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The Only Badge Needed Is Your Patriotic Fervor: Vigilance, Coercion And The Law In World War I America

1440 words - 6 pages

Vigilantism in World War I America was a perversion of the law that in the eyes of the perpetrator was a just action no matter how gruesome or violent. The obligation of vigilance during the war time was seen as patriotic duty but somewhere along the way the thought of it became distorted. Christopher Capozzola writes in his article The Only Badge Needed is Your Patriotic Fervor: Vigilance, Coercion and the Law in World War I America about vigilance taking three forms: Defending the home front and in particular in Connecticut, labor disputes and social and moral disputes. During this article one sees that vigilantism was not a clear cut defiance of the American law or system it was a theory that put the power in the hands of the people but did not separate it from those that created it and those that could act upon it.
The first section Mr. Capozzola discusses in his article is the idea of defending the home front during the war. His argument is that the people of the United States found it their duty to step in and take control when the citizens felt that the government was not doing their job. In a quote from Woodrow Wilson the reader is able to see what the government was trying to fix. "No man who loves America, no man who really cares for her fame and honor and character…can justify mob action while the courts of justice are open and the governments of the States and the Nations are ready and able to do their duty. The point here in the article is that it was just not the American people that would look bad from this vigilantly justice but, the society and nation as a whole was being scrutinized.
He continues this argument by examining America's past, one that is very much violent. He states that, "…violence is as American as apple pie, a point that would not have been lost on the crowd that strung up Robert Prager…and then dropped him three times in the words of one participant ‘one for the red, one for the white, and one for the blue." Mr. Capozzola shows that the people that committed these acts were not anti American, they thought they were the pro-America at its finest.
Woodrow Wilson as the article points out, government sought out to clarify the nations "standards of law and right." This article in the first section shows that when it came down to vigilantism in the World War I era the line is a little grey. He points out that the same officials that spoke out against lawless vigilantism stood up for the idea of vigilance organizations' policing. The idea behind this that Christopher speaks of is that uncontrolled physical violence was politically illegitimate because it went against the nation and the spirit of their laws.
The problem Capozzola sees in his article is that the American people were used to policing themselves and for that to work many people saw coercion and mob violence to fit under that category of self policing. The other grey area in all this is the fact that mob violence was never...

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