Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Life, Death, and the Big Picture

It's the beginning of May, 1917. What do you think is uppermost on the minds of most Canadians at that time? Certainly not the botched murder trial of John Hogue in Windsor, Ontario. There were many more earth-shattering headlines grabbing national attention.

Prime spot on national news coverage at the beginning of that month went to one item: the recent developments in the World War. Though the aggressions had begun back in 1914, and though Canada—as a British dominion—had conjointly become involved at that point when Britain had declared war on Germany on August 4, 1914, it wasn't until April 9, 1917 when all four of Canada's military divisions in Europe were engaged as a unified corps in one battle. That event was the Battle of Vimy Ridge.

By nightfall on April 12, 1917, the Canadian corps was in control of the ridge, but at the cost of nearly thirty six hundred killed and seven thousand wounded.

News of the losses began trickling back home by the end of April. In the May 4 edition of The Essex Free Press—only one column to the right of the blurb on the petition-gathering drive on behalf of John Hogue—the shocking revelation of losses began to hit the public.
Almost all of those given as killed in action are dated April 9th, the first day of the big fight. To-day's list brings the total casualties announced since that date to 10,064.

Do you think, in the face of that, there would be much attention given to John Hogue's predicament?

In such a context as this, it makes the American conjecture of just what the West Virginia governor did to secure agreement in Hogue's case a more uncomfortable premise. From The Fairmont West Virginian on May 10, 1917, the very day of Hogue's scheduled execution:
Ex-Governor MacCorkle interested himself in the case, and it was through him that the congressional appeal which proved so effective was made.... Hogue undoubtedly owes the commutation of his life to the argument made by each of the West Virginia congressmen, which was that hanging him at this time might be used in West Virginia to stir up feeling against Great Britain and interfere with enlistment.

Unlike Canada, the United States hadn't embroiled itself in the war until the very month in which Canada had suffered such losses at Vimy Ridge. Indeed, the new governor of West Virginia did take on a significant role in encouraging enlistment, once America took its stand on the war.

Still, knowing the bigger picture, both in West Virginia and in Canada, it made the Fairmont reportage seem even more smug as it continued,
That argument proved a convincing one to the Governor General of Canada evidently, and proved it very promptly, for the commutation of the death sentence must have been ordered within a few hours after the receipt in Canada of the letters of appeal sent there by the West Virginia congressmen.

No matter what the reason behind the granting of clemency, one point remained: John Hogue was still a prisoner in a place not only far from home, but in an entirely different country. And he was bound to remain there for the rest of his life.

At least, that is how it seemed at the conclusion of the episode in May. There was, however, this nagging demand for justice still waiting to be resolved in Michigan...  


  1. *Shakes his head*

    It was politicians that caused WWI too...

    1. The deeper I dig into this story, the thicker it gets. Not sure what kind of example of "diplomacy" this might have been...

  2. Replies
    1. This guy was in the right place at the right time...but there was no way he could have planned all that. Talk about tectonic plates snapping into place...


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