It’s June 1918. Four years have passed since Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife were assassinated in Sarajevo, triggering the most destructive war the world has ever seen. This month, United States Marine Corps and Army units expel the Germans from Belleau Wood. The German Army’s spring offensive continues with an attack at the River Matz. Addressing the Reichstag in Berlin, Foreign Minister von Kuhlmann tells the deputies they should not expect a victory by military effort alone, advice that angers the German military. In Italy, a two-pronged offensive by Austria-Hungary is turned back by Allied forces led by the new Italian commander, General Armando Diaz. In the United States, Eugene V. Debs, the leader and three-time presidential nominee of the Socialist Party, delivers a speech criticizing the war and the draft; a speech that leads to his arrest two weeks later for violating the Espionage and Sedition Acts. The Supreme Court strikes down a federal law banning interstate shipment of the products of child labor. Former Vice President Charles W. Fairbanks dies at his home in Indianapolis.
As the German Army pushed south in Operation Blucher-Yorck, they were halted at Chateau-Thierry at the end of May by French units reinforced by the American Third Division. Moving to the right, the Germans advanced through nearby Belleau Wood on June 3 in an attempt to reach the Marne and establish a bridgehead. When the American Second Division, which included the Fifth and Sixth Marine Regiments, arrived to halt the German advance, the French commander on the scene advised them to retreat and dig into stronger positions. An American officer replied “Retreat, hell! We just got here!” As the Germans emerged from the trees and across the adjacent grain fields on June 6, the Marine units halted their advance and launched a counterattack. Two weeks of bloody fighting later, the Marines had succeeded in driving the Germans from Belleau Wood and holding it against repeated counterattacks.
Elsewhere on the Western Front, the Germans began Operation “Gneisenau” on the river Matz with an artillery bombardment on June 9. Its objectives were to shorten the German lines by connecting the salients created by the Michael and Blucher-Yorck offensives, to draw Allied forces south from Flanders, and to occupy the road between Compiegne and Montdidier. The German attack advanced up to nine kilometers the first day, but French reinforcements were sped to the front, bridges across the River Oise were destroyed, and a French counterattack was mounted on June 11, stalling the German advance. None of the operation’s objectives were achieved.
German Foreign Secretary Richard von Kuhlmann addressed the Reichstag on June 24 on the occasion of the second reading of the budget for the Foreign Office and the Chancellorship. Reviewing the military situation and the prospects for peace, he told the deputies “the deeper we go into the causes of this war the clearer it becomes that the power which planned and desired the war was Russia; that France played the next worse role as instigator, and that England’s policy has very dark pages to show.” He said Germany’s “roughly sketched [war] aims, the realization of which is absolutely vital and necessary for Germany,” are to achieve “for the German people and our allies a free, strong, independent existence within the boundaries drawn for us by history, . . . overseas possessions corresponding to our greatness and wealth, . . . [and] the freedom of the sea, carrying our trade to all parts of the world.” He added that “in view of the magnitude of this war and the number of powers, including those from overseas, that are engaged, its end can hardly be expected through purely military decisions alone and without recourse to diplomatic negotiations.” He expressed the hope “that our enemies will perceive that in view of our resources the idea of victory for the Entente is a dream, an illusion, and that they will in due course find a way to approach us with peace offers which will correspond with the situation and satisfy Germany’s vital needs.”
German military leaders and the right-wing German press greeted von Kuhlmann’s speech with contempt, denouncing the foreign minister for absolving England from principal responsibility for the war and for his apparent eagerness to negotiate a compromise settlement of the war. His assertion that an end to the war cannot be expected through “military decisions alone” is a particular focus of the military’s anger, which may force his resignation.
