Wikiquote:Transwiki/American history quotations World War I

Start of the World War

1912 A European war is bound to come sooner or later, and then it will... be a struggle between Teuton [German] and Slav [Russian]. It is the duty of all states who uphold the banner of German spiritual culture to prepare for this conflict. But the attack must come from the Slavs. General Helmuth von Moltke, Chief of the German General Staff.

1914 It only requires a spark to set the whole thing off. Colonel Edward M. House, advisor of President Woodrow Wilson, opinion of conditions in Europe after returning from an inspection tour in the Spring.

1914 With a little good will, this Serbian business is easy to settle. But it can just as easily become acute. Serbia has some very warm friends in the Russian people. And Russia has an ally, France. French President Raymond Poincaré

1914 Berlin, July 23 -- A note from Austria couched in the peremptory terms of an ultimatum and demanding a reply by 6 o'clock Saturday evening was delivered to the Servian Government at Belgrade this evening at 6 o'clock. It demands the punishment of all accomplices in the murder of the archduke Francis Ferdinand and the [text unreadable] fomented rebellion in Bosnia. The Servian Government must publish on Sunday an official disavowel of its connection with the anti-Austrian propaganda. It is understood here that Belgrade will refuse to comply with the demands for the suppression of the societies. Grave importance is attached to the fact that Baron Hoetzendorf, Chief of the Austrian army would invade Servia. Seven corps have been ordered to be held in readiness and several monitors have proceeded to Semlin. In case of Servia's non-compliance with the ultimatum the army will invade the kingdom without further parley. Germany and Italy have expressed full approval of the Austrian programme and announced their readiness to go to extremes to "keep the ring" for their ally in case interference in support of Servia is offered from any quarter. German officers, it is learned from an authoritative quarter, have been able to obtain leave during the last few days only on condition that they will return instantly to their posts on telegraphic notice. New York Times (July 26, 1914)

1914 The Czar was silent. Then he said to me, in a voice full of deep feeling: “This would mean sending hundreds of thousands of Russian people to their deaths. How can one help hesitating to take such a step?” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Sazonov, recounting interview with Czar Nicholas II, about issuing his order to mobilize Russia’s armies.

1914 Men standing in slime for days and nights in field boots... lost all sense of feeling in their feet. These feet of theirs, so cold and wet, began to swell, and then go “dead” and then suddenly to burn as though touched by red hot pokers. Philip Gibbs, Realities of War

1915 When moving about in the trenches you turn a corner every few yards, which makes it seem like walking in a maze. It is impossible to keep your sense of direction... When the trenchers have been fought over the confusion becomes all the greater. Instead of neat, parallel trench lines, you make the best use of existing trenches which might run in any direction. Charles Carrington, a British soldier on the Western Front in France.

1915 In Flanders Fields the poppies blow Between the crosses, row on row, That mark our place; and in the sky The larks, still bravely singing, fly Scarce heard amid the guns below. We are the Dead. Short days ago We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow, Loved and were loved, and now we lie In Flanders Fields. Take up our quarrel with the foe: To you from failing hands we throw The torch; be yours to hold it high. If ye break faith with us who die We shall not sleep, though poppies grow In Flanders fields. Major John McCrae, MD (1872-1918), "In Flanders Fields." He was a Canadian physician and fought on the Western Front and died of pneumonia while on active duty in 1918. McCrae's "In Flanders Fields" remains to this day one of the most memorable war poems ever written.

The U.S. Drifts Toward War 1914 There is nothing reasonable in such a war, and it would be folly for the country to sacrifice itself to the frenzy of dynastic politics and the clash of ancient hatreds which is urging the Old World to destruction. Editorial in the New York Sun, urging the United States to remain out of the just-begun war in Europe.

1914 I suppose that every thoughtful man in America has asked himself, during these last troubled weeks, what influence the European war may exert upon the United States; and I... point out that it is entirely within our own choice what its effects upon us will be, and to urge very earnestly upon you the sort of speech and conduct which will best safeguard the nation against distress and disaster.... Every man who really loves America will act and speak in the spirit of neutrality and fairness and friendliness to all concerned. The spirit of the nation in this critical matter will be determined largely by what individuals and society and those gathered in public meetings do and say, upon what newspapers and magazines contain, upon what ministers utter in their pulpits and men proclaim as their positions in the street.... I venture, therefore, my fellow countrymen, to speak a solemn word of warning against... passionately taking sides. The United States must be neutral in fact as well as in name during these days that are to try men’s souls. We must be impartial in thought as well as in action, must put a curb upon our sentiments that might be construed as a preference of one party to the struggle before another. From President Wilson’s speech of Aug. 19 on neutrality.

