Why Wars Always End Up Hurting The Most Vulnerable Americans

Peter Beinart | The Atlantic | July 6, 2014

The centennial of World War I is a chance to remember naive predictions about how it and other fights would improve society—and the awful abuses those wars actually enabled.

The impending anniversary of the start of World War I has given historians and pundits the chance to speculate about whether we’re heading for another era of mass war and redrawing of borders. Put me down as undecided. But as we prepare to dwell on the ghastliness that occurred overseas between 1914 and 1918, it’s worth pausing to reflect on the ghastliness that occurred over here.

...Most Americans have forgotten how repressive a period World War I was. “You can’t even collect your thoughts without getting arrested for unlawful assemblage,” quipped the writer Max Eastman. “They give you ninety days for quoting the Declaration of Independence, six months for quoting the Bible.” Walter Lippmann said Woodrow Wilson’s administration had “done more to endanger fundamental American liberties than any group of men for a hundred years.”

Which makes it all the more remarkable that Lippmann had championed America’s entrance into the war on the grounds that it would further liberal ideals. While fighting for democracy in Europe, he declared, “we shall stand committed as never before to the realization of democracy in America ... we shall turn with fresh interest to our own tyrannies—to our Colorado mines, our autocratic steel industries, our sweatshops and our slums.” The progressive philosopher John Dewey thought the war would unleash a new spirit of public-mindedness in the United States and a “more conscious and extensive use of science for communal purposes.”...