Remembering the Great War


Instapundit links to a length and fascinating story by Jack Neely in the Knoxville Metro Pulse about Knoxville and its people in the Great War and the war's aftermath. A few excerpts:

Americans first regarded it as one of those stubborn, creaky old European conflicts that flared up in the Old World every now and then like the shingles, in which old men with peculiar hats and baroque motives would order slavish troops onto the field to whale away at each other for the old routine of glory and slaughter....

Knoxville's reaction to the war:

Patriotic optimism was overt; negative newspaper stories about the war effort were rare. But in some cases the war’s effects were disheartening. For more than half a century, Knoxville had been proud of its German population. Over the years, several German-born men were elected to City Council. A downtown Lutheran church conducted services in German. In the 1890s, the city had elected a German mayor, Peter Kern, of Heidelberg. The German society, Turn Verein, hosted popular dances and festivals.

But now the Germans were no longer the Germans; in newspaper headlines and in common conversation, they were the Huns. During the war, some East Tennesseans of German heritage changed their names to make them sound English. Knoxville’s German community has rarely gotten together to publicly celebrate itself since. ...

On Armistice Day:

It was a wild day. Most businesses were closed, and even the stoic farmers on Market Square shut down early. Max Finkelstein put up a sign on the front door of his clothing store: “Closed For Joy.” The newspapers published Extras, hawked in the crowded streets, where horns, gunfire, cowbells, and firecrackers made things noisier than some battles, and multiple effigies of Kaiser Bill and Crown Prince What’s-His-Name sustained all manner of insults. Reporters found it remarkable that even middle-aged women were openly cussing, shouting “Damn the Kaiser!” right on streetcorners. All over town, Wilhelm was wishfully dragged, burned, beheaded. Some 10,000 gathered at Wait Field to burn phony kaisers. The only live European known to be in Knoxville that day was one unaccountably errant French officer wearing the blue uniform of the 171st French Regiment. Local women mobbed him with kisses, as if he were liberating Knoxville itself.

Go read the whole thing. There's an interesting bit about the origins of Memorial Day which was started in Knoxville by a Union widow. Then there's this 1919 event, which puts Tulsa's own troubles two years later into perspective:

Knoxville’s postwar months also brought unexpected anti-black sentiment. For half a century, Knoxville had regarded itself a model city with regard to race relations.

The summer of 1919 would become known as Red Summer due to a rash of race riots, some of them provoked by the image of black veterans returning from war. Though the military was strictly segregated, and returning black troops were not feted nearly as extravagantly as returning whites, some were offended to see them wearing the same uniforms as whites, and to see them being hailed as heroes. Also, the Red Scare manifested itself in the South chiefly through rumors that the Bolsheviks were stirring up blacks into revolution.

Knoxville’s own crisis came late that summer, when a frustrated lynch mob and a confused detachment of guardsmen laid siege to a largely black downtown neighborhood. Several were killed, some of them by machine-gun fire with a new weapon developed for combat in Europe. The military enforcement of a post-riot curfew was disproportionately harsh on the black community.

Black historians cite World War I as the end of the years of prosperity and trust between blacks and whites in Knoxville. There followed a black exodus. The city had once been almost one-third black, but the minority percentage of the city’s population slipped below 20 percent.

Thanks again to Instapundit for the link.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on May 29, 2004 11:43 PM.

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