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The Great War

Aired April 12, 2017 A nation comes of age.

Film Description

"Detailed and entertaining...full of arresting images and startling snippets." -- The New York Times

"Enormously absorbing" -- The Wall Street Journal

"Sprawling and engrossing" -- TV Guide

Drawing on unpublished diaries, memoirs and letters, The Great War tells the rich and complex story of World War I through the voices of nurses, journalists, aviators and the American troops who came to be known as “doughboys.” The series explores the experiences of African-American and Latino soldiers, suffragists, Native American “code talkers” and others whose participation in the war to “make the world safe for democracy” has been largely forgotten. The Great War explores how a brilliant PR man bolstered support for the war in a country hesitant to put lives on the line for a foreign conflict; how President Woodrow Wilson steered the nation through years of neutrality, only to reluctantly lead America into the bloodiest conflict the world had ever seen, thereby transforming the United States into a dominant player on the international stage; and how the ardent patriotism and determination to support America’s crusade for liberty abroad led to one of the most oppressive crackdowns on civil liberties at home in U.S. history. It is a story of heroism and sacrifice that would ultimately claim 15 million lives and profoundly change the world forever.

Cast and Crew

Part 1

Edited By
Jon Neuburger And
Merril Stern

Narrated By
Oliver Platt

Produced By
Amanda Pollak

Written and Directed By
Stephen Ives

Series Producers
Stephen Ives
Amanda Pollak

Original Music By
Peter Rundquist
Tom Phillips

Co-Producer
Gene Tempest

Archival Producer
Lizzy McGlynn

Coordinating Producer
Nazenet Habtezghi

Post Production Supervisor
Bobby Johnson

Researchers
Eric G. Cotton
Kevina Tidwell

Production Associates
Lillie Fleshler
Julie Hurd

Voices
Jennifer Lee Andrews
Blythe Danner
Brandon J. Dirden
Josh Hamilton
Eric Loscheider
Campbell Scott

Voices Casting
Paul Fouquet, C.S.A./Elissa Meyers, C.S.A

Casting Associate
Karie Koppel

Cinematography
Buddy Squires, ASC
Andrew Young
Laurent Chalet, AFC
Michael Chin
Peter Nelson
Jack Burton
Cyrille Blanc

Field Producers
Maya Lussier-Séguin
Lucy Fauveau

Sound Recording
Mark Mandler
John Zecca
Alan Barker
Ned Hards
Baptiste Charvet

Assistant Camera
Jared Ames
Evan Kodani
Jason Lord-Castle
Guilhem Touzery
Kevin Walter

Additional Cinematography
Hérik Meyer
Olivier Mercier

Data Management
Léonard Rollin

Advisors
Christopher Capozzola
Edward A. Gutiérrez
Kimberly Jensen
Jennifer D. Keene
David M. Kennedy
Michael Neiberg
Chad Williams
Jay Winter

Production Controller
Justin Baron

Lead Animator and Graphic Designer
Michael Dominic

Assistant Animator
Hank Muller

Associate Editor
Brittany Kaplan

Assistant Editors
Connor J. Culhane
Michael Pickett
Eric G. Cotton
Hannah Edizel
Anne L. Allen
Sergio Noriega

Additional Research
Katie Ebner-Landy
Joy Conley
Jenny Fichman
Katya Ungerman

Production Assistants
Brian Cunningham
Rives Elliot
Adam Finchler
Drake Roy
Pablo Vivas
Leroy Farrel
Romain Grandjean

Color Grading
Out of The Blue NY

Online Facility
Just Add Water

Davinci Resolve Colorist
Scott Burch

Online Editor
Rob Cabana

Post Producer
Steve Bodner

Additional Online Editing
Blerti Murataj

Sound By
701 Sound

Sound Effects Editor
Ira Spiegel

Dialogue Editor
Marlena Grzaslewicz

Additional Dialogue Editor
Matt Rigby

Mixing Facility
Sync Sound, Inc.

Re-Recording Mixer
Ken Hahn

Additional Sound Effects
Tony Pipitone

Musicians
Jodi Hagen, Violin
Donna Jerome, Viola
Michael Curry, Cello
Ian Greitzer, Clarinet
Andrew Price, Oboe
Kathleen Boyd, Flute
Andrew Borkowski, Cello
Scott Moore, Violin, Viola
Sangwon Lee, Clarinet
Thomas Wibble, Flute
Peter Rundquist, Guitars, Piano, and All Other Instruments
Tom Phillips, Piano And All Other Instruments

Recording Studio
City Vox

Narration and Voice Over Recording
Lou Verrico

Additional Voice Over Recording
Robin Hood Radio (WHDD AM/FM), Sharon, CT

Technical Assistance
Soho Post Office

Interns
Sarah Marie Ampil
Grace Brewster
Nicholas Brewster
Nick Covell
Cally Simmons-Edler
Stefan Hueneke
Bailey Johnson
Alistair Jones
Andriana Kahealani
Chris Messier
George Monard
Amelia Nierenberg
Caroline Nikchevich
Katherine O'Connell
Colleen O’Shea
Clare Redden
Emmanuel Rodriguez
Clare Stukel

Archival Materials Courtesy of
16th Infantry Regiment Association
Agentur Karl Höffkes
Alamy
Price Collection, Alexander Turnbull Library
Anaheim Public Library
AP Images
Arkansas State Archives
Auburn University Libraries Special Collections & Archives Department
Australian War Memorial
Bibliothèque Nationale De France
Brett Butterworth
L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Brigham Young University
British Pathé
Brooklyn Public Library—Brooklyn Collection
The Buffalo & Erie County Public Library, Buffalo, New York
Bundesarchiv/Transit Film GMBH
Canadian War Museum
Card Cow
California Historical Society
American Catholic History Research Center And Archives, The Catholic University Of America
Chicago Daily News Negatives Collection, Chicago History Museum
Chicago Tribune, © 1919
City Archives of Bruges - Collection Brusselle-Traen
Dudley Photograph Collection, Connecticut State Library
Critical Past
National Automotive History, Detroit Public Library
Établissement De Communication Et De Production Audiovisuelle De La Défense/Alfred Machin/Albert Moreau/Albane Brunel, Véronique Goloubinoff, Joséphine Kloeckner, Pascal Roussel/Lucien Le Saint/Albert Samana-Chikli/Jacques Agié/Maurice Boulay/Jacques Ridel/Léon Desserteaux
Fulton History
Gaumont Pathé
George Roland
Georgia Archives, Vanishing Georgia Collection
Getty Images
Glen Cove Library
Glenbow Archives
The Granger Collection, New York
Harvard University Archives
Historic Films
History San José
Howard University Archives / Dr. Reid Badger
The Image Works
Imperial War Museum
Indiana Historical Society; Martin Collection
Indiana State University Special Collections
Mathers Museum of World Cultures, Indiana University
The Lilly Library, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana
Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC / IMS Productions
The Indianapolis Star
Clarence Bruce Santee/International Center of Photography, Gift of Daniel Cowin
International Committee of The Red Cross Archives
Lewis Reed, Courtesy Jeanne Gartner
John E. Allen Archives
Jonathan Spence
Liberty State Park, NJ Department of Environmental Protection
Library and Archives Canada
Library of Congress
London School of Economics Library Collection
Los Angeles Public Library
Lynn County Public Library
Collections of Maine Historical Society
Maryland Historical Society
Michael Lewis
Minnesota Historical Society
Montana Historical Society Research Center, Archives
Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa
Museum of The City of New York
National Archives and Records Administration
Nassau County Dept. of Parks, Recreation & Museums, Photo Archives Center
National Library of Ireland
National Library of Scotland
National Museum of Health And Medicine
National Museum of The U.S. Air Force
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution
National World War I Museum and Memorial, Kansas City, MO U.S.A.
Naval History and Heritage Command
Palace of The Governors Photo Archives (NMHM/DCA)
New-York Historical Society
New York Public Library
Nyack Library
Oakland Public Library, Oakland History Room
Oddball Films
Research Division of The Oklahoma Historical Society
Old NYC Photos
Old Trails Museum/Winslow Historical Society
Onondaga County Public Library, Local History/Genealogy
Pat Rowe, Courtesy Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture
Peter Crosby
Photofest, Inc.
Piere Arcq Collection
Sammlung Eybl, Plakatmuseum Wien
Pond5
Pop Laval Foundation
Prints Old and Rare
Producers Library
Reuters
Rich McErlean
Russel Wolfe Jr.
Santa Clara Arts & Historical Consortium
Schenectady County Historical Society
Photo By Franklin F. Hopper, Schomburg Center
Service Historique De La Défense
Sewall-Belmount House And Museum
Shorpy
Shutterstock
Smithsonian National Air And Space Museum
Degolyer Library, Southern Methodist University
Nationaal Archief/Collectie Spaarnestad/Het Leven/Fotograaf Onbekend
Collection of James Crocker, Spartanburg County Public Libraries
State Historical Society of Missouri
Steve Wartik
Streamline Films
Swarthmore College Peace Collection
Tennessee State Library And Archives
UCLA Special Collections
U.S. Marine Corps Archive
United States Army Heritage Command
Special Collections And Archives, University of Colorado Boulder Libraries
University of Louisville
Special Collections Dept., University of Nevada, Reno
Special Collections and University Archives at The University of North Carolina at Greensboro
Irvin Department Of Rare Books And Special Collections, University of South Carolina Libraries, Columbia, S.C.
University of Southern California Digital Library
University of Texas Center For American History
Utah State Historical Society
Villanova University/Joseph McGarrity Collection
Virginia Military Institute Archives
Washington And Lee University, Special Collections And Archives, James G. Leyburn Library
Walter P. Reuther Library, Archives of Labor And Urban Affairs, Wayne State University
Wisconsin Historical Society
Woodrow Wilson Museum And Presidential Library, Stanton VA
WPA Film Archives
Beinecke Library, Yale University

Film Transfers
TK One Ltd.
Video & Film Solutions
Metropolis Post
Nuray Digital

Music
“I Didn’t Raise My Boy To Be A Soldier” And
“I Think We’ve Got Another (And Wilson Is His Name) Washington”
Performed by The Peerless Quartet
Courtesy of Columbia Records
By Arrangement With Sony Music Licensing

Special Thanks
Serge Avery
Ashley Kehrig
Jane Conway
Robert Laplander
Texas Military Forces Museum
Paul Mateyunas
Tom Baldwin
Paul Infranco
Carol Stern
Joan Harrison
Paul & Robert Pennoyer
Brown County Historical Society Archives
William J. Layer
Chuck Hess & Charley Roberts
Debra Keck
Thomas Grillot
Peter N. Nelson
Julia C. Ott
David Traxel
Steven Trout

Original Funding For This Program Was Provided By
Liberty Mutual Insurance
Alfred P. Sloan Foundation
Corporation For Public Broadcasting
The Documentary Investment Group:
Gretchen Stone Cook Charitable Foundation
Marjie And Robert Kargman

For American Experience

Post Production Editor
Paul Sanni

Assistant Editor
Lauren Noyes

Business Manager
Mary Sullivan

Senior Contracts & Rights Manager
Susana Fernandes

Development Producer
Charlotte Porter

Administrative Coordinator
Kyla Ryan

Legal
Jay Fialkov
Janice Flood

Director Of Audience Development
Carrie Phillips

Marketing Manager
Chika Offurum

Audience Engagement Editor
Katharine Duffy Tarvainen

Historian In Residence
Gene Tempest

Digital
Cori Brosnahan
Eric Gulliver
Tsering Yangzom

Publicity
Mary Lugo
Cara White

Series Theme
Joel Goodman

Managing Editor, Digital Content
Lauren Prestileo

Coordinating Producer
Nancy Sherman

Series Producer
Vanessa Ruiz

Senior Producer
Susan Bellows

Executive Producer
Mark Samels

An Insignia Films Production For American Experience

American Experience Is A Production Of WGBH, Which Is Solely Responsible For Its Content.

© 2017 WGBH Educational Foundation
All Rights Reserved.

Part 2

Edited By
Seth Bomse

Narrated By
Oliver Platt

Written By
Stephen Ives

Produced and Directed By
Amanda Pollak

Series Producers
Stephen Ives
Amanda Pollak

Original Music By
Peter Rundquist
Tom Phillips

Co-Producer
Gene Tempest

Archival Producer
Lizzy McGlynn

Coordinating Producer
Nazenet Habtezghi

Post Production Supervisor
Bobby Johnson

Researchers
Eric G. Cotton
Kevina Tidwell

Production Associates
Lillie Fleshler
Julie Hurd

Voices
David St. Louis
Jacob Pitts
Armando Riesco
Courtney B. Vance

Voices Casting
Paul Fouquet, C.S.A./Elissa Meyers, C.S.A

Casting Associate
Karie Koppel

Cinematography
Buddy Squires, ASC
Andrew Young
Laurent Chalet, AFC
Michael Chin
Peter Nelson
Jack Burton
Cyrille Blanc

Field Producers
Maya Lussier-Séguin
Lucy Fauveau

Sound Recording
Mark Mandler
John Zecca
Alan Barker
Ned Hards
Baptiste Charvet

Assistant Camera
Jared Ames
Evan Kodani
Jason Lord-Castle
Guilhem Touzery
Kevin Walter

Additional Cinematography
Hérik Meyer
Olivier Mercier

Data Management
Léonard Rollin

Advisors
Christopher Capozzola
Edward A. Gutiérrez
Kimberly Jensen
Jennifer D. Keene
David M. Kennedy
Michael Neiberg
Chad Williams
Jay Winter

Production Controller
Justin Baron

Lead Animator and Graphic Designer
Michael Dominic

Assistant Animator
Hank Muller

Associate Editor
Brittany Kaplan

Assistant Editors
Connor J. Culhane
Michael Pickett
Eric G. Cotton
Hannah Edizel
Anne L. Allen
Sergio Noriega

Additional Research
Katie Ebner-Landy
Joy Conley
Jenny Fichman
Katya Ungerman

Production Assistants
Brian Cunningham
Rives Elliot
Adam Finchler
Drake Roy
Pablo Vivas
Leroy Farrel
Romain Grandjean

Color Grading
Out of The Blue NY

Online Facility
Just Add Water

Davinci Resolve Colorist
Scott Burch

Online Editor
Rob Cabana

Post Producer
Steve Bodner

Additional Online Editing
Blerti Murataj

Sound By
701 Sound

Sound Effects Editor
Ira Spiegel

Dialogue Editor
Marlena Grzaslewicz

Additional Dialogue Editor
Matt Rigby

Mixing Facility
Sync Sound, Inc.

Re-Recording Mixer
Ken Hahn

Additional Sound Effects
Tony Pipitone

Musicians
Jodi Hagen, Violin
Donna Jerome, Viola
Michael Curry, Cello
Ian Greitzer, Clarinet
Andrew Price, Oboe
Kathleen Boyd, Flute
Andrew Borkowski, Cello
Scott Moore, Violin, Viola
Sangwon Lee, Clarinet
Thomas Wibble, Flute
Peter Rundquist, Guitars, Piano, and All Other Instruments
Tom Phillips, Piano And All Other Instruments

Recording Studio
City Vox

Narration and Voice Over Recording
Lou Verrico

Additional Voice Over Recording
Josh Lewis/Firehouse Recording Studios, Pasadena, CA

Technical Assistance
Soho Post Office

Interns
Sarah Marie Ampil
Grace Brewster
Nicholas Brewster
Nick Covell
Cally Simmons-Edler
Stefan Hueneke
Bailey Johnson
Alistair Jones
Andriana Kahealani
Chris Messier
George Monard
Amelia Nierenberg
Caroline Nikchevich
Katherine O'Connell
Colleen O’Shea
Clare Redden
Emmanuel Rodriguez
Clare Stukel

Archival Materials Courtesy of
16th Infantry Regiment Association
Agentur Karl Höffkes
Alamy
Price Collection, Alexander Turnbull Library
Anaheim Public Library
AP Images
Arkansas State Archives
Auburn University Libraries Special Collections & Archives Department
Australian War Memorial
Bibliothèque Nationale De France
Brett Butterworth
L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Brigham Young University
British Pathé
Brooklyn Public Library—Brooklyn Collection
The Buffalo & Erie County Public Library, Buffalo, New York
Bundesarchiv/Transit Film GMBH
Canadian War Museum
Card Cow
California Historical Society
American Catholic History Research Center And Archives, The Catholic University Of America
Chicago Daily News Negatives Collection, Chicago History Museum
Chicago Tribune, © 1919
City Archives of Bruges - Collection Brusselle-Traen
Dudley Photograph Collection, Connecticut State Library
Critical Past
National Automotive History, Detroit Public Library
Établissement De Communication Et De Production Audiovisuelle De La Défense/Alfred Machin/Albert Moreau/Albane Brunel, Véronique Goloubinoff, Joséphine Kloeckner, Pascal Roussel/Lucien Le Saint/Albert Samana-Chikli/Jacques Agié/Maurice Boulay/Jacques Ridel/Léon Desserteaux
Fulton History
Gaumont Pathé
George Roland
Georgia Archives, Vanishing Georgia Collection
Getty Images
Glen Cove Library
Glenbow Archives
The Granger Collection, New York
Harvard University Archives
Historic Films
History San José
Howard University Archives / Dr. Reid Badger
The Image Works
Imperial War Museum
Indiana Historical Society; Martin Collection
Indiana State University Special Collections
Mathers Museum of World Cultures, Indiana University
The Lilly Library, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana
Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC / IMS Productions
The Indianapolis Star
Clarence Bruce Santee/International Center of Photography, Gift of Daniel Cowin
International Committee of The Red Cross Archives
Lewis Reed, Courtesy Jeanne Gartner
John E. Allen Archives
Jonathan Spence
Liberty State Park, NJ Department of Environmental Protection
Library and Archives Canada
Library of Congress
London School of Economics Library Collection
Los Angeles Public Library
Lynn County Public Library
Collections of Maine Historical Society
Maryland Historical Society
Michael Lewis
Minnesota Historical Society
Montana Historical Society Research Center, Archives
Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa
Museum of The City of New York
National Archives and Records Administration
Nassau County Dept. of Parks, Recreation & Museums, Photo Archives Center
National Library of Ireland
National Library of Scotland
National Museum of Health And Medicine
National Museum of The U.S. Air Force
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution
National World War I Museum and Memorial, Kansas City, MO U.S.A.
Naval History and Heritage Command
Palace of The Governors Photo Archives (NMHM/DCA)
New-York Historical Society
New York Public Library
Nyack Library
Oakland Public Library, Oakland History Room
Oddball Films
Research Division of The Oklahoma Historical Society
Old NYC Photos
Old Trails Museum/Winslow Historical Society
Onondaga County Public Library, Local History/Genealogy
Pat Rowe, Courtesy Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture
Peter Crosby
Photofest, Inc.
Piere Arcq Collection
Sammlung Eybl, Plakatmuseum Wien
Pond5
Pop Laval Foundation
Prints Old and Rare
Producers Library
Reuters
Rich McErlean
Russel Wolfe Jr.
Santa Clara Arts & Historical Consortium
Schenectady County Historical Society
Photo By Franklin F. Hopper, Schomburg Center
Service Historique De La Défense
Sewall-Belmount House And Museum
Shorpy
Shutterstock
Smithsonian National Air And Space Museum
Degolyer Library, Southern Methodist University
Nationaal Archief/Collectie Spaarnestad/Het Leven/Fotograaf Onbekend
Collection of James Crocker, Spartanburg County Public Libraries
State Historical Society of Missouri
Steve Wartik
Streamline Films
Swarthmore College Peace Collection
Tennessee State Library And Archives
UCLA Special Collections
U.S. Marine Corps Archive
United States Army Heritage Command
Special Collections And Archives, University of Colorado Boulder Libraries
University of Louisville
Special Collections Dept., University of Nevada, Reno
Special Collections and University Archives at The University of North Carolina at Greensboro
Irvin Department Of Rare Books And Special Collections, University of South Carolina Libraries, Columbia, S.C.
University of Southern California Digital Library
University of Texas Center For American History
Utah State Historical Society
Villanova University/Joseph McGarrity Collection
Virginia Military Institute Archives
Washington And Lee University, Special Collections And Archives, James G. Leyburn Library
Walter P. Reuther Library, Archives of Labor And Urban Affairs, Wayne State University
Wisconsin Historical Society
Woodrow Wilson Museum And Presidential Library, Stanton VA
WPA Film Archives
Beinecke Library, Yale University

Film Transfers
TK One Ltd.
Video & Film Solutions
Metropolis Post
Nuray Digital

Music
"Let's All Be Americans Now" by The American Quartet
"Over There" by Bill Murray
Courtesy of Smith & Co.

"St. Louis Blues"
Performed by Preservation Hall Jazz Band
Courtesy of Words & Music, a division of Big Deal Music, LLC

"The Memphis Blues" and "How 'Ya Gonna Keep 'Em Down on the Farm"
As performed by James Europe and the Harlem Hellfighters

Special Thanks
Serge Avery
Ashley Kehrig
Jane Conway
Robert Laplander
Texas Military Forces Museum
Paul Mateyunas
Tom Baldwin
Paul Infranco
Carol Stern
Joan Harrison
Paul & Robert Pennoyer
Brown County Historical Society Archives
William J. Layer
Chuck Hess & Charley Roberts
Debra Keck
Thomas Grillot
Peter N. Nelson
Julia C. Ott
David Traxel
Steven Trout

Original Funding For This Program Was Provided By
Liberty Mutual Insurance
Alfred P. Sloan Foundation
Corporation For Public Broadcasting
The Documentary Investment Group:
Gretchen Stone Cook Charitable Foundation
Marjie And Robert Kargman

For American Experience

Post Production Editor
Paul Sanni

Assistant Editor
Lauren Noyes

Business Manager
Mary Sullivan

Senior Contracts & Rights Manager
Susana Fernandes

Development Producer
Charlotte Porter

Administrative Coordinator
Kyla Ryan

Legal
Jay Fialkov
Janice Flood

Director Of Audience Development
Carrie Phillips

Marketing Manager
Chika Offurum

Audience Engagement Editor
Katharine Duffy Tarvainen

Historian In Residence
Gene Tempest

Digital
Cori Brosnahan
Eric Gulliver
Tsering Yangzom

Publicity
Mary Lugo
Cara White

Series Theme
Joel Goodman

Managing Editor, Digital Content
Lauren Prestileo

Coordinating Producer
Nancy Sherman

Series Producer
Vanessa Ruiz

Senior Producer
Susan Bellows

Executive Producer
Mark Samels

An Insignia Films Production For American Experience

American Experience Is A Production Of WGBH, Which Is Solely Responsible For Its Content.

© 2017 WGBH Educational Foundation
All Rights Reserved.

Part 3

Edited By
R.A. Fedde

Narrated By
Oliver Platt

Written and Directed By
Rob Rapley

Series Producers
Stephen Ives
Amanda Pollak

Original Music By
Peter Rundquist
Tom Phillips

Co-Producer
Gene Tempest

Archival Producer
Lizzy McGlynn

Coordinating Producer
Nazenet Habtezghi

Post Production Supervisor
Bobby Johnson

Researchers
Eric G. Cotton
Kevina Tidwell

Production Associates
Lillie Fleshler
Julie Hurd

Voices
Christopher Gorham
Josh Hamilton

Voices Casting
Paul Fouquet, C.S.A./Elissa Meyers, C.S.A

Casting Associate
Karie Koppel

Cinematography
Buddy Squires, ASC
Andrew Young
Laurent Chalet, AFC
Michael Chin
Peter Nelson
Jack Burton
Cyrille Blanc

Field Producers
Maya Lussier-Séguin
Lucy Fauveau

Sound Recording
Mark Mandler
John Zecca
Alan Barker
Ned Hards
Baptiste Charvet

Assistant Camera
Jared Ames
Evan Kodani
Jason Lord-Castle
Guilhem Touzery
Kevin Walter

Additional Cinematography
Hérik Meyer
Olivier Mercier

Data Management
Léonard Rollin

Advisors
Christopher Capozzola
Edward A. Gutiérrez
Kimberly Jensen
Jennifer D. Keene
David M. Kennedy
Michael Neiberg
Chad Williams
Jay Winter

Production Controller
Justin Baron

Lead Animator and Graphic Designer
Michael Dominic

Assistant Animator
Hank Muller

Associate Editor
Brittany Kaplan

Assistant Editors
Connor J. Culhane
Michael Pickett
Eric G. Cotton
Hannah Edizel
Anne L. Allen
Sergio Noriega

Additional Research
Katie Ebner-Landy
Joy Conley
Jenny Fichman
Katya Ungerman

Production Assistants
Brian Cunningham
Rives Elliot
Adam Finchler
Drake Roy
Pablo Vivas
Leroy Farrel
Romain Grandjean

Color Grading
Out of The Blue NY

Online Facility
Just Add Water

Davinci Resolve Colorist
Scott Burch

Online Editor
Rob Cabana

Post Producer
Steve Bodner

Additional Online Editing
Blerti Murataj

Sound By
701 Sound

Sound Effects Editor
Ira Spiegel

Dialogue Editor
Marlena Grzaslewicz

Additional Dialogue Editor
Matt Rigby

Mixing Facility
Sync Sound, Inc.

