tv Lectures in History Myths About America in World War I CSPAN November 10, 2018 8:00pm-9:21pm EST
chapman university history professor, jennifer keene, looks at myths about america's involvement in world war i, including misconceptions the u.s. was not involved in europe prior to entering the war, or that world war i failed to have lasting impacts on american society. this class is about an hour and 20 minutes. jennifer keene: alright, so today we are going to talk about america during the first world war. i called of this lecture "americans at war," the myth busters addition. i did that kind of intentionally because we think about understanding the first world war in general, there are so many myths and misconceptions attached to the war that it is really interesting for us to first understand why those myths exist and then unpack and see the reality of the experience. i wanted to start first by sort
of talking about how this connects to the first world war all. -- the first world war, overall. because it is not just america that has the sense of how we enter the first world war to begin with. we think of the general narrative we have attached to it. one of the most common narratives is that world war i was a senseless slaughter. we have already talked about why this war ever even a kurd. but once it is underway, there -- why this war ever even occurred. but once it is underway, there is this sort of predominant image, the images i have up here for you. the idea that this was men sent needlessly to their death. i have two examples, all quiet on the western front. you are going to like this image. this is the cover for the first english edition of the novel. you will recognize that image from something we discussed last class. last class was a german war bond poster, and that soldier was meant to represent germany's last hope, willing to sacrifice for his country.
now it has become recycled as a different image. now it is an image of a man who is needlessly sacrificed for his country. and over here, which is from a movie in the 1960's called "oh, what a lovely war," and i think this little part over here is instructive. the ever popular wargames with songs, battles, and a few jokes. it is a war game for them, but it is the men on the battlefield who have to suffer. i'm not trying to suggest to you that world war i did not involve senseless slaughter. what i do want to suggest is the is overarching image obscures the realities to the war in a more general sense. here is one example of this. we have this notion of how many people died overall in this war. we have less of a notion that actually, the majority survived.
most men actually will come home. there are tremendous numbers of casualties, but there is also a high rate of survival. --e we have the statistics nine out of 10 british soldiers would actually come home. thing that the senseless slaughter conception kind of obscures. it also obscures the reality that in fact, soldiers spend a lot of their time outside of the trenches. they were obviously fighting, but the majority of their time was either spent in reserve trenches or behind the lines. we could take this even one step further to point out that all the men in the front lines, there needs to be at least two or three behind the line supporting them. so there are large numbers of men who survived not just because they are not in the front lines that long, but because so many men are noncombatant. they are serving in the rear.
and those are people that we never really factor into our narrative when we just think about the first world war as senseless slaughter. the last point i want to make is this myth ofhave senseless slaughter over all connected to the first world war, it obscures the fact that in the 1918, there was a learning curve that happened and there is a breakthrough in trench warfare -- in trench stalemates. the war ends in 1918. i have this map to show you that at this moment, we have movement in 1914, the trench stalemate, then there is movement again. so there is some learning that occurs about how to fight this war that challenges this notion donkeys.led by this myth that the generals were , that they were just trying to invade, and not
make improvements in how they fought. so the point i am trying to make here is that we can think about myths not just to point out how they are wrong, but by dissecting them, we can learn a little bit more about the war is .tself so this is something we can do overall for world war i. what about the united states? what i have for you today is six myths about america and world war i that i want to talk about and do the same thing i did in the introduction. so the first myth here, myth number one, america was neutral until april 1917. april 1917, that is with the united states officially enters the war against germany. what i am going to argue is untrue about this myth is that while officially the united states was neutral, that doesn't mean that americans were uninvolved. the key point here is that neutrality does not mean noninvolvement.
and we can get a sense of how this is a different concept, neutrality, from noninvolvement, if we take a look at woodrow wilson in 1914. here we have the countdown to war, something we have already discussed, how we get from the assassination of the archduke ferdinand to the german army actually invading belgium, right? and now, this is the moment when woodrow wilson has to say to the american people, where are we, in this complex? what is our stake as this war is spreading across europe? this is the quote that we always hear. this is the one that gets pulled out again and again. "we must be impartial in thought as well as action." woodrow wilson told us to be impartial. but, there is another thing that woodrow wilson said that i actually think is a little bit more revealing of what is going to happen. in that same neutrality address he said, the effect of the war upon the united states will
depend on what american citizens say and do. recognizing, right from the very beginning, that the government can say that america is neutral, right? america can say that we have a policy of treating both sides the same. but what the government does is only going to be one side of the story. what american people decide to do, that is going to really tell the tale of how america behaves in this so-called period of neutrality. now, what do the american people do? again, there are well-known parts of this story and lesser -known parts. we know for instance that the banks, american banks, lend overwhelmingly to the allies side. that is a law known part of the
story. we know that american manufacturers sell their goods overwhelmingly to the airlines best to the allies, and other well-known part of the story. what is less known is what the average american says and does. what average americans overwhelmingly do is reach into their pockets and they contribute to humanitarian aid causes. they realize that there is some way for them to be involved in the conflict and a way for them to be involved is through humanitarianism. the present starts this ball rolling is herbert hoover. he organizes a sort of massive relief effort for belgian civilians and here you can see the kind of propaganda he uses. hungrye literally children holding out mt tins. they have no food, they need to be fed. you have got propaganda about people donating clothes and
people donating food to help feed the civilians. herbert hoover is amazing at what he does. statistics say that in terms of the amount of aid that he sent and the amount of money that he raised, there was no greater humanitarian effort, organized by americans, until the recent tsunami. that is tremendous. herbert hoover is a private citizen, right? he has no capacity. what is he doing? herbert hoover buys his own ships, he paints them his own colors. he flies his own flag. he negotiates with the germans and the british to let him both through the blockade and the british blockade, and then with the germans, to allow him to demonstrate food in a german -occupied territory. he becomes a quasi-nation in and
of himself. he enlists the help of average american citizens in this quest. so aiding belgian civilians is what americans overwhelmingly decide that they want to do. they're not going to take a side necessarily against britain or germany, they are on the side of the civilians, the people caught up in this war through no fault of their own. now, what we tend to do is stop there and just talk about belgium, just talk about the western front, but if we think for a second -- when wilson said, " the effect of the war on american society depends on what americans say or do." the thing he was really concerned about and the thing that he knew was that america had just undergone this massive wave of immigration. he knew we had people from all parts of the world, all parts of europe, here in the in the united states, and he did not want to the war to tear
americans apart. he was right to realize different places where americans came from would influence their reactions to the war. we can see this through the humanitarian efforts as well. a a lot of people, this is map from a friend of mine who did some research into the jewish-american humanitarian aid effort and realize we had massive immigration coming from russia. a lot of russian jews came to the united states fleeing religious persecution. if you take a look at this map, which shows you the eastern front, not the western front, but the eastern front, you can see actually a lot of the places that were caught up in the heaviest fighting, and therefore, had the biggest refugee crisis, were places that were heavily populated by jews. the eastern front did a lot of movement back and forth. whenever the army comes through, civilians get up and run. they run as fast as they can.
