One Hundred Years Ago, in the Spring of 1917: Why Did America Go to War in 1917?

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1917 was not a good year for any of the belligerent countries, but for the members of the Entente – France, Britain, and Russia – it was nothing less than catastrophic. The main reasons for that were the mutinies in the French army, which made the situation on the western front extremely precarious, as well as the revolution in Russia, which raised the spectre of Russia exiting the war, leaving Britain and France bereft of the ally that forced Germany to fight on two fronts. Add to this the fact that civilians as well as soldiers in France and Britain were desperate for peace, and one understands why the political and military authorities in London and Paris had plenty of reasons to be concerned.

They had wanted this war and wanted desperately to win it, and to achieve this they needed the support of the population and of all their allies. But in 1917, victory was nowhere in sight, and had never seemed so far away. And what would happen if the war was not won? The answer was provided by the events in Russia, and it was a grim warning: revolution!

The only ray of hope in 1917, from the viewpoint of the Entente, was that in April of that year the United States declared war on Germany, something Paris and London had fervently been hoping for. It would obviously still take some time before American troops would disembark in Europe to help turn the tide in favour of the Entente, but hope for a final victory was thus revived.

For the overwhelming majority of the people of the United States, however, the entry of their country into the war was hardly a wonderful thing. They realized that the war raging in Europe had been a disaster, and that in all belligerent countries civilians as well as soldiers longed for a return to peace. The Europeans wanted to exit this war as soon as possible; why would Americans want to enter it? And why would they have to fight on the side of the British and the French against the Germans? Why not on the side of the Germans against the countries of the Entente? Let us examine the factors that caused many Americans to ask such questions.

For a long time already, the United States had enjoyed good relations with Germany. It was not Germany but Britain that was the traditional enemy and great rival of Uncle Sam. The British were former colonial masters against whom the country’s war of independence had been fought during the 1770s, and against whom another armed conflict took place between 1812 and 1815, the so-called War of 1812; and throughout the 19th century relations with Britain had remained tense on account of issues such as the border of the US with British North America (to become the Dominion of Canada in 1867), influence and commerce in the Pacific, South America, and the Caribbean, and British sympathy for the South during the American Civil War. (Until the 1930s, in fact, Washington would have plans ready for a possible war against Britain.)

The Americans did not regard the British as beloved “Anglo-Saxon” twins. Clearly, many Americans were of English origin and supported Albion and its allies. But the majority of Americans – unlike the elite of the country’s northeast, consisting to a large extent of WASPs – were not “Anglo-Saxons” at all but came from all over Europe, including many from Ireland and Germany. In 1914, when the war broke out in Europe, Americans of Irish or German origin had good reasons to hope for a German victory and a defeat of Britain. As for France, the Americans who disembarked there in 1917 held banners proclaiming “Lafayette, here we are!,” an allusion to the aid the Americans had received from France during their war of independence against Britain, aid that was personified by the Marquis de Lafayette. The slogan suggested that the Americans were now paying back a debt of gratitude to the French, but why had they not rushed to support their old Gallic friend in 1914? In reality, hypothetical gratitude towards the French had nothing to do with the US entry into the war, the more so since many Americans were very religious and had little or no sympathy for a republic that was anticlerical if not atheistic. The Protestant Americans sympathised with Germany, ruled by the Lutheran Hohenzollerns, and Catholic Americans had a soft spot for Austria-Hungary, whose rulers, the Habsburgs, had been the great white knights of Catholicism ever since the time of the Reformation. And Russia? That empire was viewed by many Americans as a bastion of autocratic, old-fashioned monarchism, as the antithesis of the democratic republic the United States was (at least in theory).

Numerous Americans such as Jews and Ukrainians were refugees from the Czarist empire who had about the same feelings for Russia as the Irish had for Britain. In the United States, Germany was not the object of such rivalry, dislike, or outright hostility. Moreover, many Americans, for example Theodore Roosevelt, considered themselves to belong to the superior “Nordic race” and therefore to be close relatives of the “Aryan” Germans, presumably an equally superior breed. The fact that Germany was hardly a democracy did not constitute a problem for elitist types such as Roosevelt, who looked down on the popular “masses.” As for the Americans who did not belong to the elite and did in fact favour democracy, even they had little or nothing against Germany. Indeed, with its social legislation and universal suffrage, the Reich loomed in some ways as more democratic than Britain, for example, and the United States itself. American democracy was indeed a kind of “Herrenvolk democracy,” that is, a democracy for an ethnic elite, namely the “white man,” a system from which Indians and blacks, a large part of the population, were ruthlessly excluded – de facto and/or de jure. This “democracy for the few,” as the political scientist and historian Michael Parenti has called it, featured a kind of apartheid avant la lettre, in which blacks were the victims of segregation and lynchings and Indians were cast aside in wretched reservations. In comparison to that, the Reich of William II was an egalitarian paradise. President Woodrow Wilson’s claim that the US went to war for the sake of democracy, a claim that even today many consider to be sincere, was not only totally false, but even ludicrous. If Wilson had really wanted to do something to promote the cause of democracy, he should have started in his own country, where there was still an awful lot of work to be done.

