Merchants of Death and American involvement in WWI 1914-1918

Ladies and Gentleman – WWI shaped the 20th century

It is 2017. In case you may or may have noticed there was and will be a series of books written about World War I. Many Historians, Political Scientists, Economists and others that specialize in the knowledge of this conflict are going to write books. Publishing companies know this especially since it has been over 100 years since the conflict began. I have finished reading Merchants of Death: A Study of the International Armament Industry written by Frank Hanighen and H.C. Englebert. The Merchants of Death book is about the international armament industry of WWI and it attempts to historicize it. The label of ‘merchants of death’ was used to attack industries and bankers who backed WWI and was coined during the 1930s. The ‘merchants of death’ label was used by both left and right wing anti-war politicians during the US Senate hearings in 1936 by the Nye Committee. The Senate wanted to investigate thoroughly how much influence did these armament industries have on Wilson entering the conflict. Though the book was published in 1934, it is still a significant work of history since it is one of the earliest works of literature to demonstrate how heavily involved the munitions industry was in the conflict.

“Merchants of Death”


The First World War, also called the Great War, lasted from 1914 until 1918. The powder keg that led to this conflict was the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austrian-Hungarian throne, on 28 June 1914 in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. This assassination of Ferdinand is sometimes considered to be the official end of the 19th century for many reasons. A main reason is because the conflict destroyed the old ways and has had an impact in world politics as it can be witnessed today. That topic will be a potential blog post in the future. Gavrilo Princip, a Serbian nationalist who lived in Bosnia, carried out the assassination with the terrorist organization the Black Hand. The main belligerents in the conflict were the European powers, Austria-Hungary, Russia until 1917 due to their Communist Revolution, Germany and Ottoman Empires; making the conflict a European affair. While WWI ensued, American foreign policy at the time was of neutrality, that meant no involvement in the conflict whatsoever. However, the United States federal government entered WWI because of their interest in ensuring British and French victory, German provocation through their and President Woodrow Wilson’s desire to make the world ‘safe for democracy’. American involvement in WWI is significant because of its impact in domestic politics and shaping the role of the United States as a world power and of President Wilson.

Newspaper article reporting the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie in June of 1914.
Gavrilo Princip, member of the terrorist organization Black Hand. The young man who started WWI with shooting Ferdinand in Sarajevo in 1914.
Map of the Empires before their fall during WWI

One of the reasons the American government became involved in WWI was because of their interest in ensuring British and French victory. American business owners had provided both sides of the conflict with arms and other supplies. At the time the American federal government was explicitly pro-business and would work together. There are many theories as to why America entered the conflict and one of these includes the fact the country was going through a recession. These investors in the international armament industries were known as Merchants of Death.

Artistic depiction of the Sinking of the Lusitania

Another contributing factor to American involvement in WWI was German provocation. During World War I, the Germans’ policy in naval conflict was known as unrestricted submarine warfare. The Germans sunk many ships regardless of them being involved in the conflict in the North Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea. On May 8 1915, the Lusitania, a British commercial ship was sunken by German submarines killing 158 Americans. This act by the Germans angered the American people. The German government promised to halt unrestricted submarine warfare and did not comply. Although the sinking of the Lusitania did not immediately cause American involvement in WWI but did cause tensions to flare against Germany.

Zimmerman Telegram, 1917

The Zimmerman Telegram was a telegram sent to the Mexican government in 1917. The German government asked the Mexican government to form an alliance during World War I. If the Germans were to be victorious, they promised to return American territories that were lost by Mexico in the Mexican American War. The Mexican government refused since the country had experienced devastation from a war they fought earlier.

In 1917, President Woodrow Wilson, who had been elected for his second term in 1916, with the campaign slogan ‘he kept us out the war’, went before Congress to ask for a declaration of war against Germany. Wilson cited many reasons for this which included German submarines sinking ships in the Atlantic and the need to make the world safe for democracy.

President Woodrow Wilson

The conflict impacted domestic policies in America. Americans had been aware of the horrors that were going on in Europe, North Africa and the Middle East. American involvement in the conflict was very unpopular and it inspired American dissent. In response to the protests, pamphlets and other anti-war sentiments the government responded with the Espionage Act of 1917. The act made it illegal for any American speaking against its involvement in the war can be imprisoned and/or fined. During times of war, rights of people can be taken away only if it is for the welfare of the country and rhisnis something that has repeated itself even after this conflict. This instance of the American government passing the Espionage Act demonstrates how it became a surveillance state. It is not coincidental that these developments led to the establishment of the Federal Bureau of Investigation or FBI that was headed by J. Edgar Hoover.

