(Photo courtesy of Regis University)
By: Thomas Jones, Staff Reporter
On Friday, Sept. 22 Regis University hosted a presentation entitled “War Against War: The American Fight for Peace, 1914-1918.” Those in attendance consisted of both Regis students and professors as well as many community members who came from various places in and near Denver to see the presentation.
The event kicked off at 7 P.M. It started with a short introduction by a representative from the Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities, who worked in conjunction with Regis to put on this presentation. The representative spoke on the center's new exhibit, “Art & Conflict,” which seeks to understand the effects war and conflict has on society and humanity by exploring art and artists within these periods. He also spoke specifically on the portion of the exhibit titled “The Great War: Visions of a World Conflict,” which looks at posters and propaganda used during World War I.
After the representative from the Arvada Center finished his introduction, the presenter took to the podium. His name was Michael Kazin; he’s a Georgetown professor of history specializing in politics and social movements. His main area of focus is anti-war movements, of which, he’s written many books about. His latest book shares the same title as the presentation he gave, “War Against War: The American Fight for Peace, 1914-1918.” His presentation derives its content and information from his book, speaking on World War I anti-war activism.
Kazin started by posing the question, “Why don’t Americans care about World War I?” He went on to elaborate his meaning behind the question, asserting that of course, Americans care about WWI in the obvious sense, but in relation to other wars in our, history WWI is often a long ways down our list in terms of importance. He stated that this is vastly different from Europe which has a very large number of WWI memorials in just about every country involved.
One explanation he offered was simply that America didn’t get involved in WWI until the last 6 months of the war; because of this, the war didn’t have nearly as large of an impact on us as it did to those in Europe which it impacted for years. However, his main explanation for the lack of American recognition of WWI, as well as the main focus of his presentation, was that there was a substantial American anti-war movement for WWI.
His presentation mentioned that one of the main causes of this anti-war movement was the massive immigration the United States was having during the same time as WWI. People from many different European countries were coming over to America. As a result, many people still had mental and emotional allegiances to their countries of origin. This meant that the immigrant population would have very different opinions on which side of the war was the “Right” side, or side that the United States should support. Another reasoning used by many anti-war protesters Kazin mentioned was preparedness. The U.S. at this time did not have a strong military; we only had about 100,000 troops. Many people asserted that we ought not to get into a war with an under-armed and inexperienced military.
Along with those mentioned above, there were many other reasons people within the U.S. were against war; in the end, there was a large variety of people protesting the U.S. military going to Europe to fight. There were several important higher-ups within the United States government opposed to the U.S. going to war, including the president, Woodrow Wilson, for a short while, and, the most popular Democrat in the country at that time, besides the president, William Jennings, who was Wilson’s Secretary of State from 1913-1915 and resigned because he felt so strongly the United States shouldn’t go to war and he knew that’s where Wilson was heading.
Along with these political higher-ups, there were many prominent groups at the time that disagreed with the prospect of going to war. Just a few of these groups were: feminists (who made the war one of their main points of protest in the women’s march of 1914), social workers, people within the labor movement, African-Americans, and poor southerners.
Kazin stated that all these people mentioned in the previous paragraph ended up calling on the government to put forth a vote to the citizens of the United States on whether or not the U.S. should join in on the war occurring in Europe. They asserted that it should not just be Congress that votes on and decides whether we as a country go to war but rather the citizenry should have a say in the matter. Kazin commented on this, inquiring that, “It’s interesting, we’ve come a long way as a country where now the President usually declares war and then Congress joins in, from back then where people believed that they ought to have a say on when we go to war.”
In the end, of course, the pleading for the vote on our entrance as a country into WWI ended up being fruitless. There was no vote, and the anti-war movement failed since we did end up joining the list of countries fighting in the war. But the historical aspects of this being the first major anti-war movement in our nation’s history proved to be a very interesting one. Shown by the response of the audience when Kazin’s speech concluded. Questions were being asked for the whole hour and fifteen minutes following the speech. Though questions were still being asked, the presentation was drawn to a close by the Regis employees moderating the event, due to the time allotted for the event having run out. However, many still stayed after the event concluded to personally go and continue talking to Kazin. It proved to be a both well attended, and incredibly informative presentation.