"Italians Dodge War Service" The Cincinnati Enquirer, September 25, 1917
Document 18: “Italians Dodge War Service,” The Cincinnati Enquirer, 25 September 1917 (excerpt).
The loyalty or willingness of Italians to sacrifice for the Allied cause came into question at a time when the champions of immigration restriction were growing more powerful. As United States involvement in World War I increased, proponents of immigration restriction turned to immigrant aliens (those who had not become naturalized citizens), questioning why they had not joined the European fight. By 1915, Italy had joined the Allies, making them also American allies when the U.S. entered the war. Efforts to limit undesirable immigrants had existed since the mid nineteenth century, often targeting Asian as well as Southern and Eastern Europeans. For their part, many Italians had not fully committed to becoming naturalized citizens primarily because they had seen migration to the United States (and elsewhere) as a means of increasing their economic position at home. Many men sojourned back and forth, leaving their families at home in Italy. World War I cut off transportation or made travel from the U.S. to Europe more difficult, thus forcing the issue of whether families would reunite in America or men would return permanently to Italy. Following World War I, the US instituted immigration restriction legislation, such as the National Origins Act in 1924 which curtailed immigration from areas like Southern Europe.
Apparently there is an organized effort assisting aliens of these two countries [Italy and Greece] in avoiding the draft. Virtually every alien who comes before the board knows just what paper to call for when claiming exemption,” said George Talbot, Chairman. “In some instances they are better informed about the draft than native-born citizens. I dare say all the affidavits brought to the board by aliens are filled out by Consuls of their respective countries.
It appears hard that we are compelled to select the flower of our manhood to serve in the army, while these aliens, whose countries are at stake, are hiding behind the flag, notwithstanding the fact that this country is giving all moral and financial assistance. I believe all these aliens for whose countries we are fighting should be compelled to join the United States army or be sent to their respective countries and there made to join the colors. The public would be amazed to know the actual number of aliens who have been in this city a period of five to ten years who have not obtained their first citizenship papers. Those aliens protest vehemently when they are requested to join the army to help defeat the enemies of their native countries.
Note: For more on Italian immigrants during the First World War, see Christopher M. Sterba, Good Americans: Italian and Jewish Immigrants During the First World War, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003), 56-8.