How we got there…

Woodrow Wilson announces to Congress on February 3, 1917 that official relations with the German Empire have ceased. (Wikimedia Commons)

In the early 1900s, Americans were almost uniformly opposed to becoming involved in wars on foreign lands. Woodrow Wilson’s 1916 reelection was based on an anti-war platform. But by 1917 things had changed, and it was increasingly more clear that the Germans intended to draw the United States into the war.

On April 2, 1917, President Wilson went before a joint session of Congress to seek a Declaration of War against Germany.

Wilson said…

The world must be made safe for democracy. Its peace must be planted upon the tested foundations of political liberty. We have no selfish ends to serve. We desire no conquest, no dominion. We seek no indemnities for ourselves, no material compensation for the sacrifices we shall freely make. We are but one of the champions of the rights of mankind. We shall be satisfied when those rights have been made as secure as the faith and the freedom of nations can make them…

…It is a distressing and oppressive duty, gentlemen of the Congress, which I have performed in thus addressing you. There are, it may be, many months of fiery trial and sacrifice ahead of us. It is a fearful thing to lead this great peaceful people into war, into the most terrible and disastrous of all wars, civilization itself seeming to be in the balance. But the right is more precious than peace, and we shall fight for the things which we have always carried nearest our hearts—for democracy, for the right of those who submit to authority to have a voice in their own governments, for the rights and liberties of small nations, for a universal dominion of right by such a concert of free peoples as shall bring peace and safety to all nations and make the world itself at last free…

A month later, Congress would authorize the draft. Just a few months after that my grandfather was called up, as a 29-year-old man, and within a year, he was in France.

My work on his story, Clean Dry Socks, continues…

Read the full Wilson speech.


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