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Manual Over There: 101 Keys to Understanding the First World War

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And one out of three Americans lived on farms. Women could vote, but only in twelve states of the union. In the South, African Americans had virtually no political rights at all. Europe was a one-week steamship voyage away. In the United States was the largest producer of steel. It had the biggest transportation network. It had more energy resources. It had the second biggest population in the western world saving only Russia. But the American people as a whole were quite ambivalent about whether or not they actually wanted to become one of the great powers that arbitrated the destinies of the world at large.

I think that Wilson had, even in this vision of America as a moral beacon in the world, as a city upon a hill, this sense that Americans had something to give to the world. Germany was led by a kaiser, Russia a tsar. Great Britain and France, two democracies, jealously guarded far-flung colonial empires. The assassination of an obscure Austro-Hungarian aristocrat by a Serbian nationalist had provided a pretext to unleash imperial rivalries that were breaking the continent apart. Germany and its ally, Austria Hungary, declared war on Serbia and her ally, Russia.

Germany then invaded France — through neutral Belgium — and Russia. Britain came to the aid of, the French and the Belgians and suddenly, millions of men were fighting a war whose very purpose seemed hard to comprehend. What were they thinking? They had so much going for them. Europe was the most prosperous part of the world, the most powerful part of the world. It had had extraordinary progress. It had a century of almost unbroken peace, and suddenly they blundered into this war. Almost from the outset of the war, Woodrow Wilson was trying to find diplomatic solutions.

He believed if all the heads of state could sit at a table and confer, they could probably have ended this war. As he faced the greatest international crisis of his presidency, Woodrow Wilson was falling apart. In a small bedroom on the second floor of the White House, his wife Ellen lay dying.


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They had been married for 29 years, and she had borne him three daughters, standing by him during his dramatic rise to the White House. Two days after war broke out, at five in the afternoon, she died. Here is the president of the United States who is so bereft he is actually contemplating giving up the office.

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He does not know how he can go on without this woman, who really sacrificed everything she could for him. He sat next to the casket during a sleepless train ride back to her family home in Georgia. For the first time in decades, Woodrow Wilson was facing the future alone. The son of a Scottish Presbyterian minister from Virginia, he was a bookish young man with a delicate constitution who became a successful lawyer and scholar of American government.

He was a former professor, a former college president and the governor of New Jersey. He had a meteoric rise in politics and in an age of oratory, he was a very fine speaker. Woodrow Wilson was the most religious president we ever had. Woodrow Wilson is a man who got on his knees twice a day and prayed. He read scripture every night. He said grace before every meal. His faith informed everything he ever said, everything he ever thought, everything he ever did. An idealistic Democratic crusader, Wilson had spent his first two years in office driving through Congress a historic set of progressive reforms.

His penchant for soaring rhetoric masked a pragmatic, and often ruthless, politician. He was also the first Democrat from the South to be elected president since Reconstruction. Almost overnight, thousands of promising civil service jobs that had been a path of upward mobility for African Americans were now open to whites only. Wilson felt that forward thinking white people were really best positioned to see to the well being of African Americans. And I think he felt confident that at some point African Americans would be able to be incorporated into the larger civic and democratic body in some way.

He makes almost no effort to bring African Americans into any role in the government and in fact takes so many steps to alienate them that many African Americans who thought he would be a progressive on race become bitterly disappointed in him. Woodrow Wilson is the only United States president who was born in a country that had lost a war, the Confederate States of America. He carried that with him. He believes in democratic values, liberal values, he believes in peace. On August 18 th , Wilson emerged from his grieving long enough to issue a proclamation.

America is not a monolith. America is composed of a great many different communities. Take New York City. You had Irish who had no desire to go over and fight for the British king. You had Russian Jews who had no desire to go over and fight for the Tsar. You had German-American immigrants and Austrian-American immigrants who had no desire to go over and fight against their country.

He thinks America has something to teach everyone. Part of it is ego. Wilson believes himself able to deliver these democratic practices to the global stage. He sees himself as well equipped to be this person. Ambassador Page saw little chance that America could stay detached from the great conflict that was shaking the world to its foundations. The day war broke out, the impeccably tailored American war correspondent Richard Harding Davis settled into his first class cabin on board a ship bound for France, and enjoyed a cold glass of champagne.

