The Great War at Home in Wisconsin: Part III

The Great War at Home in Wisconsin: Part III

Record date: Oct 28, 2017

Rebecca Berens Matzke, Associate Professor of History at Ripon College, presents "The Pamphlet War in the Great War;" Amy Fels, Graduate Student at UW-Milwaukee, discusses "Oshkosh on the Home Front;" and Jennifer Madeline Zoebelein, Graduate Teaching Assistant at Kansas State University, shares "The Poetry of Byron Comstock."

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Episode Transcript

- Good afternoon ladies

and gentlemen and welcome.

My name is Kevin Hampton.

I'm the curator of history

at the Wisconsin

Veterans Museum.

And thank you for

joining us for our

third and final session on Wisconsin and the Great War.

Today we are joined by Rebecca

Matzke of Ripon College,

who will be speaking

on the "Pamphlet War

"in the Great War:

British Propaganda

"to a Wisconsin Audience."

Amy Fels of the University

of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

who's speaking on "Oshkosh

on the Home Front:

"Activities and Attitudes

During World War I."

And Jennifer Zoebelein,

Kansas State University,

who is speaking on

"Into the Brutal Blast

"the American War Experience

"as Seen in the Poetry

of Byron Comstock."

I'll begin with Rebecca.

(audience applauds)

- Thanks very much, Kevin,

and thanks for being

here everybody.

World War I's often described

as one of the first total wars

involving the

mobilization of all of

the nation's resources

both military and civilian.

Propaganda of course

was then considered

by all the

belligerents in the war

as something that

was a vital auxiliary

to what was going on

on the battlefield.

So between 1914 and 1918,

the British government,

in particular, decided

that propaganda

needed to be systematized.

The government

needed to control it,

and mobilize it, in

order to mobilize consent

in the nation and

hopefully to influence

countries other than just

the home front, as well.

There had been propaganda

before in wars,

mostly left to the

private sector.

So this is sort of a change

that happens in World War I.

Both the British and

the German governments

target the United States

during World War I

with propaganda, I'm

just gonna concentrate

on the British one today.

Their efforts are

really multi-faceted,

and the part that I'm going

to be paying attention to

is the so-called pamphlet war for American public opinion.

You see some examples up there

of the various pamphlets

that I'll be talking about.

Pamphlet propaganda

was headed up by

Britain's War Propaganda Bureau,

usually known as

Wellington House,

because of the building

it was housed in.

It was begun in

secret by a friend

of the prime minister

Charles Masterman,

who was a publicist

and a writer.

He was assisted by

Sir Gilbert Parker,

who's the one over

there on the right,

who was in charge of

propaganda to the Dominions

and to the United States.

Parker was a Canadian author,

he was a British MP,

and his wife was an American.

So he had connections

that were gonna be useful.

Now the War Propaganda

Bureau targeted

a bunch of very

popular British authors

in order to write

or edit pamphlets.

A lot of times the pamphlets

would reprint news

articles, or pubic speeches,

or documents, or

things like that

that put Britain

in a good light.

So here we have John Buchan,

who's a famous thriller

writer at the time.

General Smuts, South

African general,

well-known to a lot of people.

Pamphlets also tended to use

the works of American authors.

They might reprint,

as you see here,

American news articles

by American reporters,

or other people who had

American connections

in order to be persuasive.

So again, the entire

time Wellington House

hid the origins of

these documents.

They were designed to be secret.

In fact, the British

government got a lot of criticism during the war

for not doing enough to

try to persuade people,

because they continued to keep this whole operation secret.

Why are they keeping this

secret from the Americans

where it's coming from?

They're pretty convinced

the Americans have turned

against German propaganda,

because it was very ham-handed and obviously government driven.

So they were not going

to give them that excuse

and instead they have

all of the pamphlets printed

by private publishers.

They're all sent direct mail

to people in the United States

from private individuals and public figures in the UK.

They did not target this kind

of propaganda at the masses.

They were aiming at what

they called opinion makers.

So for example,

Parker goes through

the American volume of

Who's Who in America

and puts together a

list of some 13,000

professionals, academics,

political leaders,

journalists, who would receive

these disguised mailings

that apparently came from

individuals in the UK.

There may have been

as many as 260,000

of these people on the list

by the end of the war.

They also sent pamphlets

to organizations

like clubs, or YMCAs,

public libraries,

and universities throughout

the war, as well.

Oftentimes they would

send these things

with these little enclosure

cards inside the front cover,

saying they were being sent compliments of so and so,

so Sir Gilbert Parker,

Professor Dixon of the

University of Glasgow

who was his successor there.

Because, again, they were trying

to disguise their origins.

They were coming from concerned individuals in the UK.

And they claim that

the best propaganda

in these pamphlets for

this type of elite audience

they were going for,

was facts and arguments

based upon facts, as they said.

They thought that

educated people

could clearly see through any

kind of emotional appeals,

so they were going to

keep it very scholarly.

Thus, everything is

visually very boring,

because plain paper covers,

very few illustrations,

this emphasized how

serious and scholarly,

and sort of objective

all of these things were.

You don't see all

of those wonderful

colorful and kind of

scandalous propaganda posters.

That kind of artwork does not

come up in these pamphlets.

So, why am I dealing with

these kinds of things?

Well, dozens of these

pamphlets wound up

in the small central

Wisconsin town of Ripon,

where I happen to teach,

between 1915 and 1919.

So Ripon was a town of

about 5,000 in this period.

All of these pamphlets were

eventually collected by the

Ripon Historical Society,

which doesn't have any kind

of record of their origins.

But I suspect they were

collected by Samuel Pedrick,

who was a local lawyer,

very involved in the town.

He was an amateur historian.

He happened to be a Democrat

in a very Republican

area of the state.

