UNITED STATES HISTORY THROUGH FILM

Sergeant York


*The First World War—then known as the Great War—broke out in Europe in 1914, and at least in Western Europe, rapidly devolved into the horrific stalemate of trench warfare, where men were killed by the millions, by machine guns, poison gas, tanks, flamethrowers, and even airplanes and zeppelins, while ships were sunk on the high seas by German U-Boats.

 

*President Wilson did not want the United States to get involved in the Great War.  He said America should maintain strict neutrality in both thought and deed.  After all, war would be expensive and deadly, and it was not really any of America's business.  The quid pro quo of the Monroe Doctrine was that while the USA would keep Europe out of the Americas, the US would also keep out of Europe.  Many Americans agreed; they were called isolationists.

*Those Americans who did have sympathies for one or another foreign country were divided between those who preferred the Allies or the Central Powers, as many Americans were of British descent, but others were from German, Italian, Russian, Irish, or other backgrounds, and some felt loyalty to their homelands (although TR decried these 'hyphenated-Americans').

 

*Most Americans preferred the Allies, though.  America remained an English nation, and furthermore, Americans heard and largely believed the propaganda Britain promulgated about the Germans, including tales of baby-eating.

 

*German-Americans (and there were many) were harassed, and eventually prejudice (sometimes including violence) against them grew so strong that many German-Americans changed their names and many German things were given new ‘American’ names:  Sauerkraut became Liberty Cabbage, Hamburgers became Liberty Sandwiches, and Dachshunds became ‘Liberty Pups’.

 

*The US wanted to trade with both sides in the war, but the British navy stopped most shipments to Germany, and in response, Germany began a policy of unrestricted submarine warfare, and in 1915 U-Boats began attacking all ships bound for Britain without warning.


*One of these ships was a British passenger ship that was also carrying weapons called the Lusitania.  A German U-Boat sank it off the coast of Ireland in 1915, and 1,200 passengers, including 128 Americans (who had been warned not to board the ship by the German consul in New York), died.  This, and the sinking of other civilian ships, led to the abandonment of unrestricted submarine warfare in March, 1916.

*After the sinking of the Lusitania, many Americans now wanted to go to war, but Wilson refused, saying ‘There is such a thing as a man being too proud to fight.  There is such a thing as a nation being so right that it does not need to convince others by force that it is right.’  However, Wilson did say that Germany had been wrong to do what it did, without criticising Britain for keeping Americans ships out of Germany.

 

*In 1916 Wilson was re-elected, defeating Charles Evans Hughes, with the slogan ‘He Kept Us out of War,’ while TR condemned him as a molly-coddle.

*In January 1917, the British intercepted and decoded a German telegram from Arthur Zimmerman, the foreign secretary, making an offer to Mexico, where American troops on their punitive expedition against Pancho Villa still occupied Mexican soil.  If Mexico would help Germany and attack the United States, Germany would return to Mexico some of the land that they lost during the Mexican War seventy years before.  Americans were angry about the Zimmermann Note, but still Wilson counselled peace.


*In March, the Germans sank even more American ships as part of their blockade of Britain, violating America’s Freedom of the Seas, and Wilson finally felt compelled to ask for a declaration of war, which he got on 6 April, 1917, although there was some dissent. 

 

*One of the pacifists who voted against the war resolution was Jeannette Rankin of Montana, the first woman in Congress.  She was not re-elected the next time around, and would only return to Congress in 1941, when she would vote against going to war with Japan. 

 

*At Wilson’s behest, America went to war, but not for conquest or power or prestige, but to defeat the tyrants who began the war, and make the world safe for democracy.  This Great War, Wilson said, would be the last war:  it was a war to end war.

 

*At first, Americans hoped that the Navy could win the war, but it soon became apparent that we needed doughboys in France to beat the Germans. 

 

*To accomplish this, Congress passed the Selective Service Act in May, 1917, allowing the government to draft men to fight in the war.  2.8 million men were eventually drafted, and 2 million more volunteered.  4 out of 4.8 million went to France during the War.

 

*The War Industries Board was created to manage the economy, the Railway Administration took over the nation’s railroads, and the Committee of Public Information used posters, newspaper and magazine stories, newsreels before movies, and volunteer public speakers to promote the war effort.

 

*In 1917, the Espionage Act (later made more powerful by amendments in 1918 called the Sedition Act) made it illegal to interfere with the war effort in any way, whether through strikes, interference in the sale of War Bonds, or through making disparaging comments about America's declaration of war, the US Army, military uniforms, or the US flag.  Violating these laws could result in fines or jail time.

