“When the Lusitania Went Down”

When the Lusitania Went DownTwo weeks after the Lucy sank, Tin Pan Alley produced a song about the disaster, and the song (click here to listen) tells  a political story. “When the Lusitania went down” says “they should be ending this warfare” if women and children must die. Who is they? Clearly it’s the Europeans, not the Germans. The song writer blames the Europeans (Allies and Central Powers together) for this war crime. That was the state of American opinion in May, 1915.  In fact, that was the correct response to this event, which really was a joint British/German war crime. However, the “two torpedoes” lie enabled the British and the Wilson administration, their collaborator, to deceive and misinform the American public, which wrongly came to believe that the Germans alone were responsible for the war crime. That erroneous belief, deliberately induced by deceptive propaganda, changed American opinion from neutralist to interventionist. Why intervene on the British side to avenge a war crime for which the British were partially to blame? But if the Germans alone were responsible, as the two-torpedoes lie maintained, then entering the war on the side of the Allies could be depicted as revenge for Hunnish war crimes. In this way, propagandistic lies pushed the United States into World War 1. Can anyone think of other, more recent  lies that pushed the United States into wars?

Categories: Historical Context.
About Ivan Light

Professor Emeritus of Sociology from the University of California, Los Angeles. Over a long career, he has published many books and articles dealing with immigration to the United States, immigrant entrepreneurs, organized crime, big cities, and American social history.

His academic publication record and many downloads are available on his university webpage (click here).

Deadly Secret of the Lusitania is his first book of fiction.