North Dakota, The Great War and After: An Overview
The situation in Europe was extremely tense when in July 1914 Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria was assassinated while visiting Serbia. Believing that the Serbs were harboring the terrorists who had killed the archduke, Austria declared war on Serbia. Germany came to the aid of Austria, and Russia backed little Serbia. Germany responded by declaring war on Russia and on France, an ally of Russia. German armies crossed through Belgium to attack France. England honored its alliance with Belgium and declared war on Germany. The Great War, as it was called then, had begun. The war would eventually involve nations from every continent with the exception of Antarctica.
President Wilson proclaimed American neutrality. Even the war-like nationalist Theodore Roosevelt declared that it would be “folly to jump into the war.” North Dakotans, as represented by editor Gerald P. Nye, agreed wholeheartedly. North Dakotans abandoned the Republican party in 1916 and voted for Wilson because “he kept us out of war.” But, it was next to impossible for the United States to remain neutral. Although England violated America’s rights as neutral with trade blockades, Germany’s U-boats (submarines) began to sink American ships. In 1915, a U-boat sank the liner Lusitania, killing 1,100 civilians, including 128 Americans. Germany threatened in early 1917 to sink all American ships. In April, the United States declared war on Germany to “make the world safe for democracy.”
In part because so many people of German nationality lived in North Dakota, the state’s residents were opposed to intervention in what they considered to be a European war. North Dakota’s Senator Asle J. Gronna was one of six to vote against the declaring of war.
Once the United States was in the Great War, however, North Dakotans pitched in with patriotic zeal on the home front and on Europe’s frontlines. In November 1918 the war ended with the defeat of Germany and Austria. The world peace was short lived. In 1931, Japan invaded China. Germany under dictator Adolf Hitler rearmed, occupied the Rhineland in 1936, took Austria in 1938, and invaded Poland in 1939. Italian dictator Benito Mussolini conquered Ethiopia in 1935. Spain was engulfed in a civil war. The world was once again headed for a larger war.
Again North Dakotans and their political leaders opposed American involvement in European affairs. Senator Gerald P. Nye became the nation’s leading voice against involvement; his colleague in the senate, Lynn J. Frazier, championed an amendment to the Constitution that would make illegal American entry into war.
By Dr. D. Jerome Tweton
Originally published as The North Star Dakotan student newspaper, written by Dr. D. Jerome Tweton and supported by the North Dakota Humanities Council.