Are We Americans a Warlike People?

Brander Matthews, Columbia University’s Chair of Dramatic Literature, tackled the question of whether Americans were inherently militaristic in this essay written shortly after the country’s entry into World War I. Matthews’ conclusion was that although we possessed some aspects of that trait, for the most part we weren’t militaristic. However, some of his reasoning arguably doesn’t hold up as well a century later.

He declares that only two of the five wars since independence up through 1917 were fully “necessary” — the Revolutionary War and Civil War — while declaring of the War of 1812, Mexican-American War, and Spanish-American War that “no one of them was absolutely necessary.” Since then, we’ve entered several additional wars that many historians regards as less than “absolutely necessary,” among them Iraq, Vietnam, and Korea.

Matthews also writes: “Whenever we have gone to war we have been found pitiably unprepared for it — which is satisfactory evidence that we are fundamentally unmilitaristic in spirit.” The subsequent rise of what Dwight Eisenhower coined the “military-industrial complex” likely render that critique inaccurate by 2017 as well, given our large standing military, Selective Service, and sizable contingent of weapons and ships.

Are We Americans a Warlike People?: Educator Says the Fact That We Have Entered All Wars Unprepared Shows That We Are Fundamentally Unmilitaristic (PDF)

From Sunday, April 29, 1917

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Written by Jesse

April 27th, 2017 at 12:01 pm

Posted in Debate,War

Censorship Heavier Than Prussian Muzzle

The Espionage Act of 1917 remains one of the most controversial laws ever passed by Congress in American history. Signed into law in June 1917, it was used almost a century later to charge Edward Snowden and convict Chelsea Manning for releasing classified intelligence information. Defenders say the law protects national security, while opposers claim it violates the First Amendment and free speech.

In April of 1917, the bill was still being debated in Congress. Republican Senator William Borah of Idaho opposed the measure, claiming it was more restrictive than the forces we had just entered World War I to fight against:

“The things they are allowed to say and write and publish in autocratic Prussia today will be prohibited in this democratic America by the terms of this very law,” continued the Idaho Senator, “and we propose to enact it as one of the preliminaries to our entering this war to rid the world of Prussianism.”

Alas, Borah’s fight was a lonely one. The measure passed the Senate 77-6. While the House vote attracted a much higher percentage against, it still passed handily 260-107.

Censorship Heavier Than Prussian Muzzle: Senator Borah Characterizes the Espionage Bill — Senator Cummins, in Voicing His Opposition, Criticises President Wilson (PDF)

From Sunday, April 29, 1917

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April 26th, 2017 at 12:01 pm

Posted in Politics,War

Pan American University Planned for Panama

The concept of a university linking both North and South America was already off the ground by 1917.

“Now comes Dr. Edwin Grant Dexter, President of the Instituto Nacional de Panama, with a tangible suggestion and plan for the doing of this very thing. He would establish a point of academic, cultural contact between the two continents by means of a Pan American University at Panama, the middle place of the hemisphere, a rallying point for fellowship and a common endeavor for the welfare of all the twenty-one republics, both North and South.

“Such a university already has been authorized by the Republic of Panama, seven acres of land bordering on the United States Canal Zone are immediately available for the purpose, a million dollars’ worth of school buildings and dormitories already in operation…”

What happened? A search for ‘Pan American University’ reveals both the University of Texas – Pan American (a defunct Texas college founded in 1927) and also Panamerican University (a Catholic school in Mexico City founded in 1967). And searching for information on Edwin Grant Dexter doesn’t seem to reveal anything insightful. If anybody knows what happened with this plan, please reply in the comments section.

Pan American University Planned for Panama: New Bond Between North and South America Outlined by Dr. Edwin Grant Dexter — Twenty-one Republics Are Interested (PDF)

From Sunday, April 22, 1917

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April 20th, 2017 at 7:38 am

Posted in Education

Conscription Needed – By Mayor John Purroy Mitchel

In the first month and a half after America entered World War I, only about seven percent of the hoped-for number of young men to volunteer for military service actually did so, according to People’s History of the United States. In May 1917, the Selective Service Act of 1917 was enacted, making WWI only the second conflict to require a military draft. Drafts were subsequently enacted for World War II, and the Cold War conflicts of Korea and Vietnam, though since 1973 the country has relied on an all-volunteer military.