Re-Recording Mixer
Ken Hahn

Additional Sound Effects
Tony Pipitone

Musicians
Jodi Hagen, Violin
Donna Jerome, Viola
Michael Curry, Cello
Ian Greitzer, Clarinet
Andrew Price, Oboe
Kathleen Boyd, Flute
Andrew Borkowski, Cello
Scott Moore, Violin, Viola
Sangwon Lee, Clarinet
Thomas Wibble, Flute
Peter Rundquist, Guitars, Piano, and All Other Instruments
Tom Phillips, Piano And All Other Instruments

Recording Studio
City Vox

Narration and Voice Over Recording
Lou Verrico

Additional Voice Over Recording
Margarita Mix, Hollywood, CA

Technical Assistance
Soho Post Office

Interns
Sarah Marie Ampil
Grace Brewster
Nicholas Brewster
Nick Covell
Cally Simmons-Edler
Stefan Hueneke
Bailey Johnson
Alistair Jones
Andriana Kahealani
Chris Messier
George Monard
Amelia Nierenberg
Caroline Nikchevich
Katherine O'Connell
Colleen O’Shea
Clare Redden
Emmanuel Rodriguez
Clare Stukel

Archival Materials Courtesy of
16th Infantry Regiment Association
Agentur Karl Höffkes
Alamy
Price Collection, Alexander Turnbull Library
Anaheim Public Library
AP Images
Arkansas State Archives
Auburn University Libraries Special Collections & Archives Department
Australian War Memorial
Bibliothèque Nationale De France
Brett Butterworth
L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Brigham Young University
British Pathé
Brooklyn Public Library—Brooklyn Collection
The Buffalo & Erie County Public Library, Buffalo, New York
Bundesarchiv/Transit Film GMBH
Canadian War Museum
Card Cow
California Historical Society
American Catholic History Research Center And Archives, The Catholic University Of America
Chicago Daily News Negatives Collection, Chicago History Museum
Chicago Tribune, © 1919
City Archives of Bruges - Collection Brusselle-Traen
Dudley Photograph Collection, Connecticut State Library
Critical Past
National Automotive History, Detroit Public Library
Établissement De Communication Et De Production Audiovisuelle De La Défense/Alfred Machin/Albert Moreau/Albane Brunel, Véronique Goloubinoff, Joséphine Kloeckner, Pascal Roussel/Lucien Le Saint/Albert Samana-Chikli/Jacques Agié/Maurice Boulay/Jacques Ridel/Léon Desserteaux
Fulton History
Gaumont Pathé
George Roland
Georgia Archives, Vanishing Georgia Collection
Getty Images
Glen Cove Library
Glenbow Archives
The Granger Collection, New York
Harvard University Archives
Historic Films
History San José
Howard University Archives / Dr. Reid Badger
The Image Works
Imperial War Museum
Indiana Historical Society; Martin Collection
Indiana State University Special Collections
Mathers Museum of World Cultures, Indiana University
The Lilly Library, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana
Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC / IMS Productions
The Indianapolis Star
Clarence Bruce Santee/International Center of Photography, Gift of Daniel Cowin
International Committee of The Red Cross Archives
Lewis Reed, Courtesy Jeanne Gartner
John E. Allen Archives
Jonathan Spence
Liberty State Park, NJ Department of Environmental Protection
Library and Archives Canada
Library of Congress
London School of Economics Library Collection
Los Angeles Public Library
Lynn County Public Library
Collections of Maine Historical Society
Maryland Historical Society
Michael Lewis
Minnesota Historical Society
Montana Historical Society Research Center, Archives
Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa
Museum of The City of New York
National Archives and Records Administration
Nassau County Dept. of Parks, Recreation & Museums, Photo Archives Center
National Library of Ireland
National Library of Scotland
National Museum of Health And Medicine
National Museum of The U.S. Air Force
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution
National World War I Museum and Memorial, Kansas City, MO U.S.A.
Naval History and Heritage Command
Palace of The Governors Photo Archives (NMHM/DCA)
New-York Historical Society
New York Public Library
Nyack Library
Oakland Public Library, Oakland History Room
Oddball Films
Research Division of The Oklahoma Historical Society
Old NYC Photos
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Transcript

Part 1

Narrator: In the summer of 1917, at docks up and down the eastern seaboard, thousands of American soldiers boarded ships bound for France. They were the vanguard of a new American army, about to enter the most destructive war the world had ever known.

Richard Slotkin, Historian: It’s a watershed in American history. The United States goes from being the country on the other side of the ocean to being the preeminent world power.

Narrator: For President Woodrow Wilson, the war was a crusade “to make the world safe for democracy,” a chance to transform the international order in America’s image.

David M. Kennedy, Historian: Woodrow Wilson himself said, “it was of this that we dreamed at our birth, for which we were destined.” leading the way for the world to a new order of peace.

Jennifer D. Keene, Historian: This is the birth of the on-going debate over how involved America should be in the world.

Narrator: The troops were drawn from every corner of the country, and reflected the teeming diversity of turn-of-the-century America.

Helen Zoe Veit, Historian: In many ways World War I forced Americans to ask what are we as a country? Who are we as a people?

Christopher Capozzola, Historian: I think it’s a war that Americans fought together which required them to meet one another, to confront one another and figure out what was holding their society together.

Narrator: All across the country, communities staged elaborate celebrations to send their men off to war. But underneath the calls for unity, Americans were deeply divided.

Adriane Lentz-Smith, Historian: World War I showed Americans the best and worst that the country is capable of. It lays bare questions the Americans continue to ask themselves for the rest of the 20th century.

A. Scott Berg, Writer: This was a period of deep paranoia in this country. It’s probably the greatest suppression of free speech the country has ever seen.

Narrator: Women who refused to set aside their campaign for suffrage because of the war were set upon by mobs and carted off to prison. African-American men joined in a war for freedom abroad, while being denied it at home. 

Chad Williams, Historian: The war galvanizes African Americans, not just to fight for their country, but to fight for their rights as American citizens.

Narrator: When the ships let loose their lines and headed out to sea, the troops on board were entering a conflict of unprecedented bloodshed and suffering, one that had come to be known as The Great War.

Dan Carlin, Podcast Producer: The First World War is the most important event most people don’t know about. It’s a Pandora’s box. And we’re still ironing out everything that that war unleashed.

Outbreak

Narrator: In the summer of 1914, a new prospect named Babe Ruth began playing for the Boston Red Sox. Crowds were flocking to theaters to see the newest film by Charlie Chaplin. A loaf of bread cost six cents. Henry Ford’s Model T sold for $500 dollars. In 1914, the nation boasted a population of almost a hundred million people. A third of them were immigrants, or had parents who had been born abroad. And one out of three Americans lived on farms. Women could vote, but only in twelve states of the union. In the South, African Americans had virtually no political rights at all. In 1914, the United States Army ranked seventeenth in the world, behind Serbia’s. Europe was a one-week steamship voyage away. The British pound was the world’s reserve currency.

David M. Kennedy, Historian: In 1914 the United States was the largest producer of steel. It had the biggest transportation network. It had more energy resources. It had the second biggest population in the western world saving only Russia. But the American people as a whole were quite ambivalent about whether or not they actually wanted to become one of the great powers that arbitrated the destinies of the world at large.  

Narrator: To mark the Fourth of July in 1914, President Woodrow Wilson delivered a speech from the steps of Independence Hall in Philadelphia. After paying tribute to what he called the “energy and variety and wealth” of America, he posed a question: “What are we going to do with the influence and power of this great Nation?”

Adriane Lentz-Smith, Historian: I think that Wilson had, even in 1914 this vision of America as a moral beacon in the world, as a city upon a hill, this sense that Americans had something to give to the world.

Narrator: Europe, meanwhile, was a bastion of culture and enlightenment, but beset by ancient dynasties and autocratic rulers competing to control the world’s resources. Germany was led by a kaiser, Russia a tsar. An emperor lay claim to Austria Hungary while a sultan reigned over the Turkish Ottoman Empire. Great Britain and France, two democracies, jealously guarded far-flung colonial empires. Only a month after Wilson’s speech, Americans struggled to make sense of news coming from the other side of the Atlantic. The assassination of an obscure Austro-Hungarian aristocrat by a Serbian nationalist had provided a pretext to unleash imperial rivalries that were breaking the continent apart. Germany and its ally, Austria Hungary, declared war on Serbia and her ally, Russia. Germany then invaded France — through neutral Belgium — and Russia. Britain came to the aid of, the French and the Belgians and suddenly, millions of men were fighting a war whose very purpose seemed hard to comprehend.

Margaret MacMillan, Historian: What were they thinking? They had so much going for them. Europe was the most prosperous part of the world, the most powerful part of the world. It had had extraordinary progress. It had a century of almost unbroken peace, and suddenly they blundered into this war. And I think the reaction in the United States was “what on earth are they doing?” And thank goodness we’re 3,000 miles away.

Narrator: “The general conflagration has begun,” Wilson’s ambassador to England, Walter Page, observed. “Ours is the only great government in the world that is not in some way entangled.” The Atlantic Ocean provided the United States with protection against the European contagion. But Wilson also saw in America’s unique position a chance to influence the course of world events. On August 4th, he wrote to the leaders of the newly warring nations that he would “welcome an opportunity to act in the interest of European peace.”

A. Scott Berg, Writer: Almost from the outset of the war, Woodrow Wilson was trying to find diplomatic solutions. He believed if all the heads of state could sit at a table and confer, they could probably have ended this war. There didn’t have to be a war here.

Narrator: As he faced the greatest international crisis of his presidency, Woodrow Wilson was falling apart. In a small bedroom on the second floor of the White House, his wife Ellen lay dying. They had been married for 29 years, and she had borne him three daughters, standing by him during his dramatic rise to the White House. Now, she was gravely ill with Bright’s disease, a fatal inflammation of the kidneys. Two days after war broke out, at five in the afternoon, she died. “I never understood before what a broken heart meant and did for a man,” Wilson wrote to a friend. “It just means that he lives by the compulsion of necessity and duty only.”

A. Scott Berg, Writer: Here is the president of the United States who is so bereft he is actually contemplating giving up the office. He does not know how he can go on without this woman, who really sacrificed everything she could for him.

Narrator: “It is pathetic to see the President,” his son-in-law lamented “He hardly knows where to turn.” A devastated Wilson could barely manage Ellen’s funeral arrangements. He sat next to the casket during a sleepless train ride back to her family home in Georgia. For the first time in decades, Woodrow Wilson was facing the future alone. The son of a Scottish Presbyterian minister from Virginia, he was a bookish young man with a delicate constitution who became a successful lawyer and scholar of American government.

Richard Rubin, Writer: He was a former professor, a former college president and the governor of New Jersey. He had a meteoric rise in politics and in an age of oratory, he was a very fine speaker.

A. Scott Berg, Writer: Woodrow Wilson was the most religious president we ever had. Woodrow Wilson is a man who got on his knees twice a day and prayed. He read scripture every night. He said grace before every meal. His faith informed everything he ever said, everything he ever thought, everything he ever did.

Narrator: An idealistic Democratic crusader, Wilson had spent his first two years in office driving through Congress a historic set of progressive reforms. His penchant for soaring rhetoric masked a pragmatic, and often ruthless, politician. He was also the first Democrat from the South to be elected president since Reconstruction. One of Wilson’s first acts was to reintroduce segregation in federal agencies in Washington. Almost overnight, thousands of promising civil service jobs that had been a path of upward mobility for African Americans were now open to whites only. 

Adriane Lentz-Smith, Historian: Wilson felt that forward thinking white people were really best positioned to see to the well being of African Americans. And I think he felt confident that at some point African Americans would be able to be incorporated into the larger civic and democratic body in some way. But they hadn’t reached the point in their evolution yet.

Christopher Capozzola, Historian: He makes almost no effort to bring African Americans into any role in the government and in fact takes so many steps to alienate them that many African Americans who thought he would be a progressive on race become bitterly disappointed in him.

Narrator: His southern upbringing also profoundly shaped Wilson’s views about war and peace.

A. Scott Berg, Writer: Woodrow Wilson is the only United States president who was born in a country that had lost a war, the Confederate States of America. He remembered the...the devastation, the deprivation, the degradation that comes from losing a war. He carried that with him.

Margaret MacMillan, Historian: Woodrow Wilson doesn’t like war. He believes in democratic values, liberal values, he believes in peace. He doesn’t want to take the United States into war. 

Narrator: On August 18th, Wilson emerged from his grieving long enough to issue a proclamation. “The United States must be neutral in fact, as well as in name,” he declared. “We must be impartial in thought, as well as action.” But in the same breath, the president acknowledged that the unity he was asking of his fellow citizens was a challenge given America’s diverse population. “The people of the United States are drawn from many nations, and chiefly the nations now at war,” he proclaimed “some will wish one nation, others another, to succeed in the momentous struggle.”

Richard Rubin, Writer: America is not a monolith. America is composed of a great many different communities. Take New York City. You had Irish who had no desire to go over and fight for the British king. You had Russian Jews who had no desire to go over and fight for the Tsar. You had German-American immigrants and Austrian-American immigrants who had no desire to go over and fight against their country.

Margaret MacMillan, Historian: In Woodrow Wilson’s day, the United States hadn’t become the world’s policeman. And I don’t think the United States felt an obligation to engage in the world and as far as Europe was concerned, I mean for a lot of Americans they looked across the Atlantic and said well, they’re idiots, they’re fools, they’re probably worse, let them do it. He didn’t want the United States to be involved.

Narrator: For now, Wilson believed, America must bide its time, and remain “a nation that . . . keeps herself fit and free to do what is honest and disinterested and truly serviceable for the peace of the world.” But he was also keenly aware that the right to influence the chaos unfolding in Europe might require an unprecedented projection of American power.

Adriane Lentz-Smith, Historian: Part of what’s driving him is a genuine commitment, trying to apply what he sees as American principles to the world for the betterment of the world. He thinks America has something to teach everyone. Part of it is ego. Wilson believes himself able to deliver these democratic practices to the global stage. He sees himself as well equipped to be this person.

Narrator: Ambassador Page saw little chance that America could stay detached from the great conflict that was shaking the world to its foundations. “We shall need somehow to wake up the American public to realize that our isolation is gone,” he wrote to the president, “There simply is no end to the changes that are coming.”

Atrocities

Narrator: The day war broke out, the impeccably tailored American war correspondent Richard Harding Davis settled into his first class cabin on board a ship bound for France, and enjoyed a cold glass of champagne. Davis was perhaps the most famous journalist of his day, and the war promised to be the biggest story of his already legendary career. He had made a name for himself reporting for the newspapers owned by Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst, filing dispatches from war zones around the world.  His vivid reports of the exploits of the Rough Riders in Cuba had helped catapult the young Theodore Roosevelt to national renown. Now Americans were counting on Davis to bring them news of the shocking developments in Europe. While he was crossing the Atlantic in the first week of August, 1914, German troops continued their invasion of neutral Belgium, rushing to encircle Paris and defeat the French and the British before the huge Russian armies to the east could mobilize.

Dan Carlin, Podcast Producer: The German war plans called for them to defeat France first, within a short period of time, and then turn those armies on the Russians. The attitude was if they didn’t do it quickly enough the Russian steamroller would come tumbling into the eastern German territories on the way to Berlin.

Jay Winter, Historian: The German army was well aware that its task was to arrive in Paris 42 days…not 43 days…42 days exactly after the invasion of Belgium. And the population in Belgium and northern France was not going to stand in the way.  

Narrator: By August 17th, as hundreds of thousands of Belgian refugees were streaming away from the advancing German army, Davis had commandeered a motorcar and was headed in the opposite direction. He managed to find his way to Brussels to witness German forces entering the Belgian capital.

Voice: Richard Harding Davis: The entrance of the German army into Brussels has lost all human quality. . . . No longer was it regiments of men marching but something uncanny, inhuman, a force of nature. . . This was a machine, endless, tireless, with the delicate organization of a watch and the brute power of a steam roller. . . For three days and three nights the column of gray, with 50,000 thousand bayonets and 50,000 lances, with gray transport wagons, … gray cannon, like a river of steel, cut Brussels in two.

Dan Carlin, Podcast Producer: He described the columns going on for days marching in perfect step with each other. And I think it was jaw-dropping. Many Americans are getting their first look at this through Richard Harding Davis’s writings. 

Narrator: Davis arrived in the war zone mindful that his employers at the Wheeler News Syndicate expected him to hew closely to America’s strict policy of neutrality. But the news from Belgium turned more disturbing with each passing day. Racing to keep to their invasion timetable, the Germans ruthlessly put down any resistance. Civilians were mowed down with machine guns; 14,000 buildings were deliberately destroyed. Fifteen days into the invasion, German soldiers arrived at the Belgian city of Louvain, a center of culture for centuries. Then, they burned it to the ground.

Voice: Richard Harding Davis: At Louvain it was war upon the defenceless, war upon churches, colleges, shops of milliners and lace-makers: war brought to the bedside and the fireside; against women harvesting in the fields, against children in wooden shoes playing in the streets. At Louvain that night the Germans were like men after an orgy.

Narrator: Davis’ dispatches were hugely influential and they shocked Americans. They also crossed a line for his editors. “Wheeler cabled that the papers wanted me to be ‘neutral’ and not write against the Germans,” he wrote to his wife. “Fancy anyone being neutral in this war!”

Jay Winter, Historian: Six thousand Belgian civilians were killed. The Belgians would say murdered, in the course of the war, not one of them was a combatant. That was the price the German high command knew that they had to pay in order to get to Paris in forty-two days.

Narrator: In just a few short weeks, Richard Harding Davis had abandoned any pretense to neutrality. What his editors wouldn’t publish, he added to the preface of his book, which quickly became a best-seller.

Voice: Richard Harding Davis: Were the conflict in Europe a fair fight, the duty of every American would be to keep on the side-lines and preserve an open mind. But it is not a fair fight . . . [Germany] is defying the rules of war and the rules of humanity. . . . When a mad dog runs amuck in a village it is the duty of every farmer to get his gun and destroy it, not…lock himself indoors and toward the dog and the men who face him preserve a neutral mind. . . . A man who would now be neutral would be a coward.

Volunteers — Part One

Narrator: On August 25th, 1914, a hastily organized group of American volunteers set off through the streets of Paris for the train station. The men had just enlisted in the French army. Still wearing their rumpled street clothes, they hardly looked like soldiers. That didn’t bother the crowds whose cheers seemed to carry them along.

Christopher Capozzola, Historian: There is a generation of Americans, particularly elite Americans who believed that with this elite status came the obligation to take risks for humanity. Now this was a totally romantic notion, but it inspired thousands of Americans to drop out of college, to quit their jobs. They felt a personal responsibility to address what was the largest human crisis of their times.

Narrator: Most of the well-heeled men were from elite colleges. Many of them had been drifting around Europe when the war broke out. There were painters and professors, medical students and mining engineers, a big-game hunter, a chef and a race-car driver.

Jennifer D. Keene, Historian: There are those Americans who believe that we should make an impact on the battlefield and with the government reluctant to do so, individuals decide to do so. We have a river of people crossing the Atlantic to join the allied army, to serve as ambulance drivers as aid workers, as nurses, as doctors. 

Andrew Carroll, Writer: A lot of them truly loved France and they felt this was a war of civilization. They were after a kind of glory, even immortality. A real sense of wanting to sacrifice yourself for a greater cause.

Narrator: The French government was stunned by the wave of volunteers — more than 35,000, from 49 different nations. The newspaper Le Figaro called it “a moving homage, to which each people wish to contribute its part of courage and of blood.” Reinforcements were arriving in France just in time: the military situation was increasingly dire. The German army had swept through Belgium and was driving towards Paris. Every able-bodied man who could handle a rifle had been rushed to the front, including 5,000 French reservists who arrived in taxi cabs. The Americans’ parade was a response to France in her hour of need. At its head was a 26-year old Harvard graduate and aspiring poet named Alan Seeger, who had been living in Paris when war was declared.   

Jay Winter, Historian: The notion of military service as a kind of a test of character, a test of...of courage...is a very deep American phenomenon, to test your mettle against the harshest steel in the world was something very hard to resist for people like Alan Seeger. And I think he was characteristic of a larger group of individuals who felt that this war was one that could lead them to experience things that other human beings won’t ever know. 

Narrator: From their home in New York, Seeger’s parents did their best to reconcile themselves to the perilous path their son had chosen. 

Voice: Alan Seeger: [Dear Mother:] I hope you see the thing as I do and think that I have done well . . . doing my share for the side that I think right . . . I am happy and full of excitement over the wonderful days that are ahead. It was such a comfort to receive your letter and know that you approved of my action. Be sure that I shall play the part well for I was never in better health nor felt my manhood more keenly.  [Love to all, Alan.]

Narrator: Seeger joined the French Foreign Legion, a brigade famous for its ferocity and for taking in anyone willing to fight, and die, for France. In its ranks he met men like Victor Chapman, a fellow Harvard graduate who had given up his architectural studies in Paris to volunteer, and Eugene Bullard, who had escaped the brutal racism of Georgia by stowing away for Europe when he was seventeen. Once on the continent Bullard had worked as a panhandler, an actor in a traveling comedy troupe, and a boxer. The Legion put the Americans through a crash course in basic training, and they joined a war that now numbered millions of combatants on both sides. Germany, Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire, who called themselves the Central Powers, were squared off against France, Britain and Russia, known as the Allies. Just as the American volunteers were learning how to be soldiers, the nature of the war shifted. After smashing their way through Belgium, the Germans were approaching the outskirts of Paris when their over-extended army gave out. Allied counter-attacks drove them back beyond the Marne river east of Paris. Both sides dug in for protection, and kept trying to outflank one another. Within weeks, an improvised network of trenches extended for more than 500 miles from the English Channel to the Swiss border. The war that all sides assumed would be over in a matter of weeks, now stretched on with no end in sight.

John Horne, Historian: The Germans realized that if they dig trenches and install their machine guns and artillery, the French and the British can't get much further forward. [But] each side is trying to get the advantage. And in that process, which goes on for two months, what they're really doing is learning that once they’ve dug trenches, once they’ve got defensive positions, they’ve invented a new industrialized form of siege warfare. And it's stalemate.

Narrator: The “Western Front”, as it was called, consisted of deep gashes in the mud, dug in a zig-zag pattern to protect against enemy attacks. The lines were separated by a blasted landscape of shell holes, barbed wire, and decaying corpses known as No Man’s Land. The new fortifications provided protection from the murderous carnage of open warfare. But efforts to break out of the stand-off still sent hundreds of thousands of casualties flooding into hospitals just behind the lines. One of the nurses that struggled to cope with the onslaught was an American heiress from Chicago named Mary Borden.

Voice: Mary Borden: . . . . the hospital looks like an American lumber town, a city of huts, and the guns beyond this hill sound like the waves of the sea, pounding — pounding — and the sky is a-whirr with aeroplanes, and, sometimes, we are bombarded, and all the time troops and troops and more troops stream past. All day and often all night I am at work over dying and mutilated men. There is such a tremendous inflow of wounded that I can’t often sit down from 7 a.m. to midnight. Impossible to tear one’s self away from the men who are crying for a drink, whose blood is dripping in pools on the floor

Narrator: Despite its horrors, Alan Seeger and his fellow volunteers could not get to the front fast enough.

Voice: Alan Seeger: Dear Mother: we are actually going at last to the firing line. By the time you receive this we shall already perhaps have had our baptism of fire . . . . How thrilling it will be tomorrow and the following days, marching toward the front with the noise of battle growing continually louder before us. . . . The whole regiment is going . . . about 4,000 men. You have no idea how beautiful it is to see the troops undulating along the road . . . as far as the eye can see.

Pacifism

Song:
I didn't raise my boy to be a soldier,
I brought him up to be my pride and joy.
Who dares to place a musket on his shoulder,
To shoot some other mother's darling boy?          

Narrator: The most popular song in America in the spring of 1915 was “I Didn’t Raise My Boy to Be a Soldier.” 700,000 copies — on 78 r.p.m. records, and as sheet music — flew out of stores. It was sung in bars and dance-halls, in concerts, schools, and in homes all across the country.

Richard Rubin, Writer: This was a time remember when in a city like New York, there were a great many daily newspapers being published. But an awful lot of the population didn’t read or didn’t read English. And they got their news from songs. You would go to your local saloon after work and there’d be somebody there playing a piano, singing a song about something that had just happened in the news. Songwriters would pick up a few newspapers on their way into the office in the morning. They would read stories and they would sit down and write a couple of songs about them before lunch. They’d be published by the end of the day and for sale on the street.

Song: Ten million soldiers to the war have gone,
Who may never return again.
Ten million mothers' hearts must break,
For the ones who died in vain.

Narrator: America’s songwriting Mecca was a short stretch of West 28th Street in Manhattan. Known as Tin Pan Alley, it was home to one of the biggest industries in the country. Sitting around their upright pianos, songwriting duos were acutely conscious of the national mood.

Richard Rubin, Writer: “I Didn’t Raise My Boy to Be a Soldier” was a mother’s plea for neutrality, it wasn’t just a catchy tune, it was what people were feeling.

Song: There'd be no war today, if mothers all would say,
“I didn't raise my boy to be a soldier.”

Narrator: Tin Pan Alley’s love affair with anti-war songs reflected the growing force and popularity of the American peace movement. In August of 1914, thousands of women, both black and white, had gathered together and marched down Fifth Avenue in silence. The Evening World reported that: “Every woman in the slow-moving line wore some badge of mourning, either a . . .  band around her sleeve or a bit of crepe fluttering at her breast,” “as a token of the black death which is hovering over the European battlefields.”

Michael Kazin, Historian: The march is very silent, very somber. It’s sort of like a funeral march because they are mourning the young men who are dying in increasing numbers, after less than a month of war. The women’s march in 1914 really is the outgrowth of a very large women’s movement in America. And this is really a sign that women are going to be in the forefront of opposition to the war.

Jay Winter, Historian: Pacifism on the part of men was harder because it suggested cowardice. So women could say things and act politically in a way that men couldn’t.

Nancy K. Bristow, Historian: We could be the arbiter of wars. We could be those that would stop the killing. We could be those that would help find the peace.

Narrator: Woodrow Wilson’s own Secretary of State, William Jennings Bryan, was  a committed pacifist, as was Eugene Debs, the leader of the American socialist party, who maintained that “the war in Europe is a crime against civilization.” The industrialist Henry Ford argued that only “two classes benefit by war – the militarists and the money lenders.” Meanwhile, the struggle kept offering up an appalling testament to the peace movement’s mission. In the first five months of the war, more than 300,000 Frenchmen were killed, 30,000 British soldiers, almost 150,000 Germans. Horrified by what the war had become, in April of 1915, a group of delegates from the Woman’s Peace Party set off for the International Congress of Women, in The Hague. The WPP numbered more than 40,000 women nationwide, and their goal was the creation of an internationally sanctioned framework for an end to the war. The president was Jane Addams.

Helen Zoe Veit, Historian: Jane Addams was in some ways the preeminent progressive. She founded a settlement house in Chicago called Hull House that was a place where immigrants and poor people could go to get help, to get education. She toured the country as a lecturer, in the name of peace. She was one of the most visible women in America at this time.

Narrator: “We do not think that by raising our hands we can make the armies cease slaughter.” Addams admitted, “[But] we do think it is fitting that women should meet and take counsel to see what may be done.” One of the peace movement’s harshest critics, former president, Theodore Roosevelt, lashed out at Addams and her fellow pacifists.  “It is base and evil to clamor for peace in the abstract,” he thundered, “when silence is kept about concrete and hideous wrongs done to humanity at this very moment.”  The women were undeterred. Roosevelt was a “barbarian”, they responded, “out of his element” and “half a century out of date. More than a thousand women, from 12 different nations, attended the conference, including representatives from Germany and Austria-Hungary.

Kimberly Jensen, Historian: Addams and women from many nations gathered to say war must end, and we must not engage in this conflict. The world has come too far to allow a barbarous war like this to happen and to really destroy what we have built. She saw alliances among women across national boundaries to be a very important pathway to peace.

Michael Kazin, Historian: The reason why Jane Addams and other pacifist feminists go to The Hague is to put pressure on Wilson to get involved in really backing up with actions what he’s been saying all along which is that it is the role of the United States to help mediate the war. And so in a sense this is a citizen’s peace initiative which is trying to nudge Wilson to do the right thing.  

Narrator: On her return to America, Jane Addams met with Wilson six times.

Christopher Capozzola, Historian: He hears from her about what she’s seen in Europe. And I think it clearly influences him by making him think that his instinct that America should have a leadership role in settling the peace is a correct one.

Narrator: “The time has come for intervention, and it is only by intervention that the war will be ended,” Addams argued. “Left to themselves, the warring nations will fight on and on. . . . [and] every day that peace negotiations are delayed will make terms of peace just that much harder.”

