Historian Michael Kazin narrates how a group of Americans tried to stop their nation from fighting in one of history’s most destructive wars, and then were hounded by the government when they refused to back down. It was the largest, most diverse, and most sophisticated peace coalition up to that point in US history. Members of the coalition came from a variety of backgrounds, and their political ideologies ranged from socialist and anarchist to populist and white supremacist. They mounted street demonstrations and popular exhibitions, attracted prominent leaders from the labor and suffrage movements, ran peace candidates for local and federal office, and founded new organizations, some of which, like the ACLU, endured beyond the cause. For almost three years, they helped prevent Congress from authorizing a massive increase in the size of the US army—a step advocated by ex-president Theodore Roosevelt. Soon after the end of the Great War, most Americans believed it had not been worth fighting. And when its bitter legacy led to the next world war, the warnings of these peace activists turned into a tragic prophecy—and the beginning of a surveillance state that still endures today.
Michael Kazin is a professor of history at Georgetown University and editor of Dissent magazine. He received his PhD from Stanford University. His most recent books are War Against War: The American Fight for Peace, 1914-1918 (2017); American Dreamers: How the Left Changed a Nation (2011), and A Godly Hero: The Life of William Jennings Bryan (2006). He is a regular contributor to The New York Times Book Review, Foreign Affairs, The Nation, Politico, and other publications and websites.
The Washington History Seminar is co-chaired by Eric Arnesen (George Washington University) and Christian Ostermann (Woodrow Wilson Center) and is sponsored jointly by the National History Center of the American Historical Association and the Wilson Center’s History and Public Policy Program. It meets weekly during the academic year. The seminar thanks the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations and the George Washington University History Department for their support.