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The Year That Was

Author: Elizabeth Lunday

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A look at history one year at a time, from as many angles as possible. Famous people, infamous people, obscure people; wars, revolutions, peace treaties, art, science, sports, religion. The big picture, in an entertaining podcast package.
5 Episodes
The most important task at the 1919 Paris Peace Conference was the drafting of peace terms for the losers of the war. Germany and Austria assumed Woodrow Wilson would insist on a fair, respectful compromise peace based on the Fourteen Points. So they were shocked when the Treaty of Versailles demanded territory, demilitarization, and reparations. Is this what caused World War II? Show NotesThe story about the police horse in Vienna is recounted by author Margaret MacMillan, author of the book Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World, in a 2007 speech to the National World War I Museum. MacMillan's speech, like her book, is fantastic--you can see it here ( map depicts the hunger levels of Europe in December 1918. It was created by the US Food Administration in cooperation with the Department of Agriculture and the Bureau of Education. Germany and Austria-Hungary (which, in fact, no longer existed) were labeled "Unclassified" because when this map was prepared, two two countries were still classified as enemies and the food blockade was still in effect. Austria, at least, would have fallen into the black zone. Food riots became common across the Central Powers countries. This photo depicts a delicatessan in Berlin that has been looted by a mob.This cartoon, published in 1917 in the Österreichische Volkszeitung, is about the food conflict between Austria and Hungary. The Austrian part of the Habsburg Empire ("Cis") is represented by the Viennese Mayor Richard Weiskirchner (1861-1926) and the Federal Minister of Food Anton Höfer begging for food deliveries. On the other side of the river Leitha, the Hungarian part ("Trans") is shown as a fat man stone-heartedly withholding his herd of animals and boxes of supplies. This cartoon reflects Viennese popular sentiment toward Hungarians, who they believed were selfishly withholding critical supplies. In fact, Hungary did restrict shipments to Austria in order to safeguard food for its own people. However, the attitude of paranoia extended to numerous ethnic groups and poisoned relations between the multiple nationalities of the Austro-Hungarian empire.German Quartermaster General Erich Ludendorff fully understood that his troops had been defeated in late September 1918. This diary entry ( by a German General Staff officer makes it clear that Ludendorff had no illusions about Germany's ability to go on fighting. However, by the spring of 1919, Ludendorff had convinced himself that the army had never been truly defeated in battle. Instead, the military had been betrayed by sinister forces at home, most likely Communists and Jews.The Fry and Laurie sketch on the Treaty of Westphalia is pure fantasy--no, Luxembourg was not divided between Sweden and France--but it accurately depicts the attitude of diplomats for most of European history. To the winners of war went the spoils, and never mind what the people who actually lived there thought about the matter. You can watch the entire sketch (, which was originally broadcast on BBC 1 in January 2000, on YouTube.The Allied leaders at the Paris Peace Conference argued heatedly and at length about the fate of Germany and Austria. French Premier Georges Clemenceau (second from right) believed Germany would inevitably rise again and seek revenge for its defeat; he wanted the country to be stripped of land and resources, its industry destroyed, and its economy crippled. American President Woodrow Wilson (far right) on the other hand, argued for a more just and fair peace, based on the Fourteen Points, that would prevent future conflicts--although he held more resentment and animosity against Germany than he liked to admit. British Prime Minister David Lloyd-George (far left) fell in the middle; he was in favor of reparations but also wanted Germany to recover and again trade with Britain. Italian Premier Vittorio Orlando had little input on real decision-making.Germany lost about 13 percent of its territory after World War I. Alsace-Lorraine, at the far western edge of Germany, was returned to France; Germany had seized the provinces in 1871. The Rhineland was occupied after the war by the Allies, but despite Clemenceau's vehement arguments, it remained German territory. The Polish Corridor runs along the eastern edge of the country. You can see that it allowed the new nation of Poland access to the Baltic Sea but separated East Prussia from the rest of Germany. This map is among the resources on the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum website (, German Foreign Minister Ulrich von Brockdorff-Rantzau made a terrible first impression on the Allies when he began by complaining that Germany was being treated unfairly. His stern and cold personality didn't help.The Treaty of Versailles was signed in the Hall of Mirrors at the Palace of Versailles. The room was packed with diplomats, delegates, academic advisors, journalists, soldiers, and smattering of spies. The signing was captured by a film crew. You can watch some of the original footage ( on YouTube.British economist John Maynard Keynes wrote the blockbuster bestseller The Economic Consequences of Peace in a rage after the Paris Peace Conference. He argued that the Treaty of Versailles was unjust and vindictive and would ruin the economy of Europe. Keynes' book helped convince the public that Germany had been mistreated in 1919 and deserved justice in the 1930s. Keynes went on to become one of the most influential economists of the 20th century, with an entire school of economics bearing his name. Please note that the links below to Amazon are affiliate links. That means that, at no extra cost to you, I can earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. (Here's what, legally, I'm supposed to tell you: I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for me to earn fees by linking to and affiliated sites.) However, I only recommend books that I have used and genuinely highly recommend.