Lusitania

Narrator: On the first of May, 1915, an advertisement in New York newspapers announced the sailing for Liverpool of the British Cunard Line’s celebrated steamship, the Lusitania. Directly below the ad was a notice placed by the German Embassy. “Vessels flying the flag of Great Britain” it read, “or . . . any of her allies, are liable to destruction in those waters [adjacent to the British Isles] . . . . Travellers sailing in the war zone do so at their own risk.” The recent sinking of both cargo and passenger ships bound for England was evidence of the deadly seriousness of the German warning. Still, American tourists,  prominent aristocrats, and English and Irish maids on the Lusitania decided to set sail.

Christopher Capozzola, Historian: They were getting on the grandest ship of its day. The cruise ship from the era of the Titanic. And they thought no civilized nation would attack such a ship. 

Narrator: What no one on board realized was how enmeshed in the war the Lusitania really was. The Germans saw the ship as part of a critical supply line supporting the British war effort. Like most of the freighters steaming toward England, the Lusitania’s hold was filled to capacity with American goods and raw materials. 

Richard Rubin, Writer: Part of American neutrality from the very beginning was that American companies were free to do business with any of the combatants, on paper. But Britain had the world’s strongest navy and they used it to tremendous effect against Germany, instituting a massive blockade, which meant that all American armaments that were sold overseas were sold to the allies.

Jay Winter, Historian: Neutrality is almost always a fiction. In this case, the fiction was that the United States was neutral in word and deed. Nonsense. The United States tilted towards the allies from the very beginning.

Narrator: When war broke out, the U.S. economy was in the midst of a recession and Americans lost no time selling everything they could to the Allies. A typical British division of 18,000 soldiers required a staggering nine million pounds of ammunition, fodder and food each month. There was a seemingly bottomless market for barrels of beef, tons of iron and steel, bushels of oats and wheat. American companies also sold Britain and France massive quantities of bullets, artillery shells, and high explosives. The Germans desperately wanted to sink ships transporting these supplies. But since their Navy was no match for the British on the high seas, their only solution was to attack from under the surface.

Richard Rubin, Writer: The submarine was really a novelty before World War I. And all of a sudden this war comes along and it’s more than just a novelty, it’s an essential weapon. Western navies were unprepared to deal with it. They had no idea how to counter submarine warfare. It was unknown, it was unseen. You never knew where an attack was going to come from. And it terrified people.

Narrator: German submarines were technological wonders that were transforming the nature of warfare. Three months before the Lusitania set sail, the German High Command had launched a full-scale attack on ships entering the war zone around Great Britain, beginning a campaign that would send hundreds of ships to the bottom,  including vessels flying the American flag. The captain and crew of the Lusitania dismissed fears of submarines, and encouraged passengers to enjoy the elegant amenities on board the 787-foot luxury liner. Vacationing couples on the lower decks enjoyed shuffleboard, while the wealthy travelers in first class were served high tea in the Verandah Café. From intercepted communications, the British knew the German submarine U-20 was lurking in the path of the Lusitania. Yet they chose not to send destroyers out to meet the ship and escort it into Liverpool. Within the halls of the British Admiralty, some argued that if the Lusitania was lost, it might precipitate American entry into the war.

Edward A. Gutiérrez, Historian: The British are definitely trying to get America involved in this war. Right from the beginning there is a sense of, we need you here. Your shipping is [not] going to be enough, we are your brethren, you must support us.

Narrator: On Friday, May 7th, as passengers excitedly scanned the horizon for their first sight of land, a torpedo hit the ship’s side. The explosion ripped a huge gash in the Lusitania. It took only 18 minutes for the leviathan to slide beneath the waves. For months after the Lusitania went down, dead bodies washed ashore. Hundreds of others were pulled lifeless from the Irish Sea, their corpses stacked on the docks. Many of the casualties could not be identified, and were buried in mass graves. In all, 1,198 men, women, and children were lost. 128 of them were Americans. The New York Sun called the sinking “premeditated and dastardly” and the Herald denounced it as “wholesale murder . . .  on the high seas.”  

John M. Cooper, Historian: What the Lusitania did was to bring the war home to Americans. Up to that time it was this awful thing that was happening to other people far away. Now the war had reached out and touched us. But what it did really was I think redouble an awful lot of people’s determination to stay out of it. The American media had been covering the war for months and months now. We knew what it was like. Americans had been imagining their sons at the battlefront. We don’t want to buy into that. And here is this act of barbarism that’s threatening to bring us in. 

A. Scott Berg, Wrtier: Much of America is now beginning to discuss what should America’s role be in this war, now that we are losing lives? How do we maintain a position of neutrality?

Christopher Capozzola, Historian: The Lusitania sinking creates a crisis within the Wilson administration, in part because it reveals that this public and official face of neutrality was actually no such thing.

Narrator: Germany argued that the speed with which the Lusitania was sent to the bottom was proof that it was loaded with tons of ammunition for the Allies.

Richard Rubin, Writer: It was suggested that the torpedo struck the boiler but a boiler wouldn’t blow up with that kind of force to sink a liner of that size in 18 minutes.

A. Scott Berg, Writer: The Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan, who was a great pacifist, he said the one thing I want to know is, were there in fact arms on that ship? And the truth of the matter is, there were arms on that ship.

Adriane Lentz-Smith, Historian: Actually from the German side, not an irrational or indefensible act. In some ways you have these two visions of what is a legitimate act of violence, just sort of colliding and not being able to reconcile themselves.

Jay Winter, Historian: How far can you tolerate the deaths of American citizens is a very legitimate question today, as it was a hundred years ago. And I think being the man who protects American lives on the one hand and on the other hand protecting American lives by not going into war, presented [Wilson] with a very difficult high wire act. And I think he understood that that meant the Lusitania wasn’t going to be the last.

Narrator: Wilson responded to Germany’s provocations with a series of diplomatic messages to Berlin, warning that if aggression continued, America would consider it an act of war. In protest, William Jennings Bryan resigned. But the president’s threats worked. The German government pledged to put limits on their submarine warfare.  

Alan Axelrod, Writer: For those who were strong advocates of neutrality it was too stern and for others such as Teddy Roosevelt, it was an ignominious, cowardly kind of weasely way out of avoiding a fight.

Michael Neiberg, Historian: The Lusitania forces the American people to recognize that just having two oceans protecting you doesn’t mean you’re protected from danger. Doesn’t mean you can go on with business as usual. And the Lusitania opens up that debate. What should we do about this?

Narrator: Three days after the Lusitania was sunk, in front of a crowd of 15,000 people in Philadelphia, Woodrow Wilson tried to reaffirm America’s neutral role in the conflict. “The example of America must be the example not merely of peace because it will not fight, but of peace because peace is the healing and elevating influence of the world . . .” he declared. “There is such a thing as a man being too proud to fight. There is such a thing as a nation being so right that it does not need to convince others by force that it is right.”

Wharton

Voice: Edith Wharton: Since leaving Paris yesterday we have passed through streets and streets of such murdered houses, through town after town spread out in its last writhings . . . deliberately erased from the earth. At worst they are like stone-yards, at best like Pompeii. But Ypres has been bombarded to death, and the outer walls of its houses are still standing, so that it presents the distant semblance of a living city, while near by it seems to be a disemboweled corpse. Every window-pane is smashed, nearly every building unroofed, and some house-fronts are sliced clean off, with the different stories exposed, as if for the stage-setting of a farce . . . and with a little church so stripped and wounded and dishonoured that it lies there by the roadside like a human victim.

Narrator: In the spring of 1915, one of America’s most famous novelists embarked on a tour of the Western front. Edith Wharton had come on her own initiative to deliver medical supplies, take photographs and write letters and articles for publication back home about what she called the “dreadful realities of war.” For seven months, Wharton followed the track of the German invasion, describing the “huge tiger scratches that the [German] Beast flung over the land.” She stopped to visit French troops, who wrote “Vive L’Amérique!” in chalk on her car, and got close enough to the front lines to peer out at a dead German soldier sprawled across No Man’s Land. “I had the sense of an all-pervading, invisible power of evil,” she remembered, “a saturation of the whole landscape with some hidden vitriol of hate.”

Michael Neiberg, Historian: Edith Wharton is symbolic of a lot of Americans who are living in France, already had a deep passion and interest in France, a deep love of France. They’re able to make clear exactly what’s happening. And the important thing about this is it’s coming from an American voice.

Narrator: At the outset of the war, Wharton had organized a series of American hostels to shelter the wave of dislocated families pouring into Paris. In little more than a year, her relief organization had provided clothing and jobs for more than 9,000 refugees and served nearly a quarter of a million meals. She also begged Americans at home to help finance her efforts. “For heaven's sake . . .” she wrote to a friend, “proclaim everywhere, and as publicly as possible . . .what it will mean to all that we Americans cherish if England and France go under.” In June, Wharton arrived in Dunkirk immediately after the town had been shelled by the Germans. The “freshness of the havoc seemed to accentuate its cruelty,” she wrote. The hospitals in Dunkirk were struggling to absorb the casualties from artillery, but they were also confronting the effects of a shocking new weapon that had just been introduced. A month before Wharton had arrived, not far from Dunkirk, French and Canadian troops had looked across No Man’s Land and seen a greenish haze drifting towards them. Soon the unsuspecting men were writhing in agony, choking to death as chlorine gas burned their throat and lungs. In a panic, the survivors abandoned their positions. More than a thousand soldiers were killed, most of them slowly drowning as their lungs filled with fluid.

Helen Zoe Veit, Historian: World War I used a combination of really traditional fighting techniques with all these brand new technologies that turned traditional battle into slaughter or things like poisonous gas which seemed like this insidious and unpredictable new weapon that just killed indiscriminately, that had nothing to do with individuals fighting each other and that was really just about mass death.

Dan Carlin, Podcast Producer: Gas was something that was a new horror. And for people that already thought that the Germans were evil personified, it just played in to those sorts of attitudes.

Richard Rubin, Writer: Gas in a way was as terrifying to people as the submarine. Gas could blind you, very quickly. It could make you cough up blood very quickly. It could break down your lungs very quickly.  

Dan Carlin, Podcast Producer: Eventually both sides would use gas. It would just be part of something that was a descent into 20th Century warfare. And so gruesome. And truthfully to take things to a level that had never been seen before.

Narrator: Edith Wharton wasn’t shy about telling the world what she thought of the German army’s tactics. “The ‘atrocities’ one hears of are true,” she wrote in a letter “I know of many, alas, too well authenticated. . . .  It should be known that it is to America’s interest to help stem this hideous flood of savagery by opinion if it may not be by action. No civilized race can remain neutral in feeling now.”

Andrew Carroll, Writer: Edith Wharton really wanted to create kind of a sympathetic character in the French people and in France itself and she was even accused by some of her fellow authors of being a propagandist. But she was writing in a way that I think she knew would have as powerful an effect as possible. I think she was changing the tide of how people viewed the war and whether America should at long last get involved. 

Dan Carlin, Podcast Producer: The way that German atrocities were played up in the media helped create a good guy-bad guy scenario. This is the idea of the Germans as Huns, as destroyers, as barbarians.

Jay Winter, Historian: The moral depravity of German soldiers suggested a moral cause. It made it about the sons of light against the sons of darkness. It became a sacred bill of indictment against them for behavior of a kind that no one could justify.

The Poison of Disloyalty

Narrator: On the morning of July 3rd, 1915, an intruder holding two pistols barged into the Long Island mansion of America’s most powerful banker, J.P. Morgan, Jr. In the ensuing struggle, the attacker was subdued, but not until he wounded Morgan twice in the thigh. The gunman turned out to be a former German teacher at Harvard, who had set off a bomb at the U.S. Capitol the day before. Although no direct link to the German government was proven, the attack on Morgan appeared to be part of a larger effort by Germany to stop American support for the allies.  

Christopher Capozzola, Historian: If you sympathized with Germany then Morgan was your ultimate enemy. And because he was so powerful as an individual, it was actually possible to believe that assassinating him could actually stop the war. 

Narrator: As the conflict dragged on, the French and British had required larger and larger loans to keep themselves afloat. Morgan, a committed Anglophile, had been more than happy to oblige. He also served as a purchasing agent, helping to procure the millions of pounds of food and armaments the Allies required every month. President Wilson turned a blind eye to this financial lifeline to the Allies. Morgan would eventually secure a $500 million dollar line of credit for the French and British — the biggest foreign loan in Wall Street history.

Jay Winter, Historian: The war turned the United States into a creditor power, not a debtor power, for the first time in its history. That’s a big argument. We’re in the war and we have an economic interest to make sure that the allies win it. 

Dan Carlin, Podcast Producer: It’s not just the fact that the U.S. is loaning money to the allies, but that they’re spending it in the U.S. for stuff so all of a sudden hiring picks up, manufacturing picks up. Americans were working again, and nobody wanted to cut that off.

Richard Rubin, Writer: Our economic support for the allies started out at the very beginning of the war and quickly became a vicious cycle. Because we could only sell to the allies, they became our main market. Because the allies could only buy from us, they quickly became indebted to us. And so it was in our best interest to send them more armaments so that they could win the war. Great Britain during the war spent fully half of its war budget in the United States of America.

Narrator: The attack on J.P. Morgan drew attention to the nation’s largest ethnic group, German Americans.

Christopher Capozzola, Historian: German cultural life was everywhere. There were German churches, German language newspapers. German was the most commonly studied foreign language in American high schools. What we now call classical music was German music, Bach, Beethoven and Brahms played by symphonies, sung by ordinary people in choirs and in churches. They were particularly visible in certain parts of the country, particularly the Midwest, [and] they wielded enormous political power in some cities like St. Louis, Cincinnati, Milwaukee.

Narrator: In response to what they saw as a hypocritical and blatantly one-sided neutrality policy, the National German-American Alliance — which boasted more than 2 million members and chapters in 44 states — held mass demonstrations calling for an arms embargo. Former Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan was their featured speaker. The American Women’s League for Strict Neutrality collected over one million signatures — written on a scroll more than 15 miles long — endorsing an “embargo on the things which kill.” While many of the nation’s leading magazines and newspapers clearly sided with the Allied cause, the German-American magazine The Fatherland promoted what it called “fair play for Germany and Austria-Hungary.” But the paper was fighting an uphill battle. In the first days of the war, the British had cut the transatlantic cables connecting America to the European continent. The only remaining cable was from London.  

Christopher Capozzola, Historian: Now this may not sound like much, but what it means is that all the news that Americans get about the European war is coming through Britain over British cables which means from the very beginning they’re getting one side of the story and so if there is one single event that the British do to guarantee that the Americans will not be really neutral, it’s that action. 

Narrator: Increasingly frustrated by the one-sidedness of American neutrality, the German government began to fight back. Only a month after Morgan’s close call, in New York, a German diplomat’s briefcase fell into the hands of American officials. They were shocked at what they found inside. The Germans were secretly supporting newspapers sympathetic to their side, paying corrupt union leaders to stage strikes, and setting up shadow companies to disrupt the munitions trade. They had even planned a coup in Mexico that would bring a pro-German strong-man to power. The raft of incriminating evidence revealed that Germany was willing to risk almost anything to undermine America’s support for the Allies. Sensational exposés in the American press fanned hysteria about German subversives. Soon, almost any accident or strange occurrence was attributed to Berlin. The mounting paranoia began to implicate German-Americans as well. Even the president took up the theme. In a speech to Congress in December 1915, Wilson warned that, “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 at once.”

Michael Neiberg, Historian: What Wilson is really trying to do is say, look, if you’re German, if you stand with us, you’re okay. But if your loyalties are on the side of the Europeans, then we have a problem.

Christopher Capozzola, Historian: This is a criticism of political radicals, anarchists and others. But he frames it not as a political opposition, but an ethnic one, that these are ethnic outsiders, they’re immigrants, they’re not Americans. And by doing this he’s making it possible for Americans to see their immigrant neighbors as threats to national security. 

Narrator: Eight months after Wilson’s speech, two fires broke out on the small island of Black Tom in New York Harbor. The island was a railroad yard and munitions depot where two million pounds of armaments, bound for the Allies, were being stored. The detonation shattered windows in downtown Manhattan, lodged shrapnel in the Statue of Liberty, and was heard as far away as Philadelphia. If it had been an earthquake, the blast would have measured 5.5 on the Richter scale. “I am sure . . . the country is honeycombed with German intrigue and infested with German spies,” Wilson wrote to one of his advisors, “the evidence of these things [is]  multiplying every day."

Volunteers Part Two: Lafayette

Voice: Victor Chapman: Dear Uncle: The state of filth I live in here is unbelievable, and the barest necessities are luxuries. I get down to the depot and kitchen about every two days for a face wash. Our heads get crusted with mud, — eyes and hair literally gluey with it.  

Narrator: After enlisting in the Foreign Legion, Victor Chapman had spent twelve months at the front. It was a long way from architecture school in Paris. Sanitation in the trenches was crude or non-existent. When it rained, the trenches became rivers of mud. Soldiers were tormented by lice, which the British called “Cooties,” and an infection known as “trench foot.” To escape the rain of high-explosive shells, soldiers constructed dugouts as far underground as possible. The men yearned to test themselves in open battle — anything to interrupt the tedium, and the random visitation of death. All up and down the lines in the spring of 1916, the great struggle that soldiers talked about was at Verdun. At that ancient fortress town the French had made a stand against a massive German offensive. The contest had descended into a sickening battle of attrition, grinding on, month after month, with no end in sight. “I hope you got my letters . . .  about my not being at Verdun,” Alan Seeger wrote home, “This ought to have been a comfort to you. Of course, to me it is a matter of great regret and I take it as a piece of hard luck.” Meanwhile, Eugene Bullard longed to be anywhere but Verdun. Bullard had been transferred to a new French unit that had seen heavy fighting, but he had never experienced anything like this.

Voice: Eugene Bullard: Neither side knew where the lines were and there were no more trenches and everything was guesswork. In those hours every man at Verdun either got one more hole in him than he was born with or, if he was lucky, he ducked into a series of shallow shell holes as I did.

Narrator: Bullard was manning a post with a machine gun as a mass of Germans came on.

Voice: Eugene Bullard: It was like mowing grass . . . only the grass grew up as fast as you mowed it . . . You’d mow them down, and four more would be in their places. . . . you could see ’em wriggling like worms in the bait box. . . . Every time the sergeant yelled, fire! I got sicker and sicker. They had wives and children, hadn’t they?

Andrew Carroll, Writer:  So this young boy from Georgia, ends up in what is the most horrific battle of World War I. And Bullard made a comment. He said he wasn’t surprised by how many people were killed at Verdun. He was surprised that anybody got out of it alive at all.

Narrator: Bullard was wounded twice at Verdun. He would become one of the first Americans to receive the French military honor for exceptional bravery — the Croix De Guerre. 

Voice: Victor Chapman: Dear Papa: This flying is much too romantic to be real modern war with all its horrors. There is something so unreal and fairy like about it, which ought to be told and described by Poets.

Narrator: High above the blackened battlefield, Victor Chapman had escaped the trenches and found himself engaged in a new kind of war, one that had never been waged before.

Andrew Carroll, Writer: It’s really I think difficult to understand today how exhilarating flight was back a century ago. The planes were made of practically nothing. They would fall apart just almost you know at a whisper. But there was something very visceral about it, because you were in total control. You didn’t even have the windscreen in front of you. I mean you’re feeling the blast of air. You’re dodging through clouds. You’re looking at the sun. You see the curve of the earth. You know humans had gone up in balloons before, but that was the extent of flight. This was really flying.

Richard Rubin, Writer: If you see these airplanes today, you wonder how anyone in their right mind went up in them. They were essentially bicycles with wings. Very, very frail. And this was very dangerous work.

Narrator: From the outset of the war, both sides raced to turn the airplane to their advantage. Pilots began as observers, and took thousands of photographs of enemy positions. They tried mounting machine guns on the wings, but had to fly with one hand while shooting with the other. Eventually machine guns were synchronized so they could fire through the propeller, and pilots engaged in vicious duels, known as dogfights. With each innovation, the death toll kept rising. Chapman joined a small group of American volunteers flying for France. They called themselves the Lafayette Escadrille, and they were the first all-American unit to fight for the Allies.

Richard Rubin, Writer: The Lafayette Escadrille wasn’t a cross-section of American society. They were very well educated young men who wanted to fly for France. And so they just went over and did so. Even though this officially violated American neutrality in that war there was sort of a winking arrangement with that. You know, don’t ask, don’t tell. 

Narrator: The danger of their new occupation helped cultivate an air of reckless bravado among the pilots of the Escadrille. “If I should be killed in this war,” one of Chapman’s fellow pilots wrote home, “I will at least die as a man should.”

Michael Neiberg, Historian: They throw outlandish parties. They have two lion cubs, Whiskey and Soda, as their mascots. Celebrities from all over Europe want to have dinner with them, want to see them. So they have this devil-may-care attitude. They don’t really need the French army’s discipline. The French army needs them more than they need the French army. They fly in their bathrobes. They do more or less whatever they want.

Narrator: The Lafayette Escadrille made headlines in the United States and an American film crew arrived in France to chronicle the exploits of Victor Chapman and his fellow aviators.

Voice: Victor Chapman: Dear Father, [We] roared and buzzed . . . past the camera man, up into the air. Then one at a time we rushed by him. I must say that he had nerve. . . You will see it all, I expect, sometime this summer; for it is to be given to some American cinema company in Paris

Andrew Carroll, Writer: They’re very popular and regardless of what Americans felt about the war itself, these guys were in a way heroes. They were kind of like the early astronauts.

Narrator: For all their fame, and often reckless bravery, the pilots of the Lafayette Escadrille understood that the odds against their survival were daunting. On June 23rd, Victor Chapman dove into a dogfight, trying to rescue some of his comrades. He shot down three German planes, before being overwhelmed, his plane riddled with bullets. He became the first American flier to give his life for France. A French friend of the Chapman’s wrote to Victor’s father shortly after his death. “I have just left the Church . . . after attending the service in honor of your son… The self sacrifice of this one who comes to us, and places himself at our side, for no other reason than to make right triumph over wrong, is worthy of . . . honor. America has sent us this sublime youth, and our gratitude for him is such that it flows back upon his country.”

Richard Rubin, Writer: They were handsome, well-bred young men who went off to do what they thought was right, even though the United States didn’t want to get involved in the fight at that point. And they were flying airplanes which captured the imagination of the entire world. To this day, the image that we think of often when we think of World War I is an aviator with his goggles and his leather cap and his long silk scarf. They were a very tiny minority of any fighting force. But they were, in essence, the face that all the armies wanted to show the enemy and the world.

Preparedness

Narrator: As American volunteers were fighting and dying in France, some of their countrymen at home were arguing that the United States must be ready for war. Championed by people like Theodore Roosevelt and the former chief of staff of the army, what was known as the Preparedness movement, had come into its own in the small town of Plattsburgh, New York in the summer of 1916. For five weeks, more than 1,300 young men played at being in the army. New York City’s mayor and commissioner of police took part, as did the coach of the Harvard football team.  

Richard Slotkin, Historian: They were living in barracks, they were living in tents, they were doing physical training. They did a lot of work on the rifle range because Roosevelt believed that marksmanship was the key to everything. His idea of an officer was someone who combined the skills of a hunter and a scout with the skills of a commander.

Dan Carlin, Podcast Producer: These camps were almost like Boy Scout camps in a sense. I mean you got your friends and your football team. And this idea that we’re going to go and prepare ourselves for war is both naïve when you think about the difference between what these camps must have been like compared to what troops facing gas on the Western Front were dealing with. And yet at the same time, there was something very American about the whole idea too.

Michael Kazin, Historian: The main supporters of preparedness believed the United States had to be prepared to fight against Germany. Also they believed that a strong nation had to have a strong military. And young Americans had to have a military mindset. So training, knowing how to use a gun, knowing how to conduct oneself in combat, these were important skills for any advanced, powerful nation to have.

Narrator: The Plattsburg Ivy Leaguers weren’t the only ones who saw the value of military service. The African-American community had long argued for all-black National Guard units that they felt would prove their patriotism and advance their political power. As the Preparedness movement gained momentum, black leaders in Harlem at last succeeded in commissioning their own regiment, and began to recruit men from New York city to bring it up to full strength. On May 13th, some 150,000 supporters of preparedness turned out to walk up Fifth Avenue. They passed under the largest flag in the country, strung between the St. Regis and Gotham hotels. There were grocers and lumbermen, corset-makers and firemen, the American Woman’s League for Self Defense, and the Lower Wall Street Business Men’s Association. African-American groups petitioned to be included in the procession, but were turned down. Twelve thousand marchers passed the grandstand every hour. Lasting almost the entire day it was the biggest parade in American history. Across from the reviewing stand was a storefront with a sign that read “War Against War.” It was the work of Jane Addams and her Woman’s Peace Party, representing an “Anti-Preparedness” movement that numbered up to 80,000 members nationwide. Their star attraction was a fifteen-foot model of “Jingo the Dinosaur,” mounted on a truck, with a sign that declared: “This animal believed in huge armament. He is now extinct!” Despite the use of political theater by the Women’s Peace Party, by the summer of 1916 the Preparedness movement was gaining such notice that major magazines began to endorse it. Leslie’s Illustrated Weekly Newspaper decided to feature it on its cover, with the headline “What Are You Doing for Preparedness?” They asked the illustrator James Montgomery Flagg to come up with an image for the new issue.

Christopher Capozzola, Historian: He was a very prolific artist, but he was also a bit of a procrastinator. And he was on a very tight deadline. And so he had no model to use. He had seen some other posters that had been published in Britain and Uncle Sam as an image had existed throughout the 19th Century, dates back even to the revolution by some measures, so [Flagg] had a mirror and his own reflection that he used to develop a new image. He added some whiskers, some gray hair. Added a top hat and with that the iconic image for Uncle Sam was born.

Election of 1916

Song:
I think we’ve got another Washington
Someone who’s just as good as he can be
He’s called the man of peace
No matter where he goes
He’s just the one for me
It takes a little time for him to make up his mind
But he gets there just the same
I think we’ve got another Washington
And Wilson is his name.

Narrator: Looking ahead to the presidential election in the fall of 1916, Woodrow Wilson confronted the fact that his prospects were far from favorable. For more than two years he had kept America out of the Great War. Now, the national mood was restless. German spies seemed to be everywhere, and U-boats still prowled the Atlantic. The war continued to be big business, and the economy was booming. But millions of German-Americans actively campaigned against the President, arguing that neutrality was a sham, and that America was blatantly supporting the Allies. What support Wilson did have was drawn from people’s sense that he had done everything he could to keep them safe from the European bloodbath. 

Christopher Capozzola, Historian: Wilson is riding along a sort of knife edge and the war becomes one of if not the central issue in the presidential contest. And this yields the, the slogan, “He kept us out of war.”

