Opposition to Wilson's Call for a Declaration of War
From a Speech by Senator George W. Norris of Nebraska,
April 4, 1917

From the American Revolution through the war is Iraq, Americans of all varieties have objected to war. World War Ii was the major exception because of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor—although even that war had its conscientious objectors—, and since September 11, few have objected to America fighting a war on terrorism. In all of our other wars, in none of which was America seriously attacked by an enemy power, deep objections were raised. Presidents Madison in 1812, Polk in 1846 and McKinley in 1898 all made a case that America's interests were being threatened, if not her actual soil. But in 1917 the war in Europe was far from America, and although our interests were indeed being affected, many believed that the terrible conflict was none of our business. But President Wilson made a strong case for war, ad 2 million Americans were sent to France. The short-term result was victory for the Allied Powers and defeat of Imperial Germany. The long-term results are harder to assess, and indeed the search for truth goes on to this day.

Here is one of the arguments against the war. There were others.

[A Wall Street editorial] expresses the view, undoubtedly, of Wall Street, and of thousands of men elsewhere who see only dollars coming to them through the handling of stocks and bonds that will be necessary in case of war. "Canada and Japan," he says, "are at war, and are more prosperous than ever before." To whom does war bring prosperity? Not to the soldier who for the munificent compensation of $16 per month shoulders his musket and goes into the trench, there to shed his blood and to die if necessary; not to the brokenhearted widow who waits for the return of the mangled body of her husband; not to the mother who weeps at the death of her brave boy; not to the little children who shiver with cold; not to the babe who suffers from hunger; nor to the millions of mothers and daughters who carry broken hearts to their graves. War brings no prosperity to the great mass of common and patriotic citizens. It increases the cost of living of those who toil and those who already must strain every effort to keep soul and body together. War brings prosperity to the stock gambler on Wall Street - to those who are already in possession of more wealth than can be realized or enjoyed. Again this writer says that if we cannot get war, "it is nevertheless good opinion that the preparedness program will compensate in good measure for the loss of the stimulus of actual war." That is, if we cannot get war, let us go as far in that direction as possible.

If we cannot get war, let us cry for additional ships, additional guns, additional munitions, and everything else that will have a tendency to bring us as near as possible to the verge of war. And ‘if war comes, do such men as these shoulder the musket and go into the trenches? Their object in having war and in preparing for war is to make money. Human suffering and the sacrifice of human life are necessary, but Wall Street considers only the dollars and the cents. The men who do the fighting, the people who make the sacrifices are the ones who will not be counted in the measure of this great prosperity that he depicts. The stockbrokers would not, of course, go to war because the very object they have in bringing on the war is profit, and therefore they must remain in their Wall Street offices in order to share in that great prosperity which they say war will bring.

The volunteer officer, even the drafting officer, will not find them. They will be concealed in their palatial offices on Wall Street, sitting behind mahogany desks, covered up with clipped coupons—coupons soiled with the sweat of honest coil, coupons stained with mothers’ tears, coupons dyed in the lifeblood of their fellowman. We are taking a step today that is fraught with untold danger. We are going into war upon the command of gold. We are going to run the risk of sacrificing millions of our countrymen’s lives in order that other countrymen may coin their lifeblood into money. And even if we do not cross the Atlantic and go into the trenches, we are going to pile up a debt that the toiling masses that shall come many generations after us will have to pay. Unborn millions will bend their backs in toil in order to pay for the terrible step we are now about to take. We are about to do the bidding of wealth’s terrible mandate. By our act we will make millions of our countrymen suffer, and the consequences of it may well be that millions of our brethren must shed their lifeblood, millions of brokenhearted women must weep, millions of children must suffer with cold, and millions of babes must die from hunger, and all because we want to preserve the commercial right of American citizens to deliver munitions of war to belligerent nations.

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