By Richard van Pelt, WWI Correspondent

“What sort of day was it? A day like all days, filled with those events that alter and illuminate our times… all things are as they were then, and you were there.”

Walter Cronkite, You Are There

Each generation of Marion County residents who came of age in 1914 and in the century that followed has been affected by that war and the settlements, resolved and yet-to-be resolved, that flowed from that pivot point in history.

The headline read,“Assassin’s Bullet Strikes Down Archduke Ferdinand of Austria.”The struggle of Serbs in Bosnia to break free from Austria-Hungarian rule and join Serbia triggered four years of war on eight fronts in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. More than fifteen million soldiers fell on the fields of battle. Thirty four million were wounded. Sixty five million served.

Were the events about to transpire…that night justified? I wish I could say. If I have found any peace of mind in this world, it lies in accepting that we know almost nothing and understand even less. A fanatical university student murders and archduke and starts a war that kills twenty million people. A man with a fifteen dollar mail-order rifle fires from the sixth floor of a book depository and changes American history forever. And a flawed engineering system on a drilling rig kills eleven men and fouls an entire ecosystem and almost destroys a way of life. If a person had the power to retroactively undo any of these events, where would he start? The question itself suggests an alpha and an omega that numb the mind.

James Lee Burke, Creole Belle

An assassination in Sarajevo, though, did not disturb the residents of Salem. In the days preceding the assassination, the news of the day turned on the Cherry Fair. “The First Electrical Pageant in History of Salem to be Pulled off Tonight”would bring the festival to a conclusion. The paper reported that “the examiners in the Eugenics contest held in connection with the Cherry Fair expressed themselves as well pleased with the particularly promising lot of babies scored.”In news of the churches, Jason Lee Memorial Methodist church announced that the Sunday sermon would address “the Boy Problem and Teen-age Crisis”while the topic for the Epworth league would be “The Immigrant Tide.”At the New Thought Convention in Portland, Dr. Charles Littlefield stated that human beings would soon be produced in laboratories and future generations would be made perfect in an article headlined “Dr. Creates a Crab In His Laboratory.”And headlined as “Extra!”the paper announced “World’s Championship Battle at Paris Is Won by Jack Johnson.”

By the end of the war, the mood dimmed. The Irish poet William Butler Yeats summed up the war in The Second Coming:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

The war changed the world in ways that affect us to this day. Four empires (Hohenzollern Germany, Hapsburg Austria-Hungary, Czarist Russia, and the Ottoman Porte) were broken up by war or revolution. Nations emerged that had not existed on that Sunday in June of 1914. The consequences of World War I were not limited to the map of Europe. Iraq and Syria owe their borders to the aftereffects of the war as does much of Africa. The war fatally weakened the French and the British. The war, idealistically or ironically called “the war to end all wars,”led inexorably to another world war twenty one years later. A century following that assassination, our involvement in Iraq and Syria may well be seen as ripples in the war that would commence in August of that year.

Though half a world away from the front lines, of the 39,780 residents of Marion County, over 5,000 were born in countries that were belligerents in the war and a further 5,000 were born of parents whose native countries would eventually go to war.

On July 2nd, the editor commented on the strong dislike Emperor Franz Josef had for his nephew, the assassinated Franz Ferdinand:

Since the Austrian emperor had a strong dislike for his nephew, Prince Francis Ferdinand, and is also 80 years old, an age that does not forgive easily, it is fair to presume the shock of his nephew’s assassination will not seriously affect him. It looks, though, as if there would be a pretty bad mixup before the matter is settled, and there is a possibility of Austria and Hungary getting a divorce.

Events closer to home held our interest. In Mexico civil war was front page news. During the Mexican revolution (1910-1917), U. S. troops intervened in Veracruz in 1914. In the same edition announcing the assassination of the Archduke, the paper headlined “Oil Interests In Plot to Grab the Mexican Railroads.”

Few here or in Europe expected war. A series of alliances crafted over the years to insure each a favorable balance in the affairs of Europe dragged all of Europe into war beginning at the end of July when Austria-Hungary went to war with Serbia. As one nation after the other began the process of mobilizing for war, Thomas Jefferson’s words in his first inaugural address remain poignant:   “peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations, entangling alliances with none.”Within a month Europe was at war; by the end, the war had become global.

As much as the United States sought to remain neutral, by 1917 we did enter the war. As the centenary of the war unfolds, we will explore how residents of Marion County viewed the events leading war and how Marion County contributed to the war effort.

The 1910 census below lists the birthplace of every person counted and where their parents were born. Belligerent states were allied either with the Entente or Central Powers. Entente powers were Great Britain, France, Russia, and their allies, including the United States. The Central Powers were Germany, Austria-Hungary, and their allies. For thousands of residents, the war was immediate; some who were not citizens would be called up to return to their homelands; for many, there were relatives who would fight on both sides of this conflict.

For readers who served during World War II, or who served during the Bosnian War in the 1990’s, or who served during either or both Iraq wars, those conflicts represented unresolved issues traceable to 1914. Our foreign policy in the Middle East and in the Balkans represents to this day reverberations of a conflict that began 100 years ago.

A Breakdown of Marion County Residents, 1910 Census

Nation Foreign Born Parents Foreign Born Belligerent Status
Austria 167 97 Central Power
Belgium 47 Entente
Bulgaria 20 Central Power
Canada – French 79 43 Entente
Canada – Other 592 162 Entente
Denmark 148 80 Neutral
England 389 237 Entente
Finland 52 Finland was a Grand Duchy of Russia. In 1918 Finland, with German assistance, became independent as a consequence of the Russian Revolution.
France 99 43 Entente
Germany 1474 1948 Central Power
Greece 116 Entente
Holland 37 37 Neutral
Hungary 215 Central Power
Ireland 214 228 Entente. Ireland was part of Great Britain and responded to war in much the same was as did the English. The Irish did revolt in 1916 (The Easter Rising) with German assistance in the form of arms and ammunition.
Italy 74 6 Entente
Norway 467 575 Neutral
Russia 152 119 Entente
Scotland 103 62 Entente, part of Great Britain
Sweden 283 120 Neutral
Switzerland 350 318 Neutral
Turkey 6 Central Power
Wales 28 Entente, part of Great Britain