World War I began in 1914 when the Germans invaded France. When they crossed through Belgium, Great Britain declared war against Germany to honor an agreement to protect Belgium sovereignty. Soon the other European Nations including Austria-Hungary, and Russia joined the fray.
The United States initially believed it would be best to stay neutral. Between 1914-1917 German spies spent $12 million dollars to support rebel factions in Mexico against the United States. It wasn’t until two years lasted events such as the sinking of the Lusitania by a German u boat, which resulted in the death of 128 Americans, and the Zimmerman Telegram convinced the United States to join the Allies.
World War I was a “total war” which meant that the United States would have to use all of their financial, industrial, and human resources if they were going to have a chance to win. Once the fighting began and saboteurs began to infiltrate the United States and blowing up munitions factories and ships caring ammo. In 1916 sabatours blew up Black Tom, a munitions factory in New Jersey. The explosion shattered thousands of windows in Manhattan, the shrapnel blew holes in the Statue of Liberty.
The Espionage Act of 1917 made it illegal to obstruct military recruitment, encourage mutiny, or aid the enemy by spreading lies. In 1918 the Sedition Act outlawed speaking, writing, or publishing “any abusive or disloyal language” towards the flag, constitution, government, or armed forces. Civil liberty activists challenged the acts, but the were upheld by the supreme court. The laws helped silence people who opposed the war, including pacifists and members of the Socialist Party and the Industrial Workers of the World.
Leader of the Socialist Party Eugene Debs was sentence to 10 years in prison by a Federal judge for saying “The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles.” During the war many German American’s changed their names and bought war bonds to protect themselves from suspicion.
Its kind of scary to think that the government could arrest people for is agreeing with thew war. Given the stakes of the war and issues with saboteurs and spies I can see why many people would believe such laws to be necessary. To a certain extent I think we saw that after 9/11 with the NSA and surveillance in the United States.