Thursday, April 3, 2008

Pro- Allied Involvement Propaganda

In the early 1900's European politics developed into a powder keg waiting to explode and drag the world into war with it. Militarism built up European nations to the point where they were war ready without a war, in essence a loaded gun looking to be used. Imperialism had led to Europe carving up Asia and Africa each seeking global power and domination, and all the while creating feuds and conflicts between the Europeans over who would have that top spot amongst the imperial powers. Between the growing military power and the growing empires of Germany, France, and Britain came such strong feelings of nationalism and pride. Each nations people feeling empowered to dominate the world. This powder keg finally exploded with the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and the start of WWI. While the assassination started the war it was the conflict created by imperialism, nationalism and militarism that laid the foundation for war. Once the war began it engulfed all of Europe and from the start pulled the United States towards having to make a crucial decision; to enter the war or not to enter the war. Obviously if entering the war a choice on who's side to join would have to be made as well. There were the Allies France, Britain and Russia, each having long friendly ties with the United States, both politically and economically, and of course ties from the birth of our nation. Then their were the Central Power, Germany, Prussia and the Ottoman Empire, which each had a government far from democracy and American ideals. The choice that the US would ultimately make was swayed by propaganda as much as political and social reasons.

Economically speaking the US had closer ties with France and Britain, and the war helped those ties. The US was supplying much of the supplies needed by these countries, leading to great economic growth.

" Briefly, the situation, as I understand it, is this: Since December 1st, 1914, to June 30, 1915, our exports have exceeded our imports by nearly a billion dollars, and it is estimated that the excess will be from July 1st to December 31, 1915, a billion and three quarters. Thus for the year 1915 the excess will be approximately two and half billion dollars.

- Robert Lansing- " Letter to the President" 1915

This type of economic growth obviously was favored and led to the growth of loans for the Allies so that they could continue to purchase US materials. These loans though led to the US having a greater interest in the Allies winning, the Allies losing could hinder loan repayment, and cripple the US economy in the future, which caused the US to have a much greater interest in the Allies winning, and may have led to the US joining the war.

Politically speaking propaganda was much more of a simple subject to get across to the US people. Articles discussing Germany's plans of bringing down all democracies and building an empire with a dictator caused people to fear a German victory. German involvement in Mexican affairs causing anti-US feelings brought that idea of an evil empire to the doors of the US itself. Stories of German involvement in Latin America furthered this image. Propaganda mixed with reality painted the German people as war hungry, empire hungry people, seeking to dominate Europe and then the Americas, bringing down all democracies.

"these three great empires would constitute an almost irresistible coalition against the nations with republican and liberal monarchical institutions"

"I imagine that Germany would be the master of Western Europe, Africa and probably the Americas"

- Robert Lansing 1915

Ideas like these pushed US views to focusing on Allied success, by means of loans or if needed US military involvement.

Social aspects of propaganda existed as well. Of course there was the obvious that the Central powers opposed democracy and wanted to imperialize the world, thus threatening freedom and liberty world wide, issues close to the hearts of US citizens since it was these issues that led to the birth of America. These heart strings were pulled to the fullest extent, the idea of saving liberty and democracy and fighting for freedom rifled through any propaganda aimed at US involvement in the war. Another issue was German war tactics. German submarine warfare led to many ships with innocent citizens being killed, the US Lusitania the most famous of those. Their use of poison gas, killing of regular citizens, women and children were subjects that made US involvement seem needed. Political cartoons of Germans killing babies, crucifying people, and using poison gas were regular propaganda methods. Propaganda is meant to make one side look evil and these issues worked well, the thought of German success, and maybe even war in our soil made Americans see entering the war as needed, in order to battle the evil that was Germany.