On April 22 of that year, though, a draft was not certain. The first branch of Congress to pass the legislation would not occur for another few days, until April 28. New York City Mayor John Purroy Mitchel wrote this opinion column advocating for the measure:

“We have so vividly before us the melancholy experience of England in the present war. We shall never know how many thousands, or hundreds of thousands, were simply slaughtered because of England’s unpreparedness. It has been said, and I believe truly, that if England had had universal service — and that would have meant land forces comparable with those of France and Germany — this war would not have come about.”

Conscription Needed: Mayor Mitchel Urges Support of Administration So That Country May Be Able to Protect Itself (PDF)

From Sunday, April 22, 1917

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April 19th, 2017 at 7:38 am

Posted in Politics,War

U.S. May Yet Raise $75,000,000,000 for War

Immediately after the United States entered World War I, the country was making plans to potentially collect as much as $75 billion to cover the American financial cost of the conflict. According to an estimate from the Congressional Research Service, WWI ended up costing the U.S. about $20 billion, or a little more than a quarter of the original drastic estimate.

Adjusted for inflation to 2008 dollars (the year the cost estimate was made), that cost would come to about $253 billion. In constant inflation-adjusted dollars, that made WWI by far the war with the highest American financial cost up to that point, at more than quadruple the combined Union and Confederacy costs in the Civil War. But WWI would go on to be dwarfed by WWII, coming in at a staggering 16.2 times higher cost. WWI would later be overtaken in cost as well by Korea, Vietnam, and Iraq.

U.S. May Yet Raise $75,000,000,000 for War: Milton W. Harrison of the American Bankers’ Association Believes Americans Can Produce This Sum to Fight Germany (PDF)

From Sunday, April 15, 1917

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April 14th, 2017 at 9:02 am

Posted in War

Where College Boys Prefer Study to Baseball

Reed College in Oregon, which held its first classes in 1911 only six years prior to this article, undertook several unusual initiatives among colleges at the time to created a student body excelling in academics. Among them was a mandatory senior thesis for undergraduates, not just graduates, and a lack of official intercollegiate sports teams. Both the undergraduate senior thesis and lack of NCAA sports teams still exist to this day.

Where College Boys Prefer Study to Baseball: Reed College of Portland, Oregon, Now in Its Sixth Year, Has Emerged Successfully from Unique Experiment in Education (PDF)

From Sunday, April 15, 1917

 

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April 13th, 2017 at 9:02 am

Posted in Education,Sports

Democracy of the Joke And Lack of German Humor Discussed by Leacock

On the very week that America entered World War I, Stephen Leacock explained in an article how one of the Allies’ unheralded strengths in the battle of ideas was their sense of humor, while one of Germany’s greatest weaknesses was their lack thereof:

“Do you know what is the most democratic form of literature? It is humorous literature. For of humorous literature the only test is: Do they laugh or do they not laugh? No King ever posed as a humorist. No King ever was a humorist, that is, an intentional humorist.

And one proof of the democracy of humor is its absence in Germany. Is there any one not a German to whom the German joke appeals? The German joke, like the peace of God, passeth all understanding.

Real humor is universal in its appeal; its popularity extends beyond national boundaries. Mark Twain has been translated into every language, and he is as funny in French or modern Greek as he is in English… Charles Dickens is the property of all the world; we think of him as a great humorist instead of as a man who wrote to amuse the English. But German humor does not cross the Rhine. The world knows German philosophy and German science and German scholarships, but it knows nothing of German humor. And the reason for this must be that there is no German humor to know.”

The best example of so-called ‘German humor’ ever might be this early Steve Carell clip with American comedians as “Germans who say nice things” —

 Democracy of the Joke And Lack of German Humor Discussed by Leacock: Famous Canadian Wit Also Gives His Views on the Perversity of the Russian Verb (PDF)

Published Sunday, April 8, 1917

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Written by Jesse

April 10th, 2017 at 4:02 pm

Posted in Humor,War

What It Costs in Money and Effort to Devise a Circus Spectacle

You might recognize the name of the man featured in the above photo: Alfred T. Ringling, more famous as half of the Ringling Brothers. It took a lot of work for him to run the circus:

“The working basis of a spectacle is 1,000 people, 100 to 150 horses, 10 to 25 elephants, about as many camels, sacred cows, zebras, and other exotic animals as needed, and about 30 minutes by the clock. When the spectacle is being given in Madison Square Garden a couple of hundred “supers” are hired; but when the show gets on “the road” under canvas and the Barnum & Bailey army is recruited up to its full marching strength by the addition of its corps of canvasmen and its corps of cook-house men, etc. every actor in the spectacle is a circus person and, conversely, practically every circus person is a spectacle actor.”

