History speaker series: “1919: The Worst Year in American History?”

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On Thursday, Jan. 22, Professor Bill Woodward came to Bellevue College to speak about American history before World War II. Professor Woodward is currently an instructor at Seattle University. Woodward has written on the American experience and is part of a baseball organization.

After having been introduced to the students by the History Department Chairman, Tim Heinrichs, professor Woodward opened his lecture, “1919: The Worst Year in American History?” with his personal views of how the year 2014 went. He listed major negative events that were experienced in the US that gained much media attention, such as the Ebola epidemic and the Ferguson controversy and protests. Before beginning his lecture, he asked the audience the question, “If not 1919, then what was the worse year for America?”

Professor Woodward began the lecture with a description of bombings in Philadelphia on Dec. 30, 1918, which targeted specific people, including the superintendent of the police. He had explained how these bombs were related to the October Revolution in Russia, the beginning of the Soviet Union and the Bolshevik movement. After the end of World War I, many people believed that Bolshevists, who were seen as terrorists, were planning to spread the Bolshevik Movement around the world. Professor Woodward quoted the police commissioner of Philadelphia saying, “This is not the time for police technicalities. They have used brutal force and the police force, in hunting these perpetrators down, will resort to the same methods,” thus ending the joy and peace of the victory of World War I, and so began the year 1919.

After explaining the Treaty of Versailles and giving quotes on World War I, Professor Woodward continues the vision and the ideas of Woodrow Wilson. After Wilson returned from Europe, he presented the ideas of the treaty to the American Congress, only to have the ideas rejected.

When President Wilson could not get the agreement of Congress on the ideas of the treaty, he went to the American people in hopes of pressuring Congress. While on his continental speaking tour, he suffered from a stroke, leaving him paralyzed for the last two years of his presidency. This caused a great amount of distress for the population of America, and due to this distress, the fear of Bolsheviks increased. People began to distrust foreigners because they became associated with the radicals and supporters of Bolsheviks. Woodward explained, “In the legal system, the idea that those foreigners ‘don’t need a trial, they must be guilty’ became popular.”

When asked why he chose the year 1919, Professor Woodward answered, “I am pretty much a cheapskate and lots of people collect baseball cards or stamps. I collect years because they’re cheap. I love to identify them when there are a lot of things that happen in them. I’ve taught a World History class and who knew that once you start digging into it what you will find.”

There will be more history speaker series lectures offered in the future, which will be posted on the online Bellevue College event calendar.