WWI centennial: Hawaii, terrorism and media in an evolving world

Written by: 
Haeley van der Werf


In 1914, H.G. Wells, a science fiction writer, predicted World War I was going to be, “The war to end all war.” While war has not yet ceased, Rick Hampton, a journalist at USA Today, says WWI was “the beginning of the end” because it decreased the number of wars between nations.

However, in the 100 years since World War I ended in 1919, there has been a rise in terrorist attacks and a change in how the world views war, due to the worldwide connections made by the media, said Brian Houghton, a BYU–Hawaii Political Science professor.

While Hawaii was not yet a U.S. state during WWI, it assisted in the war effort through its involvement in the Red Cross, according to the WWI centennial website.

Hawaii's Red Cross effort during WWI

Throughout the war, Hawaiians sent relief aide, individuals had volunteered as soldiers and ambulance drivers, and sympathized when tragic events occurred, such as when American lives were lost. However, the war became personal after six Hawaiians were among the 28 killed when a German U-boat sank the civilian freighter SS Aztec, according to the Hawaii World War One Centennial Task Force.

In an article titled “The Great War – Now It’s Personal,” the press used loaded language to inform the American and Hawaiian public of the tragic event. The article says, “The press used fighting words in reporting the loss: victims, doom, murder, Prussian pirates, sea-sneak, no mercy. Here was proof Germany was, as Pres. Woodrow Wilson said in asking Congress to declare war, ‘a menace to the world.’” 

Although it was still a U.S. territory during WWI, Hawaii’s War Relief Committee merged with the Red Cross in 1917 to assist with the war effort.

According to an article titled “The Great War – Hawaii and the Red Cross” on the WWI centennial website, “A 2-page ad encouraging Red Cross donations was signed by Queen Liliuokalani and Representative to Congress J. Kuhio Kalanianaole.” Pres. Woodrow Wilson, the president of the United States at the time, followed the ad with a full-page thank you note to the queen on the next page.

“In 1 day, 16,330 Hawaii folks enrolled in ‘the Army all can join,’” says information on the WWI centennial. Queen Liliuokalani donated $100, the article says, and became one of the 16,000 members of the Red Cross army.

Several fund raising drives were held to raise money and clothing donations for military personnel. One group in particular, Elks Lodge 616, was particularly involved in the Red Cross efforts, continues the website. Members consistently brainstormed fund raising ideas and offered rooms in their lodge for meetings.

The article continued, “One Red Cross project recruited citizen knitters to make warm clothing for military men. Elks 616 voted to offer the lodge room for knitting parties. When the Red Cross solicited cash for a Wool Fund, 616 gave $148.50 in 12 months.”

Another group that was involved in the Red Cross effort was the Daughters of Hawaiian Warriors. According to the article, “Members began clicking their needles toward 450 sweaters, watch caps, and socks on March 20, 1918, at Princess Kawananakoa’s home. After a 3-hour knit-in by 75 women, each departed with a yarn allotment supplied by the Princess and other ranking members of the group. Many members had sons or close relatives ‘in Uncle Sam’s service … Enthusiasm is spontaneous because [the sweaters] are to clothe our boys of Hawaii.’”

Olympic swimmer Duke Kahanamoku participated in the knitting drive by knitting publicly to normalize boys knitting. School children, churches, nuns, and cab drivers also participated, competing against rivals to see who could knit more clothing items to “warm American soldiers,”  says the article. In the end, the Territory of Hawaii finished 58,241 items for the Red Cross.

The role of terrorism changes after WWI

Houghton said terrorism is a problem faced by the whole world, even more than the United States. “Terrorism as a whole is something a lot of countries are faced with. Frankly, Americans deal a lot less with terrorism than the rest of the world. The United States has been a target of terrorism for decades, but it is not the target of terrorism.”

He explained the triggers behind why terrorist cells form, saying it stems from “individuals and groups in various different societies that are frustrated, angry, and weak. They are looking for a way to lash out against what they see as the stronger oppressor.”

Houghton also explained the effects of terrorism. He said, “Terrorism creates instability. Instability harms travel, harms trade, and harms interactions between people. It harms the whole global network.”

