As the war dragged on through 1915 and 1916, only a few Americans
sensed the inevitable, that their young men would be called to support
the eschelons of allied youth that were being raked by German
machine-gun fire. General Leonard Wood and a few others called loudly
for preparedness, but Europe was far away, business was good, and
soothing voices were saying that in an emergency "a million men would
spring to arms." America was so oblivious to the probability of
becoming involved that even the slogan, "He kept us out of war,"
barely succeeded in returning Woodrow Wilson to the Presidency.
But Wilson could not stem the tide for long. The very factors that
were making America rich, coupled with indignation stirred by Allied
propaganda concerning German cruelty, made the decision
inevitable. Even when diplomatic relations between the United States
and the Central Powers were severed in January, 1917, the country was
not sensible to the magnitude of the task ahead. When war was declared
in April, America was still almost totally unprepared. Only then did
the colleges begin to contemplate what their place in the scheme of
war might become, and to display anxiety about their continued
existence, if a general call to arms were to be issued.
Land-grant colleges had for years maintained a "tin soldier" form of
military instruction. A few far-sighted college men had attended the
training camps at Plattsburg in the summers of 1915 and 1916. To the
great majority of college youth, however, military drill and tactics
were entirely unknown adventures.
Dr. Hollis, because of his close contact with military authorities at
Washington, and because of his high position in engineering societies,
was keenly aware of impending difficulties. He had urged Institute
students to take advantage of summer training camps and naval cruises
but he was definitely opposed to wasting engineering graduates in line