It’s kinda weird, creepy even, when today’s events reflect those from 100 years ago. This year marks the centennial of the U.S. entry into World War I. While researching this topic I was struck by the similarities between what we’re experiencing today and WWI sentiments.
Before the U.S. got involved in WWI, the phrase “America First” was used by those wanting to stay out of the war. This same phrase was used in the 2016 presidential campaign.
President Wilson stated: “The World must be made safe for democracy. Its peace must be planted upon the tested foundations of political liberty.” Barack Obama stated: “…we must recognize that lasting stability and real security require democracy.”
Loyalty – Surveillance
Being of German descent was not a positive fact during the war. Since Scott County was settled by a majority of Germans, loyalty to America became a public issue. This pamphlet of a speech by Julius Coller, clearly illustrates this public demonstration of loyalty. In Belle Plaine, a movie that had a pro-German bent, was thrown into the street and burned by local citizens!
Not only were you expected to demonstrate your loyalty to the U.S., you were also encouraged to turn in those you suspected of German sympathy. “It is the duty of every good citizen to communicate to proper authorities any evidence of sedition that comes to his notice.” New York Times, July 1917. “Clip and send to us any editorial utterances they encounter which seem to them seditious or treasonable,” Literary Digest. All of this brings to mind today’s wire taps, surveillance, Wiki Leaks, and investigations.
The Immigration Act of 1917, among other things, required that immigrants be able to read and write in their native language, which led to standardized literacy tests. Standardized testing continues today in schools across the county.
WWI introduced air raids and poison gas – precursors to today’s chemical weapons, bombings, and nuclear war threats.
It’s funny how researching the past can give you a clearer understanding of the present, and an understanding of how personal beliefs/conduct, and national and global relations evolved.
The SCHS newest exhibit: The Great War: Scott County in World War I, opens June 22, 2017. Special guest speaker Iric Nathanson, author of World War I in Minnesota.