American involvement during World War I led to the creation of the Committee of Public Information or CPI headed by George Creel. The CPI spread vast propaganda in the mainstream media in order to make American participation in WWI feel justified to the American public. The CPI was also responsible for spreading anti-German sentiments which led to German-Americans being lynched, tarred and feathered as it was done to British tax collectors before the American Revolutionary War.

In 1918, Wilson spoke before Congress where he read his speech the Fourteen Points. The Fourteen Points was Woodrow Wilson’s vision for the world to establish peace after the conflict which will lead to the creation of the League of Nations. The League of Nations was created after WWI to ensure that the terms of the Treaty of Versailles of 1918 and other peace treaties were enforced. It was an intergovernmental organization consisting of many countries that were the victors. Wilson wanted America to become a member of the League of Nations and it needed the permission of Congress. Wilson was met with opposition to this by members of Congress particularly by Senator Henry Cabot Lodge who expressed concerne about American membership to the league. Lodge did not want America to be involved in a conflict if there was no benefit for them.  His main issue was with Article X of the League Charter. Article X asked that if any member of the league was to be threatened, attacked, or in the brink of war, other members would have to defend it. This posed as a problem for Lodge because only Congress can declare war as it is stated in the American Constitution. Lodge and other Congressmen did not want to give that power to the league. Cabot asked Wilson to amend Article X and Wilson refused. America never got to join the League of Nations and the organization crumbled after that.

In retaliation, Wilson who was considered a hero by many people, spent many months campaigning for the League of Nations to be established. Wilson went campaigning across the United States to promote the league and to remove members of Congress who opposed him until he suffered a massive stroke.

American involvement in the Great War was primarily due to economic interests of American businessmen, German government provocation and Wilson’s desire of making the world safe for democracy as he stated in his speech to Congress, the fourteen points. WWI had impacted the United States domestically. The progressive reforms in America had expanded into the international sphere. This was demonstrated when Wilson took the initiative of trying to establish an organization for the greater good of the world.

This 6 April 2017 was the 100th anniversary of American involvement in the Great War. Many American lives were lost unnecessarily because of the interests of the wealthy elitist bankers. 50,000 American lives were lost due to the conflict. Americans had been warned about the interest of bankers and business owners when it comes to conflicts. At the height of the Cold War during the 1950s, former President Dwight D. Eisenhower did warn Americans about the military-industrial complex. Dick Cheney, former vice president of the United States, made billions off of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The munitions industry was and is still a motivation for governments to get involved or create conflicts. 


Why Kurt Vonnegut’s Harrison Bergeron is one of my favorite short dystopian stories of all time

When a short story begins like this…

THE YEAR WAS 2081, and everybody was finally equal. They weren't only equal 
before God and the law. They were equal every which way. Nobody was smarter 
than anybody else. Nobody was better looking than anybody else. Nobody was 
stronger or quicker than anybody else. All this equality was due to the 
211th, 212th, and 213th Amendments to the Constitution, and to the unceasing 
vigilance of agents of the United States Handicapper General.

You often wonder if it can happen in America. All I can say is that after reading this short story, my point of view on equality has changed drastically. 1 on 1 is equal. It sounds simple enough but it is not. When people think of equal, they think about sameness, similarity but what if equal does not necessarily have to mean balanced? Even concepts of equality can be exaggerated if one thinks about it. Vonnegut demonstrates that notion in this short story that was published in 1969 in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.

human rights program in my college


Former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948

I do not mince words. There is a reason why ‘human rights’ is written in quotation marks. I want to explain what is the goal of the ‘human rights’ program in my college. I am not going to mention the name of my college for obvious reasons but it is one of the few colleges in New York City that has a ‘human rights’ program at the undergraduate level. The ‘human rights’ program is for students to either earn a minor or for the more advanced a certificate. A few months before transferring to this specific college, I went to a transfer student fair. There was a wide array of tables filled with many majors and programs being offered by the college. I was immediately drawn to the ‘human rights’ table. My intentions were good when I enrolled in that program. I was aware of many injustices going on in the world through my news subscriptions which included Vice News, Huffington Post, The Young Turks and others. Do notice how I mentioned the world and not the United States of America. I will make a point about this later on in this post.