1915 “An indefensible violation of neutral rights” American protest to Germany’s announcement in February that it was declaring a war zone around Great Britain and that any ship entering that zone could be attacked by submarines.

1915 NOTICE! Travelers intending to embark on the Atlantic voyage are reminded that a state of war exists between Germany and her allies and Great Britain and her allies; and that the zone of war includes the waters adjacent to the British Isles; that, in accordance with formal notice given by the Imperial German government, vessels flying the flag of Great Britain, or of any of her allies, are liable to destruction in those waters and that travelers sailing in the war zone on ships of Great Britain or of her allies do so their own risk. Imperial German Embassy, Washington, DC., April 22, 1915 Notice to travelers appearing in newspapers immediately to the left of an advertisement for the sailing of the Cunard liner Lusitania on May 1, at 10 A.M.

1915 Friday morning we came slowly through fog, blowing our fog horn. It cleared off about an hour before we went below for lunch. A young Englishman at our table had been served with his ice cream, and was waiting for the steward to bring him a spoon to eat it with. He looked ruefully at it and said he would hate to have a torpedo get him before he ate it. We all laughed, and then commented on how slow we were running. We thought the engines had stopped. Mr. Friend and I went up on Deck B on the starboard side and leaned over the railing, looking into the sea, which was a marvelous blue and very dazzling in the sunlight. I said, “How could the officers ever see a periscope there?” The torpedo was on its way to us at that moment, for we went a short distance further toward the stern,... when the ship was struck on the starboard side. The water and timbers flew past the deck. Mr. Friend struck his fist in his hand said, “By Jove! They’ve got us.” The ship settled herself for a few seconds and then listed heavily to starboard, throwing us against the wall of a small corridor.... [The\] deck suddenly looked very strange, crowded with people, and I remember that two people were crying in a pitifully weak way. An officer was shouting orders to stop lowering the boats, and we were told to go down to Deck B. We first looked over the rail and watched a boat filled with men and women being lowered. The stern was lowered too quickly and half the boatload were spilled backwards into the water. We looked at each other, sickened by the sight. Theodore Pope, an American survivor of the sinking of the Lusitania, the British liner sunk by a German submarine on May 7, 1915, killing 1,200 people, including 128 Americans.

1915 “Savages drenched with blood” Term used by the New York Times to describe Germans, after a German submarine sunk the British liner Lusitania. 1915 American citizens act within their indisputable rights in taking their ships and traveling wherever their legitimate calls them upon the high seas, and exercise those rights in what should be the well-justified confidence that their lives will not be endangered by acts done in clear violation of universally acknowledged international obligations, and certainly in the confidence that their own government will sustain them in the exercise of their rights.... The government of the United States cannot believe that the commanders of the vessels which committed these acts of lawlessness did so except under a misapprehension of the orders issued by the Imperial German naval authorities.... It confidently expects, therefore, that the Imperial German government will disavow the acts of which the government of the United States complains... and that they will take immediate steps to prevent the recurrence of anything of the principles of warfare for which the Imperial German government have in the past so wisely and so firmly contended. United States protest to Germany, May 13, one week after a German submarine sunk the Lusitania.

1915 It was only after England declared the whole North Sea a war zone... that Germany with precisely the same right declared the waters around England a war zone and announced her purpose of sinking all hostile commercial vessels found therein.... In the case of the Lusitania the German Ambassador even further warned Americans through the great American newspapers against taking passage thereon. Does a pirate act thus? Does he take pains to save human lives?... Nobody regrets more sincerely than we Germans the hard necessity of sending to their deaths hundreds of men. Yet the sinking was a justifiable act of war.... The scene of war is no golf links, the ships of belligerent powers no pleasure places.... We have sympathy with the victims and their relatives, of course, but did we hear anything about sympathy... when England adopted her diabolical plan of starving a great nation? Germany’s Baron von Schwarzenstein, on this sinking of the Lusitania.

