12/20/12 - boston bans beethoven

In today's encore excerpt - once America entered the First World War in 1917, anti-German passions began to rage against even those Germans living in America. As with the Irish, Italians and Chinese before, and Mexicans, Arabs and many other ethnic groups since, vilifying an ethnic group has long been part of our political fabric. In this case, for those who had been laboring to pass a prohibition amendment to the constitution, this anti-German sentiment could be used to sway votes since most of America's brewers were German. And, as Purley Baker, president of the powerful Anti-Saloon League put it, Germans were "a race of people who eat like gluttons and drink like swine":

 "The [First World] War's clinching contribution to the 'dry' cause arrived in February 1918, as the Eighteenth Amendment was beginning its journey through the state legislatures. 'We have German enemies across the water,' a dry politician named John Strange told the Milwaukee Journal that month. 'We have German enemies in this country too. And the worst of all our German enemies, the most treacherous, the most menacing, are Pabst, Schlitz, Blatz, and Miller.' ... When the fear was attached to all things German, it proceeded to breed like an out-of-control virus.

 "Soon Red Cross leaders were claiming that German-Americans had penetrated their organization and were putting ground glass in bandages meant for U.S. troops. Addressing the members of the Union League Club in New York, Elihu Root-former secretary of state, former secre­tary of war, Nobel Peace Prize winner, recently retired U.S. senator-said,'There are men walking about the streets of this city who ought to be taken out at sunrise and shot for treason.' In his infamous 'Babel Procla­mation,' Governor William L. Harding of Iowa declared speaking Ger­man in public or on the telephone unlawful. German books were burned in Wisconsin, playing Beethoven in public was banned in Boston, and throughout the country foodstuffs and street names of German origin were denatured by benign Anglo-Saxonisms. Nearly ninety years before french fries became freedom fries during the Iraq War, sauerkraut became liberty cabbage and, in an odd homage to the president, Cincinnati's Ber­lin Street became Woodrow Street. 'Cotton Tom' Heflin of Alabama, who could always be counted on to transcend the limits of ordinary, everyday bias, said, 'We must execute the Huns within our gates. The firing squad is the only solution for these perverts and renegades.'

 "The most horrifying single example of anti-German hysteria was described by historian David M. Kennedy in Over Here, his history of the home front during World War I:

" 'Near St. Louis in April 1918, a mob seized Robert Prager, a young man whose only discernible offense was to have been born in Germany. He had, in fact, tried to enlist in the Ameri­can Navy but had been rejected for medical reasons. Stripped, bound with an American flag, dragged barefoot and stum­bling through the streets, Prager was eventually lynched to the lusty cheers of five hundred patriots. A trial of the mob's leaders followed, in which the defendants wore red, white, and blue ribbons to court, and the defense counsel called their deed 'patriotic murder.' The jury took twenty-five minutes to return a verdict of not guilty.' "



Daniel Okrent


Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition


Scribner a division of Simon Schuster


Copyright 2010 by Last Laugh, Inc.


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