 

*In 1917, when the United States was finally provoked into declaring war, Germany had a plan to win the war before it bled them dry or they starved to death behind the British blockade.  The plan had three steps:

1.  Take Russia out of the War.

2.  Take Britain out of the War.

3.  Capture Paris.

 

*To knock out Russia, the Germans found an exiled Communist agitator named Vladimir Lenin and sneaked him into Moscow.  With German money and support, he organised the people, who were opposed to the war and the harsh rule of Tsar Nicholas II Romanov.  The Russian Revolution succeeded in 1917, and soon the Communists, led by the Bolshevik faction, came to power and eventually killed the entire Romanov family.  More importantly from Germany’s point of view, Lenin, and the new communist government he led, negotiated a separate peace through the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk in early 1918.

 

*Germany also resumed unrestricted submarine warfare in 1917 and blockaded Britain with U-boats, preventing food being imported from the rest of the Empire.  They also bombed Britain with zeppelins.  This nearly starved Britain, so that some politicians there considered ending the war. 

 

*Although this ended up bringing America into the war, most members of the German government felt it was worth it.  Besides, they thought that even if America was capable of getting enough troops to Europe to matter (which the German High Command doubted), it would take so long that it would be too late (which was nearly true). 

 

*With Russia out of the war, troops from the Eastern Front were moved to the Western Front in 1918 and thrown into an all-out attack on Paris, led by storm-troopers carrying sacks of grenades, submachine guns, flamethrowers, and other weapons meant for shock tactics.  The French Army, worn out after Verdun and years of war, suffered massive mutinies and many units--sometimes whole divisions--would not fight back.

 

*In 1918 it looked as if Paris would fall and the Central Powers would win.

 

*At this point, the American Expeditionary Force arrived to repay France for allying with America during the Revolution 140 years before.  The General of the Armies, ‘Black Jack’ Pershing, said ‘Lafayette, we are here.’

 

*The AEF was not especially well-trained or well-equipped, and the Americans were not significantly better soldiers than their enemies.  However, they were ready to fight, not worn out by three years of war and bitterness.

 

*Re-enforced by the AEF, the Allies stopped the attack on Paris.  The AEF was involved in three major battles:  Château-Thierry, the first major battle for Americans, Belleau Wood, where the US Marine Corps fought so hard and lost so many men that afterwards the French government gave the land to the United States, and along the Marne River, where the Germans were stopped for good.

 

*The allies counter-attacked along the Meuse River and in the Argonne Forest.  This offensive began on 26 September, 1918, and would be the last of the War.

 

*The Meuse-Argonne Offensive is famous for its heroism among the eager American troops.  The most decorated soldier of the war was Sergeant Alvin York, a backwoodsman from Fentress County, Tennessee.  His family’s farm was poor, especially after his father died in 1911, leaving behind a widow and eleven children.  Alvin had to supplement their diet by hunting, and became a crack shot.  A devout Christian after a changing his ways following the death of a friend in a bar fight, he opposed the war and did not want to go, but was drafted (under the Selective Service Act of 1917) and was not let out as a conscientious objector.  Eventually two of his officers convinced him that there might be times when a Christian could legitimately kill others, and he agreed to go into combat. 

 

*On 8 October, 1918, Alvin York's patrol was ordered to destroy a machine gun nest.  Unable to do so, most of the unit were killed or wounded and the rest took cover, but York, the sharpshooter and highest ranking man still fit for duty, picked off 25 machine-gunners at 50 or 60 yards, and then captured 132 other Germans.  He received, among other decorations, the Medal of Honor.

 

--Introduce Sergeant York

 

     -Sergeant York is set in the years 1916-1918, and tells the story of his Christian salvation (although in fact that occurred a couple of years earlier than depicted in the film, and a bit less dramatically), being drafted into the army and trying to be recognised as a conscientious objector, and finally going to Europe to fight.  Although some parts or fictional, fictionalised, or simply compressed to take place in a shorter time frame, much of it is pretty accurate, particularly the portion after York is drafted.

 

     -The movie was released in 1941 when most of the world was at war, although the United States was still technically uninvolved.  The movie was created in part because film-makers had long wanted to tell Alvin York’s story, and partly to prepare Americans for their likely entrance into World War II, which the Warner Brothers supported (being Jewish, they naturally hated Hitler).

