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WW1 Centennial News for Wednesday September 20, 2017 - Episode #38

America Officially Declares War on April 6, 1917America Officially Declares War on April 6, 1917

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WWI Centennial News SPECIAL:
PART II: America Declares War.

This is another special feature presentation of the WW1 Centennial News Podcast.

Welcome to PART II of  “In Sacrifice for Liberty and Peace”.

This two part special is an adaptation from a live staged event the Commission produced on the April 6, 2017 centennial of America’s entry into: “ war that changed the world”.

Edward Bilous as the artistic director, and Chris Christopher as the US WW1 Centennial Commission’s executive producer pulled together an amazing group of artists, historians musician, actors, and others for a live performance staged at the National WWI Museum and Memorial  in Kansas City to an audience of over 3,000 attendees.

For this 2-part special we have excerpted key moments from the story that unfolds, the music that was performed and the readings from a cast of amazing actors, orators, musicians and other luminaries.

In Part 1 we examined the great debate in America about getting into the war, and today, in Part 2, we present how events overtook the debate and as America declared its entry into WW1.

Talent Credits

This podcast was adapted from the live event

In Sacrifice for Liberty and Peace:

Centennial Commemoration of the US entry into WWI


Credits for the live event include:


Edward Bilous

Artistic Director

John Rensenhouse


Michelle DiBucci

Music Director

Sarah Outhwaite

Video Designer


Carlos Murillo

Script and Adaptation

Greg Kalember

Music Producer, Mix Engineer, Sound Design


Portia Kamons

Executive Artistic Producer

For Virtua Creative

Shelby Rose

Producer, Media and Special Events

For Virtua Creative


Dale Morehouse



Carla Noack



David Paul

Pre-Recorded Speaker


Janith English

Principal Chief of the Wyandot Nation of Kansas


Sergeant Debra Kay Mooney

Choctaw Nation


Col. Gerald York

Grandson of Sergeant Alvin C. York


Deborah York

Great-Granddaughter of Sergeant Alvin C. York


Noble Sissle Jr.

Son of Noble Sissle


Featuring Musical Performances by

1st Infantry Division Band

Michael Baden

John Brancy

Francesco Centano

Billy Cliff

Peter Dugan

Ramona Dunlap

Lisa Fisher

Samantha Gossard

Adam Holthus

Christopher T. McLaurin

Chrisi Poland

Aaron Redburn

Reuben Allen

Matt Rombaum

Alan Schwartz

Yang Thou

Charles Yang

Alla Wijnands

Bram Wijnands



(In Alphabetical Order)

Freddy Acevedo

Yetunde Felix-Ukwu

Jason Francescon

Khalif Gillett

Emilie Karas

Chelsea Kisner

Christopher Lyman

Marianne McKenzie

Victor Raider-Wexler


Artillery Master

Charles B. Wood


National World War I Museum and Memorial:  TheWorldWar.org

Library of Congress: LOC.gov

New York Public Library: DigitalCollections.nypl.org

National Archives: Archives.gov

National Historic Geographic Information System: NHGIS.org

State Library of New South Wales: SL.nsw.gov.au

Imperial War Museums: IWM.org.uk

National Museum of African American History and Culture: NMAAHC.si.edu

The Sergeant York Patriotic Foundation and the York Family: SgtYork.org

Australian War Memorial: AWM.gov.au

National Media Museum: NationalMediaMuseum.org.uk

Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library Archive: WoodrowWilson.org

Mathers Museum of World Culture: Mathers.indiana.edu

Front Page Courtesy of The New York Times Company



WW1 Centennial News is brought to you by the U.S. World War I Centennial Commission and the Pritzker Military Museum and Library. I’m Theo Mayer - the Chief Technologist for the Commission and your host. Before we get into the main part of the show - - Let me try to set it up:


We have gone back in time to January 1917.

Late last year, in 1916, Woodrow Wilson ran for president under the slogan “He Kept us Out Of War” and “America First” and he won - by a slim margin. In Western  Europe, Eastern Europe, the middle east and other areas around the world -  All tied together by colonial imperialism - the war rages on!



Not long after the election of 1916, events would unfold at a rapid pace, until the United States reached a tipping point where isolationism could no longer be an option.

January 19, 1917 – Arthur Zimmerman, Foreign Secretary of the German Empire, sent a telegram to German Ambassador to Mexico, proposing an alliance between Germany and Mexico in the event of US entry into the War.



"We intend to begin on the first of February unrestricted submarine warfare. We shall endeavor in

spite of this to keep the United States of America neutral. In the event of this not succeeding, we make Mexico a proposal of alliance... make war together, make peace together... and an understanding... that Mexico is to reconquer the lost territory in Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona.... You will inform the President of the above... as soon as the outbreak of war with the United States of America is certain...."



The British Admiralty, which had cracked German diplomatic cipher systems, decoded the message

within hours. Seeking to influence the American government, the British provided the Americans a copy of the telegram. On the 28t h  of February, President Wilson released the telegram to the press. The appearance of the news nationwide on March 1s t  galvanized American support for entry into the war.

