The War at Home Transcript

The War at Home

The Great War affected far more than just the soldiers. Americans – rich and poor, black and white – came together to defend the country, and democracy itself.

Texans welcomed the new military population with open arms, as young men from faraway states attended local churches and restaurants. One serviceman stationed at Kelly Field said: “The hospitality of these Texas ranch people is really something… No matter how little they had they were willing to share it when company came... That was true Texas hospitality.”

Communities forged tight bonds with servicemen, and the feeling was mutual. But hospitality fell along racial lines, segregation was enforced and tensions existed; white communities welcomed white soldiers… but could be indifferent – or even hostile – toward African-American troops – who often found warm welcomes from black communities.

The war also showcased the best of America: pride; patriotism; community spirit. Citizen-led organizations like the Salvation Army and the Red Cross made profound contributions to the war effort, while families grew victory gardens and rationed food. Schools and Boy Scouts led bond drives to finance the war. And in one of the most profound changes of the war, women began to work in factories, offices, and farms, to aid in the war effort. On the homefront, everyone had a role to play.

But there were darker impacts of the war at home. The night before America declared war, President Wilson warned:

Once we lead this people into war... they'll forget there ever was such a thing as tolerance. To fight, you must be brutal and ruthless, and the spirit of ruthless brutality will enter into the very fiber of our national life.”
– President Woodrow Wilson, 1917

Government propaganda urged citizens to buy bonds to finance the war. To ensure patriotism, Congress passed the Sedition Act of 1918 - making it illegal to criticize the war. Newspapers – and even private mail – were censored for not supporting the Wilson administration. 

For some, the war intensified existing prejudices – and created new ones. Germans in Texas – and around the country – were subjected to a sudden, and sometimes violent, backlash. African-Americans and Hispanic-Americans, already marginalized by the Jim Crow laws throughout the South, served by the hundreds of thousands – setting the stage for dramatic social change later in the 20th century.

The Great War was like a magnifying glass, highlighting American heroism – and American hypocrisy – in the nation… and in Texas.