16/11/1917 Georges Clemenceau, France’s latest Prime Minister #1917Live

Another political crisis in France has led to the fall of Painlevé‘s government. Now President Poincaré takes the bold step of inviting Georges Clemenceau to form a government. Clemenceau is an old man, 76 years of age, and a leader of the Radical Party, a secular liberal group that has long been the bane of France’s conservative establishment. Clemenceau has also been a strident critic of the way France’s political leaders have been conducting the war. Handing him the premiership gives him an opportunity to put up or shut up.

Clemenceau is determined that the war must be prosecuted to victory and vehemently opposed to any suggestion of a separate peace with the Germans. He plans immediate moves against pacifist agitators within France, including senior politicians such as the Socialist leader Joseph Caillaux, whom he suspects of seeking to bring France out of the war.

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Georges Clemenceau (Wikipedia)

9/11/1917 The Balfour Declaration: Britain gives away Palestine #1917Live

British newspapers today carry reports of a letter sent a week ago by Arthur Balfour, the foreign minister, to Walter Rothschild, a leading member of the British Jewish community. In the letter Balfour states that the British government “view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people” and promises that Britain will work to facilitate the achievement of this goal. British armies are currently advancing into Palestine, which means that it may soon be possible to deliver on Balfour’s promise.

Although written to a private individual, Balfour’s letter is intended for publication. Zionism, the idea that a Jewish homeland should be established in Palestine, has been attracting increasing support among members of the Jewish community across the world. The British hope that by declaring in favour of Zionism they will be able to boost Jewish support for the war effort in Britain and the USA. They also hope that this Jewish homeland will remain under effective British control, safeguarding the security of the Suez Canal and British interests in the Middle East.

Balfour’s declaration is only the latest in Britain’s promises regarding the disposal of Ottoman territories in the Middle East, following on from the Constantinople agreement with France and Russia, the promise to Sharif Hussein to establish an Arab state in greater Syria, and the Sykes-Picot agreement with France. Unlike the others, Balfour’s declaration has been made publicly.

As with the previous agreements, Balfour’s letter contains no suggestion that the current inhabitants of Palestine will have any say in the disposal of their territory. It does however say that the “civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine” should be respected.

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The Balfour Declaration as reported in The Times (Wikipedia)

Arthur Balfour

Walter Rothschild in 1895

6/11/1917 Kerensky’s failed attempt to crush the Bolsheviks #1917Live

In Russia power is ebbing away from Kerensky‘s Provisional Government. The advance of the Germans in the Baltic is leading to fears that Petrograd might fall, but more disturbing are signs that the Bolsheviks are planning to seize power. The Bolshevik-controlled military committee of the Petrograd Soviet has been spreading its tentacles throughout the city, with most of Petrograd’s garrison now loyal to it rather than the Provisional Government. This includes the troops stationed in the Peter & Paul Fortress, whose guns command the Winter Palace in which the Provisional Government is based.

Kerensky seems powerless to stop the rising influence of the Bolsheviks. Verkhovsky, the war minister, has suggested that he seek an immediate peace with the Germans, undercutting the Bolsheviks whose demand for an end to the war has struck a chord with many. But Kerensky is determined to keep Russia in the war, despite the increasing inability of the army to fight the Germans.

Kerensky’s dwindling band of supporters have urged him to strike back against the Bolsheviks, decapitating them before they can seize power. Now he finally accedes to their request, ordering the suppression of the Bolshevik press and the arrest of their leaders. But Kerensky’s weakness is now all too apparent: he simply does not have the forces at his disposal for an effective crackdown. The men he sends to the Bolshevik printing presses are soon chased away by revolutionary troops. His hunters are unable to locate Lenin or the other leading Bolsheviks. And in the tumult that follows, Kerensky’s men lose control of two of the bridges into central Petrograd.

For the Bolsheviks, Kerensky’s attempted crackdown focuses minds. The party’s leadership had agreed in principle to a seizure of power at some unspecified point in the future. Now they realise that the time to strike is now.

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The Provisional Government (Wikipedia: Russian Provisional Government)

6/11/1917 Rapallo: Allied leaders demand Cadorna’s head #1917Live

Allied leaders are meeting at Rapallo in Italy to discuss the desperate position of the Italian army. Prime Minsters Lloyd George, Painlevé and Orlando are present, together with a raft of other politicians and senior generals from all three countries (and also Smuts of South Africa). A curious absence is Cadorna, Italy’s supreme general.

Caporetto has shattered the Italian army and the country’s leaders are essentially begging their Allies for the help needed to stave off complete defeat. However the British and French have no confidence in the command structure of the Italian army. They attach two conditions to their aid: British and French troops sent to Italy will remain under French command (specifically under Foch, now the French chief of staff) and Cadorna will be removed as Italian commander. The Italians have no choice but to accept these terms. Orlando is no friend of Cadorna and is probably happy to have an excuse to remove him.

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The New Kursaal Hotel, where the Allied leaders met (My Simple Life in Liguria: the Glory Days of Rapallo)

1/11/1917 A new German Chancellor #1917Live

Recent unrest in the German navy has been blamed on agitators from the Independent Socialists. Chancellor Michaelis took this opportunity to denounce the Independent Socialists in the Reichstag, hoping to separate them from the more respectable SPD and other parties. But the move backfires. Reichstag members are outraged, seeing Michaelis’ denunciations as an attack on their prerogatives. Losing the ability to manage Germany’s parliament, Michaelis resigns as Chancellor.

His successor is Georg von Hertling of the Centre Party, which represents Catholic interests. Hertling is old and conservative, but he consults with other party leaders before accepting the chancellorship. That he has taken office as a result of his predecessor losing the Reichstag’s confidence suggests that Germany may perhaps be on the road to parliamentary democracy.

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Georg von Hertling (in 1908) (Wikipedia)

30/10/1917 A new Italian prime minster spells danger for the army’s commander #1917Live

Just as the Germans and Austro-Hungarians launched their offensive at Caporetto the Italian government of Paolo Boselli fell. Now after a short interregnum Vittorio Orlando takes over as prime minister. Orlando is a liberal who has been serving as minister of the interior. He is determined to keep Italy in the war, notwithstanding the currently unfolding military disaster. Unlike his predecessors, however, he is not in awe of Cadorna, the army’s supreme commander. The army’s failures in the face of the enemy offensive has already put Cadorna’s star into the descendant. Faced with a hostile prime minister, it may not be long before the generalissimo is put out to pasture.

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Vittorio Orlando (Wikipedia)

Luigi Cadorna (Encyclopaedia Britannica)

26/10/1917 Brazil joins the Allies #1917Live

Germany’s escalated U-boat campaign was intended to force Britain out of the war but the actual effect has been to lengthen the list of Germany’s enemies. The United States declared war in April and now Germany acquires a new South American enemy. German attacks on Brazilian ships have poisoned relations between the two countries. After the sinking by a U-boat of a Brazilian freighter off Spain three days ago, Brazil finally declares war on Germany.

The decision to join the war is not universally popular in Brazil. Trade unionists and socialists in particular are opposed to the end of neutrality. There have recently been violent disturbances in Brazil, as leftists have sought to block the government’s slide towards war. With the country now at war, the Brazilian government declares a state of emergency and prepares a crackdown on unruly elements.

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President Venceslau Brás of Brazil signs the declaration of war (Wikipedia: Brazil during World War I)