because they don't want to get caught up in the fighting. havebegins to happen, you warsaw, vienna, these massive numbers of refugees descending on these cities, and they are overwhelmingly jewish refugees. so american jews organized to actually help these people. for a lot of them, these russian jews, for people who are helping belgian civilians, it is sort of a humanitarian impulse. but for the russian jews, this is very personal. you have got refugee workers that walk around the encampments, and they go up to people and ask them do you have a relative in the united states? theyf somebody says yes, say, do you know where they live? do you have their address? and they will write to the aunt, yoursay, your
grandfather, your former neighbor needs help. and you can send money. that is personal outreach, trying to make sure the person al becomes political, or the political becomes personal, however you want to put it. we can see this with italians, they are also mobilizing. they are very concerned about this as well. places where they came from and making sure they can actually help those communities in need. so in this case, we can see it is the personal that motivates people in immigrant groups to actually contribute to the humanitarian aid effort. , even the war goes on when we talk about belgium -- i am not sure you can see what these cases are, but i find this areinating -- what they're sacks of flowers from kansas, donated as part of
hoover's humanitarian relief effort. flour from kansas as a part of hoover's humanitarian relief effort. what is happening is that belgian women, very renowned for their embroidery skills, have embroidered them and sent them back to that community in topeka, kansas, basically just say, thank you. and so, people want to make a personal connection to whom they are sending money to. here is the flip side. these people in belgium are saying thank you to the kansas town for the aid. these go up in topeka storefronts, and people are able to see them. it is that kind of personal connection that begins to feel fuel humanitarianism as well. thatct, one of the things relief workers complained about on the american side is -- you know the clothes -- they realized that when people donate clothes, the relief workers have to go into all the pockets because what is happening is that americans are writing notes thereple in belgium and
are also sending bibles, things like that. the agreement with the german authorities basically said, no notes could pass. that is how desperate people were to make a personal as they were rendering humanitarian aid. the point here is that americans obviously are involved, they are involved through the humanitarian efforts. the point here is that the personal and political become very closely connected. the abstraction of the cause begins to have personal meaning for people either because they are helping people that they developing a start personal investment in former strangers that they are now helping. this begins to motivate people to really care about what is going on in europe. my last sort of major point here about humanitarianism, is that humanitarianism is never
neutral. it is impossible for it to be neutral. we agree this is a massive humanitarian effort, americans are actively participating and shaping it. it is not a neutral effort. first of all, given the geopolitics of the war, the vast majority of this aid goes to the allied side. i did not give you any example of the spade going to germany, right? it is still primarily going to be allied side. as much as americans are motivated by the empathy that a starving feel for the civilians, there is something in it for them as well. they are also motivated by the way they feel, increasing the stature of the united states in the world. we can see a really good example of this in this poster from the red cross. "they are looking to us for help. are you one of us?"
i love how the "us" almost says u.s., right, in this conflict it is america alone that can rise above and be above the fray. right? we are interested in humanitarianism and philanthropy, doing the right thing. we are not interested in actually taking sides here, or territorial gains. we are actually above the fray. that will be important because what it means is that in 1917, when woodrow wilson actually asked for a declaration of war, and he says to america, our war goals are better than everyone else's. we don't want any territory, we don't seek any indemnities, we are just servants of mankind. when he says that to the american people, in a way, they are already there. they have gotten there through their humanitarian efforts.
