by Richard van Pelt, WWI Correspondent

The Oregon Statesman editorialized on the subject of “Chivalry In Warfare,” suggesting the Japanese needed to learn about the proper way to fight wars:

Japan still has much to learn about civilized warfare. That benighted country, in its conflict with Germany, has shown little conception of the military methods of enlightened nations. The belligerent Jap

[anese] betrays a most absurd respect for alien life and property. He can’t seem to get it through his head that morals and courtesy have no place in modern war.

When the mikado’s government politely “advised” Germany to give up her Chinese stronghold of Tsingtao, it permitted the German merchant vessels in Japanese ports to get away safely instead of seizing them as prizes. When Tsingtao was captured, and lantern processions were held in every big city of the empire to celebrate the victory, the authorities saw to it that no demonstrations were made in front of german shops and houses. The paraders in some cases avoided whole streets in order to avoid humiliating the German residents.

Throughout the war the Germans in Japan have been as free as ever to transact business and go where they pleased. German teachers and professors in the schools and colleges have continued their work without hindrance, and the ministry of education has ordered the students to be particularly careful to show them no lack of respect. There are no prison camps for the enemy. There is no discrimination whatever against Germans.

Japan should know better than this, after half a century of contact with Christian civilization. Certainly in the present war she has had no lack of excellent examples of how belligerent nations should treat each other. Does she see any such chivalric behavior in Great Britain, Germany, Russia and the rest? These Christian peoples know how war should be waged. They destroy each other’s commerce, they kill non-combatants, they pen up in concentration camps alien civilians who happen to be within their borders, they refuse to pay debts due innocent individuals of a hostile nation, they discriminate against all of the enemy’s blood, even among their own citizens, to the second and third generations. They hate, and they preach hatred. They reinforce their guns with broadsides of slander and calumny. They scorn the niceties of human intercourse. These very Japanese themselves, so scrupulous of courtesy to a brave foe, are caricatured in Germany as monkeys and nicknamed “yellow bellies.”

But we shouldn’t be too severe on the Japanese. Just give them time. If they associate long enough with the Christian nations of the Occident, they may outgrow this hereditary taint of chivalry.

Do opinion writers (and the rest of us for that matter) ever revisit what we have written or opined? Editorial writers in both papers were not above slashing commentary and not above satire; they could be subtle or blunt, as this editorial illustrates.

The plight of Belgium received some good news as the belligerents have agreed to let humanitarian shipments through to ports in The Netherlands:

Germans Not to Trouble Relief Vessels
Steamers May Fly Any Flag Between United States and Holland Ports –
Certain Stipulations

American Ambassador Gerard at Berlin has been informed by the German government that there will be no interference with ships, even under British or French flags, plying between ports of the United States and Holland with Belgian relief supplies, provided they carry no other cargo.

Great Britain already has suggested that relief ships, to obtain prompt and safe conduct through the sea war zone, should have aboard no general cargo, and the Belgian relief committee in this country is preparing to have its supplies concentrated at New York or other ports so as to handle them as full shiploads.

The German requirement is that the relief ship shall carry a certificate showing that she has aboard only clothing and food for Belgium and that the vessel master shall give his word of honor to refrain from assisting Germany’s enemies. Moreover the German ambassador at Washington must be advised of all sailing dates.

Further assurance that the German military authorities in Belgium will not requisition food supplies in the future was cabled to the state department today by Minister Brand Whitlock at Brussels.

War is fought on many levels, from the grand strategies that dictate the millions of soldiers facing each other across trenches located mere yards apart to the emotional furor necessary for populations at home to support the war effort, which ends up in the utter demonization of the other side. In the Great War, the burden of war fell on conscripts and volunteers huddled in the trenches. Prior to August, 1914, most of these soldiers were workers and laborers, often members of labor organizations who fostered a labor consensus that sought to transcend national boundaries. Workers are workers, and soldiers, soldiers; in the insane conditions they lived under, sanity was often hard to find. Sometimes front soldiers recognized that underneath their respective uniforms, common threads could be found, as the following article suggests:

When Fighting Ceases Good Feeling Prevails.
French and German Troops Have Some Fun With Each Other When Not Shooting From Trenches

The Hague, Nov. 26. – When a battle is not in progress the best of feeling appears to exist between the French and German soldiers who for two months have faced one another on the long line between Nieuport and Belfort.

So close are the camps to each other that it is possible for the two forces to exchange words. They indulge in good natured contests such as shooting at spade targets, with no intention of hitting anyone, and compete for hares which run between the lines.

A French soldier writes of these amusements.

“A target is painted on a spade and moved through our trench in such a way that it shows about two feet above the ground. The Germans shoot at it. With a stick we indicate the results of their fire and when one hits the bullseye he is rewarded with the waving of a French flag.

“There is another sort of target practice which is very popular. The region around us is full of cabbage fields and the cabbage fields are full of hares and rabbits. These hares sometimes cross our own private meadow. Immediately both trenches are all aflame. Long sounding volleys follow the poor little beast. He makes a graceful somersault, throws his ears up in the air and falls a martyr to Europe’s militarism.

