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January 11: Preparedness Should be the Watchword

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American attention on World War I shifted from idle curiosity to intense interest when the United States entered the war in April, 1917. Americans enthusiastically found ways to support the boys who were “over there.” They bought War Bonds, donated to charities, and joined the Red Cross. Posters, ads, newspapers, and the movies made patriotic appeals. Hollywood stars like Mary Pickford sold bonds and appeared in patriotic movies.

On this date in 1918, the Washburn Leader noted that Richard M. Hurd, chairman of the board of trustees of the American Defense Society, had contacted the president of the Washburn city commission. Hurd urged citizens to form a local vigilance corps. He said it could address the problem of German propaganda and activity. He said Germans were responsible for fires, explosions at ammunition plants, and efforts to damage the morale of the American people. Germans were accused of inspiring labor strikes at ship-building plants and promoting the looming threat of a railroad strike. The Defense Society highlighted the danger of enemies in the United States who owed their allegiance to other countries.

Local Vigilance Corps would be responsible for classifying local residents as loyal or disloyal. Residents would also be identified as American, enemy alien, pro-German, or anti-government. The Corps would monitor the speech and activities of every person identified as disloyal and report suspicious people to the Defense Society.

Anti-German regulations across America were taken to the extreme. In some places, speaking German in public was banned. German books were removed from libraries. Symphony orchestras stopped playing music by German composers. Hamburgers were renamed “liberty sandwiches.”

North Dakota had a large population of Germans from Russia. Like Germans across the United States their loyalty was called into question. But North Dakotans felt a measure of sympathy for “their” Germans. These immigrants were often called “the Czar’s Germans,” which differentiated them from Germans from Germany.

Anti-German sentiment did not stop Germans from Russia from enlisting in the army. Christian Kurle did just that. He left McIntosh County to see active duty on the Western Front. He was awarded the Croix de Guerre for rescuing a wounded comrade under heavy fire. Kurle was one of many German Americans who demonstrated their loyalty to their adopted country by serving honorably in the United States military.

Dakota Datebook by Carole Butcher

Sources:

Dakota Datebook is made in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, and funded by Humanities North Dakota, a nonprofit, independent state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the program do not necessarily reflect those of Humanities North Dakota or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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