Narrator: The slogan seemed to be working, but it worried the President. “Any little German lieutenant can push us into war at any time by some calculated outrage,” he told his Secretary of the Navy. Wilson’s Republican opponent in November was a popular Supreme Court Justice, Charles Evans Hughes, whose position on the issues was often overshadowed by the former Republican president, Theodore Roosevelt. Wilson displayed “culpable weakness and timidity,” thundered Roosevelt, “It is our purpose this fall to elect an American president, and not a viceroy of the German emperor.”

Michael Kazin, Historian: Teddy Roosevelt’s been attacking Woodrow Wilson nonstop for over a year. So even though Hughes says he wants the U.S. to stay neutral, a lot of Americans don’t quite believe it. And so the peace movement, which has been ambivalent about Wilson up to now, jumps in and says, we have to support Wilson now, he’s our best bet to keep the nation at peace.

Narrator: Anxious to cultivate the influence of the peace movement, Wilson sent Jane Addams five dozen long stem roses, and asked for her endorsement. 

Michael Kazin, Historian: Addams is a life-long Republican. And so it’s a big step for her to support Wilson. But she believes that Wilson is certainly a peacemaker. He wants to be a peacemaker she believes. She wants to give him a chance to be a peacemaker, where she has no trust whatsoever in the current leadership of the Republican Party.

Narrator: As the campaign picked up speed in the fall of 1916, Wilson often appeared with his most fervent supporter by his side: his new wife, Edith Bolling Galt. They had met the previous spring, only two months before the crisis over the sinking of the Lusitania.

A. Scott Berg, Writer: He was driving the streets with his doctor and closest friend at that time, who waved hello to this woman on the street. And Wilson suddenly turned and said, who is that beautiful woman?

Narrator: Edith Galt was a vivacious, well-to-do Washington widow. Wilson would spend the next six months trying to win her affection.   

A. Scott Berg, Writer: It took up a lot of his time, maybe it took up too much of his time. . . .  He was bewitched. There were days he was writing three or four love letters to her.

Narrator: "You have invited me to make myself the master of your life and heart,” the President wrote, “the rest is now as certain as that God made us.” “This is my pledge, Dearest One,” she replied. “No matter whether the wine be bitter or sweet we will share it together and find happiness in the comradeship.”

A. Scott Berg, Writer: Edith Galt had this incredibly tonic effect on the president. He came to life again. And it allowed him really to focus on his work with so much more ease. And he had somebody to share all this with. She knew part of the job of being Woodrow Wilson’s wife was to be a great promoter, was to be out there rooting for him and, and supporting him.

Narrator: With the nation so deeply divided, the presidential race remained close. In the end Wilson barely won a second term.

Christopher Capozzola, Historian: It’s a razor thin margin. Wilson really wins with a squeaking victory through a couple of western states, where if the vote had gone just slightly in the other direction, Charles Evans Hughes would have been president.

Jay Winter, Historian: The election of 1916 was in good part a referendum on the war and the Wilson balancing act of what I would call neutrality with a tilt. The idea that the country was not going to [make it its mission to end the war] was attractive. On the other hand, the notion that the United States had many interests in common with the allies, that makes sense.

Narrator: For the moment, Woodrow Wilson had held together the slender consensus that he was the best man to guide America through a dangerous world. Still, he sensed that his nation might not be able to remain on the sidelines forever. “We live in a world which we did not make, which we cannot alter, which we cannot think into a different condition from that which actually exists,” the president declared “It would be a hopeless piece of provincialism to suppose that, because we think differently from the rest of the world, we are at liberty to assume that the rest of the world will permit us to enjoy that thought without disturbance.”

Volunteers Part Three: Seeger

Narrator: As the bloody year 1916 drew to a close, Americans were transfixed by the scale of the suffering that had been unleashed on the European continent. Two epic battles, at Verdun and along the river Somme, had raged on and on. When they were over, the strategic balance of the war remained virtually unchanged.

Jay Winter, Historian: The battle of the Somme, [was] Britain’s attempt to break through the German lines in the north of France by sheer industrial power. It’s the first battle in history with one million casualties. But I do believe that the two battles changed the meaning of the word battle. They were so big that they crossed the threshold of suffering.

Alan Axelrod, Writer: The war became a war of attrition such as the world has never seen. It became a war of two powers annihilating one another. How do you understand that? How do you write about that? How do you explain that? How do you do anything but recoil in horror from that because it makes no sense? As one young French lieutenant said at the battle of Verdun, humanity must be mad to do what it’s doing. And it’s true, what other answer was there?

Narrator: At a hospital near the Somme battlefield, the American nurse Mary Borden often met the procession of ambulances and their cargo of grievously wounded soldiers.

Voice: Mary Borden: There are no men here, so why should I be a woman? There are chests with holes as big as your fist, and pulpy thighs, shapeless; and stumps where legs once were fastened. There are eyes — eyes of sick dogs, sick cats, blind eyes, eyes of delirium; and mouths that cannot articulate; and parts of faces — the nose gone, or the jaw. There are these things, but no men; so how could I be a woman here and not die of it? Sometimes, suddenly, all in an instant, a man looks up at me from the shambles, a man's eyes signal or a voice calls “Sister! Sister!” Sometimes suddenly a smile flickers on a pillow, white, blinding, burning, and I die of it. I feel myself dying again. It is impossible to be a woman here. One must be dead.

Narrator: One of the millions of men caught up in the fighting at the Somme was Alan Seeger. In late June, he and the rest of his division from the French Foreign Legion were moved into position outside the heavily defended village of Belloy-en-Santerre.

Voice: Alan Seeger: June 28th 1916: We go up to the attack tomorrow. This will probably be the biggest thing yet. We are to have the honor of marching in the first wave. I will write you soon if I get through all right.  . . .  I am glad to be going. If you are in this thing at all it is best to be in to the limit. And this is the supreme experience.

Narrator: On the 4th of July, Seeger and his companions went over the top. Charging across an open field, they were met with heavy machine gun fire. Seeger was hit in the abdomen. He called out for a stretcher, and tried to bind up his wounds. When help finally reached him he was dead. Of the 45 men in Seeger’s section, only four survived the attack. That night, his body was buried in a soldiers grave. A few months before he died, Alan Seeger had written a poem called “I Have A Rendezvous with Death”.

Voice: Alan Seeger:
I have a rendezvous with Death
At some disputed barricade,
When Spring comes back with rustling shade
And apple-blossoms fill the air—
I have a rendezvous with Death

When spring brings back blue days and fair.
It may be he shall take my hand

And lead me into his dark land

And close my eyes and quench my breath—
It may be I shall pass him still.
I have a rendezvous with Death

On some scarred slope of battered hill,
When spring comes round again this year
And the first meadow-flowers appear.
God knows ’twere better to be deep
Pillowed in silk and scented down.

Where Love throbs out in blissful sleep,
Pulse nigh to pulse, and breath to breath,
Where hushed awakenings are dear . . .
But I’ve a rendezvous with Death
At midnight in some flaming town.
When Spring trips north again this year.
And I to my pledged word am true,

I shall not fail that rendezvous.

Declaration of War

Narrator: For nearly two-and-a-half years, the generals of the German High Command had tried everything they could to break out of the stalemate on the Western Front. But by the beginning of 1917 they were becoming increasingly desperate. The British blockade had pushed millions of Germans to the brink of starvation. Meanwhile, American goods and armaments continued to flood into Britain and prop up the Allied war machine. Finally, on January 31st, Germany sent a message to President Wilson announcing a policy of unrestricted submarine warfare. Any ships that now entered the war zone around Great Britain would be sunk.  

David M. Kennedy, Historian: It was a very risky decision. They knew this would mean sinking the ships of neutral nations, most obviously the United States. And that this would probably provoke the Americans into an armed response. So it was a calculated risk I think the Germans were taking.

Narrator: When Wilson read the message he turned to his secretary and said, “The break that we have tried so hard to prevent now seems inevitable.” On February 3rd, the president severed diplomatic relations with Germany.

Michael Neiberg, Historian: There is this fear that the war is coming closer to home and by 1917 it’s come far too close to home. The danger is too real. I think Wilson was still trying to pull a rabbit out of a hat. I think he was still hoping he could figure out a way through this. 

Margaret MacMillan, Historian: There’s tremendous pressure on Wilson. What’s he going to do? People like Teddy Roosevelt are saying look, we’re cowardly. We should be in there fighting for the values we think are important and not watching Germany trample all over them. You could argue that the United States does have an interest in not seeing the continent of Europe dominated by Germany. But Wilson doesn’t like to think like this and Wilson was a deeply moral man and he believed in doing what he felt was right. 

Narrator: On March 1st, Americans awoke to banner headlines in newspapers across the country. An intercepted telegram, written in code, from the German Foreign Minister, Arthur Zimmerman, to his Ambassador in Mexico, revealed secret efforts to get Japan and Mexico to declare war on the United States. The audacious plot underscored the fact that Germany was willing to go to almost any lengths to disrupt American support for the Allies.

Jay Winter, Historian: British naval intelligence got the Zimmermann telegram but waited until they knew that they could get the American president to blow his top. And when he got the telegram he saw that there is no limit to the provocations and indeed direct challenges to the sovereignty of the United States the imperial German government was prepared to countenance.

Narrator: By the middle of March, U-boats had sunk three more American merchant ships. Wilson’s advisors unanimously advocated for a declaration of war.

Michael Neiberg, Historian: Everybody in the cabinet votes for war. And all Wilson says is, thank you gentlemen, you’ve given me a lot to think about. And walks out. 

Narrator: Wilson retreated to his second floor study to begin work on a speech in response to the German aggression. When he at last emerged, a friend recalled,  “He looked as if he hadn’t slept. I’d never seen him so worn down.”

John M. Cooper, Historian: Woodrow Wilson made both a strategic and a moral even spiritual decision to go in. Every indicator we have of both public opinion and congressional opinion is that the big majority were still in the middle. Wilson could have carried them either way. And he agonized over it. He did not want to take us into the war if he could possibly avoid it.

Adriane Lentz-Smith, Historian: As Wilson watches the events of World War I as he becomes increasingly concerned about what this means for the world, he really comes to believe that America has to do more than watch and be better, that the U.S. has to go in and show other countries and other people what one does to become better. 

Narrator: On April 2nd, as rumors of a declaration of war swirled through Washington, more than a thousand pacifists descended on the Capitol wearing sashes and armbands that read “Keep Us Out of War.” They were driven off the steps by the police. At 8:32p.m. Woodrow Wilson entered the floor of the House of Representatives. He was greeted by a two minute standing ovation. Speaking to a rapt chamber he announced that “the recent course of the Imperial German Government” was, “in fact nothing less than war against the Government and people of the United States.”

A. Scott Berg, Writer: [It is] what I consider, the greatest foreign policy speech in American history, because embedded within this speech is a single sentence, which for the last hundred years has been the bedrock of all American foreign policy. And that sentence quite simply is this, “the world must be made safe for democracy.” 

Narrator: “Its peace must be planted upon the tested foundations of political liberty,” Wilson continued, “We have no selfish ends to serve. We desire no conquest, no dominion. We seek no indemnities for ourselves, no material compensation for the sacrifices we shall freely make. We are but one of the champions of the rights of mankind.”

A. Scott Berg, Writer: Wilson realized the country had a new power. We were not going in for treasure, we were not going in for territory. We were not there to be an imperial nation.

Narrator: “There are, it may be, many months of fiery trial and sacrifice ahead of us.” The president said in closing. “It is a fearful thing to lead this great peaceful people into war, into the most terrible and disastrous of all wars, civilization itself seeming to be in the balance. But . . . we shall fight for the things which we have always carried nearest our hearts — for democracy, for the right of those who submit to authority to have a voice in their own Governments . . . the day has come when America is privileged to spend her blood and her might for the principles that gave her birth and happiness and the peace which she has treasured. God helping her, she can do no other.” Less than three years after he had stood at Independence Hall in Philadelphia, and speculated about America’s great unfulfilled destiny, Woodrow Wilson had committed his nation to the deadliest war in human history. He had proclaimed that America must fight, but whether the country would rally around his cause, and how and when she would do so, would be the great struggle of the months to come.

Part 2

Narrator: On the evening of April 2nd, 1917, President Woodrow Wilson and his wife Edith left the Capitol and headed to the White House. Only moments earlier, Wilson had asked Congress for a declaration of war against Germany.

A. Scott Berg, Writer: It was the greatest applause Wilson had heard in his years in office. After the speech, he and his wife go back to the White House. Wilson goes into his office. And he puts his head down on the table and he weeps. And one of the men on his staff said, but Mr. President, what, what are you, what are you crying about? I mean you just had this incredible response in Congress. He said, can you imagine people applauding my asking to bring us into war? And with that he put his head down and sobbed again.

Narrator: A shaken Wilson had to confront the fact that, after struggling for nearly three years to keep America out of the Great War, he had now committed his nation to a conflict that had already left millions dead.

David M. Kennedy, Historian: We know from the record that Wilson was filled with anxieties about what he understood that he was asking the country to get itself in for he knew that he was asking the country to sacrifice in ways it had never done before, for a purpose that was not all terribly well defined.

Narrator: In his speech to Congress, the president had proclaimed that German aggression was “a challenge to all mankind.” “The world must be made safe for democracy,” he said. “We shall . . . bring peace and safety to all nations and make the world itself at last free.”

Alan Axelrod, Writer: America was unique in the war because it was not fighting for survival; it was fighting for an idea. And Wilson’s idea was to preserve, develop, defend a way of government and, it was hoped, spread that way of government to the world.

Chad Williams, Historian: Woodrow Wilson was fighting for this ideal of democracy on a global scale. But what will it mean to fight a war on largely ideological grounds? How do you rally a very divided country behind that?

Get in Line

Narrator: Americans began to notice the posters almost overnight.  Within weeks they were everywhere — plastered on buildings and displayed in trolley cars, hung in the windows of restaurants and in barbershops. America was suddenly at war and the message was inescapable: Loyal citizens were expected to do everything they could to support Woodrow Wilson’s crusade for democracy. The campaign was the handiwork of a former journalist from Missouri, George Creel, who had helped Wilson retain the White House in 1916, using the campaign slogan: “He Kept Us Out of War.” Now, only a week after the declaration, Wilson turned to Creel to convince Americans to get behind the war as quickly as possible. “It was a plain publicity proposition,” Creel recalled, “a vast enterprise in salesmanship.” Wilson needed Creel’s help. Despite his eloquent call for intervention, the president knew the nation was deeply divided about the conflict. Fifty members of the House and six Senators had voted against the war resolution. Senator Robert LaFollette of Wisconsin, argued that Americans opposed the war by a margin of 10-1. The Socialist Party of America, under its leader, Eugene Debs, denounced the struggle as “a crime against the people of the United States.”

Christopher Capozzola, Historian: Eugene Debs was an unyielding spokesman for working class and labor concerns. He also strongly opposed the U.S. entry into the war. He believed that workers of the world had more in common with each other than they did with the ruling parties of the nations that were at war.

Narrator: Further fueling opposition, Wilson was making plans to institute a draft. In response, the anarchist Emma Goldman founded the “No-Conscription League” and organized protests all across the country.

Nancy K. Bristow, Historian: The idea of the draft is very controversial. The idea that the government can call on you or call on you to give up your son to go put their life on the line is absolutely counter to the notion of American individualism or what an American democracy looks like.

Narrator: Facing such determined opposition, Wilson and Creel conceived of a plan to galvanize support for the war.

David M. Kennedy, Historian: Creel was a pioneer, you might say in the field of public relations. And then Wilson appoints him the head of something called the Committee on Public Information, which, not to put too fine a point on it, is essentially the U.S. government’s agency for propaganda.

Narrator: Creel was a passionate believer in the rightness of the president’s cause, and he saw it as his mission to educate Americans about the war’s enlightened aims. His Committee on Public Information, the CPI, began in tiny quarters, but was soon bursting at the seams. The Division of Pictorial Publicity featured posters painted by famous illustrators like Charles Dana Gibson that portrayed the war as a heroic fight for democracy and freedom. Pamphlets called “Loyalty Leaflets” and the “Red, White and Blue” series, were printed by the millions in fourteen different languages, explaining the principles the country was fighting for in simple terms that every American could understand.

Christopher Capozzola, Historian: Wilson is asking the American people to make the world safe for democracy. Germany had become a symbol of autocracy, of violence, of un-freedom that needed to be destroyed.

Narrator: “It was [a] fight for the minds of men . . .” Creel recalled “and moral verdicts took on all the value of military decisions.” 

Alan Axelrod, Writer: Creel saw his problem as transforming the American people into one white hot mass of enthusiasm for the war and the CPI went from a bureaucracy of one person to an army of about a hundred thousand people in the space of a couple of months.

Narrator: Creel’s propaganda campaign was a mix of inspired improvisation and disciplined commitment to the government’s message. For Woodrow Wilson, however, it wasn’t enough. He had long argued for a law that gave him the power to penalize disloyalty and root out subversion wherever it could be found. On June 15th, he got his wish. Congress passed the Espionage Act, an unprecedented measure that made it a crime to “collect, record, publish or communicate” information that might be useful to the enemy.

Richard Rubin, Writer: The Espionage Act was passed ostensibly to prevent espionage but really it clamped down on dissent. It was used to battle any kind of antiwar vocalization. Wilson was a very complicated man. On the one hand he was a professor, he was a devotee of the constitution; at the same time he was a very proud, some might say egotistical man, and from the moment America entered the war he identified the cause of the war with himself. And he absolutely would not tolerate any dissent from anybody.

David M. Kennedy, Historian: It’s really kind of amazing how quickly the public mood changed from skepticism, reluctance, opposition to war to big majorities were full-throatedly in favor of the war. It didn’t just happen spontaneously. The government went about the business of deliberately cultivating enthusiasm for the war and deliberately suppressing any negative voices.

Narrator: The flood of propaganda and the power of the Espionage Act sent an unmistakable message to the American public: The time for open debate was over; the country was now on a war footing and every citizen was expected to get in line.

Pershing’s Challenge

Narrator: On the morning of June 13th, 1917, the steamship Invicta was brought up to the pier at the French port of Boulogne. Standing at the rail was the commander of the American Army, General John Pershing. He had come to France to give a symbolic boost to America’s new allies, and find out for himself the status of the European war. Pershing was a tall, ramrod-straight career officer with a lantern jaw and manicured moustache; one reporter wrote that “no man ever looked more the ordained leader of fighting men.”

Richard Rubin, Writer: If you had a song, a World War I song, and you wanted it to sell, the surest way to make sure it did was to find a way to put General Pershing’s face on the cover of the sheet music. Pershing was made to sell a war. He was a man that the mothers and wives of soldiers, somehow felt that they could trust with their boys.

Narrator: As a young officer, Pershing had served in the West, leading the African-American 10th Cavalry. He had gone on to distinguish himself in heavy fighting during the Spanish-American War and in the jungles of the Philippines. Then, his expedition to hunt down the Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa had made Pershing front-page news. But only two years before his arrival in France his world came crashing down.

Andrew Carroll, Writer: In August of 1915, his little girls and beautiful wife all perished in a house fire. To have your whole family wiped out in one fire is just so heartbreaking and horrific. In the consequence of such a breathtaking loss, I think he almost found solace in focusing on this extraordinary mission to win the war.

Narrator: Pershing was a strict disciplinarian, and quick to fire subordinates who failed to measure up to his exacting standards. He worried about the welfare of his men, but never cultivated their affection. When he received his commission he was given command of the entire American army. Not since Ulysses S. Grant was made Supreme commander during the Civil War, had any general been given such sweeping power. But when Pershing had met with the president, Wilson hadn’t offered any vision for the conduct of the war. “I have every confidence that you will succeed,” was all he told his general. Pershing, however, was deeply worried. For nearly three years, as the United States stood on the sidelines, the warring nations of Europe had battered themselves relentlessly. In 1914, the Germans invaded France, through neutral Belgium, only to be stopped by the French and their allies, the British. Both sides dug networks of trenches that soon stretched from the English Channel to the Swiss border. Then they proceeded to hammer away at each other, gaining little ground and suffering casualties in the millions. To the east, Germany and her ally, Austria-Hungary, flung themselves against Russia’s huge armies, and by 1917, Russia seemed on the brink of collapse. Into this continent in chaos, Pershing would have to lead his American Expeditionary Forces. Privately, Pershing knew that no one in America’s military establishment had ever contemplated the immense task of training and then transporting a huge army across the Atlantic. There was no plan, no organization, no equipment.

Richard Slotkin, Historian: When Wilson declares war, the total armed trained force of the United States is less than a quarter of a million men. The British Army loses more than that in one battle.

Jay Winter, Historian: There was no reason to believe from past history that the United States could build up a military that fast. Arm them, train them, equip them and get them across. The Germans were persuaded that the United States could not do it.

Narrator: When Pershing arrived in Paris he was greeted with a tremendous outpouring of emotion from the war-weary French. After a round of social engagements and ceremonial visits, he met with French commander-in-chief Philippe Pétain, and the mood turned somber. On June 16th, Pershing was taken on a tour of the front, and the magnitude of the Allies’ predicament quickly became clear. Already, the French had lost nearly a million men. British losses approached 350,000. Exhausted by the unending slaughter, tens of thousands of French soldiers had mutinied and refused to fight. Only the execution of their ringleaders, Pétain’s promotion to commander-in-chief, and his assurances of better treatment for the men, prevented the army from total collapse. When asked about his strategy, all Petain would say was “I am waiting for . . .  the Americans.” With their own armies on the brink of collapse, French and British officers argued that without Pershing’s troops the war would be lost.

Richard Rubin, Writer: Pershing resisted a tremendous amount of pressure to just hand over American troops to French and British command. He didn’t like the way that they’d been waging the war up to that point. He didn’t care for trench warfare. He thought the whole thing was a big mess that was going nowhere.

Narrator: Behind Pershing’s intransigence was a direct order from the president of the United States. Woodrow Wilson wanted an army that would receive full credit for its victories on the battlefield. He insisted that American troops operate independently from the British and the French.

Jay Winter, Historian: The American army had to have a major and independent role because Wilson wanted to have, after the war, a major and independent role in the peace. The United States was the new power, it was the future.

Narrator: As his tour of the front lines came to an end, Pershing dispatched a cable that sent shockwaves through Washington. He believed he would need a million men in France, perhaps as many as three million. And he estimated it would take almost a year to get them there. As he pondered the harsh realities of the war on the Western Front, and the immense challenge of bringing American troops to the battlefield, Pershing was reminded of what Pétain had said when he first arrived — “I hope it is not too late.”

Selective Service

Song:
Johnnie get your gun, get your gun, get your gun,
Take it on the run, on the run, on the run;

Hear them calling you and me;
Every son of liberty


Richard Rubin, Writer: The song, “Over There” quickly became the anthem of the war. It was a very important part of Americans making peace with the fact that they had to go to war.

Song:
Make your mother proud of you;
And the old red, white and blue.

Richard Rubin, Writer: It’s a song whose lyrics and rhythm combine to get you up out of your chair, and want to go out and do something great.

Song:
We’ll be over, we’re coming over,
And we won’t come back till it’s over over there.

Voice: John Lewis Barkley: Everybody around me was going crazy about the war. I [had] as bad a case of war fever as the next fellow. Worse probably. Because when America went into the war I’d made up my mind that for once I was going to do the same thing everybody else was doing.

Song: And we won’t come back till it’s over over there.

Narrator: John Barkley was just one of tens of thousands of men responding to the Wilson Administration’s call for soldiers. He had grown up fishing and hunting along Scalybark Creek in the rough farm country of western Missouri, and claimed his skills as a frontiersman could be traced back to his distant ancestor, Daniel Boone. Barkley was swept up in the enthusiasm for the war, but the reality was, he had little choice in the matter.

Richard Slotkin, Historian: In order to just enter the war at all, the United States has to raise, from nothing, an army of millions, but they can’t rely on volunteering because it just would take too long so they realized they needed to have some kind of draft.

Jennifer D. Keene, Historian: The idea of the draft was controversial in the very beginning because the draft implies that men don't want to fight this war and you're forcing the country to fight.

David M. Kennedy, Historian: There’d only been a draft one prior time in American history, in the Civil War, and it did not go well. There were anti-draft riots in the North during the Civil War, Wilson was very self-conscious about that.

Jennifer D. Keene, Historian: Wilson has a big sales job that he has to make about conscription. And so he doesn't call it conscription and he doesn't call it the draft. What does he call it? He calls it Selective Service.

Narrator: Wilson’s plan was designed to tap into the nation’s spirit of volunteerism. Men like Barkley were urged to register and the government would then select who would serve and who would remain exempt.

David M. Kennedy, Historian: The whole system traded on the idea that we the government are simply facilitating volunteering. This idea that there is something noble and patriotic about service and that’s the emotion we are going to mobilize to get people to do their duty even against their will.

Richard Slotkin, Historian: Even though the government is reaching in and pulling Johnny out of the living room and putting him into uniform it seems like they had volunteered to be drafted.

Narrator: On June 5th, 1917, nine and a half million American men, from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, to Great Falls, Minnesota, from Bedford Stuyvesant in Brooklyn to San Francisco’s Chinatown — marched into city halls and county courthouses to register for the draft. Each man filled out a registration card, noting his occupation, and his place of birth. At the bottom, the instructions read: “If person is of African descent, tear off this corner.” The first step in the creation of a strictly segregated army.

Chad Williams, Historian: African American troops were very explicitly seen as a problem. That’s how they were described by the War Department, the problem of black officers.

Adriane Lentz-Smith, Historian: A Senator from Mississippi, I think correctly, says once you draft a negro man and give him a gun and tell him to fight with it, it's one short step for him thinking that he should fight for his rights at home.

Narrator: Although millions registered, not everyone agreed to serve in the new American Army. On his draft card under the question “Do you claim exemption from draft?” Alvin C. York wrote, “Yes, don’t want to fight.” Another man was even more direct, asserting that war was “murder.” In the end, 64,000 men claimed exemptions as conscientious objectors. More than three million others, known as slackers, evaded the call to arms altogether. The resistance did nothing to stop the Wilson administration’s plans. On July 20th, a crowd of dignitaries and journalists filled a hearing room in the Senate Office Building. As the newsreel cameras rolled, the first draft of the Great War began. By the end of day, more than 680,000 men had been selected. 

Edward A. Gutiérrez, Historian: The composition of draftees is as mixed as America. Poles, Scandinavians, Germans. There are African-American soldiers, Native American soldiers, Latino soldiers. There are Mexican-Americans from New Mexico and Texas — Tejanos — and, also, Puerto Ricans.

Narrator: José de la Luz Sáenz, a schoolteacher from Realitos, Texas, was not called up in the first round of the draft, but he tried to enlist anyway.

Voice: José de la Luz Sáenz: I was hungry for adventure and accustomed to hard times. I welcomed anything…I knew that in the midst of the ruinous world war it was necessary to show everyone that I was a true representative of our people.

Narrator: John Lewis Barkley was told to report to Camp Funston, in northeastern Kansas.

