(From Sunday's TIMES and NEWS-STAR)
Louisiana and the Lusitania. Don’t see those two words in the same sentence often.
on the eve of Fourth of July week and in light of the goings-on at home
and in the world, something Louisiana did a century ago served as a bit
of fortifying and even reviving news when I read about it recently in
“Dead Wake,” a book by everyman historian Erik Larson about the sinking
of the British ocean liner Lusitania.
It was 100 years ago last
month — May 7, 1915 — that the Lusitania, for a while the largest
passenger ship in the world, was torpedoed and sunk by German U-boat
U-20. Nearly 1,200 people died, including American citizens. It would be
23 months before the United States would become involved in the
actual fighting in World War I.
There are reasons. President
Woodrow Wilson was reluctant to go to war, a sentiment that seemed
shared by much of America, Larson writes. Of course, no one wants to go
jumping into World Wars all over the place. It took the nation almost a
year to become galvanized to the prospect that such a fight was
But there was plenty of meaningful and telling
dialogue in the aftermath of the sinking. Most of it reads as civilized,
or the opposite of what you might expect to hear on a news talk show
these days. Although the prospect of war was at hand, cooler heads, as
they say, prevailed. And later, when America knew it was time, the war
was fought, and then quickly won.
In Larson’s research, he came
across this, a resolution from the state of Louisiana that Larson said
was “refreshing … in light of the rancor in American politics that
prevailed at the time I completed this book (2013-14).” It was written
less than two weeks after the great liner’s sinking and after such a
loss of life which, in retrospect, could likely have been easily avoided
had the ocean liner’s captain known what British intelligence knew,
which is another story.
From the U.S. National Archives in College Park, Md., here’s the post-Lusitania-sinking resolution from our state:
a crisis as now confronts our country calls for coolness, deliberation,
firmness and precision of mind on the part of those entrusted with the
power of administration.
“Under the providence of God this country
has such a leader in Woodrow Wilson … who with his advisers has shown
the temper and courage and great humanity that reflects the sentiment of
his loyal countrymen.” Resolution, May 20, 1915, Louisiana Legislature.
the teens might say. Wilson had earned it. And just to hear such
phrases as “providence of God” and “loyal countrymen” coming from an
American legislature is so rare today that you wonder if it happened at
But it did. Such was the norm, when America was a much
different place than it is today. Here are words that were broadcast
June 6, 1944. Guess who said them:
“Almighty God: Our sons, pride
of our nation, this day have set upon a mighty endeavor, a struggle to
preserve our Republic, our religion, and our civilization, and to set
free a suffering humanity.
“Lead them straight and true...They will need thy blessings...
“And for us at home...help us, Almighty God, to rededicate ourselves in renewed faith in Thee in this hour of great sacrifice...
people have urged that I call the Nation into a single day of special
prayer. But because the road is long and the desire is great, I ask that
our people devote themselves in a continuance of prayer...And O Lord,
give us Faith. Give us Faith in Thee; Faith in our sons; Faith in each
other; Faith in our united crusade...With Thy blessing, we shall prevail
over the unholy forces of our enemy...Lead us to the saving of our
FDR. On D-Day. A fireside chat. He asked the entire nation, “...join with me in prayer.”
You’ll recall we won. It was in all the papers.
about what has changed since then, what’s not allowed, what’s been left
out. Think about the news and arguments of the day. It’s not so much
the symbols and flags and guns and daily cry for political correctness,
which is just making America appear silly and cry “Uncle.” All that’s on
the outside. It’s the stuff on the inside that needs fixing. But that
involves some sort of personal responsibility, and that’s always the
hardest thing to do. It’s easier for me to fight to fix what I think is
wrong with you than it is for me to fix what I know is wrong with me.