ranking members of the German General Staff) – after, of course assuring the Kaiser that the German Army would support the Austro-Hungary Empire’s ultimatum to Serbia — that nothing would come of this war talk. The man who planned the railroad timetables clocking how the German Army would go to war, Wilhelm Gröner, took a July holiday.

It ended with Ludendorff’s spring 1918 offensives which had little more by way of specific objectives than punch a hole in Allied lines and see what happened.

Germany pursued war with a too casual appraisal of strategic ends. It concerned itself with the operational scale of war, not the strategic. Battles were to be won. And the next battle would be won and … Continue reading

City of Endless Night

Review: City of Endless Night, Milo Hastings, 1920.City of Endless Night

Yes, I was walking in Utopia, a nightmare at the end of man’s long dream – Utopia – Black Utopia – City of Endless Night – diabolically compounded of the three elements of civilization in which the Germans had always been supreme – imperialism, science and socialism.

It’s the year 2151. The German state, after sweeping through Eurasia and the Middle East in the Second World War which began in 1988, has been pushed back to the Armoured City of Berlin. The Ray, a weapon that calcifies bones, keeps the armies of the World State at bay. Aerial bombing cannot harm the vast underground fortress, the Black Utopia, which holds 300 million Germans.

But one man, Lyman de Forrest, a student of German culture and language from Chicago, penetrates its upper depths, impersonates one of its chemists, and learns its secrets. But should he destroy it with his knowledge? Or attempt to bring it into the larger family of the World State?

Hastings’ novel is an astonishing novel on several levels. Continue reading

Last Men in London

Surely you knew that mention of Olaf Stapledon was going to start another series.

We start with one of Stapledon’s most obscure science fiction works.

I read this one out of the 1976 Gregg Press. They never seem to have come with dust jackets, so you get no cover picture for this one.

This one definitely needs a re-read for the World War One in Fantastic Fiction series.

Raw Feed (1996): Last Men in London, Olaf Stapledon, 1932.

My reactions to reading this novel in 1996. Spoilers follow.

“Introduction”, Curtis C. Smith and Harvey J. Satty — Introduction to the 1976 edition of the novel. It talks of Stapledon’s vision that inspired his Last and First Men and Last Men in London. It also speaks of the generally harsh criticism of this sequel to Last and First Men and this novel’s obscurity. The authors also note many similarities between character Paul and Stapledon.

Last Men in London, Olaf Stapledon — In many ways, this sequel to Stapledon’s Last and First Men is very different. It is much lacking in the speculative wonders of natural and social evolution of the latter novel. The only new things in that regard are the society of philosophical lemurs which predate man. Their territory is invaded by primitive man who wipes the lemurs out because, though they are philosophically and morally advanced, they’re lacking in practical knowledge, skill, and curiosity. This notion that man must have intellectual curiosity, scientific learning, dispassion and detachment, a comfortable sensuality, a morality that emphasizes community, and a sense of cosmic purpose is emphasized again and again. Every species before the near-perfect 18th Man is lacking at least one of these virtues, and, therefore, doomed. Of course, even the 18th men are doomed and revert to primitive, near-animals. Continue reading

Somme: 1 July 1916

I read this one on the 100th anniversary of its title.

Yes, I’m catching up on some reviews.

This is an Osprey Publishing book. If you have spent any time in wargaming shops or reading military history, you’ve probably seen their work. They are chock-full of maps and color drawings for those painting wargame miniatures and models and offer concise yet detailed looks at their subjects. Scholarly monographs for popular audiences basically.

Before this one, I think I’ve only read one of their books. It was on Roman forts along the Saxon Shore of England – an interest I developed after accidentally wandering into one, Portchester Castle, on the way to Royal Armouries Museum at Fort Nelson. (Those familiar with Portchester’s geography may wonder how such an accident could possibly occur. It’s a long story.)

I’ve inherited a bunch of Osprey books on the English Civil War (not a particular interest of mine) from one of my companions on that expedition, and this book I got when a friend was purging his library.

Review: Somme: 1 July 1916: Tragedy and Triumph, Andrew Robertshaw, 2006.Somme

This book is the 169th entry in Osprey Publishing’s in Campaign series.

It lays out, in the first 41 pages, the context of the Somme campaign: the events in World War One that preceded it, the state of the opposing armies, strategic objectives of the opposing sides, and looks at the opposing commanders.

