The Missouri Home Guard: Protecting the Home Front during the Great War
by Petra DeWitt
Missouri was one of many states that established a defense organization to take over the duties of the National Guard that had been federalized for military service when the United States declared war on Germany in 1917. The tasks of this volunteer Home Guard included traditional National Guard responsibilities such as providing introductory military training for draftable men, protecting crucial infrastructure from potential enemy activities, and maintaining law and order during labor activism.
The Home Guard also functioned to preserve patriotism and reduce opposition to the war. Service in the Guard was a way to show loyalty to one’s country, particularly for German Americans, who were frequently under suspicion as untrustworthy. Many German Americans in Missouri enthusiastically signed up to dispel any whispers of treason, while others found themselves torn between the motherland and their new homeland. Men too old or exempt from the draft for other reasons found meaning in helping with the war effort through the Home Guard while also garnering respect from the community. For similar reasons, women attempted to join the organization as did African Americans, some of whom formed units of a “Negro Home Guard.” Informed by the dynamics of race, gender, and ethnicity, DeWitt’s consideration of this understudied but important organization examines the fluctuating definition of patriotism and the very real question of who did and who did not have the privilege of citizenship and acceptance in society.
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