War has by now become a commonplace. Some of us have seen "Blitzkrieg in Westen," and think we know how crushing modern warfare can be. Others have read the newspapers, listened to radio dispatches, viewed the newsreels, and followed every development from crisis to crisis. We are mentally prepared for any eventuality, and whatever occurs will come as no surprise.
But when College opened on September 28, 1914, the war which had exploded so rapidly during the summer seemed as far away to the average student, and as unimportant in his life, as the merest border clash between two South American states. A University crew had won the Grand Challenge cup at Henley, the first time any American boat had taken the massive cup out of England since it was first offered in 1839. The football team opened its season with a 44-0 defeat of Bates, and prospects were fine for a continuation of the tradition of victories piled up during the Haughton regime. Prospective members of Harvard's many clubs were startled by the announcement of a major overhaul of the club system, which deferred canvassing until the opening of College in the student's Sophomore year.
During the opening stages of the war, there seemed to be no realization at Harvard that a conflict was actually taking place. In October, the first indication of interest was the appearance of an editorial in the Crimson warning undergraduates to use nothing but the most extreme caution in "expression of personal opinion in the present crisis." It was inadvisable, said the editors, that any member of the University "separate-from the position of complete neutrality, as regards public utterances, which President Wilson has proclaimed desirable." Obviously, neutrality meant something then.
Further slight interest in European affairs was evidenced by the drive put on by the Red Cross for their work in France, which netted over $3800. The Crimson, after the publication of its editorial on the subject, continually prodded the undergraduates to take an interest in the war, and particularly suggested Red Cross work as a worth-while extra-curricular activity. "Nero fiddled while Rome burned. Harvard plays football while civilization totters." The paper's policy favored peace above all, following the theory that the best way to maintain it was to stay as completely neutral as possible. Our duty was to take steps to avoid war in the future rather than to make victory certain for the Allies. The policy further opposed summer military camps as a needless measure.
The Crimson exhortation may hve done some good towards heightening the general interest. Although their condemnation of summer camps had little effect. The Harvard delegation to Plattsburg in the summer of 1915 was larger than that of any other institution; out of 612 college men at the camp, 84 were Harvard undergraduates. Their training must have been good, for the recordes tell no story of men bogged down by the 75 mile march, filled with mancuvering of every description, which ended the summer's work.
Although students were gradually arousing from their apathy, the College did not turn rabidly militaristic. President Lowell and ex-President Taft had meanwhile organized the "League to Enforce Peace." Their proposal provided for joint use by the signatory powers of both economic and military force against any member of the League that went to war without first submiting its cause to a judicial tribunal, or to a council of conciliation. It further advocated conferences for the formulation and codification of international law. The League obtained a large following among students and others all over the country and contributed in a large way towards the plans which President Wilson took with him to Versailles in the winter of 1918.
Interest in War Increases
During the fall of 1915, however, war news in the Crimson was scarce. Items on war lectures were usually buried in the back pages, while most space was given to football stories about "one of the best teams Harvard has ever had." But there was no lack of activity in sponsoring forums and discussions. Lowell's "League to Enforce Peace" was good bull-session material. Harvard was well-represented in the ambulance service, and although at the first battle of the Marne there were only half a dozen hastily-built machines, the American delegation grew rapidly with increasing donations from colleges and in dividuals.
At that time, there was no Department of Military Science connected with the College. A few men belonged to the state Militia, and a school for the training of civilian officers had been established in the armory "for those who wished to take command should an emergency call them into the field to defend their country."
From November 11, 1915, when the Crimson reversed its policy of isolation, until the Armistice, students seem to have recognized the intellectual and practical necessity for being "aucourant" on war matters. Although Harvard swamped the Yale football team by the record-breaking score of 41-0, the general jubiliation did not prevent undergraduates from abiding by the Student Council's advocation of military preparedness and of voluntary military training for all members of the University. The Council suggested drill, supplemented by military science and tactics. A committee of graduates, undergraduates, and Law School men was appointed to take charge of inaugurating the system. It was estimated that a quarter of the men in College would enlist, since the drill would "in no way interfere with scholarship or athletics."
Harvard Regiment Formed
Soon after the Student Council's suggestion, General Leonard Wood announced that he favored the plan, and would try to have a special officer detailed to drill the University's battalion. Also, he promised to have the men's equipment supplied by the War Department, providing that 400 men sign up within three days. The response was immediate and overwhelming, with 922 men pledged by the second day.
The Harvard Regiment was formed January 10, 1916. Harvard's first contribution, in a strictly military way, towards preparation for war, the Regiment was a revolutionary innovation. Membership was voluntary, no training was scheduled during examination periods and vacations and no summer work was required; but men were urged to attend camp at Plattsburg. The old Hemenway Gymnasium and the baseball cage were used as drilling grounds in the winter time. Rifles, bayonets, and belts, were furnished by the government, but that was all. The Regiment had no government connection, and carried no course credit toward a degree.
At the same time as the organization of the Regiment, came the announcement from the University that a half-course in Military Science had been established, open only to Juniors and Seniors who attended one of the summer military camps or had completed one year in the Militia Members of the Regiment, however, were advised to audit the course.
During the summer of 1916, an act passed by Congress provided for a corps of trained officers to command reserve forces in time of war. Open to all students except Freshmen, the ROTC unit set up here was to be called Military Sceince and Tactics 1. The Regiment would continue to exist, but not on a voluntary basis since its members were to be drawn from Mil. Sci. The new courses were to have fixed weekly hours of instruction under an officer of the army.