Episode Two charts Americas entry into the conflict, examining the breathtaking speed of mobilization and the profound transformations required if America was to play a central role in the Great War.
In the spring of 1917, the United States was utterly unprepared for war. Its army ranked 17th in the world, behind Serbias. France and Britain were dubious about Americas might. At home, Congress and the American people remained deeply divided about going to war.
Wilson knew he needed... [see more] to sell the war, and quickly. He turned to a former journalist, George Creel, to head the newly-created Committee on Public Information. Only days after the declaration of war Creel launched an unprecedented propaganda campaign that brought artists, writers, and Hollywood into the fold. The blizzard of positive information about the war left little doubt that it was every Americans patriotic duty to get in line and support the war. For those who resisted the patriotic fervor, the consequences could be severe.
Wilson oversaw an unprecedented wave of repressive legislation that clamped down on free speech and almost any form of dissent. Anti-German sentiment grew, and dissidents like suffragette Alice Paul and labor leader Eugene Debs were arrested. The new climate encouraged rampant vigilantism, as neighbor spied upon neighbor, and left-wing groups were routinely persecuted. The war also revealed the deep racial divisions in American society. Savage racial attacks against African Americans in East St. Louis, Illinois, and a riot of black troops against the violence of Jim Crow in Houston, laid bare fault lines in American society that no amount of patriotic propaganda could obscure. When Wilson tried to introduce conscription, protests erupted around the country.
Although conscription was controversial at first, branding the draft as Selective Service successfully created the impression that soldiers were actually volunteering to join the army. In the end, more than nine million men registered, and four million were eventually called to serve. Their ranks included city boys and farmers, African Americans, Latinos, Asians, Jews, Native Americans and more, a reflection of the teeming diversity of 20th- century America.
Led by General John Pershing, these men, known as doughboys, became Americas first mass conscripted army. It was also strictly segregated. Most black soldiers were shunted into labor battalions and barred from training with guns. One exception was the New York Fifteenth National Guard later known as the Harlem Hellfighters who fought hard to get to the frontlines in France. In the spring of 1918 they finally succeeded and would help to repel a massive German offensive.
In the summer of 1918, millions of Americans arrived in France at the most critical moment in the war. The Germans had broken the stalemate on the Western Front and swept across northern France to the outskirts of Paris. Along the Marne River, at a place called Belleau Wood, Americans fought bravely, even recklessly, and helped their French allies hold the line, but the cost was high.
Soon the names of thousands of American boys killed in the fighting began to appear in the pages of the nations newspapers. The wave of death and misery that Wilson had so feared was coming to pass.