1915 There is no such thing as a man being too proud to fight. President Wilson, speech in Philadelphia

1915 “I didn’t raise my boy to be a soldier” and “Don’t Take My Darling Boy Away” Titles of American anti-war songs.

1915 [T]he conviction has been forced home that disasters so numerous and widespread could neither be the result of coincidence nor the work of a few scattered fanatics, but must be the product of organized warfare on the munitions industry. Francis G. Wickware, in American Year Book, 1915, on the destruction of American factories and ships sending war supplies to the Allies by German terrorists.

1916 Because of the stupendous upheaval of the European war, with its startling agencies of destruction — the product of both science and industries — and because of the deplorable unpreparedness of our own country to defend itself against attack, there has begun a great awakening of our people.... They are being aroused to the vital importance of the products of science in the national defense.... J. J. Carty, Address to the American Institute of Electrical Engineers

1916 There is endless talk in these days about “preparedness.” Both political parties and both candidates for the presidency advocate a larger Navy and a larger Army.... To undertake the maintenance of a great modern navy and a great modern army, always prepared for immediate action, involves the abandonment of a deeply rooted American policy — the ancient reliance for safety on the physical isolation of the country between two oceans.... Why should the American people make this formidable change in their national habits and their international policy?... [B]ecause the industrial and commercial interest of the country have completely changed since the Civil War, and can lo longer be preserved and promoted in isolation.... Charles W. Eliot, in World’s Work magazine.

1916 “He kept us our of the war.” Democrat campaign slogan calling for Wilson to be re-elected.

1917 “Unrestricted submarine warfare” German policy of automatically attacking all shipping, without warning, in the War Zone beginning on February 1.

1917 “Lost territories in New Mexico, Texas, and Arizona” From the Zimmermann telegram, a message to the Mexican Government from German Foreign Secretary Arthur Zimmermann, promising those territories to Mexico if Mexico attacked the United States.

1917 As soon as I saw it, I knew it would arouse the country more than any other event. Response of Sen. Henry Cabot Lodge (R-Mass.) to the Zimmermann Telegram, secretly intercepted and decoded by the British, and passed on to the United States.

The United States Joins the War

1917 I advise that the Congress declare the recent course of the German government to be in fact nothing less than war against the government and people of the United States; that it formally accept the status of belligerent which has thus been thrust upon it; and that it take immediate steps.. To bring the government of the German Empire to terms and end the war.... The world must be made safe for democracy. Its peace must be planted upon the tested foundations of political liberty. We have no selfish ends to serve. We desire no conquest, no dominion.... We are but one of the champions of the rights of mankind. We shall be satisfied when those rights have been made as secure as the faith and the freedom of nations can make them.... We shall fight for the things which we have always carried nearest our hearts, — for democracy, for the right of those who submit to authority to have a voice in their own Governments, for the rights and liberties of small nations... President Wilson’s message to Congress asking a declaration of war against Germany (April 2).

The War in Europe (1917-1918)

1917 “Peace, land, and bread” Slogan of the Russian Communists, led by V. I. Lenin, who overthrew the Russian government and took Russia out of the war against Germany.

1917 I believe in letting them work out their own salvation, even though they wallow in anarchy for a while. President Wilson, on events in Russia. The “anarchy” would lead to the Communist dictatorship, which remained in power in Russia until 1991.

1917 Good Lord, you’re not going to send soldiers over there, are you? Senator Thomas S. Martin (Democrat-Virginia), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, to Major Palmer E. Pierce, who was testifying of the War Department’s request for $3 billion, to include the costs of possibly sending an army to France.

1918 [There appeared to be nothing below but these old battered ditches... and billions of shell holes..... [N]ot a tree, a fence... nothing but... ruin and desolation. The whole scene was appalling. Captain Eddie Rickenbacker, who would shoot down 26 German planes, when first viewing the battle front viewed from the air on March 6, in Fighting the Flying Circus.

1918 The desperate contest between justice and empire... is now on. You should be proud to have me... participate in the struggle as a part of the human wall against a second Dark Ages. Lieutenant Edward F. Graham, writing home from the front in France. Graham was later killed in action.