The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus stopped using elephants in May 2016, and in January 2017 announced their circus would end completely in May after 146 years. Check here to see if their farewell tour will be stopping by you in the next month.

What It Costs in Money and Effort to Devise a Circus Spectacle: Just a Short Curtain-Raiser, But It Means Nearly as Much Work as All the Rest of the Performance (PDF)

Published Sunday, April 8, 1917

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April 9th, 2017 at 3:36 pm

Posted in Entertainment

Each Worker Loses 9 Days Yearly by Illness

In 1917, the average worker lost nine days annually due to illness, according to Frederic W. Loughran, then medical adviser to the New York State Insurance Fund. In 2013, the average worker only called in sick 4.9 days per year. This even though the average full-time private sector employee had eight paid sick days off.

Each Worker Loses 9 Days Yearly by Illness: Lack of Attention to Principles of Modern Industrial Hygiene Responsible at Present for Enormous Waste in Our Factories (PDF)

Published Sunday, April 8, 1917

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April 8th, 2017 at 3:25 pm

Posted in Business

Individual’s Day Is Over, Says Geo. W. Perkins

This passage written by George Walbridge Perkins, then Chairman of the New York City Mayor’s Food Supply Commission, could just as easily have been written today — if not even more applicable today, considering the massive technological changes brought about by the Internet, smartphones, email, automation, and more:

We are just entering a new electrical world, where everything is done, as it were, on the instant.

Our fathers had none of the modern machinery with which social and business intercourse is now carried on. Their sons are wrestling with the problem of how to use these new methods of intercommunication and still adhere to the laws, the precedents, and the book learning of their fathers.

This is our great problem. It is a difficult, complicated problem, and is causing a struggle of titanic proportions — a struggle to throw off in a night, as it were, the precedents of an Old World for the realities of a new.

Precedent makes cowards of us all. But the educator, the scientist, and the inventor have left us no choice. We must adjust our thought and action to new conditions.

The changes of the last twenty-five years, socially, industrially, and economically, have been great, yet I believe they are infinitesimal compared to the changes that are coming.

As for the headline’s prediction that the “individual’s day is over,” that prediction did not turn out true. As my 2011 Washington Post article noted, the first 10 songs to reach #1 on the Billboard music sales chart were by eight groups and only two individuals, while as of the column’s publication, the 10 most recent #1 songs were by an almost-reversed nine individuals and only one group.

Individual’s Day Is Over, Says Geo. W. Perkins: And the Process of Curtailing His Privileges in Favor of the Community Is Still Only in Its Infancy, According to Him (PDF)

Published Sunday, April 1, 1917

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April 7th, 2017 at 2:56 pm

Posted in Life

Hunters in Autos Exterminating Big Game

The relatively new invention of the automobile was producing unforeseen consequences for hunters. William T. Hornaday, director of the New York Zoological Park, thought that lawmakers should ban the practice:

“There is not the slightest doubt,” he said, “that if things are allowed to remain for the next three years as they have been during the last three, there will be no wild game left excepting wolves and coyotes, skunk, and weasels.” This deplorable state of things is due, according to Mr. Hornaday, to crude and ineffective game laws, which allow ridiculously liberal bag limits, open seasons which are nothing less than exterminatory, the use of automatic and pump guns, and worst of all, the automobile: swift, silent, and terrible in its efficacy as a destroying agent.

Today, New York state law says “It is illegal to take or hunt wildlife while in or on a motor vehicle,” according to the state Department of Environmental Conservation. When exactly this law was passed, and whether or not it was passed shortly after this article, I couldn’t easily ascertain.

Hunters in Autos Exterminating Big Game: Unless Law Prevents Slaughter by “Sportsmen” in Motor Cars Our Wild Game Will Disappear, Says William T. Hornaday (PDF)

Published Sunday, April 1, 1917

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April 6th, 2017 at 2:54 pm

The Funniest Things in the Current Plays

What were the most uproarious lines in theatrical productions from a century ago? Reading most of them mostly confirms my belief that people weren’t funny until the late 1970s or early 1980s.