One can say that in early 1917 the American population was divided with respect to the war. Some Americans – and above all the WASPs and other citizens of English origin – rooted for the Entente, while others sympathized with the Central Powers; and countless Americans probably had no particular opinion about what was going on in distant Europe. But sympathy is one thing, and fighting is something else. Most of the citizens tended to be pacifist or “isolationist,” wanted nothing to do with the war raging in Europe, and were against their country becoming involved in it. It is in this context that the song I Didn’t Raise My Boy to Be a Soldier, which originated in 1915 and had already enjoyed a lot of success in Britain, become the musical icon of pacifism in the United States (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dQwEqhtGcW0). The song was deeply offensive to those Americans who did favour intervention in the war, the bellicose type of Americans whose figurehead was “Teddy” Roosevelt. The presidential elections of 1916 were won by Wilson, the incumbent. He was perceived as the peace candidate, opposed to America’s entry into the war. As happens more often in the case of US presidents, he was to do exactly the opposite of what was expected of him: on April 2, 1917 he persuaded Congress to declare war on Germany, and this decision became official on April 6. Wilson claimed that Western civilization might collapse and mankind perhaps even become extinct if the United States did not intervene in the conflict; with the US involved, he suggested, the war would become a “war for democracy,” a “war to end all wars.”

It is understandable that many historians have failed to take these Wilsonian declarations seriously and have sought elsewhere for the real reasons that caused America to join the war against the will of the overwhelming majority of its people. Germany is usually blamed for this, namely because in 1917 the Reich responded to the British blockade – and the fiasco of the Battle of Jutland in the previous year – with an escalation of submarine warfare. By means of this strategy, Berlin hoped to be able to force the British to capitulate within six months. From January to April 1917, an enormous tonnage of ships was sent to the bottom of the sea, but from May on, when the British introduced the convoy system, their losses declined drastically. Submarine warfare also antagonized neutral powers, including the United States, and spoiled relations between Washington and Berlin, eventually leading to war. It is in these terms that numerous historians try to explain America’s entry into the conflict. In this context the name Lusitania is inevitably mentioned. This great British ocean liner left New York for Liverpool but was sunk by a German U-Boot, and American citizens were among the victims. Stateside, this fanned the flames of anti-German sentiments. The attack proved to be grist for the mill of the “interventionists,” the partisans of entry into the war, and this allegedly led to an American declaration of war on Germany.

The problem with this explanation is that the Lusitania had already been sunk on May 7, 1915, that is, no less than two years before Washington went to war. Also, the 1,198 victims included only 128 Americans, the others being British and Canadian. Moreover, the Lusitania transported munitions and war materiel, something that, according to prevailing norms of international law, made the ship “fair game” for the Germans to target. (The German consulate in New York had in fact warned potential passengers via newspaper advertisements that this might happen). Finally, it is likely that the British authorities, including Churchill, had intentionally arranged for the ship to take on ammunition in the hope that it would be attacked by the Germans, thus triggering an American entry into the war. It is understandable that under such questionable circumstances, the US government failed to take the bait. In early 1917, on account of the intensification of submarine warfare, relations between the United States and Germany were admittedly deteriorating. Even so, it was not for this reason that Wilson declared war in April.

It was not the American people but the American elite – of which Wilson, a former president of Princeton University, was a typical representative – that wanted war; and the war that was wanted was a war against Germany. The reason for this is that in 1917 the US elite, like its European counterpart in 1914, expected war to bring considerable advantages, and also help to dodge a major threat. The US was a great imperialist power, different from Britain, France, Russia and Germany in one small but important aspect: the US had developed a new imperialist strategy, later to be known as neo-colonialism. This involved acquiring raw materials, markets, sources of cheap labour, and investment opportunities not via direct colonial control of a country, but via an indirect, mostly economic penetration, combined with the establishment, usually with the collaboration of local elites, of preponderant political influence. The US thus no longer used colonies and protectorates to achieve imperialist aims, as the European powers continued to do.

The Great War was a conflict between great imperialist powers. It was clear that the powers that would emerge triumphant from this war would also be the great winners with respect to imperialist interests. And it was equally clear that, as in a lottery, those who did not play could not win. It is highly probable that at the time of its declaration of war on Germany, the US government was aware of a statement made shortly before, on January 12, 1917, by the French Prime Minister, Aristide Briand, had thought about it, and had drawn conclusions from it. Clearly alluding to the United States, Briand had let it be known that

“it would be desirable, at the peace conference, to exclude the powers that had not been involved in the war.”

Was it not obvious that there would be much to gain for those who would in fact be present at this conference? The vast possessions of the losers would be divided: “German” real estate in Africa, the oil-rich regions of the Ottoman Empire, and influence in China were all at stake. (The imperialists had been ogling this gigantic but weak country, determined to be present when more concessions could be carved out of its territory, when rights to exploit its mineral wealth or construct railways there would come up for grabs, and when the green light would be given for other ways to penetrate it economically.) In this respect, Japan had already shown its hand by pocketing the German concession in China. A relatively small country inhabited by members of a presumably inferior race, Japan nonetheless revealed itself as an aggressive and pesky rival of the United States in the Far East. Thanks to their “splendid little war” against Spain, the Americans had been able to establish a foothold in this part of the world in the form of tutelage over the Philippines, a Spanish colony they had “liberated.” If the United States stayed out of the war, it would not be present when the Chinese prizes were distributed among the victors, and there loomed a very real danger that Japan might end up monopolizing China economically, so that American businessmen would not find the “open door” there that they were longing for. In any event, stateside it was feared that not only Japan, but also Britain and France – all of them rivals in the “rat race” of imperialism – would take advantage of victory in the war to keep the US out of China and elsewhere. Even a Wikipedia contributor acknowledges this on the topic “American entry into World War I”:

[I]f the Allies had won without [American] help, there was a danger they would carve up the world without regard to American commercial interests.They were already planning to use government subsidies, tariff walls, and controlled markets to counter the competition posed by American businessmen.

