Words That Won the War: The Story of the Committee on Public Information, 1917-1919

By James R. Mock; Cedric Larson | Go to book overview

Chapter 1
THE AMERICAN MIND IN WARTIME

WE had gone to war. We had decided to send our boys over to France to save democracy. But even as indignation against Germany had surged higher and higher in those last tense days before 3: 12 a.m., April 6, 1917, no one could say just what the American people would do after their eloquent leader had urged them into war.

The great majority of Americans, it seemed, wanted to fight, but people wondered anxiously how large and how determined the minority might be. Minorities are dangerous when the fate of civilization is hanging in the balance. Who felt quite easy with Senator LaFollette and his "little group of wilful men" still in Congress? How could we count on the millions of Germans, Austrians, Hungarians, Poles, Russians and other "aliens in our midst"? Wasn't there something very disquieting in the widely quoted opinion of Dr. Aleš Hrdlicka that the Melting Pot had failed to melt? How many people still believed there was such a thing as being too proud to fight? How many remembered the President's statement that there was no essential difference in the expressed war aims of the belligerents? What of enemy spies, of whom there were said to be 100,000 or more at large, and their allies, the pacifists, Socialists, and labor agitators? What about the success of Wilson's campaign slogan, "He kept us out of war"? What about warnings against entanglement in Europe's quarrels which still echoed in countless homes?

And what, above all, about the unknown thousands of Americans who might not feel very strongly one way or the other but thought Europe was a long way off and might find it too much bother to make the sacrifices which a modern war demands of the entire population?

-3-

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