Voice: John Lewis Barkley: I didn’t have many good-bys [sic] to say. There were my dogs, and my old horse (Charley), and my family, and a girl . . . Just before leaving for camp I got really engaged to my girl, with a ring and everything . . . It was the most important thing that had ever happened to me. Except getting in the army.

Narrator: In the face of determined opposition, Woodrow Wilson had succeeded in laying the groundwork for the biggest armed force the United States had ever seen. And yet, Wilson knew that millions of men in uniform alone would not be enough to bring America’s power to bear on the conflict. “It is not an army that we must shape and train for war,” he proclaimed, “It is a nation.”

Selling the War

Song:
“Let’s All Be Americans Now”
Now is the time,
to fall in line;
You swore that you would,
so be true to your vow:
Let’s all be Americans now!

Narrator: Not since the arrival of the Ringling Brothers Circus could New Yorkers remember so many elephants marching down Fifth Avenue. They were part of a huge rally to sell Liberty Bonds, an innovation created to get the American public to not only support the war, but to invest in it too. In charge of selling these new bonds was George Creel, and his Committee on Public Information.

Christopher Capozzola, Historian: Liberty Bond drives opened up a fire-hose of propaganda. The CPI mobilized movie stars for the Liberty Loan message. Mary Pickford, Charlie Chaplin, all of the greatest stars of their day. Celebrity culture is just starting to emerge, and they can turn out crowds, and those crowds then become some of the biggest rallies that you see on the home front during the war.

Narrator: Hollywood studios were also happy to help, staging one of their war pictures in New York’s Van Cortlandt Park. Theaters across the country showed films like “The Kaiser: The Beast of Berlin,” “The Prussian Cur,” and “The Claws of the Hun.” Creel even found a way to push his message when the movie screens were dark.

Christopher Capozzola, Historian: In between every reel of film, there was a four-minute break when the projectionist had to change the reels. Somewhere along the way, someone at the CPI hit on the idea that this was a perfectly captive audience for the delivery of the war message.

Narrator: Night after night, prominent members of the local community would stand up and deliver short patriotic speeches. They became known as the “Four-Minute Men,” and what began in movie theaters quickly spread to any venue where an audience assembled. In New York, Creel’s volunteer army addressed half a million people each week. Ten men gave talks in Yiddish, seven in Italian. President Wilson himself gave a Four-Minute speech.

A. Scott Berg, Writer: These four-minute men would give a talk on some aspect of Americanism — why we are fighting, what are the principles we’re fighting for?

Narrator: The appearance of spontaneity masked a carefully scripted government message.  “These were no haphazard talks by nondescripts,” Creel insisted, “but the careful, studied, and rehearsed efforts of the best men in each community, each speech aimed as a rifle is aimed, and driving to its mark with the precision of a bullet.”

Alan Axelrod, Writer: They were guided by a central authority, but always in the own words of the individual giving the speech and he was usually a person who was known in the community. He was not saying this is what the government says. He was saying I’m an intelligent person, successful person, this is what I think, you should think this way too.

Jennifer D. Keene, Historian: The federal government figures out ways to come to you. Want to watch a movie? Up pops a Four-Minute Man to give you a little speech about the war. Go to the county fair? As you’re walking in, somebody comes up to you, “Would you like to subscribe to war bond?” Go to work, you’re going to have to agree to donate a portion of your paycheck to buying a war stamp. There are a myriad of ways in which the federal government inserts this propaganda into your daily life. It’s impossible to escape from it.

Camp Upton

Narrator: The success of the first round of the draft presented the Wilson administration with a problem. They had nowhere to put their new soldiers. In the summer of 1917, the government embarked on a crash program to build sixteen Army compounds that would accommodate up to a half million draftees from every corner of the country. Camp Funston was carved out of a meadow in just five months. It encompassed 3,000 buildings sprawling over 2,000 acres, mostly two-story barracks, but also a library, hospitals, an arcade filled with stores, restaurants, movie theaters, and the biggest pool hall in the state of Kansas. John Barkley and his fellow recruits had little time to enjoy the amenities.

Voice: John Lewis Barkley: Camp Funston was a dismal place . . . They started us out at once on close order drill and calisthenics, and they gave it to us on a fourteen-hour-a-day schedule . . . I didn’t mind the drilling half as much as I did the monotony.

Narrator: Barkley found himself surrounded by a babel of strange accents, exotic languages, and alien customs.

Voice: John Lewis Barkley: The bunks were only a few inches apart, and there was a Mexican in the one next to mine. He was pretty sick, but he never complained, and I got to like him.

Edward A. Gutiérrez, Historian: While the army is segregated for African Americans, Native Americans and Mexican Americans are still seen as white. So they’re included with the rest of the white soldiers.

Richard Rubin, Writer: Before this time most Americans associated only with people who were just like them in terms of background. But all of a sudden you’ve got this National Army and people don’t have the luxury or the liberty of sticking to their own kind anymore.

Narrator: No place typified the teeming diversity of the new army like Camp Upton on Long Island. It received thousands of men from what was known as the Metropolitan Division, all drawn from the streets of New York.

Richard Slotkin, Historian: It’s also called the Melting Pot division, Statue of Liberty division, it’s said that the enlisted men speak 42 different languages not counting English.

Narrator: The officers came from the city’s upper class, including Wall Street lawyers, prominent businessmen, and members of the political elite.

Richard Slotkin, Historian: These guys are dealing with the ghetto rats, the Italians from Little Italy, the Jewish tailors and pants pressers from the Lower East Side, the Chinese from Chinatown and they’re supposed to not only make them into soldiers, they’re supposed to make them Americans.

Narrator: In the decades leading up to the Great War, as many as 23 million immigrants had poured into the United States.  By 1917, a third of Americans had been born in a foreign land, or had a parent who had emigrated from abroad.

David M. Kennedy, Historian: This was a moment of massive immigration in our society and there were lots of questions in the air about just how well could this society absorb immigrants on this scale. Some people saw mobilization for the war as a way to accelerate their assimilation.

Narrator: “This process will be going on for weeks,” The New York Sun declared, “[and] Uncle Sam . . . will have accomplished the biggest part of [his] task . . . welding a great national army from . . . this tremendous melting pot at Camp Upton.”

David M. Kennedy, Historian: Some of the officers used to say that a shared military service, sharing the same pup tent, would yank the hyphen out of all these immigrant communities. That was the phrase that they used. So they would no longer be Italian-Americans or Polish-Americans, they’d just be plain old Americans.

Narrator: “This will be the greatest army of them all,” The Sun boasted, “Millionaires bunk next to lads from the East Side, and they both like it and men who were earning $25,000 a year on Wall Street lock arms with boys who used to make their 18 a week, and sing their hearts out. Tell me they won’t make soldiers! Just watch ’em.”

Christopher Capozzola, Historian: If you look at the American army in 1917, you see young men from all these different countries around the world, [including] immigrants from the countries against which the United States is now fighting. For many during the war the hyphen became the real enemy, it was the sign of divided loyalties and the sign of an obstacle to American national unity. The real challenge, of course, is for people whose ancestors came from Germany.

Narrator: Immediately after the US had declared war, local governments, civic organizations, and even ordinary citizens began an attack on German Americans and their culture.

Christopher Capozzola, Historian: There are children who are instructed by their teachers to cut German songs out of the music books that they use in their classrooms. There is a public stein-breaking fest at one point, to keep people from drinking German beer. There’s even, in one town in Ohio, a really gruesome slaughter of German dog breeds. But it’s important not to let these ridiculous stories overshadow what is really a wholesale destruction of an ethnic culture in the United States.

Richard Rubin, Writer: Germans were pressured to stop playing German music, to stop going to German plays. And when I say Germans, I mean German-Americans whose ancestors might have been in this country since before the revolution.

Narrator: The anti-German hysteria even extended to the federal government. The CPI published an article with tips on how to identify people who were pro-German. The president issued a decree that made any German living in the United States register as an “enemy alien.” Almost 500,000 men and women were photographed, fingerprinted, and interrogated about their loyalty to the United States. The program was administered by a 22-year old member of the Department of Justice, J. Edgar Hoover. By the fall, a new series of camps capable of housing thousands of people had sprung up — in Utah, Georgia and North Carolina — not to train new recruits but to imprison anyone that the government considered a threat to its security.

Richard Rubin, Writer: There was tremendous pressure on new immigrants to conform, to have American flags, to sing American songs; we welcomed you here, now you’re here, you're with us and you're only with us.

Harlem Hellfighters Part One

Narrator: While newly drafted soldiers stabbed dummies with bayonets in camps all across the country, another group of recruits practiced their drill steps on the streets of Harlem. The African-American Fifteenth National Guard was mustered into service in July of 1917. Community leaders in Harlem had lobbied for the creation of an all-black regiment for years.

Richard Slotkin, Historian: [They] petitioned the state legislature of New York. The legislature comes back and says okay, but you have to raise the money to equip the unit, and you also have to accept white officers.

Narrator: A prominent lawyer named William Hayward took command, and set about recruiting to get the regiment up to full strength.

Jeffrey Sammons, Historian: Hayward wasn’t going to be able to command any other regiment, that’s for sure. And, in fact, many of the officers, in the 15th New York who were white could not get high-ranking officer positions in other units. The 15th was this, sort of, place of last resort for many of these rich, white men.

Narrator: The New York Fifteenth was forced to beg for equipment from other units, and train in the backyards and empty lots of Harlem. Still, the regiment was able to attract some of the black community’s prominent athletes and entertainers, including the celebrated rag-time conductor and band-leader James Reese Europe.

Adriane Lentz-Smith, Historian: James Reese Europe is an eminent musician in New York. Starts an orchestra that’s the first black orchestra to play at Carnegie Hall. When the 15th New York National Guard is formed, though, he decides that he wants to join for the same reason that a number of African-American men joined. They see it as this potent symbol of African-American manhood.

Voice: James Reese Europe: Our race will never amount to anything . . . unless there are strong organizations of men who stand for something in the community. . . it will build up the moral and physical negro manhood of Harlem. But to accomplish these results, the best . . . men in the community must get in the move.

Narrator: Europe convinced his writing partner Noble Sissle to enlist. When Hayward asked them to form a regimental band, the two took up the challenge.

Adriane Lentz-Smith, Historian: The band is just huge. Europe argues for at minimum, 40 men, I think gets a few more than that. Realizes that he needs a stronger wind section, so goes down to Puerto Rico and recruits Afro-Puerto Rican clarinetists mostly, but trombone players as well. So he’s got this crazy, super American mix of the black diaspora. Spanish speakers, English speakers, folks with a nutty southern dialect, all wrapped up.

Narrator: Wilson’s declaration of war brought a new urgency to the New York Fifteenth’s mission. By the summer of 1917, Noble Sissle watched as the regiment began to attract recruits in record numbers.

Voice: Noble Sissle: Our . . . daily procedure was to put the band on top of the bus and ride down in a colored section. Then we would start the band playing the ‘Memphis Blues’. . . once we got the bus crowded we would make a 'bee line' for the recruiting office…A pen put in their hands…. and before they were aware of what was going on, . . . they had raised their right hand and found themselves jazz time members of Uncle Samuels army.

Narrator: Young African-American men from all across the country were drawn to the new unit from Harlem: Henry Johnson was a baggage-handler from Albany; Needham Roberts, a drugstore clerk from Trenton; Leroy Johnston, a minister’s son from Arkansas.

Adriane Lentz-Smith, Historian: When Wilson frames the war as a war for Democracy, he offers up something that seems to promise for African-Americans expanded possibility. They go into the war thinking if we demonstrate that we are capable, that we have this ability, the country won’t be able to help but redeem their promise to us.

Narrator: Faith in Wilson’s assurances, however, were hard to reconcile with the brutal reality of race relations in America.

Jeffrey Sammons, Historian: New York was a segregated city. Blacks have no political power. So [some Blacks are] saying, why should we be fighting for this nation and these you know white people who are oppressing us? 

Narrator: The situation in the Jim Crow South was even worse: a toxic mixture of rigid segregation, and almost daily episodes of racially motivated brutality. In July, in East St. Louis, Illinois, an exchange of gunfire between blacks and local police provoked an explosion of mob violence that reduced entire black neighborhoods to ashes and left hundreds of men, women and children dead. Seven weeks later, a battalion of black troops stationed outside Houston encountered a campaign of harassment and violence from local whites. They responded by marching into the city and engaging in a pitched battle with local police.

Chad Williams, Historian: This was the worst fears of white southerners come true. A group of black soldiers taking up arms and killing white people. There was a hasty trial. 13 soldiers were executed without the opportunity to appeal their convictions. And they very quickly became martyrs.

Narrator: Throughout the summer of bloodshed, the president said nothing.

A. Scott Berg, Writer: Woodrow Wilson grew up in the south. By any measure Woodrow Wilson was a racist. He introduced Jim Crow to Washington, D.C. At a time when it was just starting to loosen up, he brought it back and it became for all intents and purposes the law of the land.

Adriane Lentz-Smith, Historian: Wilson is so disappointing. Because on the one hand he’s got this abstract vision of a more just world that has all of this potential and possibility in it. And then on the flip side, for all of his big ideals, he is such a narrow-hearted little man.

Narrator: Angered by Wilson’s refusal to speak out against the violence, 8,000 demonstrators conducted a “Silent Protest Parade” down Fifth Avenue. They marched to the sound of muffled drums, carrying signs that read: “Mother, Do Lynchers Go to Heaven?” and “Mr. President, Why Not Make America Safe for Democracy?” In the midst of this atmosphere of racial violence and protest, the men of Harlem’s Fifteenth were sent to Spartanburg, South Carolina to receive their final training before shipping out to France.

Adriane Lentz-Smith, Historian: They show up in Spartanburg a month after black soldiers in Houston had marched on the town. And so the folks of South Carolina are determined to make sure that this particular set of black soldiers, Yankees, come down, right, stay in their place. And the military leadership is incredibly jittery. They don’t want another Houston on their hands.

Richard Slotkin, Historian: For a couple of weeks, they walk the edge of possible violence in the town. They manage it pretty well. What they’re fighting here is, if they get into trouble, the army will have an excuse not to send them overseas. On the other hand if the white officers let the local whites abuse their troops, they lose face with their men.

Narrator: To try and diffuse tensions, William Hayward organized a band concert in the town’s public square. He also asked his men to pledge that they would avoid violence of any kind, even if provoked. The regiment responded with a “sea of hands.”

Richard Slotkin, Historian: Noble Sissle, goes to buy a newspaper in the lobby of a hotel and gets into an altercation with the white man behind the counter. A crowd gathers and not only are the blacks squaring off against the whites in the room, but the white national guardsmen from New York are backing their fellow Yankees against the local Confederates and James Reese Europe says, halt, stop. Brings the whole incident to an end, marches his men out of there and averts violence.

Narrator: The Fifteenth emerged stronger because of its ordeal in Spartanburg. But there were other reminders of blacks’ second-class status in the American army. Anxious to burnish the reputation of his regiment, Hayward petitioned to have it included in the famous Rainbow Division, drawn from National Guard units from more than half the states in the nation.

Jeffrey Sammons, Historian: Hayward asks the Rainbow Division if the 15th could join them and the response to his request is black is not a color of the rainbow. And of course neither is white.

Alice Paul

Narrator: By the fall of 1917, the scale of the challenge confronting American mobilization was beginning to sink in. The Quartermaster Corps estimated it would need 17 million woolen trousers, 22 million flannel shirts, 26 million shoes. The U.S. would need more than 2 million new Enfield rifles, 5.6 million gas masks, and a flotilla of merchant ships to transport it all across the Atlantic. Meanwhile, the nation’s newest soldiers were mustered into service as quickly as possible. On September 4th, 1917, President Wilson, members of his cabinet, and the leadership of Congress led a parade from the Capitol down Pennsylvania Avenue. They were there to honor 1,400 newly drafted men from the District of Columbia. When he reached the White House, Wilson stepped onto a reviewing stand, and the new recruits, still in their civilian clothes, marched past. “Tears stood in the president’s eyes,” reported the New York Sun, “as he looked down the irregular, undisciplined ranks”. As Wilson walked back to the White House, he saw a familiar sight: members of the National Woman’s Party, maintaining an angry vigil outside the Executive Mansion. They were led by the radical suffragist Alice Paul. The child of devout Quakers from Philadelphia, and armed with a doctorate in sociology, Paul was a formidable adversary. One reporter wrote that she was “as incapable of deviation from a set purpose as the tides are of altering their dedication to the moon.” Back in January, Paul and her small band of a dozen suffragists had been the first Americans to actively picket the White House. When war was declared in April, most mainstream suffrage groups suspended their efforts. Not Alice Paul. “If the lack of democracy at home weakens the . . .  fight for democracy 3,000 miles away,” she declared, “the responsibility . . .  is with the government and not with the women of America.”

Adriane Lentz-Smith, Historian: Alice Paul is deeply critical of Wilson. She turns his language back on him, and says, we are going to continue pushing for the vote, through the war.

Christopher Capozzola, Historian: At first, Wilson sort of ignored them. Condescended to them. Had hot chocolate sent out from the White House kitchen to keep them warm on winter days, but it became increasingly embarrassing that these protests were happening. And over time Wilson wanted the protesters gone.

Narrator: The president came to see the defiant women outside his window as a threat to the war effort, and conspired with the Washington police to crack down on them. In June, when the suffragists raised a banner reading “This Nation is Not Free,” mobs of angry men and women assaulted them, throwing eggs and tomatoes, and shredding their signs. Police and Secret Service men on the scene did nothing to stop the violence, intervening only to arrest the women for “obstructing traffic” and “loud and boisterous talking.”

Jennifer D. Keene, Historian: You got to love these women because you know they’re jailed, bad press for Wilson. He says, go ahead, let them out. They get released, boom, right back in front of the White House. It’s like they are not going to be deterred, right. They’re the radical voice.

Narrator: When the women unveiled a new sign that proclaimed “Kaiser Wilson,” the violence against them only increased. On October 20th, Paul herself was arrested and sentenced to seven months in a Virginia prison. The suffragist press made heroes and martyrs out of Paul and her fellow prisoners. “In spite of the dampness and chill of the old stone building, which forces the women to wrap themselves in newspapers” one article proclaimed, “their spirit is undaunted.”

Christopher Capozzola, Historian: Alice Paul knows that imprisoned women suffragists, particularly young, middle-class women, make very good newspaper copy. So she encourages women to stay arrested, to refuse to pay bail.

Narrator: Shortly after arriving at the prison, Alice Paul went on a hunger strike. Doctors forced a tube down her throat three times a day. When she became too weak to stay in her cell, she was transferred to the hospital, then the psychiatric ward. By November 24th, Paul had gone weeks without food.

Christopher Capozzola, Historian: Most Americans, I think, thought that Alice Paul was crazy. That she had gone too far. But then, a crucial thing happened. Late one night in prison, Alice Paul is visited by a close Wilson confidante. Now, we don’t know why he went. We don’t know what they said. But we do know that very soon after this visit, Alice Paul encouraged the National Women’s Party to call off their protests. And we also know that very soon after that, Woodrow Wilson came out in support of women’s suffrage.

Kimberly Jensen, Historian: Wilson understands that these are women who are resilient, who will not give up. Alice Paul is a force of nature. The publicity was destroying the credibility of the Wilson administration in many people’s minds. So a deal is struck. There are images, and a lot of press coverage of the women leaving that prison in blankets, many of them skeletal because they’ve been on hunger strikes. There’s the political reality for politicians like Wilson and others, that women are a force.

Narrator: Despite the possibility of progress, Alice Paul continued to accuse the government of hypocrisy. “We are. . . imprisoned, not because we obstructed traffic,” she said, “but because we pointed out to the President … that he was obstructing the cause of democracy at home, while Americans were fighting for it abroad.”

Food

Narrator: During the war years, visitors to the White House had cause to be concerned about their own safety. An aggressive ram, with a penchant for chewing tobacco, kept jealous guard over Woodrow and Edith Wilson’s flock of 18 sheep that grazed on the grounds. It regularly attacked members of the White House staff. But the ewes produced fine wool, so he remained a menacing presence on the South Lawn. The sheep were part of the Wilsons’ effort to set an example by personally supporting the war. The sale of White House wool raised tens of thousands of dollars for the Red Cross, and Edith knitted socks for soldiers. She also signed a Food Pledge, vowing to forego meat, wheat, and sugar, so more of these vital supplies could be sent overseas. The First Lady’s conservation efforts helped launch a campaign to mobilize the nation around food. With most of Belgium and large parts of France under German occupation, and farmers off at the front, millions of Europeans were struggling to survive. America, on the other hand, was an agricultural powerhouse, whose output of food could become as important as its manpower or its financial resources. In December 1917, Herbert Hoover, America’s first Food Administrator, proclaimed “food will win the war.”

Helen Zoe Veit, Historian: It became evident that food was going to be a weapon in the war. Herbert Hoover immediately worked to get Americans to think that saving food and conserving food was the most important thing that they could do as individuals to help the effort.

Narrator: As many as 500,000 women volunteers fanned out across their communities, urging neighbors to join Edith Wilson and sign a food pledge. Fourteen million families put a sign in their window showing that they were behind the campaign.

Helen Zoe Veit, Historian: There was no rationing, but there were suggested days where people should give up certain foods. Tuesday was a meatless day, Monday was a wheat-less day, Saturday was a pork-less day. So if someone was buying meat on a Tuesday, if you could smell meat coming from your neighbor’s house on a Tuesday, I think it helped with the informal surveillance of friends and neighbors.

Kimberly Jensen, Historian: They were very sophisticated in the ways that they tried to persuade people. Local newspapers published the names of people who contributed or not. There was a tremendous amount of pressure, visiting of houses. And there were lots of consequences. Firing from jobs, being ostracized in a community.

Christopher Capozzola, Historian: Americans came to feel watched and came to live as if they were watched. There’s a real sense of unease and also maybe of distrust on the home front. In some communities, when they did Liberty Loan drives, a Liberty Loan committee might be composed of bankers of a town who knew who had how much money, and if they knew that someone hadn’t bought a bond, the committee might pay a friendly visit to see why you hadn’t bought a bond. And if you still didn’t, then another group of people might come later at night, with a less friendly visit.

Narrator: Volunteer organizations sprang up to help enforce the new conformity. The largest was the American Protective League, with over 600 branches and 250,000 card-carrying members across the country.

Richard Rubin, Writer: These vigilante groups were there to make sure that every American was doing his or her patriotic duty. Imagine that you're going about your business, especially if you’re an immigrant whose Americanism is in question anyway, and you never know where you go if what you're saying is being listened to.

 Christopher Capozzola, Historian: At times it was an official in a uniform, but as often as not, it was your teacher, your minister, the president of the women’s club who was keeping an eye on you.

Narrator: Even the famous community organizer and committed pacifist Jane Addams could not resist the pressure. After weathering a storm of harsh criticism in the press, she embarked on a government sponsored speaking tour to rally support for the food effort.

Nancy K. Bristow, Historian: To oppose the war was a very difficult position to take and a dangerous position. To be an activist, even of a respectable type like Jane Addams was very difficult. You became a public enemy if you refused to step in line in support of the war.

Harlem Hellfighters Part Two

Narrator: In late December, 1917, an aging tramp steamer named Pocahontas, carrying James Europe and the rest of the New York Fifteenth, sailed past the Statue of Liberty. Anxious to avoid any more racial incidents, the Army had shipped the regiment overseas. They were now on their way to join some of the first Americans in France. General Pershing had only four divisions stationed in relatively quiet sectors of the Western Front, where they were undergoing training alongside French and British units. They participated in reconnaissance patrols, and endured artillery bombardments and sniper fire. Already, 162 Americans had been killed and 475 wounded. But when the Fifteenth arrived at the port of Brest on January 1st, they were promptly assigned to the logistical arm of the military, known as the Services of Supply, and given the dirty work of the army — clearing swamps, unloading ships, digging graves. The overwhelming majority of the men in these labor battalions were black.

Chad Williams, Historian: Most black troops who served in the Services of Supplies recognized that this was not what they signed up for. This was not their ideal of what a soldier meant. They were manning shovels instead of rifles.

Jeffrey Sammons, Historian: If you’re not in a position to show bravery and courage as a fighter, then you’re not really a complete soldier. These are the things of which soldiers are made and heroes are made and what we write about. We don’t write about those who are digging ditches or burying the dead.

Adriane Lentz-Smith, Historian: On the one hand, these soldiers are so proud that they are serving. At the same time, the army leadership is not excited about having black soldiers. They are determined that black soldiers won’t see combat. And their fellow soldiers, are really concerned that military service doesn’t give them any big ideas about democracy at home.

Narrator: For two months, the Fifteenth worked as laborers in France and became increasingly disillusioned. William Hayward pulled strings to try and get his unit to the front lines, while the regiment’s band played concerts for the men to keep up their spirits. One day a pair of talent scouts, looking for entertainment for soldiers on leave, heard them play. It was an “organization of the very highest quality,” they reported, “led by a conductor of genius.” Europe and his band were sent south to a rest camp, stopping all along the way to give concerts. When the band relaxed their military reserve and launched into “The Memphis Blues,” Noble Sissle witnessed the reaction.

Voice: Noble Sissle: Colonel Hayward has brought his band over here and started ragtimitis in France; ain’t this an awful thing to visit upon a nation with so many burdens?  But when the band had finished and people were roaring with laughter, … I was forced to say … this is just what France needs at this critical time.

Narrator: As the reputation of the New York Fifteenth grew, it became harder for General Pershing to let them languish with the rest of the black troops in labor battalions. The French and British, meanwhile, continued their desperate pleas for reinforcements.

Richard Slotkin, Historian: The French are crying for American combat troops. The Fifteenth New York is the most famous American regiment in France. So, Pershing loans them to the French.

Jeffrey Sammons, Historian: Pershing gives the 15th to the French because he’s not giving any white troops to the Allies. He basically says, I’ll give you a group that I don’t have much use for.

Richard Slotkin, Historian: This turns out to be a great deal for the 15th, because they’re sent to a commander who’s used to commanding African and Arab troops. He says, “They’re black, my Senegalese are black. Okay let’s train them to be soldiers as we would any other soldiers,” and so he puts them through a course of training where the action is not too heavy but you can learn the ropes.

Narrator: For black Americans, immersion in the French army was a disorienting plunge into a new world. Many struggled to understand their French officers, adjust to new uniforms, new rifles and the realities of trench warfare. Gradually, Sissle and his fellow soldiers began to feel more confident. What they couldn’t get used to, however, was the way they were treated.

Voice: Noble Sissle: The French [soldiers] treated our boys with all the courtesy and comradeship that could be expected . . . You could see them strolling down the road  . . . each hardly able to understand the other, as our boys’ French was as bad as their English. . . . The French officers had taken our officers and made pals of them.

Chad Williams, Historian: It wasn’t so much that the French were color-blind or universally embraced African Americans, but for Americans it represented possibilities of a different type of racial interaction.

