Jump to content
The Great War (1914-1918) Forum

Quote from BBC News website


Tom A McCluskey
 Share

Recommended Posts

Hi All,

Just seen this news article by Matt Frei, in his Washington Diary, on today's BBC News:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/7059297.stm

3/4 of the way down the article he states:

'In 1914, more Americans initially wanted to fight against England than against Germany'.

I was wondering, is this just a piece of sensational journalism? I was also wondering on what facts he bases this assertion. I was aware of the fact that there was a sizeable German population in the country, and there may be other resentful reasons, however, I am still trying to ascertain why the preponderance of the population would prefer war with Britain than Germany. I have read that in the late 1800s and early 1900s that the defence of Canada against a possible US incursion was one defence spending consideration of the British government. I was wondering if there were any prevailing political conditions that would cause enough bad feeling that would make the US population empathize more with Germany than Britain.

Any thoughts or opinions on this are much appreciated.

Aye

Tom McC

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Hi Tom. Just a few thoughts. Apart from ex pats of the Central Powers, there were many residents of USA with no reason to think kindly of Britain. On the principle of my enemy's enemy is my friend, many US immigrants would have sided against Britain. We also have to remember that USA was founded by rebelling against Britain. Many Americans would have found it reasonable to take arms against what was seen then as THE foremost colonial power. Britain's reputation suffered badly during the South African wars, the 2nd in particular. Anti colonials worldwide would have seen her in a bad light. I do not know if a majority of US citizens would have taken arms against Britain but I can well imagine a majority not siding with her nor particularly keen on helping her in any way.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Hi Tom,

In my humble opinion, I thought it was initially for many a case of a distant war in a distant land, isolationism and neutrality being the buzz words.

Woodrow Wilson had declared neutrality which he managed to maintain until 1917 in the face of the propaganda from Germany and Britain, he was re elected in 1916 on the basis of managing to keep America neutral.

Although he did confide to someone (Secretary of State?)circa 1916 that he thought any German outrage could bring America into the war.

While there were many groups with an interest in swaying America towards one side or another, Germany had not helped its PR with such things as the reports of killing of civilians in Belguim in the early stages of the war.

Now wheres my notes from a America in the 20th Century course I did several years ago with the O.U.?

Best Wishes

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Tom & Steve,

Many thanks for your comments so far, and supplying possible sociopolitical factors, and others such as the Boer War.

Aye

Tom McC

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I think you also need to consider the number of Irish in this country and their political and social influence at the time. Plus, although it is almost 200 years ago, remember that the British Army had invaded and burned Washington just 100 years prior to WWI and had sent troops to Canada to potentially intervene in the WNA if the South's fortunes had been a little different after Gettysburg.

Although our common language and heritage seem obvious keys in our national friendship, even at the start of the peace conference Wilson warned King George not call us cousins or Anglo-Saxons. Its probably best for both contries that the mood has changed in the intervening years.

Andy

Link to comment
Share on other sites

In addition to the large number of Germans there were many Irish who largely were mor anti British than Germans. German Americans did serve proportionately less than the rest of the population.

There were several very poor counties here in Kentucky , nearly 100% descended from people from Britain who had been here for a very long time, Appalachian counties, where there were so many volunteers no one was drafted. Breathit County and I think Lee Wolfe and Owsley.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I too was going to suggest that Irish immigration may have played a part in the feeling.

It should also be remembered that the so called "special relationship" that exists between the countries was a concept that only existed after the great war and even then not was not in the public conciousness until after the 2nd War.

There are many now who believe America thought it a mistake that they entered the great war at all and their was much tension between the wars between Britain and America on the latters reluctance to exercise its muscle on the world stage as a superpower.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Of course this was well before well established polling and we really don't know if the statement is accurate but I think all of the above observations are true. Most immigrants from the British Isles other than southern Ireland had been here a very long time but many Irish and Germans were born there or 1st generation native born.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

There may have been many Americans who were anti British during the Great War (just as their were many pro Germans amongst some of its influencial citizens in the Second World War) and for many reasons, but as the war progressed they had an important decision to make and that was, did they belong to the New World or the Old World and would the events far away in Europe affect their well being.One German politician, Arthur Zimmermann, later reported to be a man of unlimited vision and unbelievable stupidity gave Woodrow Wilson the ammunition to overcome internal oppostion to US war involvement and also draw on US citizen patriotic support as events unfolded.