And once the United States

got involved in the war,

he was one of the leaders of

the local Council of Defense,

and also a member of

the Four-Minute-Men,

so very involved in the

war effort once it came.

Ripon, by the way,

may have been targeted

because it was deemed

a Republican territory.

Maybe you didn't know this, but it's the historic birthplace,

claims to be the

historic birthplace of

the Republican Party.

And, it was a very

Republican heavy area.

So you might need

some convincing

to go along with Wilson

and the Democrats,

even after the US

joined the war.

You might see in the

picture over on the right,

Ripon also had a strong

tradition of military

service by this period.

The First Wisconsin

Calvary mustered

in the Civil War in Ripon.

Lots of Ripon Civil War

veterans were still left.

In 1916 Ripon actually

hosted a big festival

of all the Wisconsin

Civil War veterans.

So that's the flag,

the living flag

they made during

the parade there.

Company D of the National

Guard that was in Ripon

served in the

Spanish-American War

and also then served in the Mexican Border Expedition,

as well, in 1916.

Another possibility was

that these were sent

to someone at Ripon College, which had been founded in 1851,

liberal arts college,

obviously still there.

And maybe to its

president, Silas Evans,

who was actually a--

He was a minister and a

well-known speaker

on international affairs

around the country, in fact.

And, he was a self-admitted

Wilsonian liberal himself.

Ripon had a very popular

and actually the oldest

college newspaper

in the country,

which tended again to go along

with what the president

liked to say, as well.

So what was the purpose

of all of these pamphlets?

Why were the coming

to the United States

into a town like Ripon?

What kinds of topics did these propagandists think would be

persuasive to

American audiences?

Well, early in the war

most of the pamphlets

intended to praise the

US for being neutral

and to keep it neutral.

Later, they did try

a little more clearly

to influence Americans

to support Britain.

Interestingly, none of the

pamphlets that I've read

ever directly asks the US

to join the war, at all.

Obviously the pamphlets

continued to come

even after the US

does join the war.

So that seems to say the

British still thought

that the Americans could

use some reassurance,

that they were fighting

on the right side.

So within those larger goals, the pamphlets also

had to address immediate

war time concerns,

like American protests over the British blockade of Germany.

It was interfering

with American trade.

They also tended to

be opportunistic.

The Germans would

do something bad

during the war and a

pamphlet would come out

that exposed that and

made Germany look bad.

More broadly, the

pamphlets, I think,

are aimed at creating

this sense of affinity

between Americans

and the British

that would serve the

British during the war,

but would also serve

them after the war,

and get the US to see

perhaps some kind of

what we all know as a

special relationship

between the US and Britain.

That sort of thing, by the way,

is not a given in 1914,

whether it's ever

existed actually.

Throughout the

whole 19th century

Britain and the US

are rivals at best.

There are several

times when they almost

go to war over border issues.

They argue over what

becomes the Panama Canal.

Here's a cartoon,

an American cartoon,

protesting British

potential intervention

in the Civil War, so they

are not natural friends.

The governments are not.

Wider political

culture is not, as well.

And as many people have

mentioned in this conference,

there are obviously

large populations

of German immigrants

and their descendants,

Irish immigrants and their

descendants in the US.

These people have no

natural love for Britain,

particularly in Wisconsin.

But things are also changing by

the period before World War I.

Relations had improved somewhat.

The British expressed


with the way that the US handles the Spanish-American War,

and of course that war

marks the expansion

of the United States

and its holdings

outside of North America,

the Philippines, Puerto

Rico, Cuba, et cetera.

The navy of the United States

expands to protect all of those.

The Panama Canal is

opened just after

all of the European

declarations of war in 1914.

So the British

government looks at these

sorts of things and

sees a challenge,

a growing world power,

so in both the short-term

war context and the

longer-term rivalry context,

these pamphlets

would help to make

the argument that, hey

we're all kind of the same.

We can get along

and work together

as the war is going on,

and maybe we can be

partners when it's done.

So the war, just to give you

a little background there.

The pamphlets that

come to Ripon, we have

about 240 of them.

They range in date

from 1915 to 1918.

And again, most of

them seem to be aimed

at subtle persuasion.

They are laying out

information, as they say,

so that readers can

make up their own minds.

So what are some of the

things that they cover?

There are a whole lot

that cover naval issues.

I would say some

70 to 75 pamphlets

talk about naval related things.

Defending Britain's

practices during the war.

And also trying to

defend Britain's

long-standing dominance of

the world's oceans and trade,

which the US has relied on.

Now, early on many

of the pamphlets

had to reassure Americans

that the British

were actually doing something.

Because one of the

complaints is that

the English are apathetic,

they have these

lovely battleships,

everybody knew these battle

fleets were supposed to be

fighting each other,

and that hadn't happened.

So Americans are sort

of suspicious of that.

So they come up with

all kinds of pamphlets like,

"What is the

Matter with England?"

There's another one called

"Is England Apathetic?"

There's a bunch of these titles

that sort of say, yes, yes,

we know we haven't

fought a big fight,

however, we're stopping

German commerce.

We've locked their

fleet into harbor.

The navy's doing a great job.

There are other

pamphlets that tell

these sort of heroic

stories of British seamen,

and officers, it's kind of an

adventure or travel writing.

Those are pretty

fascinating too.

All of the British officers come

up as stiff upper-lip types,

and all of those

seamen are out there

doing their duty in hazardous

conditions, not making a fuss.

You have a lot of pamphlets

of course that address

the British blockade, giving you

a little map here of where

the blockade was located,

the sea blockade.

The Wilson

Administration of course

protested loudly against this.

It was something that really

bothered a lot of Americans.

So pamphlets make

all kinds of cases

for why the Americans

should sit tight,

and put up with the blockade.

So there are lots

of pamphlets about how,

"No, it's perfectly legal,"

"it's not so bad, in fact

we're being very courteous."

