Thursday, April 6, 2017

War and Peace

Today is the 100th anniversary of the United States' entry into World War I. The European powers--Great Britain, France, Russia, Germany, and Austria-Hungary--had been locked in futile combat since August of 1914, and had managed, through a complex series of alliances, to drag much of the world into a brutal war.

President Wilson, supported by the majority of Americans, had promised the United States would remain neutral, but the fact of the nation's close ties with Great Britain strained that promise, especially once Germany began to wage unrestricted submarine warfare on merchant ships and passenger liners. The sinking of the British liner, Lusitania in 1915, which claimed the lives of 1198 people, including 128 Americans, called into question American's and President Wilson's commitment to neutrality. That commitment was somewhat restored when Germany halted its attacks on unarmed vessels. In 1917, however, Germany resumed unrestricted submarine warfare in a desperate attempt to bring the bloody stalemated war to an end. The sinking of the liner Housatonic and four U. S. merchant ships put an end to the idea that America could remain neutral; in fact, it made the American President, Congress, and citizens willing, even eager, to enter the conflict, and on April 6, 1917, Congress declared war.

Manpower-wise, the United States was unprepared for war. There were only 110,000 men in uniform at the time war was declared, and only 32,000 volunteers had come forward by the end of April.  A military draft was the only way to significantly increase those numbers, and in May, Congress passed the Selective Service Act, requiring all men between 21-31 to register for service. In September, the draft eligibility age expanded, and men 18-45 were required to register.

Images of WWI draft registration cards can be found at
In the two drafts, Muskingum County draft boards registered more than 5,000 men, and 1655 entered into military service. Undoubtedly, most of those were among the 2,057,675 military men who arrived in France with the American Expeditionary Force, and joined British and French soldiers fighting the Germans along the Western Front. Seventy Muskingum County men did not return home. The county's veterans and casualties of WWI are memorialized in the E. M. Viquesney statue, "The Spirit of the American Doughboy", located on the Courthouse grounds in Zanesville. The Muskingum County statue was dedicated in 1934, and is one of 159 copies.

As we mark the anniversary of our nation's entry into a deadly conflict that did little more than set up the conditions for WWII, we should note there is another 100th anniversary this month. On April 30, 1917, a group of young Quaker men in Philadelphia organized the American Friends Service Committee to witness for peace in the midst of war. Although allowed by the Selective Service Act to register as Conscientious Objectors, American Quakers nevertheless went to the battlefields, to work with British Quakers as unarmed stretcher-bearers and ambulance drivers, caring for the wounded of any army. Many brave soldiers, wounded by war, owed their lives to brave non-combatants who rescued them from the battlefield in the name of peace.

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