War years of World War I are selected as our theme period for this issue.
The 1910 and 1920 Census, together with Military Documentation about this
period, are good sources to find information about our parents and so
start a journey back in time to locate past generations.
In August 1914 the peace of Europe was shattered and Germany and
Austria-Hungary (the Central Powers) were pitted against Britain, France
and Russia. President Woodrow Wilson issued a proclamation of neutrality
on August 4. Each tried to throttle American trade with the other.
Britain, whose battle fleet controlled the surface of the Atlantic,
succeeded spectacularly. American commerce with Germany had fallen by 1916
to less than 1 percent of its 1914 value. Trade with Britain and her
allies tripled. Contrary to traditional practice, submerged U-boats
torpedoed merchant ships without warning. When sinkings resulted in the
loss of American lives – as in the assault on the British passenger liner
Lusitania on May 7, 1915, killing 128 Americans – America protested
vehemently. These "overt acts" came with the sinking of several American
ships in February and March 1917.
Wilson, though reelected in November 1916 on the slogan, "he kept us
out of war," asked Congress on April 2 for a Declaration of War. Four days
later, Congress complied.
The 1910 census revealed that one out of every three Americans was
either foreign-born or the child of a foreign-born parent. Of those 32
million Americans with strong foreign ties, some 10 million came from what
were now the enemy countries of Germany and Austria-Hungary.
The Selective Service Act of May 18, 1917, helped raise the size of the
American army from about 200,000 men in early 1917 to nearly 4 million by
war’s end. Some two-million men served overseas in the American
Expeditionary Force (AEF), of whom roughly three-quarters experienced
combat. About a million women entered the labor force during the war, but
most quickly departed when peace returned.
Russia, under a new revolutionary government, concluded a separate
peace with Germany and left the war in March 1918. General John J.
Pershing, commander of AEF, landed in France on June 14, 1917.
In May 1918, green American troops fought at Cantigny and at Chateau-Thiery
and Belleau Wood in June. The Saint-Mihiel campaign, September 12-16, 1918
went smoothly. The Meuse-Argonne offensive, launched on September 26, 1918
was bitter and costly in casualties. Pershing hurled some 1.2 million
"doughboys" into the Meuse-Argonne attack. What they lacked in experience
they made up in numbers. They were able to break the German resistance and
the war ended with the surrender of the Central Powers on November 11,
Total American war deaths were 112,432, more than half from disease.
Government expenditures related to the war totaled some $26 billion during
war time and eventually with interest rates, veteran’s benefits, and the
like cost $112 billion. America’s main contributions to the victory over
the Central Powers had been foodstuffs, manpower, and money.