World War I: American Pacifist Movement


Figure 1.--This is delegtion from the Women's Peace Party headed by Jane Adams. Thy are on a ship headed to the Hague in the neutral Netherlands to attend the International Congress of Women for a Permanent Peace (April 1915). One outcome was the foundation of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom. The name of the group is rather ironic given that across the birder to the south was German occupied Belgium, a neutral namtion which lost its freedom because it did not have a large enough army to defend its borders.

American pacifism began with religious groups like the Quakers. The Civil War created a widespread revulsion for war in America, but no pacifist movement and organizations devloped. The modern American pacifist movement has its origins in World War I. Women from the beginning have been important in the pacifist movement. And of course World War I was the point at which the Suffragette Movemnt reached a critical mass. The 19th Amendment becane law after the War (1919). The first American pacifust group grew out of Jane Adam's Hull House in Chicago. With the outbreak of World War I in Europe, American women who had been engaged in suffrage and social reform movements became involved in the peace movement. Activists Jane Addams, Carrie Chapman Catt, and others formed the Womanís Peace Party (WPP) (1915). Later that same year, the WPP sent a delegation to the International Congress of Women for a Permanent Peace, held at The Hague in the Netherlands, across the border from German occupied Belgium. The American and European women met to protest against World War I (April 28. 1915). The outcome was to form the Women's Intrnational League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF). Jane Adams was chosen as the first president. The choice of the Hague was interesting. Unlike neutral Belgium, the Germans did not invade the neutral Netherlands. The Netherlands would, however, be another example in World War II of what happens to a country with a small army unble to defens itself. The American chapter of the WILPF became the oldest Ametican pacifist group. Peace and freedom of course are two very different concepts. History tells us that countless people have lost thir freedom and sometimes their lives because of the inbility to defend themselves. And of course World War I began with the Germany invasion of Belgium and its small army. This of course did not seem to have phased the ladies. The most important group was the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) which was founded after the War. The ACLU grew out of the Anti-Militarist Union, in part a reaction to the Palmer Raids. A third group was the War Resister's League which was formed when Congress passed the Selective Service Act to form an American army. These three groups still exist and the ACLU is especially important. Other groups were founded, like the Women's Peace Party, but no longer exist. This movement was different than the long-standing Isolationist Movement, but not entirely unrelated. Both faith groups and secular grops including, liberals, socialists, and more radical grops including the Communists. Pacifist groups played little role in World War I. It cannot be blamed for America's failure to be adequately prepared when it entered the War. The movement that it founded, however, did play a role in America's near fatal lack of preparadness in World War II. The Pacifists would have a case if all countries were similar. But they aren't. The Kaiser sent the German Aermy across the Belgian border in 1914. A generation later in World War II, Hitler, Stalin, and the Japanese Militarists would send their armies across many more borders. And unlike Ameriva, Britain, and France there were no active pacifist movemnts allowed in those and many other countries.

Origins

American pacifism began with religious groups like the Quakers. The Civil War created a widespread revulsion for war in America, but no pacifist movement and organizations devloped.

Pacifist Organizations

The modern American pacifist movement has its origins in World War I. Women from the beginning have been important in the pacifist movement. And of course World War I was the point at which the Suffrgett Movemnt reached a critical mass. The 19th Amendment became law after the War (1919). The first American pacifist group grew out of Jane Adam's Hull House in Chicago. With the outbreak of World War I in Europe, American women who had been engaged in suffrage and social reform movements became involved in the peace movement. Aactivists Jane Addams, Carrie Chapman Catt, and others formed the Womanís Peace Party (WPP) (1915). Later that same year, the WPP sent a delegation to the International Congress of Women for a Permanent Peace, held at The Hague in the Netherlands, across the border from German occupied Belgium. The American and European women met to protest against World War I (April 28. 1915). The outcome was to form the Women's Intrnational League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF). Jane Adams was chosen as the first president. The choice of the Hague was interesting. Unlike neutral Belgium, the Germans did not invade the neutral Netherlands. The Netherlands would, however, be another example in World War II of what happens to a country with a small army unble to protect itself. The American chapter of the WILPF became the oldest Ametican pacifist group. Peace and freedom of course are two very different concepts. History tells us that countless people have lost thir freedom and sometimes their lives because of the inbility to defend themselves. And of course World War I began with the Germany invasion of Belgium and its small army. This of course did not seem to have phased the ladies. The second and most important group was the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) which was founded after the War. The ACLU grew out of groups like the Anti-Militarist Union. A group of New York City pacifists known as the 'Henry Street Peace Committee' organized an organization known first as the Anti-Militarism Committee hoping to keep America out of the War. This led to the American Union Against Militarism (AUAM) which organized mass demonstrations, public lectures, and printed word material. When they failed, the AUAM struggled against conscription. The AUM was also known as the American Union for a Democratic Peace and the League for an American Peace. It ceased operations after the WAr (1920). The experience of Government repression during and after the War led to the founding of the ACLU, in partt because of the Palmer Raids. A third group was the War Resister's League which was formed when Congress passed the Selective Service Act. These three groups still exist and the ACLU is especially important although has branched out to support many liberal issues beyond its original impetus. Other groups were founded, like the Women's Peace Party, but no longer exist. This movement was different than the long-standing Isolationist Movement, but not entirely unrelated. Both faith groups and secular grops including, liberals, socialists, and more radical grops including the Communists.