With his declaration of war on Germany in April 1917, Wilson neatly eliminated this danger. Much later, in the 1930s, an inquiry by the Nye Committee of the American Congress was to come to the conclusion that the country’s entry into the war had been motivated by the wish to be present when, after the war, the moment came “to redivide the spoils of empire.”

The US went to war in order to achieve imperialist objectives: more specifically, to be able to share in the rich booty that awaited the victors of the slugfest among imperialists that the Great War happened to be. Remaining neutral would not only have meant not profiting from victory but, conversely, running the risk of becoming the object of the imperialist appetite of the victors. In the case of the US, that risk was admittedly virtually non-existent, but for small neutral countries it was very real. On March 9, 1916, Portugal thus entered the war on the side of the Entente to prevent its colonial possessions from being redistributed by the victorious powers. Lisbon was particularly worried about the intentions of the British, who did in fact entertain such thoughts and were therefore allegedly keen to keep Portugal out of the conflict. Its participation in the war, opposed by the great majority of the population, would cost Portugal 8,000 dead, 13,000 wounded, and 12,000 men taken prisoner, and brought the country zero benefits. Other countries were also forced to reflect on the advantages and disadvantages of neutrality. Like the US, the Netherlands could hope that abandoning neutrality might bring advantages. On the other hand, like Portugal, its government feared that maintaining neutrality would be risky. By rallying to the side of Germany, the Netherlands could perhaps acquire Flanders, the Dutch-speaking part of Belgium, and this possibility was in fact conjured up by Berlin through its ambivalent “Flemish policy” (Flamenpolitik) in occupied Belgium. Conversely, remaining neutral meant that after the war the victors might force the Netherlands to cough up some of its colonies or even part of its own territory. During the war and during the Paris Peace Conference, some Belgian politicians actually pursued such a goal – vainly, as it turned out – hoping to annex some Dutch territories.

There was a second reason why war was wanted by the US elite, which consisted almost exclusively of the big industrialists and bankers of the northeast of the country. In the years before 1914, the United States had been hit by a major economic recession. But the war that broke out in Europe generated orders for all sorts of materiel, and on account of this increase in demand, production and profits also increased. Between 1914 and 1917, the nation’s industrial production grew by at least 32 percent, the gross national product by about 20 percent, and American exports to the belligerent countries rose spectacularly. Agricultural products were also exported, naturally, but it was primarily the big industrialists – the capitalists, to use that terminology – who made fortunes thanks to the war that, to their great advantage and joy, seemed destined to go on indefinitely. It was hardly a source of concern that in that war an average of 6,000 men died daily and that countless others were mutilated. What mattered were the profits, and those were fabulous. As illustration, one can cite the profits made by a number of big American corporations thanks to the Great War:

 Corporation: Profits, in millions of dollars:
 Before the war:  At the end of the war:
 DuPont 6 58
Bethlehem Steel 6 49
US Steel 105 240
Anaconda 10 34
International Nickel 4 73

Most of the business generated by the war was done with the countries of the Entente. Between 1914 and 1916, US exports to Britain and France increased dramatically, from approximately 800 million dollars to 3 billion. Conversely, because of the British blockade, it became virtually impossible to supply the Central Powers; the volume of American exports to Germany and Austria-Hungary shrunk during the war to an insignificant 1 to 2 million dollars. But what counted was that the war revealed itself to be good for business, and in the end it mattered little if the customer was an old friend or an old enemy, a democratic or autocratic country, an “Anglo-Saxon” relative or not.

Still, not all was well. Business was done above all with the British and, to a lesser extent, with the French, and the lion’s share of these purchases was based on credits and loans extended to these countries by American banks. In 1917, the US banks had already made a total of 2.3 billion dollars available in this manner. The loans to France alone rose spectacularly during the war, namely from 50 million francs in 1914 to 1.9 billion in 1915, 1.6 in 1916, 7.5 in 1917, 5.3 in 1918, and 9.2 in 1919. Crucial in this context was the role of J. P. Morgan & Co, the bank that was also known as the “House of Morgan.” With offices in London and Paris, this Wall Street institution was in an ideal position to finance the transatlantic business, and already in 1915 Morgan was designated as the sole agent for stateside purchases made on behalf of Britain of ammunition, foodstuffs, etc. (The British also made purchases in the US on behalf of their French and Russian allies.) Thus there emerged in the US a kind of “circle of friends” of Morgan, consisting of firms such as DuPont and Remington, which obtained the contracts and were thus able to make fortunes. Morgan pocketed a two-percent commission on this business, which in 1917 alone amounted to a total value of 20 billion dollars. The US thus replaced Britain as the world’s financial superpower, New York’s Wall Street took over from London’s City as financial capital of the world, and the dollar replaced the British pound as the leading currency.

As far as Wall Street was concerned, the war in Europe was a kind of goose that laid golden eggs, and the longer it lasted, the better – as long as the Entente ended up being victorious. In other words,

“economic interests placed the United States clearly in the camp of the Allies.”

