Tag: WWI

WHEN THE WORLD CHANGED – Part II

Spies Pier, NJ
On July 30, 1916, German saboteurs targeted the ammunition depot on New Jersey’s Black Tom Island, shipping point for three-quarters of U.S. ammunition bound for Allied Europe. The resulting explosion was heard as far away as Philadelphia. (Library of Congress)
Read Part 1

All the episodes were part of a German Imperial scheme dating back to 1889, the infamous Abteilung [Department] IIIb. Originally a counter-intelligence unit, it developed into a long-form destabilization campaign directed mainly at the United States, but including France and England. By the time it disbanded in 1918, it had become principally a secret police force and an international propaganda unit that was largely ineffective.

Within a ring of Keystone Kop-style operators, who experimented with cigar bombs for terrorist attacks, tunnel explosions between Canada and the United States to tie up traffic, and fomenting demonstrations by anti-British East Indian students at UC Berkeley, there were a few dangerous characters, who were involved in disasters such as the Black Tom Island explosion and the munitions depot explosion at Mare Island, San Francisco Bay in March 1917.

muenter
Eric Muenter

There were also rogue operators like the clearly deranged Eric Muenter, who went by the pseudonym Frank Holt to find employment teaching German at Harvard and Cornell and other prominent universities. Muenter, who had ties to Ambassador von Bernstorff, attempted to place time bombs on merchant ships, planted a bomb that blew up a closet in the United States Senate building and in 1915 attempted to assassinate Jack Morgan, whose father J. P. Morgan was helping to finance the British in the First World War. He was subdued in the attempt and committed suicide while in custody.

The conflict between Germany and the United States hardened in January 1917 with the disclosure of the infamous Zimmerman Telegram. (Until this moment, the United States had been neutral and engaged in selling supplies and munitions to all comers. After roughly the middle of 1915, the Germans had not been able to buy any supplies from the Americans, because of the British Navy’s German Blockade, which prevented goods from entering German ports. This was the reason behind the American munitions depot sabotages, to prevent the British re-supplying from the same American sources.)

German Foreign Secretary Arthur Zimmerman sent a telegram in January 1917 to German Ambassador to Mexico Heinrich von Eckhardt to offer Mexico a military alliance with Germany in case the United States gave up its neutral status and entered the war as a combatant with the Allies. The alliance proposed an invasion of the United States to restore territories lost by Mexico in the 19th century. (This was another comic-opera aspect of the destabilization campaign against the United States. A section of the plan envisioned mobilizing black citizens of the southern states to rise up and join the Mexican invasion force.) The telegram was intercepted and decoded by British intelligence services, whereupon its authenticity was challenged, but in March Zimmerman announced that it was genuine.

In April the United States declared war against Germany and the Central Powers. The international machinations of the Germans, the ruinous sabotage of the munitions depots, and the submarine war against merchant shipping had become intolerable.

The same month, the Espionage Act was signed into law, and the following year, the Sedition Act. Two hundred and fifty thousand Germans and descendants of Germans were required to register at post offices across the United States. Thousands were detained and interrogated. More than six thousand were arrested and interned, along with a thousand merchant sailors, and two thousand German sailors captured in port were held as prisoners of war. The last of them were released in 1920.

The destabilization campaign against the United States lasted from 1889 to 1918, nearly thirty years, and was counter-productive in the end. It had assured that the United States would enter the war against Germany, and it harmed the stability and welfare of millions of German emigrants and German-Americans. American entry into the war ensured an Allied victory against the Central Powers, not so much because the Americans were great warriors, but because the giant industrial establishment and fuel supplies of the American economy could be brought to bear directly on the conflict, as well as thousands of fresh troops eager to make their mark on the world. The isolationist strain of American foreign policy was set aside. It weakened year by year afterward. The necessity of maintaining a standing army and a large modern navy had been made plain. The world stage was now the American stage too, and it would never leave the theater.

This is something that Vladimir Putin and the Russians might keep in their kit bag when they contemplate a thoroughgoing destabilization campaign against the United States.

One of the articles of American exceptionalism, one which has been demonstrated time and again, is the willingness when pushed to commit force to bear on external conflicts. While this tendency has been a mistake at times, it has always been a bad thing for the people who are the target population. It is never a good idea to wake the sleeping giant and make him mad.


uniquerman, aka Jim Ackerman, was born in the high plateau country of Eastern Oregon to pioneer folk. He grew up in Lake County, which still has more square miles than people. He went to New College in Sarasota Florida, and has spent a lifetime studying and writing. He has done everything from leather craft to construction.  He has several books pending publication.

