EDITOR STRUGGLED UNDER BURDEN
OF TRADING WITH THE ENEMY ACT
by Paul Likoudis
(Ninth in a series)
On the eve of Der Wanderer’s 50th anniversary, the United States Congress passed, on October 6, 1917, the Trading With The Enemy Act, which not only required editor Joseph Matt to seek a special license to publish his German-language newspaper, but required him to present an English translation of each issue that contained “original” news and views pertaining to the Great War to the Post Office prior to publication.
Matt complained that the wording of the act was so bureaucratically impenetrable that he could never know with certainty if he were in violation. Contemporary Wanderer readers might wonder the same, and with good reason: the law as originally enacted is still in effect, though it has been revised from time to time as presidents see fit: Franklin Roosevelt, for example, used the Trading With The Enemy Act to outlaw the ownership of gold – which was not excised from the Act until 1975!
For example, with more than a thousand subscribers to Der Wanderer in Germany, Matt had to navigate his way through one provision of the Act which prohibited “doing business” inside any territory with which the United States was at war. Also, the president had the power and authority to designate any individual or citizen living inside a territory with which the United States was at war as an “enemy,” and if a United States’ citizen “did business” with him, could be prosecuted under the terms of the Act.
Under Section 3 of the act, parts c. and d. declare that any person (except those “exempted by Government officials) may not:
“....send, or take out of, bring into, or attempt to send, or take out of, or bring into the United States, any letter or other writing or tangible form of communication, except in the regular course of the mail; and it shall be unlawful for any person to send, take, or transmit, or attempt to send, take, or transmit out of the United States, any letter or other writing, book, map, plan, or other paper, picture, or any telegram, cablegram, or wireless message, or other form of communication intended for or to be delivered, directly or indirectly, to an enemy or ally of enemy: Provided, however, That any person may send, take or transmit out of the United States anything herein forbidden if he shall first submit the same to the President, or to such officer as the President may direct, and shall obtain the license or consent of the President, under such rules and regulations, and with such exemptions as shall be prescribed by the President....
“Any person who willfully evades or attempts to evade the submission of any such communication to such censorship or willfully uses or attempts to use any code or other device for the purpose of concealing from such censorship the intended meaning of such communication shall be punished as provided in section sixteen of this Act.”
The following brief survey of some of the news, commentaries and editorials of Joseph Matt published during this period illustrates the difficulties imposed on him; but they also reveal him as an editor with access to the latest news developments from Europe, and a man of remarkable, even unique, perspicacity.
Under the heading of “Vom Weltkrieg,” (War News) published September 6, 1917, Matt wrote on page 1:
“Perhaps the cause of peace could have taken a significant step forward if President Wilson had not broached the guilt question in his response to the Pope's Peace Proposal. It is clear our generation will never come to an understanding on the question of guilt. And the President had been better served if he had adopted a hands-off policy on the question of democratization in Germany. Those who know the political situation in Germany have to say categorically that no consensus can be reached in this direction: that the German people, like any other nation opposes any intervention in its internal affairs....
“But the allies can afford to couch their war goals in generalities. It actually is the case that the message of the president is framed in generic expressions in contrast to the proposals of the Holy Father, which contain a concrete program for our scrutiny. Thus, for example, he speaks quite generally about his opposition to a ‘dismemberment of empires.’ But what does that mean? Does he support a return to the status quo as one of the first pre-requisites for peace? Hardly; for where he refers to the return to the status quo he expresses himself very cautiously and conditionally....
“To all appearances the Reichstag, the German parliament, is pushing to a speedy introduction of reforms, so that the political situation in Germany may be clarified when the Holy Father in a few weeks cites the responses of all belligerents as justification for releasing his peace proposals once again.
In a September 13, 1917 editorial, Matt continued to press for the United States to push for a “peace conference,” before U.S. troops were committed abroad, and it urged President Wilson to take a “more moderate” approach.
In a September 20 editorial, “Eine Pressezensur,” (Press Censorship,” Joseph Matt described the censorship imposed on German-language newspapers that is about to take place whereby these papers have to submit prior to publication a good and complete English translation of the articles dealing with war items.
“So that is the format of the envisioned censorship,” he lamented. “But we have to accept this unfair status. We know that happier days will come again. That must be our comfort in this time.”
In a September 20, 1917 editorial, Matt lamented that the Allies were putting their faith in a successful war effort, with a million American men heading toward the front, rather than a peace conference to end the slaughter. He wrote:
“Our readers must know that from the beginning we have emphasized the not insignificant impact of the entry of the USA in the war. In contrast to countless other newspapers we spoke right after the U.S. declaration of war of the likelihood that even before fall American troops will be in France. The facts have proved us right. American troops to be sure have no immediate role in a tactical sense. But they make up the advance guard of hundreds of thousands, even of millions, if need be. If the allies succeed in making it through the winter in spite of submarines, in spite of economic ills, in spite of the Russian collapse of the moment, then the spring will see the real beginning of the decisive struggle.