The financial collaboration with Britain possibly amounted to a de facto violation of American legislation with respect to neutrality, as some US politicians argued at the time and the aforementioned Nye Committee of Congress would acknowledge in the 1930s. In any event, it is understandable that Germany saw things that way and demonstrated a growing hostility to the United States. Morgan could not have cared less, but in 1916 Wall Street began to worry about the fact that the British debt was becoming extravagant. And in early 1917 the situation became truly worrisome when the revolution in Russia conjured up the spectre of a Russian exit from the war, likely to be followed by a German victory. In this case, Britain might not be able to pay off its debt, which would mean a financial catastrophe for Morgan. It became all too obvious that only an American entry into the war on the side of the British could forestall such a scenario. In March 1917, the US ambassador in London warned Wilson that “the imminent crisis” constituted a grave menace for Morgan and that

“a declaration of war on Germany was probably the only way to maintain an excellent commercial situation and to prevent a panic.”

Naturally, Morgan and the bank’s influential circle of friends likewise started to lobby in favour of entry into the war. A few weeks later, in early April 1917, the United States did declare war on the Reich, and so Wall Street had achieved its goal. “Money talks,” says an American proverb; in 1917, money talked and President Wilson listened.

Wilson’s radical critics were convinced, writes Adam Hochschild, that

“the real reason the U.S. was fighting for an Allied victory was to ensure that massive American war loans to Britain and France would be paid back.”

And by this decision, adds Niall Ferguson, Wilson saved not only Britain and the Entente in general, he also “bailed out” the House of Morgan. The nasty reality of German submarine warfare was invoked to camouflage this indecent truth. Henceforth, Morgan was to make even more money via the sale of war bonds, euphemistically referred to as “Liberty bonds,” whose aggregate value would rise to 21 billion dollars by June 1919, when the Versailles Treaty officially put an end to the war.

In contrast to the country’s industrial and financial elite, the American people never displayed the slightest enthusiasm for the war. American blacks, in particular,

“hesitated to give their support to a project they considered hypocritical.”

One of them, a resident of the New York district of Harlem, declared that the Germans had never done anything wrong to him, and if they had done so, he forgave them. Alluding to Wilson’s slogan to the effect that America went to war for the sake of democracy, some Afro-American leaders asked him publicly “to start by introducing democracy into America itself.” Precious few volunteers signed up to go serve as cannon fodder on the other side of the Atlantic. The authorities were hoping for one million volunteers, but only 73,000 men responded to the call. Already on May 18, a law was therefore passed, the Selective Service (or Selective Draft) Act, which introduced a selective system of compulsory military service, the “draft”, making it possible to recruit the required number of soldiers. But the draft faced much opposition, and more than 330,000 men were classified as draft evaders.

It is not surprising that members of the upper classes as well as skilled workers, whose presence in the factories was indispensable, remained mostly exempt from the draft. It was primarily the poor who were targeted because they were considered redundant. As in the case of the armies of the other belligerent countries, ordinary American soldiers came overwhelmingly from the lower classes of the population; they were mostly blacks, recently arrived immigrants, illiterates, and other people with little or no education. Afro-Americans were called up in large numbers, but they were mostly drafted into separate work battalions so that white soldiers would not have to consider them as their equals. In their segregated units the blacks received clothing, food, and accommodation of inferior quality. Of the total of 370,000 Afro-Americans who served in the army, 200,000 went to Europe, but only 40,000 of them received weapons and were permitted to join one of the two black combat divisions. Thus was scraped together an army that presumably went to war to fight for democracy.

That America was going on a crusade for the benefit of democracy and/or to end all wars is what Wilson wanted the American people and the rest of the world to believe. In order to achieve this aim, an enormous propaganda machine was set up, which would make use of press articles, speakers, Hollywood productions, etc. to convey the Wilsonian message to American households. The headquarters of this machine was the euphemistically named Committee on Public Information (CPI, headed by the presumably “progressive” journalist George Creel). The objective was to make Americans accept and even applaud a war they did not want and from which they would not derive any benefits, but for which they would pay a high price with their blood, their sweat, and their money, in other words, to “fabricate the public’s approval or at least agreement.” A collaborator of Creel, the journalist Walter Lippmann, called this the “manufacture of consent” – a term that would later be echoed by Noam Chomsky. What needed to be manufactured from scratch, so to speak, was an anti-German sentiment in the American population. It was done by following the example set by the British, that is, by atrocity mongering, especially by a shameless exaggeration of the atrocities committed by the Germans in 1914 in Belgium.

Creel and his team did an excellent job and the country soon witnessed the blossoming of a veritable anti-German hysteria. Sauerkraut, which was a popular dish in the US at the time, was rebaptised “freedom cabbage,”and the disease known as German measles became “liberty measles.” Hollywood was persuaded to crank out a collection of propaganda films, for example a blockbuster with the unsubtle title The Kaiser, the Beast of Berlin. (Later, other enemies of the US, such as Saddam Hussein and Colonel Kaddafi, would be demonised in the same fashion.) More serious was the fact that Americans of German origin were obliged to wear a distinctive yellow sign and often had their property confiscated, a fate that would later befall the Jews in Nazi Germany. The churches also made propaganda for the war. The Protestant Churches, in particular, claimed that the conflict was a “crusade” against imperial Germany. The Catholic Church revealed itself to be slightly less enthusiastic, because the Vatican discreetly sympathised with the Central Powers, especially with the Empire of the Habsburgs, and it did not want to offend the numerous Catholic Americans of Irish and German origin, who supported the Berlin-Vienna axis.