The pamphlet that I have up here

is actually a rare one with

an illustration inside of it,

and I love this illustration.

It's the officer

in charge having

boarded a ship,

very courteously,

talking to the mates on the ship

that they've just boarded

as part of the blockade.

And the text below, which

you can't really read, says,

"And all officers are

given instructions

"to treat everyone

fairly and nicely."

So that's what gets

shown in this as well.

They also tended to say,

"look at all of the

sneaky ways that people

"are getting contraband

to the Germans."

So of course we have

to do the blockade.

So it's a big deal.

British propagandists

of course also know

that the best defense

is a good offense,

and the blockade

looks a lot better

if you compare it with German's

unrestricted submarine warfare.

So there are lots of pamphlets

that go after the subs.

They charge Germany with

willful murder on the high seas,

talk about how they

sink neutral ships.

They sink hospital ships.

They leave survivors

of sunken ships

in open boats to

die of exposure.

One even was an expose

of Germany's creation

of a commemorative medal

about the Lusitania,

that was sure to make

American's blood boil.

Added to the subs,

you had all kinds

of other propaganda that

was focused on atrocities.

So we've heard some

about that too.

Reports on German

actions against

non-combatants in

places like Belgium.

So you've got pamphlets

that addressed

deportation of

Belgian civilians,

the famous two-volume

Bryce Report

by the former US Ambassador

to the United States

investigating, "Alleged

German outrages in Belgium."

There are also pamphlets about the Eastern Front by the way.

There's one called,

"The Destruction of Poland:

"A Study in German Efficiency."

That was a good one.

The Armenians, the deportations

by the Ottoman Empire,

and the genocide

against the Armenians.

There are several of

these pamphlets as well,

including the one

that I have up here

by Esther Mugerditchian

who had escaped

in the course of this,

and told her tale

as she said to appeal

to the goodwill

of Armenians now

living in America.

And so this sort of hooks

in with efforts for relief

in the Near East

that were going on.

So again, the point of

all the atrocity pamphlets

is to link American

and British ideals

about humanitarianism

and to make it clear

that Germany and its

allies were barbarian

war criminals who did not

know how to play fair.

The empire, British Empire,

comes up a lot in pamphlets.

So London apparently

assumes that Americans

need to be reassured that

the empire was a good thing.

Also there had been

German propaganda

accusing Britain of treating

its colonies brutally,

so they had to

defend against that.

So you get, again, a

variety of pamphlets

covering imperial concerns.

They would print things by

Indian and Irish authors

that would talk

about their loyalty

to the British Empire, their

selfless wartime service,

and their happiness

with British rule.

"The Verdict on India,"

by the way says,

Indian's are, of course, proud

of being British citizens.

The Germans were all

wrong in their propaganda.

Here another sort of

unusual illustration

inside the front cover of one

called "The Gathering

of the Clans."

It has Dominion

troops gathered around

the guy on horseback

with the Union Jack

showing the loyalty of

all British subjects.

There are also a

bunch of pamphlets

that talk about the

empire's civilizing effects.

So there's one by historian

Ramsey Muir who says,

"the backward

peoples of the earth

"would have stagnated forever

"in the barbarism in

which they had remained

"since the beginning if Britain had not come and taken over."

Some of the most obviously

directed at Americans

were the pamphlets that

included American opinions,

including this one with the

material from the rather

expansionist former

president, Teddy Roosevelt.

Who cheer Britain's

benevolent rule,

and in fact sometimes

they make equations

between say what the US needs

to be doing in the Philippines

and what the British

do in their colonies.

So obviously making

that connection

for a newly imperial

United States.

That there's a right

way to do colonies,

that's the British,

and a wrong way,

because they also talk

about all the nasty things

that the German's do

in their colonies.

And the final theme

tends to be ideals.

There are lots of appeals to

American ideals of liberty,

towards what the

British, not Wilson,

call self-determination

but people

choosing who rules them.

And all these

portray these ideals

as both British and

American put together.

So War of Liberation talks

about German despotism,

for example, and pamphlets used

Wilson's own words,

or the British version

of Wilson's own words.

So this is an American postcard,

very obviously, after Wilson

won the 1916 election.

But there are pamphlets

that sort of then

play on this and without

using quotation marks,

say that the US

is joining Britain

to make the world

safe for democracy,

again, the British

version of that phrase.

And also reassuring

everybody in America

that all the allies agree

on Wilson's statement

that this is a war

for human liberty.

So using his own words and

putting those in the propaganda.

Lots of pamphlets

also cover nationalist

movements for independence.

In Eastern Europe,

Czechs, Poles, Romanians,

and both Arab nationalist

and Zionist movements

to create national

independent states

in areas of the Ottoman Empire.

So throughout all

of these you're getting

the same sort of rhetoric

all the time that links

Britain and America.

They use the word

civilization constantly,

and associate that with Britain.

They use barbarism in

association with German.

They actually use the word

Hun relatively little,

that seems to be a

little too much for them.

It's a little too subjective.

But lots of civilization

versus barbarism.

Again, they refer

to the United States

directly in many, many works.

So people talking about the navy will quote Alfred Thayer Mahan,

famous American naval theorist.

Writers on the

blockade talk about

the Union's blockade

of the Confederacy,

and you know, hey we're

not that bad, right?

You guys did it too.

Pamphleteers stressed that

both nations value liberty.

They're both naval powers,

which obviously have

much more freedom,

and are much more peaceable

than land powers like Germany.

There's also a

racial tinge to a lot

of the pamphlets, as well.

One proclaims that when talking about the Monroe Doctrine,

thinks it's a good thing,

it's a sign of cooperation,

because it means,

"Mother and daughter

"are sitting hand

in hand in the great

"Council Chamber of the world."

One praises sailors in the

US Navy, says they're gonna be

just as good as sailors

in the Royal Navy,

because, "Blood will tell."

