During Word War I, the Sedition Act of 1918 made it illegal, to even speak out against the war. No individual was allowed to say anything negative about the flag, our constitution, our government and armed forces. This had to have been a very difficult time for the Americans back then. Those who were against the war, especially if they were German-American, were attacked simply because others were afraid that they could have been spies for Germany. In today’s world, Americans can pretty much discuss what ever comes to their minds, so as far as this Sedition Act back then, it was sort of taking away one’s civil right of speaking freely.
Despite the fact that the Americans were not allowed to bring up any derogatory talk about the war, it was interesting that Wilson’s war address of how he informed the Americans that we had no quarrels with the German people, the government had no problem exploiting negative propaganda of images of Germans in order to rally the support of Americans for the war (Keene, Cornell, O’Donnell 612). I find it ironic that even though there was this Sedition Act involved, the government didn’t have any problems teaching Americans to hate anything about Germany through negative posters that basically displayed such a horrific image of Germans, that it was difficult for the Americans to not dislike them.
It seems that even though the Americans were fighting a different country, we were also, unfortunately fighting one another because most people as mentioned above, didn’t care for the immigrants who were German-Americans. Basically, some Americans took the law into their own hands. They attacked these people and their businesses, which seems useless and a waste of time and energy because after all, these German-Americans were Americans. Such case noted, was the infamous incident of Robert Prager from Illinois who challenged his local mining union after being fired due to his German ethnicity. Sadly, he was murdered by a mob, simply because he was trying to stand up for himself and defend his right to work as an American. (Keene, Cornell, O’Donnell 613).
As an American, do you believe that we should be allowed to express ourselves about a war that we might not necessarily agree with? Or do you feel because you are an American, that we should stand behind the government and their decisions? It is every American’s right to have their own freedom of speech. This is what makes living in America so great, However, if people were punished back then for simply having an opinion, or died because of their ethnicity – doesn’t that make us part of the evil we are trying to avoid?
Keene, Cornell, and O’Donnell. Visions of America. Chapter 20. 2017.