Adriane Lentz-Smith, Historian: Someone once wrote about the etiquette of Jim Crow, that you know folks didn’t think about white supremacy any more than a fish thinks about the wetness of water. But when you step out of a system that people have told you is the only way that is possible and then you look around and there are all of these people in the world working under a different set of rules. It changes people’s imagination of what they can do and what everyone else should be doing.

Narrator: The New York Fifteenth’s journey from Harlem had been an arduous and unpredictable one. Now with the help of their French counterparts, it seemed as though they were, at last, ready to prove themselves on the front lines.

Fourteen Points

Jay Winter, Historian: It is very, very hard to register how high the casualties were in the First World War. Americans I don’t think have ever seen how simply catastrophic and destructive it was. How stupidly ugly it was in destruction of human life, limb, property, everything. War degenerated between 1914 and ’18, and once you turn on brutal violence you can’t just turn it off.

Narrator: In its fourth year, the Great War continued to claim appalling casualties on both sides. Now, as millions of young Americans prepared to ship over to France, Woodrow Wilson was determined that the cause they were fighting for would be as great as the sacrifice he was asking them to make. On January 6th, 1918, the President gathered up his notes, took to his study, and began work on a speech. Ever since the outbreak of the war, he had sought a pivotal role for America in the conflict. He wanted to advance the nation’s strategic and economic interests, but he also imagined a sweeping moral and democratic transformation of the struggle, one that would reshape the post-war world.

Christopher Capozzola, Historian: By 1917, Wilson knows, the American public know, how horrible the war is. And so he needs to make this a war that will matter, a war that will change the world.

Narrator: Events in Russia added another dimension to Wilson’s mission. In October the revolutionary Bolsheviks, led by Vladimir Lenin, had formed a new government and vowed to make peace with Germany. They offered the world a vision of socialist equality, and an end to the corrupt empires that had oppressed workers for centuries.

Margaret MacMillan, Historian: Lenin, who was in his own way as great a speaker and a propagandist as Wilson was, said that we are going to build a new world order, this is the end of the divisions among nations, we’re going to build a different sort of world and I think Wilson felt he was under some pressure and perhaps obligation to make the American position very clear and possibly stake out a leadership role for the United States in any peace that was to come. 

Narrator: On January 8th, the president travelled down Pennsylvania Avenue to the Capitol. Before a joint session of Congress, he reiterated why he had felt compelled to enter the war. Then, in fourteen separate points, he outlined a plan for the war’s end. Germany must retreat back to its borders. Freedom of the seas would be restored. Governments were to respect the self-determination of their citizens.

Dan Carlin, Podcast Producer: If you're Wilson and you really want to live up to the sloganeering they used in the war, if this is not just propaganda, you don’t just have to win the war, you have to set up the conditions that would really create that world you were selling everyone on. If you want to make a world safe for democracy, what’s the structure for that?  What’s the framework? This is a realistic way to go about creating an idealistic future.  

Adriane Lentz-Smith, Historian: Wilson believes that this is what the war is for, right. That America entered the war in order to determine the terms of the peace.

Narrator: It was the fourteenth point that Wilson felt was to be the keystone of the post-war world: a League of Nations that would arbitrate conflicts between countries.

David M. Kennedy, Historian: The League of Nations would be some kind of new forum for the resolution of international disputes, something really never existed before.

Christopher Capozzola, Historian: Wilson is asking Americans and the world to take an enormous leap of faith, to give up national interest and national sovereignty, and to give a chance for international organization and international arbitration.

David M. Kennedy, Historian: There were people already beginning to think that the conditions of modern warfare were just so unimaginably destructive that mankind had to find some other way to resolve these perennial conflicts that the human race seems to get itself involved in.

Margaret MacMillan, Historian: Underlying the whole speech is this idea that you can build a better world order. This is really an enunciation of what the United States is going to be like as a player in world affairs. You’ve got the president saying we’re going to get out there, we’re going to get involved, and we don’t see ourselves as just policing our own back yard. We see ourselves as somehow policing the world and helping the world find a better way forward.

Narrator: Congress greeted Wilson’s speech with a sustained ovation. It received glowing reviews and banner headlines across the country. Around the globe, the response was equally positive. The Star of London gushed that Wilson was “the greatest American president since Lincoln.”

Christopher Capozzola, Historian: When we look back at claims that this would be the war to end all wars we think that Wilson and the American people were naïve to think such a thing would be possible. But if you don’t ever articulate that as a national goal, as an international dream, well then you’re definitely never going to accomplish it. I think Americans believe in Wilson’s vision of the world, not because they think it is true, but because they want it to be true. We all know that America is a nation with interests that sometimes compete with those noble goals. But I think Wilson almost better than anyone else articulated that wish, that better hope that Americans have for themselves in the world.

Over There – Henry Johnson

Voice: John Lewis Barkley: If you’ve been born and brought up in the Middle West, it’s a thrill that comes once in a lifetime. Your first sight of the ocean. I’d often stood on top of a hill at home where I could see fields of corn, with the wind blowing over them, stretching miles in every direction. I used to wonder if their waves looked anything like the waves of the ocean. I saw now that nothing else in the world could look like the ocean.

Narrator: When John Barkley, the young recruit from Missouri, stepped off the ship in France he was part of the largest movement of soldiers across the Atlantic in history. In just over a year, the United States had recruited, drafted, trained, and equipped over 400,000 men to fight in the Great War. Millions more were on their way. Jose Saenz had left his tiny town near the Rio Grande and was now almost 5,000 miles from home.

Voice: José de la Luz Sáenz: I am finally in France, heroic France. I am eager to do my part in the great tragedy. We may not be as disciplined as the sons of Germany, but we are committed to fight for what is only understood by the sons of democracy — Liberty.

Narrator: The Americans were called “doughboys,” a slang reference to the infantrymen’s buttons that resembled a doughnut. Pershing encouraged the nickname to give his army a distinctive identity. His troops liked it too. 

Alan Axelrod, Writer: The mere arrival of these fresh American troops who were healthy, who were well-fed, who were well equipped, who were eager and most of all who were marching east, instead of retreating west, had a great effect on French morale.

Narrator: Each month, another 200,000 Americans flooded into France. Like John Barkley, few had any idea what awaited them.

Voice: John Lewis Barkley: … [I] am feeling better than I ever did in my life . . .  When the war is over and I come back I will tell you all about France. All about its good wine . . . . You talk about boose [sic] in the states. They never saw any liquor. you can go into any wine joint and get any thing from fifty year old wine up to alcohol [sic] and believe me the soldiers show the French how to drink. . . .

Narrator: Full of swagger and self-confidence, the green American troops were being thrust into the war at a critical stage. The Germans had gambled that they could prevail before the Americans arrived in force; with Russia out of the war, the German High Command was able to transfer more than half a million seasoned troops to the West. In a series of offensives beginning in March 1918, German forces attacked up and down the Western Front. The quiet sector where the New York Fifteenth was stationed was suddenly filled with enemy patrols testing the strength of the American defenses. Since their arrival in January, the men from Harlem had become a more cohesive regiment. Lieutenant James Europe was cited for bravery after participating in a night-time raid across the blasted landscape known as No Man’s Land. In the early morning hours of May 15th, privates Henry Johnson and Needham Roberts, were standing guard at listening posts twenty yards in front of their own lines, when they heard a noise.

Chad Williams, Historian: In the dead of night they heard mysterious sounds, sounding like wire cutters. And realized that a German raiding party was encroaching on their position.

Narrator: Johnson and Roberts sounded the alarm as a volley of German grenades exploded all around them. Almost immediately, Roberts was badly injured. Henry Johnson began to fight back, killing one German soldier with his rifle at point blank range. A second German rushed towards him, firing a pistol and wounding him in the thigh and foot. Johnson swung his rifle by the barrel and clubbed him senseless.

Richard Slotkin, Historian: He pulls out this what he calls a bolo knife which is a heavy two-bladed knife. [Another] German comes in to finish him off, he rises up with the bolo, disembowels the guy. At this point he’s been shot half a dozen times, in the foot, in the face, in the arm.

Narrator: As the Germans retreated, Johnson kept throwing grenades, until he passed out from loss of blood. He had been wounded more than 20 times, mostly from gunshots.

Richard Slotkin, Historian: When the light dawns the following day, there are half a dozen corpses of German soldiers and blood trails marking another half dozen wounded who have crawled away through the wire.

Narrator: The next morning, a proud William Hayward arranged for a group of reporters to be escorted to the scene of the fighting.

Adriane Lentz-Smith, Historian: It’s this story that is picked up by all of the papers, black press and white press as a story of heroism. The white press is a little more given to stereotype and minstrel-sy. And the black press on the other hand builds him up into this super human hero that is emblematic of all black manhood and all black potential.

Chad Williams, Historian: Henry Johnson and Needham Roberts became household names. They were the war heroes that black America had been searching for.

Richard Slotkin, Historian: Johnson and Roberts are literally the first heroes of the war because there’s a censorship that prevents the naming of any American unit or soldier, but because the 15th is serving with the French, they don’t come under censorship and it goes into the newspapers as the “Battle of Henry Johnson.” Johnson and Roberts are awarded the Croix de Guerre by the French army, which is the highest military honor.

Jeffrey Sammons, Historian: This is a monumental event for the morale of the regiment and also for their self-confidence. It was proof of what they were capable of doing. You know we’re some bad dudes and there’s a lot more to come and a lot more that we have to show.

Narrator: Out of all the publicity, the press conjured up a nickname for the regiment.  From that point forward, the men from New York would be known as the “Harlem Hellfighters.” The success was a vindication not only for the New York 15th, but for the hopes of African-Americans all across the country. “Let us, while this war lasts, forget our special grievances,” the activist W.E.B. DuBois, wrote  “and close our ranks, shoulder to shoulder with our white fellow-citizens . . . that are fighting for democracy. If this is OUR country, then this is OUR war.”

Adriane Lentz-Smith, Historian: There’s a black solider from Virginia who filled out a survey about his war experience after the fact. And they asked him what the war had done for him. His response was, I have the world’s experience. He had lived his whole life in this corner of coastal Virginia and being dropped into the current of world events had made him realize he was a global subject. I think his answer and his experience stands in for all of the folks for whom the war for democracy was really about defining what it meant to be an American.

Dissent

Narrator: As Americans were beginning to fight and die in France, the war was also generating casualties at home. An Indiana farmer named James Goepfrich had to take refuge in the county jail when a mob found out that he had threatened a Liberty Loan committee at his front door. Adolph Anton, a bartender from Ashland, Wisconsin, was tarred and feathered for his “pro-German utterances.” A German-American coalminer named Robert Prager was accused by some of his coworkers of being a spy. A mob formed and stripped Prager of most of his clothes, dragged him through the streets, and hanged him from a tree. The Washington Post celebrated the murder.

David M. Kennedy, Historian: Big parts of the American public lost their minds about the nature of the society they lived in and the threat they faced from their neighbors who happened to have German names.

Narrator: Rather than reining in the violence, the federal government took steps that  fueled the climate of hysteria sweeping the country. At Wilson’s urging, on May 16th, 1918, Congress passed a new law called the Sedition Act, that made it illegal to say almost anything against the United States or its armed forces.

Christopher Capozzola, Historian: The Espionage Act was considered not even strong enough, so it’s amended in 1918 with the Sedition Act that basically creates enormous penalties for not only speaking out against the war effort or obstructing it, but really for criticizing America in almost any way.

Richard Rubin, Writer: The maximum sentence was twenty years, for going to a bar and grumbling about food restrictions to somebody who was sitting next to you at the bar. Or even saying that you thought the uniforms looked ridiculous or questioning what we were really fighting for. Anything at all that might interfere with the war effort, with morale of troops.

A. Scott Berg, Writer: The Sedition Act is probably the greatest suppression of free speech that the country has ever seen. Wilson had a very firm conviction that he was going to do everything he could to protect his fighting men. That meant if anyone was going to say something that might put an American soldier in further harm’s way, he, the president, could step in and stop it.

Jay Winter, Historian: A draft which forced people to put on a uniform is a very severe curtailment of the liberty of individuals. For Wilson the nation has to be united in order to justify this possible death sentence. Civil liberties became a price that had to be paid in order for a democratic nation to wage war.

Narrator: The passing of the Sedition Act prompted a wave of new crackdowns and arrests. A poet who wrote a satirical piece about the United States was imprisoned. When a Bavarian waiter cursed the slow speed of the New York City subway, he was promptly arrested. The conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra supposedly refused to play the Star Spangled Banner and found himself in an internment camp. No one was safe from the reach of the new law. Even one of the nation’s most articulate and respected political figures, the socialist and labor leader Eugene Debs, was arrested. 

Michael Kazin, Historian: Debs is a symbol of unending opposition to the war. He gives a speech at a picnic in Canton, Ohio, saying things he’s said before. But the Justice Department decides he has to be cracked down on at this point. So he’s arrested and put in jail.

Narrator: Wilson denounced the radical leader. While “the flower of American youth was pouring out its blood to vindicate the cause of civilization,” the president wrote, “this man, Debs, stood behind the lines, sniping, attacking, and denouncing them.”

Richard Slotkin, Historian: At the start of the war Wilson predicts that once the war starts, once they’re in the war, Americans will forget everything they ever believed about civil liberties. But in fact it’s Wilson who forgets everything he ever believed about civil liberties. Becoming the president of a nation at war with a population that’s not entirely behind the war. He adopted the most stringent methods to limit dissent and limit resistance to the war effort.

Richard Rubin, Writer: Wilson was a man who was able to carry two contradictory ideas in his mind at the same time and not go crazy. He absolutely had no qualms doing what he did at home, all the while waging a war to make the world safe for democracy.

Belleau Wood Second Marne

Narrator: By the late spring of 1918, General John Pershing’s American Army had grown into a force approaching one million strong. All the while he had steadfastly refused to allow his men to fight under French command. But the situation on the Western Front threatened to force his hand. During a tour of the battlefield, Pershing shared a meal with a French general and his staff. “It would be difficult to imagine a more depressed group of officers,” Pershing recalled. “They sat through the meal scarcely speaking a word as they contemplated what was probably the most serious situation of the war.” The German spring offensives had been devastatingly effective. Elite storm troopers penetrated Allied lines, allowing German divisions to pour through the break, rupturing the stalemate that had existed for years. Now German troops had advanced to within striking distance of Paris. Their huge siege guns lobbed shells into the French capital. Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau made plans to evacuate the government to Bordeaux. Thousands of Parisians fled the capital.

Andrew Carroll, Writer: The Germans are bearing down on Paris. I mean they’re within fifty miles, they can hear the guns. They can almost feel the concussion it’s so close. The stakes could not have been higher.

Narrator: On May 30th, the French commander-in-chief, Phillipe Petain came to see Pershing. The general guided the American commander to a map on the wall and pointed to the town of Château-Thierry on the Marne River. Couldn’t Pershing commit his men, he implored, to help hold the line here? Pershing gave the only answer he could.

Jennifer D. Keene, Historian: Events go faster than Pershing expects. Pershing had plans for a lengthy training program for American soldiers, but once the Germans begin their spring offensives towards Paris, he’s faced with a choice, do you let the Germans advance or do you just start throwing men into battle before you feel they’re ready because the situation requires you to do that?

Narrator: Pershing committed 56,000 doughboys, under French command, and rushed them towards the front to save Paris. A weak point in the French line was in danger of giving way. It was centered around an ancient forest near Chateau Thierry that the Americans called Belleau Wood.

Alan Axelrod, Writer: Belleau Wood was a hunting preserve for French aristocrats. It was about half the size of New York’s Central Park. Very twisted growth. Very dense.

Narrator: As German soldiers moved into Belleau Wood, they saw it was a natural fortress of dense trees and rocky outcroppings. They fortified it with hidden machine gun nests, and layers of barbed wire. One American officer remembered the wood as a “dark threat . . .  dangerous as a live wire, poisonous with gas, . . .  alive with snipers.” To stop the German advance, the French needed to take back the woods. They gave the job to a brigade of the U.S. Marines. Founded as a fighting force on board naval vessels during the Revolution, the Marine Corps had seen action in almost every American conflict since.

Alan Axelrod, Writer: The marines were conditioned to be very, very hard men, to take anything, to never give up, to never retreat. But they were also simply better trained as marksmen.

Narrator: Marine units were rushed into position on the morning of June 2nd, along a four-mile front with Belleau Wood at its center. French forces were in the midst of a full-scale retreat. As he passed by, a French major ordered an American captain to withdraw as well. “Retreat, hell!” the captain shot back, “We just got here.”

Alan Axelrod, Writer: The dense forest of Belleau Wood was interspersed with farmers’ fields. And they were all planted with wheat. What this meant is that to approach Belleau Wood, the marines had to advance out in the open through this wheat.

Narrator: An American war correspondent was with the Marines that day. It was “a beautiful sight,” he wrote, “these men of ours going out across those flat fields towards the tree clusters beyond from which the Germans poured a murderous machine gun fire.” Rows of Marines were cut down. As the men struggled across the field, a gunnery sergeant yelled, “come on you sons of bitches, do you want to live forever!” Once the Americans gained a toe-hold in the woods, the two sides proceeded to hammer away at each other in a murderous exchange. Sections of Belleau Wood changed hands seven times over the course of the battle. The fighting was too intense to bring in reinforcements, food or medical supplies. Bodies lay where they fell, decomposing in the intense heat. Soldiers survived by scavenging food from the corpses, and drinking stale beer from dead Germans’ canteens. The Marines were on their own.

Alan Axelrod, Writer: There was found on the body of one young German soldier, a letter to his family in which he said the Americans are insane, they want to kill everything. This perception was absolutely accurate. And they did it and they did it with guns, they did it with bayonets. They would have done it with their bare hands if they had to.

Narrator: Finally, after three weeks of near constant combat, the Marines took their objective. On the morning of June 26th, their commander received a simple message. “Woods now U.S. Marine Corps entirely.” Somehow the marines at Belleau Wood had held the line. Now, everything depended on whether the Americans could help stop the German advance outside the small town of Chateau-Thierry. John Barkley and the rest of his Third Division were stationed on the southern bank of the Marne River, the last obstacle standing between Paris and the advancing Germans.

Voice: John Lewis Barkley: The artillery fire had stopped, but the machine- guns were still banging away . . . I consulted my map. Then I knew where we were. Just over that hill was Château-Thierry. We . . . started up the hill toward the sound of the guns. For months I’d heard, thought, lived, nothing but war. And I hadn’t known a damned thing about war. Now it had really begun for me.

Jay Winter, Historian: This is the crisis moment. The American army is there to stem the German tide at a moment when nobody really knew they could do it.

Richard Rubin, Writer: The Germans launched a massive offensive along the Marne, they knew they had to get things done very quickly or else things were going to turn against them. And there’s a ferocity and a desperation in the Germans’ attack on that day. It really was for them do or die.

Voice: John Lewis Barkley: On the opposite banks the Germans were swarming. Just to our right they were forcing a crossing by boats and pontoons. Many of them were already on our side of the river. It seemed to me at first that [I was] the only [one] firing on that crowd. Then a couple of machine-gunners hidden on the slope above [me] chimed in. One good machine-gun and one sickly one, which seemed not to be working well . . . But the sound one was . . . flaying groups of Germans on the far bank. But they went right on.

Narrator: Despite appalling casualties, the Germans kept coming, pushing across the river and through the wheat fields toward the Allied lines. French forces on either side of the Third Division fell back, exposing the Americans’ flanks. Barkley, and the rest refused to retreat. They dug into their position and kept on firing.

Voice: John Lewis Barkley: [The Germans] couldn’t locate me . . . and [I] went on piling up [the] score. I had to wrap a bandoleer around my hand in order to hold my rifle. It was burning hot. . . .  I dropped down behind the bank a moment to pour water from my canteen over the gun and through the barrel — and to take a little drink myself. . . . [My] ammunition was nearly gone. . . . Through the curtain of dust the noon sun looked like a smoky ghost of itself.

Richard Rubin, Writer: The Third Division pushed the Germans back over the river. It was the only place along the Marne that the Germans were pushed back that day. And because the Germans were held up at the western edge of the line, they weren’t able to proceed with the rest of their offensive, and the offensive stalled.

Narrator: Three days later, the Allies launched a counter-offensive that drove the Germans back across the Marne River. For its dogged determination, the Third Division would earn the nickname “The Rock of the Marne.” At Belleau Wood, almost 5,000 Marines were killed or wounded. Yet three weeks of savage fighting imbued them with an aura of tenacity that would become an indelible part of their identity.

Richard Rubin, Writer: The Germans had been fed the line that the Americans can’t fight and so they weren’t really prepared for this and I think from this point on they have a very different opinion of whom they’re up against.

Narrator: What came to be known as the Second Battle of the Marne was a pivotal moment in the Great War, and a rite of passage for the American doughboys. After weeks of intense fighting, thousands of men in John Barkley’s division had been killed or wounded. He had emerged from the fighting unhurt, but not unscathed.

Voice: John Lewis Barkley: My birthday is the 28th. I don’t know how old I am, I lost my age at the front . . .  It is very often that case. The jar of shells and the rumble of artillery changes everything with a man morally makes a man look at things different.

Narrator: Throughout June and July of 1918, the names of thousands of Americans killed in the fighting began to appear in the pages of the nation’s newspapers. It was the bloody harvest that had so tormented Woodrow Wilson as he led his country into war. Anxious to avoid the grim spectacle witnessed throughout Europe of mourners dressed all in black, Wilson approved a proposal. Grieving mothers and widows, “should wear a black band on the left arm with a [gold] star for each member of the family who has given up his life for the nation.” The President knew that many more women would be wearing armbands in the months to come. General John Pershing was about to lead his American troops into the decisive conflict of the war. A victory would validate America’s place on the battlefield and cement Woodrow Wilson’s claims for influencing the peace. No one could have imagined that it would be the biggest, and deadliest, battle in American history.

Part 3

At the Brink

Narrator: 2 AM, September 26, 1918. Already the Great War was by far the most destructive conflict in human history. Nine million soldiers were dead, and six million civilians. President Woodrow Wilson had committed his country to this struggle in the belief that the United States could lead the world to a better future. But if Wilson was to shape the peace, American troops would have to play a decisive role in winning the war.

Jay Winter, Historian: The fundamental point is how do you get into a position of dominance at the peace treaty? And the answer is through the barrel of a gun.

Narrator: Eighteen months after Wilson had taken his country to war, the United States was finally ready to unleash its full might. The biggest army in American history stood silent and ready along a twenty-mile section of the Western Front known as the Meuse-Argonne. Suddenly, the sky overhead seemed to explode, as thousands of artillery pieces opened up at once. The men had never seen anything like it.

Robert J. Laplander, Writer: The U.S. artillery alone fired more shells, more weight of fire power into the German lines in that first four hours than the entire Union army had fired during the entire Civil War.

Narrator: Three hours later, the bombardment lifted. Hundreds of thousands of American soldiers clambered up the sides of their trenches and stumbled forward into the milky fog. They carried with them President Wilson’s dream of a bright and peaceful future.

The Voice of Hope

Jay Winter, Historian: Imagine yourself in 1918. You wish something good will come out of this nightmare. Something, anything. There is nobody in the world saying “there will be a dawn, we can find a peace that can survive, that we can say that perhaps some of these men died for the future.” And the only person who stood up and said something was Wilson. He took it on his own shoulders, a prophetic stance, a bit like Jeremiah. You know, “One day we shall see the light of dawn and peace striking our noble countryside.” It was bound to appeal to people who were looking for some degree of comfort in a world that had effectively gone mad.

Narrator: Woodrow Wilson had captured the world’s imagination in January with his Fourteen Points: a set of proposals that amounted to a framework for an age of peace. It hadn’t ended the war, but it had provided hope to people everywhere. The Fourteen Points were Wilson’s creation, but it was George Creel and his Committee on Public Information who had proclaimed it to the world. The CPI had been created to shape public opinion of the war at home and abroad. It did such thorough work that German soldiers advancing into Russian towns found walls plastered with Wilson’s Fourteen Points, in German, as well as Russian. Thanks to the CPI, Wilson had become a savior to friend and foe alike.

Christopher Capozzola, Historian: The claims of the warring European powers just sounded hollow and bankrupt. And soldiers in the trenches and citizens of other countries had stopped listening to them, stopped believing them. And Wilson is able to speak with a fresh voice.

A. Scott Berg, Writer: That was ultimately the reason I think Woodrow Wilson got America into the war. If the world would buy his peace plan, then indeed we may have fought the war to end all wars. 

Narrator: On September 27, the day after the beginning of the American offensive in France, Wilson was in New York City to deliver a speech at the Metropolitan Opera House. He hadn’t spoken publicly about the war in months. As Wilson walked onstage someone hailed him as “the greatest president the country ever had,” and the audience erupted in wild cheering. When the house finally quieted down, Wilson spoke about the meaning of the war. Like people all over the world, he believed that a tragedy of this scale could be justified only by a revolution in world affairs. “Common people have demanded,” Wilson announced, “that their governments declare what they are seeking in this war. Their leaders respond only in statesmen’s terms – in terms of territorial arrangements and divisions of power, and not in terms of justice and mercy and peace.” More and more, Wilson was taking on the role of spokesman for the common people of the world. “This is a people's war,” he warned. “Statesmen must follow or be broken.”

Michael Kazin, Historian: Wilson in a sense wanted to be president of the world. He had a near-Messianic view of his role in history. He believed that in effect he was doing God’s work.

A. Scott Berg, Writer: There was a kind of arrogance to Woodrow Wilson, there’s no question about that. It verges on his feeling he was in the confidence of God I think.

Jay Winter, Historian: Moral authority is a dangerous position to maintain. It gives the aura of sanctity to the cause of war, and any sanctification of war is bound to redound on the head of the man or woman who proclaims it.

Lost

Voice: Ralph John: With a parting word of warning from an officer to each man, up and over the top we went. It was an odd feeling. It didn't seem like fear, nor even dread, but just wonderment.

Narrator: Just five months before he jumped off with the first wave of the Meuse-Argonne offensive, Private Ralph John had been working on his family’s farm in McIntosh, South Dakota. His training consisted of two days’ practice with a rifle and a short stint driving a bayonet into a mannequin. Then he was shipped out, handed a gas mask, and sent into battle.

Robert J. Laplander, Writer: Ralph John was barely trained. But he was a little more adept at handling a weapon because he had spent considerable time in the forests of South Dakota so he was a little bit better off than some of the men were. Some of the men came to the front without complete uniforms, others showed up without rifles. A sergeant asked, “Where’s your rifles, did you lose them?” and they said, “No we were never given any.” and he said, “Go over anyway and pick up the first one that you see.”

Narrator: “A thick white fog seemed to close in from all sides,” one of John’s comrades recalled, “isolating our company entirely, and nullifying all the careful instructions about keeping in touch.” When they entered the woods on the other side of No Man’s Land, everything was strangely silent. Deeper into the Argonne Forest, though, the casualties began to mount.

