November 16, 2009
By the spring of 1916 it seemed inevitable that the United States would enter World War I. This prospect unsettled those opposed to our country’s involvement, and there was no better symbol for the military buildup these people feared than the great armored dinosaurs.
The papier-mâché Stegosaurus featured in the April 1, 1916 issue of the magazine The Survey was no joke. Created by the “Anti-’Preparedness’ Committee” the dinosaur carried the slogan “All Armor Plate – No Brains” beneath it as a jab at those who preferred trench warfare to diplomacy. Walter G. Fuller, a member of the organization that promoted the statue, explained:
It is difficult to conceive any more proper and appropriate symbol of militarism than that which the Anti- Preparedness’ Committee has hit upon. What could be more like the heavy, stumbling, clumsy brutal foolery which is destroying Europe than those old monsters of the past, the armored dinosaurs? These beasts, all armor-plate and no brains, had no more intelligent way of living than that of ‘adequate preparedness.’ All their difficulties were to be met by piling on more and more armor, until at last they sank by their own clumsy weight into the marsh lands …
Here was an animal unable to do even a little intelligent thinking. Its brain cavity in proportion to the size of its body was more diminutive than that of any other vertebrate. Like the militarist, therefore, it was unable to conceive of any intelligent foreign policy. Moreover, its vision was limited. Its eyes were small and could look only in a sidewise direction. It could not look ahead.
Such a strategy, Fuller argued, could only lead to extinction; just look at what happened to the slow, stupid, and overburdened dinosaurs! At the time no one had any idea why the dinosaurs had become extinct, and the belief that dinosaurs were large in size but diminutive in brain power made them perfect for caricaturing all that was perceived as brutish, dumb, and obsolete. “Anti-preparedness” activists drove this point home by naming their dinosaur “Jingo,” a reference to “jingoism” or a feeling of nationalism so extreme that threats of violence against other nations becomes acceptable.
Reactions to Jingo’s tour of American cities were mixed. Anti-war activists, of course, loved Jingo while those who supported American involvement in the “War to End All Wars” thought it was a dumb public stunt. According to a later report, however, some Christian fundamentalists were upset that anyone would suggest that Jingo and his kind had been poorly made; God had created dinosaurs perfectly during the Creation week, after all. Nor was paleontologist W.D. Matthew of the American Museum of Natural History particularly impressed. Regardless of whether herbivorous dinosaurs escaped the claws of predators by virtue of their armor, speed, or wits, Matthew argued, they all became extinct. Even if there were “smart dinosaurs,” something that was in extreme doubt at the time, they fared no better than the massive, armored species when it came to survival.
Ultimately Jingo and his message could not keep America out of war. Despite earlier isolationist and anti-war sentiments, the threat of unrestricted submarine warfare, an alliance between Mexico and Germany, and the Preparedness Day Bombing turned both politicians and the public towards war. Nearly one year after Jingo made his public debut, the United States declared war on Germany, and new laws such as the Espionage Act of 1917 and the Sedition Act of 1918 restricted the free speech of Americans. To speak out against the war was treasonous, and so Jingo was forced into extinction.
Sign up for our free email newsletter and receive the best stories from Smithsonian.com each week.
No Comments »
No comments yet.