The New York Times (1921 01 09) estimated that over 76,000 American veterans returning from Europe during the Great War, were injured–physically or mentally–as a result. These veterans did not return to their former lives easily or well. They brought injuries none could have anticipated, both physical and psychological, due to the nature of that modern war. The fate of an entire generation of young people was altered because of ongoing trauma and disability caused by combat during The Great War.

World War I, a trench war, introduced new technology including machine guns, grenades, tanks and armored vehicles, claymores, and chemical gas. More primitive tools of warfare, such as the French raiding hammer, the billhook, the Fascine knife, rifles, hatchets, and other close-range weapons, were also widely used. Many of the wounds were survivable, but incredibly disfiguring. In addition, tens of thousands were affected by the influenza pandemic as well as outbreaks of measles, and tuberculosis. A limited number of hospitals were available in the United States that could effectively treat those who were physically injured while in service, and only a few rehabilitative training opportunities existed after the war.

On January 8, 1921, the Santa Barbara Morning Press printed an article about the fate of veterans who were left with mental disability incurred during WWI. The article notes that legislators had not set aside any money for the welfare and care of those veterans suffering from ongoing disability, whether physical or psychological. Victims of shell shock, a new affliction (now known as PTSD, post-traumatic stress disorder), returned to find little, if any, assistance for their psychological wounds. Many never recovered.

Veterans identified with psychological issues were sent to insane asylums, alms houses, or sanitariums. In order to enter such a facility, the US required that a court of law judge find the individual to be “an insane pauper,” which added a new layer of demoralization to those already injured. Once committed, most were forgotten as the federal government did nothing to ensure “they were properly cared for or to see if the institutions in which they are confined are even fireproof and fit for human beings.”

The American Legion (founded in 1919), joined with the Disabled American Veterans organization founded in 1920, to raise awareness of the difficulties veterans faced, as well as to force the government to create avenues for support of returning veterans and treatment of those injured, though few actual remedies were put in place.

Black, Asian, Native, or Americans of Color who were called to serve in the American armed forces faced discrimination during their enlistment and limited veterans’ services when returning to the US. Despite serving with courage and honor, Americans of color still faced Jim Crow laws, the Anti-Japanese movement, the Chinese Exclusion Act, among other restrictions to their civil rights. Most were denied the right to vote in the United States of America.

Scott’s Official History of the American Negro in the World War ,  a “profusely illustrated” work, documents the experience of Black military members during WWI.

The January 12, 1921 edition of the Santa Barbara Morning Press reported that one Japanese American, Frank Maso Sasaki, petitioned for citizenship based on his service in the armed forces. Mr. Sasaki  was born in Honolulu, Hawaii, and was “admitted to citizenship” by District Judge Maurice Dooling. Judge Dooling stated that “anyone who enlisted when the United States needed men deserved to become an American citizen.”

Veterans’ Memorial Building – Cabrillo Boulevard

The Veterans’ Memorial Building on Cabrillo Boulevard in Santa Barbara lists the names of Santa Barbara County’s military members who died in service during times of peace or war.

Pierre Clayessens – Veterans’ Advocate

To be killed in war is not the worst that can happen.

To be lost is not the worst that can happen.

To be forgotten is the worst.

~ Pierre Claeyssens (1908-2003)

Santa Barbara County is fortunate to have Pierre Claeyssens Veterans Foundation as a community resource. Local philanthropist Pierre Claeyssens was a child growing up in Belgium during WWI. He credited the United States military for saving him and his “countrymen from the German occupation during World War I.” Forever after, Mr. Claeyssens advocated for the rights and well-being of US veterans and to ensure no veteran would ever be forgotten.

National Archives

The National Archives provides access to military records for individuals who served during World War I. You may find more information, here.

Battle Scars – Reconstruction of the Face

According to the Public Domain Review, the first textbook on plastic surgery was published by Italian Dr. Gaspare Tagliacozzi in the sixteenth century. The consequence of modern warfare left over twenty million wounded military personnel.  In 1918, a movie entitled Plastic Reconstruction of the Face, chronicled the work of Anna Coleman Ladd, an American artist in Paris. Ms. Ladd used her skills as a sculptor to create face masks and prosthetics for those whose injuries were permanently disfiguring.

