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article number 533
article date 03-01-2016
copyright 2016 by Author else SaltOfAmerica
Peace in the United States While Europe Was at War? 1914-1917
by Preston William Slosson

From the 1930 book, The Great Crusade and After, 1914-1928.

* * *

IN counting the annual rings that tell the life story of a fallen tree the forester can sometimes distinguish narrow, crowded lines that testify to years of stress and drought. If trees had memory we can be sure that they would reckon events as they befell before or after the “hard times.”

The World War of 1914-1918 marked five such bands of waste and suffering across the life of nearly every nation in the world. No other recorded human disaster, not even the Black Death of the fourteenth century, so intimately touched each race of mankind or created so general a brotherhood of suffering.

Even the few neutral nations which did not contribute to the casualty lists were shaken profoundly by the economic repercussions of the European conflict.

For America, as for Europe, it closed one age and began another.

Yet there was a difference. The war came to Europe as illness comes to a man of advancing years and weakened constitution, a disaster native to the system.

The war came to the United States from without, from causes for which the United States had little responsibility.

The American people have never really accepted it as a part of their national tradition. Ten years after its close they remained still irritated and bewildered by it, rarely viewing it with that sentimental reminiscent fondness that inwrapped 1776 and 1861, although there were relatively far more American “Tories” in the former year and Northern “copperheads” in the latter than “pro-Germans” in 1917.

In many European countries which suffered more deeply than the United States the revulsion from the war took a positive form, such as radical socialism or a militant and uncompromising pacifism.

The average American felt rather that, while his government could perhaps not have avoided the war, the war ought somehow to have avoided America; that it was most unpleasant for a quiet gentleman who happened to be the spectator of a street fight suddenly to be forced to use his fists to protect his own head.

The United States of 1914 certainly presented as unwarlike a spectacle as the sun ever shone upon. The problems of politics were economic problems, concentrating in the “quest for social justice,” not questions of foreign policy.

The president, Woodrow Wilson, was a student and teacher of history, a “scholar in politics,” and therefore an anomaly in American political life. He was believed to be strongly a pacifist and had resisted considerable newspaper clamor for a military occupation of Mexico, then in the throes of a revolution which jeopardized local American interests.

His secretary of state, William Jennings Bryan, was avowedly a crusader for world peace and a foe of “imperialism.”

The Democratic party, in power by virtue of a split in the Republican camp, had been, at least since 1860, the party of “no foreign entanglements.” Alone among the Great Powers, the United States had neither alliances nor morally binding ententes with other nations.

The permanent diplomatic policy of the nation, based on the principles of Washington, Jefferson and Monroe, was that of nonintervention in European affairs combined with a watchful guardianship of American countries from European intrusion. If some exceptions to this policy had been made, particularly in the administration of Theodore Roosevelt, no one supposed that they would be repeated while Wilson occupied the White House.

The first reaction of the American public to the European tragedy was one of sheer humanitarian horror. It seemed incredible that the peace of western Europe, unbroken since 1871, should be so abruptly terminated. Of the diplomatic controversies which led to the crisis only the professionally informed—diplomats, journalists, historians—were aware.

American newspapers before August, 1914, gave relatively less space to foreign affairs than the newspapers of any European country. They duly recorded, without special emphasis, the assassination of an Austrian archduke, but the baseball season was in full swing and the relative importance of events seems to diminish with distance.

For those who took any interest in the doings of diplomacy, President Wilson’s difficulties with Mexico seemed far more disturbing than the rise of another war cloud in the Balkans.

Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife. They were assassinated, June 1914 in Sarajevo, Bosnia. Austria declared war. Alliances then brought much of Europe into war.

But the swift interchange of threats among the Great Powers in the last week of July and the outbreak of hostilities in August brought the European crisis to the front page. The ’New York Times’ in particular distinguished itself by printing in full the official British correspondence, running to more than a hundred documents, as soon as the British government made it public.

From the outbreak of the war till the entrance of the United States made necessary a sort of military censorship, the American press continuously laid before its readers the fullest account of current events which could then be obtained anywhere in the world.

Eagerly the reading public pored over the newspaper maps, measuring off the gains reported by each side, attempting in vain to reconcile the optimistic German accounts of rapid advance in Belgium and France with French and British statements minimizing every gain. French military terms and the names of Polish towns became more or less pronounceable. The study of geography was resumed by many who had hoped to lay it by forever upon graduation from the grammar school.

But this avalanche of current information left the public hungrily curious for interpretation. America had to go to school to the historians as well as to the geographers, learn the meaning of “triple alliance” and “triple entente,” estimate the significance of the Bagdad Railway project, study the national aspirations of conquered peoples from Alsace to Bosnia, discover from past wars why France was so hot a foe of Germany, and Italy so cold a friend to Austria.

Even after the United States had been a belligerent for almost a year, the ’Dial’ commented editorially on the unabated thirst for knowledge about the European situation:

"We have an eagerness to learn the political and historical background of the war, as well as to read the more intimate personal descriptions, which would be regarded with astonishment in any of the European capitals. . . . We shall probably end by being better informed about the war than those who live next door to it.”

