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)

10/4/1917 The Eddystone explosion: an unsolved mystery

Outside Chester in Pennsylvania the Eddystone Ammunition Corporation has a factory making artillery shells for export to the Russian army. Today tragedy strikes as an explosion rips through a building where young women workers are loading shells with black powder. A chain reaction of detonations occurs, creating a blast that is felt miles away from the plant.

Somewhere between 100 and 150 people, mostly women and girls, are killed in the explosion with many more injured, some horrifically so. Of the dead, several dozen are unidentifiable; they will be buried in a mass grave.

The USA is now at war with Germany. As with previous explosions in munitions plants, suspicions fall on German saboteurs. If German agents were responsible then the Eddystone explosion victims are the first US casualties of the war. But investigators can find no definitive evidence pointing to the explosion having been started deliberately. There were also reports of faulty electrical wiring in the plant in the weeks before the blast, so it is possible that the explosion was a tragic accident.

image source (World War One in Delco)

6/4/1917 America declares war on Germany

A few days ago President Wilson addressed a joint session of Congress, calling for war against Germany. Now the two houses provide him with a declaration of war. Support for the war in the Senate and House of Representatives is overwhelming but not unanimous. Outside Congress many progressives and socialists are opposed to the war, but as in Europe in 1914 they are overwhelmed by the pro-war tide.

It will be some time before the United States is able to play an active part in the conflict. At 145,000 men, its army is relatively small. Having struggled to deal with bandits and revolutionaries in a recent invasion of Mexico the US army is currently in no state to take on the Kaiser’s army. There are plans to greatly expand its numbers but it will be next year before the Americans will have formations ready to deploy in Europe. The Germans know this; their expectation is that the U-boats will have won the war by then.

Nevertheless, there is one area in which the United States is ready for early participation in the conflict. Preparations are underway for the imminent despatch of warships to European waters, where they will take part in patrols against the U-boat menace.

image source:

Reporting for Duty (World War I Live (@roadtowar1914 on Twitter))

2/4/1917 Wilson addresses Congress, seeking a declaration of war against Germany

President Wilson was re-elected last November on the slogan “He kept us out of the war”. Now he addresses a joint sitting of both houses of Congress, seeking a declaration of war against Germany. The German U-boat campaign has inflamed opinion in the United States. The interception of the Zimmermann Telegram (and the revelation that Germany was seeking an alliance with Mexico) has further poisoned relations between the two powers.

Wilson broke off diplomatic relations with Berlin last month. Since then Germany’s submarines have continued to attack ships without warning. So it is that Wilson now appears before Congress to ask it to back war against the Kaiser. Wilson asserts that the USA will not be joining the war for conquest or selfish advantage. Rather this will be a war to defend civilisation. Furthermore, Wilson argues that this will be a war to reorder the world so as to make future wars impossible. “The world must be made safe for democracy,” he says. “Its peace must be planted upon the tested foundations of political liberty.”

The Senate and House of Representatives will vote on the President’s request for war over the next few days. Support for war is not unanimous, but in the current climate it is highly unlikely that the supporters of neutrality will prevail.

image source:

Wilson addresses Congress

Read the text of Wilson’s speech here.

29/3/1917 Zimmermann admits to his telegram

The Germans knew that their escalated U-boat campaign risked antagonising the Americans. To manage this threat, they have attempted to form an alliance with Mexico. Zimmermann, the German foreign minister, sent a telegram to the German ambassador there, instructing him to promise the Mexicans arms, money and US territory in the event of war with the United States.

Unfortunately for Zimmermann, his telegram was intercepted by the British and decoded by their secret cryptography unit. Its public release has caused a sensation, hastening the Americans along the road to war.

Zimmermann could perhaps have tried dissimulation, claiming that the telegram was a forgery, another plot by perfidious Albion. This seems not to have occurred to him. Having already admitted to the telegram’s authenticity to a US journalist, he now addresses the Reichstag to explain why he sent it. He claims that Americans should not be alarmed by the telegram’s contents, as he was merely seeking a defensive alliance with the Mexicans.

Zimmermann’s speech does not go down well with the Americans. But it also plays badly in Germany. The public have been led to expect that victory is just round the corner thanks to the U-boat war. If so, why is the government trying to recruit Mexico as an ally? And given that Mexico is in the grip of an intractable civil war, how much help could it give Germany against the United States?

Meanwhile in Mexico, President Carranza wisely decides to keep the Germans at arm’s length. He does not want to be sucked into a war with the United States does all the fighting for Germany’s benefit.

image source:

Arthur Zimmermann (First World War.com – a multimedia history of World War One)

Read Zimmermann’s speech here.

1/3/1917 The Zimmermann Telegram published: Germany’s plot against America revealed

When American pick up their morning newspapers today they are greeted by the astonishing news that Germany is trying to recruit Mexico into an anti-US alliance. This shocking proposal is carried in a secret telegram sent by German Foreign Minister Arthur Zimmermann to the German embassy in Mexico City. The German ambassador is to promise the Mexicans Texas, New Mexico and Arizona in the event of war, as well as financial incentives.

Zimmermann’s telegram had been sent in code, but British code breakers managed to decipher it and pass on its contents to the Americans. Now President Wilson has decided to make it public. To hide the fact that the British have cracked the German codes, an outlandish story about the telegram’s text having been retrieved from Mexico is concocted.

Relations between the United States and Germany are already tense. Wilson has severed diplomatic relations following the German resumption of unrestricted submarine warfare. Now the Zimmermann Telegram’s publication causes a sensation, further inflaming tensions between the two countries.

image sources:

The decoded Zimmermann telegram (US National Archives)

The Temptation (Wikipedia Commons, originally Dallas Morning News)

see also: WWI Centennial: The Zimmermann Telegram (Mental Floss)