Robert J. Laplander, Writer: The Argonne Forest is a dense tangle. There are ridges and valleys all through it. A step on solid ground will be followed by a step where you’re sinking into your knees in slop. In some places it’s impossible to see more than 10 feet in any direction. It’s almost impenetrable. There were machine gun positions everywhere, trenches everywhere, there were sniper nests all over the place, there was barbed wire every step of the way.

Voice: Ralph John: We were crawling, searching for machine gun nests and routing them out. I didn't think anything of stepping over dead bodies of men with whom I had started out, or wading through a pool of blood. I can just see them drop, and hear their requests for help. But we had to go on and leave them lay.

Narrator: The one reed that Private John could cling to in this hellish forest was his commanding officer. Major Charles Whittlesey was earning the undying respect of his men as they somehow made their objectives, day after day. But in a week of fighting, the major had lost over half the men in his command. The survivors were famished, exhausted…and they had lost touch with the units on each flank. 

Richard Slotkin, Historian: The problem in the Argonne Forest is no unit could maintain contact with the units on its flanks because the woods are just too thick and at this point, the units are so shrunk by casualties that they can’t cover as much front as they did at the start.

Narrator: Every step forward was taking them farther from the rest of the army. When Major Whittlesey pointed out the danger to his senior officer on the 2nd of October, the response bordered on a reprimand: he was to continue pushing forward "without regard to flanks or losses."

Richard Slotkin, Historian: Don’t worry about your flanks means if you get surrounded, tough. And the other part is no retreat. The American army has to prove its morale, and if you retreat, you discredit the army.

Narrator: "All right, I'll attack," Whittlesey replied, "but whether you'll hear from me again I don't know."

Voice: Ralph John: We had orders to advance straight north, but we run into fierce machine gun fire in thick woods. Major Whittlesey commanded us to dig in for the night. Early the next morning he sent men back to get orders, but they quickly returned saying they couldn't get through. We knew then that we were entirely cut off from all support, surrounded by the Germans. There were something over five hundred men, who would become known as the Lost Battalion.

Pershing Under Siege

Narrator: The Meuse-Argonne offensive was the culminating event of General John Pershing’s life. The map on the wall of his headquarters traced the boundaries of his world. The commander-in-chief of the American Expeditionary Forces marked the slightest change in the front lines and could reel off the position of every division. Pershing was worried: the advance had fallen far behind schedule. The general left his headquarters near the city of Verdun and ordered his driver to take him to one of the command posts near the front lines. Within minutes his car was jammed in a landscape of horses, vehicles, artillery, and troops. This was the lifeblood of Pershing’s army, and it had slowed almost to a stop. If the German planes got through, they could cut the supply lines entirely. Pershing faced the deepest crisis of his war.

Andrew Carroll, Writer: Pershing wasn’t one for showing emotion. And he knew how a commander’s presence affected the men, he told his other generals, don’t ever let your troops see you look disheartened or beaten because it’ll permeate through the entire army. So he always had to have this façade of strength.

Narrator: When President Wilson appointed Pershing to lead the American Expeditionary Forces, he had given him one assignment: the AEF must claim a prominent role in winning the war, so that the United States could shape the peace and the postwar world. Every aspect of national life had been turned to building an Army that could beat the Germans. By the fall of 1918 Pershing believed the AEF was finally ready to fight a major offensive on its own. He chose the sector between the Meuse River and the Argonne forest for his showpiece battle because it offered the best chance of ending the war in one blow.  

Robert J. Laplander, Writer: The master plan for Meuse Argonne offensive was to push forward and cut the main rail link between Germany and northern France — the main supply route. It was part of a larger offensive that everybody was involved in, to drive the Germans out once and for all.

Richard Rubin, Writer: The Germans took Meuse-Argonne in 1914 and the French tried to take it back in ’14 and ’15 and ’16 and ’17, but the defenses in the Argonne were seen at that point as insurmountable.

Narrator: Pershing’s plan called for his troops to cut through the German defenses in just three days. Instead of sitting in their trenches like European soldiers, Pershing believed his doughboys would sweep across the battlefield, overwhelming the enemy. In doing so they would avoid the horrendous casualties that Britain and France had suffered.

Dan Carlin, Podcast Producer: Pershing’s attitude is like they’re all doing it wrong. You know I mean with American riflemen and can-do and our history we’re going to go in there and we’re just going to show the Europeans how it’s done.

Narrator: From the moment the doughboys went over the top, nothing went according to plan. As Pershing could see, his own supply lines had seized up. Casualties were soaring. With every passing hour the Germans were bringing up more reinforcements. Soon Pershing’s army would be locked in a war of attrition. It was exactly the outcome he had sworn to avoid.

Richard Slotkin, Historian: Pershing believed that American riflemen would go in with their mobile tactics, swarming around pillboxes, knocking them out, moving on to the next line of entrenchments and they couldn’t get through the first line.

Dan Carlin, Podcast Producer: U.S. troops were audacious and brave — reckless some Germans called them — because they ran right into machine gun fire and they assaulted things head on often. The kind of casualties we suffered were unprecedented in U.S. history. 

Narrator: By the time Pershing reached his forward command post his famous temper was well lost. Every commander was put on notice: any one who did not measure up would be relieved. “When men run away in front of the enemy,” Pershing ordered, “officers should stop them, to the point of shooting men down.” There could be no hesitation, no weakness.

Dan Carlin, Podcast Producer: Americans had to accustom themselves to the reality that it didn’t matter how great the American rifleman was, there wasn’t going to be any quick victory.

Jay Winter, Historian: The kind of warfare on the western front that the United States thought that it was going to fight, it didn’t find. It was the same war, the same bloodbath.

Walter Reed

Narrator: As the American offensive raged in France, civilians on the home front were coming to grips with an equally deadly enemy: influenza. Washington DC suffered so many fatal cases that the authorities closed the public schools. Saloons, churches, and theaters were shut down; public gatherings were prohibited. For Lillian Aubert, there was no avoiding the disease – she was an Army nurse at Walter Reed military hospital. Aubert had moved to Washington five months earlier. Back then the wartime bustle had been thrilling. Young women had crowded three to a bed in rooming houses and paid 25 cents to bathe at the Central High School pool. Military policemen with rifles and bayonets guarded the gates of the White House. Soldiers kept watch over the Potomac rail bridges and bunked in tents along the riverbank. Soon after Aubert began her work at Walter Reed, wounded soldiers began arriving from France. “Never think of these men as men to be pitied,” the nurses were told. “These are men to be proud of, to be envied.”  The weapons that had transformed warfare also produced new types of casualties. Artillery caused 70% of the deaths in the Great War, often simply disintegrating a human being. More commonly, splinters of steel would spin off at low velocity, creating jagged wounds that were prone to infection. Amputation was the all-too-common result. At Walter Reed, ninety percent of the amputees needed re-amputation, cutting off the remnants of limbs that had become infected. Aubert nursed these men as they began once more the long nightmare of convalescence. Many would undergo it three, four, five times. Artillery damaged even the men it didn’t maim: fully one fifth of frontline hospital admissions were victims of a terrifying phenomenon called shell shock.

Richard Rubin, Writer: Artillery was always a matter of terror for the men in the trenches. There was absolutely nothing you could do to protect yourself. You had shelters that you could go into, but you didn’t know if they would hold up or not. And you didn’t know what you were facing until the shells started coming in and going off. You didn’t know if it was going to blow up on impact or if it was going to explode over your head. You didn’t know if it had shrapnel in it, you didn’t know if it had gas in it. This was something that soldiers had never faced to that extent before.

Narrator: Poison gas had been introduced by the Germans in 1915, but the Allies quickly caught on, and by 1918 it was everywhere. Gas was was rarely fatal, but it produced horrible wounds. Almost a third of the men in American hospitals were gas victims, and their condition was terrifying.

Edward A. Gutiérrez, Historian: Mustard gas is the most frightening chemical agent in World War I. It actually will damage the lungs, it’ll burn the eyes. Any exposed skin will burn. The most frightening thing about mustard gas is that it can settle into the ground and last for weeks, in the leaves, in the grass. And the doughboys would just run across, not even knowing that there was gas in the area and they’d release the gas again. And that gas was just as toxic and just as effective.

Narrator: Even as Lillian dealt with the flood of wounded men, she began hearing talk of an epidemic that was wreaking havoc on the American Army in France.

Nancy K. Bristow, Historian: The influenza virus of 1918 was an H1N1 virus with the capacity to infect and to kill that was unprecedented in modern times. There’s no preexisting immunity to the disease. It’s also one that’s able to move human to human very quickly.

Christopher Capozzola, Historian: The flu hit the United States and the world at a particularly vulnerable time; when people were displaced, when they were hungry. And the war accelerated the spread of the virus in part by cramming all these soldiers into troop ships and then bringing them back and forth from Europe to America.

Narrator: In September 1918, 40,000 soldiers were admitted to Army hospitals overseas with the flu. Then the disease started cropping up on the home front. Authorities told the public to avoid wearing tight shoes, tight clothing or tight gloves, to chew their food well and drink water. Swindlers made small fortunes with potions and patent medicines. But nothing stemmed the tide of death.

Jennifer D. Keene, Historian: This was a national catastrophe. And the president doesn’t say one thing about it. And part of his reasoning for that was not to create panic. But the other part was that if you start thinking too much about the flu, you’re not thinking about the war. Because really containing the influenza epidemic means shutting down factories, shutting down war bond drives, shutting down mobilization. None of that can happen. In the context of the First World War, this is just another tragedy that must be endured. 

Narrator: When Lillian Aubert was assigned to the influenza ward at Walter Reed, the job was as dangerous as any on the front lines. The first flu victim was admitted in mid-September; soon the ward filled to overflowing. Her patients lived, on average, just twelve days.

Jennifer D. Keene, Historian: People could be perfectly healthy in the morning, start running a fever, their lungs would fill up with fluid. And by nightfall be dead. And there was just nothing they could do. This is an era before antibiotics. People don’t understand how the flu is being transmitted.

Nancy K. Bristow, Historian: You’re literally drowning in your own bodily fluids in some cases, so you’re extremities are turning purple. Your face is turning purple. You may have blood draining from your ears or your nose. It was devastating.

Narrator: By the 2nd of October the epidemic was running wild. Coffins piled up in cemeteries; some victims lay where they died. That was the day Lillian developed a fever. Her suffering was mercifully short. Five months after she had arrived in Washington, Lillian Aubert found her final resting place at Arlington National Cemetery.

Leroy Johnston

Narrator: It had been a long journey from the Mississippi delta to a field hospital in France. In November 1917 Leroy Johnston had made his way from Philips County Arkansas to New York City, to join the fabled New York 15th, known as the Harlem Hellfighters. He was drawn to a cause every bit as captivating as world peace.

Adriane Lentz-Smith, Historian: Young black men had been given reason to hope that some good would come of the war. The language of the war itself, the framing of it as a war for democracy already makes it a powerful and meaningful moment in the history of African Americans. There’s also the example of the Civil War not long before, which was a very different war, but it’s a war that African-American involvement and African-American agitation had turned into a war literally for freedom.

Narrator: Johnston had been with the Hellfighters throughout their incredible odyssey. They had spent 191 days under fire and suffered more casualties than any other American regiment: 1,300 of the original 2,000 men had died or been wounded. The regiment had been shattered in the opening days of the Meuse-Argonne offensive.

Richard Slotkin, Historian: At one point they’re cut off. They’re way ahead of their supports. They lose roughly two-thirds of their combat strength. They just have not got the numbers any more to get anywhere. They can’t even cover the German line in front of them.

Jeffrey Sammons, Historian: They’re basically shredded. They’re no longer able to fight as an offensive unit. They’re, you know, reduced beyond the level that they can be an effective fighting force.

Narrator: The Hellfighters were finally relieved on the 1st of October, but not before Johnston was severely wounded. He survived long enough to reach an aid station. Now, for the first time since he had landed in France, Leroy Johnston knew that he would make it back to Arkansas someday. But he couldn’t know what he would find there: the war had changed him; changed everything.

Chad Williams, Historian: The experience of traveling to France for a black southerner from a rural town was completely mind-boggling. The French were not free of racism by any stretch of the imagination, but in comparison to how African-American soldiers were treated by white American troops, it really highlighted how bad American racism was.

Richard Slotkin, Historian: One of the major themes in the black press had been from the start the notion that the black soldier’s going to prove the race’s manhood in war. And when we come back from war, we’re going to prove it here, in the United States.

Adriane Lentz-Smith, Historian: There’s that great editorial by W.E.B. Du Bois in The Crisis, where he says, “Make way for democracy, we saved it in France and by the great Jehovah, we will save it in the U.S. or know the reason why.”

The War Comes Home

Narrator: As far as the newspapers were concerned, the American offensive was going splendidly. Much of their reporting was provided directly by the Committee on Public Information. The head of the organization, George Creel, estimated that 20,000 newspaper columns a week were drawn from CPI releases.

Alan Axelrod, Writer: Woodrow Wilson, the great democrat, wanted strict censorship. Creel said that this would be a great mistake. What we have to do instead is supply all of the news. Everything anybody hears about the war has to come through the Committee on Public Information. Creel’s argument is that “I’m giving you all the facts and you are free to reach whatever conclusions you will.” But in fact these were very carefully edited facts.

Narrator: Creel couldn’t hide the war’s cost: casualty lists began filling whole pages in the newspaper, day after day. As the losses mounted, the CPI redoubled its efforts to enlist civilians in the war effort. In the fall of 1918 the CPI put on a traveling War Exposition. It was an attempt to bring the war home, emphasizing the sacrifices that soldiers were making for their countrymen. In Chicago, two million visitors lined up to see artifacts ranging from Zeppelin wreckage to an Iron Cross Nail Brush. The highlight was a staged reenactment of trench warfare, complete with a working tank. The truly dedicated could visit the Army Mess Kitchen, where, it was promised, “Meals are served in the same manner, and using the same ‘grub’ as is the fare of the ‘doughboys’ in France.” “Do your part to win the war” was the theme of the Exposition, and George Creel was doing his best to make it the theme of American life.

Alan Axelrod, Writer: Creel was a genuine idealist. He wanted the war to be a war of ideas, of ideology. He did not like the idea of  “we must kill the Hun,” he did not like the idea of “if you are disloyal you should be killed.” He thought we should all get along as Americans and do what we can to win the war because that was the right thing to do.

Narrator: But whether Creel liked it or not, there was a darker side to the running of the war. For anyone who didn’t get in line, there could be serious consequences.

Christopher Capozzola, Historian: There was a sense that you were being watched. But it wasn’t always clear who was watching you. You never knew if some magazine that you had subscribed to was suddenly going to get you in trouble. You never knew if you sang a German song that your father or grandfather had sung before that suddenly you were going to end up prosecuted.

Jennifer D. Keene, Historian: You see a rash of vigilantism aimed at making sure that anybody who might have any objection to the war does not express it. And it’s not now just a matter of being quiet, just don’t say that I’m against the war, but actively demonstrate support.

Narrator: A host of organizations made sure that every American was doing his or her patriotic duty. The American Protective League boasted a quarter of a million members across the country. The Justice Department gave the APL semi-official status by supplying it with armbands and badges. League men embarked on illegal searches and seizures, detained and arrested men without charges, intimidated allegedly disloyal Americans, and broke up strikes. In the fall of 1918, they unleashed a series of so-called “slacker raids” in cities across the country.

Jennifer D. Keene, Historian: They organize “slacker raids,” with the idea of rounding up men who are evading the draft. They fan out across these cities, they go into nickelodeons, they go into movie theaters, they wait at the exits of fairs to catch people when they’re walking home, onto city buses, beaches, pulling in any guy that’s not carrying his draft card. These vigilante groups are wandering around just assaulting civilians.

Narrator: One September morning, 20,000 agents surrounded the entrances to every subway, train, and ferry station in New York, then launched hundreds of raids across the city. Over three days, almost half a million men were interrogated, and 60,000 detained. It was the largest police action in the country’s history. The New York raid netted just 199 draft dodgers. Yet President Wilson was satisfied, commenting that the raids would “put the fear of God” into any potential shirkers.

Michael Kazin, Historian: Wilson believes that once he’s made a decision, Americans should understand it and go along with it. And if you oppose him, you are committing in effect, treason. So he’s both the great democrat and one of the most repressive figures in American history.

A. Scott Berg, Writer: Wilson’s answer to all of this was just put the lid on it. And maybe tighten that lid too. We have one objective right now; that is to fight this war and win it.

Rickenbacker

Christopher Capozzola, Historian: The military figures that Americans get to know during the war are carefully selected by the Committee on Public Information. They actually try to censor the information about most soldiers and remove their names from most news accounts, so when a name is picked out of the hat to be shared with the American public it’s because that’s a story that they think Americans will latch on to. Eddie Rickenbacker is absolutely a case in point. He is one of the most all-American heroes of the war.

Narrator: Eddie Rickenbacker had been fighting the odds his whole life. His father died young, so Eddie had to drop out of school in the seventh grade and help feed the family. After working at a foundry, a brewery, a shoe factory and a monument works, he wound up at the Columbus Buggy Company, where he fell in love with their latest product: automobiles.

John F. Ross, Writer: Rickenbacker found himself at a moment in American history when cars were going fast enough to race. And automobile makers wanted cars to race so that they could sell them. And here is this kid with not much to lose and everything to gain.

Narrator: By the time war broke out Rickenbacker was a celebrity: he’d raced in the Indianapolis 500 four times, and ranked third nationally. But he also had an accent and a German name.

Thomas A. Hoff, Writer: Even though he’s born in the United States, he grew up in a family speaking a combination of German and English, and he grows up with a bit of an accent. And in fact when war breaks out there was a news story about him that he was actually the son of a German baron and he had been disgraced and sent to America to prove himself. And so he was actually von Rickenbacker.

Narrator: As anti-German hysteria swept the United States, the twenty-seven-year-old arranged a meeting at the War Department, determined to prove his loyalty.

John F. Ross, Writer: He figures that all his buddies on the racing circuit, should be the guys who are going to be pilots of these new airplanes. So he marches into Washington, DC, and he says, I got a plan for you. And they listened to the way he spoke. He mangled his English. And they laughed at him. They basically told him to get out of there.

Narrator: Rickenbacker wouldn’t quit. He went to France as a driver with General Pershing’s delegation a few weeks after America entered the war. Through sheer perseverance he qualified as a pilot and was assigned to a fighter squadron in the spring of 1918. It was a dubious prize: the life expectancy of a new combat pilot was twenty days. But the same combination of recklessness and calculation that had marked his career on the racetrack served him well in the air. He downed his first German airplane on April 27th, and never looked back. As Rickenbacker’s score mounted the public fell in love with him.

John F. Ross, Writer: These aviators really invented a new icon of American manhood. Ultimately the old stereotypes, of cavalry leaders and charges and lumberjacks and cowboys gave way to the modern era. And what was that? Well it was a pilot with his silk scarf and his goggles. You see the beginnings of the Right Stuff right there, American manhood redefined.

Narrator: A working-class hero was a reflection of the changing nature of the air war. Where early pilots had reveled in the image of the gallant, chivalrous airman, Rickenbacker had seen too many friends go down in flames to romanticize combat flying. He called it “scientific murder,” and was constantly refining methods to make it more scientific, and more murderous. “Most of the pilots he killed, never knew what hit them,” a fellow airman recalled. “Out of the sun, a quick burst and gone.”

Thomas A. Hoff, Writer: What makes him a great fighter pilot is his understanding that there was a science to flying. And maybe it was because he was a little older, maybe it was because he had faced death a few times, he had a different perspective. He understood the limits of his aircraft and he was going to use it as the tool it was designed to be.

Narrator: Although the papers tracked the leading pilots’ scores like a sports rivalry, the day of the solo air ace was over; the era of the air force had arrived. When America declared war its air force consisted of fifty-five airplanes, fifty-one of which were obsolete. By the fall of 1918 the United States Air Service comprised 740 front-line aircraft and 200,000 men. Operations were carried out by ever-larger formations, coordinated with movements on the ground. Rickenbacker’s scientific approach to combat flying was perfectly suited to this new air war; he was promoted to squadron leader ahead of more senior pilots on the eve of the Meuse-Argonne offensive. “The squadron began to love him,” another pilot recalled. “I don’t know how to explain it. At first he was just an uneducated tough bastard who threw his weight around the wrong way. But he developed into the most natural leader I ever saw.”

John F. Ross, Writer: When a pilot took command of a squadron they often lay back, didn’t fly as much, were much more cautious. Eddie actually flew more when he became the commander of the 94th. And I think it was that willingness to tangle, to teach novices, to let them take a kill that he set up, to fly more than anybody, to log more hours, that really made people come to regard him with such high esteem.

Narrator: Among other things, the fighter squadrons had to blind the enemy to American troop movements, and to their perilous supply lines. A week into the offensive, Rickenbacker led a flight of twenty-four fighters on a mission to bring down two German observation balloons. He assigned three planes to shoot down the balloons, while the rest of the group provided cover from carefully designated positions. Rickenbacker flew thousands of feet above and behind the formation, so high that the lack of oxygen left him light-headed, while the freezing wind was an agony. But from there he could survey the action like a general behind the lines. As the Americans approached the balloons, Rickenbacker spotted eight German Fokkers racing in from one direction, and eleven from another. Their red paint identified them as the most famous fighter unit of the war: the Flying Circus.

John F. Ross, Writer: The Red Baron started the Flying Circus. By the time Eddie Rickenbacker and the Americans hit the frontline the Red Baron had already died, he was shot down himself. But all of his Flying Circus members, all of his squadrons that he had trained were still very much alive and were very experienced. And they were a frightening thing to behold in their Fokkers all colored in bright scarlet paint.

Narrator: Rickenbacker dove to warn the others. He and the Flying Circus arrived at the same time, and the sky became a swirling mass of airplanes, with tracer bullets streaking in all directions. Rickenbacker quickly set one of the Fokkers on fire, and watched as the pilot bailed out. Moments later, one of his own comrades went down in flames. For him, there was no escape.

John F. Ross, Writer: In World War I, American pilots were not issued parachutes, though very serviceable parachutes existed. But the American headquarters believed that parachutes would give them a sense of being defeatist and they would bail out of the airplane at a moment’s notice. This of course caused Eddie Rickenbacker to do back flips, he was so angry seeing so many of his men die who could have survived with that.

Narrator: Each American pilot was left to plan his own death should his plane catch fire. Some carried pistols to shoot themselves, others preferred to jump. Rickenbacker planned to inhale the flames – he’d heard that shortened the agony. Right now, he wanted no more of this huge dogfight miles behind enemy lines. He coolly shepherded the group back toward friendly territory, until the Germans finally broke off the fight. Eddie’s careful planning and cool head had proved more than a match for the virtuosity of the Flying Circus. His squadron downed nine enemy aircraft that day, while losing just two. It was a sign of things to come. As American pilots fought for control of the skies, a very different struggle was unfolding below, in the mud and darkness of the Argonne Forest.

Relief

Narrator: Reporters were calling them the Lost Battalion. 700 men under Major Charles Whittlesey trapped behind enemy lines in a pocket 350 yards wide and 100 yards deep. Private Ralph John was among them.

Voice: Ralph John: The men were getting weaker and weaker. We had robbed the dead men of everything in the way of food, water and ammunition. The most terrible thing of all, it seemed to me, was the fact that we could do next to nothing for the wounded. Many would almost rot before they died.

Robert J. Laplander, Writer: The hillside looked like a butcher shop. There were wounded everywhere. There were dead everywhere. The physical condition of the men was atrocious. The effects of exposure were taking their toll. The men that had been gassed, were hard to listen to. Their gasping and snuffling in the cool damp air was very disheartening. The medics had long since run out of anything, and all they could lend now was words of advice.

Narrator: For four days the Germans had been trying to crush the pocket with mortars, heavy machine guns, and infantry assaults. Through it all Whittlesey had kept the force together, but everyone knew that the end was drawing near.

Richard Slotkin, Historian: Whittlesey is really the heart and soul of the defense. At least before the men, he never seems to lose his faith that they’re going to survive, they’re going to make it, they’re going to be relieved.

Robert J. Laplander, Writer: Whittlesey was in the same mental state as the rest of the men, inside. Outwardly he never showed one moment of cracking, but inside his turmoil was considerable. His second in command, found him one night curled up in the bottom of his hole, asleep and crying. The knots that were inside him had to be enormous, but he never once let on, and he continued to lead them from the front, and it endeared him to the men for life.

Narrator: On the afternoon of October 6th, a sentry came running in, his eyes wide with fear.

Robert J. Laplander, Writer: They looked off to the right flank and they could see a glow coming through the trees and the spits of flames coming at them. Men just stood with their mouths hanging open, they didn’t know what to do. They’d never seen it before. It had to be absolutely terrifying.

Thomas A. Hoff, Writer: One of the most terrifying weapons in man’s arsenal since we were living in caves with pointed sticks was fire. So during the First World War the Germans and the French perfect a man packed flamethrower. You don’t want to be burned alive, and so that flamethrower becomes more of a terror weapon than anything else.

Narrator: For a long moment the men stood transfixed. Then an officer starting hollering as he fired wildly at the approaching inferno. With that the spell was broken; the troops began shooting blindly as they listened to the screams of men being incinerated.

Robert J. Laplander, Writer: They were crying and wailing and pushing forward. They actually got up out of their holes and began to give chase to the Germans and push them back. It was almost a controlled riot as they did so. And they let it be known to the Germans, wasn’t gonna happen this time.

Narrator: As suddenly as it began, the attack was over. The forest was quiet, except for the cries of the wounded, and the sounds of survivors struggling back to their positions.

Voice: Ralph John: Such a mess you never did see. Some of our men were dead, others dying and moaning for help. Some were already buried and others just in pieces. At night sometimes we would be able to bury a few of them in shallow graves, or just throw dirt over them in their dugout.

Robert J. Laplander, Writer: That was it. They all knew that if the Germans came in one more time they were gonna walk right across that pocket. And a blanket of despondency had fallen on that hillside. You might hear a lot of rah-rah about the American army never giving up. No, they hadn’t given up, and they were determined to hold that hillside to the last man, but they certainly weren’t happy about it.

Narrator: The sky darkened, a chilling rain set in. Major Whittlesey sat staring into space, as weak and hungry as the rest. A soldier crept up to his command post: a captain out on the road wanted to speak with him. Whittlesey stumbled off to see what it was about. It took the others a couple of minutes to figure out what was happening. The stranger was an American officer. The offensive had forced the German line back beyond the Pocket. The siege of the Lost Battalion was over.

Voice: Ralph John: Early next morning more men arrived and the Major was right down among his men, doing anything he could for them. It was a happy bunch started the hike back to the rear for a little rest and food. I can well remember the first thing I had to eat was a big white onion, and boy, did I bite into it. That night we did have so called bedding. The nicest part of it all was to be in out of the rain.

