“Woodrow Wilson imposed and incited extraordinary repressions: “There are citizens of the United States . . . born under other flags . . . who have poured the poison of disloyalty into the very arteries of our national life. . . . Such creatures of passion, disloyalty and anarchy must be crushed out. . . . They are infinitely malignant, and the hand of our power should close over them.”
His Committee on Public Information churned out domestic propaganda instructing the public how to detect pro-German sympathies. A 22-year-old Justice Department official named J. Edgar Hoover administered a program that photographed, fingerprinted and interrogated 500,000 suspects. Local newspapers published the names of people who were not buying war bonds or otherwise supporting the war. People were fired or ostracized for insufficient enthusiasm. The Espionage Act of 1917 made it a crime to “collect, record, publish or communicate” information useful to the enemy.
In Illinois, Robert Prager, a German American coal miner suspected of spying, was stripped, marched through the streets and hanged. The Post deplored such “excesses” but applauded the “healthful and wholesome awakening in the interior part of the country.”
Josef Hofer and his two brothers were South Dakota Hutterites whose faith forbade any involvement in war, including wearing a military uniform. They were arrested in March 1918, and a week after the armistice they were sent to Fort Leavenworth, Kan. Arriving at the military prison around midnight, they stood naked for hours in a 17-degree November night. Then they were suspended naked from the bars of their cells, their feet barely touching the ground, refusing to wear the uniforms left in their cells. Fed only bread and water, after two weeks David Hofer was allowed to telegraph Josef’s wife, telling her that her husband was dying. He died the morning after she arrived. Prison guards mocked his corpse by dressing it in a uniform.”
I have to admit that the experience of the Trump Administration is making me look at George Will, whom I had previously related to on few topics than baseball, in a new, more appreciative, light.
I continue to be amazed at how many folks seem to delight in the idea of their country going to war. Of course, the overwhelming number of celebrants are those who don’t actually fight the wars.
But, it’s still going on! Donald Trump has been bumbling through the first hundred days of his Presidency. But, finally, in contradiction to his recent statements, his campaign promises, and his cutting America’s already inadequate humanitarian response to vulnerable Syrian refugees, he lobs some missiles at a Syrian airbase.
The result, of course, was militarily insignificant, particularly since we warned the Russians (who presumably warned their Syrian clients) in advance. Syrian (or Russian) bombers took off from the same airbase the next day to hit the same Syrian cities, only this time being careful to kill civilians with “conventional” weapons rather than gas. Are civilians hit with conventional bombs really less dead than those killed in gas attacks?
Trump couldn’t begin to tell you what his strategy is or what he sees as the “endgame” in Syria. Yet, the next morning, many (not all) of his critics were congratulating him for finally doing something “Presidential.” I guess it doesn’t get much more “Presidential” than ordering a missile attack.
Back to World War I. It started for no apparent reason, and there were no discernible principles or values at stake. It was a product of weak leaders, irrational nationalism, a gullible public, and imbecilic generals on all sides. In the end, it not only killed and maimed millions, but set the stage for Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, large scale genocide, and the absolute horror of World War II.
Although the U.S. has fought some smaller wars since World War II, we haven’t really “won” any of them (except for fairly insignificant skirmishes like Grenada and Kuwait). But, that hasn’t stopped folks from thinking that the next one will be the “best war ever,” and Presidents from believing that dropping bombs and sending missiles will make them look like brave, courageous, and wise leaders — in other words, “Presidential.”