1918 “Armistice Day” November 11, when German delegates signed the agreement to end the fighting in a railroad car used as a military headquarters, on a rail siding at Compeigne, France. Called Remembrance Day in British lands, Nov. 11 is now called Veterans Day in the United States.

1918 There came a sound of expectant silence, and then a curious rippling sound.... It was the sound of men cheering from the Vosges to the sea. British writer John Buchan, in The King’s Grace, reporting on the reaction of the troops in the trenches at 11 A.M. on November 11, when the shooting stopped.

1919 For mile after mile nothing was left. No building was habitable and no field fit for the plow.... One devastated area was exactly like another — a heap of rubble, a morass of shell-holes, and a tangle of wire. British economist John Maynard Keynes, after examining the war zone in northern France.

The Home Front (1917-1918)

Women and the War

1917 As a woman, I can’t go to war and I refuse to send anyone else. Rep. Jeanette Rankin (Democrat-Montana), on her refusal to vote for the declaration of war against Germany. In December 1941, still in Congress, she refused to vote for war against Japan.

1917 It is my belief that a woman can do everything that a man can do that is within her strength. Hundreds and hundreds of women might work and relieve men for war or war work, could they, the women, be employed on the railroads. Myrtle Altenburg, a Wisconsin widow, in a letter to the state railroad commission.

1917 We never took a soldier’s place, a soldier would not do the work we did... such as sweeping, picking up waste and paper and hauling steel shavings.... We... were liked and respected by all who knew us. Carrie Fearing, who worked for the Federal Railroad Administration during the war.

1917 The navy is taking on women as yeomen [clerks] to do shore duty.... Every girl that becomes a yeoman cam have the satisfaction of knowing that she is releasing, as from prison, some sailor who had been fuming... because he had to spend his days in an office instead of on the deck of a destroyer. Norma B. Kastl

1917 Mr. President: What will you do for woman suffrage? Sign held by a member of the National Woman’s Party, protesting outside the White House.

1917 Vital to the winning of the war. Pres. Wilson, urging Congress to pass the woman suffrage amendment (which was passed as the 19th Amendment, which went into effect on August 26, 1920).


1917 Do not use the phrases: “The Allies,” “the Entente Powers,” etc. Say: “our Allies,” “our gallant Allies,” “the French,” etc. Write of “our Allies advance upon St. Quentin,” “our Allies take Le Fur.” Speak of “the enemy” in alluding to Germany. Germany is our enemy.... Keep the news of our battles, our advances, our triumphs, or our reverses on the front page. The troops in the trenches are our troops. They are ours in a double sense. Thousands of them are our fellow citizens; the rest are fighting in our case. Appeal to the Press by Columbia University

1917 [Mold the American people into] one white-hot mass... with fraternity, devotion, courage, and deathless determination. George Creel, prewar journalist and reformer, put in charge of the Committee on Public Information (CPI). The CPI would use propaganda to build up support for the war among the people.

1917 “The Kaiser: The Beast of Berlin” Title of an anti-German movie supported by the CPI, making the German emperor into a devil.

1917 “Fight or Buy Bonds” Title of a patriotic poster, urging people to either do one or the other.

1917 Every person who refuses to subscribe... is a friend of Germany. Secretary of the Treasury William C. McAdoo, on the patriotism of buying war bonds.

1918 “Come across or the Kaiser will” Slogan of the Liberty Loan drive, urging people to invest in the wartime loan to the government.

The War and Social Change

1917 The military tent where they all sleep side by side will rank next to the public schools among the great agents of democratization. Former President Theodore Roosevelt, on the benefit of military service in building patriotism.

1917 Out of the sacrifice of war we may achieve broader democracy in Government, more equitable distribution of wealth, and greater national efficiency in raising the level of the general welfare. Statement of leading Progressives, on what they wanted the war to accomplish at home.

1917 “Unhyphenated Americans” President Wilson’s expression for the people to no longer be “Italian-Americans” or “German-Americans” but simply call themselves “Americans.”

1918 All over this part of the country men are being tarred and feathered and some are being lynched.... These cases do not get into the newspapers nor is an effort ever made to punish the individuals concerned. In fact, as a rule, it has the complete backing of public opinion. John H. Wintherbotham, a member of the Council of National Defense, on conditions in the Midwest.

