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PREPAREDNESS REVISITED: CIVILIAN SOCIETIES AND THE CAMPAIGN FOR AMERICAN DEFENSE, 1914–1920

  • Manuel Franz (a1)
Abstract

Civilian societies advocating a bold defense program were arguably the most visible manifestation of the American preparedness campaign in World War I. Though historians have acknowledged the significance of the broader preparedness movement in a number of studies, they have often marginalized its civilian branch in general and defense societies in particular. This article examines the structures, activities, and objectives of two major organizations active in the movement in order to challenge historiography's traditional view on preparedness. Exploring the key role of the National Security League and the American Defense Society between 1914 and 1920, the article presents two main arguments: First, civilian societies were not merely the appendix to a centralized campaign dominated by military professionals and politicians associated with the defense cause but acted as principal agents of preparedness. Second, the historiographic time frame of preparedness cannot be limited chronologically to America's years of neutrality but must include the period after April 1917.

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NOTES

1 S. Stanwood Menken's testimony, given in “National Security Hearings Before a Special Committee of the House of Representatives,” 65th Cong., 3rd sess. on H. res. 469 and H. res. (31 parts, Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1918/19), 264.

2 Ibid., 266; New York Times, Dec. 2, 1914.

3 Quoted in New York Times, Oct. 17, 1914.

4 Speech of Hon. Augustus P. Gardner of Massachusetts in the House of Representatives, Dec. 10, 1914, folder 1, box 14, Charles E. Lydecker Papers, Lydecker Family Papers, Manuscript and Special Collection, New York State Library, Albany, NY.

5 For an overview of the contemporary debate and proposed concepts on universal military training, see Mooney, Chase C. and Layman, Martha E., “Some Phases of the Compulsory Military Training Movement, 1914–1920,” The Mississippi Valley Historical Review 38 (Mar. 1952): 633–56.

6 Lane, Jack C., Armed Progressive: General Leonard Wood (1979), 2nd ed. (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2009), 184.

7 Wood envisioned the establishment of voluntary military training camps for young men as early as 1913; Clifford, John G., The Citizen Soldiers: The Plattsburg Training Camp Movement, 1913–1920 (1972), 2nd ed. (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2015), 129.

8 For an examination of Roosevelt's und Wood's roles as leaders of the preparedness movement, see Pearlman, Michael, To Make Democracy Safe for America: Patricians and Preparedness in the Progressive Era (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1984), 1157.

9 Henry A. Wise Wood to Woodrow Wilson, June 17, 1915, letter printed in Work of the Conference Committee on National Preparedness (New York, 1918), 7.

10 For a detailed literature review on the broader preparedness movement, see Kennedy, Ross A., “Preparedness” in A Companion to Woodrow Wilson, ed. Kennedy, Ross A. (Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell, 2013), 270–85.

11 Arnett, Alex M., Claude Kitchin and the Wilson War Policies (Boston: Little, Brown, 1939), 49.

12 Millis, Walter, Road to War: America 1914–1917 (Boston/New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1935), 256.

13 For the revisionist narrative of the preparedness movement, see also Grattan, Clinton H., Why We Fought (1929), ed. Nelson, Keith L. (Indianapolis: The Bobbs-Merrill Company, 1969), 114–19; Peterson, Horace C., Propaganda for War: The Campaign Against American Neutrality, 1914–1917 (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1939), 3132; Turner, John K., Shall It Be Again? (New York: B.W. Huebsch, 1922), 319–21.

14 Osgood, Robert E., Ideals and Self-Interest in America's Foreign Relations: The Great Transformation of the Twentieth Century (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1953), 133, 210; Weigley, Russel F., History of the United States Army, 2nd ed. (1967; repr., Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1984), 352.

15 Though this is not the central focus of his study and his deliberations are only partially based on primary sources, Chambers remarks that any narrative that “underestimates the role played by civilian elites” offers an “inadequate explanation of the preparedness movement”; Chambers, John W. II, To Raise an Army: The Draft Comes to Modern America (New York: Free Press, 1987), 80.