it is not coming out of the blue. they had already begun to see themselves as a nation that could actually rise above and do some good in the world. so what i think is important here is not just to think about america not being neutral, but also to pay more attention to what average americans are doing in this period of neutrality, not just what woodrow wilson is saying. not that woodrow wilson is unimportant. myth number two, america entered world war i because of the sinking of the lusitania. this is my favorite one, because it would be so nice if it wasn't true. so this is a big one. it really makes no sense, if you think about the dates, because
lusitania sinks in may 1915, and the united states doesn't enter the war until april 1917. so it is almost two years before the united states actually enters the war. it is interesting why people so consistently get this wrong. i always tell my students, if you write on the test that the lusitania is the reason america got an world war i, you fail automatically. i don't write anything else. i don't need to talk to you the rest of the class. [laughter] why? why is this a perpetual myth that we have? i think this headline almost is gives the indication of that. 1200 people, that is 1200 people die as a result, including 120 americans. that is the first reporting. look at the subhead. washington stirred as the boat
sank. if you think about the overall narrative of american history, think of how many times a ship going down and america going to war works for you. maine goes down, spanish-american war; pearl harbor, world war ii; boca , vietnam war,kin right? it is the easiest thing to remember. it would be so straightforward. i think that is one of the reasons why so many people tend to cite that, because it is that kind of narrative they have in their head. the idea that they would be attacked, ship goes down, we go to war. that is who we believe we are. our immediate response is going to be forceful. what happens in lusitania is not that. it is going to take another two years before we go to war. i made that point. that narrative should make us feel good. we look in the past, we have a moment where americans have died and we don't actually immediately jump into war. nonetheless, this is something
we commonly see people making that mistake about right here. now, i want to point out to you exactly where the lusitania is, because that is another kind of misperception about why the lusitania becomes the kind of highly-publicized sort of cause -celebre that it is. a lot of it is to actually realize where the lusitania was sunk. here you can see the sinking of the lusitania, right off the coast of ireland. the lusitania was really one of those moments where kamaishi as april 20 130 years later, they could tell you where they were when they heard about it. theirkind of like 9/11. they can remember when they heard about lusitania. why? why was it such a shock to people? it goes a little bit of a way of answering that question, because it sunk so fast. it sunk in 18 minutes.
there was almost no time for lifeboats,et to the for everybody to get out of the lifeboats. if you did survive, you were lucky. days after the sinking, these bodies are washing up on the short. so you have a sinking in the middle of the ocean that nobody witnesses and nobody sees the aftermath, they just hear about thirdhand. here you have almost daily reports of these really grisly scenes, of bodies and victims washing up to shore, the press is very happy to report upon. so in a sense, the drama of the moment, the quickness of the sinking, the awfulness of actually seeing the human cost, all of these things became very visceral in terms of how they were responding. for woodrow wilson, the
lusitania sinking is going to be a critical moment for him in his own ideas of defining what neutrality would be. before we were talking a lot about how the average american defined neutrality, how they did -- how they turned humanitarian efforts to make their contribution to the war. but now we have to think a little better about official policy and terms of what is going on. the dilemma for woodrow wilson, and we go back to the map and we can see it, both britain and germany have decided to go to the ocean to fight the war. there is a stalemate on the western front, so both sides are seeking an advantage, so how can they do that? the british blockade, the green dots here, they will use their blockade to stop goods from getting into germany. and of course, germany was to
fight back and they use the u-boat. it is important looking at this map to see the pink line. because that is the war zone as designed by germany. that is the zone that germany is saying to neutral nations like the united states, do not come here, do not come into the war zone. don't come into the wars of you are at risk here of getting attacked by u-boat. right? they are not saying, don't go anywhere in the atlantic ocean. they are not saying don't go anywhere in the world, just don't actually sale into -- actually sail into the war zone. the reason that is going to be important is that you are going to see that in 1915, when woodrow wilson has to decide how to respond to lusitania, he has to do something if people are angry, then he has got several different options. and that people are going to look at that map and interpret the lusitania in very different
ways. if i hadn't gone through all of this, if i had just put this up here in terms of what actually happens, i am not going to say most of you, but i'll bet a few of you might have said that woodrow wilson goes with with breaking the diplomatic relations and it declares war on germany. what he's that is being advised, this is the moment that we actually have to enter. but then you have some people here arguing almost exactly the opposite. looked at the map, they saw the red line and they said, we don't want to get involved in the war. here is an idea. why don't you tell americans not to sail into the war zone? if we prohibit people from actually going into this area where germany is patrolling,
isn't that a way to stay neutral? isn't that a way to stay out of the war? so something for our like, this means war. some people are like, listen, we need to stop a few people from getting us into war. what wilson is going to decide is the middle course. he is going to demand germany pay reparations and accept the right of americans to travel and trade where they wish, or risk hostility. this is why the lusitania is important. it is not important because it gets america into the war, it does not. it is important because this is a moment when woodrow wilson draws a line in the sand and says to germany, you step over this line, it is highly likely that there will be hostilities. and what is the line?
the line is that we are a neutral nation, we can do what we want. freedom of the seas, baby. we can go where we want, trade with whom we want. that is our right. neutrality means we have the rights that you have to respect. that is an interesting definition of neutrality. you might think neutrality means that we will treat both sides equally or stay out of it. but after 1915, what woodrow wilson is saying is that neutrality is about the rights of neutral nations. that is what germany must respect. and in 1915, germany will back off because they don't have enough u-boats to really do that much damage to american ships. they have got their hands full. they don't want america to come into the war. but in 1917 they will change their mind. when germany goes back to unconditional submarine warfare and woodrow wilson has drawn the
line in the sand, we see him actually come to the decision that we need to go to war against germany. so 1915 is important, but in terms of the official policy of neutrality, but it is another not the thing that gets us into the war. you may be thinking to yourself, is the average american really following all of this? is this really the kind of intricacies of international law and debate that the average citizen is all worked up about? i think we could realistically say no. this is what makes it important in official ways. in the popular consciousness, what the lusitania does, we have starting having a moment where americans have died, women and children have died, and we can now connect this event -- this is a picture of a woman touching a child sinking to her death, the first propaganda poster of
world war i. in response to lusitania. it comes from an actual news report, a report of one of these women who washes up and they talk about her clutching her baby as she washes up on the shore. and now we have something tangible about american lives being lost that connects to british propaganda about atrocities committed by the german army in belgium. that same idea that you need to protect women and children from german barbarians, which was at the heart of the german propaganda movement, now has resonance in the united states as being apply to us as well. but the debate is not over in 1915. if we look at this one, we can see that the debate is going to go on. because for every person that says, look, this shows you the truth about germany, as if we needed more troops. there will be other people that will keep beating this drum.