If this prophecy was not altogether fulfilled, the reason lay in no insufficiency of the quantity of information but in its extraordinarily streaky quality. The war books varied in merit all the way from such scholarly and impartial surveys as Charles Seymour’s ’Diplomatic Background of the War’ (1916) and Bernadotte Schmitt’s ’England and Germany’ (1916) to shamelessly mendacious propaganda or the highly dubious confessions and “revelations” of self-alleged European spies.

There was particular demand for books that interpreted Germany or her ruler, and Roland G. Usher’s ’Pan-Germanism,’ printed only a few months before the outbreak of the war, came just in time to ride on the crest of the wave.

As in England, there was demand for translations and discussions of the strangely assorted trio, Nietzsche, Treitschke and Bernhardi, as alleged fomenters of the German militarist spirit.

From the outbreak of the war till the sinking of the ’Lusitania,’ American public opinion may fairly be described as neutral, though this neutrality was not that of indifference but rather a balance of contending forces. The official neutrality of the government forced the individual citizen to reach his own conclusions. And the prize of American sympathy was worth winning, even when all Europe took for granted that the United States would not interfere.

As the most powerful of the nations at peace, perhaps the only neutral free from foreign intimidation which might limit her freedom of action, the United States could make her influence strongly felt. She could permit a continuous supply of the credits, money, raw materials and manufactured goods needed for the prosecution of the war, to flow towards France and Britain (geographical position and naval blockade limited aid to Germany, Austria-Hungary and Russia) or, conversely, place a ban on the export of all sorts of munitions of war.

The United States could perhaps influence the peace settlement and, in any case, the diplomatic and commercial contests after the war. Moreover, many Europeans felt that the verdict of American opinion would in itself be a moral victory, not that Americans were wiser than other men but because neutrals could approach the issues more impartially than any belligerent and might anticipate the ultimate decision of history.

The strong foundation stone of German propaganda was the fact that, next to the British Isles, Germany had made the largest contribution to the American population. The greater number of German Americans were of the second or third generation, men whose fathers or grandfathers had entered the country between the forties and the nineties of the last century.

’Harpers Weekly’ drawing of German emigrants to the United States, 1874.

The German Americans were not considered as “foreigners” in the same sense as the later immigrants from Italy, Poland and the Balkans. They had acquired citizenship, become assimilated to the ways of American life, and exercised no little political influence.

After the United States entered the war they were loyal and patriotic with but very few exceptions, but in the days of neutrality they could see no reason for restraining their sympathies. The German-American Alliance, the numerous local bunds, vereins and vernacular newspapers, frankly sided with the Central Powers.

Dr. Bernhard Dernburg, formerly colonial secretary of the German Empire, now arrived and set himself to the task of organizing and mobilizing this inchoate sentiment. A large crop of ephemeral periodicals, such as George S. Viereck’s ’Fatherland,’ and still more ephemeral societies, such as the curiously misnamed American Neutrality League and the American Independence Union, devoted themselves to active propaganda for any measure that might help the Central Powers or embarrass the Entente Allies.*

* The ’New York Evening Mail’ was purchased to aid the German cause, but missed its effect by being as overcautious as Viereck’s ’Fatherland’ was overbiatant.

The following extract from a letter by Alexander Konta to Dr. Bernhard Dernburg in reference to the proposed purchase of a New York newspaper in the German interest is typical of the methods employed. The date is of March 31, 1915, and the alien-property custodian declared it to be the earliest record of the scheme to purchase newspapers in English for German propaganda.

"Prohibition is seriously occupying the minds of the brewers and distillers of this country. . . A paper that would not be hostile to the personal liberty of the citizen . . . could count upon the powerful sympathy of the brewers and distillers, who command almost illimitable capital, and what is more, means of giving the paper in question a circulation large enough to attract advertisers.

"Add to this a discreet appeal to every German society in the country for support by its members and we could easily count upon a national daily circulation of 500,000 copies. This to be sure would be a circulation among Germans and German Americans, whereas what is wanted is native American readers,

"but if this German circulation is built up discreetly as I suggest, the men in the street will be impressed by numbers. . . . Politically the transaction would have to be handled with the utmost delicacy. No suspicion of the influence behind it should be allowed to reach the public."

But the German Americans were far from being the only element in the country to favor the Central Powers. Many Jews had good cause for hating their step-fatherland of Russia. The Irish Americans had a feud seven centuries old with England. They, too, had a press and an array of nationalist societies, and they were more active in politics than the Germans.

Some Americans of purest English descent shared this dislike because of inherited prejudices and schoolbook accounts of the Revolution, the War of 1812 and the subsequent diplomatic controversies, or because of temperamental clashes between self-assured Briton and sensitive American.

The most respectable pro-German element consisted of a very small but influential group of university men who had received their schooling in Germany, or had traveled there, and had fallen in love with all the nobler aspects of German civilization.

As active American aid to Germany was out of the question, friends of the Central Powers concentrated their attention on two main objects: to keep the United States out of the conflict, and to prevent the export of munitions of war to the Entente Powers.