Woodrow Wilson believed he and he alone could end war--forever. His plan for the League of Nations would usher in an era of eternal peace. So it really hurt the president's feelings when not everyone agreed with his vision. American author John Dos Passos in his World War I uniform. Dos Passos spent 1919 traveling around Europe and wrote about the adoration of ordinary people for Woodrow Wilson. The story about the baker from Belfort was included in essay titled "America and the Pursuit of Happiness" and published in The Nation on December 29, 1920. The essay is included in John Dos Passos: The Major Nonfictional Prose. The book is out of print, but you can find it at libraries.President Woodrow Wilson believed himself a pure and shining force for good. He had many fine traits, including an inspiring faith in the potential of humankind, but modesty was not among them.Wilson outlined his Fourteen Points in a speech on January 8, 1918. General Principles1. Open covenants of peace, openly arrived at, after which there shall be no private international understandings of any kind but diplomacy shall proceed always frankly and in the public view.2. Absolute freedom of navigation upon the seas, outside territorial waters, alike in peace and in war, except as the seas may be closed in whole or in part by international action for the enforcement of international covenants.3. The removal, so far as possible, of all economic barriers and the establishment of an equality of trade conditions among all the nations consenting to the peace and associating themselves for its maintenance.4. Adequate guarantees given and taken that national armaments will be reduced to the lowest point consistent with domestic safety.5. A free, open-minded, and absolutely impartial adjustment of all colonial claims, based upon a strict observance of the principle that in determining all such questions of sovereignty the interests of the populations concerned must have equal weight with the equitable government whose title is to be determined.Territorial Issues6. The evacuation of all Russian territory and such a settlement of all questions affecting Russia as will secure the best and freest cooperation of the other nations of the world in obtaining for her an unhampered and unembarrassed opportunity for the independent determination of her own political development and national policy and assure her of a sincere welcome into the society of free nations under institutions of her own choosing; and, more than a welcome, assistance also of every kind that she may need and may herself desire. The treatment accorded Russia by her sister nations in the months to come will be the acid test of their good will, of their comprehension of her needs as distinguished from their own interests, and of their intelligent and unselfish sympathy.7. Belgium, the whole world will agree, must be evacuated and restored, without any attempt to limit the sovereignty which she enjoys in common with all other free nations. No other single act will serve as this will serve to restore confidence among the nations in the laws which they have themselves set and determined for the government of their relations with one another. Without this healing act the whole structure and validity of international law is forever impaired.8. All French territory should be freed and the invaded portions restored, and the wrong done to France by Prussia in 1871 in the matter of Alsace-Lorraine, which has unsettled the peace of the world for nearly fifty years, should be righted, in order that peace may once more be made secure in the interest of all.9. A readjustment of the frontiers of Italy should be effected along clearly recognizable lines of nationality.10. The people of Austria-Hungary, whose place among the nations we wish to see safeguarded and assured, should be accorded the freest opportunity to autonomous development.11. Romania, Serbia, and Montenegro should be evacuated; occupied territories restored; Serbia accorded free and secure access to the sea; and the relations of the several Balkan states to one another determined by friendly counsel along historically established lines of allegiance and nationality; and international guarantees of the political and economic independence and territorial integrity of the several Balkan states should be entered into.12. The Turkish portion of the present Ottoman Empire should be assured a secure sovereignty, but the other nationalities which are now under Turkish rule should be assured an undoubted security of life and an absolutely unmolested opportunity of autonomous development, and the Dardanelles should be permanently opened as a free passage to the ships and commerce of all nations under international guarantees.13. An independent Polish state should be erected which should include the territories inhabited by indisputably Polish populations, which should be assured a free and secure access to the sea, and whose political and economic independence and territorial integrity should be guaranteed by international covenant.The League of Nations14. A general association of nations must be formed under specific covenants for the purpose of affording mutual guarantees of political independence and territorial integrity to great and small states alike.Decisions at the Paris Peace Conference were supposed to be made by a council of four, pictured here. Left to right, they were British Prime Minister David Lloyd George, Italian Premier Vittorio Orlando, French Premier Georges Clemenceau and US President Woodrow Wilson. In reality, Orlando had very little influence. Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, a Republican from Massachusetts, opposed the League of Nations covenant as it had been written but was willing to accept it with amendments and reservations. He deeply disliked Wilson, once stating, "I never expected to hate anyone in politics with the hatred I feel for Wilson." Senator Hiram Johnson of California was one of the "irreconcilables" who considered the League of Nations unconstitutional. He fought hard against the League throughout 1919. The speech that I excerpted was read by an actor in a production called "Great Senate Debates: The League of Nations" by the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate. You can see the entire documentary here ( William Borah, a Republican from Idaho, was another Irreconcilible who rejected American involvement in the League of Nations in any form. His speech denouncing the League was one of the most emotional moments during the final push for a vote on the Senate Floor. The excerpt from Borah's speech is also read by actor and from "Great Senate Debates: The League of Nations." ( Lady Edith Wilson was fiercely protective of her husband after his stroke in October 1919. She controlled all access to the president for months. She passed along decisions that she claimed had been made by her husband, but it's not clear if he was capable of even of communicating during this time. Some historians have suggested that in a weird, unconstitutional way, Edith Wilson was the first female president of the United States. * Please note that the links below to Amazon are affiliate links. That means that, at no extra cost to you, I can earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. (Here's what, legally, I'm supposed to tell you: I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for me to earn fees by linking to and affiliated sites.) However, I only suggest books that I have used and genuinely highly recommend.
Welcome to the World Bar. It's a tough locale, with scratched tables and angry patrons, and you won't find it on Yelp. But it's here that the most powerful European countries stumbled into the most devastating war the world had ever known in August 1914.Here's the original meme that inspired this episode:I left out a few lines to simplify things, but I love it.This is a look at the different alliances during the war. The green countries are neutral. The pink countries are the Central Powers. Note that Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire didn't join the Central Powers until later in the war. The tan countries are the Triple Entente. Similarly, Italy, Romania and Portugal also didn't join this alliance until later in the war.Introducing Austria Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie. Their assassination on June 28, 1914 began the crisis that ended in the Great War.Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany gave Austria a "blank check" to take any actions it chose against Serbia. This is the emperor in only one of his outrageous uniforms. The skull on the cap is a nice touch.Germany's plan for defeating both France and Russia was to put Russia on hold and make a lightening strike against France. ThiTSchlieffenhe plan, named after the general who developed it, was to sweep across neutral Belgium and Luxembourg into northern France and circle around Paris. The French and British stopped Germany at the outskirts of the capital.In early 1917, the German Foreign Minister Arthur Zimmermann sent a telegram to Mexico urging it to join the war against the United States. In return, it would be awarded all of the U.S. states it lost in 1848. This is a copy of the telegram that was intercepted by British code-breakers and translated into English. Outrage over the telegram was the final straw that broke U.S. resolve to stay out of the war. U.S. President Woodrow Wilson originally didn't want to join the war, but once he was thoroughly riled up, he threw all American resources into defeating Germany.Wilfred Owen wrote some of the most devastating poetry of World War I. He was a young British officer, and he was killed one week before the Armistice.Here's a link to the complete text of "Dulce et Decorum Est," ( and here's Christopher Eccleston ( reading the poem for the BBC.Nobel laureate Rudyard Kipling was once a huge supporter of World War I, but after his son Jack died, his tone changed. Here's a link to several excerpts from his 1919 collection Epitaphs of the War. ( more World War I poetry, I recommend this collection ( by the Poetry Foundation. Production NotesThanks to Chris McAdams, my marvelous husband, for helping me record this episode.The theme music for this podcast is "Mostly Mo" by Aaron Steinberg, from Strike Audio, courtesy also provided several sound effects for this episode.Thanks to Kraigpartridge for the bar scene sound effect, courtesy note that the links below to Amazon are affiliate links. That means that, at no extra cost to you, I can earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. (Here's what, legally, I'm supposed to tell you: I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for me to earn fees by linking to and affiliated sites.) However, I only recommend books that I have used and genuinely highly recommend.
