World War I: America's Involvement
Should a democratic government tolerate dissent during times of war?
When the major powers of Europe went to war in 1914, few people expected the United States to be drawn into the conflict. American soldiers had never fought on European soil nor did the United States seem to be in danger. The United States shared a common language with the British, but Germans supplied more immigrants to Iowa than any other group. As the war progressed, however, President Woodrow Wilson insisted on America’s right to trade. The British Royal Navy cut off most of U.S. trade with Germany, and German submarines began sinking any American ships bound for Britain or France. In April 1917, Congress declared war on Germany and Austria and became an ally of Britain, France and Russia.
Iowans and World War I: Participation and Discrimination
Most Iowans enthusiastically supported the war effort. Over 500,000 Iowans between the ages of 18 and 45 registered for the draft, and Iowa sent 114,242 men and women to serve during this war. Many new inductees reported to Camp Dodge just north of Des Moines for basic training. To finance war efforts, the U.S. government sold war bonds. Local committees across the state conducted five drives. The American Red Cross was a private organization established to provide extra services to American soldiers. Women knitted scarves and socks, rolled bandages and assisted with other support services. Like war bonds, Iowans contributed to Red Cross efforts. Feeding the Allied armies and their civilian populations placed pressure on farmers to boost production. “Food Will Win the War” posters promoted patriotism while guaranteed price support provided a financial incentive. The result was a huge boost in corn and livestock production. To make even more food available, rationing restricted the amounts of sugar, flour and meat that Iowans could buy.
Many German families had migrated to Iowa in the 19th century. In river towns like Davenport, Clinton and Dubuque, there were strong communities of Germans who continued to practice German customs. When the war broke out, Germans came under suspicion of not supporting the U.S. war effort but secretly supporting the Germans. Sometimes local committees harassed German families and others with strong ties to their native lands in Europe and insisted that they become “full Americans.” The Iowa governor, William Harding, even issued a proclamation, known as the Babel Proclamation, forbidding the use of any language other than English. It was probably an unconstitutional use of the governor’s authority, and it caused problems for many ethnic Iowans, including Dutch, Danish and Norwegians, particularly in church services.
Casualties of War
The war effort demanded an intense military, economic and financial commitment - and also came with a personal cost to many Americans. Iowa claimed two unfortunate “firsts." Merle Hay from Glidden was among the first three U.S. soldiers killed on the battlefield. Marion Crandell, once a French teacher at St. Katharine’s School in Davenport, became the first U.S. woman to die of injuries sustained in a combat zone. She was serving in a canteen when she was injured from the explosion of an artillery shell.
Armistice Day marking German surrender on November 11, 1918, brought wild celebrations across the state. However, problems created by the war did not immediately disappear. The national was in the grip of a deadly flu epidemic that killed more Americans than the battlefield. When the demand for farm products began to decline as European farmers began production again and with the removal of government price supports, farm surplus sent prices plunging.
During times of war, is the government justified in taking actions that may potentially restrict the rights of its citizens?
What is the right balance between protecting the rights of citizens while also expecting they fulfill their responsibilities in a time of conflict?
- Anti-German, Pro-American Soldier Broadside, May 2, 1918 (Document)
- "Liberty Under the Law" - Sen. Warren G. Harding's Speech, July 22, 1920 (Audio, Document)
How will singling out groups during a time of conflict impact American values? Is this type of action an inevitable necessity to protect the public interests or does it show an imbalance of security over freedom?
- "Don't Bite the Hand that's Feeding You," 1915 (Audio, Document)
- Language Proclamation Correspondence #1, June 1, 1918 (Document)
- Language Proclamation Correspondence #2, June 3, 1918 (Document)
- Language Proclamation Correspondence #3, June 6, 1918 (Document)
During a time of conflict, what type of speech is responsible for citizens and government officials?