January 31, 1917, Robert Lansing, Secretary of State, received a note from the German Ambassador to the United States.



A new situation has... been created which forces Germany to new decisions.... England is using

her naval power for a criminal attempt to force Germany into submission by starvation. In brutal contempt of international law, the... powers led by England..., by ruthless pressure, compel neutral countries either to altogether forego every trade not agreeable to the Entente Powers, or to limit it according to their arbitrary decrees.

From February 1, 1917, sea traffic will be stopped with every available weapon and without further notice....



This message from the German Ambassador directly contravened the German guarantee to Wilson   that ended unrestricted submarine warfare following the sinking of the Lusitania in 1915. Coupled with the Zimmerman telegram, Germany’s renewed aggression decisively changed American attitudes about the war.    On February 3, 1917, the United States formally ended diplomatic relations with Imperial Germany.

On February 25, 1917, the Cunard Line ship Laconia was struck by German Torpedoes. Floyd Gibbons, an American correspondent for the Chicago Tribune, was on board and lived to describe the scene:



At 10:30 p.m., there was a muffled noise. Five sharp blasts – the signal to abandon. We walked

hurriedly down the corridor ... to the lounge which was amidships. We moved fast but there was no crowding and no panic.

...we looked down the slanting side of the ship and noticed ... her water line ... was a number of feet above the waves. ... the lifeboats... rested against the side of the ship.... I could see that we were going to have difficulty in the descent to the water.

‘Lower away!’ someone gave the order and we started downward ... toward the seemingly hungry... swells. The stern of the boat was down; the bow up, leaving us at an angle of about 45 degrees....

The tiers of lights dimmed slowly from white to yellow, then to red, and nothing was left but the murky mourning of the night..... The ship sank rapidly at the stern until at last its nose stood straight in the air. Then it slid silently down and out of sight....



Austin Y. Hoy, a Chicago machinery company executive working in London, cabled President

Woodrow Wilson after the sinking of the LACONIA:



My beloved mother and sister, passengers on the LACONIA, have been foully murdered.... I call

upon my government to preserve its citizens’ self-respect and save others of my countrymen from such deep grief as I now feel. I am of military age, able to fight. If my country can use me against these brutal assassins, I am at its call.

If it stultifies my manhood and my nation’s by remaining passive under outrage, I shall seek a man’s chance under another flag.



Events abroad also served to tip American opinion. The fall of the Russian Tsar's regime on March

15, 1917 resulted in a greater moral clarity for the Allied cause: the war was now a struggle of democratic nations against autocratic empires.

Despite the passions aroused by the Zimmerman telegram and the resumption of unrestricted submarine warfare, Wilson himself had no personal desire to bring the US into conflict in Europe. Wilson told a journalist off the record:



If there is any alternative, for God’s sake, let’s take it!



March 20. Wilson confers with his cabinet. They unanimously vote for War.

March 21. Wilson calls Congress into special session for April the 2n  d .

On the evening of April the second, 1917, President Wilson addresses a joint session of Congress asking for a Declaration of War.



“While we do these momentous things, let us make very clear to all the world what our motives

are. Our object, now as then, is to vindicate the principles of peace and justice as against selfish and autocratic power. Neutrality is no longer feasible or desirable where the peace of the world is involved and the freedom of its peoples, and the menace to that peace and freedom lies in the existence of autocratic governments. We have seen the last of neutrality. We are at the beginning of an age in which it will be insisted that the same standards of conduct and of responsibility for wrong done shall be observed among nations and their governments that are observed among the individual citizens of civilized states.”



The Congress rose to its feet and applauded enthusiastically. Cheering crowds lined the streets as Wilson departed from the Capitol. As author Byron Farwell wrote:



It was the greatest speech of Wilson’s life. At about 10:00, when the president had returned to the White House, he and his wife had dinner with friends, after which Wilson wandered into the empty cabinet room. His secretary, Joseph Tumulty, found him there: ‘Think what they were applauding,’ he said to Tumulty. ‘My message today was a message of death for our young men. How strange it seems to applaud that.’ He put his head down on the table in the Cabinet Room, and sobbed.’



Still, in the face of aggression, there were voices of opposition. Arkansas Senator George Norris:



Belligerency would benefit only the class of people who will be made prosperous should we become entangled in the present war, who have already made millions..., and who will make hundreds of millions more if we get into the war. To whom does the war bring prosperity? Not to the soldier. Not to the broken hearted widow. Not to the mother who weeps at the death of her brave boy.... I feel that we are about to put the dollar sign on the American Flag.”



The Senate passed the War Resolution with only three Republicans and three Democrats opposed.

The House voted 373 for, with 50 opposed. Jeanette Rankin, the first woman to serve in Congress, and the lone female Representative, voted against the resolution.