 

     -Making the movie was actually very difficult:  filmmakers had approached York for years about selling his story, but he did not think it was right to profit off the deaths of others--fighting might have been his duty, but it had been an unpleasant one he did not want to glamourise.  Furthermore, as a deeply religious man, he distrusted Hollywood, and movies in general.  However, since returning from Europe, he had dedicated himself to promoting education in the mountains of East Tennessee, and now wanted to found a Bible college, and thought that perhaps he could use the Devil's money to do the Lord's work.  Furthermore, he did believe that America ought to fight in World War II, and that by telling his story of a reluctant fighter who became convinced of his duty to oppose dictatorships, he might convince other Americans, who had become isolationist again after World War I, to have the same change of heart he did. 

 

     -York did insist on some conditions for the movie.  He wanted to be involved in making it so that it would be accurate and would tell the whole story, not just focus on and glamourise his own heroic actions on the battlefield.  He insisted that his share of the profits go to fund a Bible school.  Most importantly, he insisted that the actress who play his wife must not drink or smoke or cuss, and that made finding a suitable actress hard, but eventually they managed.  According to legend, he also insisted that he himself be played by Gary Cooper, something oddly specific for a man who claimed never to watch movies to insist on, although this legend may be based on the fact that Gary Cooper was not interested in the part at first until the director sent him a telegram in York's name.  Cooper later said it turned out to be his favourite role he ever played.

 

     -The movie is based on York's own 1928 autobiography, Sergeant York: His Own Life Story and War Diary, which was largely written by Australian World War I veteran Tom Skeyhill after many long talks with York, and which York sold largely to try to fund a school in his home county.  York also spent a lot of time with the filmmakers to try to keep things fairly accurate.

     -Most of the movie was filmed in the Warner Brothers studios--they even built a large hill on a turntable inside their largest studio so that it could be turned around and filmed from different angles to create several different sets in one, and overall they turned out to be pretty accurate, although there are scenes where it is obvious they are not really out in the mountains.  The clothing and props are pretty accurate, although in the battle scene, York uses a captured German Luger pistol because the filmmakers could not get the kind of Colt pistol he actually used to fire blanks reliably.

 

     -Many of the characters are real, although York's family is simplified so that he is the oldest of three children rather than the third out of eleven children (although he was the oldest still at home when his father died).  On the other hand, quite a few of his relatives and neighbours did not approve of the film and refused to sign releases to be included in it, which is why almost none of York's wife Gracie's family appears in the movie, and why some other characters are fictional, too.

 

     -Alvin York is real, of course, and mostly as portrayed in the movie, although in real life he had a moustache and he had actually cleaned up his life a little earlier than shown in the movie.  He is descended from veterans of the Revolutionary War, Mexican-American War, and Civil War, and has a lot of pride in that tradition, but also feels that killing is wrong.

 

     -Mary Brooks York is Alvin's mother, and is also largely as depicted in the movie, as she tries to hold her poor family together after the death of her husband and tries to make Alvin be a better man.

 

     -Pastor Rosier Pile is a combination of multiple ministers who helped lead York to his salvation.  He is mainly based on the actual Rosier Pile, who was one of York's cousins (who was just ten years older than York) and the owner of a general store and post office in Pall Mall who eventually became the pastor of York's church (which they two of them helped found, moving away from the Methodist Church that both had attended for many years to join the Church of Christ in Christian Union).

 

     -Gracie Williams is a local girl.  She and York fall in love, even though her family does not approve of his wild reputation.  In reality, the two had to see each other in secret for some time before they became engaged.

 

     -Although the movie was controversial when it was first released because it was seen by many people who wanted to stay out of World War II as being too pro-war, it did inspire many young men to join the army (some supposedly walked straight from the movie theatre to the recruiting office.  This was especially true after the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 did bring the United States into the war, and Sergeant York ended up being the most successful movie of 1941 and winning to Oscars (for best actor and best film editing).

 

     -Show Sergeant York

 

     -#2 shows men and women sitting on separate sides of the church, and at one point this was common in many churches, particularly more traditional ones.  It mostly faded away in the 20th Century (or earlier for some denominations), although a few groups still practise it.

 

     -#5 mentions the cloche hat.  It had recently been invented in Paris, and became particularly fashionable after World War I.  It became very popular in the 1920s and was associated with the Flappers who rejected many traditions of feminine modesty.  Bloomers (women’s underwear with separate leg holes) were becoming popular, too, which was important in the 1920s when skirts got shorter and closer-fitting.

