Wartime Christmas, 1917 and 1941 (12-24-41)

The Pittsburgh Press (December 24, 1941)

Background of news –
Wartime Christmas, 1917 and 1941

By editorial research reports

The situation at Christmas 1941, of the United States at war, is different in almost every respect from the situation at Christmas 1917. Now the nation is distinctly on the defensive, with a severe naval loss not many days before, with its territory in the Pacific invaded, and with its mainland preparing for attack from the air. In 1917, no soil under the U.S. flag was under attack or even in danger of attack. With the war only 18 days old at Christmas 1941, there have been several thousand deaths and casualties in action; with the war 8½ months old at Christmas 1917, U.S. forces had suffered only a few casualties, all at sea.

In 1917, the United States had entered war with only lackadaisical preparation. The Army and Navy had possessed exactly 55 airplanes, 51 of which the Advisory Committee on Aeronautics pronounced obsolete. By Christmas 1917, not a single U.S.-produced combat plane had been completed. But conscription (21-31) had been in effect for 7½ months, and 1,100,000 men were in the Army. By Christmas 1941, with conscription (21-36) in effect for 1¼ years, the Army has a strength of perhaps 1,750,000 (announced as 1,589,000 on Oct. 9, 1941).

Christmas in 1941 sees no immediate prospect of an American Expeditionary Force being sent to foreign lands outside the Western Hemisphere. At Christmas 1917, 165,000 men were already in Europe, although no American units were yet in the active battle line. The millionth soldier to be sent abroad had just been inducted into service (the average American soldier who saw actual fighting in France had had nine months’ training – six months in the United States, two abroad, one in an inactive section of the front). Some of the Christmas boxes sent to American soldiers in France were not delivered until the following spring.

By Christmas 1917, the number of flying officers in the Army and Navy had grown to 1,100, from 75 at the outbreak of the war. But no U.S.-produced new machine guns or field guns had yet been completed. The federal debt was around $7 billion; at Christmas 1941, it was $57 billion.

At Christmas 1917, the new communist government of Russia was conducting peace negotiations with Germany, and War Commissar Leon Trotsky was complaining that Germany had violated the armistice terms by shifting large numbers of troops from the Russian to the French front. At Christmas 1941, Germany is again withdrawing troops from the Russian front, but this time involuntarily.

At Christmas 1917, President Wilson was preparing to have the government take over the railroads, unable without such imposed unification to handle the war transportation problem satisfactorily. Secretary of War Newton D. Baker warned that Germany was about to launch another drive for peace. Food Administrator Herbert C. Hoover was protesting at the methods used by a Senate committee investigating the shortage of sugar.