The pro-war propaganda from WWI was very much on the side of the Allies, and one looking at history could say it worked. The US entered the war and soon after the Allies were victorious. The anti Germany works of literature and art may very well have changed history, and these ideas of pro or anti war propaganda still fill our lives.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Chinese Republic, Sun Yat Sen, 1912

"An individual should not have too much freedom. A nation should have absolute freedom." - Sun Yat Sen

Sun Yat Sen is known as the Father of Modern China. He was born in Guangdong, China in 1866 and died in Beijing in 1925. A member of the Kuomintang Party, he is best remembered for his political philosophy outlined in his Three Principles of the People. These three principles were nationalism, democracy and equalization. He believed that China should be controlled by Chinese, not by foreign imperialist powers and that the government should be republican with democratic elections. His equalization theory said that wealth should be more evenly distributed and ownership of land by private citizens should be prohibited. Much like the government of the United States, his idea for a democratic state included executive, legislative and judicial branches, as well as the censurate and the civil service branches.
Sun Yat Sen fought for many years to establish a republic in China. He achieved this goal in 1912, only to be overthrown by the dictator Y√ľan Shih Kai after only four months as provisional president of the Republic. Despite this failure, his work opened the door for the formation of the Chinese Republic by Chiang Kai-Shek in 1928.

Woodrow Wilson -- Flag Day Address

"What great nation in such circumstances would not have taken up arms? Much as we had desired peace, it was denied us, and not of our own choice. This flag under which we serve would have been dishonored had we withheld our hand." --Woodrow Wilson, Flag Day Address; June 14th, 1917.

President Woodrow Wilson delivered his "Flag Day Address" in June of 1917, just twelve days before the first American troops would land on European soil, officially entering the U.S. into World War I. It was a strong and heavily patriotic speech, which sought to explain to an unsettled and undecided American public that the United States was essentially forced into the war by the Germans, and that to sit passively by would not only be dangerous, it would be very un-American. The Germans, Wilson says, have left us no choice through their insults, aggression and espionage. He also points out that Germany tried to incite Mexico into starting a war with us, and attempted to recruit Japan as their ally.

But President Wilson explains to the people that the offenses committed against America are not the only reason why our men are being sent overseas. President Wilson acknowledges that the German people themselves did not want this war machine, but was subject to it nonetheless. President Wilson details Germany's plot:

"Their plan was to throw a broad belt of German military power and political control across the very center of Europe and beyond the Mediterranean into the heart of Asia; and Austria-Hungary was to be as much their tool and pawn as Servia or Bulgaria or Turkey or the ponderous states of the East."
Germany was attempting to control the whole of Europe, and then Asia, through force, political and economical control. President Wilson reminds the people that the Germans have control over many countries in Europe and the Ottoman empire, and has partial control of France and Belgium. President Wilson stresses that it is simply not enough to stop the Germans with what they currently have, they must be defeated fully.

According to President Wilson, this serves two purposes: the Germans will have to relinquish rightful control of the territories and will be punished for their aggressiveness. By allowing the Germans to retain control over countries they overtook with force, it would reinforce and justify their methods of taking real estate by force. Secondly, when they are defeated, the Government will forced to relinquish power, thus paving the way for a democratic government to come into power:
"If they can secure peace now with the immense advantages still in their hand which they have up to this point apparently gained, they will have justified themselves before the German people: they will have gained by force what they promised to gain by it: an immense expansion of German power, an immense enlargement of German Industrial and Commercial opportunities. Their prestige will be secure, and with their prestige their political power. If they fail, their people will thrust them aside; a government accountable to the people themselves will be set up in Germany as it has been in England, in the United States, in France, and in all the great countries of the modern time except Germany."
President Wilson then waxes philosophical about protecting the liberties, rights and freedoms of the people of Europe and explains to his audience that we, as Americans, must be there to help "set the world free." If we do not, President Wilson assures, freedom and democracy will be pushed aside and crushed by the great armies of our enemies.

President Wilson is careful not to mention too bluntly some of his forthcoming intentions in this speech. He cloaks them in a shroud of strong patriotism, noble causes and threating enemies. He attempts to provoke strong feelings in the audience, in hopes that they will act on impulse and not try to dig too deep as to what other motives there may be (as many leaders have done throughout history and continue to do) for sending millions of American troops across the Atlantic.

