Tuesday, May 17, 2016

A visit to the Woodrow Wilson Museum, and a sobering lesson about sacrifice

Yesterday, I visited the Woodrow Wilson Museum in Staunton, VA, after doing some filming at the Brown Mountain “Rocky Mount” fire site in Shenandoah National Park, VA, forty miles or so away.  The museum offers a 10-minute introductory film.

The exhibits stress that Wilson did make some progressive initiatives, establishing the Federal Reserve and eventually supporting women’s suffrage (but not race-based civil rights). However, in 1916 Wilson ran on keeping the US out of World War I.  He flipflopped completely after U-boat German attacks on American ships. The motto was "Make the world safe for democracy."

Wilson relied mainly on conscription to raise manpower for the War, with the Selective Service Act of 1917.   In comparison to the Civil War, it was no longer possible to “hire” replacements or buy your way out of the “risk”.

During WWI, Congress passed the Sedition Act of 1918 , and add-on to the Espionage Act of 1917.  People were actually arrested and imprisoned for criticizing the draft.  Compare all this to the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798.

The Museum offered very little material on conscription issue (despite the trench exhibit downstairs) or, for that matter, the influenza pandemic of 1918 that followed on to the War.  The curator admitted that it should be added.  There is a placard from 1916 saying to women “your husbands are not being turned into cannon fodder for the war.

History classes in public schools tend to emphasize the biggest items (League of Nations and suffrage) and not stress the sacrifices, often unwilling, made by millions of Americans.

I made a little video myself inside the trench exhibit, which simulates life for doughboys on the front lines.

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