On both these points, though from widely different motives, the pacifist was perforce in alliance with the pro-German. “Let us place an embargo on the munitions export,” said the latter. “We cannot send aid to Germany and it is unneutral, at least in spirit, to aid one combatant alone.”

“By all means let us do so,” rejoined the pacifist, “but not to help or hinder either side; merely to end this infernal profiteering in the weapons of murder.”

This combined sentiment, flowing from two such different sources, resulted in sharp congressional debates on the embargo proposal, which was brought forward as a threat whenever the Entente encroached too greatly on American interests.

A curious early expression of pacifist sentiment was the crusade of the peace ship "Oscar II" which sailed for Europe at the beginning of December, 1915, “to get the boys out of the trenches by Christmas.”

Henry Ford, the automobile manufacturer, was the backer of the expedition, having been misled into the belief that the belligerent nations which had rejected the official mediation of the United States would welcome the unofficial good offices of American citizens. The voyage had, as might have been expected, no other effect than to give war-weary Europe a comic interlude in the midst of the great tragedy.

Henry Ford embarks on his 1915 crusade “to get the boys out of the trenches by Christmas.”

The Entente Allies maintained propaganda every whit as active as the German and, on the whole, with greater skill. Much of the German publicity went to the foreign-language press, which the average American never reads, and much was wasted on specially subsidized periodicals which reached only those who already agreed with their views.

English propaganda, and England was the most active of the Entente nations in the matter, was directed straight at the periodicals of highest repute and the men of widest influence. Sir Gilbert Parker has told the story:

"Among other things, we supplied three hundred and sixty newspapers in the smaller states of the United States with an English newspaper which gave a weekly review and comment on the affairs of the war. We established connection with the man in the street through cinema pictures of the army and navy, as well as through interviews, articles, pamphlets, etc.

"We advised and stimulated many people to write articles; . . . we had reports from important Americans constantly, and established association by personal correspondence with influential and eminent people of every profession in the United States . . ."

Add to this the facts that the American and British publics, whatever their past quarrels, could be reached through the medium of the same language, that the cable and mail routes were controlled by the Entente (though the Germans were able to make some use of the wireless), and that many traveled Americans possessed French or British sympathies, and the ground was prepared for intervention if the German government should commit acts hostile to American rights and interests.

The greatest personal asset on the side of intervention was ex-President Theodore Roosevelt, the most influential private citizen in the nation. In the first days of the war he had written editorials for the ’Outlook’ in mild approval of neutrality.

But within a few months he had come to view the war as a campaign in the eternal struggle between right and wrong. He complained that the administration was “pussyfooting,” that President Wilson conducted himself like a “Byzantine logothete,” and that “hyphenated Americans” were converting the country into a “polyglot boarding house.”

Roosevelt compared the popular pacifist song “I didn’t raise my boy to be a soldier” with “I didn’t raise my girl to be a mother,” and contended that a nation which shrank from righteous war in defense of the oppressed was already effete.

Only a few public men before 1917 stood with Roosevelt, but among them were some of much influence.
- Robert Bacon, once Roosevelt’s secretary of state, sought election to the Senate as an “avowed unneutral.”
- Walter Hines Page, American ambassador to London, while neutral in his public activities was ardently sympathetic with the Entente in his private advices to the president.
- Henry James, possibly the most famous American novelist of his day, became a British subject as a personal expression of his sentiment about the war.

From a survey of the American press at the beginning of hostilities it appeared that, out of a total of 367 editors, 105 admitted favor for the Allies and 20 for the German cause, the other 242 disavowing any preference. The feeling of the communities represented was given as pro-Ally in 189 cases, pro-German in 38, divided in 140.

The expression of war-time sentiment was partly sectional, In both cases the Middle West was more favorable towards the German cause than the East, the Far West, or the South. This was particularly true in states with a large German population, such as Wisconsin, or in cities with an important German element, such as Cincinnati and St. Louis.

Even among the Americans of English stock, however, interventionist sentiment decreased with distance as one moved west from the Atlantic Coast. Lack of contact with European affairs, preoccupation with local economic issues, and an idealistic pacifism, well typified by William Jennings Bryan of Nebraska, the chief foe of intervention in the cabinet, all predisposed the West to view with distrust the growing war sentiment.

Some people in the West were for preparedness. At a July 1916 parade for this cause in San Francisco, a bomb went off killing 6 people. Thomas Mooney, a labor leader, was sentenced for the crime.

Sharp comment by Eastern newspapers on the pacifism of the Mid-West provoked a corresponding sensitiveness, an exchange which brought an amusing sequel when, after the United States entered the war, Western editors could show that recruiting proceeded most rapidly in the “pacifist” states.

The shoe was now on the other foot—a great relief to toes too often stepped on.

The economic effects of the war on neutral America were important but diverse. In some ways serious injury was done to foreign trade. European demand for luxury manufactures ceased at once. The cotton trade also was badly hit by the interruption of normal trade with Germany, although Great Britain out of deference to American opinion long refrained from placing cotton on the list of absolute contraband.

To help out the distressed cotton belt, Americans were asked to make purchases within the home market to balance the temporary loss of foreign export trade. “Buy a bale of cotton” became the watchword of the day.

