America Responds to the Global War, 1914-17

Saturday, January 4, 2014: 9:20 AM
Columbia Hall 11 (Washington Hilton)
Jennifer Keene, Chapman University
My roundtable commentary will focus on connecting the American experience of war to two emerging interpretative themes in First World War Studies that focus, respectively on World War I as a global war and a brutalizing war. Different subsets of Americans, often depending on their race, ethnicity, class or regional orientation, and ideological beliefs focused beyond the Western Front when offering support or dissent for the war.  Black activists focused on Africa, immigrants often on Eastern Europe, southerners on the naval war, bankers on the London financial markets, Texans on Mexico, etc. These reactions reflect the diverse composition of the United States, but also illustrate that the global nature of the war gave Americans the ability to choose which aspect mattered to them. Recovering this history challenges the idea that viewing the war as a global event (all the rage right now in scholarly circles) is an original perspective; instead people at the time intentionally viewed and experienced the war as a global event. My second threat of commentary will focus on the question of whether Americans brutalized by the First World War. Rather than brutalization through combat, the “radicalizing” effect of the war stemmed from how the mobilization process politicized both civilians and soldiers. The effects of war-related politicization resonated into the postwar period in both violent ways (giving the appearance of brutalization) and non-violent ways.  Widespread violence in 1919, however, was only one variant of the more general radicalization and politicization American society underwent during World War I. Over time, politicized veterans within the civil rights movement and veterans organizations quickly opted for nonviolent over violent forms of political expression. The United States thus joined the ranks of the other victor nations where successful veteran reintegration into existing social, economic, and political structures helped to mitigate war-associated violence.