So you have all this sort

of Anglo-Saxonism stuff.

This is a reprint of the speech after the US enters the war

by the American ambassador,

Ambassador Page to Britain.

And he talks about

the coming together

of the two great English

speaking parts of the world.

So again, this sort

of Anglo-Saxon idea

that they're all

coming together.

Again, all this is to

encourage American audiences,

at least at the elite level,

to see that Britain

had a special

relationship with the US.

These two liberal powers

working for civilization

would make the world

a better place.

And then you could

ask the question,

how did Ripon respond

to these, right?

They got 240 of

them in the town.

And the short answer is

we don't know. (laughs)

I have done a lot of

looking at various materials

that we have from

the time of the war,

it's very hard to tell.

You do not see obviously

people commenting on these.

I live in the hope that

I would find somebody's

letters saying, "I've read

this amazing pamphlet,

"and the US needs

to go to war now."

Nobody says that.

Ripon is not pushing

for war before

the US actually enters, or

even for preparedness at all.

I can talk a little bit more

about the town in

the Q and A time.

But again, it's hard

even to this date

to determine how propaganda effects public opinion.

And there were no opinion

polls or anything back in 1916.

Did British messages about

a special relationship

get through to people in Ripon?

Again, we can't know for sure,

but the pamphlet

war did its best

to make them stick, thank you.

(audience applauds)

- Good afternoon everyone.

My topic is "Oshkosh

on the Home Front,

"Activities and Attitudes

During World War I."

And this project came

out of a research paper

that I did as an undergraduate, and as an internship that I had

the fortune to hold at

the Oshkosh Public Museum

a couple summers ago.

And what I wanted

to really look at

was this idea of a

local home front.

Home fronts really

developed for the first time

in World War I because

it was a total war.

And a lot of times is discussed on broader national scales,

but we don't ever

really look at it

in terms of a very local

focused term of perspective.

And so what I did for

this particular project,

while by no means exhaustive,

is to look at the

Oshkosh Daily Northwestern

as my foundational source

for my research.

And founded in 1860

and published daily

from 1868 onward,

the Oshkosh Daily Northwestern

soon developed a

reputation for being

the city's largest

and most respected

paper for local, national,

and international news.

And prior, to the end

of the 19th century,

the paper actually became

the first in Wisconsin

outside the city of

Milwaukee to have

a direct connection to

the Associated Press.

So it was a fairly large

and reputable paper.

And given that the

Daily Northwestern

was Oshkosh residents'

primary newspaper

its coverage of World

War I events abroad

likely influenced the city's overall attitude toward the war.

At the same time,

the Daily Northwestern

thoroughly reported the

home front activities

that occurred in

Oshkosh during WWI

and therefore, provides

us with a uniquely

direct perspective in

regards to understanding

the attitude of the city's

population throughout the war.

And although interest

in the European conflict

seems to have been

relatively high prior

to the United States

entering World War I,

evidence of widespread

home front activity

in Oshkosh is minimal.

The headlines of the Daily

Northwestern are filled with

updates about the current

conditions in Europe

and negatively characterized Germany as an aggressor.

And following Germany's

declaration of war

in August 1914,

the Daily Northwestern

actually features an image

of Kaiser Wilhelm

II on the front page

under the caption,

"Europe's War Lord Strikes."

But beyond that first

page, discussion of the war

is almost entirely replaced by articles of domestic concerns.

The one column of

interest regarding

local reaction to the

outbreak of war is found

near the end of an

August 3rd issue.

Several local Protestant

pastors offered

prayers and hopeful

sentiments that peace

would be reached before

any real fighting occurred,

and the pastor of the city's Christ Lutheran church expressed

hope that "victory would

again be given to Germany

"without the causing

of too much suffering."

This article is interesting

for two reasons.

One, it provides evidence

of early sympathy

among the extensive


population in Oshkosh.

The sympathetic sentiment

is then contrasted

with the paper's

description of Wilhelm II

as a war lord and

lays the foundation

for this nuanced ethnic tension within the city's population

exhibited later in the war.

It also indicates a local desire to avoid conflict that manifests

later as the possibility

of the United States

entering the war

becomes more likely.

Further evidence that

we have of an active


population in Oshkosh

is also seen a few months after World War I began in Europe,

when a local chapter of the German-American Association

called for donations for the relief of widows and soldiers

in Germany and Austria

in December of 1914.

But beyond that,

the relative absence

of advertisements or

articles in the newspapers

asking for donations

toward war relief efforts

suggests that Oshkosh's

home front was

generally nonexistent during

the beginning stages of the war.

And although reports

of European conflict

in the Daily Northwestern

were commonplace

as the fighting

overseas escalated,

they retained a fairly

objective tone before 1917.

Instead, much greater

concern was directed

toward the 1916 Mexican

American border conflict,

as the Wisconsin National

Guard was mobilized

in June and then sent

south to take part

in the fighting there.

However, once the

conflict with Mexico ended

and the threat of

entering the world war

became more prominent in

the opening weeks of 1917,

the individuals behind

the Daily Northwestern

became much more

vocal in expressing

their desire for neutrality,

writing that quote,

the United States

"Safely may pass

through this crisis

"without becoming involved

in the war maelstrom

"is the sincere hope of

every patriotic citizen."

Similarly, while

the paper does not

outrightly criticize

President Wilson,

its tone suggests a reluctance

for the United States to,

"Abandon its

time-honored policies

"of isolation and rejecting

tangling alliances."

So while the Daily Northwestern is merely one perspective,

it nevertheless

suggests that the

city of Oshkosh

and its citizens,

at least in part, were in

no rush to join World War I.

This apparent commitment to

neutrality in January 1917

is then starkly contrasted

by the explosion

of home front activities in

support of the war effort

that occurred once

the United States

formally entered WWI

in April that same year

and perhaps makes Oshkosh's

significant efforts

all the more noteworthy.

