UNWILLING DOUGHBOYS: THE U.S. ARMY’S FOREIGN-BORN CONSCRIPTS IN WORLD WAR I

Date

2023-05-12

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Abstract

Misguided by a century-old typographical error in a major psychological study and an overlooked anomaly in the 1910 census, historians determined that immigrants were overrepresented as conscripts in the U.S. Army during World War I. Reassessing conscription demographic data, this dissertation demonstrates that immigrants were, in fact, notably underrepresented as American conscripts. The overlooked resistance of immigrants to Selective Service was the main cause of this under drafting. Immigrants took part in publicly protesting the draft, and they evaded conscription in a variety of ways, most notably by claiming alienage exemptions at high rates. Their success at evading the draft led to the massive efforts of American society, the federal government, and the War Department to induct foreign-born men into the army. These efforts included illegally conscripting tens of thousands of foreign-born men. Until now, historians have not recognized this injustice, nor the widespread protests of foreign-born conscripts from inside army camps. In addition to causing great hardships for many of the immigrants involved, conscripting foreign nationals caused significant problems and inefficiencies in training camps. Army personnel were unprepared for so many non-English speaking men, and they struggled to cope with dissident immigrant draftees, who consistently claimed that the U.S. government could not legally conscript foreign nationals. Many fought to obtain military discharges, often by protesting to their foreign diplomats. As combat-ready units embarked for Europe, they left behind large numbers of untrained foreign-born conscripts in army camps, where they drained resources, money, and manpower. Concerned about the loyalty of some of these men The Military Intelligence Division (MID) created the Foreign-speaking Soldier Subsection to gather intelligence and spread counterpropaganda through a vast network of agents and volunteer informants in army camps and in ethnic communities. While the MID produced and spread prodigious amounts of counterpropaganda touting the effectiveness of their efforts to assimilate immigrants into army life, its internal memos reveal a much different reality. Foreign-born conscripts regularly resisted and protested compulsory military service, and their persistence led to far-reaching changes in naturalization laws and the Selective Service Act.

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Social sciences, World War I, War and Society, U.S. Army, Conscription, Wartime resistance, Radicalism, Foreign-born soldiers, Race and ethnicity, Immigration history, American foreign policy, Military Intelligence Division, Foreign-speaking Soldier Subsection, Counterespionage, Bolshevism, American citizenship, American identity

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