By Mick Woodcock

The year 2017 commemorates the 100th anniversary of the United States’ involvement in what is known as World War I.  Arizona had only been a state for five years when the European conflict became more than headlines in the newspaper.  It touched the lives of everyone residing in the state, whether a citizen or a sojourner.  For the first time since it was created as a separate territory in 1863, Arizona was about to take full part in a very national experience.

The immediate catalyst for world conflict lay in the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg by Gavrilo Princip, a Yugoslav nationalist.  Many countries were drawn into the conflict because of entangling diplomatic agreements made prior to 1914.

Beginning in July of 1914, events gradually drew the Central Powers of Germany, Austria-Hungary, the Ottoman Empire and Bulgaria into armed conflict with the Allied Powers, initially France, the British Empire, Russia, Serbia, Montenegro, Belgium and Japan.  Eventually Italy, Portugal, Romania, Hejaz, the United States, Greece and Siam would be added.

By the end of the war on November 11, 1918, the map of Europe had been re-drawn. Seventeen million people had died and 20 million wounded.  Empires had crumbled and new nations created.  Out of it the League of Nations was formed with the hope that conflict on this scale would never happen again.

When the war started, American sentiment was to stay out of what was seen as a European war.  But Germany continued to sink any ship headed for an Allied port, no matter the nationality.  The only power to have submarines, Germany was able to sink nearly 5000 merchant ships in four years.

The United States protested this; however, President Woodrow Wilson was unwilling to allow the country to be drawn into the conflict.  Public support for neutrality eroded as the news of German atrocities in Belgium and the sinking of the RMS Lusitania with Americans on board gave Germany a negative image.

The interception of the “Zimmerman telegram,” in which Germany offered Mexico help in regaining territory lost to the United States if they would join the Central Powers, angered Americans.  Additionally, Germany’s decision to resume attacks on all shipping to Great Britain in early 1917 resulted in many lost American ships and lives in the North Atlantic.

Woodrow Wilson ran his 1916 re-election campaign on the slogan “He kept us out of war.” After being re-elected, he did nothing to put the country on a wartime footing with the exception of enlarging the Navy.  When war came, the nation was not prepared.

Questions that had not, in large scale, needed to be answered since the Civil War faced the nation.  How do you fund the war effort?  How do you raise, train, equip, feed and move a million-man army?  What needs to be done to secure national transportation, communication and wartime production?

Answers formed in Washington, DC, had to be carried out on the state and local level.  Arizona had to quickly come up with boards to oversee a number of things.  These then contacted local officials to implement directives at the county and town level.  Prescott, county seat of Yavapai County, thus found itself in the middle of war planning.

Recruiting offices sprang up in major communities.  When the Manpower Bill created the draft, draft boards were created at county seats to ensure that all males subject to the draft were registered.  Local committees were organized to sell Liberty Loan bonds and War Savings Stamps.  Food rationing was done for a number of commodities including wheat and sugar. The American Red Cross increased its membership and workload to raise money and items for the men overseas.

Prescott saw all of this and more as her men went off to fight, and those that were on the home front looked for ways to grow their own produce, preserve what they grew and save by doing without.  Lives were touched and some forever altered as 28 Yavapai County men gave their last full measure so that, as President Woodrow Wilson had addressed Congress in asking for war, the world could be made safe for democracy.

“Days Past” is a collaborative project of the Sharlot Hall Museum and the Prescott Corral of Westerners International (www.prescottcorral.org). This and other Days Past articles are also available at www.sharlothallmuseum.org/library-archives/days-past. The public is encouraged to submit proposed articles to dayspastshmcourier@gmail.com. Please contact SHM Library & Archives reference desk at 928-445-3122 Ext. 14, or via email at dayspastshmcourier@gmail.com for information.