There was much unemployment in the winter of 1914 and many gloomy forecasts that so great a war must mean the shattering of the financial structure of modern civilization the whole world over.

But better times came as war orders arrived from the Entente nations. Even cotton rose to more than the normal price. European demand for wheat and other food products enabled many Western farmers to pay off their mortgages.

But the relative importance of agricultural exports diminished. Urgent as was the need in France and England for American pork and flour, the need for steel, copper and explosives took precedence. By 1916 the neutral United States had become the principal foreign munition depot for the Entente.

The iron and steel exports of the United States more than doubled from 1914 to 1916 and almost doubled again by 1918. The export of explosives increased from $6 million in 1914 to $467 million in 1916.

It has been claimed that the Du Pont powder factories “saved the cause of the Allies in 1915.” When the war broke out they were producing twelve million pounds a year; when it ended, more than four hundred million pounds.

Certain American industries were stimulated indirectly by the cessation of German competition in the home market. For many years the United States had been content to import the cheap and excellent German dyes; by March, 1915, the supply was completely cut off by the blockade.

“The world was searched for reserve supplies of coal-tar dyes. Light shades became common in many lines of goods. Designs were changed, especially in calicoes and ginghams. Small figures were printed on white backgrounds. Natural dyes, such as logwood and fustic, came into more common use.”

The American dye industry, which “can hardly be said to have existed in 1914,” was exporting to foreign countries by 1919. The finer grades of optical glass, an industry whose world center was Jena, Germany, were also lacking, and in some cases astronomers had to wait till the war ended for their expected telescope lenses.

Drugs and chemicals of various sorts, some of them covered by German patents, were hard to obtain. During the war period (1914-1919) the value of the annual output of coal-tar chemicals in the United States increased from $13 million to $133 million and the value of drugs from $177 million to $418 million.

The July, 1916 Black Tom explosion at the munitions depot in New York Harbor was traced to the Austrian Ambassador to the United States. International News Photos, Inc.

At the expense of the consumer the United States had become a self-dependent nation for nearly every manufactured necessity.

Domestic manufacturers seized the opportunity to launch a “made-in-America” campaign, supported partly by the patriotic argument that the good citizen should patronize his own national industries, partly by the practical consideration that it was awkward to depend for industrial needs on a foreign production that might at any time be interrupted by war.

Domestic manufacturers claimed also that American products were not really inferior to European; only tradition, prestige and social snobbishness gave a fictitious value to the foreign label.

“If women could be made to realize that the country which has produced the best machines,” wrote an advocate of the movement, “can show equal superiority in making almost everything else, they would be as proud of home products as are the patriotic women of France.”

The war reversed the financial relation of the United States to Europe. There had long been an excess of exports over imports, but this “favorable balance of trade” was increased from five to tenfold by war conditions.

Moreover, in times past this had been offset by less visible but equally important assets of Europe:
- the payment of freight charges to European ship-owners,
- the payment of interest and profits to foreign investors in American enterprises,
- the remittances of immigrants to their relatives in the mother country, and
- the free spending of American tourists abroad.

But now the huge disproportion of exports to imports could no longer be met by such assets. Britain, France and the other purchasers of American goods had to send gold to the United States in unprecedented quantities. Even so, they could not pay for all they needed and were forced to buy on credit or liquidate the American securities held by their citizens.

Europe liquidations of American securites included not only the bonds and stocks of every important railroad and industrial company, but literally hundreds of the old underlying subsidiary lines out of which the great modern systems grew. President L. F. Loree of the Delaware and Hudson Company estimated that in the eighteen months ending July 31, 1916, there were returned to this country over $1 billion of railroad securities, mainly held in Great Britain.

For the closing of the Central Europe market the United States obtained partial compensation not alone from the war orders of western Europe but also in the opportunity to capture neutral markets which both belligerent groups were now forced somewhat to neglect.

Prior to the war Britain and Germany had been far more active than the United States in establishing banks and branch commercial houses in Latin America, in studying the language and customs of the people, and in pushing their manufactures by carefully laid campaigns of salesmanship.

Germany and Italy, moreover, had sent immigrants to temperate South America as well as to the United States; Paris was in many ways the cultural capital of all the southern republics, and Spain and Portugal were brought close to them by ties of language and historic tradition.

A certain fear of the United States, too close and powerful a neighbor to be altogether trusted, had induced many Latin Americans to deal by preference with Europe.

But, in spite of the fact that both export and import trade with Latin America doubled in value from 1914 to 1917, it cannot be said that full advantage was taken of the new opportunities. The American salesman was too impatient as a rule to make allowance for the leisurely ceremoniousness of the Latin-American merchant, and from ignorance he was apt to make such tactical blunders as sending circulars printed in Spanish to Portuguese Brazil.

Rio de Janeiro Brazil. By 1900 it was a large trading port with European connections.

From 1917 to 1928 the actual increase in the trade with Latin America was inconsiderable.

In selling munitions to the belligerents and in temporarily replacing them in neutral markets the United States profited to some extent from the misfortunes of Europe, a fact which did not add to the popularity of America abroad.