African Americans and the War

1917 We march because we are thoroughly opposed to Jim Crow cars, segregation, discrimination, and disenfranchisement, lynching, and the host of evils that are forced on us. We march because we want our children to live in a better land. One of 15,000 African-Americans in a march down Fifth Avenue (July 28, 1917)

1917 Let us, while the war lasts, forget our special grievances and close ranks... with our fellow citizens. W.E.B. Du Bois

1917 If we again demonstrate our loyalty and devotion to our country,... injustices will disappear and the grounds for complaint will no longer exist. The Chicago Defender, an African American newspaper

1919 [When the 369th Infantry Regiment — the “Harlem Hellfighters — returned to New York, people] did not cheer us [as] a regiment of colored soldiers [but] as a regiment who had done the work of men. Veteran of the 369th Regiment.

Food and the War

1917 “Liberty cabbage,” “Salisbury steak” Wartime words substituting for the German words “Sauerkraut” and “Hamburger.”

1917 Go back to simple food, simple clothes, simple pleasures. Advice of Herbert Hoover, director of the U.S. Food Administration (FA).

1917 “Wheatless Mondays, Meatless Tuesdays, and Porkless Thursdays” Slogan of the U.S. Food Administration, urging people to voluntarily ration their consumption of food.

1917 “Food Can Win the War” Slogan of the U.S. Food Administration

Opposition to the War

1917 All this government activity will be called to account and re-examined in due time. Dissatisfaction with widespread activities of the government in wartime, expressed in the Saturday Evening Post.

1918 Any disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language intended to cause contempt, scorn, contumely, or disrepute [to the U.S. Government, the Constitution, or the American flag]. Acts that were outlawed by the Sedition Act of May 1918.

1918 [Opponents of the war should ask for God’s mercy] for they need expect none from an outraged people and an avenging government. United States Attorney General Thomas Gregory.

1918 I have been accused of having obstructed the war. I admit it. Gentlemen, I abhor war. I would oppose the war if I stood alone. Socialist Eugene V. Debs, remarks to the court that convicted him of violating the 1918 Espionage Act. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison, but was pardoned by President Harding on Christmas Day, 1921. 1919 The question... is whether the words used are used in such circumstances and are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger.... When a nation is at war many things that might be said in time of peace... will not be endured [and] no Court could regard them as protected by any constitutional right.... The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theater and causing a panic..... The question in every case is whether the words used... are of such a nature that they will bring about... evils that Congress has a right to prevent.... Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, majority opinion in Shenck v. United States, upholding Shenk’s conviction under the Espionage Act of 1917 for distributing antiwar pamphlets.

The Postwar Settlement

1917 The present war must... be ended; but we owe it to candor and to a just regard for the opinion of mankind to say that... it makes a great deal of difference in what way and upon what terms it is ended. The treaties and agreements which bring it to an end must embody terms which will create a peace that is worth guaranteeing and preserving.... It must be a peace without victory.... Victory would mean peace forced upon the loser, a victor’s terms imposed upon the vanquished. It would be accepted in humiliation, under duress, at an intolerable sacrifice, and would leave a sting, a resentment a bitter memory upon which terms of peace would rest, not permanently but only as upon quicksand. Only a peace between equals can last. President Wilson, State of the Union Address, January 1917.

1917 When the war is over, we can force them [the Allies] to our way of thinking because by that time they will... be financially in our hands. President Wilson, July 1917.

1918 All the peoples of the world are in effect partners.... The program of the world’s peace, therefore, is our program, and that this.... A general association of nations must be formed... for the purpose of affording mutual guarantees of political independence and territorial integrity to great and small states alike. President Wilson, Fourteen Points speech, calling for the creation of a postwar League of Nations.

1919 Some very beautiful things have come out of it [the war]. Wrong has been defeated, but the rest of the world has been more conscious than it was before of th majesty of right. President Wilson, press conference, February 14, 1919.

