“War!” The Daybook (Chicago, IL), April 17, 1914
Credit: Library of Congress.
I have been a pacifist and, to a certain extent, I still am one, and, therefore, I am able to understand their point of view...I can see no way that any right thinking person can refuse to follow the president in his course concerning the way. Most of the pacifists’ positions are not only illogical, but silly. —Clarence Darrow, The Daybook, April 20, 1917
One hundred years ago, the European nations were embroiled in a Great War. The United States attempted to continue trade and diplomatic relations with a world in conflict. This lesson gives students the opportunity to interact with historical newspapers available through Chronicling America and read the conflicting viewpoints of America's opinion leaders and ordinary citizens. Students will engage in dialogue as they struggle to decide: should the Unites States remain neutral or join the fight?
By providing students with the tools to analyze primary source newspaper articles printed from 1914 through 1917, they will be able to understand the diversity of public opinion regarding the U.S. entry into World War I from multiple perspectives and practice thinking critically about the variety of public opinion available in this medium.
After completing this lesson, students will be able to:
In April 1963, American newspaper publisher Philip Graham (the Washington Post) said in a speech to journalists in London, "So let us today drudge on about our inescapably impossible task of providing every week a first rough draft of history that will never really be completed about a world we can never really understand."
A century ago, newspapers were America’s main source of information. World War I (the Great War) was a conflict fought not only in the trenches of Europe but in American public opinion. The American literacy rate was remarkably high, and many major cities offered multiple papers. Newspapers were for-profit businesses. Their editorial pages offered the views of the opinion makers and the elites, and in order to make money, many catered to a particular group of readers. These newspapers are tremendous historical sources because they give the contemporary reader insight into the conversations that played out in American homes of that era. They reflected that “first rough draft of history” and helped to define what was important.
Between 1914 and 1917, the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand; the declaration of war in Europe; the invasion of Belgium; the establishment of trench warfare in France; the sinking of the Lusitania; and the publication of the Zimmermann telegram were all events that influenced public opinion. The articles offered in this lesson reflect a variety of these opinions in a variety of newspapers from across the nation.
For the in-depth historical summary on World War I used for this lesson and noting critical vocabulary click here.
Provide students with a copy of the Historical Context: Events Leading to U.S. Involvement to World War I and any additional information you wish to include for review. As a class, discuss the circumstances that led to war and the United States faced as it navigated the complexities of neutrality.
As homework, present students with the second section of the Historical Context on World War I: America Declares War. Students should write a two-paragraph response that explains how closely their decision aligned with history, providing reasons for why it may have differed.
As an assessment or exit ticket, ask students: Would your final decision been different given this new information? Explain why or why not.
Have student pick one article from the Annotated List of Chronicling America Articles; download the article as PDF file; read it, annotate it, and then write a 350 word essay arguing whether the article is pro, anti-, or neutral in regard to the war, supporting their positions with evidence from the text. They should be asked to go beyond simple quotations to the substance of what is being maintained.
2 class periods