May 15, 1915

by Richard van Pelt, WWI Correspondent

The sinking of the Lusitania prompted anti-German sentiments. The Capital Journal, sensitive to the large number of German immigrants in the Valley, published the following editorial:

GERMAN-AMERICANS ARE TRUE AMERICANS

The German-American citizens of this country are loyal – never was there any doubt of this fact in the minds of the vast majority of the American people. Herman Ridder, the distinguished editor of the New York Staats Zietung, voiced the sentiment of all when he said:

“The German-Americans must suffer in any conflict between the United States and Germany, pains of which their fellow citizens can never know anything. They have fought to uphold the flag in the past and they will do so again against any enemy whatsoever. They deserve the fruits of past loyalty until they have forfeited the right to claim them. There has never been but one flag under which the German-American has fought. There will never be but one flag under which he will ever fight, and that flag is the Stars and Stripes.”

The papers do not yet report incidents of anti-German sentiment; Oregonians were not known for being tolerant of diversity. During the coming years the diverse backgrounds of readers of both papers will be tested. Up to this point, articles and letters to the editor have largely been from German-Americans seeking to defend the actions of Germany. The paper’s editorial continues:

If events lead up to war – and every true man and woman this side of the ocean devoutly hopes and believes the situation is not so serious as to make such an outcome possible – these Americans who come from the Fatherland across the ocean will be trusted in public places and respected in private life just as fully as they have ever been in the past. They have played an important part in the making of this great nation and millions of our citizens have German blood in their veins and are proud of it. The American people have no quarrel with the German people, and if any feeling exists in this country it is directed against the military powers of the German empire and not against the German people, either here or across the ocean.

The editor almost asks parenthetically why it is even necessary to write this editorial, reluctantly admitting that the “better attributes of civilization” may be little more than a veneer:

It does not seem possible that the long friendship existing between the United States and Germany must be so rudely broken that only the shedding of blood will suffice to settle the differences. And yet in these parlous times, when all the better attributes of civilization are seeming set at naught, who knows that the trend of events may lead up to?

Referring to the President’s recent speech, the editor seeks to see the issue as settled and that “there is no longer any difference of opinion on those matters which but a few days ago were subjects of public discussion and debate.” Recognizing that there exists a dark underside to patriotism, the editorial continues:

Patriotism may be blind and unreasoning; some there are who contend that, but for it Europe never would have been plunged into the awful vortex of war; that it was because the people followed their rulers as one man, making them strong and arrogant. But there is no use to argue this question – we see the strength of patriotic fervor all over the land, subscribing but one pledge – that of the gallant Decatur:

“My country, may she always be right; but, right or wrong, – my country!”

Clearly aware that the best laid plans may go up in flames, or in this case sink beneath the waves, and the worst case scenario become the only option the editorial concludes with this hope:

Millions of our bravest, most loyal citizens are praying for peace, but if providence decrees otherwise, a hundred million Americans will hold up the hands of an American president, and the stars and stripes will be once more a sacred emblem to lead a united people wherever destiny may call.

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About whclarc

We are devoted to providing information fresh from the Archives, Library and Collections of the Willamette Heritage Center in Salem, Oregon. We specialize in the history of Marion County and the greater Salem area.
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