16 See Finnegan, John P., Against the Specter of a Dragon: The Campaign for American Military Preparedness, 1914–1917 (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1974).

17 Pearlman, Patricians and Preparedness, 44. Pearlman emphasizes the importance of certain civilians for the movement, but does not focus on defense societies as primary platforms for their activism.

18 Finnegan, Campaign for Preparedness, 32. Finnegan concedes, however, that the honorary officers’ actual control over NSL policies might have been rather limited; ibid., 96.

19 Ibid.

20 There are some—fairly outdated—studies on two major societies active in the preparedness movement: the National Security League and the Navy League. See Edwards, John C., Patriots in Pinstripe: Men of the National Security League (Washington, DC: University Press of America, 1982); Rappaport, Armin, The Navy League of the United States (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1962); Ward, Robert D., “The Origin and Activities of the National Security League, 1914–1919,” The Mississippi Valley Historical Review 47 (June 1960): 5165.

21 A good example for the historiographic prevalence of this periodization is Kennedy's literature review on the movement. In the introductory sentence, he defines preparedness, without further discussing the time frame, as “the term contemporaries used to describe efforts to enhance America's national defense from 1914 to 1917”; Kennedy, “Preparedness,” 270. This periodization is also reflected in lexicon entries on preparedness, see, for instance, Nielson, Jonathan M., “Preparedness” in The United States in the First World War: An Encyclopedia, ed. Venzon, Anne C. (New York: Garland, 1999), 469–71. A different time frame (1913–1916) is proposed in one of the oldest studies on the preparedness movement; see William H. Tinsley, “The American Preparedness Movement, 1913–1916” (PhD diss., Stanford University, 1939).

22 Pearlman, Patricians and Preparedness, 148–50.

23 Finnegan, Campaign for Preparedness, 194.

24 The National Security League, Inc: Officers, Committees and Branches (New York, 1916).

25 “ByLaws of the National Security League, Inc., Article IV, Section C,” printed in Edwards, National Security League, 219–24.

26 Alton B. Parker's testimony, given in “NSL Hearings,” 1800.

27 The Outlook, Feb. 16, 1916, 351.

28 New York Times, May 11, 1915.

29 Frederic R. Coudert, Why Military Preparedness? Address Given at National Security League Meeting, Tremont Temple, Boston (1915); Meyer, George von L., National Defense: An Address Before the Boston Rotary Club (New York, 1915).

30 S. Stanwood Menken's testimony, given in “NSL Hearings,” 382.

31 Ibid., 378–82.

32 Annual Report of the President of the National Security League, Inc: Presented to the Annual Meeting (New York, 1916), 2.

33 New York Times, Feb. 14, 1916.

34 Joseph H. Coit to Charles S. Davison, Mar. 14, 1917, folder 1, box 1, The American Defense Society Records, The New-York Historical Society.

35 The American Defense Society: History, Purpose and Accomplishments (New York, 1918), 10.

36 Theodore Roosevelt to L. B. Hayes, Jan. 2, 1918 in The Letters of Theodore Roosevelt, ed. Morison, Elting E. (8 vols., Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1951–1954), 1268.

37 Ibid., 1267–68.

38 Leonard Wood to J. O. Skinner, Mar. 13, 1916, box 86, Leonard Wood Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, Washington, DC.

39 William H. Taft to Dallas Boudeman, Nov. 15, 1915, series VIII, letterbook 38, William H. Taft Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, Washington, DC. The American Legion mentioned by Taft (founded in 1915, disbanded in 1917) is not identical with the war veterans’ organization of the same name. The latter was founded in 1919 and had been a major proponent of the defense cause throughout the twentieth century; see Campbell, Alec, “The Sociopolitical Origins of the American Legion,” Theory and Society 39 (Jan. 2010): 124.