He said terrorism has evolved since the end of WWI. He said following the war, major colonizers could no longer afford to run their colonies. “So, you start seeing terrorism being used for independence. Terrorist organizations were fighting their colonizers. For example, you had Jews in Palestine who were fighting against the British, who were running Palestine at that time, using terrorism to drive out the British, and it did. Terrorism helped end the occupation by a great power with the creation of Israel … [Early terrorism] was all out of a desire for national liberation.”

One such attack was the bombing of the King David Hotel in 1946, which, according to the Jewish Virtual Library, “was the site of the British military command and the British Criminal Investigation Division.” The bombing killed 40 people.

According to Houghton, “In the ‘60s and ‘70s, you started seeing a rise of left-wing terrorists. This was during the time of the Vietnam War and student protests ... You had groups in the United States such as Weather Underground, in Europe you had the Red Army Brigade, and a lot of these left-wing groups rose up.

“They kind of ended with the end of the Cold War in the early ‘90s when the Berlin Wall fell, and the Soviet Union collapsed. A lot of people were disenchanted with communism, so we don’t really see a lot of left-wing terrorism.”

He then explained the kind of terrorism so commonly seen today. “During the ‘80s and rising to today is where we start seeing more of the religious-based terrorism. A lot of them are Islamic based [such as the Taliban and Isis] and a lot of that comes out of frustration due to globalization”

Terrorism since WWI and the double-edged sword of the media

An article in USA Today said, “Despite civil war and rebellion, terrorism and cyber warfare, our time is more peaceful than its predecessors.”

The article says people believe the world is much more violent than it actually is because they pay attention to what they see in the media as opposed to looking at the numbers. The article says, “Public opinion is formed by news reports that focus on the unusual and the violent; if it bleeds, it leads.

“Hence, an irony: In World War I, censorship of casualty figures made those on the home front think the world was less violent than it was; today, free movement of news makes us think the world is more violent than it is.”

Houghton said the constant presence of tragic events in the news not only causes terrorists to engage in more attacks, as well as larger attacks, but allows terrorist groups around the world to feed off each other’s ideas.

He explained, “The media creates a contagion effect. Just as a virus can be contagious, you need something to carry that pathogen. The media is one of those things that carries the pathogen of frustration and anger. The media is a two-edged sword. It’s a beautiful thing, but frustrated and angry people see others in another country lashing out using acts of terrorism …

“They’re copying the things other groups have done. We have been seeing that for decades. The tactics that are used in one country by one group are very quickly replicated by another group clear on the other side of the world.”

Regarding the increasing lethality of terrorist attacks, Houghton said, “We’ve also seen a huge change of tactics and lethality. Early terrorists were much more discriminant in their killing. They used assassination much more. When they did kill, they often went after police or government figures.

“As time has gone on, we have seen more civilians, women and children, and market places being targeted.

There was a larger body count, with the culmination of Sept. 11, with almost 3,000 people dying. It was the largest body count in a single attack. Even though we haven’t seen as many people die as Sept. 11, we’ve still seen an immense amount of carnage with the rise of suicide bombings. It is much more effective ... Terrorism has become much bloodier than it was decades ago. Part of that is the result of the media.

“The media has desensitized us and made us complacent in dealing with terrorism. Terrorists as a result, in order to capture our attention and force us to look at them, have to kill more and more people. They make attacks bloodier, and make it more shocking.”

He explained the differences between terrorism in the 20th and 21st centuries.

“What used to be on page one of the paper 30 years ago would now be on page 10. If a bomb went off and killed three people, it just doesn’t capture our attention. Now it has to be a bomb that goes off and kills 45, mainly children, at a preschool.

"That is unfortunately the media’s responsibility. By us seeing this over and over again we have become desensitized to it, and it is forcing terrorists to ramp up their game.

“That is an unfortunate side effect over time that we’ve seen. One of the largest attacks that took place was in Israel. Ninety people were killed in a bombing of the King David Hotel back in the ‘40s. That singular attack was the largest bombing of terrorism at that point. For years and decades after, it still remained a large thing … What was the largest back in the ‘40s is still a large attack, but it just seems almost normal.

“The lethality, the carnage, the blood, and the increase due to the desensitization we’ve been through because of the media is one of the big effects of the last 100 years.”


Date Published: 
Tuesday, January 29, 2019
Last Edited: 
Wednesday, February 6, 2019