 

     -#6 and #67 both mention Cordell Hull.  Like York, he was born in a log cabin in a rural Tennessee county by the Kentucky border.  He was York’s representative in Congress, a position he held almost continuously from 1907-1931, when he became a Senator.  In 1933 he joined Franklin Roosevelt’s cabinet as Secretary of State, and later helped form the United Nations, for which he won the Nobel Peace Prize.

 

     -#9 is true—there really were bars (known as blind tigers) that sat on both sides of the state line.  This was done in part because alcohol was illegal in most of Tennessee by this point, so Tennesseans could enter on the Tennessee side and drink in Kentucky.  Likewise, Kentuckians who got in trouble with the law could go to the Tennessee side and evade the local sheriff.

 

     -#12 was a real tree on which Daniel Boone supposedly carved his initials, but it was not located in Fentress County, but rather in the Boone’s Creek area of Washington County.  Some people suspect it was fake because even though Boone was in what later became Washington County in 1760, he probably could have spelled words like ‘killed,’ ‘bear,’ and his own last name.  The tree blew down in a storm in the 1920s.

 

     -#14 shows how many poor people in America were still making clothes by hand even in the 20th Century, although by 1916 it is likely that most people used store-bought thread and cloth.

 

     -#16 introduces Zeb Andrews, who is a fictional character, but interesting because he is played by Robert Porterfield, who is better known locally as the founder of Barter Theatre in Abingdon, Virginia.

 

     -#18 refers to the bottomland that York wants.  Bottom land was in the bottom of a valley alongside a river.  Rain would erode the best soil off the mountains and down into the valley, while floods would deposit more fertile soil along river bottoms, making it far more valuable for farming than land on top of mountains, especially in days when many farmers ploughed straight up and down the mountains (as York is shown doing), which made erosion even worse than when farmers learned to plough along the side of hills.

 

     -#22 shooting matches were often much as shown here and in the scene that follows, although York’s actual turkey call may be fictional.

 

     -#26 is not at all how York’s salvation took place.  Even when he was wild, he had attended Church and his mother and his minister both encouraged him to be a better man—once when he came home drunk, his mother asked him why he couldn’t be as good a man as his father and grandfather, so he spent several years thinking about his behaviour.  A friend of his was killed in a bar fight, and that shocked him.  He also met Gracie Williams and fell in love, but his reputation was so bad that her family would not allow the two of them to meet.  Finally, he was convinced be a preacher at a local church revival on New Year’s Day, 1915.  However, a years-long process of salvation is less dramatic that a lightning strike and harder to convey in a movie.  Once he was saved, York became a Sunday School teacher, an elder in his church (and later founded a new church along with Rosier Pile), and even took singing lessons so he could sing in church better.

 

     -#29 refers to the practice of sharecropping that was common the South, where a poor farmer would work on someone else’s land and pay the landowner a share of the crop rather than cash rent.  This did provide employment for the sharecropper and labour for the landowner, but often kept poor farmers trapped in a cycle of debt as they borrowed money to buy supplies at the start of the year, hoped to pay that debt off when they sold their crops at the end of the year, but then had to borrow money again in the new year—and they often borrowed at least some of that from the landowners whose land they sharecropped.

 

     -#40 is true, as is most of what is shown in York’s military career.

 

     -#41, #42, and #43 depict a religious discussion that really did take place between York and his commanding officers, Captain Danforth and Major Buxton, although both of them quoted more verses than just those listed here.

 

     -#46 is also true—York was allowed to go home and think things over, although had he chosen not to fight they weren’t actually going to let him leave the army, but were going to find a non-combat role for him.

 

     -#48 does depict a Bible verse that may have helped York make up his mind, but the one that really convinced him was a selection read to him by Captain Danforth from Chapter 33 of the Book of Ezekiel:  I have set thee a watchman unto the house of Israel; therefore thou shalt hear the word at my mouth, and warn them from me. When I say unto the wicked, O wicked man, thou shalt surely die....

 

     -#49 is true.  York fought in the 82nd Infantry Division, known as the All-American Division because it had members from all 48 states.  Its distinctive AA patch stands for All-American and is still worn by the 82nd Airborne today.

 

     -#56 (and the battle scene in general) is very accurate in most ways, but York did not really use a turkey call to get the Germans to stick up their heads—although he did get them one at a time, back to front, like shooting a flock of turkeys or ducks.

 

     -#58 is not entirely true.  Pusher is a fictional character (whereas all the other named characters in York’s unit were real).  It is true that a German who had supposedly surrendered did throw a grenade at York’s men and that York shot him to teach the others a lesson, but that grenade did not actually kill anyone.