There was yet another reason why the American elite longed for war in 1917. Like the European elites in 1914, the US elite in 1917 was convinced that a war would consolidate its power and prestige, halt and possibly even roll back the trend towards democracy, and finally, liquidate the danger of revolutionary change. Indeed, during the years preceding 1914 the nation’s elite had been traumatised by grave social tensions, numerous strikes, and the apparently irresistible rise of the Socialist Party and of the militant trade union IWW. This agitation culminated in April 1914 in the so-called “Ludlow Massacre.” A camp of strikers in one of the coal mines of the Rockefellers in Ludlow, Colorado was attacked by troops and more than twenty persons were killed, including wives and children of the strikers. The entire country was up in arms, and in Denver an army unit even refused to intervene against the strikers.

Fortunately, the public’s attention would soon be diverted by the fact that President Wilson suddenly found it necessary – on a ludicrous pretext – to shell the Mexican seaport of Vera Cruz and to wage a mini-war against this neighbouring country, where a revolution happened to be taking place. The American historian Howard Zinn feels that this was not a coincidence. He suggests that “patriotic fervor and the military spirit [served to] cover up class struggle,” that “guns [were supposed to] divert attention” and that focus on “an external enemy” might “create some national consensus” at home; he concludes that the aggression against Mexico was “an instinctual response of the system for its own survival, to create a unity of fighting purpose among a people torn by internal conflict.” The war against Mexico may also be considered to be a class struggle. It was in fact a conflict between two “classes” of countries. It was a conflict that reflected the oppression and exploitation of a poor and powerless country by a powerful and rich country.

Wilson’s declaration of war on Germany may similarly be viewed as a stratagem to preserve social peace at home by means of war abroad. Wilson certainly did not opt for war solely for this reason, but he eagerly took advantage of the opportunity offered by the war to repress all forms of radicalism in word and deed – to the advantage of the nation’s elite. Wilson, a “democrat” only in the sense that he belonged to the Democratic Party, accomplished this objective in a most undemocratic fashion, namely by awarding himself all sorts of exceptional powers that enabled him to “legally” violate the democratic rights of Americans, and to do so with impunity.

May 1917 witnessed the promulgation of the draconian Espionage Act, a law that officially purported to combat German espionage, and in 1918 Congress would provide the president with even greater special powers by means of the Sedition Act.These laws would remain on the statutes until the summer of 1921, that is, until the United States signed a peace treaty with Germany. Some historians have described these laws as “the country’s most repressive legislation” and as “quasi-totalitarian measures.” The government was henceforth free to censor, close down periodicals, and arrest and incarcerate people ad libitum, on the pretext that the country was at war against a particularly vicious enemy who disposed of all sorts of spies and agents within the US. Those who opposed the war were deemed to oppose America, in other words, to be “un-American”; pacifism and its twin, socialism, were viewed as enemies of  “Americanism.”

These laws obviously aimed to scare the American people, to motivate them in favour of the war, and to repress doubts about the righteousness of the war, anti-war protests, and obstruction of the draft. Under this legislation, it became a criminal offence to speak in “disloyal” or other negative or condescending terms of the nation’s government, flag, or army. It was now risky not to agree with the policies of the Wilson administration. Voicing a moderate criticism of his war, even in the privacy of one’s home, might lead to imprisonment. (The Espionage Actwas to be amended repeatedly after the war, but it was never totally abolished; whistleblower Chelsea – born Bradley – Manning was indicted on the basis of military codes that are themselves based at least in part on this law.)

During the First World War, more than 2,500 Americans were persecuted on the basis of these draconian laws, and about one hundred were convicted and condemned to sentences of 10 to 20 years in prison. This is not a large number in comparison to the country’s total population, but it is important to consider that the fear of persecution caused Americans to stop thinking and expressing critical thoughts and to adopt instead an unthinking conformism – and this in a country where rugged individualism had always been glorified. Countless journalists thus abandoned their earlier “muckraking” practices in favour of auto-censorship and a bland but safe regurgitation of government announcements. Too many of America’s citizens, previously known to be critically inclined, adopted the habit of swallowing with hook, line and sinker whatever their leaders told them and of unthinkingly following whatever orders arrived from above.

The repressive legislation was used selectively, first and foremost against radicals and dissidents of the lower classes, America’s own “classes dangereuses,” in particular Afro-Americans and Jews. But the radicals and dissidents par excellence were the American socialists, then still numerous and militant, who pursued more or less revolutionary democratic reforms and who were opposed to the war. Like their reformist comrades in Europe, some US socialists revealed themselves to be partisans of the war, but the majority of America’s socialists were convinced pacifists, and for this they would pay a heavy price. Their figurehead, Eugene Debs, openly spoke out against the war and encouraged the rank-and-file to follow his example. In June 1918, he would be thrown into prison on the basis of the Espionage Act, and the same fate befell hundreds of other socialists who were found guilty of treason, incitement to rebellion, espionage, use of violence, etc.

