very few wanted to enlist for world war I -- 8/07/17

Today's selection -- from The Selling of the Babe by Glenn Stout. President Woodrow Wilson and other U.S. government officials expected one million young Americans to enlist in the military for World War I. Only 73,000 did. Many conspired to avoid the draft that inevitably ensued. Since married men were exempt, many took the step of getting married to avoid service:

"The United States entered the Great War on April 6, 1917, woefully unprepared militarily. Government officials naively believed that upon a declaration of war patriotic young Americans would storm military recruiting offices to sign up, and set a target of a million recruits. Six weeks later, after only 73,000 volunteers had signed up, President Woodrow Wilson accepted the recommendation from Secretary of War Newton Baker to put forward a bill authorizing a draft for men between the ages of twenty-one and thirty-one.

Young men at the first national registration day held in association with the Selective Service Act of 1917.

"It didn't become law until May 18, and even then, those affected had another three weeks to register. When they did, it still took the nation's military months to get up to speed -- early recruits drilled using sticks as often as guns and the American military was still primarily a horse-driven operation. Initially, the draft affected only those young men who were unmarried and with no dependents. As such, the war barely affected ma­jor league baseball in 1917. As a married man, [Babe] Ruth was exempt, and a scant few players were stirred by patriotism to enlist. Only a handful lost any significant time to the service -- a great many more found it convenient to take a bride....

Babe Ruth's World War I draft card is shown.

"The war made most of the men who owned major league teams nervous. ... And while many observers expected the war to end within a few months of America's entry -- Boston [Red Sox] owner Harry Frazee claimed to have placed a four-figure bet on just that -- the Axis powers dug in and by the 1917 World Series it was clear the United States was in for a protracted period of involvement."



Glenn Stout


The Selling of the Babe: The Deal That Changed Baseball and Created a Legend


Glenn Stout


Copyright 2016 by Glenn Stout


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