Arthur Zimmerman was the instigator of a great deal of anti British propaganda.As the Kaiser's Foriegn Minister from 1916, he broadcast anti British propaganda wherever he could to undermind the British.It was he in 1914 who urged a Turkish led jehad to cleanse Persia and Mesopotamia of the "filthy British infidels" which in the end came to nought.

Zimmerman was a self styled expert on the US, somewhat similar to Hitler's Ribbentrop who professed a similar expert knowledge of the British in a later war.He conveyed his own embellished thoughts to Colonel Edward House,Woodrow Wilson's confidant that Germany would initiate a German - American uprising should the US go to war with Germany.As late as February 1917 he declared to the Reichstag that the US Mid Westerners and Westerners would not let the US declare war on Germany while advocating and supporting unrestriced submarine warfare.

Zimmerman looking for more alliances for the Central Powers, then tried to tice Mexico into war with the US with the offer of recovering the former Mexican territories in Texas,New Mexico and Arizona, (a new state admitted to the Union in 1912 ).This would then be followed with bringing in Japan into the war against the Allied Powers with the inducement of likely territorial gains in the Pacific.This latest ploy was uncovered by British intelligence through their insight into the German codes and the communication of the offer to Mexico was revealed as the "Zimmermann Letter"

The neutralist dimension was cut when the American citizen realised that the US homeland was threated and by mid March, worse was to follow when American lives were lost as German U Boats sank American shipping.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Paul, Gunboat, Frank,

Many thanks for you comments. I knew there was a sizeable German and Irish population. I think this map (map is of the year 2000):

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Census-...s-by-County.svg

and this graph:

http://images.google.co.uk/imgres?imgurl=h...l%3Den%26sa%3DG

show that quite large sections of the American population consider their lineage as German or Irish.

Also, here's an interesting article about the German and English language is the U.S.:

http://www.ulib.iupui.edu/kade/adams/chap7.html

Aye

Tom McC

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Definitely an odd map... First off why is there such a large 'American' poplation in Tenn and Ky (Appalichia) but no where else in the US? It also seems a little odd that there is an almost unbroken chain of German counties from PA to Oregon. Third looking at my particular stomping ground, I can say with some authority that Fauquier County and Alexandria Va are not predominantly German.

Additionally from a purly government wonk perspective I would also question this map as it does not include some of the standard ethnicities included in US gov't docs like this... most notably Pacific Islander (notice the entire state of Hawaii is Other).

Andy

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I don't wish to get involved in the UK/US politics of the 19th. Century it is far too murky but it is said that over thirty thousand US citizens volunteered for service with the Allies during ww1, is it known how many served with the Central Powers ??

Colin

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Andy,

Thanks for that, I had my doubts about the map, and it is good that a critical eye is cast over it. I would have assumed that there would have been considerably more English, Scots, and Welsh settlers. One of the more academic books that I looked at a couple of years back (an OUP book - it's at my house in Scotland) had the British settlers as quite a considerable proportion - especially the English, even up to the early 1900s. Additionally, I think they have pigeon-holed the Ulster-Scots with the Irish in general, which would make the Irish as a whole, seem like a larger diaspora. Whereas the Ulster-Scots (Scots-Irish), I would have thought would have been marked as a seperate entity and were more established by the time the mainly Irish Catholic population moved across to the United States.

Aye

Tom McC

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I don't wish to get involved in the UK/US politics of the 19th. Century it is far too murky but it is said that over thirty thousand US citizens volunteered for service with the Allies during ww1, is it known how many served with the Central Powers ??