“That would mean scarcely imaginable sacrifices for the American people. For if the allies are serious about their curt rejection of any peace initiative, if they are confident in the ultimate success of their war strategy, then any great offensives are not to be expected in the fall, maybe not even in the spring: Then the plan would be to wait till the US is ready to move in at full strength...
“Today, only the following is known for sure: there are powerful forces abroad who want to fight the war to the bitter end without any consideration of the number of casualties, without any concern for how long it will take. And there are powerful influences at work seeking to end this grisly tragedy for all peoples by a negotiated peace.
“Which force will turn out to be the stronger? Will it be the one that leads to war or the one leading to peace? No mortal can say.”
BURDEN ON BURDEN
On October 18, 1917, editor Matt made a special English-language announcement to Der Wanderer’s English readers.
“To Our Readers:
“On October 15th the Trading with the Enemy Act [was promulgated.] Section 19 of that law prohibits the printing, publishing and circulating ‘in any foreign language of any news item, editorial or other printed matter respecting the government of the United States, or any nation engaged with the present war, its politics, international relations, the state or conduct of the war, or any matter relating thereto’ unless the printer and publisher either secures a permit issued by the President or has filed before mailing his publication on the form of a proposal ‘unless an English translation of the entire article containing such matter’ [has been filed] with the local postmaster.
“The modus operandi of the new law is somewhat in doubt, conflicting reports having been sent out from Washington by the news magnates. We have complied with the law as far as we have been able to ascertain its requirements. This necessitated, not a change of the policy of our paper, but a reduction of the amount of reading matter pertaining to the war. Moreover, we had to be extremely careful not to say anything that might be construed as transgressing the stringent provisions and restrictions of the law. For instance a strict application of the law would forbid even the discussing in the German language of the Holy Father's peace proposal, unless an English translation is filed with the postmaster.
“We request our readers to keep these difficulties in mind and by kind forbearance enable us to continue the publication of Der Wanderer. We feel encouraged by the many tokens of good will and appreciation on the occasion of our Golden Jubilee and are confident that with the help of God the Wanderer will pass through this crisis unsullied.
“Beginning with today's issue we will publish for those of our readers who can read and understand English an English section .. And we should be glad to hear from them whether this new feature meets with their approval.”
(Der Wanderer would publish a predominantly German-language edition until 1931, when it switched to English; but Joseph Matt would continue to publish a German-language insert for the newspaper until 1957.)
MORE BAD NEWS
FROM THE FRONT
In a March 28, 1918 “War News” column, Matt deplored the increasing fighting on the military front, and the quiet on the diplomatic.
“The conversation of the diplomats across the Channel and the Atlantic Ocean has stopped. The governments are once again talking together by sword and screaming artillery. It seems as though this grievous conflict, which is shaking the whole fabric of society, is supposed to be settled, not in the chambers of parliament or cabinet rooms, but rather in the bloody fortification lines. On the western front the Central Powers are seeking to secure what they have won in the East on the battlefield. Here the Western Powers are hoping to wrest from their opponent the fruits of their efforts in the first part of the World War....”
ONE YEAR OF
In an October 3, 1918 editorial, Matt gave his readers an update on press censorship
“The law which requires ‘foreign-language’ newspapers to provide an English translation of all articles and commentary that have anything to do with the war is now one year old. Not many readers have any idea of the extra work falling upon the editorial staff of a newspaper covered by this law. Indeed, the work is proportionally greater for a weekly paper like the Wanderer than for a daily paper.
“In the case of the daily newspaper not much more than the editorials need to be translated. News stories, on the other hand, are drawn in most instances from dispatches of the Associated Press or United Press and these are rendered into German from the original English text. In these circumstances the requirements of the law are met by filing the original text with the censorship official. A weekly newspaper, i.e. one which doesn't exclusively ‘work’ with cutting and pasting, reworks the material published in the daily press which it must abbreviate by culling out only the most important items. Thus a new article is produced, for example, like our war chronicle on page 2, which has to be translated from start to finish. Added to this is our weekly news in review on page 1. As an original text, apart from some quotations, this has to be translated from A to Z. Also to be added in almost every issue are an editorial or two....”
On October 10, 1918, under the heading “War News,” Matt described the “ferocious battles” raging on the front, which would be “decisive”: “It is the decisive battle of the war, the battle to determine whether ‘to be or not to be.’ There has been a turning point in the last few weeks. The German army, which had already stretched its hand toward the ports on the Channel and the capital of France, has seen one previous success after the other slip away. The German army has long ago learned to give up the idea of mounting an offensive on its own initiative, but it has been continually retreating for the past three months. The territory in question is mostly land which had been acquired in the fiery spring offensive ...”
