“For honor’s sake, enlist” – Editor used Civil War to shame men into volunteering for World War I

What happens when the United States declares war and few young men appear at the recruiting offices to answer the call?

That was the case in the spring of 1917 when the U.S. entered World War I. One week after the declaration of war on the Central Powers, a newspaper editor with the Chicago Daily Tribune wrote this scathing rebuke of young Americans who were unwilling to join the fight. He freely used the memory of the Civil War as a moral battering ram.

Honors Sake
April 12, 1917 – Chicago Daiiy Tribune

For Honor’s Sake, Enlist.

In spite of the most vigorous campaign ever conducted enlistments in the army and navy are negligible.

This community, which led the nation to victory in the Civil War, today is falling behind its great tradition.

More men are applying for marriage licenses to avoid service than are enlisting. People who clamored for war show no disposition to fight it. Young girls who should be knitting socks for soldiers have been wasting their time on amateur theatricals in company with young men who should be wearing those socks.

We have declared war on the most powerful and most cruel nation that has ever existed, and our contribution to the war so far consists in shouting opprobrious epithets from behind our allies’ backs.

Where is the spirit of the men who risked Libby Prison and of the men who stormed Missionary Ridge?

Is all our manhood being buried in the graves of our Civil War veterans?

The volunteer system is unjust, inefficient, and a failure, but that will not excuse the miserable showing made by our young men at the recruiting offices.

It is better to enlist than to be conscripted.

For the Honor of Illinois, enlist!

These entreaties failed to rouse large numbers of enlistments. By May 1917, only 73,000 men had signed on with the armed forces.

A recruiting poster from Chicago, Illinois (Library of Congress)

Instead, Congress would pass the Selective Service Act of 1917 and draft more than 2.8 million young men into the service of the United States government.

While the American Civil War was fought, at least initially, by large armies of fervent volunteers, the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) fought in the European trenches with units made up of conscripted men.

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