The United States officially entered World War I 100 years ago, Thursday. While the fighting took place overseas, the war’s impact was far flung, much of it striking right here in Texas.
Ben Wright, an assistant director at UT Austin’s Briscoe Center for American History, has studied the Great War and the ways in which it transformed the state.
Wright says the relationship between the war and Texas began for the same reason the U.S. entered the war in the first place – the Zimmerman telegram.
“America was brought into the war as a direct response to something called the Zimmerman telegram, which was intrigue between Germany and Mexico,” Wright says. “Germany was basically entreating Mexico to join in on their side and in return they were promising Mexico their old provinces back, namely New Mexico and Arizona and Texas.”
Wright says Texans’ reactions at the time ranged from the Bryan newspaper calling it ‘diabolical perfidy” to a cartoon in the El Paso Times, where a picture depicting Texas on Independence Day says, ‘Hey I’m 89 today and I can still take a joke.’
But even on Texas college campuses, Wright says this era was a particularly interesting one. At the University of Texas at Austin, World War I was a time for people to explore both patriotism and dissent.
Wright says that within only a few days of the war breaking out, students began to fully immerse themselves in the war effort. On the other end of the spectrum, Wright cites the UT dean of engineering at the time, who gave a speech declaring that he was a conscientious objector.
Wright says that World War I marked the beginnings of the socio-political climate of Texas that we know today. Texans were wary of activity on the Mexican border, for example, and the Prohibition era began shortly after the war’s end.
“I mean it’s my opinion that – along with Spindle Top – World War I brings Texas into the modern era,” Wright says.
Written by Morgan O’Hanlon.