Too often foreign critics forgot the other side of “war prosperity”:
- the dislocation of prices,
- the decreased buying power of people with fixed incomes,
- the fall in the value of bonds and railroad shares,
- the frequent strikes for higher pay as the trade unions bent themselves to the task of keeping wage levels above the rising cost of living.

There can be little doubt that the economic condition of the nation as a whole would have been better in the long run if the World War had never taken place. Prices took their first sharp upward turn in 1916 and continued to rise till the latter part of 1920, but as early as April, 1917, the pinch of distress was beginning to be felt by competent and thrifty salaried folk.

“My professional salary of $2000,” testified a public employee in New York City, “has been increased only fourteen per cent in fourteen years. . . . We have denied ourselves every luxury and some things regarded as necessary, but there is hardly enough money for doctor, dentist, and oculist. . . . The excessive cost of meat must be paid from the cost of breakfast eggs. The excess cost of potatoes to satisfy the children’s hunger must be paid from oranges conducive to health.”

“I am a successful doctor’s wife,” wrote a woman in Sapulpa, Oklahoma, “yet when we meet high taxes, rent, fuel, water, lights, groceries, meats, and dry goods for our family of six we find ourselves too near the red unless we cut out milk (at 15 cents a quart), butter (at 55 cents), use meat only once a day,” and dispense with eggs at fifty-five cents a dozen.

During the entire period from 1916 to 1920 the professional classes, salaried clerks, civic officials, police, and others whose income was fixed by law or custom were worse off relatively, and in some respects absolutely, than at any time since the Civil War.

Labor troubles, as always in a time of rapidly changing prices, were frequent and serious. In the autumn of 1916 even the dairy farmers struck for better prices from the distributing companies, shut off a third of New York’s milk supply for several days, and forcibly dumped the milk cans of nonunion dairymen who persisted in making deliveries.

In 1916 the railroad brother-hoods threatened a tie-up of all the principal lines in the country unless they were granted a basic eight-hour day with extra pay for overtime work. Congress passed the Adamson act in September, conceding the principal demands of the railwaymen.

President Wilson was much criticized by his political opponents for yielding to demands which, however just in themselves, were forced on the government by the threat of a general railroad strike.

The general attitude of the Wilson administration was favorable to labor. The president had favored legislation exempting trade unions from antitrust laws, guaranteeing the rights of merchant seamen, and forbidding the interstate transportation of products made by child labor.


Wilson was on friendly terms with the leaders of the American Federation of Labor, and the majority of his appointments, notably the choice of Louis Brandeis and John H. Clarke to the Supreme Court, pleased liberals as much as they displeased conservatives.

Though in these early years the American may have viewed the war too much as a mere interested spectator, unaware of the danger that his own nation might also become involved in a conflict that already extended from Japan to Portugal, at least he was a sympathetic spectator.

The case of Belgium, obviously innocent of any fault except that of lying across a road which the German army wished to take, appealed especially to American sentiment.

Herbert Clark Hoover, a mining engineer of Quaker stock, born in Iowa and educated in California, had been consulting engineer for more than fifty mining companies scattered about the world in Mexico, China, Australia, South Africa, India and many parts of Europe.

Setting aside a technical career which had already made him a wealthy man, Hoover undertook the chairmanship of the Commission for Relief in Belgium. From that moment forward his life was claimed by public service, as federal food administrator during the war, secretary of commerce and president after it.

To the Belgian people America was able to make two great gifts: the direct present of money and goods, and the organizing ability that made them available. The United States contributed over thirty-four million dollars to Belgian relief, the British Empire over sixteen million dollars, and other countries over one million in voluntary charity, besides the still greater amount obtained from formal loans and subsidies from the American, French and British treasuries.

The magnitude of the administrative task required what was almost the construction of a special government:

“Food had to be secured in a limited and disorganized market, vessels had to be chartered to proceed across the mine-strewn North Sea through the naval blockade, and, finally, the relief supplies had to be transshipped in barges and towed through 133 miles of obstructed waterways, passing the German lines, to Brussels. Naval and military authorities, bound to be unsympathetic in the circumstances, foretold certain failure of the unprecedented undertaking.” *

* His associate on the commission, Edward Eyre Hunt, prophesied in 1916: “I am not a prophet or the son of a prophet, but I know that the public service of Herbert C. Hoover has just begun. . . . as soon as the war is over and Belgium is free, his own country will have need of him.”

Food stockpiled by the American Commission for Relief in Belgium, chaired by Herbert Hoover.

Soon the commission was feeding over nine million people, Established as a neutral organization, but with recognized diplomatic rights and obligations and flying its own flag, the unusual status of the commission was characterized by a famous Allied diplomat as a “piratical state organized for benevolence.”

Belgian relief was the largest task of American charity until the end of the war opened up opportunities for aid in Poland, Russia, Austria, Hungary, Serbia, Armenia and Greece.

During the actual fighting it was not easy for substantial aid to reach these more distant countries, yet something was done to fight the typhus epidemic in the Balkans.

Fashionable society organized fairs and “benefits” for all sorts of special charities: Christmas toys for European children, aid for blind and crippled soldiers, ambulances for Italy, succor for missionary schools in Turkey.