Davis was perhaps the most famous journalist of his day, and the war promised to be the biggest story of his already legendary career. He had made a name for himself reporting for the newspapers owned by Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst, filing dispatches from war zones around the world. His vivid reports of the exploits of the Rough Riders in Cuba had helped catapult the young Theodore Roosevelt to national renown.

Battle of Amiens

Now Americans were counting on Davis to bring them news of the shocking developments in Europe. While he was crossing the Atlantic in the first week of August, , German troops continued their invasion of neutral Belgium, rushing to encircle Paris and defeat the French and the British before the huge Russian armies to the east could mobilize. The German war plans called for them to defeat France first, within a short period of time, and then turn those armies on the Russians.

The German army was well aware that its task was to arrive in Paris 42 days…not 43 days…42 days exactly after the invasion of Belgium. And the population in Belgium and northern France was not going to stand in the way. By August 17th, as hundreds of thousands of Belgian refugees were streaming away from the advancing German army, Davis had commandeered a motorcar and was headed in the opposite direction. He managed to find his way to Brussels to witness German forces entering the Belgian capital. The entrance of the German army into Brussels has lost all human quality.

No longer was it regiments of men marching but something uncanny, inhuman, a force of nature. This was a machine, endless, tireless, with the delicate organization of a watch and the brute power of a steam roller. For three days and three nights the column of gray, with 50, thousand bayonets and 50, lances, with gray transport wagons, … gray cannon, like a river of steel, cut Brussels in two. He described the columns going on for days marching in perfect step with each other. And I think it was jaw-dropping.

But the news from Belgium turned more disturbing with each passing day. Racing to keep to their invasion timetable, the Germans ruthlessly put down any resistance. Civilians were mowed down with machine guns; 14, buildings were deliberately destroyed. Fifteen days into the invasion, German soldiers arrived at the Belgian city of Louvain, a center of culture for centuries. Then, they burned it to the ground. At Louvain it was war upon the defenceless, war upon churches, colleges, shops of milliners and lace-makers: At Louvain that night the Germans were like men after an orgy.

They also crossed a line for his editors. Six thousand Belgian civilians were killed. The Belgians would say murdered, in the course of the war, not one of them was a combatant. That was the price the German high command knew that they had to pay in order to get to Paris in forty-two days. In just a few short weeks, Richard Harding Davis had abandoned any pretense to neutrality. Were the conflict in Europe a fair fight, the duty of every American would be to keep on the side-lines and preserve an open mind. But it is not a fair fight. A man who would now be neutral would be a coward.

On August 25 th , , a hastily organized group of American volunteers set off through the streets of Paris for the train station. The men had just enlisted in the French army. Still wearing their rumpled street clothes, they hardly looked like soldiers. There is a generation of Americans, particularly elite Americans who believed that with this elite status came the obligation to take risks for humanity.

Now this was a totally romantic notion, but it inspired thousands of Americans to drop out of college, to quit their jobs. They felt a personal responsibility to address what was the largest human crisis of their times. Most of the well-heeled men were from elite colleges. Many of them had been drifting around Europe when the war broke out. There were painters and professors, medical students and mining engineers, a big-game hunter, a chef and a race-car driver. There are those Americans who believe that we should make an impact on the battlefield and with the government reluctant to do so, individuals decide to do so.

We have a river of people crossing the Atlantic to join the allied army, to serve as ambulance drivers as aid workers, as nurses, as doctors. A lot of them truly loved France and they felt this was a war of civilization. They were after a kind of glory, even immortality. A real sense of wanting to sacrifice yourself for a greater cause. The French government was stunned by the wave of volunteers — more than 35,, from 49 different nations. The German army had swept through Belgium and was driving towards Paris.

Every able-bodied man who could handle a rifle had been rushed to the front, including 5, French reservists who arrived in taxi cabs. At its head was a year old Harvard graduate and aspiring poet named Alan Seeger, who had been living in Paris when war was declared. The notion of military service as a kind of a test of character, a test of I am happy and full of excitement over the wonderful days that are ahead.

It was such a comfort to receive your letter and know that you approved of my action. Be sure that I shall play the part well for I was never in better health nor felt my manhood more keenly. Seeger joined the French Foreign Legion, a brigade famous for its ferocity and for taking in anyone willing to fight, and die, for France. In its ranks he met men like Victor Chapman, a fellow Harvard graduate who had given up his architectural studies in Paris to volunteer, and Eugene Bullard, who had escaped the brutal racism of Georgia by stowing away for Europe when he was seventeen.