That is not to say that WWI wasn't justified--it absolutely was. However, there were ulterior motives behind the fully noble and charitable causes the President told the nation that we were fighting for. Our own Economic interests played a large part in the war. All of our economic partners in Europe were coming under fire from Germany. Our ability to further own our economic interests would be greatly diminished if the Germans controlled the majority of the Ottoman empire and Europe.

If the Spanish-American war was our introduction as a "Superpower" and "World Police," then World War I was our prime-time slot. President Wilson wanted to ensure that when those countries that had been under German control were eventually freed, and the map of Europe and the Middle East were re-drawn, the United States would be right there to divvy up the spoils and assert our power and interests. We were not going to miss out on this momentous re-distribution of power.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Social Darwinism

During the second great age of imperialism in the 1800’s Europeans looked to expand their empires for several reasons. There was the quest for power, having more land meant having more power. There was the need for natural resources, as industrialization grew so did the need for raw materials, and markets. There was also a social component, a belief that it was their duty and their right. Stemming from the idea of the White Man’s Burden, Europeans believed that it was their duty or obligation to imperialize, modernize and civilize less advanced peoples. Coupled with that idea was the concept of Social Darwinism.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Theodore Roosevelt and The "Rough Riders"

"Hostilities formally began when Spain declared war on the United States on April 24th, 1898. Across the country regiments began to form. Theodore Roosevelt immediately resigned as assistant secretary of the navy, ordered a fancy uniform, and accepted a commission as lieutenant colonel of a volunteer calvary regiment soon to become famous as the Rough Riders" (America, p.639).

Perhaps the most publicized and well-known volunteer fighting force from the Spanish-American war is Theodore Roosevelt's famous "Rough Riders." Roosevelt had been the Assistant Secretary of the Navy, but resigned in order to form a volunteer calvary regiment to fight in the Spanish-American war. With the help of Colonel Leonard Wood, Roosevelt began publicizing the regiment and recruitment. Thanks to his notoriety and colorful nature, Roosevelt's new regiment had twenty three hundred men volunteer in the first twenty-four hours, but only a fraction of them could be accepted.

Due to his lack of combat experience, Roosevelt initially positioned himself as Lieutenant-Colonel of the new regiment, relegating command duties to Colonel Leonard Wood. The regiment was made up of men from all over the country, with all different backgrounds ranging from Ivy-league educated to ranch-hands. The common thread that landed all these men in the Rough Riders was their ability to ride horses and shoot, as well as their physical fitness. The regiment was organized in San Antonio, TX and set sail for Cuba on June 14th, 1898. Unfortunately, due to poor organization and logistics, the Rough Riders arrived in Cuba on June 22nd without any of their horses.

Only two days after arriving in Cuba, the Rough Riders saw action in the field, during the Battle of Las Guasimas. Shortly thereafter, Colonel Leonard Wood was promoted to Brigadier General and Roosevelt was made Colonel of the Rough Riders. The Rough Riders would become famous through Roosevelt's writings of the war afterwards, and the amazing bravery and tenacity of the Rough Riders, particularly in the famous battles of "Kettle" and "San Juan Hill," positioned just outside the city of Santiago. Led by Colonel Roosevelt, the Rough Riders took Kettle Hill, and continued on to San Juan Heights. Along with help from the Ninth and Tenth Regiments, the "Buffalo Soldiers," and other regiments of the U.S. Army, the Rough Riders took the city of Santiago. It was a major achievement in the war, and directly contributed to the surrender of the Spanish.

The Rough Riders were quickly sent back to the United States in order to escape the tropical diseases beginning to take hold of the troops. They were shipped back to
Montauk, Long Island, where they received a hero's welcome. By this time, the Rough Riders had been highly publicized in the United States and were already becoming legends in their own right. Roosevelt was nominated for a medal of honor (although he did not receive it at the time, he was awarded it in 2001, posthumously) and was elected Governor of New York later that year. He would serve as Vice President to William McKinley and eventually became the President of the United States when McKinley was assassinated in 1901.

Theodore Roosevelt Association
Library of Congress
Spanish American War Centennial