look, they put a notice in the newspaper. they told you not to get on this ship. they told you that there were munitions on the ship. which there were. they told her that if you went into a war zone, surprise, you could potentially get shot or attacked. you were warned not to do it. this is your own individual responsibility, right? that will make a difference for woodrow wilson, when he decides to go to war in 1917, he knows he has to declare that line in the sand. but he also knows that he is leading a divided nation into war. the nation has not been united in terms of calling for war even because of subsequent things that happened after that, like the zimmerman telegram. so that is going to lead to myth number three. myth number three is that wartime unity
spontaneously appeared. we like to always believe that we will disagree up until the moment that war is declared, . we argued about it, but once wilson says this is our war to fight, americans will rally behind the flag and do the right thing. now, we know that a lot of propaganda was encouraging people to do the right thing. this is maybe one of the most out ofpropaganda posters world war i, not the jovial uncle sam, this is more of the come ater uncle sam face, the recruitment poster. what does uncle sam want americans to do? so in this case, i want you for the u.s. army, fight in the army. but uncle sam will want other the americans to do other things in the war, as well. he is going to want them to buy war bonds, conserve food, and
in some cases, spy on their neighbors, make sure they are not engaging in any espionage or treasonous activities. and what is interesting about this propaganda poster is that it says, "i want you for the u.s. army," implying you have a choice. we see other propaganda posters like this. this is one of my favorite ones here. "enlist." it is an interesting poster, because it shows a man wrestling with his conscience. an upper-class man, hiding in the shadows hiding in the dark, , trying to decide what to do. looking out the window, making up his mind. he sees outside, his community
unison, in the bright sun might, not afraid, not hiding in the shadows. and the question is really clear, which side of the window are you? you have to make a decision about what you are going to do. there is a lot that is wrong about this poster, in terms of what actually happens, right? and the first part is with the enlist. in raising an army, america will do something it has never done before. from the very beginning of the war, they will institute a draft. now, we have had drafts before. but the drafts before always came in the middle of the war. and of one people stopped stopped-- when people enlisting, stop volunteering. they said, ok, we have to go to the draft. in this instance, we go to the draft right from the very beginning, right? and we do this for a few reasons.
here is what is interesting, because, of course, we don't call it a draft. we hardly ever call it conscription. if you say conscription, that underscores that the nation was divided and that we would force them to fight in an unpopular conflict. so what do we call it? "selective service," right? the men here know that. you still have to register for that, for selective service. just think about landing here for a minute. -- think about branding here for a moment. selective service means that if you are chosen, you are , forcted" lucky you service to your country, everybody owes some service to your country, nobody in this war will get off the hog for owing some service.
even the idea of people serving in the military, the reality is different from people actually making up their minds. there is a very short window of when you can enlist in the army. then they cut it off and from that point on, it will be selective service that fills the ranks of the majority of the branches of the army. and besides the idea of making sure that everybody complied, there is also the notion that we need to organize the army efficiently because we are coming in late, almost two and a half years late. we know that it is important to have people organizing on the home front, producing weapons, food, all things to keep the field.ing in the so besides making sure people
serve in the military, it is also making sure that the right people serving the military. so you, for example, do not want all of your trained engineers walking off of railroad lines and joining the military. who is going to drive your railroads? who will move goods around the country? you don't want farmers, skilled laborers doing this. it is a way to kind of manage your workforce at this exact same time. now, what i find, fascinating about this, besides the fact of conscription, is how conscription actually works in practice. we had construction in the civil war. in the civil war, it was introduced well into the conflict. and it is kind of an individual thing. we literally had registrars walking around knocking on doors and individually registering men. and if you know anything about the civil war, there was a lot of draft resistance, there were even draft riots. you could purchase substitutes. it was easy to get out of it.