But to better

understand Oshkosh's

extensive home front activities,

the city is best considered

as this microcosm

of enthusiasm within an equally

active and complex state.

By April 12, 1917,

less than a week

after the United

States declared war,

Wisconsin actually

became the first state

in the country to organize a

state council for defense

in accordance with the federal

government's request.

Not only was Wisconsin's

state council extensively

praised for its organization,

and its organization

then recommended as a

model for other states,

Wisconsin was also

the first state

to create additional county

and city defense councils.

And furthermore,

Wisconsin also exceeded

its liberty loan drive

quotas and became

the first state to

organize state and county

history commissions

to preserve records

of these wartime activities.

But in addition to these

generally more positively

seen activities there

existed a darker side

to Wisconsin's home

front activities.

The existence of

anti-German sentiment

or nearly fanatic

patriotism in many areas

across the state

manifested itself

through organizations like the

American Protective League

and the Loyalty Legion.

While the APL was technically a

vigilante organization

operated by volunteers

it was given official

consent by the

Department of Justice

to take action

against individuals

thought to be pacifists,

German sympathizers or spies,

or individuals

harboring anti-war ideas

that posed an apparent threat

to the American war effort.

Members often

intimidated, harassed,

or spied on their suspects,

a vast majority of

whom were perfectly

ordinary and innocent citizens.

Similarly, the Loyalty

Legion sought to

eliminate disloyalty

during World War I

and punish those found guilty

while also promoting

more innocuous efforts,

like Red Cross efforts

or Liberty Loan drives.

So altogether,

the broader themes

that seemed to

characterize Wisconsin's

statewide home front

also occurred in Oshkosh.

Returning then to Oshkosh's

home front in particular,

the world war that

was once to be

entirely avoided if possible

suddenly became

"a fight for all humanity"

in which the "democracy of the

world was to be vindicated"

after the United States

declared war on April 6, 1917.

Patriotism no

longer meant hoping

to maintain neutrality.

Instead, it meant

mobilizing the home front

as quickly as

possible to provide

the greatest contributions

to the American war effort.

And the people of

Oshkosh responded

urgently to this and

held a very large parade

in a show of

"intense patriotism"

on April 27, 1917 pictured here.

Approximately 15,000 people from

the city of Oshkosh

participated in this parade

while others watched them

parade through the streets.

A few weeks later,

the Daily Northwestern

featured a patriotic poem titled

The Voice of

Washington that called

for Americans to "Strike

at the altars of freedom"

and "strike at barbarian coils" to "finish the work"

George Washington had begun in the American Revolution.

The same issue also

published advertisements

urging Oshkosh

citizens to do your bit

and join the expanding

Oshkosh chapter

of the Red Cross that

had been formally organized

in October of 1916.

The Oshkosh chapter

of the Red Cross

was actually one of

the city's most active

home front organizations

during the war.

On July 14, 1917,

according to the paper,

the Red Cross presented

371 comfort kits

to members of the

local National Guard

that were soon to go

into federal service.

And these kits were

like cloth bags that

consisted of personal items like

toothbrushes, paper and

envelopes, and soap.

And in addition to

these original 371,

nearly 500 more of

these kits were sent

out just before Christmas

of that same year.

And later into the summer, the Red Cross established itself

inside a local

school and continued

to knit and sew items

for soldiers or hospitals

from scraps of yarn and cloth.

Women of all ages were

involved in the work,

and young children

were often assigned

to sorting the pieces of

fabric that they used,

which indicates that

Oshkosh's home front

activities were not just

confined to one age demographic.

In addition to creating

tangible aid for the soldiers,

local Red Cross members

also hosted fundraisers

to finance their activities.

A New Year's Day celebration

hosted in nearby Omro

raised nearly $100

for the Red Cross fund

and therefore, and then

highlights the dual purpose

of these social

interactions that emerged

as part of the war effort.

Social events then in

Oshkosh during World War I

were no longer simply

recreational gatherings.

Instead, they became another way

for individuals to

show their support

for their country

and local servicemen,

as evidenced by a

Patriotic May Ball

that was hosted a

little more than

a month after war was declared.

A variety of such dances,

concerts, and parties

continued to be promoted

in the Daily Northwestern

under the auspices of

patriotism throughout the war.

These dances and

concerts were hosted

by both organized

groups and individuals,

further indicating that

the desire to contribute

to the home front was widely

disseminated among

Oshkosh citizens.

The July 3rd issue of the

newspaper, for example,

features an advertisement

for a Patriotic May Ball

hosted by the Company B Boys

at one of the city's armories.

By comparison, in May

1918, tickets were sold

to the public for a concert held

in the home of Edgar

Sawyer, who was a prominent

and wealthy Oshkosh citizen,

to raise money for

overseas hospitals.

A large number of

these events took place

in Oshkosh during the war, particularly around holidays,

and suggests that they were both

a popular form of

entertainment and an

effective way to raise

funds for the war effort.

In addition to

recognizable group names,

like the Red Cross,

several other groups

emerged during World

War I that played

a significant role in

forming Oshkosh's home front

both in terms of

attitude and activity.

In July 1917, the

Daily Northwestern

featured a lengthy

column calling

for teenage boys

in Winnebago County

to join the Boys'

Working Reserve,

which was a national

service organization

designed to give

boys at home a chance

to "Show their loyalty"

and feel they have

done their part

in these strenuous times.

While the column does

not detail the type

of work that the boys

would actually do,

it instead emphasizes the

privileges of membership,

like gaining awards

and badges kind of

similar to what

the Boy Scouts do.

However, the girls

in Oshkosh were also

active on the home

front and given

recognition for their efforts.

The Oshkosh Girls'

Club, according to the

Daily Northwestern,

worked closely

with the Red Cross

and hosted classes

to teach girls

to knit and make

surgical dressings.

