Tuesday, March 18, 2014

AHA Conference Review: Friday, January 3, 2014, 2:30-4:30

After returning from the Woodrow Wilson house, I headed to the Albright Room of the Washington Hilton for a panel entitled, "America's Wars: Revealing Divisions and Transforming Beliefs." It was a truncated panel in the sense that two presenters and chair were unable to make it through the snow. How frustrating that must have been for them!

In "'Forever a Bone of Contention:' Debating Christian Notions of Peace during World War I," Cara Burnidge argued that while Christians in the United States were generally united in favor of the war, they fractured into contentious factions after the fighting stopped. Prior to April 1917 American Christians tended to favor our involvement, and considered Woodrow Wilson's approach dilatory. Once the US entered the war, churches all across the spectrum lined up in support. Even the Society of Friends (the Quakers) supported the war and found ways for their faithful to serve the nation without violating their pacifist principles. Once the war ended, however, this unity crumbled over the issues of peace, most especially the the League of Nations. Some maintained that isolationism would be the best expression of Christian policy, while others sought to follow President Wilson's crusade to create a new world order based on the golden rule.

In "Protecting 'The Cleanest, Most Manly Soldiers the World Has Ever Seen:' The New England Watch and Ward Society and the Battle to Suppress Prostitution during World War I" Paul Kemeny argued that reformers's attitudes toward prostitutes changed dramatically during the war. In the two decades prior to the war, Progressive anti-vice crusaders in the New England Ward and Watch Society saw prostitutes as victims of male sexual aggression. This was demonstrated most clearly with the white slave scare in the years around 1910. Reformers in the Society saw the war as a golden opportunity to deal the death blow to organized vice and save civilization from immorality. With such high stakes in so dangerous times, attitudes toward prostitutes changed. No longer viewed as victims, they came to be seen as dangerous enemies more threatening than even Germany.

I enjoyed these presentations and they increased my understanding of how World War I affected the domestic American scene, transformed attitudes, and created both unity and division in our society.

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