When The One Percent Sent Its Kids to War

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tags: WWI

...Wilson won reelection in 1916 with the slogan “He Kept Us Out of War.” But a group of men—boys, really, almost all of them too young to vote—decided that even if the government refused to prepare for war, they would do something about the situation. If the U.S. did go to war, they wanted to lead the way and they wanted to do it in the most daring and ambitious service of all, as pioneering pilots in the new age of aerial warfare. They led the country into its air power future.

Today the children of the one-percenters rarely join the military. These young men, however, most of them college students at Yale, came from the nation’s most privileged families. Among them were a Rockefeller and a Taft, one whose father headed the Union Pacific railroad empire, and another whose father served as managing partner of J.P. Morgan & Co., the world’s most powerful investment bank. Several had fathers managing and making millions on Wall Street. Some traced their lineage to the Mayflower; several counted friends and relatives among presidents and statesmen.

Despite being scions of the Gilded Age’s loftiest families, they considered it their duty to serve their country. They grew up in a time when their privileged position brought with it special responsibilities that may seem distant to us today. Barely a decade and a half after the Wright brothers’ first flight, they were convinced that America needed an air force. Given the country didn’t have one, or barely so, they decided to create their own.

A dozen learned to fly in the summer of 1916 at the splendid Long Island, New York, Gold Coast family estate of the group’s founder, F. Trubee Davison. They trained on bi-wing flying boats over the Long Island Sound. As managing partner of J.P. Morgan and Co. on Wall Street, Davison’s father, Henry P. Davison, was perhaps the most powerful banker in the world. Since the war’s outbreak, keeping the Allied powers in the fight had become Morgan’s chief business. The bank floated bonds on behalf of the British and French. Morgan also served as agents for Allied purchases of U.S. weapons and munitions, grain, iron, steel and oil, spending up to $10 million per day. ...

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