The approved Declaration of War was sent to President Wilson on April 6, 1917. At 1pm that day he signed:

“Approved 6 April, 1917, Woodrow Wilson.”


  • Tolling of the bells
  • 19 gun canon salute



As the country mobilized, we leave you with the voices of two soldiers:



Major General John J. Pershing to President Woodrow Wilson, April 10, 1917:

 “Dear Mr. President:

As an officer of the army, may I not extend to you, as Commander-in-Chief of the armies, my sincere congratulations upon your soul-stirring patriotic address to Congress on April 2d. Your strong stand for the right will be an inspiration to humanity everywhere, but especially to the citizens of the Republic. It arouses in the breast of every soldier feelings of the deepest admiration for their leader.

I am exultant that my life has been spent as a soldier, in camp and field, that I may now the more worthily and more intelligently serve my country and you.

With great respect,

Your obedient servant, JOHN J. PERSHING

Major General, U.S. Army



And from the diary of Sergeant York serialized in  Liberty magazine in 1927:



I had no time to bother much about a lot of foreigners quarrelling and killing each other over in

Europe. I just wanted to be left alone to live in peace and love. I wasn’t planning my life any other way. ... I figured that if some people in the Wolf River Valley were quarrelling... it wasn’t any of my business to go and interfere, and Europe was much further away.... I never dreamed we’d go over there to fight. So I didn’t pay much attention to it. I didn’t let it bother me until I received from the post office a little red card telling me to register for the draft. That’s how the war came to me, in the midst of all my peace and happiness and dreams, which I felt all along were too good to be true, and just couldn’t last.”



In the meantime, the popular music of the time begins to address the American soldier, his image and his place in the world.




If he can fight like he can love,

Oh what a soldier boy he’ll be!

If he’s just have as good in the trench As he was in the park or on a bench,


Then ev’ry Hun had better run

And find a great big linden tree

I know he’ll be a hero ‘over there’ ‘Cause he’s a bear in any Morris chair And if he fights like he can love

Why, then it’s goodnight, Germany!


Verse 2

Ev’ry single day all the papers say, Mary’s beau is, oh, so brave

With his little gun, chasing ev’ry Hun He has taught them to behave

Little Mary proudly shakes her head,

And says, “Do you remember what I said?”



If he can fight like he can love,

Oh what a soldier boy he’ll be!

If he’s just have as good in the trench As he was in the park or on a bench, Then ev’ry Hun had better run

And find a great big linden tree

I know he’ll be a hero ‘over there’ ‘Cause he’s a bear in any Morris chair And if he fights like he can love

Why, then it’s goodnight, Germany!



I Have A Rendezvous With Death (POEM: No Music or Sound)

I have a rendezvous with Death

At some disputed barricade,

When Spring comes back with rustling shade And apple-blossoms fill the air—

I have a rendezvous with Death

When Spring brings back blue days and fair.

It may be he shall take my hand

And lead me into his dark land

And close my eyes and quench my breath— It may be I shall pass him still.

I have a rendezvous with Death

On some scarred slope of battered hill, When Spring comes round again this year And the first meadow-flowers appear.

God knows ‘twere better to be deep Pillowed in silk and scented down, Where love throbs out in blissful sleep, Pulse nigh to pulse, and breath to breath, Where hushed awakenings are dear...

But I’ve a rendezvous with Death

At midnight in some flaming town, When Spring trips north again this year, And I to my pledged word am true,

I shall not fail that rendezvous.



And so America goes to war and takes her place on the world stage. Nothing would be same again as the country heads into the most rapid and profound transformation of her young existence.


World War 1 Centennial news is here to tell you the story - We will explore WW1 Centennial News THEN - what was happening 100 years ago this week. And we will explore WW1 Centennial News NOW - what is happening today with the centennial commemoration of the war that changed the world.

And so it begins



That was Part 2 of our special feature presentation of “In Sacrifice for Liberty and Peace” our 2-part special of America’s reluctant entry into World War 1.


The US World War One Centennial Commission was created by Congress to honor, commemorate and educate about WW1.

Our programs are to--

inspire a national conversation and awareness about WW1;

Our podcast and these specials are a part of that endeavor

We are bringing the lessons of the 100 years ago into today's classrooms;

We are helping to restore WW1 memorials in communities of all sizes across our country;

and of course we are building America’s National WW1 Memorial in Washington DC.


If you like the work we are doing, please support it with a tax deductible donation at ww1cc.org/donate - all lower case

Or if you are on your smartphone text  the word: WW1 to 41444. that's the letters ww the number 1 texted to 41444. Any amount is appreciated.


We want to thank commission’s founding sponsor the Pritzker Military Museum and Library for their support.

The podcast can be found on our website at ww1cc.org/cn  

on  iTunes and google play ww1 Centennial News.

Our twitter and instagram handles are both @ww1cc and we are on facebook @ww1centennial.

Thanks for listening to this special presentation of WW1 Centennial News…

A full list of the many talented people who contributed to this production is in the podcast notes.


So long.


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