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American midnight : the Great War, a violent peace, and democracy's forgotten crisis
2022
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The chaotic period between 1917 and 1921 is an underrepresented era of American history. Students learn about World War I, but not much is studied about the violent harassment and jailing of conscientious objectors, socialists, members of the International Workers of the World (Wobblies), and the frequent, unpunished lynchings of Black people during this period. Hochschild (To End All Wars) recounts the horrors inflicted on individual citizens for attempting to speak their conscience about the U.S. involvement in the war. The American Protection League (APL), a private organization, had the approval to operate by the U.S. Department of Justice and President Wilson. Many chilling acts of violence and harassment conducted by the APL and similar groups under the guise of patriotism are depicted. Also illustrated in concise and alarming effect is how the Sedition Act and the Espionage Act were used to jail citizens as well. For example, the U.S. Postal Service used it to suppress mail that it felt was disloyal to the U.S. government or army, stopping the mailing of socialist newspapers and more. VERDICT During the United States' current tumultuous times, it is important to remember and revisit the forgotten injustices of the previous century. Hochschild succinctly does so here.--Julie Feighery
Publishers Weekly Review
President Woodrow Wilson's call for the U.S. to enter WWI to make the world "safe for democracy" ironically set the stage for an unprecedented attack on Americans' civil liberties, according to this expert and eye-opening account. Historian Hochschild (Rebel Cinderella) notes that increasing numbers of immigrants from Italy, Eastern Europe, and Russia during the early 20th century provoked nativist resentments and violent attacks from Americans whose Protestant ancestors came from England and northwestern Europe. Even more common, however, was violence against coal miners, steel workers, and other laborers attempting to unionize. Hochschild documents how new laws ostensibly passed to protect America's national security, including the Espionage and Sedition Acts, were weaponized against the foreign born, labor activists, and pacifists. Though few records remain, Hochschild cites claims by one lawyer that between 1917 and 1921, 462 men and women were jailed by the federal government for a year or longer for their written or spoken words. He also documents outbreaks of racial violence, anarchist bombings, and the 1919 Palmer raids, which targeted the Union of Russian Workers. Meticulously researched, fluidly written, and frequently enraging, this is a timely reminder of the "vigilant respect for civil rights and Constitutional safeguards" needed to protect democracy and forestall authoritarianism. (Oct.)
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