in the first world war, they want to make sure you are not alone, that you are watched while you do it. so on june 5, 1917, there was a national day to register for the selective service. that meant all the men between the ages of 21 and 30, you had to go to your polling place, church, school, wherever they are having the registration, and you were going to register and everybody would watch you do it. and if you forgot or did not show up, we would publish your name in the newspaper. but basically, they wouldbut bae here pressure and community pressure to make sure you do the right thing. this idea of turning registration and even the whole induction process into this community event, self policing on the community level, to make sure everybody registers for the draft. this is going to be very, very successful. now, in the second year of the draft, we will have another national registration date. but we will have another thing
that happens to make sure men go into the service. and that is going to be a phenomenon in which vigilante groups, kind of wearing semi-official armbands from the justice department are going to conduct things they call "slacker raids," to round up all of those men who are suspected of not registering for the draft, or not reporting when they have been told to come. and they fan out throughout cities across america and go into movie theaters, grabbed the people by the back of the neck and throw them into the truck, they stand outside the gates there. literally one day of dragging people across the country. here you have an example from maine, where they threw the guy
into the pickup trucks and they drive them to the police station to turn them in as slackers. i am sure they were only motivated by patriotism, not by the bonus for each slacker that they got when they were coming down, right? [laughter] so many problems with this, right? first of all, these people don't actually have any authority, they are taking it upon themselves. most of these people turn out to be not slackers, they have reasons not to be in the military. they have waivers, they are legitimate. and it is bad publicity for the war because it seems to suggest that people are not fighting, they do not want to fight the war is unpopular. we see the government actually putting an end to this one pretty quickly. but the point here, in terms of wartime unity, is to say that when we think about people complying with selective service regulations, and most people do, there is a lot of pressure to actually do that. and just because you are a woman, that doesn't mean you're
off the hook either. oh, sorry, i was going to say little bit here about alvin york. as art of got ahead of myself here -- alvin york was the most famous america who comes out of the first world war, highly decorated. he is credited in one book of killing 15 germans and gathering 132 prisoners. that is a picture of alvin york. no, it is not. you guys are too young. that is not alvin york. that is gary cooper, who place him in a movie. that goes over well with a certain generation. an older crowd, that is right. here is alvin york. he is almost 30 years old, not -- he is almost not going to be drafted, he applied for conscientious objection because of his religious principles are
, he said they were incompatible with him serving. his application is rejected. he reports to training camp. and now, he has choices he can make. he can request non-combatant duty, try again, refusing to perform any military duty. some people do this. they went to leavenworth. or he can actually agree to fight and serve. because i told you he was the most decorated hero of world war i, you know he chooses number three. what is interesting is why he chooses number three. he happens to have a pretty sympathetic company commander who is also well-versed in the bible. they start having theological discussions with alvin york. york says to him, the bible says thou shall not , kill. the commander says the bible caesar,s, "render unto that which is caesar's." which means, serve the
government. he says to alvin york, i will give you the weekend, make up your mind. alvin goes home, studies the bible, and the company commander says, did you change your mind? and alvin says yes. the bible says, blessed are the peacemakers. this is going to be woodrow wilson's war, the last one we will ever have to fight, and i want to be a part of that. what does this tell us, right? he is telling us he decides to fight, but it shows you how hard it is to become a conscientious objector. how much people are putting in this war to actually accomplish something important, in terms of how we think about it. then we have some interesting ,hings in training camp where even once a you are in the military, understanding patriotism is something they are always working on. there are a lot of immigrants, we have to americanize them -- this is one of the craziest
things i've ever seen. kenny's see that these are individual soldiers, 18,000 soldiers standing on pieces of cloth in the boiling sun in iowa. the guy taking the picture is up on the platform in the shape of the statue of liberty. and you say, why are they making these guys do this? this is showing their patriotism, by standing in formation, demonstrating that you are a loyal american citizen. so these are these kind of crazy demonstrations of patriotism, that even if you are a soldier in uniform, people are asking you to engage in. here is where i got ahead of myself a bit -- even if you are a woman, you are not off the hook. women are being asked to participate in all sort of ways, knitting is a big one here. people wonder, why knitting?
if you think a bit about trench warfare, especially on the side, -- remember when we talked about it? the germans dug nice, dry trenches, the allied side is closer to the water, standing in wet feet. wet feet nasty things like leads to all sons of nasty things like trenchfoot, gangrene. i could show you gross pictures. so knitting socks actually has a functional purpose that men actually do need socks. but it is safe to say that american women go a little crazy with knitting. this is 1917. let us say 1918. 1918, most of the class, you would be sitting here right now, if you did not have a pencil in your hand, you would be sitting here waiting while i was talking to show me that you were in fact adriatic. you even had notices like this, women basically being told, stop knitting during performances.
-- you are in fact patriotic. this is from the new york philharmonic society, saying stop knitting, because it is really disturbing. people are trying to enjoy the music, right? and you have to ask yourself, why are women feeling like it is so necessary to knit and every -- in literally every spare moment that they have? can't they just enjoy ? why do they feel like they have knit every single moment. they are being pressured to demonstrate their patriotism in ways that are somewhat similar to men registering in front of their neighbors for the draft here, right? you know, knitting, yes, men need socks. is it the best way? i am not so sure. i don't think any of you would want a pair of socks that i would make, for example, i think you would rather go to target -- go tos by one that is target and buy one that is
machine made. this is a question about if it was necessary, getting people on board for the war effort? we can make a sort of similar suggestion about the food conservation efforts to go on, in terms of the kind of pledges that people are being asked. herbert hoover, who had organized the humanitarian effort for belgium, now becomes food administrator during the war. he takes pride that we never instituted formal rationing, that people actually agreed to meatless mondays, porkless thursdays -- but it is the same thing, you have to get people to do this. one of the ways here, the example here, sign the food pledge. every family is asked to sign and abide by the hoover pledge, and in this case, the women in the community are there to
volunteer. remember i told you, you will not get a knock on the door to register for the draft, but you could get one on the door to sign up for the food pledge. how do i know that my neighbor has signed the food pledge, that they are actually complying? they thought it through. you are going to put that sign in your window, and that will demonstrate to everybody that you are doing your duty, yard and mistreating to the people that you are actually involved. for the people that do not do this, the people that do not want to hang these in the window, that do not want to sign these food pledges, that don't want to knit, it is seen as evidence of disloyalty, not doing your patriotic duty. sense, wartime unity is cultivated and coerced. it is not summing it naturally comes about. it is something communities enforce upon each other.
it tells us something little bit different. that once we are at war, americans spontaneously come together. alright, myth number four. world war i had no lasting impact on american society. i am not exaggerating to you to say it is my life work to get this one off of the books and out of people's minds. well, we don't really have to talk about it too much, it does not matter that much for the u.s. matters more for europe, not really for us. so, i could say a lot about this. what i am going to say are some things about how it affects social movements in the u.s. i wanted to about three things -- civil rights, suffrage movement, and the movement for prohibition.