The presence of both

the Boys' Reserve

and the Girls' Club in Oshkosh

indicates that community

members of all ages

were involved in the war effort.

Additionally, the

newspaper's attention

to their activities

suggests that the city

was proud to

publicize their work

and strengthens the

notion that a strong

patriotic sentiment

prevailed throughout

Oshkosh even as

the war continued

with no real end in sight.

Furthermore, groups like the

Oshkosh Food

Conservation Committee [FCC]

published recipes in

the Daily Northwestern

and hosted educational

events regarding

the importance of not

wasting food in wartime

or how to go about

substituting ingredients

that were in short supply.

The local chapter of

the Loyalty Legion

held meetings and

organized door-to-door

pledge drives

designed to generate

patriotic sentiment and

determine who in the city

posed an anti-American

threat to the war effort.

Individuals who refused

to sign this pledge

or give money to the

various war efforts

in Oshkosh were

characterized both

by the Daily Northwestern

and local citizens

as "Exhibiting

socialistic tendencies"

or "disloyalty in


Which this is a clip from the

Daily Northwestern

that highlights that.

In a similar vein,

the Oshkosh chapter of

the APL consisted

of over 100 men

determined to

eradicate this local

German propaganda

and sympathizers.

And between 1917

and '18, they filed

more than 300 reports with

the national government,

against individuals

they believed who held

these tendencies.

But the overwhelming majority

of these accusations were

found to be unfounded.

And this is a food

conservation committee

one of these educational events that they held in the city.

And so the

simultaneous existence

of these three groups

exhibits the wide range

of war front activities

that occurred

in Oshkosh and

contributes to the

complexity of the overall image

of the city's home front.

The FCC, on one hand,

discouraged wastefulness

and encouraged resourcefulness, which are ideals and attitudes

that would still be considered positive in a community today.

On the other hand,

the Loyalty Legion

and the APL were

heralded as patriotic

during WWI, but in

reality their activities

were discriminatory and their

methods often very invasive.

Apart from the highly

publicized social events

and larger group contributions,

support for the war

effort also became

ingrained in the community in

a variety of smaller ways.

The Oshkosh Normal School raised

several hundred

dollars from within

its own student

body for the local

YMCA chapter's war work

and unveiled a service

flag commemorating

the 17 students and

two teachers who

had left the school

to join the military.

Similarly, the Oshkosh

Equitable Fraternal Union

dedicated a commemorative

flag in July 1918.

Able-bodied men who

remained in Oshkosh

registered for volunteer

farm work positions

outside the city

that had been vacated

by men leaving for

military service.

A local department

store featured an offer

for a free booklet

of knitting patterns

to encourage women

to make sweaters

or other articles of

clothing for servicemen.

But as you can see, the

wide variety of events

covered in

advertisements published

in the Daily Northwestern

suggests that

the opportunities

to contribute to the

war effort were made accessible to all members of the community,

which is perhaps what

made Oshkosh's home front

so active and effective,

whether positively

or negatively.

The city's mobilization

of its home front

was thorough and its

calls for support

for the war effort omnipresent.

Therefore, what I conclude

from this research

is that the entrance

of the United States

into World War I

catalyzed the emergence

of an intense

patriotic sentiment

and a flurry of

home front activity

in Oshkosh that

persisted throughout

the remaining

duration of the war.

And though by no

means exhaustive,

the extensive

coverage and promotion

of these home front

efforts in the

Oshkosh Daily Northwestern suggests that they were

widespread and affected the

entire Oshkosh community.

So the people of Oshkosh,

whatever their motivations

or modes of action,

proudly committed themselves

to supporting American

victory in World War I.

Thank you.

(audience applauds)

- Good afternoon.

100 years ago this April,

the United States formally

entered the First World War,

a conflict that

raged for four years

and cost the lives of over

10 million men in arms.

Horrific in nature,

the war nonetheless

represents a high

point in literature,

as countless men

and women attempted

to make sense of and remember

their war experiences,

on and away from

the front lines.

While the voices of British

writers remain strong,

the same cannot be said for

their American counterparts.

Familiarity with

American writers is often

confined to those that

achieved some degree

of fame during the

interwar period,

Ernest Hemingway and John

Dos Passos, for example,

due in part to their

open disillusionment

with the war's outcome

and effect on society.

This narrow focus

greatly simplifies

the diverse and multifaceted American war experience

and its effect on

American literature,

while marginalizing

or ignoring the works

of hundreds of

ordinary soldier poets.

One such poet is

Byron H. Comstock,

one of seven soldier poets I

examined in my dissertation,

which looks at how

the United States

remembered the First World War.

His personal

biography is limited,

although his volume of poetry,

"The Log of the Devil

Dog and Other Verses,"

is digitized and openly

available on HathiTrust,

further information

is only accessible



both subscription databases.

From all indications, Comstock

was proud of his service,

yet it is clear he opposed the

heroic and glorifying

language used

by politicians and civilians

to describe the war.

Lacking both overt patriotism

and outright disillusionment,

this poetic voice thus

enhances our knowledge

of the American war

experience while also

expanding our understanding

of American literature

in the early twentieth century.

Byron Herbert Comstock was born

on October 31, 1893,

in Portage, Wisconsin.

The details of his childhood

and adolescence are unknown,

but reading Comstock's poetry,

it is evident he had

a college education.

Though not employing

the technique

of someone like Alan Seeger,

a graduate of Harvard

and trained poet,

Comstock's diction

and language is

more advanced than the

average American soldier

writing of his war experiences.

There are also two direct

links to this city and UW.

First, there is the headline

of a 1920 Madison newspaper,

published upon the release of

Comstock's volume of poetry,

characterizing him

as an Ex-Varsity Man,

though they do not list

the sport that he played.