Like Germany, Austria-Hungary has been freed by Russia’s withdrawal from the war to concentrate its forces elsewhere. The closer alliance forged last month at Spa included a commitment by Emperor Charles to support the German offensive in France by attacking in Italy. The Italian Army, supplemented by French and British reinforcements, is commanded by General Armando Diaz, who replaced General Luigi Cadorna in the wake of the disastrous Italian defeat last fall in the Battle of Caporetto (see the October and November 1917 installments of this blog). On June 15 the Austrians mounted a two-pronged attack, one from the mountains onto the Asiago Plateau and another across the Piave River. The attack from the mountains achieved an initial breakthrough, but the British units defending in that area were able to regain the lost ground by the next day. At the Piave the Italians, aided by excellent intelligence, blunted the force of the Austrian attack by an intensive artillery bombardment in the hours before the attack began. The Allies’ successful defense in the mountains made it possible for Diaz to concentrate his reserves on the Piave, where their presence along with the swollen river and the Italians’ success in destroying the bridges made it impossible for the Austrians to advance. On June 24 they withdrew. Back in Vienna, political pressure on the Dual Monarchy intensified as reduction of the bread ration led to strikes and riots demanding a speedy end to the war.
On June 29, the Czech Legion reached and occupied Vladivostok, overthrowing the city’s Bolshevik government. The next day in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the Czech leader Tomas Masaryk signed an agreement with members of the Czech and Slovak communities in which the signatories stated their intent to create an independent Czechoslovak state in which Slovaks are to have an autonomous administration, their own law courts, and recognition of Slovak as their official language. In London on June 29, an article by former Russian Premier Alexander Kerensky was published in the National News. He wrote “Russia is not beaten, . . . although temporarily her powers are paralyzed by what has happened,” and insisted that “the nation will never accept Germany’s terms, and the people will repudiate the treaty of Brest-Litovsk.” Kerensky then traveled to Paris, where he conferred at length with the Russian ambassador.
Meanwhile, former Tsar Nicholas II remains imprisoned with his family in Yekaterinburg. Repeated rumors that he has been assassinated following a trial by a revolutionary tribunal have been denied by the Russian ambassador in Berlin based on information received from the Soviet government in Moscow. Nicholas and his family are reported to be in good health.
Eugene V. Debs, the presidential candidate of the Socialist Party in 1904, 1908 and 1912, was arrested on June 30 on his way to a meeting of the Ohio State Socialist Council in Cleveland. In an indictment handed down the day before, Debs was charged with violation of the Espionage Act, a statute originally enacted last year and strengthened last month by the Sedition Act. The charges are based on a speech Debs delivered on June 16 in Canton during the Socialist Party’s state convention in which he charged that the Allies are in the war for the same reason as the Central Powers — plunder — and that Americans are fit for something better than cannon fodder. The indictment charges Debs with ten specific violations of the Act, including making false statements with intent to interfere with the operation or success of the armed forces; attempting to obstruct recruiting or enlistment; and uttering disloyal language about the country’s form of government, language intended to bring the flag or the uniform of the armed services into contempt or disrepute, and language intended to promote the cause of the nation’s enemies.
Among the issues important to the progressive movement of the last several years has been federal regulation of child labor. National regulation is considered necessary because states that enact prohibitions or restrictions on child labor place themselves at a competitive disadvantage. In 1916 Congress passed by substantial majorities, and President Wilson signed, the Keating-Owen Child Labor Act, named for its sponsors, Representative Edward Keating (Dem., Colo.) and Senator Robert Owen (Dem., Okla.). The law barred goods produced by factories employing children under fourteen years of age from interstate commerce. The law was challenged by the father of boys employed by a cotton mill in North Carolina. On June 3, in Hammer v. Dagenhart, the Supreme Court handed down its decision, ruling 5-4 that Congress had exceeded its powers under the Commerce Clause. Justice William Rufus Day, writing for the Court, held that to uphold the statute would be to “sanction an invasion by the Federal power for the control of a matter purely local in its character, and over which no authority has been delegated to Congress in conferring the power to regulate commerce among the states.” He distinguished between manufacture and commerce, writing that if “the mere manufacture or mining were part of interstate commerce, all manufacture intended for interstate shipment would be brought under Federal control to the practical exclusion of the authority of the States, a result certainly not contemplated by the framers of the Constitution.” Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, writing for the dissenting justices, expressed surprise that the question of federal supremacy should even be an issue. Citing previous cases in which the Supreme Court had upheld the right of Congress to override state laws in the general interest of the nation, he accused the majority of allowing its personal judgment on questions of policy and morals to control over sound constitutional analysis. Even so, he wrote, “I should have thought that if we were to introduce our own moral conceptions where, in my opinion, they do not belong, this was preeminently a case for upholding the exercise of all its powers by the United States.”