The big trade unions, for example the American Federation of Labor (AFL), were traditionally allies of Wilson’s Democratic Party, and Wilson defended their interests, at least to a certain point, in exchange for their support. Not surprisingly, in 1917 they supported his entry into the war, just as the European unions had supported their governments when they went to war in 1914. The famous union leader Samuel Gompers turned out to be a particularly useful ally to Wilson, and he collaborated closely with Creel and his Commission of Public Information. One trade union failed to warm up to Wilson and his war, however, namely the radical and even revolutionary IWW. Its leader, “Big Bill” Haywood, would be thrown in jail, just like Debs, for having dared to criticize the war. The IWW had been a thorn in the side of the US establishment for a long time, so the latter took advantage of the war to destroy that nest of revolutionaries via physical attacks on its headquarters, confiscation of documents, arbitrary arrest of many of its leaders and their conviction of the basis of fabricated evidence, etc.

In the US, as in Europe, socialism, or at least its radical, non-reformist version, was allied with pacifism. Most socialists were pacifists and a considerable percentage of the pacifists were socialists. But not all pacifists were socialists; there were also countless bourgeois pacifists with political convictions that may be described as progressive or, as they also say in the US, “liberal.” Among these bourgeois pacifists were courageous people who openly expressed their opposition to Wilson’s war, and in many cases they paid dearly for this, for example by losing their job or even their seat in the legislative assembly of a state. Paul Jones, an Episcopalian bishop from Utah, was divested of his high ecclesiastical function because he spoke out against the war. And in the universities, which revealed themselves to be “homes of intolerance,” the highly touted academic freedom was de facto suppressed for the duration of the war, and pacifist professors were systematically removed from their chairs.

The US is supposed to be the land of free enterprise, which means that the state believes, at least in theory, in the benefits of the traditional liberal laissez-faire approach and therefore intervenes as little as possible in economic and social life, allowing the private sector to “do its thing.” In the context of America’s entry into the war, this implied that the repression of pacifists, socialists, union leaders, etc. was at least “privatised,” that is, turned over to individuals and groups favouring the war, and in general these were people who happened to be simultaneously anti-democratic, anti-socialist, anti-Semitic, and “anti-Hamitic” (i.e. hostile to blacks) and presented themselves as champions of “Americanism.” Prominent among these groups were the American Patriotic League, the Patriotic Order of Sons of America, and the Knights of Liberty, a branch of the Ku Klux Klan. The methods used by these “vigilantes” included denunciations, beatings, tarring and feathering, painting houses of pacifists yellow, and lynchings. In particular, these vigilantes targeted Wobblies, members of the IWW; one of its leaders, Frank Little, was lynched in Montana in August 1917.

On the other side of the Atlantic Ocean too, a kind of twin war broke out in 1917, consisting of a “vertical” war in which the US as a country confronted another country, Germany, but also a “horizontal” war in which two classes of American society – the elite and the rest of the population – clashed with each other. In the latter conflict, the elite, directed by Wilson, immediately went on the offensive, namely via repressive laws as well as “vigilantism,” and thus it pushed back the plebeian forces much as the Germans had pushed back the French and the British in 1914. But, as in 1914, that early success did not bring the conflict to an end, and we will later see how it developed during the rest of the war. As for the “vertical” war against Germany, the US elite appeared to be in less of a hurry: it would take quite some time, namely until early 1918, before American troops showed up in significant numbers on the western front and started to make their presence felt.


