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This Week in World War I: September 5, 1914

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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The original caption from 1914 says “Foraging squad returning to camp with a drove of steers,” and shows French soldiers gathering supplies for their brigade. The image seems authentic but is very likely a photograph taken “somewhere in France” far from the front lines. Credit: Scientific American, September 5, 1914

Censored: How the Army Eats

In this issue, a telling line reads: “The censors have not allowed the press of the world to state whether or not explosives were dropped on the fortifications of Liège.” This special “War Issue” contained much on military theory, organization and resources, but apart from a scattering of images little information on the titanic struggle in Europe: the Germans had captured the forts in Belgium, fought back massive French attacks in the Ardennes and destroyed the Russian Second Army at Tannenberg. Yet news of the war was sparse in Scientific American and other major news outlets. Consider this excerpt on feeding an army, which largely reflects only the theory behind the concept, not actual events:

Feeding the Man on the Firing Line

“In forming a plan of supply for a particular campaign the following points must be carefully considered: the resources of the theater of war and the facility of utilizing the same; the time of year and climate; the nature of the war, whether offensive or defensive; the length of the line of communications, the rapidity of the movements; the propinquity of the enemy; and the temper of the inhabitants.

“The national country must provide the supplies for its armies. This is particularly important now, as it has been held that provisions and foodstuffs of ordinarily innocent use, which are usually only conditionally contraband, may become absolutely contraband in war when actually and especially destined for the military or naval forces of a belligerent.

“The right of armies to take from the country all that they require for their sustenance is indisputable though we usually understand the expression ‘living upon the country’ has direct application to an enemy’s country. Military necessity, as understood by all civilized nations, permits the enforcement in an enemy’s country of all those measures which are indispensable to facilitate and assist in the conduct of the war, and which are lawful according to the modern law on usages of war.”

To see a full archive of our coverage of World War I—military, economic, social, technological—view our archive package, Scientific American Chronicles: World War I, at www.ScientificAmerican.com/wwi.

Dan Schlenoff About the Author: Dan Schlenoff edits the “50, 100 & 150 Years Ago” column for Scientific American, and also copyedits for the magazine. He is a keen student of the history of technology and the role of science in the service of humanity.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.



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  1. 1. ultraharder 12:47 am 09/21/2014

    Military requisition: AKA government looting. All governments are mafias and protection rackets. The most successful mafias have the most power, even to educate you that they are not a mafia, so they can loot the most and be thanked.

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