Second, Comstock

briefly appears in the

February 1921 issue of the

Wisconsin Alumni Magazine,

confirming the poet's

presence at this institution,

though not the

years he attended.

Following the United

States' declaration of war

on April 6, 1917,

thousands of young men

rushed to enter

military service.

Despite the lack of

information on Comstock's life,

the poet himself

offers an explanation

regarding his

decision to enlist.

In the opening poem,

from which the collection

takes its name, he states that,

"It wasn't so much the picture,

"but the idea of waiting

the call that got my goat,

"so I up and wrote my

name above them all."

The waiting he

speaks of is likely

a reference to the draft,

implemented by the

Wilson administration

immediately following

America's entry into the war.

Comstock's words in this stanza

and throughout the rest of the

poem lend credence to my claim

that despite his subtle

methods of protest

regarding the language

describing war,

the Wisconsinite supported

American involvement

in the conflict, writing

of his experiences

with grittiness but not

overt pessimism or hostility.

After enlisting in the

Marines on June 2, 1917,

Comstock was sent to the

Marine Corps Recruit Depot

at Parris Island,

South Carolina.

11 weeks later, he was

transferred to 84th Company,

6th Regiment, stationed at the

Marine Barracks

Quantico in Virginia.

In late October, he and his

unit traveled to Philadelphia,

where they boarded

the USS Von Steuben

a former German passenger liner

turned auxiliary cruiser,

seized by the U.S.,

and outfitted as a

troop transport ship

on its first

transatlantic voyage

under the American flag.

Carrying over 1,000

soldiers and civilians,

the ship arrived in France

on November 20, 1917.

Two months later,

Comstock's unit,

along with two

other Marine units,

joined the American

Expeditionary Force's

Second Division.

After joining the

AEF, the Marines spent

most of the next

six months training

with the French,

seeing some actions

near Verdun before

taking up positions

south of Belleau Wood,

outside Chateau-Thierry.

Ordered to attack

and seize the woods

on June 6, 1918,

the Marines endured

difficult conditions

and heavy losses

before finally achieving

their objective

nearly a month later.

Comstock's fight, however, lasted only the first day,

taken out of action by a severe gunshot wound to the head.

Although the record

is silent on how long

Comstock may have lingered

on the battlefield

without medical attention,

he did ultimately

reach a hospital,

with the military

notifying his father

of his wounding

several weeks later.

The Wisconsinite rejoined

his unit on July 11,

but then disappears from

the record, once again,

until resurfacing

in October 1918,

during the height of the

Meuse-Argonne Offensive,

the largest American

operation on the Western Front

and a major element of the

final Allied offensive

of the First World War.

Only one week before

the Armistice,

Comstock was wounded a

second time, near Bayonville.

Unlike at Belleau Wood,

where the record is silent

regarding his transport

to a hospital,

Comstock's record after

Bayonville indicates

he was evacuated and

spent the rest of his time

in France in replacement units.

Whether he accompanied

the 6th Marines

to Germany for occupation duty

in December 1918 is unknown,

but U.S. Army Transport

Service records show

Comstock departing Brest, France

with his unit on July 19, 1919,

arriving in Hoboken, New

Jersey five days later.

On July 15, 1919,

Comstock was discharged,

and returned to Portage,

having served twenty-two

months overseas

and attaining the

rank of corporal.

A year after returning home,

Comstock self-published

his volume of poetry,

"The Log of the Devil

Dog and Other Verses."

With titles including

"The Song of the Shells,"

"Going Home," and "Gassed,"

it is likely Comstock

wrote the poems

while recovering from his wounds

and then immediately following

his return to the United States.

The work itself

consists of a prologue,

two narrative poems

that serve as bookends,

and 28 thematic poems.

From the outset,

Comstock sought to reveal

the war to readers,

the second line of the

prologue states he has

"Seen the vivid heart of it,

"and I want to show it to you."

Clearly, Comstock

felt a responsibility

to accurately depict

his, and by default,

fellow soldiers',

war experiences.

This is not to say, however,

that Comstock did so

in the manner of John Dos

Passos' "Three Soldiers,"

a 1921 novel that at

one blast disposed

of oceans of romance and blather

and changed the whole tone of American opinion about the war.

Instead, the Wisconsinite

subtly rejected

the oft-used diction of

poets like Alan Seeger,

directly and

indirectly challenging

their perceptions of the war.

In doing so Comstock

represents an important bridge

between the heroic

and patriotic language

of 1917, 1918 and the

more disillusioned

literature of the mid-1920s.

Many of Comstock's

poems contain sentiments

that illustrate the

harsh realities of war,

but several

explicitly oppose the

positive view of the war

held by many Americans.

The first that stands

out is "The Skyman,"

a poem that, as

the name suggests,

addressed air combat.

A new field of battle

during the First World War,

air warfare appeared

glamorous and heroic

to civilians and

troops in the trenches.

Pilots encouraged this

through their dress,

behavior, and statements

to newspapers.

As a Marine on

the Western Front,

Comstock likely witnessed

numerous dogfights,

but unlike many

front-line soldiers,

did not walk away awed

by their supposed valor.

Avoiding romantic

diction in writing about

arguably the most romanticized

aspect of the war,

Comstock depicts

less the arrogant,

self-assured pilot, but rather

one at war with himself.

Recognizing his

position as a king

in the great blue ring of

the vast and cloud-piled sky,

the pilot remarks on his

ability to see men fall

but does not hear them yell,

a stark conveyance

of airmen's attitudes

regarding their separation

from the horrors below.

They are responsible for death,

but they do not feel

its repercussions.

Or do they?

Comstock then transitions

to a back-and-forth

exchange where the

pilot simultaneously

asserts and questions his

power and or authority to kill.

"Although his purpose

is to kill

"and he longs to

see blood spill,

"the slaughter

drives me mad."