Originally published on 2017-05-27

Author: Dr Jacques R. Pauwels

Source: Global Research

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U.S. Conceals Thousands of Airstrikes in Middle East
On February 5, Military Times published a report stating that Washington has failed to publicly disclose potentially thousands of lethal airstrikes conducted over several years in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan. The investigation reveals that in Afghanistan in 2016 alone, the U.S. air force carried out at least 456 bombings. The open-source report published by the Air Force Command doesn’t include these figures.According to the Military Times, the information was obtained from “Congress, American allies, military analysts, academic researchers, the media and independent watchdog groups” and it shows that much of what the Pentagon has disclosed may be misleading or simply ...
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Reviving the ‘Chemical Weapons’ Lie: New US-UK Calls for Regime Change, Military Attack Against Syria
Here it comes again. As the enemies of peace continue to pressure a new US President into deeper war commitments overseas, and as Washington’s Deep State works relentlessly opposing Russian moves in Syria at every turn, the war drums have started again – beating harder than ever now, clamouring for a new US-led attack on Syria. This morning we saw the familiar theme emerge, and just in time to provide a convenient backdrop to this week’s Brussels’ ‘Peace Talks’ and conference on “Syria’s Future”. The US-led ‘Coalition’ prepares to make its end-run into Syria to ‘Retake Raqqa,’ and impose its Safe Zones in order ...
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International Law? The Americans don’t give a Damn
The United States of America has sunk to a new low in diplomacy and civilized relations between nation states with its demand that Russia close its consular missions in San Francisco, Washington and New York, quickly followed by its order that the consular staff leave the premises while the FBI conducted a search of the premises and staffers personal apartments. To order the closure of a mission, or to order the withdrawal of a member of diplomatic staff, is within its right but a search of consular property is not. It is a flagrant violation of the Vienna Convention on ...
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Why are We in Kosovo?
Once again, U.S. air and naval forces are preparing strikes on Serbia’s army and police for refusing to stand down in Kosovo. And, once again, Americans are deeply ambivalent about intervention.“Either we get in there with a NATO force, or we get the hell out,” said an exasperated Sen. John Warner after Yugoslav strong man Slobodan Milosevic showed two NATO generals the door.Warner advocates intervention. But Americans sense that, despite our disgust at the latest massacre and Milosevic’s thuggery, no vital U.S. interest exists there. The Serbs do not threaten NATO; they have not attacked Americans; they are fighting to ...
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Refuting a Greater Albania’s Mythomania: The Ancient Balkan Dardanians – The Illyro-Albanians, the Daco-Moesians or the Thracians?
One of the claims of Albanian historiography is that the Central Balkan tribe – Dardanians, who settled in the southern portion of the territory of the Roman Province of Moesia Superior and northwestern part of the Roman Province of Macedonia, should be considered as one of the Illyrian tribes and an ancestor of the Albanians. With respect to this point, Albanian historians refer to the German linguist Norbert Jokl who wrote, according to the research of historical toponomastics, that the ancient cradle of the Albanians was Dardania, from where they moved westward to their present territories in late Roman times.[1] ...
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The Criminalization of Parliamentary Democracy
Syria is being bombed as part of a “counter-terrorism campaign” allegedly against the Islamic State, an elusive “outside enemy” based in Raqqa, Northern Syria. While the ISIL is said to be “threatening the Western World”, the evidence confirms that the Islamic State is supported and financed by the Western military alliance, together with Turkey, Israel, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states.  Amply documented, Al Qaeda and its various affiliates including the Islamic State Caliphate Project are creations of Western intelligence.  Moreover, whatever the justification, the bombing of a sovereign country is an illegal and criminal act under international law. It constitutes a war of ...
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Israel’s Attack on the USS Liberty (June 8th, 1967): A Half Century Later, Still no Justice
In early June of 1967, at the onset of the Six Day War, the Pentagon sent the USS Liberty from Spain into international waters off the coast of Gaza to monitor the progress of Israel’s attack on the Arab states. The Liberty was a lightly armed surveillance ship. Only hours after the Liberty arrived it was spotted by the Israeli military. The IDF sent out reconnaissance planes to identify the ship. They made eight trips over a period of three hours. The Liberty was flying a large US flag and was easily recognizable as an American vessel. Soon more planes came. These ...
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North Macedonia Accession to NATO Aims to Maintain Unipolarity in Multipolarity Age
Bulgaria says there is no Macedonian language but rather it is a Bulgarian dialect. There is academic consensus that the Ancient Macedonians were Greek. Albanians claim nearly half of North Macedonia in their project for Greater Albania. North Macedonia is a complex and complicated country, but despite this fact, on Friday, it became NATO’s thirtieth member, with Secretary General of the Alliance, Jens Stoltenberg, saying “North Macedonia is now part of the NATO family, a family of thirty nations and almost one billion people. A family based on the certainty that, no matter what challenges we face, we are all ...
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The Human Rights Disaster in America
Antonio Zambrano-Montes, a 35-year-old Mexican national, was shot to death by police in Pasco, Washington last Tuesday as he was backing away from officers with his hands up. A video of the shooting clearly corroborates claims by Zambrano-Montes’s family that he was killed “execution-style.”Police claimed that Zambrano-Montes, who had lived in the city for ten years and worked as an orchard picker, may have been “armed with a rock” before he was shot multiple times. Protests erupted over the weekend, with more than a thousand demonstrating in Washington state on Saturday against the killing.The United States has invaded, bombed, and ...
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Americans are no Different than Germans were (and are)
Daniel Goldhagen blamed the Holocaust on «the Germans» (by which he meant the German people), and said that they perpetrated the Holocaust because they positively enjoyed murdering «the Jews». But, as has long been well understood by historians (except when they fail to point to it as being a disproof of Goldhagen’s bigoted and indefensible anti-German thesis), Hitler had to work long and hard in order to bring about a consensus, first amongst his own leadership group, and then in the population as a whole, favoring the extermination-option. Hitler, Der Fuehrer, «The Leader», clearly was the catalyst turning the chemical ...
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Trump’s UN Speech (September 2017)
