As war engulfed Europe in 1914, Kansans, as all Americans, remained deeply divided on the prospect of becoming entangled in the conflict.   Woodrow Wilson won his second term as president in 1916 by campaigning on the anti-war ticket.   His re-election campaign slogan of “He kept us out of war,” however, increasingly took on a hollow ring as many questioned what they saw as the President’s abrupt policy change from pacifism to militarism. While continuing to advocate his position of neutrality “in thought as well as action,” Wilson now tempered his promise of peace by calling for a “preparedness” program to build up America’s military forces.

Supporters of the President in Kansas assured an as yet unconvinced citizenry of the folly of attempting to avoid a conflict by pretending it did not exist. Preparedness was the most beneficial thing for peace as it would remove any temptation of other nations to attack. Democratic newspapers throughout the state assured readers that armed neutrality was no different than guarding their homes against the depredations of lawless men and that the aim of the President’s program was not to train the sons of the state’s mothers to kill but to save lives.

Richmond P. Hobson (Library of Congress

To bring the point home, the Topeka Commercial Club invited Captain Richmond Hobson to speak on the wisdom of Wilson’s policy. Known to every school child in Kansas as the hero of Santiago Harbor, Cuba for his valiant but unsuccessful attempt to bottle up the enemy fleet during the Spanish-American War of 1898, Captain Hobson attempted to rouse Kansans from the notion that America’s best defense was the vastness of the Atlantic Ocean. Proclaiming the nation’s standing peacetime army and navy insufficient to deter an enemy attack, Hobson predicted that the forces of the Imperial German Government could take every city on the Atlantic seaboard in four weeks.

Thomas Rosenblum has worked with Historic Hudson Valley, the Smithsonian Institution, and the Oklahoma Historical Society. For the past twenty-five years he has been with the National Park Service as a Curator and Historian and is currently on the staff of Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site.