Prior to World War I there was considerable enthusiasm for going to war. For example, Theodore Roosevelt (President McKinley's Assistant Secretary of the Navy), wrote to a friend in 1897,
- I should welcome almost any war, for I think this country needs one.
- - A People's History Of The United States, Howard Zinn, Chapter 12, The Empire and the People
According to PBS,
- Roosevelt's enthusiastic support for intervention... was based on his belief that his generation of young men needed to test their mettle in battle.
Here's a novelistic description of early 20th century unrealistic thinking about war prior to experiencing the reality of World War I:
- Kantorek had been our schoolmaster, a stern little man in a grey tailcoat, with a face like a shrew mouse. He was about the same size as Corporal Himmelstoss, the "terror of Klosterberg." It is very queer that the unhappiness of the world is so often brought on by small men. They are so much more energetic and uncompromising than the big fellows. I have always taken good care to keep out of sections with small company commanders. They are mostly confounded little martinets.
- During drill-time Kantorek gave us long lectures until the whole of our class went, under his shepherding, to the District Commandant and volunteered. I can see him now, as he used to glare at us through his spectacles and say in a moving voice: "Won't you join up, Comrades?"
- These teachers always carry their feelings ready in their waistcoat pockets, and trot them out by the hour. But we didn't think of that then.
- There was, indeed, one of us who hesitated and did not want to fall into line. That was Joseph Behm, a plump, homely fellow. But he did allow himself to be persuaded, otherwise he would have been ostracised. And perhaps more of us thought as he did, but no one could very well stand out, because at that time even one's parents were ready with the word "coward"; no one had the vaguest idea what we were in for. The wisest were just the poor and simple people. They knew the war to be a misfortune, whereas those who were better off, and should have been able to see more clearly what the consequences would be, were beside themselves with joy.
- Katczinsky said that was a result of their upbringing. It made them stupid. And what Kat said, he had thought about.
- Strange to say, Behm was one of the first to fall. He got hit in the eye during an attack, and we left him lying for dead. We couldn't bring him with us, because we had to come back helterskelter. In the afternoon suddenly we heard him call, and saw him crawling about in No Man's Land. He had only been knocked unconscious. Because he could not see, and was mad with pain, he failed to keep under cover, and so was shot down before anyone could go and fetch him in.
- Naturally we couldn't blame Kantorek for this. Where would the world be if one brought every man to book? There were thousands of Kantoreks, all of whom were convinced that they were acting for the best--in a way that cost them nothing.
- And that is why they let us down so badly.
- For us lads of eighteen they ought to have been mediators and guides to the world of maturity, the world of work, of duty, of culture, of progress--to the future. We often made fun of them and played jokes on them, but in our hearts we trusted them. The idea of authority, which they represented, was associated in our minds with a greater insight and a more humane wisdom. But the first death we saw shattered this belief. We had to recognise that our generation was more to be trusted than theirs.
- They surpassed us only in phrases and in cleverness. The first bombardment showed us our mistake, and under it the world as they had taught it to us broke in pieces.
- - ERICH MARIA REMARQUE, All Quiet on the Western Front, Translated from the German by A. W. Wheen, pp. 6-7