World War I raised questions already glimpsed during the Civil War that would trouble the nation again during the McCarthy era and in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of 2001: What is the balance between security and freedom? Does the Constitution protect citizens’ rights during wartime? Should dissent be equated with lack of patriotism? The conflict demonstrated that during a war, traditional civil liberties are likely to come under severe pressure.

In 1917, Randolph Bourne ridiculed Progressives who believed they could mold the war according to their own “liberal purposes.” The conflict, he predicted, would empower not reformers but the “least democratic forces in American life.” The accuracy of Bourne’s prediction soon become apparent. Despite the administration’s idealistic language of democracy and freedom, the war inaugurated the most intense repression of civil liberties the nation has ever known. Perhaps the very nobility of wartime rhetoric contributed to the massive suppression of dissent. For in the eyes of Wilson and many of his supporters, America’s goals were so virtuous that disagreement could only reflect treason to the country’s values. “It is a fearful thing to lead this great peaceful people into war,” Wilson remarked in his speech asking Congress to bring America into the conflict. Even he could not have predicted how significant an impact the war would have on American freedom.

The Liberty Bell, formed by 25,000 soldiers at Camp Dix, New Jersey, in 1918, another example of the use of an image of liberty to inspire patriotic sentiment during World War I

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