Vintage Audio - At The Front

Newton Baker Click to download as MP3

Reproduced below is the speech recorded by the U.S. Secretary of War Newton Baker in 1917 entitled At the Front.

Of reputedly pacifist inclinations Baker was not a unanimously popular choice as Secretary of War when appointed by President Woodrow Wilson in 1916.

Opposition Republicans viewed Baker as a weak placement given the possibility of America being drawn into World War One.  Nevertheless as war approached Baker was active in boosting the military preparedness of the U.S.  Once war was underway Baker was responsible for appointing Pershing as Commander-in-Chief and for drawing up plans for military conscription.

Use the player above to listen to a recording of Baker's speech from 1917.

At the Front

I recently had the high privilege of visiting the battlefront of freedom from the English Channel to Venice.  I saw the superb and veteran armies of Great Britain, France and Italy.

I saw the heroic associates with whom our own army is to fight, and I had then, as I have now a sense of stirring and rising pride in the feeling that America's great and splendidly equipped and prepared army is composed of men worthy to be classed with those heroes and that they will find heroes worthy of their fellowship.

As the great army of American boys is streaming across the sea, and taking its place beside the British and the French, my mind projects that picture to another which I saw in Europe.  Mountains unscaled by human feet, descended by Italian engineers with cable-ways running up them from valleys which seemed bottomless, and carrying up cannons, men, and munitions until these white-fingered, up-pointing mountains were really, each of them, converted into fortress sentinels guarding Italy and guarding freedom as well, by day and by night.

As an illustration of the spirit in heroic France, I heard of a French woman who went to the intelligence office of a hospital to inquire whether her husband, reported to her seriously wounded, had any chance of recovery.  They told her there, that her husband was dead.  She turned.  It was not her first sacrifice in the war and as she turned, seemed to stagger from the room.

A kindly disposed man followed her to see whether he could be of any comfort or consolation in her distress.  He overtook her at the sidewalk, and she seemed almost distraught as he said to her: "Madam I beg you to let me express my profound sympathy for this terrible blow."  She turned round, faced him squarely, and catching her breath and choking back what would have been a sob said: "Sir, under these circumstances there is only one proper sentiment to express, vive la France!"

That is the spirit of the people and the armies in Europe.  It is the spirit of America, and we shall be blessed in the victory we are to win by the sacrifices which will have purified us as they will have glorified our cause.

An "incendiary shell" is an artillery shell packed with highly flammable material, such as magnesium and phosphorous, intended to start and spread fire when detonated.

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