The Literary Digest History of the World War/Sources
The Sources for This History
In the first year of the war a press censorship, more severe than ever known before, was imposed on news from all battlefronts, the result being that it was not until long after events occurred that the public acquired any clear knowledge of them. This was conspicuously true of the first battle of the Marne, and the means by which Joffre effected his great victory, and especially the relation of that battle to Castelnau's resistance to the Germans at the Grand Couronné. Of the battle of Morhange—the only considerable battle in the whole war that was fought on German soil, and a greater battle than any of those fought in the same period in Belgium and during the retreat to Paris—nothing whatever was really known, not even the name Morhange, until so long afterward that the public mind had then become too much absorbed in other battles to be interested in Morhange. Even when great battles began to take place in Flanders and Northern France, coherent details of what had occurred were lacking for many months. Of the long struggle on the Yser in October, 1914, and of the first battle of Ypres in October and November of the same year,—the latter being perhaps the most wonderful effort put forth by the British during the whole conflict,—such accounts as we had were pitifully meager and disconnected. This was still more true of operations on the Russian front, and conspicuously true of the Dunajec battle, which, more than any other battle previous to August, 1918, could have been called an approach to a decisive battle; indeed it might be held that it was decisive, since it led to the ultimate elimination of Russia as a factor in the war.
There were correspondents at the front in those first months, and they were provided with special credentials, but they served under disadvantages, owing to the restrictions imposed. One of these was Frederick Palmer, who represented groups of American newspapers and was accredited to the headquarters of the British Army and Navy. Another was H. Warner Allen, accredited to French headquarters as representative of the British press, while Ellis Ashmead-Bartlett, serving on board a British warship off the Dardanelles, supplied British papers with what real news they had from Gallipoli. Another name familiar to newspaper readers at that time was Colonel E. Swinton, better known as the “Eye-Witness,” whose accounts of events on the Western Front were accepted in England for many months as the only ones really official, or believed to be authentic. Among writers who commented on each day's news, making it understandable to Americans, a place of distinction was won by Frank H. Simonds, who wrote from the beginning of the war until the end; indeed, until the Peace Congress closed its labors, first for the New York Sun, then for The Review of Reviews, New York Tribune, The New Republic, and the McClure Syndicate.
As the censorship, in the course of the second year, gradually relaxed, special correspondents were able to send dispatches from the fighting front and did not suffer from serious restrictions, conditions in which there came into existence a service, which, for efficiency and literary excellence, surpassed anything ever known in previous wars. Our Civil War had brought to the front correspondents who then, and afterward in various vocations, achieved distinction, among them “Bull Run” Russell, famous already for his newspaper work in the Crimean War, Edmund Clarence Stedman, of the New York World, who became better known as a poet and critic, George W. Smalley, of the New York Tribune, who for more than thirty years was known as its London correspondent, and Whitelaw Reid, of The Cincinnati Gazette, who in 1873 succeeded Horace Greeley as editor of The New York Tribune, and died in London nearly forty years afterward as American Ambassador to the Court of St. James'. But none of these Civil War writers, largely because of limited mechanical facilities and the cost of telegraphic service, approached in the fulness and excellence of their work the dispatches which became familiar everywhere in the last three years of the world-war.
In the preparation of the present history, the compiler was constantly embarrassed by the volume and excellence of the correspondence that now appeared every day in leading newspapers all over the world, and, besides correspondence, much other war material continued to be printed in daily and weekly newspapers, and in monthly magazines, the supply after nearly five years becoming a truly formidable output. Most monthly and weekly magazines printed at least one war article in each issue, and often two or three; while a few issued numbers that contained nothing except war matter. The war was the chief topic, not only with general papers, but with financial, religious, naval, military, scientific, and technical journals, and with country weeklies. One New York daily paper, in the first week of August, 1914, printed 380 columns of war matter; or an average of fifty-three columns a day. Books soon began to appear and ere long numbered hundreds, and then thousands, until, when the war ended, tens of thousands had been published.
That this mass of literature far exceeded everything written for a hundred years on the Napoleonic wars, that it exceeded all that had been written for fifty years on our Civil War—two topics, which, before this conflict, were known to have produced the largest amounts of literature extant in the world pertaining to single themes, except the Bible—admitted of easy demonstration. Articles in newspapers and periodicals made the largest part of it, but the number of books and pamphlets was in excess of anything that the wildest human imagination would have dared to say was possible. At the end of the first year, the war books published in Great Britain had numbered more than two thousand, and at the end of 1915 the number in Germany, including pamphlets, had reached more than 8,000, while the number issued in all countries by the end of the war probably exceeded 50,000.