 

     -#60 is true—when York asked the way back to American lines and the German officer (actually a lieutenant, not a major as stated in the movie) pointed one way, York went the other.

 

     -#61-65 are all true.  York did capture 132 men and later explained it by saying that he had surrounded them, and he did kill at least 28 men and silenced 25 machine gun nests.

 

     -#66 is, or course, General Pershing.

 

     -#73 is true—the wedding was performed by Governor Albert H. Roberts, who later would become famous for playing a significant role in Tennessee ratifying the XIX Amendment which gave women the right to vote.  Thousands of people came wanting to see the wedding, so at the last minute York decided to hold the wedding outdoors so that no-one would be disappointed.

 

     -#74 is partly true.  The Nashville Rotary Club asked for donations and raised the money to buy a farmstead for York, but not enough to fully equip the farm, so York had to borrow money to get started.  Furthermore, during a sharp downturn in crop prices in the early 1920s the Rotary Club could not continue making payments on the farm and York couldn’t cover his own debts, either, until a nationwide fundraiser was held to pay off the farm.

 

     -After the war, York raised money to create the York Agricultural Institute, which still operates in Fentress County.  When the State of Tennessee ran low on money to fund the school during the Great Depression, York mortgaged his own farm to cover some of the school’s expenses.

 

     -During WWII York was disappointed that so many healthy draftees and volunteers were rejected because they did not have sufficient education.  He offered to lead 5,000 of them himself, but was turned down because of his health, although he was put in charge of his local draft board and was promoted to a major I the US Army. 

 

     -York’s Bible college, funded by his earnings from the movie was not very successful, and eventually shut down.

 

     -In 1951, the IRS claimed the York had not paid the correct tax rate on his earnings from the movie, even though he had donated them to the Bible college, and said he owed $172,000 in back taxes.  York disputed this and spent a decade arguing about it as his health declined.  Eventually the Speaker of the House of Representatives organised a national fund-raiser that raised $50,000 and the IRS agreed to settle for just $25,000 and the rest was used to set up a trust fund that would provide York a small but stead income.  In 1961 President Kennedy said that the IRS’s treatment of York was a national disgrace and ordered them to leave him alone.

 

-Starting in 1949 York suffered a series of strokes, heary attacks, and cerebral haemorrhages.  He eventually was given a special car that could accommodate his wheelchair and was even given a motorized bed to accommodate his near-paralysis.  He died at the Veterans Hospital in Nashville on 2 September 1964, at the age of 74.

 

*In late 1918, as the German army was being pushed back, Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire made separate peaces with the Allies.  The Austro-Hungarian Empire finally collapsed, as Czechs, Slovaks, Poles, Hungarians, and other ethnic groups declared themselves independent from Vienna, and shortly afterwards, Karl I, a great-nephew of Franz Joseph (who had died in 1916) abdicated.  In Germany, the High Seas Fleet was ordered out of Kiel for one final battle against the Royal Navy, but the sailors, knowing it was hopeless, revolted, seizing the city.  The Kaiser fled to the Netherlands, and a provisional government took charge in early November.

 

*Germany signed an armistice at 11:11, 11 November, 1918, ending the fighting and effectively the war.  This was not due to a crushing military defeat (almost all the battle line were outside Germany when fighting ended), but to exhaustion and internal rebellion.

 

*November 11th has been celebrated as Armistice Day, and later Veterans Day, in America ever since, and in many other countries as well.

 

*As revolutions shook the great empires of Europe, Woodrow Wilson, the man who had fought to end war, saw that his time had come.  He issued a peace programme consisting of Fourteen Points This would end secret alliances, remove trade barriers between nations, reduce military forces worldwide, protect freedom of the seas, and create a League of Nations where representatives of all nations could meet to work out their differences and work together to prevent future through collective security. 

 

*For Wilson, America's involvement in the war was simply a grand extension of his moral diplomacy.  Wilson insisted this was not a war of imperialism.  America did not want to gain any more territory, and indeed, he wanted self-determination for all nations.  In fact the war should be fought to bring a peace without victory.

 

*Wilson went to Europe to promote his plan, become the first president to visit Europe while in office, and was greeted like a king when he arrived in France.  Streets were named for him, crowds cheered him wherever he went, and people across Europe expected a new age of peace and freedom.  His offer of a gentle peace helped convince Germany to agree to an armistice. 