“Then comes the time to divide our spoils. If Brer Rabbit expires on the German half the custom of the country prescribes that a German may leave the trenches and get the prize. That day the German cave dwellers eat ‘hasenbraten.’ If the animal dies on our side we delegate a man to fetch him and we eat ‘Lievre farce.’ But if he should die most inconsiderately right on the line then there is trouble. We both rush for our meal while a terrific fire is opened and we run the risk of begin killed by friend as well as by enemy.

“The other day we did not know on which side of the line a hare had died. We looked out of our trenches and the Germans fired. The Germans peeped around the corner and we fired. Finally a court of arbitration took the matter in hand. A loud German voice called out ‘tobacco.’ We thought that the proposal was fair. One of our men showed the Germans three packages of cigarettes. Then he climbed out of the trench and walked to the dead hare. He deposited his cigarettes and took the hare. Then he returned. A german came and took the tobacco. Five minutes later the Germans were smoking and we were preparing our stew.”

The camps frequently entertain each other with signing. And perhaps a few moments later the efforts of both side will turn to whirling – bullets about one another’s heads.

This was written at the end of November. An informal truce would occur at Christmas, and then it was back to normal. Commanders frown upon fraternization.

Henry Fowler, in his classic A Dictionary of Modern English Usage defines irony as:

. . . an attempt to link intelligibly together three special senses of the word irony, which in its more general sense may be defined as the use of words intended to convey one meaning to the uninitiated part of the audience & another to the initiated, the delight of it lying in the secret intimacy set up between the latter & the speaker. . .

The Oregon Statesman published an article, loaded with irony:

Underground Cities In Europe Quite A System
Some Comfort and Some Fun – Discomfort and Filth, Too, Experienced, as Per Letters Written

(Correspondence of the Associated Press)

Berlin, Dec. 14. – Not since the Pleistocene age has cave dwelling been so universal a mode of life in Europe as today. Altogether, there are hundreds of thousands of men, on and off the firing line who burrow for shelter from the enemy’s fire and the weather’s inclemency this winter. Vast underground cities have been built.

In Galicia the Associated Press correspondent saw a hill which had five tiers of caves, in rows of forty each. The entire establishment sheltered 2600 men.

And life in the earth dwellings is agreeable, according to all accounts. The men in their letters, at least, speak of their caves with as much feeling as they do of home. Though snow and rain beat down without, the wind howl, and great guns boom, the cave is always snug and warm, especially if it has been possible to gather enough straw for the floor, and bed, and usually safe.

Humor Found In Letters

So agreeable is life in the cave, in fact, that the little humor contained in letters from soldiers at the front is nearly always connected with it.

“I have been in this bombproof turnout for ten days,” says the letter of a German army surgeon. “Toward the front not a house or barn is standing. There is not a place in which we might stable our horses and since our ambulances would be a fine target for the enemy’s artillery, we have established our first aid station in a roomy cave, about 120 feet from the firing line. Two passages cut deep in the earth, give access to the cave, in which there is room for about six wounded in addition to several persons of the sanitary service. Close to our cave lie the underground villas of the surgeons and the battalion commander and his adjutant, also the club, which has been named the Thirsty Cave Dweller.

Helps the Nerves

“The inn is a pearl of an institution, suited alike for summer and winter traffic, and recommended to people suffering from nerves, ennui, super-culture and sickly aesthetics. It is also an excellent cure for alcoholism. A physician is constantly in attendance. Prices are reasonable and living in the club costs nothing except possibly your life. The interior equipment and decorations are charming. You wriggle through the narrow passage into the restaurant, and then fall down two steps, to discover afterwards that you can stand upright in the dining room, which has a floor area of about sixty square feet.

“A home made table and two rough benches are the furniture of the restaurant. On the table stand two candles in artistic holders fashioned from beets. The walls are covered with ‘expensive’ hangings, and the ceiling has an old-fashioned wainscoting, both outbreaks of luxury having been made necessary by the efforts of moles and worms to taste our soup, drink our beer and wine, and make excursions down our backs between skin and clothing. I will say these creatures are greatly interested in the splendor we have established in their midst.”

Men Dirty As Swine

The letter then mentions the closets in the cave restaurant in which the supplies are kept, refers to the carpet of straw on the floor, and speaks of “Kelim” (Oriental rug) hanging which separate the restaurant from the corridor.

In another letter from the front, a captain who is laconic and terse, says of cave life:

“We are as wet as young dogs,as dirty as swine, as hairy as monkeys and keep singing with the enemy 320 feet away. We live in caves which are now and then destroyed by the shells of the enemy. When that happens we crawl out like rabbits, and continue to live on pigs, steers, hens, goulash and rice. We cut our hair stair-fashioned, write by light of candles upon which we do the cooking at the same time. We are now our own antediluvian ancestors, and gladly anticipate a bayonet attack for the relief it gives us through a change of air. Make a special it of fighting English, Belgians, French, Indians and what not. Have earned the iron cross and life for king and fatherland.”