Meanwhile, had appeared, early in the war, the diplomatic correspondence of Great Britain, France, Russia, Belgium, and Germany, covering the weeks that immediately preceded the outbreak, and from which narratives as to immediate causes could readily be constructed. A large number of statements, made in public as interviews or as speeches, and many volumes of reminiscences afterward appeared, from men closely related to the conflict. Among those representing the Teutonic side were Prince Lichnowsky, the former German Ambassador to Great Britain; Dr. Muehlon, a former Krupp director; Dr. Von Bethmann-Hollweg, and Count von Hertling, two of the four Imperial German Chancellors of the war period; Gottlieb von Jagow, the German Foreign Minister in 1914; Baron von Wangenheim, the German Ambassador to Turkey in the first years of the war; Matthias Erzberger, head of the German Armistice Commission of November, 1918; General Ludendorff, the organizer of the great German offensive of March, 1918; Kurt Eisner, the Bavarian Prime Minister under the revolution, who was assassinated in 1919; General Count Sixt von Arnim, who had a command in the Somme battle and other commands on the Western Front during the entire war, and who perished at the hands of assassins in 1919; General Hoffmann, who commanded on the Russian front in 1917 and was the military representative of Germany in the Brest-Litovsk treaty; Field-Marshal von Hoetzendorff, chief in command of the Austro-Hungarian army at the outbreak of war, Count Czernin, the Austrian Foreign Minister, who also was at Brest-Litovsk, and Admiral von Tirpitz, the head of the German Navy.
On the Entente side were Field-Marshal Haig, who published notable official reports; Field-Marshal French, who also wrote reports, and published a book of reminiscences; Admiral Jellicoe, who wrote a book, widely quoted, dealing with British naval operations, including the battle of Jutland; Sir Edward Goschen, the British Ambassador to Germany in 1914; Jules Cambon, the French Ambassador to Germany in 1914; four American ambassadors, or ministers, to European states, James W. Gerard, who was in Berlin; Henry Morgenthau, in Constantinople; Brand Whitlock, in Brussels; and Maurice F. Egan, in Copenhagen; all of whom narrated their experiences in book form; Rear Admiral Rodman, who under Admiral Sims, was in command of American warships in the North Sea, and Gen. Basil Gourko, at one time Chief of Staff of the Russian Army.
Such were a few of the sources that became available to writers and compilers during the war, or within a year after the armistice was signed. Only a formal bibliography that embraced books, magazines, newspapers, bulletins, monographs, interviews, and official reports, and of itself filling a volume of considerable size, could with real adequacy indicate in a larger sense the wide and varied sources from which the compiler of this work has been able to draw information, but among the number—and to some of these the obligation has been almost constant—several should be particularly named: The London Times “History of the War,” of which twenty large octavo volumes, illustrated, had reached this country by May, 1919; “Nelson's History of the War,” by John Buchan, completed in twenty-four twelvemo volumes; “The Fortnightly History of the War,” by Col. A. M. Murray, C. B.; cable dispatches, editorial articles and special contributions in The New York Times, The New York Evening Post, The New York Tribune, The New York World, The Philadelphia Evening Public Ledger, The New York Sun, The New York Evening Sun, The New York Journal of Commerce, The New York Herald, Current Opinion, The Review of Reviews, The World's Work, The Outlook, The Independent, Bradstreet's, The Wall Street Journal, The London Times, The London Daily News, The London Economist, The London Morning Post, The London Daily Chronicle, The London Daily Mail, The London Daily News, The Fortnightly Review, The Atlantic Monthly, The North American Review, “Bulletins” of the National Geographic Society, and despatches of The Associated and United Presses.
Among writers in magazines and writers of editorial articles in newspapers, and among men otherwise helpful to the compiler in gaining information, were: Major-General Francis Vinton Greene, who had known all the conflicts of his time either from personal service in them or as a student and a writer; Charles R. Miller, editor, and Carr V. van Anda, managing editor, of The New York Times; Rollo Ogden, editor of The New York Evening Post; Colonel George Harvey, editor of The North American Review and of Harvey's Weekly; Dr. Edward J. Wheeler, editor of Current Opinion; Dr. Frank H. Vizetelly, managing editor of “The Standard Dictionary”; Dr. Albert Shaw, editor of The Review of Reviews, Ellery Sedgwick, editor of The Atlantic Monthly; Hamilton Holt, editor of The Independent; John W. Dodsworth, president, and Amos Kidder Fiske, chief editorial writer, of the New York Journal of Commerce; Edward P. Mitchell, editor of the New York Sun; Garret Garrett, managing editor of the New York Tribune; Professor Albert Bushnell Hart, of Harvard University; J. de B. W. Gardiner, the “Military Expert,” and Charles Willis Thompson, an editorial writer for The New York Times; William L. McPherson, the “Military Expert” of The New York Tribune; Col. A. M. Murray, writer of monthly war outlines for The Fortnightly Review; Dr. John H. Finley, who was twice in Palestine and Mesopotamia for the Red Cross; Stephen Lausanne, editor of The Paris Matin; William C. Dreher, for fifteen years an Associated Press correspondent in Berlin; George Kennan, a writer par excellence on Russian affairs, who contributed important articles to The Outlook; Montgomery Schuyler, who during the war made official visits to Russia for the United States Government; Frederick Palmer and Hilaire Belloc, who first made the battle of the Marne understandable to English and American readers; Walter Littlefield, of The New York Times, and Whitney Warren, the New York architect. Among war correspondents who wrote under their own names particular mention should be made of the following representatives of the newspapers named:
The New York Times: Philip Gibbs, George H. Perris, General Sir Frederick D. Maurice, Walter Duranty, Edwin L. James, George Renwick, Harold Begbee, Cyril Brown, Garret Garrett, Carl W. Ackerman, W. T. Massey, Harold Williams, Austin West, Perry Robinson, Cameron McKenzie, Percival Gibbon, Charles H. Grasty.
