6

Every year, the Daughters of the American Revolution host an essay contest concerning American History. I'll disclose that I'm not a student seeking internet help with the essay, but rather just asking out of curiosity, since the topic this year has me stumped.

For the 2017-2018 contest, the prompt concerns the end of the Great War and its effects on the average American. Here is the prompt verbatim:

The end of World War I was the beginning of a new age. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the end of the Great War. Imagine you are living in 1918. State where you are living and how the end of the war will impact your daily life. Discuss the pros and cons of the changes this War introduced to society and how you imagine those changes will impact the US in the years to come.

I freely admit my knowledge of WWI is not as thorough as I'd like, but as far as I know not a lot would have immediately changed for the average American. I realize technology and society in the 1920s took off like crazy, but I'm not sure how much of that was actually directly related to the war or to the "end" of the war specifically.

How did the average American's life change as a result of the war?

  • 1
    Aviation development comes to mind. Look at the advance: wwiaviation.com/development.html – AllInOne Aug 9 '17 at 17:33
  • 1
    just an idea that popped in my head, but i a decent answer is movement of both things and ideas, after the war people were able to move things further faster with advances in rails, plane, or by sea shipping, and also transmit information further and faster with advances in radio, cryptography, etc... – ed.hank Aug 9 '17 at 18:00
  • 1
    "How Ya Gonna Keep 'em Down on the Farm (After They've Seen Paree?)" – jamesqf Aug 9 '17 at 18:04
  • If I am living in 1918/19 I am very worried about the flu pandemic in which perished 3-5% of the world's population -- far more than in the war itself. – AllInOne Aug 9 '17 at 19:13
  • 1
    @AllInOne I have often wondered how much of the world population was actually aware of and worried about the pandemic. I've always assumed everyone knew about it, and were suitably scared, but I also hear far fewer stories about it than other contemporary events, so it makes it seem less important. – MozerShmozer Aug 9 '17 at 19:26
11

The war did two things. 1) It started drawing America out of its isolation into the world. 2) it put America at the top of the world.

In his Farewell Address, Washington had warned America against foreign entanglements. A reversal of this policy was announced by General Pershing (or one of his officers) who told the French , "Lafayette, we are here."

Something like two million men were sent to France. These men got the "Grand Tour" of Europe, formerly reserved for the children of the wealthy, courtesy of Uncle Sam. (It wasn't until half a century later, in the late 1960s before families took the Grand Tour.) The post war ethos was "How can you keep them down on the farm after they've seen Paris." They had visited not only a "large" city but one that was arguably the cultural center of the world. This deployment contributed to the urbanization of America.

The war spurred technological advances in shipping, communications, banking, aerospace, etc, This innovation continued into the 1920s. Also, a lot of capital that was formerly in Europe had come to the states; America had about 45% of the world's gold reserves by 1923, up from a little over 25% in 1913. The result was a tech boom that brought about the "Roaring Twenties" that gave radio and movies (later TV) to average Americans. A similar thing happened in the 1990s after the Persian Gulf War, that produced the tech boom of the 1990s because the victory in the Persian Gulf War removed the sting of the Vietnam War while the Soviet Union, America's biggest rival, collapsed in the same year, in part because of the fall in oil prices resulting from the Persian Gulf War relative to say, 1990.

Sources: For the 1920s, "Generations," by William Strauss and Neil Howe, (Quill, 1992). For the 1990s, "A Modern Approach to Graham and Dodd Investing," (Wiley, 2004) by yours truly. Chapter 20 is an update of the original Strauss and Howe thesis for the 1990s.

  • 3
    Interesting take on WW1 and how it influenced the 20s and our world presence. I never really thought of US being considered at the top of the world after WW1. My defining moment was always around the impact we had in WW2 as we were still in the isolation mentality not wanting to get involved until pearl harbor happened. – ggiaquin16 Aug 11 '17 at 2:49
  • 2
    @ggiaquin: Most people think that America became a world power as a result of wwii, but the stage was set in wwi. history.stackexchange.com/questions/12448/ The reason people don't "feel" this way is that after World War I, we were the '"first among (near) equals," and after World War II, we were "head and shoulders" above the crowd. – Tom Au Aug 16 '17 at 0:10
  • What is your source that America had half of the world's gold reserves in 1930? Whatever the "world's gold reserves are... – John Dee Nov 9 '17 at 2:29
  • 1
    I only looked at the graph. If you look at the little dots in 1913, American gold reserves went from 25 to 45% from 1913-1923. Then it went down over the 20s. So it looks like it had more to do with the war than the 20's. – John Dee Nov 9 '17 at 14:29
  • 1
    I have never heard the Gulf War referenced in regards to the tech boom. Sources would be good. – user2259716 Nov 9 '17 at 19:29
0

America was internationally isolated for the first half of its history. This reduced the pressure to industrialize and compete. It stayed very rural. The average American was a homesteader in 1915. They grew what they needed, plus more for income. Since the 1870's, railroads had created large farms which drove down prices. Small farmers were always petitioning for more legislation to support them, but still survived.

World War I was a wolf in sheep's clothing for farmers. Prices soared due to overseas demand. Small farmers everywhere took out loans to expand. After the war there was a huge oversupply. Prices crashed, loans defaulted. The slow impoverishment that farms had experienced for decades turned into outright bankruptcy. You can bet that the foreclosures led to consolidation into large farms. Once again, small farmers (and there were a lot of them), were petitioning the government for legislation. They were ignored.

Farms were broke. People had to get jobs in the city. This included African Americans. They began moving to cities in the North. This created the demographics that led to segregated schools. Segregated schools created the controversy which led to the Civil Rights Act of 1967.

The agricultural boom of the war, with no response from the government, put rural America in its grave. There was a natural alure to city life, but the socioeconomics of rural America drove the rapid change. Rural America was never rich, but now it was poor. There was no help from washington for rural farmers, but there was plenty of capitol for urban development. It's almost as if the money in Washington wanted to see the farmers broke. When legislation did come, it created even larger farms by subsidizing tractors and electricity.

Overall, it was geopolitical realities which brought America into line with modernity. A lot of capitol came from overseas to help it catch up in time for the next war.

http://www.learnnc.org/lp/editions/nchist-worldwar/5955

  • I hadn't known that about the food prices, but it makes perfect sense. Thanks for the answer! – MozerShmozer Nov 10 '17 at 14:52

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.