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11-08-2015, 16:48

THE WAR AGArNST DOMESTIC DISSENT

Once the United States declared hostilities, opposition to the war got little sympathy from the government and most Americans. The government imposed harsh measures to squelch criticism. Laws like the Espionage Act (June 1917) and the Sedition Act (May 1918) penalized heavily not only actions in opposition to the war effort, such as obstructing conscription or the sale of war bonds, but also speech and writing that criticized government policies. The Supreme Court upheld the laws, which were applied widely. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes defended restrictions on free speech in time of national danger by noting that no one had the right to cry "fire" in a crowded theater. The laws inflamed fears of enemy sabotage and led to excessive reprisals against imagined threats to security. More than 2,000 Americans had to defend themselves against prosecution under the Espionage Act, and half of those accused were convicted. Americans outside government acted in even more sweeping fashion. The government's "Hate the Hun" campaign rapidly spread into a popular crusade against all things German. Superpatriots tried to shut down school and university courses in the German language and to ban the performance of German music, and they invaded the offices of the German-language press. Anything German became suspect in a climate where German-haters spread rumors that Germans put ground glass in Red Cross bandages or worse. Sauerkraut became "liberty cabbage," and German-American companies changed their names to EngHsh-sounding ones. In Indiana, East Germantown was renamed Pershing; in Iowa, Berlin was transformed into Lincoln. Both the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Metropolitan Opera Company banned German music. Violence against individuals of German ancestry, against spokesmen for pacifism, and against labor leaders and politicians opposed to the war stained American life. Unofficial groups operating with government sanction, such as the American Protective League, spied on their neighbors. Wilson did little to check the excesses, which served to fuel the anti-German crusade. More important, as the war revealed the divided loyalties in an immigrant society, with Old World hatred carried to New World settings, efforts to promote nationalism gained force. Businesses instituted "Americanization" programs to teach their foreign-bom workers English and to impose a uniform set of rules in the workplace. Many social reformers shifted their emphasis from encouraging gradual adaptation to American ways to calls for more aggressive Americanization in adult education programs and in the schools.

 

 

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