On April 6, 1917, the US entered World War I, providing much needed troops to a war effort that cost millions of lives across the world. In a speech calling for a declaration of war, President Woodrow Wilson used a phrase that would summarize America’s intent in becoming involved in this and future conflicts: “The world must be made safe for democracy.” Although America was officially involved in fighting for just over a year, there were still more than 53,000 American soldiers who lost their lives in that conflict. Today, let’s take some time to remember these people and the war they fought in.
Americans had initially preferred remaining neutral in what was seen as a European conflict but actions taken by Germany led to a shift. In May 1915, a German U-boat (submarine) sank a British ocean liner killing over 1,000 people including about 120 Americans. Then, in February 1917, a telegram was intercepted in which the Germans offered Mexico a return of territory lost to the US if Mexico would join the war. These actions raised outrage among the general public, making the declaration of war more acceptable when it was made.
As would also happen during WWII, war bonds were used as a way to raise money for the war effort. In our collection of original documents and artifacts, WallBuilders has war bond posters from both WWI and WWII that used religious messages to ensure support and raise money for those wars.
Also, throughout American history, Bibles have been distributed to soldiers going into war and sometimes these Bibles would include messages from leaders on the importance of Bible reading. For example, a letter from President Franklin Roosevelt was inserted in a Bible distributed during WWII. A letter from President Woodrow Wilson was used in a WWI era Bible (pictured on the left, from a Bible in WallBuilders’ library), as was a letter by General Pershing.
John Pershing was put in command of the American forces in WWI. His involvement in several victories in the later months of the war helped the Allies obtain victory. General Pershing returned to America a war hero and was promoted to General of the Armies in 1919. His letter printed in the front of a 1917 Bible provides a glimpse into his religious beliefs:
To The American Soldier:
Aroused against a nation waging war in violation of all Christian principles, our people are fighting in the cause of liberty.
Hardship will be your lot, but trust in God will give you comfort; temptation will befall you, but the teachings of our Saviour will give you strength.
Let your valor as a soldier and your conduct as a man be an inspiration to your comrades and an honor to your country.
Our history demonstrates that America accorded religion and morality a prominent place in military life — a belief that, sadly, is today being eroded.