As the most important neutral nation the United States had thrust upon her the duty of championing the principle of the “freedom of the seas,” implying the right of neutrals to trade with oversea customers as freely in time of war as in time of peace, except that contraband goods intended directly for belligerent use might be captured and that merchant ships might be barred from a port held in a close and effective blockade.

But neither the Entente Allies nor the Central Powers could enforce a blockade in the strictest legal sense. Germany could trade overseas across the Baltic and overland with Switzerland, Denmark and the Netherlands in spite of every effort of British, French and Russian patrols.

German submarine warfare, on the other hand, established no blockade whatever, as even in the worst of times the great majority of ships reached British ports in safety.

Contraband proved an even more slippery concept than blockade. The neutrals tried to confine the word to munitions in the most limited sense: explosives, arms, cavalry horses, and the like; the belligerents tried to extend it to every class of goods useful to a nation in war time: oil, cotton, copper, fats, meat, grain, etc.

The fact that Germany placed the entire food supply of the nation under public regulation gave the Entente Allies a pretext to put foodstuffs on their contraband lists since it was no longer easy to distinguish civilian from military supplies.

Still another difficulty arose when neutral states neighbor to Germany resold or transshipped goods bought from abroad. This placed the Entente naval authorities in the embarrassing dilemma of high-handedly “rationing” neutral trade or else permitting Germany to import all she needed by the simple process of bringing it into the country through Dutch or Danish ports.

The American government had frequent occasion to protest at the way in which the Entente Powers, and more especially the British navy, invaded neutral rights by arbitrary extension of contraband lists, the interruption of mails, the blacklisting of neutral firms trading with the enemy, the misuse of neutral flags to protect belligerent merchant ships, and the curtailment of shipments to European neutrals.

But the German declaration of a war zone around the British Isles in which ships might be sunk without further warning constituted a far graver problem. On February 10, 1915, President Wilson warned the German authorities that they would be held to “strict accountability” for acts endangering the lives of American citizens.

Attacks on the American vessels ’Cashing’ and ’Gulflight’ and the killing of an American citizen on the British liner ’Falaba’ challenged the American position, but they were speedily forgotten in the general horror aroused over the sinking of the ’Lusitania.’

On May 7, 1915, the British passenger liner Lusitania, carrying munitions of war but not (as was alleged at the time) armed for combat, was torpedoed off the Irish coast. Nearly twelve hundred of the passengers and crew were drowned, among them one hundred and fourteen American citizens.

GERMANY’S CHALLENGE. The newspaper headline reads "1,300 Die as Lusitania Goes to Bottom; 400 Americans on Board Torpedoed Ship; Washington Stirred as When Maine Sank"

The fact that the German embassy had officially warned intending passengers by newspaper advertisement that they were in peril, and that a medal was struck commemorating the event, made the act seem a particularly deliberate affront. For the first time in the course of the war the American public began to consider armed intervention as a possibility. *

* We shall be at war with Germany within a month,” declared Colonel E. M. House, the president’s confidential adviser, when he heard the news in London.

IMPERIAL GERMAN EMBASSY Washington, D. C., APRIL 22, 1915. NOTICE! TRAVELLERS intending to embark on the Atlantic voyage are reminded that a state of war exists between Germany and her allies and Great Britain an her allies; that the zone of war includes the waters adjacent to the British Isles; that, in accordance with formal notice given by the Imperial German Government vessels flying the flag of Great Britain, or of any of her allies, are liable to destruction in those waters and that travellers sailing in the war zone on ships of Great Britain or her allies do so at their own risk.

Historians have often stated that in the anger and agony of the first news President Wilson, had he so desired, could have obtained a declaration of war from Congress. But when the president contented himself with a solemn reiteration of his former warning, the greater part of the press seemed relieved.

The typical view of the Mississippi Valley states was expressed by the ’St. Louis Globe-Democrat,’ which, on May 11, 1915, denounced the submarine outrage but added, “The United States is happily outside that maelstrom of murder. We will not be drawn into it if we can, with honor, avoid it.”

But the president’s phrase, “There is such a thing as a man being too proud to fight,” spoken at a meeting of newly naturalized American citizens, was widely misinterpreted as an unconditional peace-at-any-price utterance which cost him much popularity.

From that time onward there was a war party in the United States, small at first but growing with each unlawful sinking, till the destruction of the ’Sussex’ in March, 1916, brought an ultimatum from Washington and a promise from Berlin that henceforward merchant ships would not be sunk without warning or attempt to save the lives of passengers, unless they offered flight or resistance.

Germany reserved the right, however, to withdraw this pledge if necessity arose, and thus the war cloud still hung over the United States, An abiding bitterness against Germany remained after the Lusitania sinking and editors noticed that a newspaper sold better in the streets if the day’s news headlined a victory of the Entente than if it were so worded as to seem a German success.

Neither the people nor the government were as yet convinced of the need of war, but it is significant that early in 1916 Congress tabled resolutions, strongly supported by pacifists and pro-Germans alike, warning American citizens not to take passage on armed merchantmen, and that in the same year Congress undertook the task of building a greater army.