There is no provision in the Constitution for replacing a vice president who succeeds to the presidency. After Theodore Roosevelt became president following President McKinley’s assassination in September 1901, therefore, the nation had no vice president. If the office of president had become vacant between then and the beginning of the next presidential term in March 1905, Secretary of State John Hay would have become president. In 1904 the Republican convention nominated Roosevelt by acclamation for a full term and chose Senator Charles W. Fairbanks of Indiana, also by acclamation, as his running mate. The Roosevelt-Fairbanks ticket won in a landslide that November. Fairbanks’s term as vice president ended with Roosevelt’s term in 1909. In 1916 he was nominated again, this time as Charles Evans Hughes’s running mate. After Hughes’s narrow defeat, Fairbanks left public life and returned to his home in Indianapolis. He died there on June 4.
June 1918 – Selected Sources and Recommended Reading
American Review of Reviews, July and August 1918
New York Times, June and July 1918
Books and Articles:
Scott Berg, Wilson
Britain at War Magazine, The Fifth Year of the Great War: 1918
Winston S. Churchill, The World Crisis 1911-1918
John Milton Cooper, Jr., Woodrow Wilson: A Biography
John Milton Cooper, Jr., The Warrior and the Priest: Woodrow Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt
John Dos Passos, Mr. Wilson’s War
David Fromkin, A Peace to End All Peace: Creating the Modern Middle East, 1914-1922
Martin Gilbert, Churchill: A Life
Martin Gilbert, The First World War: A Complete History
Martin Gilbert, A History of the Twentieth Century, Volume One: 1900-1933
Martin Gilbert, Winston S. Churchill Volume IV: The Stricken World 1916-1922
Ann Hagedorn, Savage Peace, Hope and Fear in America, 1919
August Heckscher, Woodrow Wilson: A Biography
Godfrey Hodgson, Woodrow Wilson’s Right Hand: The Life of Colonel Edward M. House
Roy Jenkins, Churchill: A Biography
John Keegan, The First World War
David M. Kennedy, Over Here: The First World War and American Society
Ian Kershaw, To Hell and Back: Europe 1914-1949
Anthony Lewis, Make No Law, The Sullivan Case and the First Amendment
Bruce Lincoln, Passage Through Armageddon: The Russians In War and Revolution 1914-1918
Arthur S. Link, Woodrow Wilson and the Progressive Era, 1910-1917
Robert K. Massie, Nicholas and Alexandra
G.J. Meyer, A World Undone: The Story of the Great War, 1914 to 1918
G.J. Meyer, The World Remade: America in World War I
Michael S. Neiberg, The Path to War: How the First World War Created Modern America
Patricia O’Toole, The Moralist: Woodrow Wilson and the World He Made
Jonathan Schneer, The Balfour Declaration: The Origins of the Arab-Israeli Conflict
David Stevenson, Cataclysm: The First World War As Political Tragedy
David Stevenson, With Our Backs to the Wall: Victory and Defeat in 1918
Lee Thompson, Never Call Retreat: Theodore Roosevelt and the Great War
Adam Tooze, The Deluge: The Great War, America and the Remaking of the Global Order, 1916-1931
Geoffrey C. Ward and Ken Burns, The Roosevelts: An Intimate History
The West Point Atlas of War: World War I
This article is reprinted from the Centennial Countdown to the Great War blog published by Dennis Cross. Read the original post and access an archive of previous posts at: