Best Little Stories from World War I by C. Brian Kelly and Ingrid Smyer by C. Brian Kelly and Ingrid Smyer - Read Online

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Best Little Stories from World War I - C. Brian Kelly

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WE ALL DRIFT ON IN a sort of dull cataleptic trance. Winston Churchill said it. The nations of Europe did it. Drift into war, that is, the worst in the history of mankind up until 1914.

How could they! What were they thinking? As Churchill also said in the same letter to his wife Clementine on the eve of the war, Europe was caught up in a wave of madness that has swept the mind of Christendom.

Even after the first guns spoke, even after the German advance in August that provoked, in the very first days, the largest battle of the war in numbers of troops involved, people were saying, Oh, it’ll all be over by Christmas.

As a sign of that same madness, the soldiers of opposing forces along the trench lines marking the stalemated western front put down their guns—for a moment. In an unplanned, unspoken Yuletide truce that first Christmas of 1914, they put aside their weaponry, exchanged gifts, and even played a friendly game or two of soccer between the trench lines. But then, German, English, French, like smokers or alcoholics, they all fell back into their old ways and began shooting each other down again. And mercilessly so, for almost another four years.

Blood had been shed, but even so, there had been a fleeting glimpse of sanity, hadn’t there?

What drove these lemmings to such suicide? Not the troops themselves, but their masters in one capital or another.

Hundreds of books have been written on that very question, and still no pat answer leaps to mind. Yes, the shooting of the archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie at Sarajevo was a factor, indeed, a specific trigger. Yes, the Austrians demanded the impossible of little Serbia, home to the overzealous assassin, a hotheaded nationalist. Yes, there were interlocking treaties, both open and secret, by which various restive nations felt obliged to help others. Yes, the kaiser’s Germany obviously was in a naval arms race against Britain’s dominating Royal Navy. Yes, there had been two Balkan Wars in recent years. And yes, the Russians had been embarrassed by the Japanese in their little war of 1905.

Yes, yes, and yes…but world war? Did anyone dream of the many millions of people who would be killed as a result? Did anyone dream of the new weaponry or the uses it would be put to, not only in their time but later? The bombings of whole cities during World War II that would kill as many as two hundred thousand persons, most of them civilians, in one blow, in one night of so-called conventional bombing? Or the unthinkable, the Holocaust?

What began it all? The causes of the First World War are very complicated and broad, noted British military historian Sir Max Hastings in a newspaper interview early in 2013. But the truth is that Austria and Germany bear the chief responsibility. They believed that they could win a war which would give them European domination. While Hastings also cautions against oversimplifying the causes, he claims, Britain did not want a war and the Germans did.

Others argue that the assassination of Austria’s Archduke Ferdinand and his wife Sophie, interpreted as an act of state-sponsored terrorism, gave Austria-Hungary a clear excuse to declare war on Serbia. But they wouldn’t have done it if they had not been given a blank cheque by Germany promising to support them, said David Stevenson, a professor of international history at the London School of Economics and Political Science. Thus, Germany, for one, deliberately risked a European war…Germany, Austria, Russia, and France all took steps that were dangerous, but they were not expecting the war that happened, no one premeditated that.

Great Britain, bound by treaty to little Belgium, stepped in when German forces swept into the nonbelligerent Belgium on their way to invading France.

All so true…but would the long-inert powder keg that was the Europe of the early twentieth century have been set off at all without the assassination at Sarajevo?

As the late British historian A. J. P. Taylor once noted, the basic cause of any automobile accident is the invention of the internal combustion engine, although the proximate trigger could be something like the irresponsible fellow who drove through a red light. Likewise, he also said, In July 1914 things went wrong. The only safe explanation is that things happen because things happen.

Thus, one hundred years ago, a madness of some sort possessed Europe…and eventually dragged in the United States as well.

The war’s result was big—really big. Royal houses crumbled, governments tumbled, national borders fell away—and millions died, perhaps as many as sixteen million, as a result of the new weaponry, disease, and starvation. Some sources say that all casualties, military or civilian, from combat to natural causes, could have totaled sixty million worldwide. And in the process, an old order disappeareth, a new order cometh in, socially, politically, and culturally. This has been poignantly depicted in recent years by the Downton Abbey television series about the residents and staff of a once-traditional English country home (albeit castle-like in size) before, during, and after World War I.

A big picture, yes, but all those numbers—millions dead, more millions maimed or dispossessed from home and hearth—are so easy at our distance to gloss over, with eyes glazed a bit, without quite realizing the impact in terms of individual, everyday lives, perhaps even like our own.

But that’s just it. Among those millions affected by World War I were ordinary people, with small moments and stories of their own, all contributing to the rushing stream of history.

Such is history, we contend. So many best little stories.

Thank you.


C. Brian Kelly

Ingrid Smyer

Charlottesville, Virginia

February 2014


He has lived too tensely…it is of course the thing that killed his father…it is an awful thing—a dying by inches, and incurable.

—Ellen Axson Wilson, 1906

Proud Father’s Plea

BEGINNING OF A LETTER FROM a doting and proud father to U.S. Senator Thomas R. Bard (R-CA), February 22, 1903:

Dear Sir: I understand that in the course of the next few months it will be incumbent upon you to name a cadet to West Point to succeed your cadet who is to graduate in June 1904…My son is a direct lineal descendant of that John Washington who came to Virginia in 1657, and who was the grandfather of George Washington. He is also a direct descendant of General Hugh Mercer, a friend and comrade of Geo. Washington in Braddock’s expedition & who as a General in the Colonial Army led the advance and was killed at Princeton. In more immediate times my son’s immediate grandfather (my father) fell while in command of the Confederate division that sustained the historic charge of Sheridan at Winchester in 1864. His maternal grandfather was B. D. Wilson who served in the Indian Wars, and was a well-known pioneer of this state [California]. Since his earliest boyhood, my son has been possessed by the ambition to enter the army, an instinct that may possibly be accounted for by the hereditary effect of these strains of blood.


Better Mousetrap

BORN AND RAISED IN MAINE on the opposite coast of the United States, Hiram Maxim first invented a better mousetrap, designed so that the struggling of each victim would reset the trap for the next mouse (New York Times, November 26, 1985). His last name became a household word for another killing machine, the machine gun, and many years later he moved to England and became a knight of the realm.


No Hurry for Harry

AS A WORKING FARMER, YOUNG Harry Truman knew what hard work really was. I used to milk cows by hand. I used to plow with a four-horse team, instead of a tractor, he once reflected during his White House years. I have two nephews on the same farm that get much more out of that farm than I ever did. But they do it with machinery. They milk the cows by machine, and they plow with a tractor and they plant with a tractor and they bale hay with a tractor. I don’t think those boys could follow me up a corn row to save their lives, because they ride and I walked.

The hard work of the farm was so steady, so methodical, that his daughter Margaret added in her biography of her father, Things had to be done on a schedule but nothing much could be done to hurry the growth of the corn or the wheat. In fact, The pace of the farm was reflected in the pace of the era. There was no sense of frantic urgency, no burning need to hurry.


Victory His Goal

HIS GRANDFATHER ARTHUR, AN IMMIGRANT from Scotland, was an appeals level judge in the courts of Washington, DC. The future warrior’s father, also Arthur, was a Civil War hero, winner of the Medal of Honor, and a career army officer, mostly in the Old West, which was still a frontier. Older brother Arthur was a Naval Academy graduate and later would become a pioneer submariner and skipper of a cruiser on convoy duty during World War I. Because older brother Arthur had already snagged the family’s traditional first son’s name, he himself would be Douglas instead.

Learning to ride horseback and to shoot before being introduced to schoolbooks, Douglas MacArthur spent his youth at army posts in New Mexico, Texas, and Kansas. His father’s assignments also included a stint in Washington, DC, where young Douglas gleaned a bit of the cosmopolitan life in a capital city of growing importance in the world. One day he would be on duty there himself, as Army Chief of Staff, with Dwight Eisenhower as one of his closely attending subordinates.

Admittedly not always an avid student, Douglas began to appreciate the logic of mathematics, as well as the lure of classic languages such as Latin and Greek, when he hit the high school ranks. Unsurprisingly, he had his sights set on obtaining an appointment to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. Trudging two miles to high school and back every day, with the West Point appointment his goal, he worked harder on his studies than ever before. The night before his competitive examination, he couldn’t sleep, and the next morning, he felt nauseous. But the cool words of my mother brought me around, he later wrote in his memoir Reminisces. ‘Doug,’ she said, ‘you’ll win if you don’t lose your nerve. You must believe in yourself, my son, or no one else will believe in you. Be self-confident, self-reliant, and even if you don’t make it, you will know you have done your best. Now, go to it.’

He did just fine, and from that experience, he not only learned the wisdom of his mother’s words, but he also came away with another lesson he never forgot: Preparedness is the key to success and victory.

It’s worth noting here that he said success…and victory.


Twisted Arm

NOT YET EVEN BORN, THE child presented difficulties from the very beginning. He presented, first, a breech delivery that forced his mother into hours of terrible pain, that threatened her life and his own, that ended only when a master obstetrician wormed him into daylight, bruised, an arm twisted around his neck, and not breathing. Rubbed and slapped several times, at last he came around that January 27, 1859, with a cry that his father later said, cut through me like an electric shock. Only three days later did anyone really notice his damaged left arm. The obstetrician, it was later surmised, perhaps yanked too hard during the birth struggle and crushed tissue needed for normal growth. The arm would always be withered.

Thus, there was one strike right at the start against newborn Friedrich Victor Wilhelm Albert Hohenzollern, known as Willy to his intimates.

As a second possible strike, historians conjecture that the brief lack of oxygen to his brain caused adverse effects, perhaps brain damage. Willy grew up to be hyperactive and emotionally unstable, writes historian Miranda Carter in her book George, Nicholas and Wilhelm: Three Royal Cousins and the Road to World War I; brain damage sustained at birth was a possible cause.

As another strike, Carter argues, An almost impossible burden of conflicting demands and expectations came to rest upon Willy from the moment of his birth.

For one thing, his mother Vicky was the oldest child and daughter of Queen Victoria of England; Willy thus became the queen’s firstborn grandchild and, many often said, her favorite of the forty grandchildren she and Prince Consort Albert could claim. Willy, as his father Friedrich III’s son, was also heir to the throne of Prussia, the biggest and most influential power in the loose confederation of thirty-eight duchies, kingdoms and four free cities that called itself Germany, Carter points out.

Many in this royal tableau were German. Queen Victoria’s own mother was German and so was her husband, Albert. Little Willy’s paternal grandmother, Augusta of Prussia, was also German. Six of Queen Victoria’s nine children married Germans.

So many Germans. Willy, the future kaiser of a unified, heavily armed Germany, among them.


Soul of a Poet

BY CONTRAST, A YOUNG MAN named Joyce came from a strictly prosaic, middleclass background. He was born and raised in New Brunswick, New Jersey. His father had created Johnson & Johnson’s baby powder, but Joyce took an entirely different route in life. A journalist by trade, he also became a poet. As the Poetry Foundation puts it, he became known for poetry that celebrated the common beauty of the natural world as well as his religious faith. He became briefly famous for his poem Trees, published in 1914, the year Europe went to war.

In 1917, married and the father of five children, he could have stayed home and avoided the draft as America entered the war. At the time, he was widely regarded as the leading Catholic American poet of his generation, notes the Poetry Foundation website. Still, duty called to him. He volunteered and was deployed to France with the American 42nd Rainbow Infantry Division.

Today, streets, schools, and a park in the Bronx of New York City are named for Joyce Kilmer. A 3,800-acre tract of old-growth forest in North Carolina, purchased and safeguarded by the federal government, was dedicated in his memory in 1936.


Speed His King

YOUNG EDDIE HAD BEEN WORKING at odd jobs since he was a child. With seven brothers and sisters, he had to, as his family needed all the financial help possible. They lived in a house without electricity, running water, or plumbing. Then, to make matters worse, his father was killed at a construction site when Eddie was fourteen. The youngster dropped out of school to keep working, but now it was full time and it was factory work. He lied about his age to circumvent the child labor laws.

One job led to another for young Eddie—a glass factory, a steel casting company, a beer company, a bowling alley, a cemetery monument yard. He finally found his first love when he went to work in a garage, took correspondence courses in mechanical engineering, and then helped to build, sell, and, eventually, race cars. He took part in the first Indianapolis 500 in 1911 and gained fame as a race-car driver. (Years later, in 1927, he would buy the Indianapolis Speedway itself for $700,000.) He was racing professionally for the Prest-O-Lite Company in 1917 when he enlisted in the U.S. Army; he would go on to find his true calling in the air as an ace fighter pilot. He enlisted at the suggestion of auto-racing fan Major Lewis Burgess, who offered a billet as a chauffeur for John J. Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Forces in France (AEF).


Fear of Fear

LEAVING HOME IN CALIFORNIA TO attend his father’s old military school, Virginia Military Institute (VMI) in Lexington, young George S. Patton Jr. was especially worried about one thing. I was walking with Uncle Glassell Patton and told him that I feared I might be cowardly. He told me that no Patton could be a coward. He was a most reckless, brave man. I told this to Papa and he said that while ages of gentility might make a man of my breeding reluctant to engage in a fistfight, the same breeding made him perfectly willing to face death from weapons with a smile. I think that this is true.


Cousins and Wives

NEITHER CZAR NICHOLAS II OF Russia nor his look-alike cousin from the United Kingdom, King George V, looked remotely like kingly material as young men. Georgie, as his family called him, wasn’t even in line for the throne, since he had an older brother, Prince Albert Victor, known as Eddy. And Nicky (the czar’s youthful nickname) really hadn’t prepared for the day his father Alexander died in late 1894—fairly young, that is, at forty-nine. What am I to do? Nicky asked one family member. What is going to happen to me…to all of Russia? I am not prepared to be Czar. I never wanted to become Czar. I know nothing of the business of ruling.

His father’s funeral was a real horror show for the royal guests from England, headed by future King Edward VII, still the Prince of Wales. Since Czar Alexander III had died on the Black Sea coast, the trip back to St. Petersburg on the Baltic Sea took seventeen days, with long services held twice a day, the casket kept open, and the body beginning to decompose by journey’s end, despite the process of embalming. In the final service, at a cathedral in St. Petersburg, Edward stood next to his nephew Nicky, the new czar, and both, by custom, had to kiss the departed one on the lips in final farewell.

Just a week later, with English cousin Georgie still on hand, Nicky married his great love, Alix, the sixth and last child of Queen Victoria’s daughter Alice of Hesse-Darmstadt. Her mother had died when Alix (Alicky to her English cousins) was only six, her army-officer father was usually absent from home, and her five siblings were all much older. As a result, Alix had endured a largely isolated childhood. She felt uncomfortable in public settings, while considering herself basically English (as her mother had been). For someone so young, she was notably religious. In fact, citing her Lutheran faith, she balked at Nicky’s first proposal of marriage on the grounds that it would entail a conversion to the Russian Orthodox faith. That proposal took place at the wedding of cousin Willy’s youngest sister, Margaret, in Berlin in early 1893.

Also at that time, Willy, by now Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, approached Nicky on a far-reaching diplomatic proposal—the suggestion that Russia should join the Triple Alliance of Germany, Austria, and Italy. Nicky, upset by Alix’s stubbornness and unfamiliar with matters of state in any case, merely smiled and nodded out of politeness. But Willy had detected in Nicky’s amenable manner an aversion to France, which could mean Russia’s recently sealed alliance with France might not be long-lasting after all. Since Germany was sandwiched geographically between Russia on one side and France on the other, Nicky’s attitude could be important.

Far more important to Nicky, however, was the matter of Alix, whom he had loved since meeting her when he was sixteen years old and she twelve. A year after her rejection, while attending yet another wedding, that of her brother Ernie, Nicky asked again, and she, apparently pressed by many family members, finally acceded. Still, it wasn’t a radiantly happy bride who stood at the altar just a week after her prospective father-in-law’s elongated funeral. Alix later said, Our marriage seemed to me a mere continuation of the masses for the dead with this difference, that I now wore a white dress instead of a black one. Carter also notes on Alix: In her wedding photos she looked thin-lipped and frowning. Her unease and discomfort when confronted by the vast company was palpable. Not a good fit for an emperor’s wife.

Cousin Georgie, meanwhile, rather than stick to a Royal Navy career, which he hated in any case (a propensity to seasickness didn’t help), was himself in line to become a monarch too, thanks to another quite unexpected death—that of his older brother Eddy back in 1892, of the flu followed by pneumonia. Thus was Georgie, instead of Eddy, to be the son who would succeed Edward VII, after Edward succeeded his indomitable mother, Victoria, as monarch of England and all its far-flung empire.

Hardly two months after Eddy’s death, the queen herself suggested that George, as yet unmarried, should be thinking about Princess Victoria Mary of Teck (another German duchy), who went by the nickname May—and who, more pointedly, had been the unfortunate Eddy’s own bride-to-be. Have you seen May or have you thought more about the possibility or found out what her feelings might be? the queen wrote to Georgie. He at first found the thought of marrying his brother’s fiancée upsetting. But Victoria was relentless. The wedding took place in July 1893, with cousins Nicky and Willy both on hand.


Expert at Sabers

ALTHOUGH GEORGE S. PATTON JR. first spent a year at VMI, he finally won appointment to West Point, his real goal all along. He graduated in 1909, six years after Douglas MacArthur, and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. cavalry. The next high-water mark for Patton would be the pentathlon event in the 1912 summer Olympics, held at Stockholm, Sweden, followed by the French cavalry school at Saumur, before returning to the U.S. cavalry. One notable respite for this serious student of military history: he wrote the U.S. Army’s official manual on the use of sabers.


Cousins Three

LET’S SEE NOW. HERE WERE Nicky, Willy, and Georgie, all reigning monarchs, and two of them, their countries at war with each other, sharing the same grandmother, Queen Victoria of England. To explain the interlocking directorate of royals and nobles in Europe during the Great War, all nine of Queen Victoria’s children had married into royalty or nobility a generation before, and then eight of them produced forty children.

Queen Victoria’s forty grandchildren included two chief actors in the drama of war—Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany and King George V of England—plus the controversial wife of Czar Nicholas II, the Czarina Alexandra. The czar himself was a first cousin to George V of England because their mothers, Alexandra and Dagmar of Denmark, were sisters. Of the major powers, only Austria-Hungary’s aging Emperor Franz Josef was not directly related to the same royals.

And yet it was the assassination of his apparent successor, the Archduke Ferdinand (and his wife Sophie) in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914, by a radical Serbian nationalist that would trigger the war, which began after Austria delivered an impossible ultimatum on Serbia for redress almost a month later, on July 23.

With Austria on the march, Nicky (the czar) telegrammed his cousin the kaiser: An ignoble war has been declared to a weak country…I foresee that very soon I shall be overwhelmed by the pressure forced upon me to take extreme measures that will lead to war. Nicky begged Willy to do what you can to stop your allies [meaning Austria] from going too far.

Willy responded somewhat cryptically: I am exerting my utmost influence to induce the Austrians to deal straightly to arrive at a satisfactory understanding with you [meaning with Russia, as a long-standing ally of Serbia]. I confidently hope that you will help me in my efforts to smooth over difficulties that may still arise. Signed, Your very sincere and devoted friend and cousin, Willy.

In still another telegram, Willy said he could not consider his ally Austria’s action against Serbia as an ignoble war. At the same time, he suggested Russia could remain a spectator, without involving Europe in the most horrible war she ever witnessed. Of course, that most horrible war is exactly what soon followed.


Last Man’s Club

I KNEW THERE WOULD BE only one [survivor] someday, an unassuming Frank W. Buckles once said, but he certainly wasn’t thinking along those lines when, on August 14, 1917, at age sixteen, he signed up to become one of the 4.7 million Americans going to war in the Great War. He was one of the two million troops actually sent over there, in his case not to fight exactly, but as a rear-echelon ambulance driver. He would then become one of the millions of surviving veterans. But who knows when Buckles began counting the remaining World War I veterans down to the last? He once said, I didn’t think it would be me.

Yet, the last veteran had to be someone. And before he died on February 27, 2011, well past one hundred in age, he found out that he, amazingly enough, would go down in history as that unique someone.


Bleeding Sickness

ENGLAND’S DECEASED QUEEN VICTORIA NOT only had two grandsons—yes, those royal cousins again—sitting squarely on the thrones of two major nations at war with each other during World War I, but apparently she was the source of a deadly gene that threatened the lineage of yet another royal cousin who was leading a third major belligerent in the war as well.

Czar Nicholas II of Russia had five children, and the only boy, Alexis, the heir to his father’s throne, was a hemophiliac.

The aberrant gene causing the bleeding sickness somehow came from Alexis’s great-grandmother back in England. Even worse, the czar’s only son was not the only royal to suffer the life-threatening condition, which first showed up in Queen Victoria’s own son Leopold, born in 1853.

Leopold’s three brothers, Edward, Alfred, and Arthur, showed no signs of the dread disease, but three of their five sisters did (Vicky, Alice, and Beatrice), with unhappy consequences for all three.