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  • Once on the continent Bullard had worked as a panhandler, an actor in a traveling comedy troupe, and a boxer. The Legion put the Americans through a crash course in basic training, and they joined a war that now numbered millions of combatants on both sides. Just as the American volunteers were learning how to be soldiers, the nature of the war shifted.

    After smashing their way through Belgium, the Germans were approaching the outskirts of Paris when their over-extended army gave out. Allied counter-attacks drove them back beyond the Marne river east of Paris. Both sides dug in for protection, and kept trying to outflank one another. Within weeks, an improvised network of trenches extended for more than miles from the English Channel to the Swiss border.

    The war that all sides assumed would be over in a matter of weeks, now stretched on with no end in sight. The Germans realized that if they dig trenches and install their machine guns and artillery, the French and the British can't get much further forward. The new fortifications provided protection from the murderous carnage of open warfare.

    But efforts to break out of the stand-off still sent hundreds of thousands of casualties flooding into hospitals just behind the lines. One of the nurses that struggled to cope with the onslaught was an American heiress from Chicago named Mary Borden. All day and often all night I am at work over dying and mutilated men. Despite its horrors, Alan Seeger and his fellow volunteers could not get to the front fast enough.

    By the time you receive this we shall already perhaps have had our baptism of fire. How thrilling it will be tomorrow and the following days, marching toward the front with the noise of battle growing continually louder before us. The whole regiment is going. You have no idea how beautiful it is to see the troops undulating along the road. I didn't raise my boy to be a soldier, I brought him up to be my pride and joy. Who dares to place a musket on his shoulder, To shoot some other mother's darling boy? It was sung in bars and dance-halls, in concerts, schools, and in homes all across the country.

    This was a time remember when in a city like New York, there were a great many daily newspapers being published. And they got their news from songs. Songwriters would pick up a few newspapers on their way into the office in the morning. They would read stories and they would sit down and write a couple of songs about them before lunch.

    Ten million soldiers to the war have gone, Who may never return again. Ten million mothers' hearts must break, For the ones who died in vain. Known as Tin Pan Alley, it was home to one of the biggest industries in the country. Sitting around their upright pianos, songwriting duos were acutely conscious of the national mood.

    In August of , thousands of women, both black and white, had gathered together and marched down Fifth Avenue in silence. The Evening World reported that: The march is very silent, very somber.

    And this is really a sign that women are going to be in the forefront of opposition to the war. Pacifism on the part of men was harder because it suggested cowardice. We could be the arbiter of wars. We could be those that would stop the killing. We could be those that would help find the peace. In the first five months of the war, more than , Frenchmen were killed, 30, British soldiers, almost , Germans. The WPP numbered more than 40, women nationwide, and their goal was the creation of an internationally sanctioned framework for an end to the war.

    The president was Jane Addams. Jane Addams was in some ways the preeminent progressive. She founded a settlement house in Chicago called Hull House that was a place where immigrants and poor people could go to get help, to get education. She toured the country as a lecturer, in the name of peace.

    She was one of the most visible women in America at this time. More than a thousand women, from 12 different nations, attended the conference, including representatives from Germany and Austria-Hungary. Addams and women from many nations gathered to say war must end, and we must not engage in this conflict.

    The world has come too far to allow a barbarous war like this to happen and to really destroy what we have built. She saw alliances among women across national boundaries to be a very important pathway to peace. And I think it clearly influences him by making him think that his instinct that America should have a leadership role in settling the peace is a correct one.

    Directly below the ad was a notice placed by the German Embassy. Travellers sailing in the war zone do so at their own risk. They were getting on the grandest ship of its day. The cruise ship from the era of the Titanic. And they thought no civilized nation would attack such a ship. What no one on board realized was how enmeshed in the war the Lusitania really was. The Germans saw the ship as part of a critical supply line supporting the British war effort. Part of American neutrality from the very beginning was that American companies were free to do business with any of the combatants, on paper.

    Neutrality is almost always a fiction. In this case, the fiction was that the United States was neutral in word and deed. The United States tilted towards the allies from the very beginning. When war broke out, the U. A typical British division of 18, soldiers required a staggering nine million pounds of ammunition, fodder and food each month. There was a seemingly bottomless market for barrels of beef, tons of iron and steel, bushels of oats and wheat. American companies also sold Britain and France massive quantities of bullets, artillery shells, and high explosives.

