From ‘Huns’ and ‘Victory Dogs’ to burning books

“The war to end all wars,” Americans called it, when it started in August 1914. It seemed so horrible that mankind would never again fall into such a murderous tragedy. It featured machine guns, gas, tanks, trenches, and aeroplanes, and it could be followed in your daily newspapers in great detail, with photographs, maps and drawings.

President Woodrow Wilson had pledged to keep the United States neutral, but the “infernal” submarine, which sank ships without warning, dragged him and the country closer to war. British propaganda about the barbaric German “Hun” angered most Americans, who naively believed what they read. Furthermore the country had not been in a major war since 1861, and some young men were thrilled at the prospect of uniforms and combat. War fever gradually grew, and we entered the war in April 1918. Before long the boys were “over there,” and the Durango Evening Herald kept its readers up-to-date.

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The July 3, 1918 issue headlined:

OVER 1,000,000,000 AMERICANS IN FRANCE NOW

Nation has 2,500,000 men under arms will call 1,500,000 more before year is ended. America will soon have fighting men on Italian front. (Italy fought on the side of England, France and their allies in this war.)

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Meanwhile back in the Animas Valley:

DURANGO PLANS BIG CELEBRATION TOMORROW

Independence Day is to be celebrated in Durango from nine-thirty in the morning when the parade is started to the evening dance at Red Men Hall. The grangers [the grange was a strong farmers organization particularly in this county] of La Plata County have the celebration in their control and they have arranged the program of the day’s events, [there would be a patriotic parade, picnic, children’s events, fun events for adults all topped by a “grand” fireworks display].

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Meanwhile, patriots at home wanted to be sure no insidious “Hun” influence corrupted their children or themselves:

July 1, 1918 “Durango turned out in mass Saturday night to witness the burning of a huge bonfire of all German school text books, German papers, printed articles (and so forth.)” The school board banned teaching the German language and “Durango turned out in mass to witness a burning of the Kaiser in effigy.”

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It did not pay to have a German name, either. As strange as it might seem, dachshunds became “Victory Dogs” and German measles “Victory Measles.”

To read about the war, other events and local items, the “Paper cost 50 cents month by mail or carrier $6 per year.”

Duane Smith is a Fort Lewis College history professor. Reach him at 247-2589.

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