What would you think if suddenly people you’ve known for years begin to look at you with suspicion, for no other reason than the fact that your brother is a liberal leftist, or you have a foreign-sounding name, or you said something critical about the government? You have to be careful, because a government propaganda poster says it all:
I am Public Opinion
All Men Fear Me
When the first Alafair Tucker mystery, The Old Buzzard Had It Coming, took place in 1912, the events of the wider world had little to do with Alafair Tucker and her large, happy clan. After all, they lived in rural Oklahoma, far away from great events. Alafair was content to mind her own business, live a quiet life, and see her children safe and happy. But by the eighth novel, All Men Fear Me, it is 1917 and the U.S. has become embroiled in World War I. Whether Alafair likes it or not, her family is going to be affected by the momentous things happening in the world.
The book is not about the life of a soldier, though, or what was going on in Europe. All Men Fear Me is about the American home front and how the war had a huge impact on the daily life of ordinary people, even in the far reaches of eastern Oklahoma. At the beginning of World War I Americans were as divided as they are at the beginning of the Twenty-First Century, and the U.S. Government was not nearly as tolerant of dissension as it is today.
When the war flamed up in Europe in 1914, most Americans had no desire to get involved. After all, Europe was so far away. Few people really understood the reasons the Europeans were trying to kill one another. What did it have to do with us? But when Germany broke its pledge to limit submarine warfare and began sinking American ships in an effort to break the British naval blockade, public opinion changed and the U.S. severed diplomatic relations. Congress declared war on Germany on April 6, 1917.
But not everyone in the country was behind the war.
In August, shortly after Congress passed the Selective Service Act, an armed uprising called the Green Corn Rebellion took place in Oklahoma. On August 2, the sheriff of Seminole County and three deputies set out to investigate a reported gathering of anti-conscription activists in a rural area in the east-central part of the state. Just before they reached the rebel camp they were ambushed by the insurgents and had to flee for their lives.
Knowing that their camp had been discovered, the revolutionaries called a secret meeting and made plans to march on Washington D.C., arrest President Wilson, reform the economy, and put an end to the war. They expected to link up with thousands of other farmers and workers on the way, creating a massive army. However, their plans were betrayed to the law by an informer in their ranks, and a large posse formed up to attack for the rebel stronghold. When the armed citizen posse burst into the camp, the rebels dispersed, guerrilla-style. For the next week, hundreds of suspected insurgents around the state were rounded up and arrested. Posses engaged in several bloody battles with hold-outs, and the organized rebellion was completely put down within a week. Nearly five hundred men were arrested, but fewer than two hundred were indicted, and one hundred fifty were convicted of sedition.
The anti-draft rebellion caused a brutal backlash in the United States. Many socialist leaders all over the country were sent to prison, and some were not released until they were pardoned by President Harding in 1921. The American Socialist Party denied any involvement in the Green Corn Rebellion, but was blamed for the uprising anyway. The rebellion damaged the American socialist movement, and contributed to the rise of the Ku Klux Klan in Oklahoma and the first national Red Scare in the 1920s.
All Men Fear Me deals with the pro-war patriotism and anti-war activism that are not only tearing apart Oklahoma, but Alafair’s own family as well. Her two sons are eager to do their patriotic duty. Her German-born son-in-law is the victim of vandalism and discrimination. Her brother is a Socialist, union organizer, and anti-war activist. The peace and harmony she desires is not to be. Especially after the arrival in town of an ominous stranger who is fanning the flames of dissent and playing on people’s fear. Fear leads to chaos and murder. History is filled with such examples. Not that we ever learn.
Donis Casey, January 25, 2016