Nineteen hundred and sixteen will probably be remembered in American annals as the “preparedness” year. The political atmosphere of the time was curiously unreal. Though most persons realized that the United States stood on the verge of war, care was taken not to state the danger in so many words. One talked, rather, of “preparedness” at large or discussed the abstract beauties of pacifism.

Serial magazine stories and moving pictures—such as “The Fall of a Nation”—narrated imaginary invasions of the United States, but rarely called the invaders Germans, even when they appeared on the film in spiked helmets.

If the average champion of preparedness were asked why the country must arm, he usually replied with such generalities as, “We must be strong enough to maintain American rights,” or “Universal military training is an excellent school for democratic citizenship.”

If you pressed him further, he would say something about Mexican raids along the southwestern border—no votes could be lost by denouncing Mexicans.

The Republican and Democratic parties during the campaign of that year strangely resembled two little children quarreling in a cage containing a sleeping tiger, but scolding in an undertone so as not to wake the sleeper.

Certainly if danger there were, whether or not it could wisely be mentioned, the United States was wise to overhaul the armory. At the outbreak of the World War the United States had the smallest army among important nations, and the national guard, which supplemented it, varied in equipment and discipline with the standards of each state.

The great majority of Americans were without any military experience whatever and not even accustomed, as past American generations had been, to riding, shooting and camping in the open. The navy was certainly inferior in strength to the British, probably to the German, and possibly to the French.

In October, 1915, Congress adopted a three-year building program to bring the navy up to a strength at least comparable to that of any other nation at a cost of half a billion dollars, and the national defense act of the following June increased the size of the regular army and of the national guard and provided for an officers’ reserve corps to be trained in summer camps of the Plattsburg type.

The most popular and interesting aspect of the preparedness movement was the opening of summer training camps for civilians. General Leonard Wood did much to initiate the plan by organizing such a camp at Plattsburg, in northern New York, in 1915.

Men come to Plattsburgh, New York for officer training.

Colleges and universities also laid greater stress than formerly on their courses in military science. Drill was less perfunctory to the student who now foresaw a chance of becoming an officer in actual war. From the colleges and from the summer camps came many of the officers of the volunteer and drafted levies raised during the war.

Under modern conditions it takes several months’ intensive training to turn a civilian into a soldier and an even longer time to fit him to be an officer. Obviously the training camps could but make a beginning, but at least they selected from the mass of men of military age those who were interested in the army and who had the physique and the qualities of leadership which fitted them for the profession.

The partial mobilization of the army and the national guard for service on the Mexican border greatly increased interest in military affairs. If there were no big war with Germany there might at least be a little one with Mexico.

The preparedness propaganda of such organizations as the National Security League, the American Defense Society, the Navy League and the American Rights Committee was counterbalanced by that of pacifist organizations, such as the American League to Limit Armaments, the American Union against Militarism, the women’s Peace Party, the various peace societies, old and new, and the Socialist party, committed to nonintervention in the war.

A somewhat different angle of approach from either was represented by the League to Enforce Peace, founded in Philadelphia on June 17, 1915, by a committee of more than a hundred members, including ex-President William Howard Taft, A. Lawrence Lowell, president of Harvard University, and Theodore Marburg, former ambassador to Belgium.

As far back as September, 1914, Hamilton Holt, editor of the New York ’Independents’ had advocated a league of peace to prevent war, a plan which was indorsed, in principle at any rate, by ex-President Roosevelt.

The idea of the League to Enforce Peace was that peace could not be obtained by mere moral crusades against war and armament, but must come as the result of international confederation to maintain peace and overawe the aggressor. Woodrow Wilson’s later construction of the League of Nations already existed here in blueprint.

A further cause of irritation against Germany, only second in importance to submarine warfare, was the discovery of various plots and conspiracies to hamper, by illegal means, the manufacture and export of munitions of war in the United States.

Failing to accomplish their purpose of obtaining an embargo on munitions from Congress, some German agents and sympathizers fell back on more covert methods.

Companies were organized to purchase the machinery and supplies essential to the production of munitions, simply to keep them from the Allies; agents induced the Bosch Magneto Company to contract with the Entente for fuses and then finally to find some way of avoiding delivery.

The Hamburg-American shipping line provided false manifests for vessels carrying supplies to wandering German cruisers. The Austrian ambassador, Dr. Constantin Dumba, sent an American emissary to carry dispatches to Austria, among them plans to foment strikes in munition factories here. Dumba and two German attaches, Boy-Ed and Von Papen, were given their dismissal for activities hostile to the country in which they were guests.

Most sinister of all, and most significant in its consequences (for it worked a revolution in the sentiment of the generally pacifist Southwest), was the attempt made by the German foreign secretary, Arthur Zimmermann, in the last days of American neutrality, to secure Mexico’s support in case of war with the United States by offering her the opportunity of regaining New Mexico, Arizona and Texas.

Coded telegram sent by the German foreign secretary to secure Mexico’s support in case of war with the United States by offering her the opportunity of regaining New Mexico, Arizona and Texas.

