In the November 7, 1914, issue: U-boats put an end to British chivalry, and the Germans offer up some shockingly bad predictions of the war’s end.
By Samuel G. Blythe
Four months into the conflict, there were signs that this war was going to be different. Modern technology enabled armies to cause more destruction than ever before. The belief that this would be the ultimate, decisive war encouraged them to use the technology with little regard for restraint. As Blythe noted, German U-boats were already making chivalry a fatal indulgence.
“Perhaps you remember that order made by the British Admiralty a day or so after the three British cruisers were sunk by a German submarine or submarines. …
“When the first of the three ships … was hit by a torpedo and began to sink, the two other ships closed in to help her and to pick up her men who were struggling in the water. They were torpedoed and they sank too.
“Some days after the news came the Admiralty published an order to all ships in the British Navy. …They were instructed that … the commanders of all ships are to look out for their own ships and for their own men, and let the other ships do the same. … When a ship, lying near other ships, is torpedoed, that ship must sink, and that must be the end of it. Because two other captains rushed in to help another ship, three ships were lost instead of one. The humaneness of it amounts to nothing. The heroism of it is nil.”
The Grapes of Wrath
By Irvin S. Cobb
Despite signs that there would be less humane, more deadly war than any before, there was no shortage of enthusiasm for the fight. In Germany, Cobb found only eagerness for battle and confidence in victory. He illustrated the popular spirit with an anecdote that sounds like the set-up to a joke. Three Germans walk into a café — a business man, a scientist, and an army officer — and strike up a conversation about the war with Cobb.
“The business man says, ‘In six weeks from now we shall have beaten France; in six months we shall have driven Russia to cover. For England it will take a year — perhaps longer. And then, as in all games, big and little, the losers will pay. France will be made to pay an indemnity from which she will never recover. Of Belgium I think we shall take a slice of seacoast. … Russia will be so crippled that no longer will the Muscovite peril threaten Europe. Great Britain we shall crush utterly. She shall be shorn of her navy and she shall lose her colonies. … She will become a third-class power and she will stay a third-class power.’
“The scientist spoke next … ‘This war was inevitable. Germany had to expand or be suffocated. And out of this war good will come for all the world, especially for Europe. We Germans are the most industrious, the most earnest, and the best-educated race on this side of the ocean. Under German influence illiteracy will disappear. … And after this war — if we Germans win it — there will never be another universal war.
“The soldier spoke last … ‘War was forced on us by these other powers. … But when war came we were ready and they were not. … Our army will win because it deserves to win through being ready and being complete and being efficient. Don’t discount the efficiency of our navy either. Remember, we Germans have the name of being thorough. When our fleet meets the British fleet I think you will find that we have a few Krupp surprises for them.’”
Step into 1914 with a peek at these pages from The Saturday Evening Post 100 years ago.
Become a Saturday Evening Post member and enjoy unlimited access. Subscribe now