Threatens Wilson’s Ability to Join the War.
Enter The Wobblies, The Loose Cannons of the Labor Movement
Special to The Great War Project.
(18 September) When President Woodrow Wilson declared war on Imperial Germany, there were many anti-war opponents in the United States.
There were those who based their opposition to the war on religious views. Also pacifists, conscientious objectors, and anti-draft activists.
Once called up and sent to army training camps, many changed their minds and succumbed to putting on a uniform.
But “how this change was accomplished,” reports historian Thomas Fleming, “is not a pretty story. Harassed camp commanders, already grappling with shortages of everything, had little time to give much thought to the techniques of persuasion.”
“At most camps, the ‘conchies’ were left to the untender mercies of sergeants and lieutenants, who called them yellow-bellies, cowards, and pro-Germans.
Fleming reports, “The Mennonites, who resisted all forms of persuasion, had a particularly bad time….At one camp, a Mennonite resister was scrubbed with brushes dipped in lye. Sadists in another camp billeted them with men infected with venereal disease. Not too surprisingly many resisted this brutal treatment and were court-martialed.”
“Some 110 were sentenced to the Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, army prison for terms ranging from ten to thirty years. One martyr to his faith and conscience wrote to his parents from his prison cell, “you can’t imagine how it is to be hated. If it wasn’t for Christ it would be impossible.”
This, according to historian Fleming, “meant deep trouble for the radical union, the Industrial Workers of the World,” also known as the IWW or the Wobblies. “The Wobblies were the loose cannons of the labor movement…the IWW aimed at unionizing the unskilled and uneducated workers largely ignored by the other craft unions in the labor movement.”
According to Fleming “the union returned with interest the violent hostility of the employers and their friends” in government.