The rest of the 96 pages look at the first day of the Battle of the Somme including the experiences of soldiers on both sides. The concluding pages look at the battlefield today.

It’s hardly my first exposure to the Battle of the Somme, a battle that looms as large as any in the memory of Englishmen for its greatest single day slaughter of the British Army.

The book has a couple of points that stuck out for me.

First is the “triumph” of the title. There were Allied successes on the first day. The British XIII Corps took its objectives including Montauban. The French army also got as far as second-line German positions. Continue reading

What If?

The alternate history continues with a collection of essays from various historians and popular writers, a modern sequel of sorts to If It Had Happened Otherwise.

There was a follow up volume I have not read.

Raw Feed (2004): What If?: The World’s Foremost Military Historians Imagine What Might Have Been, ed. Robert Cowley, 2000.what-if

“Introduction”, Robert Cowley — A cursory look at the current state of academic “counterfactual” writing, teasers for the essays in the collection, and a brief discussion of their genesis in the special tenth anniversary edition of MHQ: The Quarterly Journal of Military History.

Infectious Alternatives: The Plague That Saved Jerusalem, 701 B.C.”, William H. McNeill — Not surprisingly McNeill, the historian who really first put forth the idea that disease epidemics affected many events in history, chooses a plague as his turning point. We don’t really know why the Assyrian king Sennacherib abandoned his investment of Jerusalem. We know his army suffered severe losses, and it is probable that it was due to disease. McNeill briefly sketches, in cultural and religious terms, the consequences of the Assyrians taking Jerusalem and, thereby, killing Judaism as a cultural force for good. (It really isn’t that much of a stretch. The splinter kingdom of Israel had abandoned Judaism and disappeared in 722 B.C. Several cities in Judah were taken, and the King of Judea ended up paying tribute to the Assyrians.) McNeill sees the main effect of Jerusalem being taken is that the Jewish faith looses further confidence. The unique universal monotheism of Judaism is weakened. When the Jews are taken off in the Babylonian captivity, they become just another locally centered, ethnically based faith and exert no influence on the following centuries.

A Good Night’s Sleep Can Do Wonders“, Barbara N. Porter — A very brief alternate history that imagines the possible consequences (actually, it spends most of its time recounting the historical record and not imagining alternative outcomes) of the Lydian King Gyges not getting a good night’s sleep and impatiently attacking the Cimmerians before he was ready. The Lydians don’t form an alliance with Assyria and, years later, nascent Greek culture is overwhelmed by the expanding Cimmerians. Continue reading

The Intelligence War in Latin America, 1914 – 1922

This one came from LibraryThing, and there was no way I was going to pass up a review copy of a book about World War One and espionage.

Review: The Intelligence War in Latin America, 1914 – 1922, Jamie Bisher, 2016.intelligence-war-in-latin-america

Not an easy read, but this dense book is rewarding and necessary for any student of World War One and espionage history.

The only books, according to Bisher, that even partially cover this subject are Barbara Tuchman’s The Zimmerman Telegram and Friedrich Katz’s The Secret War in Mexico.

Bisher’s story covers events from Canada to Tierra del Fuego and the Caribbean. It is, as he notes, unfortunately dependent mostly on American intelligence records. His requests, in writing and in person, for access to Latin American intelligence records were met with silence or derision. German, British, and Japanese (yes, Japan plays a significant role in this book) records were destroyed in the Second World War or were purged for space and financial reasons.

Bisher begins his story way back in 1867 with Aureliano Blanquet delivering the coup de grace in the execution of Emperor Ferdinand Maximillian – the uncle of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. The young Blanquet went on to be a major player in Mexican politics in 1913 with the death of President Francisco Madero. Continue reading

If It Had Happened Otherwise

I’m on vacation, but I’ll still post this.

It even has some World War One material relevant for today.

This was, I believe, the first collection of academic alternate histories ever done and featured various famous historians and literary writers of the early 20th century.

This is a Raw Feed, so my historical ignorance is not as great as 29 years ago.

Raw Feed (1987): If It Had Happened Otherwise, ed. J. C. Squire, 1931, 1972.if-it-had-happened-otherwise

“Introduction”, J.C. Squire — Brief comments on academic alternate history treatises.  Emphasizes importance of causality chain beginning with trivial event (brilliantly explored in Bradbury’s “Sound of Thunder”) and how we almost always think of alternate histories as undesirable worlds to our own though this obviously depends on cultural/moral/political point of view.

