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Blog Post 10/07/20

Today’s reading from Zinn furthered the points we have made in class about classism in American society. In the lead up to America’s involvement in World War I, President Woodrow Wilson declared — to the approval of many Americans — that the United States would not involve itself in the European conflict. However, by 1917, the United States had entered the war on the pretense that Germany had attacked American ships whereas the British, French, and Russians had not. Zinn describes that Wilson’s reasoning for justifying the war was flimsy because the attacks on Americans on the seas were not the President’s true motivations. Instead, Wilson used the German attacks to join the economically advantageous side of the Triple Entente. Indeed, Wilson was waiting until the election of 1916 to make the politically unpopular decision. When he did, Wilson — as well as prominent banker J.P. Morgan — envisioned an alliance with the economic power houses of France and Britain to be the key out of an economic slump. While on the face this appears to be a classless policy, Zinn is quick to explain that the average American did not gain much from the increased production as a result of the war. W.E.B Dubois, along with others, criticized the role that the rich had in encouraging the war. Examining US diplomacy today would likely reveal a similar criticism. In hopes of maintaining peaceful relations with its allies, the United States will sell American-made weapons and military equipment. These weapons can easily lead to the rapid militarization of regions such as the Middle East; however, American corporations and the economic elites who run them benefit from these sales. Like during World War I, the elite social classes still make decisions that harm the lower classes and only provide minimal gain to the masses.

 

Due to the influence of the economic elite in the decision to go to war, it is not a surprise that socialism gained greatly in popularity after the US declared war; meanwhile, the backlash against the movement and its free speech reveals how rooted classism is in America. As opposed to capitalism, socialism argues against the creation of socioeconomic classes. Instead of separating people by their economic success, socialists believe that all citizens should matter equally in the eyes of the state. Thus, when citizens reasoned that the American economic interest and involvement in World War I did not outweigh the human cost of war, people began to vehemently speak against it. Instead of hearing the people, however, the US pushed forward with the war and instead focused on limiting its citizens from criticizing the war. The fact that the United States openly forbid the free speech of its citizens in favor of a war filled with economic interests reveals the importance of socioeconomic class in American society. Indeed, in order to line the pockets of American corporations and investors, the United States put lower class lives on the line and arrested those who spoke in dissent. As Zinn notes at the end of the chapter, while American Capitalism was supposed to eliminate classes, World War I highlighted the class tensions in American society.

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2 Comments

  1. Zachary Andrews Zachary Andrews

    I think it is very interesting that the United States never seems to support a war until they are involved within said war. An example of this prior to World War I was the American Revolution… Americans never supported this movement until they were months, possibly even years into the war. This was similar with the United States getting involved in the First World War. It took the American’s lying about the Lusitania being an “innocent cargo ship”, the hiring of George Creel and his skills with propaganda, and the Zimmerman Telegram to get the United States emotionally and fully invested in the war. When it originally started, the United States viewed the war as an investment opportunity and a way to simply make a lot of money.

  2. Charley Blount Charley Blount

    I’m glad you mentioned Wilson’s reluctance to enter the war prior to the 1916 election. I must have missed that in the reading, but it is definitely an important indicator in the controversiality of US involvement in what was viewed as a war between European powers.

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