Essay: German Americans

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  • German Americans
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“To Hell with the Kaiser!” proclaimed Fort Wayne News Sentinel on September 28, 1918. Almost three years earlier, on Columbus Day 1915, former Theodore Roosevelt asserted a similar message to German-Americans: “There is no room in this country for hyphenated Americanism. The only man who is a good American is the man who is an American and nothing else.” “They are working to destroy the efficiency and morale of our fighting men,” continued Tulsa World on August 4, 1918; “Vote for those who will not only advocate beating the German Huns into insensibility, but who are pledged to see to that the American Huns receive the same treatment.” Despite the common use of the word “Huns” to describe German-Americans, other articles claimed that this label was an understatement, that this term could not exemplify the extent of the Germans’ malice. As Aberdeen Daily News asserted on January 16, 1918, “Atilla was an angel of mercy compared to Kaiser and his soldiers.” The reputations of these “Huns” quickly dropped and soon became a figure of antagonism and mistrust. “The moment you permit [a German] to think that he can sign anything with you, he will boast, get hellishly conceited, and stick you in the back as he has done for over 2,000 years,” ranted the Grand Forks Daily Herald on October 23, 1918. A few days later, on November 1, 1918, the Miami Herald gave a similar warning, stating, “German agents are avid in gathering scraps of news… collecting thousands of fragments and patiently piecing together a whole which spells death to our soldiers.” Olympia Daily on September 25, 1918 further proclaimed, “Germans practice virtually every form of treachery and piracy of which the mind can conceive and made the word vandal one of the most descriptive in our language.” Soon, anything related to Germany was targeted by society. “Small boys ‘sicked’ bulldogs, terriers, hounds, and every other canine breed on the poor Fritzies until at last they have been virtually driven off the streets of Cincinnati” reported the Morrow County Republicans on October 10, 1918.

Set-up, explanation of theme, and thesis?

Since the Colonial Era, America had welcomed German immigrants and admired their work ethic and successes. However, a wave of anti-German sentiment broke out in 1917, resulting in strong negative feeling toward German and German-Americans. American perceptions of Germany became even worse in the years when American joined the World War in 1914. During the early years of the war, America found it difficult to remain neutral because of the sinking of Lusitania. President Wilson and his administration urged the start of the Committee on Public information to promote the war effort. EXPAND

As the CPI released many posters and cartoons, the society took on an anti-German-American environment. News articles began to attack German-American communities and their culture: churches, schools, societies, and even the German language. As a result, the freedom of speech and other civil liberties were held in a lesser regard. Congress passed the Espionage Act, which arrested those who advocated “treason, insurrection, or forcible resistance to any law of the United States.” Then the Sedition Act was passed, restricting limitations on the rights of free speech and free press by making it illegal to publish anything that would undermine the government. Soon, such advocation of anti-German sentiments and suppression of those that spoke out against it affected more than the political atmosphere of the war, but the entirety of America as well.

A cartoon drawn by Jay Norwood “Ding” Darling in Iowa 1917 depicts the German-American as a child-like, sneaky figure:

We see a teacher chastising a child saying, “Take a seat up front, where I can watch you and you won’t be looking over anyone’s shoulder.” The child is dressed in overalls that says “German-American,” a copy of the US war plans in one hand and a letter to the Kaiser in the other. This cartoon quickly fostered suspicion and hatred amongst the nation. Germans were characterized as manipulative people eager to gather scraps of news. A mass phobia against German-Americans developed as many were in fear that German spies were everywhere, reporting back all that they overheard to their motherland. Such characterization of the German-Americans was not uncommon. In fact, cartoons like these were what isolated the German-American community. Possibly other examples and quotes of cartoons?

Britain’s blockade across the North Sea and the English Channel cut the flow of war supplies, food, and fuel to Germany during World War I. Germany retaliated by using its submarines to destroy neutral ships that were supplying the Allies. U-boats, boats engineered by Germany, lurked the Atlantic armed with torpedoes. On May 7, 1915, German submarine U-20 torpedoed the Lusitania, causing the death of nearly 1,200 men, women, and children. The Allies and Americans considered the sinking an act of inhumane warfare. An article published in the Morning Olympian on August 6, 1918 describes the German-Americans as follows:

The men who launched the torpedo are no more guilty than the foul brain that conceived the deliberate slaughter of helpless, wounded men. But, to the Hun, it is a perfect day when a hundred babies have been bayoneted, a hospital bombed, and a few helpless wounded men drowned. The Huns who drop bombs on hospitals, murder women and children, sink hospital ships across the ocean and the Huns to peddle lies and sedition in this country are of the same Prussian breed.

Many media outlets labeled German-Americans as a threat to European civilization and the American values of peace, democracy, and liberty. The actions of German troops were often exaggerated so that they were portrayed as aggressive, materialistic, savage and uncivilized. Many articles during this time period targeted the emotions of the mass population, for many articles––including this article–– entailed the killings of women, children, and hospitals. This quote reveals the pathos used to sway the general population into fostering negative emotions towards the Germans.

On July 15, 1918 the Anaconda Standard reported recent changes regarding Anti-German sentiment. This article talks of the change of the name “sauerkraut” to “liberty cabbage” due to its German connection. They wrote:

When its previous alias is overlooked or not recollected, the combination of cabbage and sourness is relished and served as a great American dish called “liberty cabbage.” It is only when the name sauerkraut is remembered that the dish is shunned and banished from the tables of the patriotic and quasi-patriotic.

