Pro War Efforts
In 1916 the federal government established the Council of National Defense. In Iowa the state Council of National Defense was created by Governor Harding. Councils of National Defense were created at the county levels too. The purpose of the councils were supposedly to encourage citizens to perform patriotic duties, but in many counties around Iowa they were used to target German-Americans. Misuse of power by county Councils of Defense led to much persecution of innocent people. People who spoke Dutch, Danish, Norwegian, Swedish and Czech were hurt as well as those who spoke German. Elderly women in Scott County were jailed for speaking German over the telephone. A Lutheran pastor was jailed for preaching part of a funeral service for a soldier killed in the war in Swedish because the young man's grandparents did not speak English.
One of the most effective tools of the pro-war population was the American Protective League, organized in 1918 to root out German spies and sympathizers. Iowa's American Protective League was headquartered in Davenport, but branches were organized in every county. They worked with the county Councils of National Defense. They used intimidation, coercion and entrapments techniques on the public and in some cases assessed fines.
Conscription (military draft) was the most immediate effect of the war in Iowa. Anti-draft meetings and petitions were held immediately after the declaration of war in April 1917. But threats of violence usually put an end to these expressions of dissent.
By law registration was required of all men between the ages of 21 and 30 whose birthdays fell before June 5, 1917. A total of 216,299 Iowa men were subject to conscription. Of these, 1,822 were German-born, and as "alien enemies," they could not be inducted into the army. Draft quotas were imposed by counties. And county boards handled registrations, exemptions and deferments. Anyone placed in the “Class 1” category was eligible for immediate induction. Others were “deferred” for a variety of reasons. They might work in “strategic occupations” such as farming and telegraph operations. They might have dependent relatives. Or they might have physical handicaps. There was a great amount of hostility, especially among farmers, who believed that money and political power could influence draft boards to offer deferments and exemptions.
German-Americans in Iowa
Many people of German descent lived in Iowa. Iowa’s governor William Harding issued a decree requiring people to speak only English. This meant that some people could no longer use the language they understood best. It affected not only Germans but Norwegians, Czechs, Danes and Dutch speaking Iowans as well. Many conducted church services in their native languages, which now became illegal. Many schools stopped teaching German language courses. German-Americans also had to buy Liberty Bonds to support the U.S. war efforts. Sometimes they were forced to take part in patriotic celebrations. In Davenport some German books were burned.
The conscription possibility was especially hard on families of immigrant heritage whose ancestors had left Europe to avoid conscription there. There were many documented suicides, especially in rural areas, caused by the draft law. Conscientious objectors were subject to harassment and persecution, even if they came legally under the deferment or exemption categories. Quakers, Amish, Mennonites, Hussites, Seventh Day Adventists and Russellites (which later bacame known as Jehovah’s Witnesses) all had religious doctrine against bearing arms. The Amana Colonies were a special case. They were communal, lived in an isolated situation, spoke German and had a large land-holding in common. Jealousy from neighboring towns led to rumors and threats to blow up the mills there.
Peaceful Support of the War
People living in the Amana Colonies showed their patriotism by buying Liberty Loan bonds, but critics said that was just because the leaders liked the four percent interest return on them. In the first registration call, 73 Amana men were eligible. All registered. In the first draft call, the 24 Amana men appealed their classification and petitioned to be deferred. The District Exemption Board reclassified them, which annoyed some people in Iowa County, because they would have to make up the quota.
Because of local pressure, 31 Amana men were classified as Class 1 by July 14, 1918. Of these, 18 Amana men were drafted and served at Camp Pike, Arkansas, where they worked as non-combatants. They did march and wear uniforms, but did not carry weapons. Rather, they worked in the base hospital, in the quartermaster corps, and in the canteen. Only one Amana man was ever sent overseas, but two died—not from combat wounds—but from the Spanish influenza epidemic in 1918.
War time creates many challenges and hardships. World War I brought stresses and hardships to Iowans—to those who supported the war, as well as those who opposed the war.