these are long-standing reform movements in this society that are dramatically affected by the first world war. i am going to go ahead and start with the civil rights movement. i like this poster because it is a good counter to the traditional way we look at the propaganda. when we look at propaganda, we almost always look at the government's side of the story. we look at the official propaganda posters that are distributed. but what we fail to remember or look at are privately-produced propaganda posters. there is a huge, thriving industry during the first world war, which is important because it allows voices that we don't normally pay attention to to actually show us their point of view about the war. this is an interesting poster. obviously, created for the african american community. it is published in chicago. i don't know if you can see the bottom, it says trueblue. that is what it is talking
about. and if you look at the poster, it is kind of generic propaganda fare. you have the father serving in the military, the flags there. we know he is alive. how do we know? the starred flag in the window. if he had been killed, it would have been a gold star. they are advertising to the community that he is serving. we know he is on the front lines, look at that german , he hasbove the flag had time to send home a war souvenir. and it is full of patriotic symbolism, right? the american flag, washington, wilson, abraham lincoln -- lincoln was always the big guy in terms of marketing to african-american community. very proud and patriotic. probably if we think about it, not that popular of an image. -- not that spectacular and image. i will tell you where the image
is so important. we have the official propaganda posters because the governments are good collectors. at the end of the war, some intoy that those things paper, slid them into a jar, so that hundred decades later, we n come back and look at it. these things at the end of the war, they are trash. i'm sure you all had posters in your room, you went to college, your mom ripped them down. the end of the war, most of this stuff goes into the trash. so why do we have this poster? a postmastercause from melbourne, florida sent it to the postmaster general to ask him if this was the kind of seditious material that should be banned from the mail under the terms of the espionage act. let that sink in there for a second. she considers this seditious material.
what is seditious about this poster to her? >> is it the color of their skin? jennifer: the color of the skin, in what sense? >> they look like they are in an upper-class home. jennifer: they probably lived better than this white postmistress does. it is a sense of economic achievement, the assertion of equality. right? the sense that in fact, they are on the same level as whites. that we can surmise it is at the heart of her objection. in fact, she actually knows in her letter "the considerable nsolence from the negro element lately." nsolence in her mind? this kind of privately produced
poster, that this war for democracy, with african-american men and communities doing their bit, is going to advance the civil rights movement. it will mean that finally there will be honor and justice for all. and what that exchange demonstrates to ask is that this is exactly what white supremacists are petrified is going to happen. they arepetrified and preparing during the war to make sure it doesn't happen. one thing is this shutdown from the mail, anything that advocates racial equality. another is, after the war, of course, to engage in racial rioting and an upswing in lynching. we see a dramatic upswing after the first world war. but that is not the only thing that happens. it is not even the most important thing in my mind to as what happens. what also happens is a change in the mentality of the civil rights movement in itself.
what we see happening in the first world war is that military service politicizes african-american soldiers. and you think of what we have now as a rallying slogan for civil rights activist, right? "black lives matter," i very potent set of words that are energizing the civil rights movement at our time. but the rules one generation has is a set of word from dubois. "we returned from fighting, we returned fighting." the idea that we fought for democracy elsewhere, now we will fight for democracy at home. right? and we can see that this new notion of fighting back, this is going to be the new tenor of the civil rights movement. in 1919, african-americans fight back by joining the naacp in record numbers. by making it a strong civil rights organization.
and i can just point to one example here, from charles houston, who writes some years after the war that fellow americans convinced me there was "no sense in dying for a world ruled by them. i made up my mind that i would use my time fighting for men who cannot fight back." this is just one example, i could give you more. you may not have heard of charles houston, but he is the guy who devised the legal strategy for the naacp that results in brown versus board of education. he is the legal genius of our time that made the modern civil rights movement possible. so sometimes, because of the in the 1919, it is not a success story. you have to fast-forward to be 1950's for those successes, by
the foundation of that comes out of the first world war. the second sort of big movement that we have here is the suffrage movement. again, we look at this cartoon here. it is like if you are good enough for war, you are good enough to vote. kind of like giving the impression that a grateful nation bestowed the vote on women for all of that knitting. thanks for knitting, here is a vote -- that kind of thing. that is so not what happens. what happens in the first world war, is again, activist women -- look at what they are doing picketing in front of the white , house. nobody had ever done that before. this is new. this is a new idea. you have women like this, right? the world must be made safe for democracy, they are digging it and they are holding up posters saying "woodrow wilson, what about the women in this country?" when are they going to be allowed to vote? this picture is deceiving because it is the before picture, the after picture is
the mob that attacks these women, rips the posters down, and the police who arrested these women, send them to jail, manacled to their cells, force-fed and put in solitary confinement. what is their crime? they stood outside the white house with a banner, right? but these women, i mean, if you have time to study them in depth, it is pretty amazing. here are some ideas from "new york times" about how this goes. woodrow wilson finally does back women's suffrage in the middle of the war. again, you want to think it is because of women supporting the war effort. but the real secret is down here at the end. polls in suffrage states -- some states are beginning to pass female suffrage. ew york had just passed female suffrage in 1919. they were worried that when
women started voting in new york state that that was going to hurt the democratic party, right? now they think about women having power. but this campaign goes into 1919. it goes in to 1920 when the amendment is finally ratified suffragists 1919, burned woodrow wilson in effigy, at the white house. they were organized, they were radical, they were militant they were the ones out . there pressing their cause, right? so i don't think anybody could say that it does not matter that women got the right to vote. that comes out of the first world war. and a major, long-standing reform movement's prohibition. i do not want to say too much about it, but it is kind of interesting that the war somehow become the winning argument. they talked about all sorts of things, venereal disease, domestic abuse, but the thing eals thed of h
movement is that a lot of breweries were owned by germans. so i a patriotic thing to grain beer, by notaking buying german products. myth #5 -- america was barely bloodied in wwi. along with "wwi did not really change american society at all" comes this one. another reason why we don't really need to study it. of course, since i am calling it a myth, i am here to tell you something quite different. where does this myth come from? it comes from these kinds of numbers. from taking the united states and comparing its death toll to those of other belligerent
nations. if you look at a chart like this and you see the deaths in the american army. i can tell you even fewer die on the battlefield. because about half of those deaths actually happen from spanish influenza. if we take that number and stack it up against what happens in britain and france and russia, it does look barely bloodied. it looks like we did not suffer at all in part because the casualties were so tremendous on the other sides. but numbers are so funny. what does a number actually mean? it is so relative. it matters how you contextualize it. if you contextualize it this way, you can say america is barely bloodied. but we can contextualize it this way too. look at the number of battle deaths in wwi and compare them to korea and vietnam.
