“I Didn’t Raise My Boy to Be a Soldier” written in 1915 and widely regarded as the first commercially successful anti-war song, could attribute much of its chart-topping success to the growing isolationist sentiment of pre-World War I America.

While the “The Great War” was already a nasty business for most Europeans, many pacifists, socialists, feminists, German, and Irish Americans were not yet keen to acquaint themselves with it’s atrocities. Some who voiced their opposition did so with the belief that joining the peace movement might help them leverage support for other causes near and dear to their hearts, such as a women’s right to vote. The majority of peace-lovers though were simply moved by the songs compelling lyric and catchy chorus:

I didn’t raise my boy to be a soldier,
I brought him up to be my pride and joy,
Who dares to put a musket on his shoulder,
To shoot some other mother’s darling boy?
Let nations arbitrate their future troubles,
It’s time to lay the sword and gun away,
There’d be no war today,
If mothers all would say,
I didn’t raise my boy to be a soldier.

The distress of war empathically written from a woman’s perspective had a rallying effect on those opposed to military and economic “Preparedness.” And led many interventionist politicians such as Teddy Roosevelt to attack the song for its feminism, as well as for its pacifism.

Roosevelt was quoted as saying, “Foolish people who applaud a song entitled ‘I Didn’t Raise My Boy To Be a Soldier’ are just the people who would also in their hearts applaud a song entitled, ‘I Didn’t Raise My Girl to Be a Mother’!” And then added, “The place for women who oppose the war is in a harem in China –and not in the United States!” Loaded language indeed from a man who was a lifelong advocate of women’s rights. The “Speak softly and carry a big stick” Roosevelt, did not speak softly at all when he admonished pacifists, isolationists, and the Wilson administration about the disastrous consequences of an America unprepared for war.


Source: Al Pianadosi and Alfred Bryan, “I Didn’t Raise My Boy To Be a Soldier.”

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