In chapter 14, “War is the health of the state,” Zinn discusses the beginnings of WWI and how America became involved. President Woodrow Wilson had originally satiated that he wanted America to stay neutral in the war. This changed when Germans announced they would be sinking any of American’s submarines that tried to bring supplies to them. Wilson used this as reasoning for why he must “stand by the right of Americans to travel on merchant ships in the war zone” (361). Zinn implies that this was an excuse as he discusses the unrealistic thought that America would be neutral, when they were sending war materials to German enemies. That in and of itself is inserting America into the war. Zinn somewhat implies that Wilson used this as an excuse to join the war, due to other intentions. This also goes along with W.E.B Du Bois theory, that capitalism is insincere because it is protecting class conflict. Zinn writes, “American capitalism needed international rivalry – and periodic war – to create an artificial community of interest between rich and poor, supplanting the genuine community of interest among the poor that showed itself in sporadic movements” (364). Basically, Zinn believes Wilson wanted the war in order to prolong and support a separation of classes, but used the Germans saying they’d sink any of their submarines, as an excuse to insert America. I thought this was an interesting view, but after reading a lot of Zinn’s book by now, I’m not really all that surprised.
The other thing I thought was interesting about this chapter was the Espionage Act. This was used to stop anyone from interfering with the war. Zinn discussed that even if they weren’t presenting danger to anyone or the war, anyone who spoke out or wrote something about the war, could be imprisoned. Zinn brings up an interesting point when he says, “But was not the war itself a ‘clear and present danger,’ indeed, more clear and more present and more dangerous to life than any argument against it?” (366). I thought this was very interesting, because he’s completely right. Arresting people for speaking out against the war, and saying they are presenting danger, is kind of ironic when there is a world war going on. Zinn discusses the country tightening their control over citizens and says that the country has never been so highly policed than it was during this time. And yes, during a world war, you probably need control over citizens, but Zinn also brings up so many points which point to the fact that Americans were somewhat forced to support the war.