20/12/1917 Australia votes against conscription again #1917Live

Conscription is a divisive issue in Australia. Prime Minister Billy Hughes wants to introduce a draft to keep up the numbers of men the country is sending to the war but the move is strongly opposed by the trade unions and the Catholic Church, as well as by socialists, pacifists and other malcontents.

Last year in a plebiscite Australia voted narrowly against the introduction of conscription. That led to a political convulsion, with Hughes leaving the Australian Labor Party and forming a new pro-conscription party with members of the Liberal opposition.

Hughes decided to hold another conscription referendum after his party won a resounding victory in a general election earlier this year. Unfortunately for him, today Australians once more vote against a draft, by a larger margin than last year. Hughes’ dream of sending his countrymen to die in Europe looks like it is over.

image sources:

Vote No Mum (National Museum of Australia: Conscription Referendums)

Scum of the Earth! (Australian War Memorial: the Conscription Debate)

The Blood Vote (State Library of New South Wales: Australia’s Conscription Debate)

all of those links are worth clicking on to see more posters

17/12/1917 Canada’s conscription election #1917Live

Earlier this year the Canadian parliament authorised the introduction of conscription. The measure is controversial, with French Canadians being in the forefront of opposition. Prime Minister Borden decided against the immediate introduction of a draft for fear of provoking unrest.

Today Canada votes in a general election that has become something of a plebiscite on conscription. Borden has tilted the ballot in his direction by allowing soldiers deployed overseas to vote and by giving the vote to women whose menfolk are serving in the armed forces; he has also taken the vote from conscientious objectors and immigrants from enemy countries. In the election campaign, Borden’s opponents are denounced as playing into the hands of the Kaiser.

Borden’s Unionist party wins a landslide victory. Taking this as a mandate for conscription, he prepares to introduce a draft in the new year.

image sources:

Election poster (Canada’s First World War Experience: Federal Election Posters, 1917)

Robert Borden (Wikipedia: Canadian federal election, 1917)

29/8/1917 Canada moves towards conscription

At the start of the war, Canada was like Britain and the other dominions in having a small professional army. Since then it has relied on voluntary enlistment to make up the numbers of its expeditionary force in Europe. But as the war has assumed an increasingly bloody character the number of volunteers has reduced. Within Canada enlistment is somewhat uneven. French Canadians appear to be particularly disinclined to enlist. This may be because they are unenthusiastic about the war, but the Canadian government’s failure to create francophone units for them may also be a factor.

In an effort to continue the flow of recruits to the Canadian army, Prime Minister Robert Borden proposes to introduce conscription. This should also ensure that each part of Canada plays its part in feeding the guns. So today Canada’s parliament passes the Military Service Act, which gives the government the power to conscript. The measure is bitterly opposed by many, not all of them French Canadians.

Borden does not yet invoke the powers given to him by the Act. There is an election due later this year, which will most likely be fought on the conscription issue. Rather than inflame the opponents of conscription now he decides to wait until after the election to begin enforced recruitment. In the meantime he looks at ways to manipulate the electoral rolls in order to maximise the likely votes of those who support conscription.

images source (A City Goes to War: 1917 Election – Conscription)

3/8/1917 The Green Corn Rebellion: Oklahoma rises up against the war #1917Live

Since the USA declared war on Germany it has been struggling to build a large army that can take on the Germans in France. Conscription has been introduced, so now men are being compelled to take part in the war whether they want to or not. This is not a development greeted with universal enthusiasm.

While some go on the run to avoid the draft, a group of farmers and rural folk in Oklahoma go considerably further. Motivated by anti-war sentiment and fear of the effects of conscription on their families’ livelihoods, several hundred (perhaps a thousand) of these anti-conscription activists come together and resolve to bring an end to the war. They stage a rebellion, planning a march on Washington where, joined by similar groups from across the country, they will overthrow Wilson and take America out of the war. On the way they will live off the land, roasting green corn, thereby giving their rebellion its name.

The Green Corn Rebellion proves to be short-lived. More law-abiding elements in Oklahoma quickly form a militia and face down the rebels. After a few shots are fired (killing three) the rebellion breaks. The authorities carry out mass arrests and prepare to send the rebels for trial. They also prepare to crack down on the various socialist and anarchist groups seen as being behind the unrest.

image sources:

Anti-war poster (Jane Little Bodkin: Frank Little and the IWW)

Newspaper cartoon accusing the anarchist IWW of being in league with Germany (Wikipedia)

18/5/1917 America introduces conscription

US warships have arrived in Europe to join patrols against the U-boat menace. President Wilson knows however that if the war is to be brought to an end it will be done so on land. Here the USA is at a considerable disadvantage. The country’s army amounts to just 145,000, insignificantly small compared to the great armies of Europe.

In order to make a difference in Europe, the American army will have to be expanded. Today the President signs into a law the Selective Service Act, which allows for conscription. Even so, it will be some time before the army will have been built up to a level that can take on the Germans. Given the task facing the Americans, that of building a large modern army almost from scratch, some wonder whether the USA will be able to deploy troops to Europe in strength before 1919.

In keeping with the traditions of the United States, draftees will be segregated by colour.

image source (Wikipedia)

5/5/1917 Pro-conscription party wins landslide in Australia

Australian politics has been in turmoil since the failure of a conscription referendum last year. Prime Minister Billy Hughes had supported conscription but most of his Labor Party colleagues had opposed it. After the vote, Hughes had left his party, taking a good few of the MPs with him but remaining as Prime Minister only with the support of the Liberals.

Since then Hughes’ supporters and the Liberals have merged to create the Nationalist Party, with Hughes as leader. Today Australia goes to the polls in a general election. A drop in Labor’s vote sees the Nationalists win a landslide victory of seats in the Australian parliament. Now Hughes begins to think about having another go at introducing conscription to Australia.

29/10/1916 Australia votes against conscription

At the start of this war many naively thought it would end quite quickly, but instead it has gone on and on. The war has also consumed far more lives than expected. Many of the men who went off to fight in 1914 are now dead or invalided. Like Britain, Australia initially sought to recruit more men by appealing for volunteers. However, less and less men are signing up now that they have a sense of the war’s real horror.

Britain got around this problem by introducing conscription, emulating continental European countries by compelling military service. Billy Hughes, Australia’s prime minister, wants to do the same, but conscription is more opposed in his country. Hughes leads the Labor Party, but opposition to conscription is strong within the labour movement. The opposition of his own party members means that he cannot force conscription through parliament.

Instead Hughes calls a plebiscite, inviting Australians to vote for conscription. Aside from Hughes himself, the proposal is supported by the opposition Liberal party, by most of the media, the Protestant churches and by establishment interests generally. Conscription is opposed by much of the labour movement and the Catholic church.

The pro-conscription newspapers provide glowing reports of Hughes addressing cheering crowds supporting the plebiscite but ignore or downplay meetings of those who are against the draft. As a result, when the votes are counted today, many are shocked to discover that Australia has voted narrowly against conscription.

For Hughes the vote is a disaster. He has already been expelled from several unions he had helped to found. Now he is the prime minister of a country that has rejected his signature proposal and leader of a party that is increasingly alienated from him.

image sources:

Norman Lindsay poster in support of conscription (Wikipedia)

International Workers of the World poster opposing conscription (Wikipedia)

Post referendum cartoon from The Australian Worker by Claude Marquet (Wikipedia)