WHEN THE WORLD CHANGED – Part I

At 1:08 in the morning of July 30th 1916, the ground shook in New Jersey. It shook so hard that it woke people up from northern Maryland to Rhode Island. A wall of the City Hall building in Jersey City cracked. The Brooklyn Bridge swayed. The stained glass of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Manhattan shattered. On the Richter seismic scale, the temblor would have measured between 5.0 and 5.5, but it was not an earthquake.

Black Tom explosion
“The explosion on Black Tom Island, in New York Harbor at Jersey City, was unsolved for years” – New York Daily News

The munitions and gunpowder storage depot of the National Dock and Storage Company on Black Tom Island in New York Harbor had blown up. Fragments of shrapnel lodged in the Statue of Liberty, and one mile away in Jersey City, struck buildings in the city center. The shock wave broke windows all over Brooklyn and Manhattan. Immigrants waiting on Ellis Island were evacuated immediately to New York City. Seven people were killed, including one ten-month old infant, and hundreds were injured. The damage was estimated at twenty million dollars, nearly half a billion in modern currency.

First considered an accident, it quickly became apparent that it was sabotage, and that the evidence pointed to the German Imperial government. No perpetrator was ever charged but a German agent named Michael Kristoff, a Slovak immigrant who had been in the American military, was implicated years later. Subsequently Kristoff claimed that two guards at the depot had also been German agents.

von Bernstorff
German Ambassador, Count Johann von Bernstorff

This was not all. The German Ambassador to the United States, Johann H. von Bernstorff, had planned the operation, as well as an aborted scheme to sabotage the Welland Canal connecting Ontario to New York State through Lakes Ontario and Erie. A network of agents headquartered from the Canadian border north of Seattle to Mexico City had also been involved. The same group of agents worked on numerous adventures on the West Coast, directed by Franz von Bopp, the German Consul General in San Francisco.

There was yet more to it. All the episodes were part of a German Imperial scheme dating back to 1889, the infamous Abteilung [Department] IIIb. Originally a counter-intelligence unit, it developed into a long-form destabilization campaign directed mainly at the United States, but including France and England. By the time it disbanded in 1918, it had become principally a secret police force and an international propaganda unit that was largely ineffective.

Germany, not having been unified until 1871, came late to what is sometimes called the “empire race,” the drive by the industrial nations to control undeveloped regions and their natural resources and to make them captive markets for finished consumer goods.

Under the Kaiser Wilhelm II, Germany shifted its focus on national strategy from Realpolitik, the art of the possible in Europe, to Weltpolitik, the aggressive competition for control of the globe. Wary of the large modern navies of Great Britain and France and their colonial outposts, Germany concentrated on the United States, which not only had a relatively small navy but also practiced economic colonialism rather than direct political control of overseas colonies. Amid some skirmishing with the Americans in East Asia, the South Pacific and the Caribbean, the Imperial Government hatched three plans to invade the United States between 1897 and 1906.

It is difficult to envision what the German leadership hoped to accomplish. Parts of the plans had a comic opera element to them, as if they had been dreamed up by Gilbert and Sullivan without the music.

One of the plans proposed an invasion of New York, yet the Germans lacked the transport capacity for the requisite number of troops. Two of the plans had objectives in the Caribbean, mainly Cuba and Puerto Rico, giving the American invasions a hint of black comedy about them: blow up the farmer’s house to steal his neighbor’s chickens. After construction of the Panama Canal commenced, the Germans hoped to force the United States into negotiations over control of the Caribbean and to settle conflicts over trade in South America, where German commercial and shipping interests were strong. By 1906, however, the American navy was stronger than the German, and in any case, President Roosevelt had already backed the Germans down with naval power in 1902 over an international dispute in Venezuela.

Between 1906 and the breakout of the First World War, Germany abandoned any hope of establishing an island staging base and controlling the Caribbean region by sea-power. It concentrated on an alliance with Mexico and a propaganda campaign in Latin America to stir up the anti-American sentiment that already existed there.

At the same time it conducted an anti-British propaganda campaign in the United States. For the extensive German immigrant and German heritage population in America, disaster was looming. Already identified with the progressive labor movement that inspired suspicions of international socialism, their anti-British sentiment led some to believe that they did not support the United States either. At the same time the British were spreading propaganda in the United States against isolationism and its pro-German implications.

Meanwhile, the Imperial German government had been taking advantage of the Mexican Revolution and the anti-American stance of the Mexican revolutionaries to whip up sentiment against the United States and use the political firestorm to cover the development of a gang of spies and saboteurs directed by the German Ambassador to Mexico, Heinrich von Eckhardt.

to be continued….

 


uniquerman, aka Jim Ackerman, was born in the high plateau country of Eastern Oregon to pioneer folk. He grew up in Lake County, which still has more square miles than people. He went to New College in Sarasota Florida, and has spent a lifetime studying and writing. He has done everything from leather craft to construction.  He has several books pending publication.