When the submarine Lusitania exploded in 1915, it was the 9/11 of its time. The hysteria that followed set the climate that drew the United States into the War to End All Wars. While fighting to make the world safe for democracy abroad, ironically ...
democracy suffered greatly on the homefront. Nationalist fervor during World War I created one of the most repressive eras in US history. Constrictive legislation, conservative courts, and over-zealous public officials fostered an environment where even the mildest forms of dissent might be met with harsh consequences.Woodrow Wilson, although more remembered as a visionary peacemaker, helped set the tone for this embarrassing period of history. The times featured legislation like the Espionage Act of 1917 (still in effect today), the Sedition Act of 1918 (the first such law in 120 years), and landmark Supreme Court rulings (including the first ones to define - and limit - the concept of free speech). German Americans (who made up some 25 percent of the population) shouldered much of the brunt of this repression as a result of war-time xenophobic fears. Patriots burned German-language books. Schools dropped German from their curricula. Many German-language newspapers lost their rights to use the U.S. mails (and thus went out of business). German-Americans risked being jailed for even the mildest of critical comments or for failing to buy Liberty Bonds that supported the war effort. Hundreds were imprisoned or fined, at times losing property, and even their children, in the process. Individuals with fringe political beliefs became targets of repression, too. Socialists, anarchists, and other radicals lost the right to speak critically of the government and capitalism. The Justice Department established a domestic intelligence division to track radicals (with a young J. Edgar Hoover compiling a database on over 200,000 individuals). The Supreme Court upheld the jailing of Eugene Debs for criticising government limits to free speech (when just six years earlier he had earned a million votes as a Socialist Party candidate). Countless others were jailed, as well. The government deported hundreds of radicals during the war and in its immediate aftermath (with the Red Scare of 1919-20). As the war-time hysteria subsided, many sought to generate renewed respect for the importance of civil rights and free speech. (The American Civil Liberties Union organised in 1920.) Others struggled to explain how a nation fighting to make the world safe for democracy could have so severely damaged its founding principal at home. Appropriate introductory and concluding sections would place this history into the wider context of events, from the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 to actions during World War II and the Cold War to the patriotic fervour that accompanied the Iraq War. Bausum's exhaustive textual research leads to compelling human anecdotes while her deep archival photo research turns up rare and special imagery.
Number of pages: 96
Date of publication: 07/01/2011
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