    The Germans desperately wanted to sink ships transporting these supplies. But since their Navy was no match for the British on the high seas, their only solution was to attack from under the surface. The submarine was really a novelty before World War I. Western navies were unprepared to deal with it. They had no idea how to counter submarine warfare. It was unknown, it was unseen. You never knew where an attack was going to come from.

    And it terrified people. German submarines were technological wonders that were transforming the nature of warfare. The captain and crew of the Lusitania dismissed fears of submarines, and encouraged passengers to enjoy the elegant amenities on board the foot luxury liner. From intercepted communications, the British knew the German submarine U was lurking in the path of the Lusitania. Yet they chose not to send destroyers out to meet the ship and escort it into Liverpool.

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    Within the halls of the British Admiralty, some argued that if the Lusitania was lost, it might precipitate American entry into the war. The British are definitely trying to get America involved in this war. Right from the beginning there is a sense of, we need you here. Your shipping is [not] going to be enough, we are your brethren, you must support us.

    The explosion ripped a huge gash in the Lusitania. It took only 18 minutes for the leviathan to slide beneath the waves. For months after the Lusitania went down, dead bodies washed ashore. Hundreds of others were pulled lifeless from the Irish Sea, their corpses stacked on the docks. Many of the casualties could not be identified, and were buried in mass graves. In all, 1, men, women, and children were lost. What the Lusitania did was to bring the war home to Americans. Up to that time it was this awful thing that was happening to other people far away.

    Now the war had reached out and touched us. The American media had been covering the war for months and months now. We knew what it was like. Americans had been imagining their sons at the battlefront. How do we maintain a position of neutrality? The Lusitania sinking creates a crisis within the Wilson administration, in part because it reveals that this public and official face of neutrality was actually no such thing. Germany argued that the speed with which the Lusitania was sent to the bottom was proof that it was loaded with tons of ammunition for the Allies.

    The Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan, who was a great pacifist, he said the one thing I want to know is, were there in fact arms on that ship? And the truth of the matter is, there were arms on that ship. Actually from the German side, not an irrational or indefensible act. In some ways you have these two visions of what is a legitimate act of violence, just sort of colliding and not being able to reconcile themselves.

    How far can you tolerate the deaths of American citizens is a very legitimate question today, as it was a hundred years ago. And I think being the man who protects American lives on the one hand and on the other hand protecting American lives by not going into war, presented [Wilson] with a very difficult high wire act. In protest, William Jennings Bryan resigned. The German government pledged to put limits on their submarine warfare.

    For those who were strong advocates of neutrality it was too stern and for others such as Teddy Roosevelt, it was an ignominious, cowardly kind of weasely way out of avoiding a fight. And the Lusitania opens up that debate. What should we do about this? There is such a thing as a nation being so right that it does not need to convince others by force that it is right. Since leaving Paris yesterday we have passed through streets and streets of such murdered houses, through town after town spread out in its last writhings.

    At worst they are like stone-yards, at best like Pompeii. But Ypres has been bombarded to death, and the outer walls of its houses are still standing, so that it presents the distant semblance of a living city, while near by it seems to be a disemboweled corpse. Every window-pane is smashed, nearly every building unroofed, and some house-fronts are sliced clean off, with the different stories exposed, as if for the stage-setting of a farce. Edith Wharton is symbolic of a lot of Americans who are living in France, already had a deep passion and interest in France, a deep love of France.

    At the outset of the war, Wharton had organized a series of American hostels to shelter the wave of dislocated families pouring into Paris. In little more than a year, her relief organization had provided clothing and jobs for more than 9, refugees and served nearly a quarter of a million meals. She also begged Americans at home to help finance her efforts.

    The hospitals in Dunkirk were struggling to absorb the casualties from artillery, but they were also confronting the effects of a shocking new weapon that had just been introduced. Soon the unsuspecting men were writhing in agony, choking to death as chlorine gas burned their throat and lungs. In a panic, the survivors abandoned their positions. More than a thousand soldiers were killed, most of them slowly drowning as their lungs filled with fluid. World War I used a combination of really traditional fighting techniques with all these brand new technologies that turned traditional battle into slaughter or things like poisonous gas which seemed like this insidious and unpredictable new weapon that just killed indiscriminately, that had nothing to do with individuals fighting each other and that was really just about mass death.