 

*In 1919, the Allied leaders and representatives of the defeated powers met in the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles, the old palace of the French kings outside of Paris.  The other Allied leaders were not impressed by Wilson’s plan, which they viewed as idealistic and naive, particularly as they had not fought so long and lost so many lives to win a 'peace without victory.'  Georges Clemenceau said, ‘God only had Ten Commandments; Wilson has fourteen!’ 

 

*One by one, Wilson’s points would be trimmed away, with only the League of Nations saved to keep him happy.  The Central powers, especially Germany, were to be crushed and humiliated.

 

*Germany lost large sections of territory in the east, including everything gained in the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk and the Polish Corridor.  This cut East Prussia off from the rest of Germany.

 

*Perhaps the most symbolic loss for Germany was Alsace-Lorraine, seized from France in 1871.

 

*Germany lost most of her military, being permitted only 100,000 soldiers in the army, a very small navy, and no air force, tanks, chemical weapons, or submarines.

 

*Germany was required to pay reparations of $33 billion to make up for the damage done in the war, which was far more than Germany could pay at the time.  Germany only finished paying reparations from the Great War in October, 2010.

 

*Finally, and most humiliating, Germany was required to sign the War Guilt Clause, saying that the war was all their fault.

 

*The other Central Powers lost territory, too.

 

*Austria-Hungary was divided into many smaller countries.  The land taken from Austria and Germany created a reduced Germany, and the countries of Austria, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia (with Serbia in charge), Poland (which had been wiped off the map in the late 18th Century), Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and Finland and also gave land to Roumania, Greece, and France.  Italy demanded pieces of the old Empire, too, but Victor Orlando was not a good enough negotiator, and did not get much of what he wanted, which embittered Italy towards the Allies.  Germany also lost all her overseas colonies.

 

*Large sections of the Ottoman Empire were carved off and given to the Allies (although it later regained some).  Britain got Palestine, Transjordan, and Kuwait.  The British colony of Iraq was created out of three different Ottoman Provinces which contained different ethnic and religious groups, who ended up dominated by the Sunni Arabs.  France got Lebanon and Syria.  The Ottoman Empire soon collapsed and the last Sultan fled the country as Young Turks modernised the new Republic of Turkey.  Seeking to make a purely Turkish nation out of the remains of their old empire, they killed around 1,000,000 Christian Armenians.

 

*With the exception of limited self-determination in Europe and some pledges towards Freedom of the Seas, Wilson did not get many of his Fourteen Points, but he did get the League of Nations.

 

*When Wilson got home to present the treaty (with which he was not particularly pleased, but which he supported in order to get the United States into the League of Nations), he found that the Republicans in Congress opposed it, partly out of partisan politics (Wilson had deliberately excluded any Republicans from his negotiating team) and partly because they did not want America tied into the League of Nations which might have interfered with American independence or even pulled America into a war without a declaration by Congress. 

 

*Wilson toured the country, but worked so hard he eventually had a stroke, and for over a year the country was secretly run by his second wife and his doctor.

 

*The United States never ratified the Treaty of Versailles, and made different peace treaties with Germany, Austria, and Hungary in 1921.

 

*The United States never joined the League of Nations.

 

*World War I was devastating to all the countries involved in it.  Most of the major countries involved lost over 3% of their entire population.  Just as the war was ending, the world suffered another deadly tragedy, known as the Spanish Flu (so-called because Spanish newspapers gave it the first major coverage, even though the first known cases appeared in the US and then in other European countries).  It lasted from 1918 to 1919.


*It is estimated that a third of the world’s population, on all inhabited continents (and even remote Pacific Islands) was infected, and between 50 million and 100 million people died—more than died in World War I (about 14 million).  Over 25% of Americans were infected; over half a million died (far more than the 53,000 Americans killed in battle in World War I or the 63,000 who died outside of combat).


*World War I changed the world.  New nations were created, a generation of young men was nearly wiped out, and the survivors felt lost in the world around them.  In many countries, the generation that survived World War I was known as the Lost Generation, which had a reputation for being cynical, short-sighted, and unreligious (as religious belief declined in countries who had all thought they were fighting with God on their side).  In Germany in particular, the burden of war reparation, the loss of territory, and especially the humiliation of the War Guilt Clause led to bitterness, resentment, and a desire to find scapegoats and new leaders who would restore the glory of the German Empire.

 

*Despite this sense of gloom in much of the world, America did not feel quite so bad.  After all, we had fought a war to end war, and had won.  There would never be another war again.





This page last updated 7 March, 2019.
Powered by Hot Air