Where is Infowars?

My first semester I took two ‘human rights’ courses as required for the certificate. One was called “Introduction to Human Rights” and an English course titled “Utopian Fictions: Human Rights and Literature”. The intro course for ‘human rights’ was heavy on reading human rights cases, reading international human rights laws and learning the history of the laws of war. On the very first day of class, students were required to read the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. UDHR was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948 and is not legally binding. I have no complaints about the course overall. The course was great and very leftist bent when cases were discussed. I met people in that class that made me wonder about their mental health. One person in particular was a girl from Tibet who expressed throughout the entire semester her hatred of the Chinese government and its relentless program of committing cultural genocide. This young woman told me that she wanted to slit her wrists in front of the Chinese consulate. I told her that will not free Tibet or receive attention from the Chinese government. It will land her in a psych ward or on a hospital bed. However, this was the course where I criticized and attacked the BLM movement in a final assignment and the professor did not penalize me for it. I was shocked and grateful for the fact that he liked my essay and appreciated a different view of the movement.

The Utopian Fiction course was also great because I read a lot of literary works. When I enrolled in this class, I automatically assumed that my class was going to read the short story Harrison Bergeron by Kurt Vonnegut and others. That specific work of Vonnegut’s is one of my favorites because of how it equality was depicted in a negative light. Nope. There was no Science Fiction in this course. Many of the books, short stories and plays, were works of fiction but nonetheless interesting.

Disgrace film based on J.M. Coetzee’s book of the same name starring John Malkovich. The film trailer is here:

Some of these works included South African author J.M. Coetzee’s Disgrace. Disgrace takes place in South Africa after the end of the apartheid period. One must have some good historical background knowledge of South Africa in order to understand the intention of the book. South Africa was once a Dutch colony and its lands were dominated by the Boer farmer. After a series of wars against the British known as the Boer Wars, South Africa became a British colony. The apartheid policy in South Africa was implemented in 1948 while countries in the African and Asian continents under European colonialism were experiencing independence movements. A variety of crimes were committed during the apartheid period that lasted until 1994 between whites, blacks, Indians, and ‘colored’ people. Being ‘colored’ in South Africa was very different from the American definition. As my English professor described it, being ‘colored’ meant being negated since it meant being a black and white mixture. Discrimination against ‘colored’ people was much worse and open than foe other groups. There are many figures that had some kind of involvement and influence in apartheid policy and history of South Africa in general. These include significant figures such as Jan Smuts, Winston Churchill, Steve Biko, Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, John Cecil Rhodes, Mohandas Ghandi and others. I can write about South Africa and my knowledge of the country one day in a future blog post primarily focusing on Jan Smuts, Holism and Apartheid policy.

J.M. Coetzee, South African author of Disgrace 
and an indirect critique of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission
Anil’s Ghost, Michael Ondaatje, 2000.

Another book that was read in this class is by Canadian author Michael Ondaatje. The book tiled Anil’s Ghost is about a forensic anthropologist named Anil Tissera who returns to her native Sri Lanka. Anil was in Sri Lanka as part of a United Nations Human Rights Investigation. Sri Lanka had been going through a civil war after it received its independence from the British Empire in 1948 and again in 1972. The civil war was fought between the Tamil and Sinhalese ethnic groups. Anil’s Ghost takes place during the height of the conflict which lasted from the late 1980s until the early 1990s. 

The course focused on human rights issues as they were being portrayed in these written works and focused outside the Western world during postcolonial times from 1945 until present. These countries include Afghanistan, South Africa, India, Sri Lanka, Botswana and others.



These two courses, although I enjoyed them, were a glimpse to what the ‘human rights’ program was about. Now I will be going back to the point I made earlier regarding the injustices around the world. If these two courses made me realize one thing, it was that the ‘human rights’ program will primarily focus on issues outside of the United States and the Western world. This was and still is problematic for me. It is as if the ‘human rights’ program refuses to acknowledge that there are legitimate issues in the United States and the West. The U.S. is no utopia and is not immune to social ills. Why should these ‘human rights’ students want to focus on the ills of their backyard? There can be a variety of reasons to answer this. It feels better to help starving people who they may never meet by donating money to a charity. Perhaps sending them food and supplies. Even posting a link on their social media accounts to raise awareness of a multitude of issues and get ## number of likes, comments filled with praises.

