america’s military draft -- 1/8/24

Today's selection -- American Midnight: The Great War, a Violent Peace, and Democracy's Forgotten Crisis by Adam  Adam Hochschild. The First World War brought only the third military draft in American history:

“Meanwhile, American war preparations [for the First World War] continued [as] … Congress weighed a bill sent by the president, the Selective Service Act.

“Robert La Follette was the Senate's most outspoken opponent of conscription. It would enable the government ‘to enter at will every home in our country’ to seize the young and ‘require them, under penalty of death if they refuse, to wound and kill other young boys just like themselves.’ The Civil War draft had come when the country's very existence was at stake, but, he asked, what was the threat now? Blockaded Germany had no way of transporting an invasion force across the ocean.

Young men registering for conscription during World War I in New York City, on June 5, 1917

“His protests were in vain. Conscription passed, setting in motion a huge bureaucracy that required all men between ages 21 and 30 to register for the draft on June 5, 1917. [President Woodrow] Wilson, continuing to paint everything in the loftiest terms, denied that the draft was a draft. ‘It is in no sense a conscription of the unwilling,’ he said as he signed the new law. ‘It is, rather, selection from a Nation which has volunteered in mass.’

“But had it? Although enthusiasm for war was palpable, La Follette was not alone. Germany might be militaristic and at fault for igniting the conflict, but many leftists· and liberals knew the Allied nations had imperial goals of their own. Britain and France, for example, had enormous overseas empires, to which they clearly were eager to add Germany's colonies. To some conservatives in small towns and rural areas, especially in the South and Midwest, the conflict in Europe seemed merely a quarrel among foreigners. No matter how the carnage had started, many believed, the United States should not join. The authorities worried that young men might sympathize with an anonymous poet who wrote:

“I love my flag, I do, I do,

Which floats upon the breeze.

The Cardinal Goes to War

I also love my arms and legs, And neck, and nose and knees.

One little shell might spoil them all Or give them such a twist,

They would be of no use to me;

I guess I won't enlist.""



Adam Hochschild


American Midnight: The Great War, a Violent Peace, and Democracy's Forgotten Crisis


Mariner Books


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