    Gas was something that was a new horror. And for people that already thought that the Germans were evil personified, it just played in to those sorts of attitudes. Gas in a way was as terrifying to people as the submarine. Gas could blind you, very quickly. It could make you cough up blood very quickly. It could break down your lungs very quickly. Eventually both sides would use gas. It would just be part of something that was a descent into 20th Century warfare.

    And truthfully to take things to a level that had never been seen before. No civilized race can remain neutral in feeling now. Edith Wharton really wanted to create kind of a sympathetic character in the French people and in France itself and she was even accused by some of her fellow authors of being a propagandist. But she was writing in a way that I think she knew would have as powerful an effect as possible.

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    I think she was changing the tide of how people viewed the war and whether America should at long last get involved. The way that German atrocities were played up in the media helped create a good guy-bad guy scenario. This is the idea of the Germans as Huns, as destroyers, as barbarians. The moral depravity of German soldiers suggested a moral cause. It made it about the sons of light against the sons of darkness.

    It became a sacred bill of indictment against them for behavior of a kind that no one could justify. In the ensuing struggle, the attacker was subdued, but not until he wounded Morgan twice in the thigh. The gunman turned out to be a former German teacher at Harvard, who had set off a bomb at the U.

    Capitol the day before. Although no direct link to the German government was proven, the attack on Morgan appeared to be part of a larger effort by Germany to stop American support for the allies. If you sympathized with Germany then Morgan was your ultimate enemy.

    And because he was so powerful as an individual, it was actually possible to believe that assassinating him could actually stop the war. As the conflict dragged on, the French and British had required larger and larger loans to keep themselves afloat. Morgan, a committed Anglophile, had been more than happy to oblige.

    He also served as a purchasing agent, helping to procure the millions of pounds of food and armaments the Allies required every month. President Wilson turned a blind eye to this financial lifeline to the Allies. The war turned the United States into a creditor power, not a debtor power, for the first time in its history. Americans were working again, and nobody wanted to cut that off. Our economic support for the allies started out at the very beginning of the war and quickly became a vicious cycle.

    Because we could only sell to the allies, they became our main market. Because the allies could only buy from us, they quickly became indebted to us. And so it was in our best interest to send them more armaments so that they could win the war. Great Britain during the war spent fully half of its war budget in the United States of America. The attack on J. German cultural life was everywhere.

    There were German churches, German language newspapers. German was the most commonly studied foreign language in American high schools. What we now call classical music was German music, Bach, Beethoven and Brahms played by symphonies, sung by ordinary people in choirs and in churches. They were particularly visible in certain parts of the country, particularly the Midwest, [and] they wielded enormous political power in some cities like St.


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    In response to what they saw as a hypocritical and blatantly one-sided neutrality policy, the National German-American Alliance — which boasted more than 2 million members and chapters in 44 states — held mass demonstrations calling for an arms embargo. In the first days of the war, the British had cut the transatlantic cables connecting America to the European continent. The only remaining cable was from London. Increasingly frustrated by the one-sidedness of American neutrality, the German government began to fight back.

    They were shocked at what they found inside. The Germans were secretly supporting newspapers sympathetic to their side, paying corrupt union leaders to stage strikes, and setting up shadow companies to disrupt the munitions trade. They had even planned a coup in Mexico that would bring a pro-German strong-man to power. Soon, almost any accident or strange occurrence was attributed to Berlin. The mounting paranoia began to implicate German-Americans as well.

    Even the president took up the theme. Such creatures of passion, disloyalty, and anarchy must be crushed out. They are infinitely malignant, and the hand of our power should close over them at once. But if your loyalties are on the side of the Europeans, then we have a problem. This is a criticism of political radicals, anarchists and others.

    The island was a railroad yard and munitions depot where two million pounds of armaments, bound for the Allies, were being stored. The detonation shattered windows in downtown Manhattan, lodged shrapnel in the Statue of Liberty, and was heard as far away as Philadelphia.

    If it had been an earthquake, the blast would have measured 5. The state of filth I live in here is unbelievable, and the barest necessities are luxuries. I get down to the depot and kitchen about every two days for a face wash. Our heads get crusted with mud, — eyes and hair literally gluey with it. After enlisting in the Foreign Legion, Victor Chapman had spent twelve months at the front. It was a long way from architecture school in Paris.