Syrian refugees Photo Credit: ABC 7 Chicago

These are the same type of people that would rather raise awareness of the plight of Syrian refugees versus the starving homeless family in a Manhattan street. Also the issues of a Chinese sex trafficking victim that was brought to Australia is more important than an American mother whose teenage daughter is missing. ‘Human rights’ ought to not be applied to Americans, according to leftist logic and feelings, because this is a rich and powerful country. Problems that Americans have will go away quicker and are less relevant because of its privileges. Not trying to deter from the main topic of this post on ‘human rights’ but this is one of the reasons why Trump won the presidential election.When the federal government, through federal programs, prefers to provide services to illegal immigrants over American citizens or Veterans there is a problem.

This attitude of fulfilling the needs and wanting to assist outsiders over fellow citizens by leftists is symptomatic of globalism. Leftists care more about the needs of foreigners before their own fellow neighbor. This kind of behavior is fueled by pop culture where celebrities would rather adopt children from developing countries instead of those in their own countries. These public and private schools are no longer a place of education but indoctrination. If and when someone mentions how they would rather fix issues in America before Papua New Guinea, a leftist will call this person a racist. This is called ‘Cultural Marxism’ and I heard this term uttered by Andrew Breitbart, founder of Breitbart News, in a speech addressing a student.

Andrew Breitbart

How can one want to change the world if they refuse to help their own country, home state, city or their own neighborhood? How can anyone want to help someone else when they refuse to help themselves? This is one of my many problems with the ‘human rights’ programs in academia.  They would raise awareness of issues in Haiti, South Africa, Pakistan, Colombia but developed countries simply cannot experience these issues.

“This is why you must reject post-structuralist thinking. No offense but you are the definition of the indoctrination and you don’t even understand what you are saying”.– RIP Andrew Breitbart 1969-2012


‘Human rights’ program aims to selectively raise awareness of violations that occur to certain populations i.e. Muslims, LGBTQ, women, children, disabled, and others. However, Christians are being persecuted across the globe and even in America. There was a case of a bakery that refused to make a cake for a lesbian couple. The lesbians wanted to show how progressive they were, filed a lawsuit against them that drove them out of business. These women could have opted to buy a wedding cake elsewhere. It seems as if this lesbian couple did this deliberately. 

What about the poor Whites that live in the Appalachians that are dirt poor? These poor Americans do not receive much government assistance because of this false white privilege. Social ladders are non-existant for these people.  Diane Sawyer, of ABC News, reported on the poor, White people of Appalachia on a special 20/20 report back in 2009.

Feminists in the Western world whine and complain about not having rights as a woman and do not realize how blessed they are. There are women in the world who cannot work or go to school. Women cannot be seen in public without a male companion. Sometimes these women and girls are rape survivors and are blamed on the victim and stoned to death. These are practices in the Islamic world. Western feminists do not raise issues about these atrocious acts because they simply do not care. Western feminists’ needs are greater than the other. Having access to birth control is more important than trying to save a young female from female genital mutilation.Notice the Women’s March in Washington (I jokingly called it the THOT patrol because these whiners do not represent all women) was spearheaded by Linda Sarsour who supports Sharia Law. Sharia Law is the very set of laws that DO NOT give women rights. Do not believe me but look at what is going on in Muslim majority countries.

Poor White Appalachian Boy, Rural America

Members of the LGBTQ community complain about not having rights in the United States and other Western parts of the world because of stupid marriage or ability to adopt. I tell them directly that not to complain because in Muslim majority countries, a mere accusation of homosexuality can lead to people being tossed off of buildings or imprisoned. Look at how male children in Afghanistan are victims to a cultural practice known as a bacha bazi. These young boys are dressed as females, wear makeup and are taught to dance. They are repeatedly raped by men who rent them for their services.  This practice is known by American military men whose commanders tell them in advance to ignore their screams for help. An Army Sargeant named Charles Martland beat up a man who was an alleged child rapist while on duty in Afghanistan. Thankfully Martland did not lose his position in the American armed forces.