40 George W. Pepper to Leonard Wood, March 16, 1917, box 102, Wood Papers; Work of the Conference Committee, 5.

41 “Memorandum of the Chairman of the Conference Committee on National Preparedness,” folder 1, box 13, Lydecker Papers.

42 Kennedy, “Preparedness,” 280–82. For an overview of the broader antiwar movement in World War I, see Kazin, Michael, War Against War: The American Fight for Peace, 1914–1918 (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2017).

43 Finnegan, Campaign for Preparedness, 92, 121–38. While various historiographic interpretations on the ideological roots of preparedness can be found in Kennedy, “Preparedness,” 271–76, I purposely do not further elaborate on this issue. In fact, the primary sources examined for my research indicate that traditional historiographic accounts on the movement's ideology might not be tenable (e.g., the simplistic portrayal of preparedness as either conservative or progressive). It would, however, need an entire article of its own to cover this crucial topic satisfactorily.

44 New York Times, Oct. 19, 1914.

45 For Wilson's stance on preparedness, see Kennedy, “Preparedness,” 276–80.

46 The National Security League: Before the War, During the War, After the War (New York, 1918), 4.

47 Proceedings of the National Security Congress Under the Auspices of the National Security League (New York, 1916), 5.

48 Finnegan, Campaign for Preparedness, 139–57.

49 Annual Meeting of the National Security League (New York, 1917), 11; Proceedings of the Congress of Constructive Patriotism Held Under the Auspices of the National Security League (New York 1917), 391425.

50 Ibid., 23.

51 In Sept. 1917, Elihu Root, who had served as Secretary of War and Secretary of State under Roosevelt, became Joseph Choate's successor as Honorary President of the NSL. The appointment of the partisan Republican further alienated the Wilson administration from the League; Edwards, National Security League, 114.

52 Congress of Constructive Patriotism, 172–73.

53 For the debate on and the implementation of the draft in World War I America, see Chambers, Draft.

54 Eisenhower, John S. D., Teddy Roosevelt & Leonard Wood: Partners in Command (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2014), 150–54.

55 Annual Report of the President of the National Security League (New York, 1918), 2.

56 Ibid., 10.

57 Ibid., 11–12

58 Emerson, Hough, The Indefinite American Attitude Toward the War and When Shall It Change (New York, 1918), 7.

59 Before, During, After the War, 4.

60 Hand Book of the American Defense Society (New York, 1918), 9.

61 See “German Spies in America,” folder 3, box 12, American Defense Societies Records, The New-York Historical Society; Sperry, Earl E., The Tentacles of the German Octopus (New York, 1918).

62 See, for instance, Americanization Service: What You Can Do for America Through Americanization of the Foreign-Born (New York, 1918).

63 The broader themes of repression, coercion, and home front mobilization in World War I America are well covered by Christopher Capozzola; see Capozzola, Christopher, Uncle Sam Wants You: World War I and the Making of the Modern American Citizen (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008).

64 NSL Annual Report (1918), 2.

65 NSL Annual Meeting (1917), 8.

66 See Edwards, John C., “The Price of Political Innocence: The Role of the National Security League in the 1918 Congressional Election,” Military Affairs 42 (Dec. 1978): 190–96.

67 Charles E. Lydecker to Elihu Root, Dec. 5, 1918, box 136, Elihu Root Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, Washington, DC.

68 Letter to Charles S. Davison, Nov. 22, 1918, folder 8, box 3, ADS Records.

69 Before, During, After the War, 9.

70 “American Defense Society: A Brief Report of Some of its Activities During the Year 1919,” folder 1, box 12, ADS Records.

71 New York Times, Dec. 2, 1918.

72 A Square Deal for the Public: A Working Program for Crushing the Radical Menace (New York, 1919), 4.

73 “American Defense, June 16, 1919,” box 12, folder 10, ADS Records.

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