December 30, 1918 – Letter to Robert’s father:
My dear Dad,
It is customary at the close of the year for organizations and individuals to take stock. To balance accounts. To list the credits on one side and the debits on the other to find out just where they stand, to find out which side of the sheet out balances the other. Beyond doubt, 1918 has been the most eventful year of my life. I have my diary to go by.
I have summed them all up. From a financial standpoint of course the year was a complete failure. But I have a wife and son which is more than all the money in the world. I have been in exile for some eight months. I have had a lot of time for thought. And the kind of thought that people think when they have one foot in the grave too.
Several times I have almost had to pinch my self to make sure that I was still on the near side of the “Mighty River.” And as the year closes I am satisfied that it has done me good. The past is behind me and the future is ahead of me, so from now on my thoughts shall be guided by the past but not of the past. They shall be of the future.
I have much to do from now on.
There will no doubt be big events ahead of me in 1919 for I am not home yet. If I do go to Germany there will be a lot of work for me and it may be dangerous but that does not occupy my mind much. I am just about through thinking about 1918. At least about some things, and my thoughts and plans are of that time when I shall be in America with my little family.
It is winter here. At least they call it winter but it is not winter to me. Rain all the time and seldom gets cold enough to freeze.
The Y.M.C.A. had a real good show last night. Some real actors from the Orpheum Circuit. Then the Lieut. Governor of Kansas who is a “Y” man gave a talk.
The first Army is now in Germany. The Second Army, which I belong to, is in reserve of the First. The Third Army is in the S.O.S., handling supplies and doing labor. The part that looks queer is: while fighting was going on this division was in the First Army. Why did they change us? Perhaps to give us a rest (much needed) or perhaps to help us out of Germany, to send us home first.
Then again the Second Army may relieve the First. I can’t get it out of my head that we will not go to Germany, but I am almost alone. Everyone thinks we are going home. And I hope it is so.
Did Mr. Miller return from France yet. I suppose Olivet is still plodding along preaching to the converted and spending a lot of money each year. Enough is spent right there, in a year, to feed all the poor peasants in this village for a year. But the people that go to Olivet need it worse I guess. Poor Democracy. How artificial it is.
I must not preach, for I guess I am a pretty bum democrat myself.
Speaking of social reforms, what do you know about the now popular Russo-German movement Bolshevikism or Maximalists. I wish you would mail me anything about this movement that you might run across in magazines or editorials. Let it be understood that I am not going in for politics nor any kind of a reform, for I am opposed to any such movement including the I.W.W. and Non-Partisan League, etc. I want this dope just because they are subjects of the day and should be understood by everyone.
Don’t forget that will you? Just clippings in an envelope.
Well I must close and get to bed.
Love to all, your son Rob.
Well, that was something else! A huge amount of self-reflection, commentary on how the family’s church was spending its money, more speculation on where he would be sent next, and more. He really was doing a lot of thinking.
Olivet Congregational Church was less than half a mile from the West home on Selby Avenue in St. Paul. I wonder what Robert’s father thought of his criticism; John had been a member at Olivet since 1895 and served as a Trustee, Chairman of the Trustees, and Deacon, according to his obituary.
The IWW [Industrial Workers of the World], is a radical labor organization founded in 1905 and still in operation today. Their members are known as “Wobblies,” for some reason.
The Non-Partisan League was a socialist movement of the time, located Minnesota and North Dakota. It was successful initially, getting a farmer named Lynn Frazier elected as governor of North Dakota in 1916. He was recalled in 1921 but then served as U.S. Senator from North Dakota from 1922-1940.
There’s also this amazing historical footnote:
The NPL’s William “Wild Bill” Langer was elected to the governorship in 1932 and 1936 (the two two-year terms separated by his declaration of North Dakota’s secession from the United States in 1934, and his serving a jail term). After serving as governor, Langer was elected to the U.S. Senate, serving from 1940 until his death in 1959.
Where was Robert today? See the timeline.