Many of these students in the ‘human rights’ program are only in it simply to look good in front of their peers. This reminds me of a white woman in an introductory anthropology course I was enrolled in many years ago who bragged about braiding a black girls hair in Tanzania. I also recall another account of a male classmate of mine bragging about how he taught a village of seven children some certain English words. The point of these stories that I have mentioned is that these people, especially these who come from privileged backgrounds, is to look good.

Outside of ‘human rights’ courses, I have interned in various non-profit organizations in New York City. These non-profits focus on a multitude of issues for specific interest groups. In order to volunteer or intern in any of these during the summer months, you would have to be lucky. A native New Yorker would be competing with out of town students from Ivy League and private colleges across the country such as Dartmouth, Yale, Harvard, Princeton and others. Again these students do it to look good for graduate school or job opportunities. To provide their parents or guardians with bragging rights at dinner parties or work functions. ‘My child is so wonderful. She is volunteering for a non-profit organization that raises awareness of child labor exploitation in Guatemala. Now she officially speaks conversational Spanish and has raised a few thousand dollars to help build an orphanage…’ I have heard conversations like this and more.


Does ‘human rights’ exist and if so for whom? It is quite obvious that this idea only applies to certain humans. This is another problem I have with the term ‘human rights’ which is misleading. It is not as all encompassing as it pretends to be. There is so much historical evidence that can be used for this argument and I will use a few. For instance, the United Nations has dark origins that are lesser known. I can elaborate on that in another post. The organization was formed for various reasons one of which was to prevent acts of genocide that occurred during World War II. Sadly there were a lot more genocides in the postwar period because of non UN intervention most notably the genocides in Rwanda and Srebrenica in Bosnia and Pol Pot’s Camboda to name a few. The presence of UN peace officers were in Rwanda and Bosnia BUT nothing was done. Also how the term genocide, as was defined by Polish Jewish lawyer Raphael Lemkin, purposely omitted political and social groups. American and Soviet government officials that lobbied at the United Nations headquarters wanted to ensure that those groups were not incorporated in the definition of genocide. If political and social groups would have been added to that definition of genocide, both the United States and the Soviet Union would have been on trial for war crimes committed during WWII. Stalin killed way more people than Adolf Hitler and began his mass killings in 1929 with systemic famines. A book that discusses the history of the United Nations definition of genocide and Stalin’s crimes is titled ‘Stalin’s Genocides’ by Norman M. Naimark.

Here in this section I am going to discuss ‘human rights’ theory as I have learned in my English class. Giorgio Agamben, an Italian political philosopher, wrote and published a work titled Beyond Human Rights. Agamben argues that the idea of human rights is very much tied to citizenship. He, too, uses many historical examples such as the homo sacer which is a term used to describe a non citizen living in the Roman Empire. Any crime can be committed against him or her because they have no right or ties to the Roman state. Another example Agamben uses to strengthen his argument is of how many refugees who flee their countries due to political or religious persecution seek asylum and then eventually become a citizen of the nation-state they fled to. Mark Mazower, historian wrote a book titled No Enchanted Palace, where he discusses the dark historical origins of the United Nations. Mazower’s book supplements Agamben’s theory of how human rights are tied to citizenship. He uses the historical account of how German Jews were denationalized and denaturalized, meaning they lost their rights as citizens and their citizenship, before being sent to concentration and death camps. Since these German Jews were no longer citizens, their ‘human rights’ had been stripped away leading many to their tragic deaths.

This has been some of my experiences in the ‘human rights’ program in my college campus. I may have generalized but in all honesty I am sure my campus is a microcosm of what goes in liberal colleges in America and other Western countries. Although I have been harsh and critical of ‘human rights’, I have met people who are genuine about trying to make the world a better place. That is admirable but like I have stated some needs are more important than others. It is just as important to volunteer in an after school program in an inner city community than it is to tutor kids in Somalia. I am just saying.

USA for Africa or Phil Collin’s ‘Another Day in Paradise’? I would choose the latter.

This post went from attacking the ‘human rights’ program to discussing ‘human rights’ theory.

Human rights in my college will be continued in another post. I only got to describe one semester.


Deplorable ‘M’