United States of America – The Anti-Lynching Act

On March 29, 2022, United States President Joe Biden  signed the historic Emmett Till Antilynching Act. For the first time in the history of the United States of America, the lynchings of human beings is considered a hate crime. President Biden said, “Lynching was pure terror to enforce the lie that not everyone, not everyone, belongs in America, not everyone is created equal….Racial hate isn’t an old problem – it’s a persistent problem. Hate never goes away. It only hides.”

Throughout the 1920s, the Ku Klux Klan was active throughout Santa Barbara County and the surrounding counties of Ventura, San Luis Obispo, and Kern.

In her book, The Mexican Outsiders, author Martha Menchaca, professor at the University of Texas, Austin, states that in 1923, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties held a KKK membership drive. The organization garnered more than 400 new members locally, through that effort.

In the October 26, 1923, edition of The American Hebrew, an article entitled, A Jew Answers Klan Hatred with Reason and Fact, the author advises that the Santa Barbara County branch of the KKK was distributing pamphlets (Ku Klux Klarion) threatening residents for “alleged misconduct and immorality.”

Samuel Adelstein, identified as “an American Jew,” paid for an ad to run in the Santa Barbara Daily News. Mr. Adelstein wrote, “The Kln stands for hatred. Hatred is blind, mentally and spiritually.” Mr. Adelstein said that Jewish tradition respects all churches, and that any issues of unlawful activity are adequately handled by authorities, without the need for mob violence or vigilantism.

Anti-Lynching Crusaders

In the 1920s, an effort between the NAACP and the Anti-Lynching Crusaders, a group of women with members throughout the United States, wrote an agreement stating that they wished to, “Unite a million women to stop lynching.” The Anti-Lynching Crusaders joined with the NAACP to continue the work of Ida B Wells, journalist, who spurred activists to promote legislation prohibiting the act of lynching human beings in the United States of America.

In November of 1922, the Dyer Anti-Lynching Bill failed to pass, and similar bills failed for the next 100 years. Learn more about the history of lynching in California here, on KCET.

Leila Weeks Wilson, author of the book, Santa Barbara, California, written in 1913, describes tales of hangings in Santa Barbara.  These lynchings were supposed to been performed at a large oak tree growing downtown, between Highway 101 – El Camino Real – and State Street.

The Volstead Act

Prior to the passage of the Volstead Act, streamlined channels were put in place to ensure access to the world’s finest liquid spirits–despite the new legislation that took effect on January 1, 1920. For people of means, Prohibition merely added a bit of effervescence to their lives. Narcotics–opium, White Horse heroin, marijuana–were also gaining in popularity, especially as the Jazz Age blossomed.

But for others, the Volstead Act was a tool used to increase the vulnerability of people of color, the poor, and a large wave of European Catholic immigrants that were imagined to threaten “the American way of life.” These groups were especially vulnerable to prosecution and imprisonment for violating Volstead, while privileged white Americans avoided consequences.

In her article, Why the Ku Klux Klan Flourished Under Prohibition (Smithsonian Magazine, 2017 12 05) author Kat Eschener explains the complex layers of intent that helped to usher in the era of Prohibition. The effort was driven by the white American elite, along with bankers, developers and land owners, the members of various white mens’ and women’s clubs, the Anti-Saloon League, and the KKK. Santa Barbara County was no exception.

As far back as 1906, Santa Barbara County entertained the Anti-Saloon League, as described in one article in the Santa Barbara Weekly Press. On February 15, 1906, the “Presbyterian church of this city,” Santa Barbara, announced a “mass meeting,” in support of the League.

The additional bureaucracy generated by Volstead required new governmental bureaus and branches to uphold the unwieldy Act. Myriad departments and offices and thousands of employees were needed to administer the law. Federal oversight increased throughout California and the nation.

So many well-placed individuals in Southern California were awarded choice appointments and promotions as a result of Volstead that the LA Herald called it “the Prohibition plum tree.” (1920 06 10)

Immigrants, people of color, and the poor, already subject to discrimination, mob violence, and harassment by the Anti-Saloon League and the KKK , were also the targets of federal and state legislative efforts aimed at further limiting their civil rights.

James P Phelan, First National Bank, and a US Senator, ran for re-election using the slogan, “Keep California White.” It was a sentiment shared by many in Santa Barbara County, and throughout the state despite the contributions made by Japanese, Chinese, Filipino, Mexican, and other people of color. Without the skill and tenacity, the contributions and hard work of Santa Barbara County’s agricultural workers, our history would have been a very different one.