This quote is significant because it shows how Anti-German sentiment affected more than the German-American population in the United States. In the name of patriotism, musicians no longer played Bach and Beethoven, and schools stopped teaching the German language. Americans renamed sauerkraut “liberty cabbage”; dachshunds “liberty hounds”; and German measles “liberty measles.” CITATION Cincinnati, with its large German American population, even removed pretzels from the free lunch counters in saloons. CITATION This quote shows the extent of anti-German sentiment in the twentieth century society and how it strayed from simply the political atmosphere of the war. Furthermore, there seems to be a critical tone of the writer. It almost calls out the irony of eating liberty cabbage and rejecting sauerkraut simply because of its name. The writer’s choice to write “quasi-patriotic” questions the authenticity of Americans’ patriotism and mocks their childlike behaviors. We see a lesser-biased side of newspaper and similar media as the war continues. It is possible that many newspapers were misguided by their emotions at the start of the war. Once the war continued, newspapers like these gained courage to write against one-sided accounts, though such instances were rare.

On October 1918, the Barrington Courier praised a German soldier that volunteered to fight in the army:

He bravely laid down his life for the cause of his country. His name will ever remain fresh in the hearts of his friends and comrades. The record of his honorable service will be preserved in the archives of the American Expeditionary Forces.

This quote sheds light onto the positive voices regarding German-Americans. Yet, it is important to note that this quote was published after the German-American had died. This excerpt implies that this German solider was likely pressured to enlist due to societal biases; in order to prove that they were not a German spy, many were forced to enlist in order to escape the harsh and often forms of ethnic prejudices. Even so, the town of Barrington honored Otto as a hero. His name appears in honor rolls in memorial books such as Soldiers of the Great War, Echoes of a Century 1847–1947 and the 1929 Illinois Roll of Honor. A Radke neighbor painted a large oval portrait of Otto in his infantry uniform, and more than one neighbor told the family that the boy had been a young man of promise. CITATION Although Otto was praised, it shows how Germans were only recognized after being forced to show their loyalty to their country.

On September 25, 1919, Woodrow Wilson announced that “any man who carries a hyphen about with him carries a dagger that he is ready to plunge into the vitals of this Republic whenever he gets ready.” President Woodrow Wilson questioned the loyalty of immigrants, including German-Americans. In the midst of the First World War, Roosevelt saw immigrants’ allegiances to their home country as a threat to America’s national security; he claimed that “hyphenated Americans” were not committing fully to their national identity. This quote reveals the significance of labels during this time period. Many German-Americans changed their surnames or parts of their names where German descent was obvious. Furthermore, cities and stores around the nation were changed into more Americanized ones, such as Schmidt to Smith. This reveals how this sentiment penetrated beyond actions into more tangible efforts, such as names. A common phrase that was said was “obey the law; keep your mouth shut.” All German aliens in the United States had to register with local authorities. Because of New Haven’s many weapons plants, German immigrants faced a variety of restrictions on where they could work and live in the city. It can be inferred that the German Americans felt an obligation to assimilate and hide into the background of society. By changing their names and “keeping their mouth shut,” they were able to avoid violent reactions to their ethnicity.

In the early 20th century, German Americans were the nation’s largest immigrant group. Although they were regarded positively when they immigrated to America, many faced attacks on their ethnicity when the United States went to war against Germany in 1917. The news article regarding this topic were mostly negative. Many articles held Germans in every adverse way possible. Yet, these articles created the Germans as a three-dimensional villain; media portrayed the Germans beyond a ruthless figure. Rather, the Germans were portrayed in several different lights: cunning, ruthless, helpless, manipulative, quiet, obnoxious, and scheming. It was almost as if the American government had a checklist of all the negative ways to portray the Germans. You can group the negatives and describe each one for us. I wonder if that changed over time with events in the war. If yes, the narrative organizational framework might make the most sense for you. There were undoubtedly clear instances of exaggeration, but it was likely that the American communities were confuddled with the constant efforts of the government and its propaganda against the German-Americans. Could it also be possible that the neighborhoods catalyzed the general acceptance of such propaganda? Although it is possible that many suspected some sort of bias or fabrications, the bandwagon of hating German-Americans and the stigma against speaking out definitely played a role in how the Anti-German articles were composed and received by the community. In fact, many sources I researched referred this era as “anti-German hysteria.” CITATION Similar to the Salem witch trials or the Communist Red Scare, German sentiment seems to erupt and then die down. Early news articles are much more emotion-based while the later articles, such as the one that talks of sauerkraut, mentions the foolishness of society for being too shallow.

In several databases, it was difficult to find perspectives of those who supported or spoke out against the anti-German sentiment. Even after finding a few sources that praised German soldiers, it was praising German-Americans indirectly, like a back-handed compliment. You can comment about what you are Not seeing in the sources, too. It’s possible people felt intimidated and didn’t want to speak up. Also, the actions these newspapers were praising the Germans on were mostly political. These German-Americans either served in the war and died or pledged allegiance to America through war bonds. It is interesting to note how, most of the times, these actions were simply a result from the hostile environment that was fostered by the American government. Since the German-Americans were faced with suspicion and racial prejudices, they joined the war. Since the German-Americans were portrayed as a population with evil intentions, they were forced to confine themselves from society so that they would not be villainized for any actions out of place. However, it is not entirely surprising that there was a lack of articles that spoke against anti-German sentiment.

Conclusion and talk about theme, consider doing it chronologically

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