(The following texts were originally published in the April 2017 issue of the Harrison Heritage News, the monthly newsletter of the Harrison County (Ky,) Historical Society, in a special supplement entitled "Winning World War I" (Hey, just like this blog!). Here the texts are presented with some slight revisions and additions to the original)
It Was War, No Matter What You Call It—A century ago this month the United States entered a war that began two-and-a-half-years earlier in Europe. A spark of fanaticism in the Balkans had set the the whole of Europe on fire, it seemed. At first it was called the “Great War.” It was hoped it would be the “War to End All Wars.” It wouldn’t be too long before it was referred to as the First World War, or just World War I.
If you remember anything from high school history class, you know it became the Allies versus the Axis in a showdown that by 1917 had resulted in a bloody stalemate. Europe had become a continent cleaved by destruction, measured in millions of lives lost and ruined. Americans had wanted no part of it and in 1916 President Woodrow Wilson got reelected on the platform of keeping the U.S. out of it. Circumstances changed, however. The German’s unrestricted submarine warfare and their efforts to recruit Mexico as an ally made neutrality difficult to maintain anymore. America’s involvement would be brief compared to the war’s overall length, but costly, nonetheless.
A Different Pace for a Different Time—Today we live in a minute-by-minute world where one-issue news cycles of just a day’s length predominate … or “distract” as some would have it. 1917 was a day-by-day world where people got their news by word-of-mouth, by personal letters or postcards, by telegram on special occasions, or through newspaper subscriptions. There was no Twitter, Facebook, or Snapchat. No internet. No cable news. No satellite TV or radio. No radio or TV at all.
Harrison County was served by two “news outlets” to use modern terminology. There was the Cynthiana Democrat, which was nominally a Thursday issue. Friday was the publication date of the Log Cabin. News on other days would have been served by dailies delivered by train from Cincinnati, Louisville, or Lexington.
During World War I censorship of newspapers would be the new reality, and when the soldiers wrote letters home, those, too, would be censored.
Two articles follow. The first is from the Cynthiana Democrat of April 12, 1917 (p. 12, col. 4), republished here in its entirety, and it offers one week’s worth of war events, any one of which could have filled a day’s chatter on network or cable news today.
Happenings of the Week in a Nutshell for Rapid Consumption.
Both the Senate and the House at Washington promptly adopted resolutions declaring a state of war with Germany to exist, and authorizing the President to use all means necessary to bring the war to a successful conclusion.
The President’s formal proclamation of a state of war was promulgated Friday. Regulations for the conduct of unnaturalized Germans were set out. They will be untouched if they behave.
Ninety-one ships interned since the beginning of the war in American harbors were seized by the government, and their German crews were locked up at Ellis Island. The Government will use the ships if necessary, and maybe pay for them after the war.Sixty Germans connected with various plots and conspiracies were locked up by United States marshals Friday. Other arrests will follow.[A] German submarine base [is] said to be established on Mexican soil in the Gulf of Mexico. On [the] other hand, the Carranza government is said to contemplate ordering all German citizens to leave Mexico.French and English receive news of America’s entry into the war with great demonstrations.Fifteen thousand men join the navy in three days.The first year of the war may cost the United States five billion dollars.The German crew blew up the gunboat Cormoran in the harbour at Guam on the approach of the United States officers to seize the vessel. Three Germans lost their lives. Thirty-four officers and 321 enlisted men were made prisoners.A prospective slump of fifty million bushels in the crop of winter wheat is the first war feeding problem to confront the country.Cuba, standing by the United States, has declared war on Germany and seized the interned ships in Havana harbor.The Emperor of Germany recommends electoral reforms, to begin after the war is over.A two-billion dollar loan to the Allies is planned by the United States. An immediate bond issue of five billions is forecast.Austria-Hungary has broken diplomatic relations with this country, which means war.
and Bulgaria are expected to follow suit. In the meantime several South American countries are on the verge of declaring war against Turkey . GermanyPresident Wilson favors the draft plan for raising an army quickly.Brazil has broken diplomatic relations with Germany, and Argentina has endorsed the stand of the United States.The British continue to make big advances on the Western front, having penetrated from two to six miles and taken 11,000 prisoners and many guns Tuesday.
~ ~ ~
What War Meant—While the safety of America’s borders and the home front were never really threatened during the war, everyone knew what war meant, that is American lives would be at risk. Hundreds of thousands of men, and some women, too, would have to volunteer or be drafted into the armed forces and go “over there,” to Europe, and fight in the trenches and battlefields which had come to serve as graveyards for so many millions already.
With those sobering facts in mind, the following article from the Cynthiana Democrat of May 3, 1917 (p.1, col. 2) probably grabbed the subscriber’s attention like nothing else published in local newspapers in the decades before World War I:
Questions, Questions—Who would go? How would they be chosen? Only partial answers were given in the article above. As the details were worked out, more would be written and published in the county's newspapers.CONSCRIPTION
Bill Passes Both Houses of Congress Saturday.
----------How It Will Work.----------Saturday, both Senate and House voted approval of the Administration’s proposal to raise a great war army on the principle of selective conscription, voting down by overwhelming majorities the volunteer army amendments around which opponents of the Administration plan had centered their fight, and passing the Selective Draft Bill without material change in the more important provisions written into it by the army General Staff and approved by President Wilson. The vote in the House was 279 to 24 and in the Senate 81 to 8.Both Senators James and Beckham voted for the bill. Representative Fields voted for the volunteer plan, but on the final vote swung into line. The Senate bill fixes the age limit at from 21 to 27 years, and the House bill 21 to 40. The difference will be adjusted in conference. Increase of pay for soldiers from $15 to $30 a month was made.How It Will Work.When perfected the bill will work about as follows: The President will proclaim a registration day.County sheriffs will appoint registrars to take the names of all males between the prescribed ages at each voting precinct.Those who fail to register will be arrested.County exemption boards will be appointed who will exempt from military service persons engaged in industries, including agriculture, found to be necessary to the maintenance of the military establishment or the effective operation of the military forces, or the maintenance of national interests during the emergency. War department officials will make all further exemptions.Five hundred thousand recruits will be equipped and placed in training camps by August 1, it is hoped.The registration will involve about 7,000,000 men, about 40 per cent of whom it is expected will be rejected for physical unfitness.The jury wheel will probably be used in the drawings. The first name drawn will go with the first 500,000; the second name drawn will be called out for the second 500,000 within six months; the third name drawn will be called out in a year; the fourth name will go with the first 500,000; and so on until all names are drawn.Nobody will be excused; no substitutes can be hired. The rich and poor, white and black, and will be affected alike.How It Will Affect Cynthiana.Numbers of young men of the town and county to whom the war has seemed a thing afar off will find themselves face to face with a stern reality. Just how many will have to go into training on the first turn of the wheel cannot be known until each state’s apportionment is worked out. But some will be called. All will have to register. The physically unfit will not go. Those who have families dependent on them will not go. Those engaged in farm work will not be compelled to go, or those engaged in other occupations essential to the maintenance of the army or military forces.Those who are exempt from conscription, but who still desire to serve their country on the field of battle, may enlist at the regular places before conscription goes into effect and take their places in the regular army. It is said the President will call for 500,000 volunteers.
Where were the recruits and draftees from Harrison County go for their training ... and what would happen after that? Camp Zachary Taylor on the outskirts of Louisville, Kentucky would be the first stop for many men from Harrison, and details about the camp will fill out the pages of the next Harrison Heritage News in the special supplement entitled "Winning World War I," ... just like this blog!