But this line from Have a Heart by Guy Bolton and P.G. Wodehouse was at least somewhat funny, reminiscent of something Woody Allen might have written in his 1970s slapstick comedy days:

“You’re Michael Robinovitch.”

“Robin – Robin – the ‘ovitch’ is silent. In New York we never pronounce our ‘ovitches.'”

The Funniest Things in the Current Plays: Lines to be Heard Just Now in New York’s Theaters Which Have Succeeded in Getting Heartiest Laughs from Audiences (PDF)

Published Sunday, April 1, 1917

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April 5th, 2017 at 2:29 pm

Posted in Humor,Theater

Three Stories a Year Are Enough for a Writer

When I was in late elementary school, my grandfather got me a book collection of Ring Lardner’s “You Know Me Al” comic strips, about the hijinks of a major league baseball player and his teammates. The comic strip was published in the 1920s, several years after the original fiction short stories that made the lead character famous. To be honest, I never thought the comic strip was that funny. The fact that Ring Lardner ranked Elinor Glyn (who?) above Mark Twain among humorists alive in 1917 might explain why.

Three Stories a Year Are Enough for a Writer: Ring W. Lardner, Humorist, Who Makes Fiction Out of Life for Baseball Players, Thinks Fewer and Better Short Stories Needed (PDF)

From Sunday, March 25, 1917

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March 31st, 2017 at 7:01 am

Posted in Humor,Literature

Earliest Known Manhattan Map Made in 1639

A map of “New Amsterdam” with Dutch inscriptions was created in 1639 by cartographer Joan Vingboom. It was then hidden and forgotten about in Holland for almost 200 years. Finally the “Manatus map” had been donated to the Library of Congress, believed to be the earliest map of what is now New York City.

The names used in the map didn’t quite adhere to the Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly lyrics mapping out the city: “New York, New York, a wonderful town / The Bronx is up and the Battery’s down…”

Earliest Known Manhattan Map Made in 1639: Indian Settlements Occupied the Area That Is Now Called Brooklyn, and Even Coney Island Occupied Its Present Place (PDF)

From Sunday, March 25, 1917

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March 30th, 2017 at 7:01 am

Posted in History

War Brings Huge Increase in United States Peanut Crop

Between 1908 and 1916, the total value of U.S. peanuts more than quadrupled. Why? Because the cotton crop had been nearly wiped out boll weevils, leaving far more land for peanuts to be planted. As a result, the price per peanut bushel had doubled or more within only a few years. The more you know.

The final sentence’s prediction that “Down in the cotton country they are saying that we are soon to see the rise of peanut barons” never quite came true, as best I can tell from quick research.

War Brings Huge Increase in United States Peanut Crop (PDF)

From Sunday, March 25, 1917

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March 29th, 2017 at 7:01 am

Posted in Business,War

The Harvard Slouch: Four Out of Every Five Harvard Freshmen Stand in a Faulty Posture, Says Boston Physician

In preparation for the imminent onset of World War I, 746 incoming Harvard students were trained in physical fitness for possible military service. A solid 25.9 percent of them failed in all four elements of good posture, while only 6.7 percent met all four elements.

This was a real thing. Apparently almost 20 percent had feet in such poor condition that it would keep them from serving in war.

Meanwhile, the article’s claim that “A Harvard entering class may be taken as typical of many thousands of American young men” is dubious at best, especially if The Social Network is any indication.

The Harvard Slouch: Four Out of Every Five Harvard Freshmen Stand in a Faulty Posture, Says Boston Physician (PDF)

From Sunday, March 18, 1917

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March 28th, 2017 at 7:01 am

Posted in Life

Russia cartoon – “World: Gracious! What does this all mean?”

This cartoon from 1917 about Russia could just as easily have run today.

 

“World: Gracious! What does this all mean?” (PDF)

From Sunday, March 18, 1917

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March 27th, 2017 at 7:01 am

Posted in Humor

Do We Want to Pay the Health Insurance Bill?

In 1917, the concept of health insurance was so new that it was referred to in quotes.