Lucy Maud Montgomery became one of Canada's most successful and beloved authors with the publication of the Anne of Green Gables series. After Montgomery lived through World War I, she decided to recount the war years through the eyes of Anne's teenage daughter. The result is Rilla of Ingleside.This is the cover of the first edition of Rilla of Ingleside, and it's almost unbearably sweet. The book itself has plenty of sappy moments, but it doesn't shy away from the enormous grief and anxiety experienced by families with sons in the war. Rilla of Ingleside is available in numerous editions, and I've linked to one on Amazon at the bottom of the page. Or you can listen via LibriVox (, a service that records books in the public domain; I used the LibraVox recording, by Karen Savage, in this episode.Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae was a Canadian poet, physician and author. He served as a battefield surgeon during the Second Battle of Ypres in 1915, treating the wounded in a 8-foot by 8-foot bunker dug into a dyke along the Yser canal. During the battle, McCrae's good friend Lt. Alexis Helmer was killed. After attending Helmer's funeral, McCrae wrote the poem "In Flander's Fields." It was published in December 1915 and soon became one of the most popular verses of the war. McCrae writes in the poem about the poppies that he saw growing in Flanders; poppies are the first flowers that bloom in the churned-up earth of battlefields. The enormous popularity of the poem led directly to the poppy being adopted as a symbol of remembrance. Initially, poppies were used only in commemoration of the Great War, but over time they came to represented all lost in battle. Many people wear poppies in the first two weeks of November and on Remembrance Day, November 11th, in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom.McCrae did not survive the war. He died on January 28, 1918 of pneumonia.You can read the entire poem "In Flanders Fields" ( on the Poetry Foundation website or hear Leonard Cohen read "In Flanders Fields" ( William Butler Yeats was no doubt a brilliant poet, but he had a bad habit of falling in love with beautiful, tormented, unattainable women. He decided to leave all of them behind in 1917 and marry someone "serviceable" instead.Georgie Hyde-Lees, soon to be George Yeats, was the "serviceable" woman Yeats chose. She was smart, capable and self-effacing--and saved her marriage when she discovered her "gift" for automatic writing.This is another view of George, in a painting titled Mrs. W.B. Yeats by the artist and illustrator Edmund Dulac. Dulac is best remembered for his illustrations for children's books, including fairy tales and The Arabian Nights. (I had a copy of his illustrated Stories from Hans Christian Anderson and have a vivid memory of his drawing for "The Princess and the Pea" of a huge stack of mattresses.) Dulac and Yeats were close friends and occassional collaborators. Dulac places George in a fairy tale setting, with a charging unicorn in the background. Yeats must have loved it.You can read the entire poem "The Second Coming" ( on the Poetry Foundation website. Or check out actor Dominic West reading it ( in a production for Irish public broadcasting service RTE.Research NotesI referred to several biographies of Yeats, including the following:Keith Aldritt, W.B. Yeats: The Man and the Milieu. New York: Clarkson Potter. 1997.R.F. Foster, W.B. Yeats: A Life II: The Arch-Poet, 1915-1939. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2003A. Norman Jeffares, W.B. Yeats: A New Biography. London: Continuum. 2001I also consulted the one biography of George Yeats:* Ann Saddlemeyer, Becoming George: The Life of Mrs. W.B. Yeats. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2002.Please note that the links below to Amazon are affiliate links. That means that, at no extra cost to you, I can earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. (Here's what, legally, I'm supposed to tell you: I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for me to earn fees by linking to and affiliated sites.) However, I only recommend books that I have used and genuinely highly recommend.