Very few echoes of the war appeared in the political campaign of 1916. The Democrats contented themselves with such vote-catching slogans as, “He kept us out of war,” or “War in the East; peace in the West; thank God for Wilson!” while the Republicans were divided between those, such as Theodore Roosevelt, who wished Wilson had taken a strong stand against Germany, and those, such as Senator Robert M. La Follette of Wisconsin, who feared lest he lead the nation into war.

But when Jeremiah O’Leary, head of the so-called American Truth Society, denounced Wilson as too friendly to England, the president made the stinging retort: “I would feel deeply mortified to have you or anybody like you vote for me. Since you have access to many disloyal Americans and I have not, I will ask you to convey this message to them.”

Charles Evans Hughes, the Republican nominee, carried his caution from the Supreme Court bench into the campaign and, apparently overcareful to lose no votes, won too few. The former Progressives divided, some supporting Wilson but the majority following their leader Roosevelt back into the Republican fold.

The United States had known several somnolent elections, but that of 1916 is rather to be described as somnambulistic, Under other circumstances the closeness of the contest would have made it an interesting campaign but the real mind of the nation was elsewhere. Who cared to read conventional speeches when he might read daily of the greatest battles ever fought and knew there was constant danger that they might involve America?

The one touch of excitement in the campaign came in the week following election when the result hung in doubt until the final returns were heard from California. The chief significance of the election (since both parties failed to face the issues of the hour) was in the new sectional alignment. For the first time in American history the Farther West determined the outcome.

The South, as was expected, remained Democratic, the East and Middle West (with the exception of New Hampshire and Ohio) went Republican but the states beyond the Missouri, a majority of them normally Republican rallied to Wilson almost as a unit. It was an impressive demonstration of the fact that the Great West could hold the balance of power in American politics.

Woodrow Wilson’s second inaugural parade. “He kept us out of war.”

Fresh from his victory, President Wilson made a dramatic play for world peace. He offered the belligerents an opportunity to state the terms on which war might be concluded. The Entente outlined their terms; the Central Powers refused to state theirs but offered to enter a conference.

Before the Senate on January 22, 1917, the president reviewed the negotiations and urged a “peace without victory” based on the equal rights of all nations, great and small, and secured by a league of nations.

But his efforts failed either to end the war or to avert American participation in it.

At the end of January the Central Powers declared a war zone around enemy coasts in which all ships, neutral or belligerent, might be sunk. The one exception permitted, which Americans took as an additional insult, was the right to send along a narrow sea lane one passenger ship a week, decorated with “zebra stripes,” as the press termed them, of alternate red and white.

The United States promptly severed diplomatic relations with Germany, but awaited a hostile act before declaring war. As a temporary measure the president advocated the defensive arming of American merchant ships.

A pacifist minority in the Senate talked the resolution to death, but the president accomplished the same end by executive action.

Public opinion began to crystallize into war sentiment.

Germany’s repudiation of her former pledge to spare unarmed merchant ships, the timely exposure of various plots within the country and of Zimmermann’s bid to Mexico to help herself to three American states, the German deportation of Belgian civilians, the revolution in Russia (the American press, with virtual unanimity, had been hostile to the old régime in that country), and the continued sinking of American ships in the war zone enabled the president, when the new Congress assembled, to ask for a declaration of war.

Many papers which had formerly opposed intervention now thought that armed neutrality was “nothing . . . but a buckling on of a sword for a siesta in a rocking chair,” and applauded the formal declaration of war.

Yet there were still anti-interventionists. On the decisive vote in Congress, fifty members of the House and six of the Senate held out against the action. Moreover, down to the actual declaration, a coalition of pacifist societies, the Emergency Peace Federation, bombarded Congress with appeals to keep America out of Europe’s quarrel.

Wilson’s former secretary of state, Bryan, agitated against intervention, though he had labored earnestly for Wilson’s reelection the previous year. The Socialist party, meeting in convention at St. Louis, declared it a capitalistic war and promised opposition to its prosecution, a step which led to the eventual arrest of many Socialist leaders, among them Eugene V. Debs, frequently the party candidate for president, on the charge of obstructing recruiting by speaking against the war.

A minority of Socialist intellectuals, however, including J. G. Phelps Stokes, Charles Edward Russell, William English Walling, W. J. Ghent and John Spargo, the men who had done most to build up American Socialism, broke with their party in the belief that the war was one of democracy against autocracy—a loss of leadership which the party could ill afford.

With the actual beginning of hostilities most of the opposition ceased. The question of American participation had not been at all a party issue—it was no more a Democratic than a Republican war. The sectional alignment, such as it was, ended on April 6, 1917, and from then onward the West strove to outdo the East in war fervor.

Nor was there any division of classes on the question. Pacifism was a matter of individual conviction, pro-Germanism usually, of family inheritance, and neither proved to be of much significance.

There were no draft riots such as had figured in Civil War times.

Particularly commendable was the conduct of the German Americans. Though their sympathies had been vociferously for the German cause from 1914 to 1917, few hesitated when the choice became inevitable between the land of their fathers and the land of their children.

The melting pot had proved to be no idle metaphor. The many nationalities in the United States recognized themselves as a single nation.

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