1919 [T]he Covenant of the League of Nations that you hear objected to, [is] the only possible guarantee against war.... You say, “Is it an absolute guarantee?” No; there is no absolute guarantee against human passion; but even if it were only 10 percent of a guarantee, would not you rather have 10 percent guarantee against war than none?.... I tell you, my fellow citizens, I can predict with absolute certainty that within another generation there will be another world war if the nations of the world o not concert the method by which to prevent it. President Wilson, speech in Omaha, Nebraska

1919 The members of the League undertake to respect and preserve as against external aggression the territorial integrity and political independence of all Members. Article X, League of Nations Covenant

1919 The terms of the peace appear immeasurably harsh and humiliating.... Resentment and bitterness, if not desperation, are bound to be the consequences of such provisions.... We have a treaty of peace, but it will not bring permanent peace because it is founded on the shifting sands of self-interest. Secretary of State Robert Lansing, who, with other members of the American delegation in France, supported the Treaty of Versailles in public, but was privately opposed to it.

1919 If a war which was supposed to put an end to war culminates... in a treaty of peace which renders peace impossible, the liberalism which preached this meaning for the war will have committed suicide..... The Treaty of Versailles, no matter under what kind of compulsion it is ratified by the nations, it is impossible of execution and will defeat itself. Opposition to the Versailles Treaty by the liberal magazine, New Republic.

1919 [The U.S. must not be put under the League of Nations] on which a n---- from Liberia, a n---- from Honduras, a n---- from India, and an unlettered gentleman from Spain, each have votes equal to the great United States of America. Sen. James Reed (Democrat - Missouri), opposing the Versailles Treaty.

1919 If we guarantee any country... its independence... we must [keep] at any cost... our word.... I wish [the American people] carefully to consider... whether they are willing to have the youth of America ordered to war by another nation. Sen. Henry Cabot Lodge (Republican-Mass.), arguing in the Senate on February 28, against ratification of the Versailles Treaty. Its provision to establish the League of Nations would have forced the U.S. to join other countries in making war against aggressors.

1919 The United States is the world’s best hope, but if you [chain] her in the interests and quarrels of other nations, if you tangle her in the intrigues of Europe, you will destroy her power for good and endanger her very existence. Sen. Henry Cabot Lodge, speech in August 1919 opposing U.S. membership in the League of Nations.

1919 In the covenant of the League of Nations, the moral forces of the world are mobilized.... They consent... to submit every matter of difference between them to the judgment of mankind, and just so certainly as they do that,... war will be pushed out of the foreground of terror in which it has kept the world. President Wilson, speech in Pueblo, Colorado (September 25), calling on the public to support the Treaty of Versailles and its League of Nations.

1919 Mr. Ambassador, I will consent to nothing. The Senate must take its medicine. President Wilson to the French ambassador, who had informed him that the Senate’s reservations (or amendments) to the Versailles Treaty were acceptable to the Allies. Wilson demanded that the treaty be ratified without reservations.

Postwar Problems

1919 At last I would behold... the land freed from political and economic masters. Radical Socialist Emma Goldman, on being released from prison for opposing the draft, and being deported to her native Russia.

1919 [The Seattle strike] was an attempted revolution... for the overthrow of the industrial system.... True, there were no flashing guns, no bombs, no killings. Revolution doesn’t need violence.... The... strike is of itself the weapon of revolution,... it puts the government out of operation.... [Strikers] want to take possession of our American Government and try to duplicate the anarchy of Russia. Mayor Ole Hanson of Seattle, on leaders of that city’s general strike, begun by the Metal Workers Union in January, then joined on February 6 by 60,000 workers throughout the city.

1919 The devil was loose in Boston.... Little knots of boys and young men began wandering through the streets.... By midnight, the... crowds had formed one raging mob a drunken, noisy, irresponsible mob.... Someone threw a loose paving stone through a store window about one o’clock. The tension snapped.... By two o’clock, looting had begun. Journalist William Allen White on the first night of the Boston Police Strike, September 1919.

1919 There is no right to strike against the public peace by anybody, anywhere, any time. Gov. Calvin Coolidge of Massachusetts to Samuel Gompers, during the Boston Police strike.

1919 The people are shivering in their boots over Bolshevism, they are far more afraid of Lenin than they ever were of the Kaiser. We seem to be the most frightened lot of victors that the world ever saw. Journalist Walter Lippmann, on American postwar fear of Communism.