Prior to America's involvement in World War I, public sentiment was overwhelmingly against U.S. involvement. Once it became clear that mindset could not survive, Wilson's administration launched a public affairs effort to change the hearts and minds of Americans' attitudes.
Almost overnight, our government's stance changed from its isolationist, pacifist to one of aggressive participation. Propaganda posters and millions of leaflets were posted everywhere. To maximize the effort, the leaflets were published in English and 18 foreign languages.
Worse, President Wilson acted aggressively to squash public dissent with the passage of anti-espionage and sedition laws. Wilson would not permit public opinions that would endanger his efforts to bolster our military's ability to wage war.
It became clear to Wilson a strong effort to grow our military would be necessary. At the time, prior to our involvement in the "war to end all wars," the U.S. Armed Forces was ranked 18th in military might.
Conscription laws (the draft), long unpopular in our country (look at what happened during the Civil War--riots, imprisonment, and even public hangings were used to force those who wished not to fight or succumb to government policy).
Wilson's racist beliefs visibly manifested itself on the military registration card. The bottom left-hand corner had a tear-off section with the instruction that it be torn off IF the applicant was of African-American descent, thus formalizing (for the first time) a strictly segregated Army.
Blacks were seen as a problem. The thinly veiled belief was the fear made clear in a statement made by a US Senator from Mississippi that "once you draft a Negro man and give him a gun and tell him to fight with it, it is one short step for him thinking he should fight for his rights at home."
Pacifists and Conscientious objectors were characterized as unpatriotic and called "slackers." A movement to demonize Americans of German descent, even those whose ancestors had lived here as far back as the Revolutionary War, was put for both in public sectors as well as in government housing. German-Americans were forced to register letting the government know where they resided, worked and worshiped.
Encampments were created to house people who the government considered a threat to national security.
Does any of this sound familiar to today's readers?
The documentary is sobering. History books all t often white-wash our nation's past. One group shot photo showing the first battalions look like a lot like today's GOP (all white, all male).
I find all of this very troubling because 1) History classes in elementary and high school have not taught these events (or spent much time focusing on these particulars. 2) The documentary shows how easy we have been steered into war, and 3) How easy nationalism has shaped our behaviors and how we have treated minorities in times when our nation faced adversity.
The documentary is available for purchase... or go to your local library. I strongly urge you to watch this documentary to see our involvement in WWI and to see just how easy our government has found it to manipulate the public into going to war.