Colin

There were over 50000 Americans in Canadian Army alone. See below. I don't know a figure for Central Powers but that would have been much more difficult to do.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Colin,

It is a good point that you have made, a considerable number made their way into the 'Empire' forces by way of Canada. I think the vast majority served in the CEF. But there are others that served directly in the British Army such as a relation to the author Edgar Allan Poe, who served in the 1st Battalion The Black Watch - he was killed at Loos (John Prentiss Poe).

Good additonal point, I would have thought that some may have served in the Army of Germany or Austria-Hungary...or perhaps, in general, it was not the done thing due to local influences.

Aye

Tom McC

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Certainly any Irish-Americans who had not ‘made it’ in the US could well have a feeling that they had been pushed out of their homeland. Compare this however to the 300,000 or more from Ireland who volunteered for the British army during WW1.

Another point is that at the time Britain was seen as the dominant power because of the power of the Royal Navy, even if the economic power was in decline. So any reduction in that dominate position would have been favourably received, even if it did not manifest itself into a person being pro-German.

Pete

Link to comment
Share on other sites

There was considerable numbers of Germans in the US who were liable for military service but were denied entry to Germany by the Royal Navy blockade of the continent. Further the Royal Navy searched all shipping for contraband and the US was the leading neutral so affected.

The US viewed British seapower as provocactive and obnoxious when it affected shipping flying the Stars and Stripes but this interference was soon forgotten when the German started to use the U Boat as a commerce destroyer.

Between 1820 and 1900, the US received 5 million German immigrants and 4 million Irish and in the first 10 years of the new century, approximately 340.000 immigrants from each country entered the US.The Germans tended to be still attached to their fatherland while the Irish and their offspring retained a hatred for the rulers of Ireland.The American "melting pot" was thought to be the catalyst for the transmution of all former national characteristics into American citizenship but it was obvious that it failed with some elements.Consequently, the Irish would have had no sympathy for Britain in defeat and the Germans retained a love of the fatherland and would have sided with Kaiser's war aims had they had the chance to enter Germany.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I think it would be sensible to review some more of what this scruffy, left-wing, example of what the BBC in particular and broadcast journalism has regrettably now become. I also think that one might see that almost anything he, and the BBC "News" department puts out has almost nothing to do with researched journalism and almost everything to do with "Opinion Forming" in the modern vogue. Sound Bites for Stupidos. Ignore them.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Is this "Arbeit Matt" Frei or a different one?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I don't think that all German immigrants would have been sympathetic to Germany. A good number of them were German nationality by force and not by choice - Alsace/Lorraine, Luxembourg (a surprising number; Chicago was, apparently, largely fed by Luxembourg immigrant farmers, and they still speak Luxembourgish in some areas) to mention but two.

Some parts of Germany were not terribly happy about German unification either, especially as the top dogs were the ........ Prussians. The term 'Prussian' is still a term of abuse across much of the continent including Germany, where 'German' is not.

On the other hand it was not many years before 1914 when German was narrowly turned down as the US national language.

Certainly the Irish would have been vociferous about anti-English feeling and politicians always listen to the most vociferous. This feeling was even evident during WW2 and way, way afterwards. I remember two supposedly well educated Irish (extremely highly placed civil servants) telling me that here would never have been the Northern Irish problem if he Nazis had won the war. I said I agreed entirely, but they should remember that there wouldn't be any northern Irish. One good concentration camp and a set of ovens, with a division of tanks, would have sorted the whole thing out.

They didn't believe that there had been concentration camps!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

A sporting dimension.

Before the RU World Cup Final, John Ward a former Irish international spoke in the Irish Independent of the English side in terms of recognition.Apparently it did not go down well in the bars in County Galway.An amusing comment heard was that it was all down to this "bloody sweet chariot" business.

Regarding the status of the Republic during the Second World War, the Royal Navy were denied access to bases in Southern Ireland (given up as late as 1938) which would have eased the U Boat threat earlier. As it was, it was not until 1943 when shipping losses declined and this was due to Allied technology and the fact that the Northern Atlantic could be fully patrolled from Great Britain and the North American coastline.

Had Great Britain fallen, the Republic of Ireland would not have retained a Switzerland type neutral status.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
 Share

×
×
  • Create New...