Neutrality and Preparedness
When the war began in Europe, the official position of the United States was neutrality. Hobart and William Smith Colleges followed suit and aimed to keep students informed about the conflict without taking sides. President Lyman P. Powell created a series of talks on the conflict, one of the first featuring the professors who had been in Europe over the summer.
The Colleges also began purchasing a large number of books on the situation in Europe, many of which are still in the library's collection. The Hobart Herald wrote, "Every educated man should have a passing knowledge of what is being done in Europe. What is done in Europe will echo everywhere. Therefore in Europe is the solution to the problem. The library has a number of the latest books on the war and its causes. It has books by Germany's foremost writers, which clearly explain what that nation has at stake. People are ignorant about Germany. The college man should have more than a superficial knowledge of German problems.
The Herald advises the use of the information thus placed at your disposal."
In 1915 a Preparedness movement began in the United States led by former President Theodore Roosevelt and former Army Chief of Staff Leonard Wood. They argued that the United States needed to build up its military in order to defend itself, and they advocated for universal military training.
Opposition came from Socialists, pacifists, anti-militarists, as well as President Woodrow Wilson, who insisted that the United States needed to maintain its neutrality in order to broker the peace once the war in Europe was over.
However, with the spread of English propaganda about German atrocities in Belgium and the sinking of the RMS Lusitania by a German submarine on May 7, 1915, support for Preparedness increased on campus and nationally. In April, the Hobart Herald published an editorial criticizing the Collegiate Anti-Militarism League and promoting Preparedness.
As support for military training grew, the Preparedness Movement funded and organized several camps for citizen volunteers. They mostly catered to the upper social classes as the goal was to train future officers. The largest was in Plattsburgh, New York.
The Hobart Herald described the camps favorably and argued, "But for those who believe war remote and improbable the camps offer five weeks of splendid physical training under the best conditions of camp sanitation and instruction. The expense is negligable. The student has five weeks of "roughing it" army style, with the chance of meeting men from all over the country."
In February 1916, Hobart literature professor W. C. Lawton told the Business Men's Lunch Club at the Geneva YMCA that military drill was "an excellent form of moral, mental and physical training for the men of the country."
At the end of 1915, several students joined Company B of the New York Army National Guard. A classmate jokingly wrote in the Hobart Herald, "These noble and self-sacrificing youths are willing to throw themselves on the altar of Mars, if their country calls them, and are also willing to submit to the awful horrors of war. Only think, gentle and peace-loving reader, your fellow students may within the next six months be lying stewed (should have said strewed) on the field of battle."
A second, more favorable article in February 1916, described the costs and perks of joining Company B and focused more on the social and sporting events in which the Company participated.
However, in the summer of 1916 raids by Pancho Villa from Mexico led Company B to be deployed to the southern border. They returned in October.
In early 1917, several Hobart students travelled overseas to join the American Volunteer Motor Ambulance Corps. The first was Hugh Gordon Campbell, who had served in Company B the year before.
Campbell wrote to a friend who was considering joining, "Don't worry about automobile knowledge. Most of these guys don't know a single thing when it comes down to the real thing. The main essential is just nerve and I hope and feel sure we can be on the same car, so if a German lullaby pots our little chug-chug we'll take an upward trip together. I don't want to disappoint you, but the chances of being numbered among the slain are small although we are under fire all through the attacks. To give you the best dope, you have a fair chance during the attack. When about sixty per cent of the division you are attached to is killed off, you and your division go 'in repos'—in rest. By all means come ahead. There's nothing very difficult about our task and now warm weather will soon be here."
Some candid photos printed in the 1919–1920 Echo can be seen below. The men served for a few months before the United States entered the war and they joined other services.