Saturday, April 8, 2017

Hereby Formally Declared

This was the week 100 years ago, that the U.S.A. officially declared war on Germany in World War I.
"Good Morning!" by Oscar Cesare in New York Evening Post, April 4, 1917
Now, it's important to understand that once upon a time, Congress was the branch of government with the power to declare war. President Woodrow Wilson addressed Congress on April 2 to present his argument for a declaration of war; after some debate on the matter, the Senate approved the declaration on April 4 by a vote of 82 to 6, and the House followed suit on April 6 by a vote of 373 to 50.

To a dwindling number of Americans, the nation's cause was protection of the country, pure and simple. Germany had resumed sinking merchant vessels sailing the Atlantic, downing a number of American ships; the Zimmerman telegram intercepted between the German and Mexican foreign ministers revealed that the Kaiser had promised U.S. territory to Mexico and to Japan if they would declare war on the U.S.

Here Hearst cartoonist Winsor McCay depicts the American eagle guarding its chicks: East, South, North and West. It is safe to say he is referring to quarters of the United States, not of the globe.
Winsor McCay in New York American, April, 1917
But for most of the country and its cartoonists, the cause was nothing less than the defense of Democracy itself against the forces of Autocracy (ally Russia having conveniently overthrown its autocratic monarch only weeks earlier).
"To the Defense of His Standard!" by John McCutcheon in Chicago Tribune, April 4, 1917
I could go on and on with cartoons pitting Democracy vs. Autocracy, but I'll limit it to these two Chicago cartoonists' take on it.
"To the Finish" by Harry Murphy in Chicago Examiner, April 7, 1917
To some, it wasn't just a question of form of government, but a matter of the survival of civilization itself. To that end, we have three shiny swords; Fred Morgan's is engraved "Truth, Justice" on the blade, and "United States" on the hilt:
"For Civilization and Humanity" by Fred Morgan in Philadelphia Inquirer, April 8, 1917
Nelson Harding gets the same point across without quite so many labels.
"A New Light" by Nelson Harding in Brooklyn Daily Eagle, April, 1917
Few cartoonists use Columbia as the personification of the United States any more, but she was still fairly common in 1917, as in this Bill Sykes cartoon.
"So Be It!" by Charlse "Bill" Sykes in Philadelphia Evening Ledger, April 6, 1917
American soldiers would not arrive in Europe until the summer; the American military was then as now a volunteer force, nearly adequate for an excursion into Mexico to chase after Pancho Villa, but well short of what would be required to make a difference in the Great War overseas. The publisher of the Chicago Tribune, Robert McCormick, (then a Major in the Illinois National Guard) posted this full-page ad committing his newspaper to beefing up the Illinois contingent of the U.S. Army.
Advertisement in Chicago Tribune, April 6, 1917
Any newspaper nowadays worth its pulp would reprint a presidential declaration of war in its entirety. There's a fair chance your local paper had Trump's Thursday night announcement in full somewhere, at least on line. Can you imagine a newspaper today hawking a "splendid souvenir of national crisis" though?
Advertisement in Philadelphia Evening Ledger, April 7, 1917. (Another full-page ad)
You can look up President Wilson's Great Speech if you like; otherwise, you can settle for a little taste of it in William Hanny's front page cartoon:
"Too Deep for Him" by William F. Hanny in St. Joseph (Mo.) News Press, April 5, 1917
News coverage was unreservedly in support of going to war, even to the point of jauntiness. New York Evening Telegram staff cartoonist Roy Hoppmann's cartoon to illustrate a news report and the headlines written for the article both make light of the situation.
News illustration by Roy Hoppmann in New York Evening Telegram,  April 4, 1917
The Chicago Daily News's Ted Brown depicted going to war as a fashion statement.
"Not His Style" by Ted Brown in Chicago Daily News, April 6, 1917
John McCutcheon, in a cartoon the morning after the House vote, is a little less light-hearted about going to war, but no less enthusiastic.
"As We March to Armageddon" by John McCutcheon in Chicago Tribune, April 7, 1917

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