My foray into matters of Irish Americana tonight has me reading about the Irish community, German Americans, and World War I. Yes: Irish Americans and German Americans made common cause to try to keep the United States out of the war. Ireland’s longstanding grievances against Britain motivated the Irish; support for the Fatherland inspired the Germans. I’ve found lots of interesting and informative stuff on the topic, but I wound up searching the New York Times archives for stories about William Jennings Bryan’s role as an advocate of U.S. neutrality.
I found one precious item from June 1915, a week or so after Bryan had resigned as secretary of State because he could see by President Wilson’s reaction to the Lusitania sinking that his argument didn’t stand a chance in the administration. The item is about a speech that Bryan was supposed to make in Chicago to the Sons of Teutons. The group had invited Bryan, thinking he would inveigh against U.S. ammunition shipments to Britain and France and renew his call for an embargo. But when the Sons of Teutons found out that Bryan instead intended to urge the warring parties to enter peace negotiations, they met him at the train station and said the speech was canceled. At least that was the Times’s version of events.
I came across a more recent item, too: a March 1967 piece by historian Barbara Tuchman (“The Guns of August,” etc.) published in The New York Times Magazine and titled simply, “How We Entered World War I.” I haven’t read Tuchman’s books for decades, but this article is a reminder of why her histories are so accessible: she was a great writer (and yes, a capable historian, too). I found this in her description of the American and German diplomatic struggle over limits to submarine warfare: “Each time during these months when the torpedo streaked its fatal track, the isolationist cry to keep Americans out of the war zones redoubled.”
“… The torpedo streaked its fatal track.” I’ll remember that one for awhile.