July 1, 1917
“Close to 120,000 soldiers and 1,000 nurses leave Minnesota to serve in World War I;
3,480 will not return.” *
We may wonder what prompted so many of the North Star state’s sons and daughters sign up for this war in Europe. It was so far away: geographically, emotionally, and politically. Yet, approximately 5 out of every 100 of our forbearers went to defend Minnesota and the United States.
What did our countrymen think of the prospect of joining the Great War? “Public sentiment leaned towards the British and French (Allied) forces but the country remained neutral towards the conflict in Europe. The Democrats’ re-election campaign slogan “He Kept Us Out of War” painted (President) Wilson as a peacemaker.” **
However, Wilson broke that pledge of peace when Germany sunk the Lusitania off the coast of Ireland. Granted, Germany had issued the following warning in 40 U.S. newspapers, “Travelers intending to embark on the Atlantic voyage are reminded that a state of war exists between Germany . . . and Great Britain . . . and that travelers sailing in the war zone on ships of Great Britain or her allies do so at their own risk.” One hundred years after the fact this sounds like a fair warning; to remain neutral, stay out of a war zone.
Further, some party sympathetic to the Allies had tainted the innocence of the Lusitania as a mere luxury liner, by loading her with weapons. “In the context of a wartime crossing, the cargo of the Lusitania on her last voyage included war materiel for the Allied war effort, including 52 tons of shrapnel shells, more than 3,000 percussion fuses, and 4,200 cases of Remington rifle cartridges.” Kapitanleutnant Walter Schwieger of submarine U-20 sank the Lusitania; a luxury liner also carrying war materiel. Of the 1,959 people on board, 1,195 died, including more than 120 Americans on May 7, 1915. **** Perhaps those that decided to gamble 1,200 lives to smuggle weapons past Germany’s blockade bear some blame for this tragedy?
So the question remains, did we enter the Great War based on a single act of aggression based on a false premise, or were there other events that pushed public opinion in joining the war? Below is one potential answer cited by the National Archives on the infamous Zimmerman Telegram.
“In January of 1917, British cryptographers deciphered a telegram from German Foreign Minister Arthur Zimmermann to the German Minister to Mexico, von Eckhardt, offering United States territory to Mexico in return for joining the German cause. This message helped draw the United States into the war and thus changed the course of history. The telegram had such an impact on American opinion that, according to David Kahn, author of The Codebreakers, “No other single cryptanalysis has had such enormous consequences.” It is his opinion that “never before or since has so much turned upon the solution of a secret message.” In an effort to protect their intelligence from detection and to capitalize on growing anti-German sentiment in the United States, the British waited until February 24 to present the telegram to Woodrow Wilson. The American press published news of the telegram on March 1. On April 6, 1917, the United States Congress formally declared war on Germany and its allies.”***
Our Father, hear our prayer! We have offended Your justice in at least three ways in the commencement of World War I: we have lost our commitment to peace, we have tried to create righteous outcomes through deception, and we have eaten the bait of offense offered by the Enemy of all humankind. We have broken with the eternal principles of Your Kingdom, and chosen to exalt our own kingdoms. Lord Jesus Christ, Son of David, have mercy on our State; a sinning people.
Eternal Judge, will You forgive us for following President Wilson into World War I? Will You forgive us for the abandonment of the Monroe Doctrine and the warnings of the Founding Fathers:
Monroe Doctrine Introduction
“The occasion has been judged proper for asserting, as a principle in which the rights and interests of the United States are involved, that the American continents, by the free and independent condition which they have assumed and maintain, are henceforth not to be considered as subjects for future colonization by any European powers.”
Monroe Doctrine addressed to the “allied powers” of Europe (Holy Alliance)
“We owe it, therefore, to candor and to the amicable relations existing between the United States and those powers to declare that we should consider any attempt on their part to extend their system to any portion of this hemisphere as dangerous to our peace and safety. With the existing colonies or dependencies of any European power, we have not interfered and shall not interfere. But with the Governments who have declared their independence and maintained it, and whose independence we have, on great consideration and on just principles, acknowledged, we could not view any interposition for the purpose of oppressing them, or controlling in any other manner their destiny, by any European power in any other light than as the manifestation of an unfriendly disposition toward the United States.” *****
“Great is the guilt of an unnecessary war.” -John Adams
“Conquest is not in our principles. It is inconsistent with our government.” -Thomas Jefferson
“Observe good faith and justice toward all nations. Cultivate peace and harmony with all.” -George Washington ******
We have followed our President and Congress into this Great War, and have broken faith with You; the Prince of Peace. Will You bless those who voluntarily served in the military with a clear conscience? Will You remove the curse received from those within our State, Federal Government, or unelected positions of influence that may have steered us into war because they lacked conscience?
Will You forgive us our judgments’ of the nation of Germany in the sinking of the Lusitania? Their nation provided clear boundaries of the risks of traveling within their war zone to our citizens, a warning heeded by some, and ignored by others. We amplify our offense to Germany by attempted smuggling of materiel on a civilian ship while maintaining a posture of neutrality. Will You forgive us our duplicity as a people? Will You forgive, specifically, those who may have intentionally deceived the passengers of the Lusitania?
Will You forgive the State of Minnesota, and the peoples of the United States, of our willingness to take the bait of offense through the means of media and war propaganda? We believed the reporting that innocent lives were taken, and they were, but under a false premise. Will You forgive us this offense and duplicity towards Your Sincerity? Will You forgive those of us who sincerely believed a lie?
Will You free us from the guilt of those who schemed to frame this event of abandoning our neutrality in favor of war? Will You judge both those who wrote the Zimerman Telegraph and interpreted it? Whether it was true or false, the outcome was that we chose war over maintaining relationship. Will You forgive Germany where it broke faith with the US? Will You forgive the United States where it broke faith with Germany? Will You forgive us all our ignorance and arrogance? We have believed the worst of enemy, the best of ourselves, and have not continued to believe in the G-d and Father of All Nations!
I want to be clear that I do not condemn those Minnesotans who served in this war, or paid the supreme sacrifice. I believe that they acted in good faith on the information they had, and hindsight is 20/20. Lord, will You bless those who paid for our freedom with their lives and pain to their bodies, minds, and spirits? Will You bless their generations to be ready for war as a last resort of exhausting every avenue to peace? Amen.
****Read an eyewitness account of the sinking of the RMS Lusitania in 1915? https://www.archives.gov/exhibits/eyewitness/html.php?section=18
Learn about Minnesotans drafted in WWI? https://www.archives.gov/research/military/ww1/draft-registration/minnesota.html