In an October 17 editorial, Matt commented on Wilson’s “14 Principles,” and worried that Wilson had succumbed to “medieval Universalism”:
“....He has proclaimed a series of principles-fourteen in an address to Congress on 8 January 1918, others in later speeches, in the spring as the Germans were streaking toward the coast of Flanders he promised to fight fire with fire to the bitter end, on 4 July at Washington's grave as he more resolutely than ever threw down the gauntlet, on 17 September when he proclaimed a policy of justice for all peoples.
“Through these and a variety of other pronouncements President Wilson strove to appear as the spokesman for a new world conscience and sought to find a new formula for ‘peace on earth.’ As an historian he probably was thinking of the medieval Universalism, and his view of life based on humanism allowed him to think that it would be possible to blot out the old boundaries which were developed in the spirit of nationalism. He was especially eager to heed the national aspirations of all peoples, especially the small peoples....”
One month before the Armistice of November 1918, on October 17 Matt wrote that Germany had been defeated by the million-man American army:
“....[T]he American army, a million strong, emerged as a factor of unimagined significance; then came the defeat at the Marne, the retreat into Picardie, the collapse of the Hindenburg line, the collapse of the Balkan front. All of this meant that the probability of a decisive German defeat became ever clearer. In these circumstances the German diplomats lost the last opportunity to propose a compromise which would in some way address the status quo. Instead of a ‘German Peace’ Germany must reckon today with a German defeat.”
On October 31, in his page 1 “War News,” Matt wrote:
“....Meanwhile the representatives of the countries who are at war with Germany had arrived in the city where almost 48 years ago the King of Prussia had been proclaimed Emperor of Germany. It is not impossible that around the anniversary of the imperial proclamation the final conditions for peace will become known. Actually, this is not exactly probable, for the peace conference will have so many problems to deal with that the conference is likely to last months even after the armistice has begun. This is true even if the groundwork for the negotiations will have been specified in advance. The work and the duration of the peace conference will depend in part on decisions taken in the next few days in Versailles. The conditions for the armistice will be such that a renewal of hostilities will for all practical purposes be excluded once the actual peace negotiations have been initiated....
“We assume that the commission of the American delegation will be to set firm guaranties for a general program of objectives, so that as a result the end of the war and at the same time the security of the future peace will be brought nearer to reality than would be possible by implementing the goals of the extremists in the Entente as well as in our own country.
For the November 14 issue of Der Wanderer, under the “War News” heading, Matt wrote:
“The word has a strange ring to it, and a peculiar shiver courses through humankind, since one has to get used again to the reality the word connotes. Peace has not yet been ratified. But the clatter of gunfire at the front lines has ceased. The armistice with Germany, the only country still at war with the Allies and the United States, has been signed. The German army is marching back to the Rhine, back to a homeland where there is no peace. Diplomats are arming themselves for the future peace conference which is supposed to bring a conclusion to one of the gloomiest chapters of human history. ..
“Germany has never been so humiliated in over a hundred years and its future has never looked so dark and gloomy as it does today. In just a few days foreign armies will be stationed on German soil from the borders of Switzerland to those of the Netherlands. The Rhine – ‘Germany's river, not Germany's boundary’ – wrote Ernst Moritz Arndt a hundred years ago, is now guarded by American, French, British and Belgian soldiers. Germany will no longer be a maritime power. The fleet is partially in the hands of mutineers, and it depends on the good will of the Allies to what extent Germany can compete on the seas in the coming decades....
“What Germany can expect in the final peace treaty is adequately reflected in the conditions for the armistice. Germany will lose Alsace-Lorraine, though there is a possibility that the German settlers will have the option to resettle on German territory. The occupation of German territory is likely to last until the signing of a peace treaty and perhaps until there is a settlement regarding the imposed war damages. It is not out of the question that at least the area on the left bank of the Rhine will ultimately be declared a neutral state with no possibility for direct annexation by the new German regime...
“Much depends on the long-term behavior of the Allies. The German State Secretary, Solf, has contacted our government and petitioned for an amelioration of the "frightful conditions," saying that the promise of a lasting just peace could only be realized to the extent that the German people felt they were being treated fairly.....
“World history is a World Court. It is premature to attempt to make an analysis of the war in general. If one wished to enumerate the sins of the people and draw conclusions from the situation as it stands, one wouldn't know where to begin. Indeed, contradictions would emerge between guilt and reconciliation. This is true precisely because human beings don't understand the plans of providence and our knowledge and our judgments over events, when all is said and done, are one-sided and narrow....”