Nearly three years after the start of what was then called "The Great War," the United States entered World War I with a congressional declaration of war against Germany on April 6, 1917. Until then, President Woodrow Wilson had maintained a policy of non-intervention, and a strong antiwar sentiment had swept the U.S. as casualties mounted on the battlefields across Europe and beyond. But the growing threat of a powerful German navy and its fleet of submarines attacking American shipping, plus evidence that Germany was trying to draw Mexico to its side, persuaded Wilson to join forces with Great Britain and France.
By 1917, entering the war was presented in a Tribune editorial as a pragmatic decision: "The war we enter is one of the highest practicality to the American republic," the newspaper opined on April 8. "We enter on the side which we think will contribute most to the security of the United States. We shall be stronger and more reliant when we come out." In an editorial on April 6 headlined "The Paramount Need," the Tribune made its case for a compulsory military draft. "The volunteer system with its demoralization of business and industry, its injustice to individuals, its inefficiency in military consequences, the system of confusion, waste, and politics, must go forever. If we are to fight this war, if we are to be secure from violent reprisal after it, or from aggression in future years, we must establish the system of 'universal service.' ... Let congress now put an end to a century of wrongheadedness and pass at once a measure creating an army of obligatory citizen service." Congress passed the Selective Service Act six weeks later.
But if war was presented as a practical matter in 1917, it had been described as something far more profound in 1914. Just over a month after the assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand and a day after Germany declared war against Russia, Tribune editorial writer Clifford Raymond penned "The Twilight of the Kings," which was published on Aug. 2, 1914, and would go on to become one of the Tribune's most memorable editorials.
The Twilight of the Kings
Before establishing hell on Earth the pietistic kings commend their subjects to God. Seek the Lord's sanction for the devil's work.
"And now I commend you to God," said the kaiser from his balcony to the people in the street. "Go to church and kneel before God and pray for His help for our gallant army."
Pray that a farmer dragged from a Saxon field shall be speedier with a bayonet thrust than a winemaker taken from his vines in the Aube; that a Berlin lawyer shall be steadier with a rifle than a Moscow merchant; that a machine gun manned by Heidelburg students shall not jam and that one worked by Paris carpenters shall.
Pray that a Bavarian hop grower, armed in a quarrel in which he has no heat, shall outmarch a wheat grower from Poltava; that Cossacks from the Don shall be lured into barbed wire entanglements and caught by masked guns; that an innkeeper of Salzburg shall blow the head off a baker from the Loire.
"Go to church and pray for help" — that the hell shall be hotter in innocent Ardennes than it is in equally innocent Hessen; that it shall be hotter in innocent Kovno than in equally innocent Posen.
And the pietistic czar commends his subjects to God that they may have strength of arm in a quarrel they do not understand; that they may inflict more sufferings than they are required to endure and the name of Romanoff be greater than the name of Hohenzollern; that it may be greater than the name of Hapsburg, that its territories shall be wider and the territories of Hohenzollern and the territories of Hapsburg less.
The pietistic emperor of Austria commends his subjects to God, to seek divine assistance to crush the peasants of Serbia, dragged from the wheat field when it was ready for the scythe and given to the scythe themselves.
This is, we think, the last call of monarchy upon Divinity when Asmodeus walks in armor. The kings worship Baal and call it God, but out of the sacrifice will come, we think, a resolution firmly taken to have no more wheat growers and growers of corn, makers of wine, miners and fishers, artisans and traders, sailors and storekeepers offered up with prayer to the Almighty in a feudal slaughter, armed against each other without hate and without cause they know, or, if they knew, would not give a penny which way it was determined.
This is the twilight of the kings. Western Europe of the people may be caught in this debacle, but never again. Eastern Europe of the kings will be remade and the name of God shall not give grace to a hundred square miles of broken bodies.
If Divinity enters here it comes with a sword to deliver the people from the sword.
It is the twilight of the kings. The republic marches east in Europe.
Lara Weber, editoriaol board memeber.