more americans die in the first world war than in either of those wars. i will contextualize it to you this way. it takes america one year to get itself organized, train those men, get them over to france, and get them into battle. so this is not even really a year and a half. this is six months of fighting. 53,402 people died. this is three years. this is nine years. i will put it to you another way. let's say in the first six months of fighting in iraq, 52,000 coffins came home. is america going to say that was nothing? we're not. so for the people who are fighting this, this is not nothing. for them, this is a pretty significant number of people. we can ask why it is that we
don't really remember that. i think there are a lot of reasons. i do have a question. what is the most lethal battle in american history? >> in terms of how many americans died? prof. keene: yes. >> gettysburg? prof. keene: that's a good answer. >> if you count multiple days, people would generally say antietam. prof. keene: that was the bloodiest day. anybody else want to give a guess? when you don't know something, where do you go to look? don't lie to me. i know where you go.
[laughing.] this is a list of most lethal american battles. look what is number one. meuse-argonne offensive in wwi. i bet no one has heard of the meuse-argonne offensive. it is a 47-day battle. it goes from september 26 to november 11, the last day of the war. 47 days. 1.2 million men involved. 26,227 killed. 100,000 wounded. 100,000 men considered stragglers on the battlefield. this is the most lethal battle in american history. nobody knows about it. why is that? those are really good questions. why we remember certain things but we don't remember other things.
for a lot of people even at the time, they didn't really want to dwell on this because one of the logical questions you could ask is, why? why did so many of these men have to die? it raises some uncomfortable questions about american military leadership and where we send untrained men into battle who were not really ready to fight. when you think about the senseless slaughter narrative of the first world war, there is no pickett's charge. there is no d-day landing. there is no big, triumphant moment. this is the battle in which seargent york enacts this heroic feat. and he gets pumped up, not to take anything away from him, but almost they need a hero. they need somebody there to say something great about this hard slog. and even though it results in the end of the war, there is no sense of satisfaction that americans seem to feel about this. a lot of people died. why did they have to die? that is actually what americans want to know. this feeds into our last myth - wwi was quickly forgotten.
we have forgotten wwi. but the generation who participated in it did not. i can demonstrate this in a few quick ways. the first is that we built huge overseas cemetaries. eight of them in france and belgium for our war dead. this becomes an interesting tussle between the govenment and the families of the fallen. at the beginning of the war, secretary baker had promised families that the american government would bring the bodies of their loved ones home if they fell on the battlefield. now the government reverses course and they want to build these cemetaries overseas. in part because they want americans to stay invested in what happens in europe. and they want europe to remember how many american men died to save them from germany. but a lot of families want their loved ones brought home. so you see the personal and
political tussling once again. 70% of americans bring the bodies home. you would never know that if you went to the cemeteries. they are huge. lots of space between each plot. they want to make it look as impressive as possible. this is a lot of effort. it takes years to build these. this is about not forgetting the war. making a visual presence about it. at the height of the great depression, those mothers and widows who let the bodies stay in europe are given a free trip to go visit the grave. a gold star pilgrimage to the battlefields of the world war. this is 1930-33. what is going on in america during those times? at the height of the great depression we are spending all of this money to send these women to europe to see the graves of their fallen soldiers. this is important to remind the country that patriotic service will not be forgotten.
you could forget all about this in the height of the depression. we have other problems. it is not forgotten. also by the veterans themselves who come to washington, d.c. in 1932 and stage a demonstration called the bonus march. for about six weeks. 40,000 veterans. they want early payment of a bonus they had been given in 1924. they are forcibly evicted from the city. driven out by the army. their shantytowns are burned down. they are somewhat credited with helping fdr win the election in 1932 because it is herbert hoover, ironically enough, the great humanitarian who fed the starving belgian civilians, who allows the army to drive them out of the city. the most important thing about the bonus march is the memory of it. it is strong in people's minds in 1944.
why? because as you start looking toward the end of wwii, and we are going to have 12-14 million veterans coming home whenever this war ends, look at all the trouble those 4 million men gave us after wwi when we didn't properly prepare for their homecoming. we have to do it better this time around. because if wwii veterans stage a demonstration like this, we could have the government overthrown. who knows what could happen? so what do they do? they institute the gi bill of rights. it is a direct desire to learn the lessons of the past and not have dissatisfied veterans organizing and marching in demonstrations. nobody is going to underestimate the importance of the gi bill in american society. also important about the bonus march, it is integrated. you have black and white veterans participating
side-by-side. what is significant about this is what the civil rights movement sees. a march on washington. you have progressive commentators saying this is the first time we are trying to implement principles of collective non-violent protests in the u.s. the seeds of an idea are placed in terms of marching on washington being an effective political protest strategy. the last thing i want to mention today is how this memory of wwi has a dramatic influence on how we respond to war clouds gathering in europe in the 1930s. this is an interesting painting. "parade to war allegory." it goes back to wwi and shows a couple. she is the sweetheart sending her sweetheart off to war.