Welcome to the The Year That Was: 1919.I'm so excited to announce this new project. I've always been fascinated by year-by-year approach to history, and I'm thrilled to be taking a close look at 1919. Over the course of the next few months, we're going to look at wars and revolutions, peace conferences and treaties, scientific discoveries and artistic innovations, scandals and triumphs. The podcast launches September 3rd. Make sure to subscribe now so you don't miss a single episode.Meanwhile, here are some notes on today's trailer:Gilbert M. Hitchcock, a Democrat from Nebraska, served as U.S. Senator from 1911 to 1923 and was Chairmas on the Foreign Relations Committee until 1918. He was a supporter of President Woodrow Wilson and a strong advocate for the League of Nations. In 1919, he recorded a speech on the League as part of a Columbia Gramaphone Company series called "Nation's Forum." You can listen to the full speech on the Library of Congress website ( and James Pharis told their story about the Spanish Flu Epidemic as part of the Piedmont Social History Project. They were recorded at their home on January 8, 1979. The entire interview is fascinating, and you can hear it and read the transcript ( on the Going Viral website, a project of the Southern Oral History Program at the University of North Carolina dedicated to documenting the impact and implications of the 1918 flu pandemic. (Scroll down to see the Pharis interview--it's the second on the page.)Rilla of Ingleside is the last book in the Anne of Green Gables series by Canadian author Lucy Maud Montgomery. This is the cover of the first edition of the novel. The book was published in 1921, but Montgomery began writing it in 1919 immediately after World War I ended. It is, as best I can tell, the only contemporary account of World War I from the perspective of women on the homefront. Rilla of Ingleside is widely available, including from Amazon ( and most libraries. You can also listen to a free audio recording by LibriVox, which offers free recordings of books in the public domain. That's where I found my clips of Karen Savage reading the novel. You can find the LibriVox recording here ( Butler Yeats was one of the most important poets of his generation. A mystic with a strong belief in the supernatural, he channeled his reaction to current events into powerful symbolic imagery. You can read the entire poem The Second Coming ( or see actor Dominic West reading it ( in a powerful performance.Tsar Nicholas II, ruled as the last autocrat of all Russias but was brought down in 1917 by the Russian Revolution. His entire family, pictured here, were executed by Bolshevik forces. You can see the entire BBC documentary ( from which I quote on the British Pathe and Reuters Historical Collection website.Eamon de Valera dedicated the early part of his life to achieving independence for Ireland from British rule. He fought during the Easter Uprising, served time in British prisons, and was elected president of Sinn Fein and the shadow Irish assembly Dail Eireann. He spent 18 months of his presidency in the United States raising money and lobbying for the Irish cause. During his months in the U.S., he recorded this speech as part of the Columbia "Nation's Forum" series. You can listen to the entire speech and read a transcript ( on the Library of Congress website.An unnamed Palestinian man spoke to the BBC in 1936 about life in the British Mandate territory. In 1919, the British took over Palestine and began welcoming Jews with the goal to create a Jewish homeland. You can see the man's entire statement ( on the British Pathe and Reuter's Historical Collection website. "How Ya Gonna Keep 'Em Down on the Farm (After They've Seen Paree)" was a 1919 hit with music by Walter Donaldson and words by Joe Young and Sam M. Lewis. You can listen to the entire song by Arthur Fields ( from an original 1919 78 record on the Internet Archive website. W.E.B. Du Bois was a sociologist, historian, civil rights activist, author, writer, editor and all-around amazing person. He was one of the founders of the NAACP and edited the organization's monthly magazine The Crisis beginning in 1910. He published the essay "Returning Soldiers" in The Crisis in 1919 calling on African-American servicemen returning from war to take up the causes of lynching, disenfranchisement, education and equal rights. You can read the entire essay ( on the website of Yale University's Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance and Abolition. You can also hear a longer excerpt ( from the American Experience documentary The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow.Sufferin' Till Suffrage is the Schoolhouse Rock recounting of the passage of the 19th Amendment, ( which granted voting rights to women in the United States. It's a delight. You should go watch it immediately and sing it exuberantly the rest of the day."How Are You Going To Wet Your Whistle (When the Whole Darn World Goes Dry)" was one of many songs written in the anticipation of Prohibition, which took effect in January 1920. You can listen to the entire song ( on YouTube, sung by Billy Murray and uploaded by Bruce "Victrolaman" Young.Marcel Duchamp, seen here wearing an absolutely enormous fur coat, repeatedly transformed the art world without ever seeming to care about art--or anything else, for that matter. You can see him discussing his career, ( the Dada movement, in this 1956 interview. Arthur Eddington, British astronomer and physicist, was one of the first scientists outside of Germany to understand and appreciate Albert Einstein's Theory of General Relativity. He decided to prove the theory during a solar eclipse in 1919. You can see the clip from the film ( Einstein and Eddington in which David Tennant plays Eddington and explains Einstein's understanding of gravity with a tablecloth, a loaf of bread, and apple. (The dinner-party explanation begins at about 1:50 minutes.)Shoeless Joe Jackson was an outfielder and power hitter who was caught up in the Black Sox scandal. Jackson admitted to agreeing to take money to throw the 1919 World Series, although the circumstances have never been fully explained. You can see the clip from the 1988 movie ( Eight Men Out in which Jackson, played by D. B. Sweeney, confronts a young fan on the courthouse steps. (The key scene begins at about 1:45 minutes.)
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