Dark Side of Wartime Patriotism Primary Source eText

Primary Source

The crowd at Chicago's first Victory Loan Day fair and aerial circus, 1917. THE LIBRARY OF CONGRESS. The crowd at Chicago's first Victory Loan Day fair and aerial circus, 1917. THE LIBRARY OF CONGRESS. Published by Gale Cengage THE LIBRARY OF CONGRESS.

Woodrow Wilson's Memorandum to His Secretary, Joseph Tumulty


By: Woodrow Wilson

Date: 1918

Source: Baker, Ray Stannard, ed. Woodrow Wilson: Life and Letters: Armistice, March 1–November 11, 1918. New York: Doubleday, Doran & Company, Inc., 1939, 362.

About the Author: Woodrow Wilson (1856–1924), political scientist and president of Princeton University, served as President of the United States from 1913–1921. Wilson led America to victory over Imperial Germany in the First World War, but failed to reconstruct the international political order when the United States Senate rejected his ambitious plans for America to join the newly formed League of Nations.

"Chicagoans Cheer Tar Who Shot

Newspaper article

Date: 1919

Source: "Chicagoans Cheer Tar Who Shot Man," Washington Post, May 7, 1919.


On the eve of American entry into World War I against Imperial Germany, United States President Woodrow Wilson met in the White House with his old friend, newspaperman Frank Cobb, editor-in-chief of New York World. About to send Congress a message asking for a declaration of war, Wilson expressed to Cobb in private his strong reservations about his decision. In fact, Wilson wondered aloud if he was about to commit the worst blunder of his life. The American homefront during the conflict, Wilson predicted, would explode with hatred. Various groups would attack each other, Wilson warned, and they would use the war as an excuse to press their own private agendas and to settle old scores.

In Wilson's own words, the American people would quickly "forget there ever was such a thing as tolerance. To fight you must be brutal and ruthless, and the spirit of ruthless brutality will enter into the very fibre of our national life, infecting the Congress, the courts, the policeman on the beat, the man in the street.… the [UnitedStates] Constitution would not survive it … free speech would have to go."

Indeed with so much at stake and with the risks so apparent, one wonders why Wilson actually plunged ahead with his intended course of action and got America involved in the conflict. Meanwhile as expected, all hell broke loose on the homefront during the First World War.


Wilson initially sought to restrain the worst tendencies in America come wartime. Unfortunately, he eventually lost control of the situation. Meanwhile, the advent of war rendered people a bit nutty, as reason and common sense often flew out the window. Wilson himself clearly expressed annoyance after receiving a letter from noted symphony conductor Leopold Stokowski, who wondered if the music of Bach, Beethoven, and other long-dead German composers should be banned for the duration of the struggle—as if performing this music would somehow undermine America's war effort against Germany.

But this nonsense turned out to be only the tip of the mighty iceberg of intolerance. By 1919, in the aftermath of the November 11, 1918 Armistice, the country was gripped with the so-called Red Scare. Vigilantes (selfstyled

patriots) took the law into their own hands. One of the most celebrated incidents occurred at a rally to sell victory bonds held in Chicago on May 6, 1919 when a sailor calmly shot a spectator in the back who had refused to stand for the Star Spangled Banner.

Primary Source: Woodrow Wilson's Memorandum to His Secretary, Joseph Tumulty [excerpt]

SYNOPSIS: In this memo, President Wilson discusses with his personal secretary Joseph Tumulty the proper response (if any) to a bizarre request from famed symphony conductor Leopold Stokowski, who was looking for presidential guidance regarding whether or not long-dead German composers Bach and Beethoven should be banned during World War I (1914–18).

Woodrow Wilson: Life and Letters. Armistice, March 1—November 11, 1918

Won't you write a kind letter to Mr. Stokowski, pointing out to him how impossible it is for me to decide a question of this sort and suggesting this to him: It is not a question which can be decided on its merits, but only by the feelings and present thoughts of the audiences to whom the Philadelphia Orchestra and the other orchestras of the country play. It would be unwise to attempt 'a settlement' of the question, because feeling changes and will no doubt become perfectly normal again after the abnormal experiences through which we are passing. Please express my appreciation of his confidence in my judgment.

Primary Source: "Chicagoans Cheer Tar Who Shot Man"

SYNOPSIS: In this article The Washington Post describes an incident where, at a rally held for government war bonds ("Victory Bonds") in Chicago, an enraged sailor methodically gunned down a spectator who refused to stand up when the Star Spangled Banner was played. The reaction of the thousands of witnesses is described as favorable.

Sailor Wounds Pageant Spectator Disrespectful to Flag

Chicago, May 6.—Disrespect for the American flag and a show of resentment toward the thousands who participated in a victory loan pageant here tonight may cost George Goddard his life. He was shot down by a sailor of the United States navy when he did not stand and remove his hat while the band was playing the "Star-Spangled Banner."

Goddard had a seat of vantage in the open amphitheater. When he failed to stand he was the most conspicuous figure among the throng. When he fell at the report of the "sailor's" gun the crowd burst into cheers and handclapping. When Goddard failed to respond to the first strains of the national anthem Samuel Hagerman, sailor in the guard of honor, asked him to get up.

"What for?" demanded Goddard.

Hagerman touched him with his bayonet.

"Get up. Off with your hat."

Goddard muttered, and drew a pistol.

With military precision Hagerman stepped back a pace and slipped a shell into his gun.

Goddard started away. As the last notes of the anthem sounded the sailor commanded him to halt. Then he fired into the air.


Goddard paid no attention.

The sailor aimed and fired three times. Goddard fell wounded. Each shot found its mark.

When he was searched, an automatic pistol, in addition to the one he had drawn, was found. Another pistol and fifty cartridges were found in a bag he carried. He said he was a tinsmith, out of work. Papers showed he had been at Vancouver and Seattle and it was believed by the authorities he had come here for the I. W. W. convention.

Further Resources


Ferrell, Robert H. Woodrow Wilson and World War I, 1917–1921. New York: Harper & Row, 1985.

Smith, Gene. When the Cheering Stopped: The Last Years of Woodrow Wilson. New York: Morrow, 1964.

Vigilante, David. The Constitution in Crisis: The Red Scare of 1919–1920: A Unit of Study For Grades 9–12. Los Angeles: National Center for History in the Schools, University of California. Los Angeles, 1991.