More than 20 state legislatures that year proposed bills to get government and taxpayers involved in health insurance, an innovative and bold idea at the time even though it’s considered commonplace now. (Even most anti-Obamacare Republicans generally want to maintain — or in some cases even increase — federal spending on such programs as Medicare, if not as much on Medicaid.) Here’s how the new ideas were described to the American public in 1917:

“Their arguments may be summarized as follows: That there is a wage loss due to sickness of six hundred millions of dollars annually; that the great majority of wage earners are living so close to the poverty line that they cannot bear this loss themselves nor can they provide against it through the present channels of protection — benefit societies, lodges, trade unions and the like; that the most important duty of society today is better to distribute this loss through compulsory sickness insurance; that the operation of compulsory sickness insurance will prevent disease and improve the health and general well-being of the nation, and that, therefore, society as a whole should help pay the insurance bill.

[All manual workers or anybody earning less than $100 per month would receive two-thirds of their wages in case of illness or accident, medical attention for the whole duration of the disability, and a $50 benefit in case of death.] The cost of all this shall be paid one-fifth by the State, two-fifths by the employers, and two-fifths by the wage earner, the latter’s contribution being deducted from his weekly pay by his employer.”

Today, disability insurance exists, but this article goes to show that health care was one of the most controversial and volatile political debates in 1917 just as it was today. Vox ran a terrific feature on why Vermont’s attempt to become the first state to institute single-payer universal health care ultimately failed to get off the ground.

Do We Want to Pay the Health Insurance Bill?: Frank F. Dresser Says Proposed Measure Would Give Country a Small Return in Bettered Health for a Tremendous Outlay (PDF)

From Sunday, March 11, 1917

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March 17th, 2017 at 7:40 am

Posted in Debate,Politics

Your Pet Cat May Have to Have a License Soon

This is notable for being by far the most “clickbait” style headline the New York Times Sunday Magazine ever featured on this blog. This is perhaps the only headline yet featured that would be written word-for-word the exact same way today.

A New York state bill was debated in 1917 that would license all pet cats and kill all others in the state. (The verb used in the article is the even more horrific “destroyed.”) The reason was not due to visceral hatred of the cute kittens, but for economic purposes:

“The high cost of living is largely due to the fact that not enough foodstuff is produced by the farmers; the shortage of crop is, in turn, partly due to the ravages of insects, and the only effective check on the insects is the birds. But the birds are destroyed by the cats. Every link in this chain between the cat and the cost of food is backed up and proved by scientific demonstration and statistics and the totals all along the line are enormous.

“For example, Frank M. Chapman of the American Museum of Natural History figures that there are at least 25,000,000 cats in the United States, and the country’s annual loss in crops from the depredations of insects alone is estimated at $1,200,000,000.

The license fee for a pet cat would have been 50 cents and 25 cents for each subsequent reissue.

Shockingly, the most common argument against the bill — and in favor of cats — was not from animal lovers or PETA (which would not be founded until 1980), but “The one argument most frequently heard in behalf of the cat is that it kills rats and mice.”

Did the bill pass? While I found that in the same year of 1917 New York state began requiring dogs to be licensed, I was unable to determine whether cats were too. If anybody knows the answer, please comment below.

Your Pet Cat May Have to Have a License Soon: Otherwise It Will Be Killed as a Public Nuisance If Bill Now Before Legislature Passes — An Effort to Protect Birds and Crops (PDF)

From Sunday, March 11, 1917

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March 16th, 2017 at 7:40 am

Efficiency Test of Domestic Standards for Every Housekeeper

There was a discrepancy of 60,000 more housekeeper jobs than people to fill the positions, as of 1917, because many women found the position undesirable.  Thetta Quay Franks, author of the book The Margin of Happiness: Practical Studies in Household Efficiency, came up with a series of questions for the head of the household to ask their housekeeper, to ensure the housekeeper was happy and comfortable in their employment. Among them were questions related to fair wages, vacation time, whether the female head of the household assisted with the work, whether a daily schedule of work as provided, and whether employees received different food than the family.

Today, the housekeeper isn’t nearly as common a position as it was back then. Then again, those holding the position can still exert a strong influence: just listen to the new popular podcast Missing Richard Simmons and listen to the influence of Teresa Reveles, Simmons’s housekeeper of 27 years who may or may not be abusing the fitness trainer and holding him hostage in his own home.

Efficiency Test of Domestic Standards for Every Housekeeper: Put Yourself in Place of Your Cook and Get Her Point of View, Says Mrs. Thetta Quay Franks (PDF)

From Sunday, March 11, 1917

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March 15th, 2017 at 7:40 am

Posted in Life