Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Reporting on Armistice Day in 1920 Shaped by Presidential Election

The notices for Armistice Day in 1920 were surprisingly politicized, heavily shaped by the Presidential election.

Large front page headlines, afternoon
November 11, 1920

The afternoon paper, who had supported the Cox/Roosevelt Democratic ticket, devoted significant front page space to international and local observances, and featured a lead editorial about America "refusing to share the the cooperative effort to preserve peace" and as "a slacker among nations." It tied Harding's "normalcy" to armaments and imperialism.

Lead editorial lamenting League of Nations
November 11, 1920

By contrast, the morning paper, who supported the Harding/Coolidge Republican ticket, had a much smaller notice about local observances, keyed to the American Legion and their conservatism. The paper opposed the League of Nations as part of their support for Harding.

An early instance of "America first"*
morning paper, August 24th, 1920

Consequently, they gave no space to international observations, and instead focused the paper on their entry in the on-going "Salem Slogan" series, this time boosting walnut orchards. The lead editorial was on walnuts and no meaningful editorial space given to Armistice Day.

Lead morning editorial, Nov 11, 1920

MOAR WALNUTS! November 11, 1920

Sometimes the two papers aren't so different, but this is a moment when the editorial stances shaped coverage of a national holiday in very different ways.

* For more on "America First," see Sarah Churchill's book, Behold, America: A History of America First and the American Dream. There are several interviews with her out there, and here's one at the Smithsonian. In the phrase's usage she traces out a shift from Presidential slogan for isolationism to ethnonationalism, but at least locally, the isolationist impulse seems very closely aligned with racist ones, and it does not seem easy to insist on a shift in fundamental meaning. It might be better to say there are shifting emphases within the same basic constellation of meanings. See this note on the Jason Lee portrait for some on "Americanism," which overlaps with "America First," and here and here on centering whiteness in all of the myth-making around Lee and the origins of Oregon and Salem.

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