I listened to part of Trump’s UN speech this morning. I was so embarrassed for him and for my country that I had to turn it off.I wonder if whoever wrote the deplorable speech intended to embarrass Trump and inadvertently embarrassed America as well, or whether the speechwriter(s) is so imbued with the neoconservative arrogance and hubris of our time that the speechwriter was simply blind to the extraordinary contradictions that stood out like sore thumbs all through the speech.I am not going to describe all of them, just a couple of examples.Trump went on at great length about how ...
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The Killing of History
One of the most hyped “events” of American television, The Vietnam War, has started on the PBS network. The directors are Ken Burns and Lynn Novick.  Acclaimed for his documentaries on the Civil War, the Great Depression and the history of jazz, Burns says of his Vietnam films, “They will inspire our country to begin to talk and think about the Vietnam war in an entirely new way”.In a society often bereft of historical memory and in thrall to the propaganda of its “exceptionalism”, Burns’ “entirely new” Vietnam war is presented as “epic, historic work”. Its lavish advertising campaign promotes its ...
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Slobodan Milosevic: The Killing of an Innocent Man
International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague quietly acknowledged the innocence of former president of Serbia and Yugoslavia Slobodan Milosevic. Ten years after the very suspicious death of the Serbian leader in a Dutch prison, the 1,300th page of the 2,000-page document on the case of Radovan Karadzic, the Bosnian Serb leader, acknowledged that Milosevic had not committed crimes against humanity, nor had he organized any mass killings or deportations of Croats and Bosnians. In other words, it was an innocent man who died in a UN prison. French journalist Dimitri De Koshko was working in Yugoslavia ...
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Croatian Schooling ‘Leaves Pupils Ill-Informed’ About WWII Regime
Many Croatian schoolchildren know little about crimes committed under the country’s World War II-era fascist regime – but experts claim that the revisionist political environment is more to blame than the education system.The former Jasenovac concentration camp, one of the most important World War II historical sites in the former Yugoslavia, is around 110 kilometres from Croatia’s capital Zagreb - an hour and a half by bus.But no schools in Zagreb sent their pupils on trips to the Jasenovac Memorial Site last year.Out of a total of 909 primary schools in Croatia, only seven of them organised visits for pupils ...
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From Iraq to the Brexit Referendum: Tony Blair’s Toxic Legacy
Anthony Charles Lynton Blair currently back in Britain, cast a dark shadow over those campaigning to stay in the European Union in the 23rd June referendum. Inflicting himself on the Britain Stronger in Europe group, he spoke at every opportunity – reminding even the most passionate Europhile of the last time he assured: “I know I’m right” – Iraq. If the “Remainers” had an ounce of sense Blair should have been ditched in a nano-second. He is not “Toxic Tony” for nothing. However, since the long awaited Chilcot Inquiry in to the Iraq invasion is to be published just thirteen days after ...
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America’s Renegade Warfare
Seventy-seven million people in North and South Korea find themselves directly in the line of fire from the threat of a Second Korean War. The rest of the world is recoiling in horror from the scale of civilian casualties such a war would cause and the unthinkable prospect that either side might actually use nuclear weapons.Since the first Korean War killed at least 20 percent of North Korea’s population and left the country in ruins, the U.S. has repeatedly failed to follow through on diplomacy to establish a lasting peace in Korea and has instead kept reverting to illegal and terrifying threats ...
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Reviving the Greater Israel Scheme
Israel’s Maariv newspaper has revealed that the government of the Zionist state is planning to drop a political bombshell in the coming weeks by presenting a bill in the Knesset (parliament) calling for the annexation of land occupied since 1967. It is likely to have the support of the majority of Knesset members. The newspaper added that the right wing has chosen this time for the move ahead of the US presidential election; America, it is believed, will be too preoccupied to care about what is happening in the occupied Palestinian territories. Preliminary talks about a first stage have been held, ...
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Hitllary Clinton Plans to Destroy Russia
Leaked emails are filling in the picture of a Bill-and-Hillary-Clinton plan to destroy Russia – a plan which had originated with US President George Herbert Walker Bush in 1990, and which has been followed through both by his son George W Bush, and by both of the Clintons, but which has only recently started to become documented by leaked publications of personal communications amongst the key operatives who were the insiders running this operation behind the scenes, and who include Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, George W Bush, Victoria Nuland, Jeffrey Feltman, Saudi Prince Bandar bin Sultan al-Saud, Saudi Crown Prince ...
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Why the Rise of Fascism is Again the Issue
The recent 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz was a reminder of the great crime of fascism, whose Nazis iconography is embedded in our consciousness. Fascism is preserved as history, as flickering footage of goose-stepping blackshirts, their criminality terrible and clear. Yet in the same liberal societies, whose war-making elites urge us never to forget, the accelerating danger of a modern kind of fascism is suppressed; for it is their fascism. “To initiate a war of aggression…,” said the Nuremberg Tribunal judges in 1946, “is not only an international crime, it is the supreme international crime, differing only from other ...
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Democracy in America is Pure Fantasy
“I’ll never live to see 9/11 justice,” says Stephen Lendman. The 9/11 attacks have changed the course of humanity, even so for sixteen years have not been minimally clarified but turned the world in a place full of fear and hate as the United States spreads its military bases all over the world, having 737 and more than 2,500,000 U.S. personnel serving across the planet.Stephen Lendman, one of the world’s most respected analysts, speaks with Pravda Report on the consequences of those attacks, and President Trump’s denial of his promises during the presidential campaign to investigate the day that has killed more than one million people ...
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U.S. Conceals Thousands of Airstrikes in Middle East
Reviving the ‘Chemical Weapons’ Lie: New US-UK Calls for Regime Change, Military Attack Against Syria
International Law? The Americans don’t give a Damn
Why are We in Kosovo?
Refuting a Greater Albania’s Mythomania: The Ancient Balkan Dardanians – The Illyro-Albanians, the Daco-Moesians or the Thracians?
The Criminalization of Parliamentary Democracy
Israel’s Attack on the USS Liberty (June 8th, 1967): A Half Century Later, Still no Justice
North Macedonia Accession to NATO Aims to Maintain Unipolarity in Multipolarity Age
The Human Rights Disaster in America
Americans are no Different than Germans were (and are)
Trump’s UN Speech (September 2017)
The Killing of History
Slobodan Milosevic: The Killing of an Innocent Man
Croatian Schooling ‘Leaves Pupils Ill-Informed’ About WWII Regime
From Iraq to the Brexit Referendum: Tony Blair’s Toxic Legacy
America’s Renegade Warfare
Reviving the Greater Israel Scheme
Hitllary Clinton Plans to Destroy Russia
Why the Rise of Fascism is Again the Issue
Democracy in America is Pure Fantasy
Policraticus

Written by Policraticus

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