American Public Opinion

President Wilson upon the outbreak of World War I declared the United states neutral (1914). His policy of neutrality was enormously popular with the American people. The German invasion of neutral Belgium amd midstreatment of Belgian civilians from the onset saw Germany as the major aggressor and a lawless nation. This was an entirely new assessment. Before the War, Germany was an admired mation. Not only had america not had any diplomatic differences with Germany (unlike Britain), but the Germans had become the largest etnic group in America. And the sinking of Lusitani cemented the new American assessment if Germany. The American assessment of Germany, however, did not mean that Aericans wanted to go to war with Germany. Peace and neutrality probably was the deciding factor in his reelection (1916). It was especially popular with German and Irish Americans. The Irish were strong Democratic supporters. The Germans were a major constituency in the Midwest which often determined the outcome of American elections. With the Germans it was probably more of an anti-War sentiment than a pro-German bias. Public opinion gradually shifted toward the Allies as a result of British propaganda, German policies in occupied Belgium, and incidents such as the xsinking of the RMS Lusitania. Even so the vast majority of Americans, especially the progressives, opposed American entry into the War. They also made any Administration efforts to strengthen the military difficult. The United States pursued a more friendly relationship with Great Britain and France than with Germany or Austria-Hungary, but Wilsonís administration maintained a strictly neutral stance. The President made diplomatic initiatives aimed at ending the War that suggested generous terms to the Germans. The Kaiser and his Government, were, however basically dimissive and internt on a military victory. In the end it was incredably misguided German policy that brought America into the War.

Role in the War

Pacifist groups played little role in World War I. American peace groups attempted to negotiare an end to the World War, but the Europeans were uninterested. The German were especially dismissive of the American efforts, in part because many officials did not look the United States with its mixed ethnic and racial population as a real nation. And even more importntly, America has only a small poorly equipped army that did not have the capability of making any impct if it dcided to enter the War. The British were more willing to at last humor the American peace groups as they understood the potentil importnce of America. We are not sure to what extent the American peace groups had on President Wilson. We do know that the President after his reelection move to end the War through a negotiated settlement. The Allies were unwilling because they saw the naval blockade weakening Germany and insisted on the return of territory the Germans had taken. The Germans were unwilling because they had taken substntial territory, espcially in the East. And neitherside wanted to face their people after so many men killed and mamed and all for nothing. He newly rrelected president began putting real action behind American peace initives. He began restricting Allied access to American credit markets (Novmber 1916). [Tooze, p. 51.] This may have forced the Allies to negotiate. American loans thugh the private bnking system was very important part of Allied war financing. The German Embassy in Washingon reported the President's actions to Berlin. The Kaiser decided, however, not to negotiate, but to seek a military sollution. And decided to resume the campaign of unrestructed submarine warfare which ultimtely brought America into the War (April 1917).

