Tuesday, September 27, 2016

American History 101: The Preparedness Day Bombing

In 1916, the people of the United States were happily ensconced in their comfortable isolationism.  Americans spent their days hearing of the carnage, death and dismemberment taking place in Europe and their evenings shaking their heads at the horrors.  As 1916 droned on, it became increasingly clear the the American government that staying out of the fray was quickly becoming more of a fantasy.  But even as the government inched closer towards involvement, the western portion of the United States -- particularly California -- remained devout in their isolationist thoughts.  From the radical Industrial Workers of the World to the mainstream labor leaders, the push to stay neutral was strong.  By the middle of 1916, the rise of Bolshevism and labor unrest made San Francisco's business leaders uneasy.  In response to the unrest, the Chamber of Commerce organized The Preparedness Day Parade to boost spirits and combat the ideas of the anti-establishment unions.  The parade was supposed to celebrate the imminent entry of the United States into World War I.

This parade was held on July 22, 1916, and was the target of radical groups from the moment it was announced.  In early July of 1916, an antiwar pamphlet was circulated that included statements such as, "we are going to use a little direct action on the 22nd to show that militarism can't be forced on us and our children without a violent protest."  And as promised, a suitcase bomb was detonated in the middle of the parade killing ten people and wounding forty.  This stands today as the worst attack of its type in San Francisco's history.

There are many parallels to today's terrorist attacks in the execution and fallout from the event.  The attack in a publicized event that took the lives of innocent people is something that we have certainly seen plaguing our country in recent years.  The story generally goes something like this: a person or persons attacks a public event (like a movie or marathon), and there is great pressure on authorities to find the person(s) responsible.  Once the perpetrators are identified, very little stops the conviction from moving forward.  This is similar to what happened in San Francisco.  After the bombing, the police had to bring someone to justice.  In this case, Thomas Mooney and Warren Billings were the two who were identified and arrested.  These two both had a prior history of militant socialism and direct activism.  Billings was previously convicted of carrying dynamite on a passenger train, and Mooney had been arrested (but not convicted) of conspiracy to destroy power lines in 1913 during a Pacific Gas and Electric strike. 

As expected, Mooney and Billings were both quickly convicted and sentenced to death by hanging.  By 1918 a commission was set up by President Woodrow Wilson, and the commission found there was no real evidence against him Mooney.  As such, they commuted his sentence from death to life in prison.  For a conviction with no evidence -- he was still sentenced to life in prison.  Again in 1939, California Governor Culbert Olson examined the evidence in the case and found that the trial was rife with perjury, false testimony and fabricated "facts" in order to secure the conviction.  Olson pardoned both men at this time.  Mooney was immediately released, and Billings remained in prison until 1961.

To this day, the actual perpetrators of The Preparedness Day Bombing remain unknown.

Bruce holds a degree in Computer Science from Temple University, a Graduate Certificate in Biblical History from Liberty University, a Masters Degree in American History at American Public University and is a member of the Historical Studies Honor Society.    He has worked in educational technology for over 20 years, specializes in building infrastructures for schools that work to support the mission of technology in education in the classroom.  He also has served as a classroom teacher in Computer Science, History and English classes.  

Be on the lookout for Towering Pines Volume Two: The Sound and the Fury which is currently a work in progress.

Bruce is the author of five books: Sands of TimeTowering Pines Volume One:Room 509The Star of ChristmasPhiladelphia Story: A Lance Carter Detective Novel and The Insider's Story: A Lance Carter Detective Novel

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