This inner turmoil continues

further in the poem,

with the pilot forced

to justify his actions

and minimize the effects

they have on his psyche,

"I would not do the things I do,

"I swear not, but I must."

"What to me is earth's

red sea and those specks

"in the lowly dust?"

Killing is morally wrong,

but acceptable under

present conditions,

and he deflects

personal responsibility

for that killing through the


of men as specks.

The climax of the poem, however,

is possibly Comstock's

best refutation

of the heroism of air warfare.

The lines describe one

of the famous dogfights,

but not in the manners

readers typically heard.

And it is worth reading

in its entirety.

"Then up there soars

and above the roars

"I hear the spiteful spit.

"Two madmen fly

in the empty sky,

"in their game of

nerve and wit.

"A sickening crash,

an oily splash.

"My God the tank is hit.

"A crackling sound

I dare not look 'round,

"why does the plane shake so?

"In a burst of flame

no hand can tame,

"the plane drops hard and low.

"A skyman lost,

I pay the cost,

"from Heaven to Hell I go."

Without mincing words,

Comstock directly illustrates

the horrific brutality

of air combat.

There is no swagger, no glory,

no entertaining flying circus.

Just death, experienced

in as gruesome

a manner as experienced

by men in the trenches.

In a similar manner,

Comstock addresses

the Armistice and the

Paris Peace Conference,

casting it in far starker terms

than the joyous occasion

celebrated by many

on the Western Front

and Americans at home.

We Have Won opens with death,

a terrible figure,

in cowl and gown

stalking across the

now silent battlefield,

grinning as one who

sees his work well done

in the battle's red rage.

Here, it is death, not the

living or Allied armies,

that have achieved victory.

Comstock's gruesome

portrayal of victory

lies in sharp contrast to

the intellects of nations

gathering at Versailles

outside Paris,

to determine what will be

written on the final page.

Here too, Comstock ignores

the pomp and circumstance

surrounding the Paris

Peace Conference,

painting the meeting in

more realistic terms,

largely ignorant of

the war's true effects,

a select group of men--

in this case Woodrow Wilson,

Lloyd George, and

Georges Clemenceau--

are set to determine

the nature of the peace.

Comstock continues in this

vein in the second stanza,

once more contrasting

the horrific

aftermath of the war with

events occurring in Paris.

He writes of winter

covering the dead,

our rotting glory,

only to have the warmth

of spring, typically

seen in a positive light,

expose grim relics

of twisted steel

and here and there,

a decayed hand reaches

forth from shallow grave.

There is a clear

skepticism here,

with Comstock

indirectly challenging

the very cause for which

he himself fought for.

This cynicism and

sarcasm is brought home

in the final lines of the

poem, where he states,

"In a famous hall, the

learned have written victory

"on our page, and we have won."

There is no joy here, no

cause for celebration.

Rather, Comstock emphasizes

the hollowness of victory,

questioning what in

fact has been won.

A final poem to draw attention

to is "Snap Out Of It,"

a satirical

depiction of the life

awaiting returning soldiers.

Despite soldiers'

struggles with poverty,

the loss of loved ones

either having gone off

to war and come back and

they've been with someone else,

or coming back

different, or strange,

the effects of shell shock,

and the horrors of war,

society expected men

to snap out of it,

to leave the war behind

and resume a normal

civilian life.

This sentiment is a direct

result of Americans'

understanding of the war,

with the war's horrors

largely concealed

from the American public,

and the war's end

ushering in parades,

civilians' grasp of what

soldiers truly experienced

in France was simply not

in line with reality.

Comstock's awareness

and frustration

with this knowledge gap,

though evident

throughout his volume,

is possibly best

expressed in this poem.

Comstock, like his

fellow veterans,

appeared to have

privately struggled

with the memories of

his war experience,

with three poems, The Vision," "Arm Chair Reveries,"

and "Old Pal," attesting

to the author's

inability to forget the

war and its horrors.

Perhaps intended as

a veiled criticism

of the continued use

of heroic depictions

of war in public

commemorative efforts,

the final stanza

of "Old Pal" reads,

"All honor and glory

from war are stripped,

"by those who know.

"No luster lurks in

the cannon's roar,

"nor in the saber's blow."

Nonetheless, Comstock's

available biography portrays

a man who achieved personal

and professional success.

After publishing "The

Log of the Devil Dog,"

Comstock left Portage

for Kirksville, Missouri,

where he met and

married his first wife

and attended the American

School of Osteopathy.

He and his family, his

son Byron H. Comstock, Jr.

was born in 1923, later

moved to Lakeland, Florida,

where Comstock remarried

and practiced osteopathy.

From all indications,

he was well-liked

and an active member

in the community.

The one-time soldier

poet and Portage native

died on November 20,

1977, and is buried

at Oak Hill Burial

Park in Lakeland.

Byron Comstock's "The

Log of the Devil Dog"

is unlikely to join its

more famous counterparts

as required reading

in English classrooms,

yet its literary

and commemorative

significance cannot be ignored.

Through the recovery

of his poetry,

the diverse nature of

Americans' response

to the First World

War is revealed

a response far more complicated

than is typically recognized.

Comstock is patriotic,

but conflicted.

He is neither Alan Seeger

nor Ernest Hemingway,

but rather the gray

area in between,

the bridge connecting


patriotic rhetoric with gritty,

even shocking, disillusionment.

His poetry also

provides a more nuanced

understanding of American

commemorative efforts,

as war memorials regardless

of their architectural design

or purpose represent a sanitized

or acceptable lens

through which Americans

could remember and

reflect upon the conflict.

In shedding light on

this little-known but

important soldier poet,

I hope to have furthered

the understanding

of American's diverse

war experience

and its effect on those left out

or sometimes even dismissed

from the historical record.

Thank you very much.

(audience applauds)

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