Mary L. Dudziak is the Asa Griggs Candler Professor of Law at Emory University, where she also directs the Project on War and Security in Law, Culture, and Society. She is vice president of the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations. In 2015 she was the Kluge Chair in American Law and Government at the Library of Congress. Her work has been supported by fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation and the Institute for Advanced Study, among others. Dudziak is the author of War Time: An Idea, Its History, Its Consequences (2012), Exporting American Dreams: Thurgood Marshall's African Journey (2008), and Cold War Civil Rights: Race and the Image of American Democracy (2nd edition, 2012). She has also edited September 11 in History: A Watershed Moment? (2003) and coedited Legal Borderlands: Law and the Construction of American Borders (2006). She is writing about war, war powers, and political accountability in twentieth-century U.S. history.
As members of Congress gathered in April 1917 to decide whether to declare war on Germany, some legislators arrived with battle scars. For Civil War veterans, the memory of that catastrophic war would inform their understanding of a new conflict. But their experience of war was overtaken as 20th century American wars moved offshore. Distance made war a matter of choice in 1917. This lecture will reveal what it would take to generate sufficient support to enter a faraway war: a politics of catastrophe. Dramatic stories of the deaths of small numbers of Americans who chose to cross an ocean war zone ultimately drove the country to commit soldiers to fight in European trenches. Over one hundred thousand American soldiers died. In World War I and after, dramatic events like torpedoed ocean liners were not a president’s sole reason for entering a war. But broad political mobilization and congressional authorization for distant war, in World War I and after, required a politics of catastrophe.