Government Legal Actions

After declaring war, the U.S. Government began taking legal actions against pacifist and other groups which opposed the War. President Wilson had been reelected in part because he kept the United States out of the War. And even after mulltiple aggressive German actions culminating in the resumption of unrestricted sunmarine warfare, there was still considerable dissent about entering the War as well as conscriotion. Unlike World War II there was not major attack like Pearl Harbor that galvanized public opinion. Conscription laws in Europe had been an important driver of migration during the late-19th and early-20th centuries. And conscription was a major soyrce of dissent. But without conscription there could be no massive army to send to France. The Governmnt's moved against anti-war and anti-draft activty. President Wilson in his speech to Congress requesting a declaration of war against Germany, the President clearly stated, "if there should be disloyalty, it will be dealt with with a firm hand of repression." A part of the Government's concern was concrn about how all the immigrants who had recently come to America would react. There was special concern bour German-Americans, at the time the largest immogrant group. There was also concern about foreign espionage and sabotage. The German Government had engaged in both before the War. The Govermn't response was swift. Congress passed the Espionage Act of 1917. The intent of the Act may mot have been to stiffel dissent, but the Government and courts used it to punish dissenters. This was followed by Congress passing the Sedition Act of 1918 which criminalized the act of speaking out against the War.

Assessment

It cannot be blamed for America's failure to be adequately prepared when it entered the War. The movement that it founded, however, did play a role in America's near fatal lack of preparadness in World War II. The Pacifists would have a case if all countries were similar. But they aren't. The Kaiser sent the German Aermy across the Belgian border in 1914. In World War II, Hitler, Stalin, and the Japanese Militarists would send their armies across many more borders. And unlike Ameriva, Britain, nd France there were no active pacifust movemnts allowed in those and many other countries.

World War II Pacifism

With the end of the War, pace groups were optimistic, believing that war could be oulawed. American pacifists helped draft the constitution (Covenant) of the new League of Nations. Many peace groups were shocked that the U.S. Senate refused to ratify the Versailles Paece Treaty which included the provision for the League. In fact the American pacifist movement was split on the League. The pacifist movement developed into a pro-League or conservative faction and an anti-League or radical faction. Conservative peace groups included the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, the World Peace Foundation, the League of Nations Association, and the Woodrow Wilson Foundation. These were groups that emerged out of the Northeastern estabishment and were well funded. The Carnegie Endowment was founded with a bequest of $10 million in United States Steel Corporation bonds (1910). U.S. Steel was on of th major American corporation and had nenefitted from war contracts which in the eues f nore radical pacifist brought their credibility in question. The World Peace Foundation was founded with a $1 million endowment (1910). The Woodrow Wilson Foundation ammaseed conrtributions of almost $1 million for its foundtion (1924) . The radical peace organizations were less fixated on the Legue, some even opposed Amerucan menbership. And they were much less apt to work in quiet wys for peace. They were less well funded, but had more grassroot suport. Many emerged out of the Midwest where isolationist views were also strong. They were newer groups, organized after the War. There were something like 40 national groups. Local groups wre much more numerous. Some had small, less stable memberships. Some did not last long as finabces were shaky. There were changes of names. Objective varied, but all were commited to a peaceful world. The groups included: the American Committee for the Cause and Cure of War, the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, the National Council for the Prevention of War, the Committee on Militarism in Education, the Fellowship of Reconciliation, the Parliament of Peace and Universal Brotherhood, the Peace Heroes Memorial Society, the War Resisters' League, the Women's Peace Society, the World Peace Association. Women played a major role in most of these groups anf this of coure was the same time that that women got the vote with the rtification of the 19th anendment and emerged as a major force in American politics (1919). Women were especially important in the more radical peace groups. American attitudes during the inter-War era were in part pacifism, but and even stroinger sentiment was a desire to disassociate from Europe which was seen as the source of endless political strife. Pacifism was an elemement in isolationist sentiment in America. Isolationism and pacifim were different movements, but there was substantial over lap. The Congress launched a major investigation designed to prove that American arms manufacturers had help involve the United States in the War. It is ironic that the industry that would save Western civilization was during the inter-wars year was being being investigated for disloyalty by Congress. The Committee became known as the Dyes Committee led by Congressman Martin Dyes. After a huge investigation, no evidence was found to justify the charges. Public opinion in America remained staunchly against involvement in World war II until Pearl Harbor. During the War, some 43,000 Americans refused to fight for reasons of conscience, Some were recognized as conscintious objectors. Others were not. About 12,000 men served in Civilian Public Service, 6,000 were sentenced to prison terms, and 25,000 served in the military as noncombatants, often in dangerous roles like corpsmen.

Sources

Tooze, Adam. The Deluge: Great War, America and the Remaking of the Global Order, 1916-31 (Viking: New York, 2014), 644p.






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Created: 6:03 AM 11/25/2017
Last updated: 4:33 PM 11/25/2017