    Sanitation in the trenches was crude or non-existent. When it rained, the trenches became rivers of mud. The men yearned to test themselves in open battle — anything to interrupt the tedium, and the random visitation of death. All up and down the lines in the spring of , the great struggle that soldiers talked about was at Verdun. At that ancient fortress town the French had made a stand against a massive German offensive. The contest had descended into a sickening battle of attrition, grinding on, month after month, with no end in sight.

    Of course, to me it is a matter of great regret and I take it as a piece of hard luck. Bullard had been transferred to a new French unit that had seen heavy fighting, but he had never experienced anything like this. Neither side knew where the lines were and there were no more trenches and everything was guesswork. In those hours every man at Verdun either got one more hole in him than he was born with or, if he was lucky, he ducked into a series of shallow shell holes as I did. Bullard was manning a post with a machine gun as a mass of Germans came on.

    It was like mowing grass. Every time the sergeant yelled, fire! I got sicker and sicker. So this young boy from Georgia, ends up in what is the most horrific battle of World War I. And Bullard made a comment. He was surprised that anybody got out of it alive at all. Bullard was wounded twice at Verdun. He would become one of the first Americans to receive the French military honor for exceptional bravery — the Croix De Guerre.

    This flying is much too romantic to be real modern war with all its horrors. There is something so unreal and fairy like about it, which ought to be told and described by Poets. High above the blackened battlefield, Victor Chapman had escaped the trenches and found himself engaged in a new kind of war, one that had never been waged before. The planes were made of practically nothing. They would fall apart just almost you know at a whisper.

    But there was something very visceral about it, because you were in total control.

    Home front during World War I

    You see the curve of the earth. You know humans had gone up in balloons before, but that was the extent of flight. This was really flying. If you see these airplanes today, you wonder how anyone in their right mind went up in them. They were essentially bicycles with wings. And this was very dangerous work. From the outset of the war, both sides raced to turn the airplane to their advantage.

    Pilots began as observers, and took thousands of photographs of enemy positions. Brian graduated from St. Cloud State University in St. Cloud, Minnesota, with a journalism degree, and has worked as a newspaper reporter, editor, and photographer. Grades 7 and Above. The greatest irony of WWI was that none of the key decision-makers wanted it to happen and death wish or no, neither did most ordinary people.

    Gavrilo Princip could have missed. In February of that year, a dispatch from Berlin noted that large packs of wolves were creeping from the forests of Lithuania and Volhynia into the interior of the German Empire, not far from the front lines. Like so many living creatures, the animals had been driven from their homes by the war and were now simply looking for something to eat.

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    According to another dispatch out of St. Petersburg, the wolves were such a nuisance on the battlefield that they were one of the few things that could bring soldiers from both sides together. Take this July New York Times report describing how soldiers in the Kovno-Wilna Minsk district near modern Vilnius, Lithuania decided to cease hostilities to fight this furry common enemy:.

    But all to no avail. The wolves—nowhere to be found quite so large and powerful as in Russia—were desperate in their hunger and regardless of danger. Fresh packs would appear in place of those that were killed by the Russian and German troops. For a short time there was peace. And in no haphazard fashion was the task of vanquishing the mutual foe undertaken.

    The wolves were gradually rounded up, and eventually several hundred of them were killed. The others fled in all directions, making their escape from carnage the like of which they had never encountered. Afterward, the soldiers presumably returned to their posts and resumed pointing their rifles at a more violent and dangerous enemy—each other. Get to know King Bob a little better. He likely spoke Scots, Gaelic, Latin, and Norman French, and was an avid reader who loved studying the lives of previous monarchs.

    According to a parliamentary brief from around , Robert the Bruce "used continually to read, or have read in his presence, the histories of ancient kings and princes, and how they conducted themselves in their times, both in wartime and in peacetime. The Bruce family spent the s complaining that they had been robbed of the Scottish Crown. Debates raged until John Balliol was declared King in The Bruces, who had closer blood ties to the previous royal family but not closer paternal ties considered Balliol an usurper. There, Robert accused Comyn of treachery and stabbed him. Shortly after, Robert declared himself King of Scotland and started to plot an uprising against England.

    The uprising did not go exactly according to plan. To add salt to his wounds, Robert's ensuing attempts to battle England became a total failure. In the winter of , he was forced to flee Scotland and was exiled to a cave on Rathlin Island in Northern Ireland. Legend has it that as Robert took shelter in the cave, he saw a spider trying—and failing—to spin a web.