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 8
THE PEOPLE'S WAR: LABOR AND CAPITAL

IF there was one Wilsonian concept fundamental to all the others it was that of a "People's War." You could differ with the President on the ship program and complain about living costs or the coal shortage; within limits you could express your opinion on the freedom of the seas, Czech nationalism, the comparative virtues of the Republican and Democratic Parties, or the ultimate fate of Bessarabia. All of this an American citizen could do. But if he did not grant that America was fighting by the will of the people--in contrast to the Germans, who were fighting by the will of the Kaiser and his coterie of Junkers--he was against Wilson and a traitor.

Nowhere was the doctrine of a "People's War" more important than in the relations between capital and labor, a complex of problems which engaged the attention of the CPI through its whole life.

Not everyone granted that it was a people's war. Treasonous ideas were known to persist, in spite of the fact that their expression might lead one into the toils of the federal marshal. Pacifists, pro-Germans, Socialists, anarchists, and I.W.W. organizers asserted, whenever they dared, that the war supposed to make the world safe for democracy was just another in a long line of imperialist engagements; that American capitalists had forced us into war for selfish reasons; and that there were at least as many Junkers in this country as in Prussia.

Gustavus Myers, a supporter of the war though a believer in social democracy, wrote to President Wilson in the fall of 1917: "The real reason why certain sections of our working and farming population are either apathetic to our part in the war, or antagonistic to it, is the widespread conviction that

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