Narrator: The relief of the Lost Battalion kept frontline reporters so busy that they missed another big story entirely. On that same day, just a few miles from the Pocket, Corporal Alvin York killed twenty Germans soldiers and led a whole column of prisoners back into the American lines. "Well, York, I hear you've captured the whole damned German army," a general greeted him. York’s story received some attention when a magazine published an account soon after the war. But he would become a true national icon years later, when his story became an allegory about fidelity and duty. What made York so fascinating was the fact that he had once been a conscientious objector. This modest Christian had refused to fight until his commanding officer managed to persuade him that the war was just.

Jennifer D. Keene, Historian: Alvin York is the reluctant warrior. That’s what makes his story so compelling. We’re reluctant warriors we like to believe. He’s skilled and effective, brave. That’s what we want to think about ourselves. We turn to that story to argue wars sometimes need to be fought; that sometimes you have to put your personal objections aside and do what’s best for your community.

Pershing’s Collapse, Victory on the Horizon

Robert J. Laplander, Writer: The experience in the Meuse-Argonne was far more horrible than anybody realizes. During the Meuse-Argonne offensive we lost an average of 550 men a day, KIA, for 47 days. Three times that wounded, every day. It was, and remains, the largest and bloodiest battle America’s ever been involved in.

Narrator: General Pershing seemed to have aged a decade over the past few weeks: his hair had turned gray, deep wrinkles lined his face, he fell asleep at his desk. Most disturbing, Pershing’s nerves were failing. In mid-October he collapsed sobbing in the backseat of his staff car, crying out for his dead wife. "My God,” he moaned, “sometimes I don't know how I can go on." On the 16th of October, the general gave up his field command.

Edward A. Gutiérrez, Historian: Pershing is still trying to recover from the loss of his three daughters and his wife, who died in a fire. At the same time Pershing was under immense pressure to get results,  and he is haunted by the casualties. Pershing halts the offensive, which is shocking. But he had that sense to say, “let’s give someone else a chance, because I am frankly exhausted.”

Richard Slotkin, Historian: It is in a way Pershing’s finest hour to recognize his limitations. He steps back from immediate field command, he splits the army into two wings, lets his field commanders deal with things on the ground.

Andrew Carroll, Writer: You could say that it was a sign of weakness, where he feels, I just can’t handle this. I think you could also see it as a sign of strength to know his limitations. He told his other generals “you have to take this to its final conclusion. We need to slug this out.” He just wanted to go after the Germans full force, be as aggressive as possible and end this conflict. 

Narrator: The troops were exhausted; some units had been bled white. One of Pershing’s successors found it “a disorganized and wrecked army.” But the enemy was still dangerous; they must not be given time to recover. As the high command rearmed and reorganized, the doughboys steeled themselves for the next phase of the offensive.

Code Talkers

Narrator: When Solomon Louis turned eighteen his friends had celebrated the fact that he could finally enlist in the US Army. That was the joke, at any rate: Solomon Louis was already in the Army. He lied about his age so that they could all go in together. Fourteen of them — all full-blood Choctaw Indians — walked to the recruiting station in Idabel, Oklahoma. Six months later, they were all in the thick of it in the Meuse-Argonne.

Edward A. Gutiérrez, Historian: Very few Native Americans were actually recognized as citizens. Even with all of that prejudice, they volunteered in very high numbers. America had really just finally stopped fighting Native Americans in the 1890s and as a result they were seen as very formidable warriors. This kind of Indian warrior mythos very much resonated, not only with the public, but especially with the military. They were excited to use the prowess of Native American soldiers.

Narrator: By mid-October Louis’ brigade had taken so many casualties that they were told to dig in for a couple of days. Many of the men busied themselves with letters, but Louis didn’t have many to write. He was an orphan; he’d married a girl he met at a football game just before shipping out. She was an orphan too. He’d told her that he wanted someone to leave his things to if he got killed. Solomon was talking with two friends when his commanding officer interrupted. “How many of you Indians talk the same language?” he asked. Solomon’s first thought was that they were in trouble for speaking Choctaw. Back at the Armstrong Academy the first word of English he’d learned was "soap." That’s what the teachers used to wash out student’s mouths if they were caught speaking their mother tongue. So he was pleasantly surprised when his C.O. started asking questions. The regiment had a problem, and the Choctaw might have the solution.

Edward A. Gutiérrez, Historian: The Americans knew that the Germans were tapping into their lines because the Germans had been doing it the whole war. Tapping wires was very easy to do, especially at night. They would sneak out there, and cut the line or just listen. So the Germans knew exactly what the Americans were up to.

Narrator: Within hours Solomon Louis and seven of his friends were assigned to each of the regiment’s field headquarters. From that day forward, all of the regiment’s important messages were sent over the wires in Choctaw. When the unit went back into action a few days later, the Germans were caught — for the first time — completely by surprise.

Edward A. Gutiérrez, Historian: The Choctaw are able to use their own language in a very effective way, to the point where a German POW was captured and confesses that “we had no idea what was going on. We had no idea.”

Armistice

Robert J. Laplander, Writer: As far as manpower goes the British and the French were scraping the bottom of the barrel, the Germans were not far behind. We were just getting started. And we proved in the Meuse Argonne that we were fighters, and we were not going to give up.

Narrator: When the Meuse-Argonne offensive resumed on November 1st, the fighting was just as savage, and the casualties appalling. But through sheer force of will, the American Army was achieving its mission.

Michael Neiberg, Historian: What the Americans did is tie down the Germans, make sure they can’t move. The British, French and American armies keep the pressure on until they bring the Germans to their knees. So it didn’t go the way that Pershing wanted it to go but at the strategic level, it accomplished what he needed it to accomplish.

Narrator: All along the Western Front the German Army was crumbling under the combined weight of British, French, and American assaults. The front was moving miles a day; German soldiers were surrendering by the tens of thousands. And their homeland was collapsing from within. Four years of war had reduced the population to starvation; the economy was bankrupt, cities on the brink of revolution. America, on the other hand, was just hitting its stride. In late October the 2,000,000th American soldier landed in France, with another quarter million arriving every month.

John Horne, Historian: What really I think breaks the Germans is the calculation, almost the paper calculation, that more and more Americans will just continue to arrive. If there are already two million of them in France, at the end of 1918, how many will there be by 1920? And the Germans know that they can’t match that. It’s less the contribution in those final three months than it is the sheer spectacle that there’s more and more and more of that to come.

Narrator: The message came through the Swiss Embassy. “The German government accepts, as a basis for the peace negotiations, the program laid down by the President of the United States in his Fourteen Points message, and in his address of September 27, 1918.”

Christopher Capozzola, Historian: The Germans ask for a peace on the basis of the Fourteen Points. They know that the British and the French would seek to crush them and in fact the Germans almost want to surrender to the Americans rather than to the Allies as a whole. 

Margaret MacMillan, Historian: I think Germans clutched at the idea of a Wilson who would be more sympathetic, less vindictive than either the British or the French. If they get Wilson to manage the peace, they might not lose that much.

Narrator: By approaching the United States and excluding the Allies, Germany had granted Wilson a leading role at the outset of the negotiations. On the afternoon of October 22nd the president met with his cabinet to consider the German offer. Some felt bound to consult the French and British. Wilson disagreed. “The peoples of Great Britain and France are with me,” he claimed. “That does not mean that their governments are of the same mind.”

Margaret MacMillan, Historian: Wilson did have this curious thing: where he believed he spoke for the people. It was never very clearly defined, but if you crossed him he would say “but I have the voice of the people. I know what the people want.” And he kept on appealing to the opinion of people around the world.

Dan Carlin, Podcast Producer: A man who became a part of Wilson’s cabinet once said that he was a man of high ideals but no principles. And the way he goes about arm-twisting reminds you of that. He took the country into the war as an associated power rather than an ally, to be able to say, we reserve the right to broker our own peace.

Narrator: Wilson sent a note demanding the abdication of the Kaiser and the evacuation of all Allied territories. At the same time, he strong-armed the Allies into accepting the Fourteen Points as the basis of peace negotiations. Two weeks later, in a rail car outside Paris, a dejected German delegation signed a truce, to take effect at 11 AM on November 11th. Eddie Rickenbacker was over no-man’s land when the Armistice came.

Voice: Eddie Rickenbacker: The trenches erupted. Brown-uniformed men poured out of the American trenches, gray-green uniforms out of the German. From my observer’s seat overhead, I watched them throw their helmets in the air, discard their guns, wave their hands. Then all up and down the front, the two groups of men began edging towards each other across no-man’s-land. Seconds before they had been willing to shoot each other; now they came forward. Hesitantly at first, then more quickly, each group approached the other. Suddenly gray uniforms mixed with brown. I could see them hugging each other, dancing, jumping. Americans were passing out cigarettes and chocolate. Star shells, rockets and flares began to go up, and I turned my ship towards the field. The war was over.

The Day After

Narrator: News of the Armistice reached Washington at around 3 in the morning. By the time the day got underway practically every city, town and hamlet in America had erupted in celebration. Ignoring official warnings about the flu, people gathered, embraced strangers, formed spontaneous parades, listened to bands and speeches. In Cloverport, Kentucky, “every man, woman, child and baby in town gathered on Main Street beating tin pans, washtubs, and most anything they could find.” The people of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania expressed desire for a great religious service of thanksgiving, but in the meantime police had to close the saloons at 11 in the morning after a bar brawl got out of control. By nightfall America was having a party that would be remembered for decades. The suffragist Alice Paul made a point of ignoring the celebrations. “Self-government is victorious throughout the rest of the world,” she declared, “but here it is delayed and obstructed by the United States Senate.” Yet women’s suffrage was gaining converts every day. The President himself had come around. Paul could sense that her victory, too, wasn’t far off. In fact, there was much to celebrate. The United States had helped rescue its two closest allies. Even the most jaded observers could hope that a better day was dawning.

A. Scott Berg, Writer: The message that was given to Americans was that we had won this war and I think it empowered Americans. It infused them with this sense that there’s a certain American responsibility.

Narrator: “Everything which America has fought for has been accomplished,” President Wilson proclaimed. “Complete victory has brought us, not peace alone, but the confident promise of a new day as well, in which justice shall replace force and jealous intrigue among nations. It will now be our fortunate duty to assist in the establishment of democracy throughout the world.” But even as Wilson heralded the triumph of American values, many of his countrymen worried about the fate of democracy at home.

Michael Kazin, Historian: The end of the war does not mean the end of repression.  There’s still a lot of pent up anger among Americans who support the war against those who opposed it. They are considered to be dangerous radicals. There was just as much tension about loyalty and disloyalty after the Armistice as there was during the war itself.   

Narrator: During the nineteen months that the United States was at war, American society had been torn apart by questions of loyalty. More than 2,000 citizens were prosecuted under the Espionage and Sedition Acts, and thousands of enemy aliens interned.

Jennifer D. Keene, Historian: These two acts really become tools to shut up people who refuse to be quiet about their opposition to the war, especially leftwing organizations, socialists, the IWW. Now the government has the legal authority to suppress them, and it uses that at will.

Christopher Capozzola, Historian: You can’t actually measure the impact of wartime repression solely by the number of prosecutions — and there were tens of thousands. But for every prosecution there might be tens, hundreds, thousands of “friendly” visits by government agents warning someone not to say what they said or write what they wrote. We also need to look at the chilling effect that this repression had on every American.

Narrator: The silencing of predominantly left-wing opposition came back to haunt Wilson a few days before the end of the war, when his Democrats lost heavily in the midterm elections, handing control of Congress to the Republicans. Even some true believers thought Wilson was to blame. “All the radical or liberal friends of your policy were either silenced or intimidated,” George Creel chided the president. “There was no voice left to argue for your sort of peace.” Now, any treaty Wilson signed would have to be ratified by a Republican Congress. As Creel pointed out, Wilson had jeopardized his dream through his conduct of the war at home.

Christopher Capozzola, Historian: George Creel says essentially to Wilson that you destroyed yourself. You were elected by progressives and liberals and then when those progressives and liberals spoke out against the war, you silenced them, you attacked them and now when you need them, there’s no one left to stand up for you.

Narrator: Many Americans hoped that Wilson would quickly dismantle the tools of repression and heal the nation’s wounds. Instead, the tide of repression quickened. Shortly before the end of the war the nation’s most famous socialist, Eugene Debs, was sentenced to ten years in prison for having spoken out against the draft a few months earlier.

Christopher Capozzola, Historian: Debs becomes a symbol for the war’s repression and he also becomes the motivation for movements to pardon him. Not only him, but also other political prisoners, conscientious objectors and others who were still in jail after the Armistice. And Wilson had drawn his line in the sand, that he would not pardon Debs.

Narrator: Among the thousands of anti-war activists in jail were several hundred conscientious objectors, including Josef Hofer and his two brothers. The Hofers were Hutterites; their faith forbade them from helping the war effort in any way, from even wearing a uniform. They had been taken from their South Dakota community in May, and suffered months of abuse at the hands of the authorities. One week after the Armistice they were taken by train to Leavenworth, Kansas, and marched through the streets of the town and into the courtyard of the Military Prison. It was almost midnight; weak and exhausted, they were ordered to strip and were left standing for hours as the temperature dropped to 17 degrees. When they were finally taken inside, they were suspended from the bars of their cells so that their feet barely touched the floor. They were kept in that position for nine hours a day, and fed only bread and water. Even in the freezing cold, the men chose to remain almost naked rather than wear the military uniforms that were left in their cells.

Michael Kazin, Historian: It’s really torture; I think it has to be called that. Even the Secretary of War said that he was uncomfortable with the way they were treated; nevertheless, he wasn’t going to step in and change it.

Narrator: After two weeks, David Hofer was allowed to wire home, with news that his brothers Michael and Josef were dying. By the time Josef’s wife Maria arrived at Leavenworth, he was barely able to talk. Josef Hofer died at 8:30 the following morning. To Maria’s horror she saw that the prison guards had dressed Josef’s corpse in the army uniform he had so staunchly refused to wear in life.

Versailles

Narrator: On the 14th of December 1918, just one month after the Armistice, Woodrow Wilson arrived in Paris to negotiate a peace treaty and end the Great War.

A. Scott Berg, Writer: Paris then had a population of about a million people. Over two million people lined the parade route, just the few miles that Woodrow Wilson traveled as he wove through the streets. Just by the sheer numbers it was quite simply the greatest march of triumph in the history of man. I’m not forgetting Caesar. I’m not forgetting Alexander the Great. This was the arrival of the Messiah, this was the Second Coming. What kind of peace was he bringing? The whole world wanted to see.

Margaret MacMillan, Historian: He was carrying a burden of expectations which no human being can have carried. There was this feeling that he’s going to set it all right. But what setting it all right meant was very different things for different people.

Narrator: The Armistice was just a truce; a treaty was needed to satisfy the competing claims of the victors, on terms that the Germans could accept. For the first time, Wilson met French Prime Minister Georges Clémenceau, and British Prime Minister David Lloyd George, along with delegates from more than thirty countries. These were the nameless statesmen whom Wilson had denounced in his speeches. Some of them were less enamored of the American president than the crowds that mobbed his processions. And many of them held ambitions that clashed sharply with Wilson’s.

A. Scott Berg, Writer: Wilson was the only one there fighting for a principle. He was fighting for mankind; that was basically his constituency here. And what he came up against were especially Lloyd George of Great Britain and Clemenceau of France who genuinely wanted revenge on Germany.

Margaret MacMillan, Historian: Wilson makes it very clear that the United States is not coming in to gain anything for itself at the peace conference. They are coming in to build a better world. Well, he can say that because the United States hasn’t lost territory, it hasn’t lost huge numbers of men, it hasn’t spent huge amounts of money. Britain and France have spent themselves almost to bankruptcy and lost men in the hundreds of thousands.

Narrator: Wilson came to the negotiations, as a British diplomat observed, “armed with power such as no man in history had possessed.” The Allies had to take Wilson’s wishes into account. That meant, above all, creating a League of Nations.

Margaret MacMillan, Historian: Wilson felt there was no point the United States having come into the war if a better world order wasn’t going to come out. And so the League of Nations is the idea that there will be attempts to settle disputes among nations without war, that there will be an effort made to bring about disarmament, that peoples will not be handed around the world without their consent. All that is there in the covenant of the League of Nations.

Narrator: Many found Wilson to be stubborn, but the president felt bound by a moral imperative. At the end of May, he tried to articulate that commitment, when he dedicated a cemetery for American servicemen outside Paris. From a small platform in the middle of the graveyard, Wilson looked out at a crowd of veterans, many of them bearing scars, missing limbs, disabled, disfigured. “I beg you to realize,” he told them, “the compulsion that I am under. I sent these lads over here to die. Can I ever speak even a word which is inconsistent with the assurances I gave them?”

A. Scott Berg, Writer: He took personal responsibility for every one of those deaths.  And he said, I owe it to these soldiers to go back and fight for the things they fought for.

Narrator: At the end of June 1919, after six months of negotiations, the Allies and Germany finally came to terms. The Treaty of Versailles consisted of 440 articles that drew new borders for Germany, hobbled its military and imposed staggering reparation payments. It also effectively carved the Middle East into French and British spheres of influence, and divided German colonies among the victors. The Treaty was a series of compromises satisfactory to no one. But Wilson had achieved something truly remarkable: the very first article in the Treaty was the Covenant of a League of Nations. From the ashes of the most destructive war in history, Woodrow Wilson had created what he believed would be the framework of an age of peace. At the beginning of July he sailed for home. One last hurdle remained: shepherding the treaty through the United States Senate.

Red Summer

Narrator: Saturday July 19th was hot and humid even by Washington standards. Theaters, brothels, and saloons were packed with soldiers and sailors on leave. The city was on edge over reports that two black men had harassed a white woman. At dusk, hundreds of servicemen began roaming the streets, looking for revenge. “Before the very gates of the White House” a reporter noted, “Negroes were dragged from streetcars and beaten up while crowds of   soldiers, sailors and marines dashed down Pennsylvania Avenue, in pursuit of any who tried to flee.”

Adriane Lentz-Smith, Historian: Wilson is newly returned from France where he’s been articulating this vision for justice on a world scale, and where he’s been hailed by masses as this messianic figure. And then he comes back to a Washington that is like burning. He’s so wrapped in his connection with the abstract masses that his own citizens who need him get nothing from him. 

Narrator: Wilson felt that black soldiers posed a threat to the United States. In the wake of the Russian Revolution he worried about Communism creeping into America, and “the most likely vessel for that,” he told a friend, was “the American Negro returning from abroad.” Now, all over the country, returning black veterans were being abused, attacked, lynched, and burned alive.

Adriane Lentz-Smith, Historian: There’s an expectation on the part of African American soldiers that they’ve earned the right to vote, to participate, to be respected, to map their fates. But it’s met with a similar resolve on the part of white supremacists to make sure that nothing comes, nothing lasting would come of that military service.

Narrator: Time and again tensions over black rights led to rioting. Twenty-five cities were torn apart; hundreds were killed.

Chad Williams, Historian: The assertiveness of African Americans was threatening to white southerners who were determined to make sure that African Americans remained in their place, but also to many white northerners who were resistant to African Americans encroaching in the labor market. And in the summer of 1919 the United States experienced a wave of racial violence, which was unparalleled in American history. James Weldon Johnson described it as the “Red Summer.” It was a horrific statement about how the aspirations of African Americans were going to be met with violent resistance from white people, both North and South.

Narrator: The White House received thousands of appeals from black citizens, begging for protection. If the victims received any response at all, it was a form letter advising them that the federal government had no say in these matters.

A. Scott Berg, Writer: In Wilson’s defense he was still in Paris for the first month and a half of the riots. On the other hand, when he came back it could have been a game-changer, I think, to have stepped up and said, these soldiers, these African Americans fought in the same war you white soldiers did and we must now embrace the African Americans in American society. And he said nothing on the subject.

Narrator: In October, Philips County, Arkansas exploded into the deadliest racial violence in the country’s history. Tensions had been building since black sharecroppers, led by a returning veteran, formed a union to demand a fair price for their cotton. When a white man was killed in a firefight, local authorities spread the word that an insurrection was underway. Although Wilson’s White House had always refused to allow the Army to protect black citizens, hundreds of soldiers were sent in to assist posses of white men in putting down the so-called rebellion. As they roamed the countryside, killing hundreds of black people, a train pulled into the station. A crowd rushed aboard and dragged out four unsuspecting black men. They were Leroy Johnston and his three brothers. Johnston, the young man who had traveled to New York to join the Harlem Hellfighters, had returned home in July. He’d spent nine months in French hospitals recovering from the wounds he’d received at the Meuse-Argonne. The mob accused him of “distributing ammunition to the insurrectionists,” then shoved the four brothers into the back of a car with an armed guard. By most accounts one grabbed the guard’s gun and managed to kill him. In the next instant the mob shot the Johnston brothers to pieces. Leroy Johnston had survived some of the hardest fighting of the Great War. He hadn’t survived his homecoming.

Adriane Lentz-Smith, Historian: That betrayal, the “Red Summer” of 1919, was crushing. For a lot of people, it destroys them. But there are a number of people who find ways to channel that fury, and they turn it into activist power.

Jeffrey Sammons, Historian: World War I has emboldened them, has actually told them just how threatening they might be to whites. All that happened after, even into the civil rights movement, was a result of the change in attitude which itself was a result of what they saw they were capable of doing in World War I.

The Death of the League

Narrator: At the beginning of October 1919, as the survivors in Arkansas were burying their dead, Woodrow Wilson disappeared from public view. Senators, cabinet members, even Wilson’s own Secretary of State, were all being denied access to the President. The story had begun three months earlier, after Wilson’s return from Europe.

A. Scott Berg, Writer: Wilson gets home, he spends the next several weeks making his pitches to the Senate, why this is a wonderful treaty, why they must embrace it. He realizes almost from the beginning that he’s going to face some opposition, but he doesn’t realize how great the opposition actually would be.

Jennifer D. Keene, Historian: Wilson has outlined a vision of American world leadership that involves it permanently in the maintenance of world peace. Woodrow Wilson assumes that Americans support this new idea of internationalism. But when the war is over and people really start getting in to the nitty-gritty, he finds that there’s a lot of doubt. People really aren’t so sure.

A. Scott Berg, Writer: Over the next few weeks he realizes he has one real nemesis and that is Henry Cabot Lodge, who is leading the charge against the Treaty.

Margaret MacMillan, Historian: Wilson I think made a big strategic mistake and that was that when he went to Paris, he didn’t make it a bipartisan thing, he didn’t bring any Republicans. If he’d had the sense he should have brought Henry Cabot Lodge. You know, these were stupid things to do.

Narrator: After Senator Lodge held the Treaty up in committee through much of the summer, Wilson decided to take his case directly to the people.

Margaret MacMillan, Historian: This is always the great Wilson saying, I’m going to speak to the people, cause no one else can. Just this sort of arrogance, even though he was a great orator.

Narrator: For three weeks Wilson traveled around the western United States, making four or five stops a day, speaking to huge crowds in the late summer heat, without air conditioning or amplification.

A. Scott Berg, Writer: It built a lot of momentum. He was really winning the argument. Unfortunately, while Wilson is building great energy and good will talking to the people, on the inside physically he’s falling apart. His gait is getting slower, he’s tripping on words. It’s just harder and harder for him to deliver a speech.

Narrator: On September 25th Wilson dragged himself through an appearance in Pueblo Colorado, even as he was blinded by a migraine, his left arm and leg numb, his face twitching uncontrollably.

A. Scott Berg, Writer: As the evening wears on, Wilson’s headaches are so severe he simply cannot deal with it. And his doctor and Mrs. Wilson say, this tour has got to end, because your life is about to end. And Wilson just refuses to budge. He won’t do it, no, I just need a little sleep. Of course he can’t sleep, the pain is so severe. And a few hours later even he now realizes he cannot go on. And the doctor gives the order, “that’s it; just get the President back to Washington D.C.” Wilson is truly a broken man.

Narrator: Three days after his return to the White House, Wilson suffered a stroke so severe that his wife Edith thought he should resign the presidency. But Wilson’s inner circle believed his abdication would kill any remaining hope of ratifying the treaty. Mrs. Wilson and a handful of advisors decided to keep the President’s condition a secret.

A. Scott Berg, Writer: For the last year and a half of the Wilson presidency, a handful of people in the White House, I believe, engaged in the greatest conspiracy in American history. Some have argued that for all intents and purposes, Edith Bolling Galt Wilson became the first female president of the United States. Certainly there is no question that the executive branch of government was functioning through Mrs. Wilson.

Narrator: With Wilson hidden away, treaty negotiations took an unexpected turn. At the last minute, Republicans proposed a list of amendments that would have given Wilson almost everything he wanted, including the League of Nations. The author of the amendments was Henry Cabot Lodge.

Margaret MacMillan, Historian: Lodge was not against the League of Nations as a whole, he just was worried about the shape. He wanted to talk about it. Wilson wouldn’t do it. He wasn’t prepared to admit that Lodge had any reasonable reservations about the treaty.

A. Scott Berg, Writer: Lodge himself knew, “if I offer anything, Woodrow Wilson has such contempt for me he will not accept it.” And indeed Lodge was correct.

Narrator: There were more than enough votes to ratify the treaty with Lodge’s amendments. But Wilson ordered Democratic senators to kill his own treaty. On March 19, 1920, they did just that.

A. Scott Berg, Writer: In essence, Woodrow Wilson stabbed himself, stabbed the treaty in the back, or more to the point, in the heart. Because that was really the end for Woodrow Wilson.

Jay Winter, Historian: There comes a time I suppose when bitterness overtakes shrewdness. And at the end of his life he was a very bitter man. I don’t know anyone who can tell me why it was that Wilson didn’t compromise one way or the other. And as a result he loses it all. He loses everything.

Margaret MacMillan, Historian: We can’t help asking what if. I mean what if the United States had joined the League? What if the United States had been in the League when Mussolini rose in Italy? What if the United States had been in the League when Hitler rose in Germany? Just what if.

Epilogue

Dan Carlin, Podcast Producer: We go into this war as the 17th most powerful military in the world, a debtor nation and we come out of it a global superpower, you never go back to the way things were. The modern version of the United States is born out of this war.

Nancy K. Bristow, Historian: Though we won the war, it had great costs. Not only in a loss of life. That war was won but it was won by way of behaviors, policies, even laws that contradicted the very values for which the country was fighting.

Adriane Lentz-Smith, Historian: The Great War changes people’s imagination. This language of a war for democracy, this idea that some principles are worth fighting for, those are now ideas that you hear over and over again.

Jennifer D. Keene, Historian: America now had a new idea of the role it could play in the world. It could be the diplomat. It could be the peacemaker. It could be the humanitarian. Those ideals continue to animate our foreign policy; they continue to be the goals we strive to achieve.

Christopher Capozzola, Historian: The images that come to us are sort of distant figures in black and white. But I think it’s important to remember how contemporary the war was. It’s important to look back and understand the experiences of Americans who lived through it and who tried to generate something better, who really did hope to end all wars. It’s part of what we owe to that generation.

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