you see the kids, boys all caught up in the pagentry. their heads are down. it's a big parade. they are really happy. but if you go out on the sides of the painting, this is the war mother whose son was lost. she is hiding in the shadows crying. there is the war widow. she trying to reach the men. to say something to them. but the policeman stops her from speaking the truth about war to these men who are marching off. look at their faces. what is happening to them? they are turning into corpses before our eyes. they look like the walking dead. this is a political statement. this is saying in 1938 when hitler is in power and fascism is on the rise, "is there going to be another war in europe?" most people think there will be. the question is what should
america do? this is clearly an anti-war painting. it is saying, "remember what happened last time." all of the promises. war means just the needless deaths of our men. that will be a memory that is very influential in how the u.s. responds to the second world war. a war we stay out of for two years until pearl harbor. until we have that attack on a ship that will bring us into the war. i want to end by reiterating what i think the message of this painting is. the first world war, like all wars, is at its core the story of countless personal tragedy. thanks you guys. i think we want to have a few minutes for questions. or comments. now is the time you are actually allowed to talk.
you've been trying so hard not to say anything. i am sure you have to have something. >> when the germans created the line of war in the oceans saying do not come through here, had hoover already worked out his plan to get through those war zones? prof. keene: yes. he had to have permission. that is why he had his own flags that he flew and he painted his ships his own colors. so they would be identified as humanitarian ships. it was still dangerous because what the british did was they flew the flags of neutrals. there was a lot of cheating going on. it was a dangerous thing for them to be doing. but that's exactly right. that is one of the reasons why he almost had to have his own fleet.
who else has a question? let's get two or three more. i know you have something. >> meusse-argonne was the deadliest one for american soldiers. which battle that american soldiers participated in had the highest number of deaths for all nationalities? prof. keene: i do not know. that is a good question. you mean in terms of both sides? >> yes. prof. keene: i am not sure. one of the reasons with civil war battles that is complicated is that when we talk about american deaths, we do count both sides. we do not do that in any other conflict. that is a good question. maybe wikipedia could answer it for you. [laughing.] go have a look. one more question.
i'm going to make macy ask a question. she knows. she's like, "i'm thinking." >> did the decision to enter the war in 1917 also have to do with waiting for the russians to back out? prof. keene: that goes back to the suffrage banner. where they are standing outside. and it says to the envoys of russia. they are protesting as a russian delegation is coming to the white house. when the u.s. enters the war, we've had the first russian revolution. which is a democratic revolution. so there is the hope that with the tsar gone, russia is going to become a democracy. wilson can say it is the democracies of the world versus the autocracies of the world.
what makes the war effort potentially catastrophic for the allied side is the second russion revolution when the bolsheviks take power. and lenin takes russia out of the war, they sign a seperate peace. this is before america gets there. britain and france are saying it is a one front war for germany. this is it. this is the end. so when you look at those high casualty numbers and wonder why pershing threw all of these untrained men into battle, one of the reasons was because they needed that extra manpower. the russian revolution is really important in understanding the overall experience. it helps wilson rhetorically when america enters the war. but it is not a reason america goes to war. >> the poster you showed of the two african-american soldiers, they did not fight together, did they?
prof. keene: the army was ridigly segregated. there were some units that had black officers. over the course of the war, there was an effort to remove all black officers and have all officers be white in african-american units. the army would not be de-segregated until 1948, after wwii. >> did the white soldiers act friendly to them or were they seen as just another american soldier? prof. keene: african-american soldiers were not just segregated. they were disproportianately drafted. they were 10% of the population
but 13% of the army. 89% served as non-combatants. that means only 40,000 african-american soldiers were combatants. i think that answers your question in even the way the army treated them. segregated them, put them primarily in non-combatant roles, and then there were campaigns to remove them from positions of leadership. that was reinforcing the message that african-american and white soldiers were not equal. we will take their manpower. but we don't want their manliness. if that makes sense. that is why for the african-american press, how those soldiers perform in battle is so important. they have one great example. because the american army is so uncertain what to do with black combatants, they have two divisions.
one is given to the french army. 20,000 american men who are going to fight under french command for the entire war. the french are happy to have them. they fight. they get medals. they get recognition. these men will come home and it's not just that they were treated badly. they say, "you say african-americans can't fight. but look what happened when the french treated us fairly. we performed very well." so they come out the war with a strong example to throw back in white america's face when they are told they are not up to snuff. it is the beginning of a long campaign. what you are seeing is a huge shift in tenor. much more militancy in the civil rights movement than before that. those are good questions. i am glad you are asking me those things. we are covering a lot of ground. >> if the americans were so concerned with war memory and
they built those cemetaries, how come they didn't build any monuments here? prof. keene: part of the preoccupation we have now with national monuments is a relatively new phenomenon. we didnt have a wwii national monument either before the greatest generation thing. it really started with vietnam, with maya lin's memorial. and then we did korea. we are kind of going backwards. now we have wwii. now, because of the centennial, they are talking about building a national monument in washington, d.c. but now you are going to be paying attention, and you will look around your towns and see monuments everywhere. memorial hall. soldier's field. l.a. coliseum. pershing park in downtown l.a. those are all monuments to the first world war. we just don't remember them that
way. towns have statues and plaques. the wwi generation also liked to build monuments the community could actually use. so over time you forget. soldier's field doesn't exist anymore but that was a football stadium in chicago. all of these things that were going to be open to the public. you walk by it a million times and never realize it but you are going to start paying attention and see it is all around you. if you realize that i've done my job. that wwi mattered for america. >> you are watching american history tv, only on c-span3.