What was George W. Norris saying in his speech opposing President Wilson's request for a declaration of war?

Expert Answers
droxonian eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Norris prefaces his speech with the caveat that, while he is opposed to the US being drawn into the war, he will devote "all his energy" to fighting for victory should the US proceed. However, he goes on to state that the reasons Wilson gave for joining the war were not valid, in several ways.

First: he does not feel that Germany having declared a naval "war zone" carried much weight, given that Britain had, in his eyes, already declared the entire ocean a war zone upon the outbreak of war. The US, he says, has deemed both of these occupations of the ocean illegal, but "in the case of Germany we have persisted in our protest, while in the case of England we have submitted."

Norris feels that what America should have done was simply refuse to enter these zones with their ships—meaning that they would have then been "of short duration" as the UK would have been short of supplies. As such, he feels that the US has enabled and prolonged the war zones' existence. By respecting the English war zone and condemning the German one, the US has not actually been "neutral," as it claimed.

Norris also believes that US citizens have been misled by those who had so far made millions of dollars out of the war, in terms of manufacturing products for the Allies and lending money to them. These people, he says, have convinced the American people for their own purposes that the US has a moral duty to join the war. But going to war would make money for the rich, not for the country as a whole. Norris warns that going to war will result in huge national debt and will wipe out numerous soldiers who will have had no say in the matter. His position is that going to war would be an act of greed and submission to the Wall Street elite.

Further Reading:
pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

George Norris is opposing the idea of US entry into WWI on two major grounds.

First, he is saying that the US was never truly neutral.  He is saying that Wilson is proposing to enter the war on Britain's side even though Britain violated international law just as Germany did.  He says

No close student of recent history will deny that both Great Britain and Germany have, on numerous occasions since the beginning of the war, flagrantly violated in the most serious manner the rights of neutral vessels and neutral nations under existing international law, as recognized up to the beginning of this war by the civilized world.

He sees this as proof that Wilson's administration was taking sides in the war rather than truly remaining neutral.

Second, Norris is alleging that the country is being pushed into war for the financial benefit of certain groups of people.  He thinks that the war helps the rich financiers who are going to be selling weapons and other such things to the government.  He argues that

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.


Norris, then, is saying that the US was not truly neutral in the war and that it should have taken more care to truly stay neutral.  In addition, he argues that the war is going to help the rich to get richer while the poor have to go and fight.