Each married a European prince, with the result that hemophilia was carried into several European royal houses and many of their children and grandchildren suffered cruelly because of it, writes British royals expert Brenda Lewis in her book, The Kings and Queens of Europe: A Dark History.

Leopold paid the ultimate price when he succumbed to a twice-bruised knee in 1884 at the age of thirty, despite brave attempts to live a normally active life, during which he married and had children. Even earlier, his sister Alice’s hemophiliac son Friedrich Wilhelm died after a fall from a window at the age of two. Earlier still, Vicky had lost two sons, aged one and eleven, to infectious diseases that might have been exacerbated by their own hemophiliac conditions, although, adds Lewis, many children in that day and age, royal or no, died of natural causes anyway.

For the royals of Europe, though, hemophilia would pose a dynastic disaster in the years to come, when the next generation of royal daughters had children of their own, with special travail and tragedy then stalking Alix, the half-German, half-English princess who had been so diffident about marrying Nicholas, the shy princeling from Russia who didn’t really want to be czar.


Poster Figure

IN THE SECOND BOER WAR at the turn of the twentieth century, General Horatio Kitchener, hero of the Sudan, was given the unenviable job of finishing up the war against the guerrilla forces of the Dutch settlers resisting British rule of all South Africa. He did the job well, but only after the Boers turned down his call for peace negotiations coupled with generous terms—eventual amnesty for the Boer rebels and status as a Crown colony with a timetable ultimately leading to self-government. In the fighting that continued after the Boers’ rejection, Kitchener and the British eventually prevailed. As a major factor leading to final victory, he pressed his predecessor’s policy of gathering the occupants of Boer farms, most of them women and children, into forty-six refugee camps that eventually came to be recognized as the world’s first concentration camps, thus denying the Boer commandos sanctuary and home support.

Unhappily, as many as a reported twenty-six thousand of the camp occupants died early in the program, largely due to administrative incompetence, disease, and unsanitary conditions, but reforms soon reduced the death rate.

In the meantime, the Boers finally sued for peace, and Kitchener returned home to a hero’s welcome by the public and by Parliament, which gave him a £50,000 grant. Not to be outdone, King Edward VII gave him new status as a viscount and appointed him as a member of the newly created Order of Merit. Kitchener then went to India as commander in chief of the army there, and next, by now a field marshal in rank, he effectively became grandmaster of both Egypt and the Sudan. At six foot two in height, he was tall for his time, straight and soldierly looking—so much so that early in the war, his image would appear on a striking recruiting poster.



WHAT WOULD THIS INTENSE YOUNG man’s calling in life ever be? He dropped out of college one year, dropped out of law school another year, insistently pursued his own female cousin with unrequited passion, displayed one psychosomatic symptom after another…and finally went into teaching as a career.

He displayed brilliance early in his career as an up-and-coming scholar, but in his forties he suffered from stroke-like illnesses. More than once, he taught himself to write with his left hand rather than the right. Then came the day he awoke in the morning blind in his right eye (but not permanently, as it turned out).

Oddly enough, he was calm, even gay, in response, but his wife Ellen Axson wrote that his apparent stroke of 1906 came from a hardening of the arteries, due to prolonged high pressure on brain and nerves. She also said, He has lived too tensely…it is of course, the thing that killed his father…it is an awful thing—a dying by inches, and incurable.

Ironically, she would be the one to die first…but that came later, much later.

Despite all his problems in those first years of the twentieth century, he wrote, taught, and lectured before blue-ribbon academic audiences at a frantic pace. Driven, was his brother-in-law’s comment.

After teaching at college level for some years, he finally reached his longtime goal of becoming president of his prestigious school.

But now, his prize seemingly won, he acted irrationally and at cross-purposes in three incidents which coincided with what appears to be a recurrence of neurological disease, write Drs. Kenneth Crispell and Carlos Gomez in their 1988 book Hidden Illness in the White House. And all this came long before the college president became governor of New Jersey, before he would become president of the United States and then lead his country into World War I.

In one way, Woodrow Wilson’s story of determination and restoration of physical well-being should be an inspiration to victims of stroke. In other ways, not so—denial of symptoms and secrecy were not what the average doctor would order. And in no case were his strokes and the apparently resultant changes in personality a healthy prescription for anyone about to assume the presidency of the United States, in peace or war.

And yet, in hindsight, that appears to have been what transpired as Wilson approached and then assumed the presidency in