- "Loyalty" - A Speech by the American Ambassador to German Americans, 1918 (Audio, Document)
- Letter from President Woodrow Wilson to the Nation, July 26, 1918 (Document)
"This Must Not Be!," May 2, 1917
Espionage Act of 1917, June 15, 1917
Anti-German, Pro-American Soldier Broadside, May 2, 1918
"Liberty Under the Law" - Sen. Warren G. Harding's Speech, July 22, 1920
"Don't Bite the Hand that's Feeding You," 1915
Language Proclamation Correspondence #1, June 1, 1918
Language Proclamation Correspondence #2, June 3, 1918
Language Proclamation Correspondence #3, June 6, 1918
"Loyalty" - A Speech by the American Ambassador to German Americans, 1918
Letter from President Woodrow Wilson to the Nation, July 26, 1918
- "World War I - Support and Opposition in Iowa"
A brief synopsis on the stresses and tests of loyalty placed on Iowans during World War I. This included the effects of such laws like the Espionage Act of 1917 or the use of conscription (draft) to send Iowa's men to war in Europe.
- The Sedition Act of 1918
A look at the implementation of the Sedition Act of 1918 and the multiple U.S. Supreme Court cases to challenge the law and support the First Amendment.
- Schenck v. U.S. (1919)
A review of the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case, Schenck v. U.S., which led to the famous "clear and present danger" test to determine when a state could constitutionally limit an individual's free speech rights.
- The Biographical Dictionary of Iowa: "Harding, William Lloyd"
This website contains some brief information on the Babel Proclamation and the Iowan governor that signed the bill, William Harding.
- "That Coke Super Bowl Ad Would Have Been Illegal in 1910s Iowa"
This article contains information on attempts by various state governments to prohibit any language other than English being spoken.
- "Eugene Debs' Anti-War Speech in Canton, Ohio"
This website includes a speech excerpt and modern-day reading of Debs' anti-war speech that was delivered on June 16, 1918.
Iowa Core Social Studies Standards (9-12)
Listed below are the Iowa Core Social Studies content anchor standards that are best reflected in this source set. The content standards applied to this set are high school-age level and encompass the key disciplines that make up social studies for 9-12 students.
- SS-Gov.9-12.20. Explain the significance of civic values to a well-functioning democracy including concepts such as conviction vs. compromise, majority rule vs. minority rights, state interests vs. individual interests, rights vs. responsibilities, and other related topics. (21st century skills)
- SS-Gov.9-12.24. Analyze how people use and challenge public policies through formal and informal means with attention to important judicial processes and landmark court cases. (21st century skills)
- SS-Gov.9-12.25. Evaluate the intended and unintended consequences of the implementation of public policy, specifically looking at the bureaucracy, citizen feedback, public opinion polls, interest groups, media coverage, and other related topics. (21st century skills)
- SS-US.9-12.13. Analyze how diverse ideologies impacted political and social institutions during eras such as Reconstruction, the Progressive Era, and the Civil Rights movement.
- SS-US.9-12.21. Analyze change, continuity and context across eras and places of study from civil war to modern America.
- SS-US.9-12.23. Analyze the relationship between historical sources and the secondary interpretations made from them.
- SS-US.9-12.24. Critique primary and secondary sources of information with attention to the source of the document, its context, accuracy, and usefulness such as the Reconstruction amendments, Emancipation Proclamation, Treaty of Fort Laramie, Chinese Exclusion Act, Roosevelt’s Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine, Wilson’s Fourteen Points, New Deal Program Acts, Roosevelt’s Declaration of War, Executive Order 9066, Truman Doctrine, Eisenhower’s Farewell Speech, Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, Test Ban Treaty of 1963, Brown vs. Board of Education decision, Letter from a Birmingham Jail, and the Voting Act of 1965.
- SS-US.9-12.25. Analyze how regional, racial, ethnic and gender perspectives influenced American history and culture.
- SS-US.9-12.26. Determine multiple and complex causes and effects of historical events in American history including, but not limited to, the Civil War, World War I and II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.
- SS-WH.9-12.20. Evaluate methods used to change or expand systems of power and/or authority.