Uncle Sam Wants You: World War I and the Making of the Modern American Citizen

Uncle Sam Wants You: World War I and the Making of the Modern American Citizen

Uncle Sam Wants You: World War I and the Making of the Modern American Citizen

Uncle Sam Wants You: World War I and the Making of the Modern American Citizen


In April 1917, the United States embarked on World War I--with little history of conscription, an army smaller than Romania's, and a political culture that saw little role for the federal government other than delivering the mail.Uncle Sam Wants Youtells the gripping story of the American homefront in World War I, revealing how the tensions of mass mobilization led to a significant increase in power in Washington.

Christopher Capozzola shows how, in the absence of a strong federal government, Americans at first mobilized society by stressing duty, obligation, and responsibility over rights and freedoms. In clubs, schools, churches, and workplaces, Americans governed each other. But the heated temper of war quickly unleashed coercion on an unprecedented scale, making wartime America the scene of some of the nation's most serious political violence, including notorious episodes of outright mob violence. To solve this problem, Americans turned over increasing amounts of power to state institutions. In the end, whether they were some of the four million men drafted under the Selective Service Act or the tens of millions of homefront volunteers--or counted themselves among the thousands of conscientious objectors, anti-war radicals, or German enemy aliens--Americans of the World War I era created a new American state, and new ways of being American citizens.

Based on a rich array of sources that capture the voices of both political leaders and ordinary Americans,Uncle Sam Wants Youoffers a vivid and provocative new interpretation of American political history.


Sitting in his Manhattan studio on a summer day in 1916, James Montgomery Flagg took off his glasses, looked in the mirror, and saw there the image of America itself. One of the nation’s most successful illustrators, the thirty- nineyear-old Flagg was working on a cover drawing for Leslie’s Illustrated Weekly Newspaper. In the upcoming issue of the magazine, editors planned to urge Americans to expand the country’s military force, in case world events dragged them into the ongoing tragedy that Americans at that point still referred to as the European War.

Flagg was under a tight deadline and short on ideas; he didn’t even have a model in his studio to work with. He had his own reflection—tall and lanky, with piercing blue eyes and wavy hair. In all likelihood, he also had a British military recruiting poster designed by Alfred Leete in 1914. That image featured Lord Kitchener, Britain’s secretary of war and chief of its military recruitment, pointing at the viewer, with the words “Your Country Needs YOU.” Flagg erased the caption, borrowed Kitchener’s pose, and substituted his own face for the Brit’s—then added wrinkles, whiskers, and gray hair, just for good measure. With that, Uncle Sam appeared, just in time for America’s first world war.

The picture ran on the cover of the July 16, 1916, issue of Leslie’s under the heading “What Are You Doing for Preparedness?” Within a year, despite President Woodrow Wilson’s stated intention to keep America out of the war, the nation began mobilizing young men into the ranks. In the spring of 1917, Flagg’s image reappeared, this time on a U.S. Army recruiting poster, with its caption restored as “I Want YOU.” By the Armistice, the War Department . . .

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