The New York Tribune: Richard Harding Davis, Will Irwin, Arthur S. Draper, Caspar Whitney, C. W. Gilbert, Fred B. Pitney, Wilbur S. Forrest, J. L. Garvin.
The New York World: E. Alexander Powell, Karl H. von Wiegand, General Frederick von Bernhardi, Lincoln Eyre, Arno Dosch-Fleurot, Herbert Bayard Swope.
The New York Evening Sun: Thomas M. Johnson, Will J. Guard.
The New York Sun: Perry Robinson, Raymond G. Carroll, Gerald Campbell, G. Ward Price, B. N. Norregaard, William Philip Simms, H. Sidebotham, Henry Wood, Percival Phillips.
The New York Independent: Dr. Louis Livingston Seaman.
The New York Evening Post: David Lawrence, Horace Green.
The Chicago Daily News: Ben Hecht, Lewis Edgar Brown.
The Chicago Tribune: Floyd Gibbons.
The Chicago Herald: James Keeley.
The Minneapolis Journal: Jefferson Jones.
The Saturday Evening Post: Reginald W. Kaufmann.
Many of these wrote also for London newspapers, including The Times, The Morning Post, The Daily Mail, The Daily News, The Daily Chronicle, The Standard and The Daily Telegraph. Dr. E. J. Dillon was notable among writers for English newspapers and reviews. For news from the Russian front much dependence was placed on Stanley Washburn, of the London Times, and Stephen Graham, of The London Morning Post. Among notable German correspondents were Karl Rosner of the Berlin Localanzeiger, Baron Karl von Reden of the Berlin Tageblatt, and Max Osborne, of the Berlin Vossische Zeitung. Among German newspaper writers who were not correspondents, were Maximilian Harden of Die Zukunft, George Bernard of the Berlin Vossische Zeitung, Count zu Reventlow of the Berlin Tageszeitung, Theodore Wolff, of the Berlin Tageblatt, Major Moraht, the military critic, Sven Hedin, who was accredited to German headquarters, and writers for The Frankfurter Zeitung. Following are other newspapers and periodicals from which information was derived:
|Newspapers representing the Central Powers|
|European Entente newspapers and magazines|
|American newspapers and periodicals|
|Papers published in neutral countries|
Such in brief was the character of the first-hand source material employed in compiling the history. An outline narrative was at first undertaken, after which ensued a long process—never quite completed in any chapter until months after the war closed—of rewriting and adjusting the material, with constant substitutions, modifications, corrections and re-arrangements in the light of newer information, so that, what had often seemed a final revision, was again and again superseded by another, until a fifth, or even sixth, copy might be produced. With the passing of nearly five years, in which every day and most nights, holidays and Sundays were devoted to the work, the record obtained the form in which the reader now sees it.
Not that by this process the language become, in the main, the compiler's own. It is sometimes his; on occasions it may be entirely his, and usually it is his in some degree, but, in essence, it is more strictly that of others, as condensed, re-arranged, re-written, and, by a sort of melting-pot process, adapted to the purposes of a comprehensive and co-ordinated narrative. Aside from passages directly quoted, there are practically none—or there are extremely few—which, if they have not been materially re-written, have not, in some degree, been changed from their original forms. Apart from other considerations, it was important that the style, in so far as possible, should be made uniform. If the narrative reads as if it were the production of one pen, when, in its remoter origins, it is that of several hundred pens, a hope will have been realized.
Ephemeral as much of the compiler's source material essentially was, fated to perish with the day for which it was written, it is a pleasing thought that, by reviving in book form the vital substance of so much of it, he may have done something to secure a longer life and deeper appreciation for the industry and fine spirit so conspicuously shown by those who produced it. In frequent instances writers, working under great difficulties, in the midst of the events they described, produced, not alone journalistic “stories” but literature.
- F. W. H.
- New York, June, 1919.