“Introduction”, John Wheeler-Bennett — Brief comments on history of alternate history as literature and valid historical speculation. (His definition of alternate histories are peculiar. He includes political sf like Fail-Safe.)  He also writes on why he likes sub-genre.

If the Moors in Spain Had Won“, Philip Guedalla — Like most essays in this book promise to be, this story (told in excerpts from travel books, history texts, diplomatic papers, and newspapers) this is a rich source for alternate world ideas. The work not only develops its premise but wryly comments on historical study:  chance events of little seeming significance to change things drastically, the events of our history were not inevitable, over reliance on economic factors in studying history, and belief that events in our history were for the best.

If Don John of Austria Had Married Mary Queen of Scots“,  G.K. Chesterton — A rather muddled piece of writing (part of problem could be I’m not familiar with the fine points of English history) whose purpose seems to be less constructing an alternate history than an edifying Christian legend of true love (which, evidently, the rest of us mortals can not achieve due to the Original Sin) in Don John and Mary’s marriage. Chesterton’s portrayal of Mary (perhaps because he is a Catholic) seems very idealized though he does seem to validly suggest Mary was a charming, beautiful, vigorous monarch. Chesterton seems to think their marriage would have included England in a greater community (that would have been created with the marriage) of a Europe with Christian traditions and morality and Renaissance vigor and questioning. He seems to attack Puritan influence on England as culturally mordant and brutal. He does have a satirical wit in regard to the question of history and study. He also has a valid point when he says we should consider personal motives such as attraction (and, unspoken, sex) as well as great abstract motives of diplomacy and economics. (A similar point as to Ward Moore’s saying history is made by people obsessed with the trivial.) Continue reading

Faces of War

Faces of War

Something a bit different this time.

If you find yourself in Minneapolis before March 14, 2016 and have any interest in Russian history or World War One, I would highly recommend The Museum of Russian Art’s Faces of War exhibit.

It’s the third stop for the exhibit which premiered in Moscow and then went to Belgrade.

Looking at not only events on the battlefield, it also covers the home front, internal Russian politics — particularly the lives of the royal family during the war, and the war’s aftermath.

I’ve been to the Imperial War Museum (though I have not seen their revamped World War exhibit) and the National World War One Museum in Kansas City. You will see stuff here you have not seen before.

For me the high point was the actual telegrams and hand written letters exchanged by Kaiser Wilhelm and Czar Nicholas as they begin to realize the apocalypse about to descend on Europe. They corresponded in English so you can see Nicholas’ agitation in his handwriting and underlinings.

Other high points:

  • Coverage of Russia’s heroic Brusilov Offensive in 1916 that vey well may have stopped a German victory at Verdun.
  • Bios and photos of individual generals.
  • Photo of a Russian submarine being launched.
  • News reel footage of Archduke Ferdinand’s visit to Sarajevo.
  • The turmoil in the Imperial Court including the Czar’s abdication speech.
  • The October 1917 suicide note of a Russian Army ensign who would not serve in the post-Revolutionary army.
  • Russian wartime bond drive and propaganda posters.

The exhibition book costs $35, and, to be honest, unless you are a hardcore World War One buff, it’s not worth it. It doesn’t capture much of the flavor of the exhibits though it does have some interesting material on United States aid to Russia before America entered the war, the growing hatred against the Czarina and Rasputin by not only regular Russians but some nobility, and the stalling of the new Russian government in making peace with the German and Austro-Hungarian Empires in 1918.

This exhibit was put together with the help of the Russian Federation and its archives. This is not the first time the Russian government released some of its archives on the war. The first, under the Soviet regime, was to embarrass capitalist countries.

This exhibit takes a fairly neutral tone on the Czar. You can perhaps dispute its claim that Russia bears no blame for the war — but you can dispute a lot of things about the beginning of the war.

Perhaps understandably, the exhibit book doesn’t even mention the word “Tannenburg” though it certainly acknowledges a military defeat at the time and also mentions Russian successes in Galicia.

Both the exhibit and accompanying book mention the Allied “Polar Bear Expedition” to Arkhangelsk. The last survivor of that expedition was Harold Gunnes who was born in Barnesville, Minnesota and died in 2003.