In late July of 1914 when the governments of Europe’s main powers made their respective mobilization announcements, the public reactions in each nation were strikingly similar. An atmosphere of celebration descended upon national capitals. Jubilant crowds streamed into public squares, waving flags and banners. Emotional embraces and bottles of wine and liquor were shared among stranger and friend alike. Patriotic songs and national anthems were sung with passionate zeal and heart. Tears of joy were shed, and talk of glorious victories in the days ahead streaked through the crowds with lightning speed. In 1914 mobilization meant war, and the coming war was generally viewed as an adventure. The horror, misery, and destruction which would define the First World War were in the minds of but a few influential people in Europe during this time. They wisely kept their opinions to themselves, and mourned silently as the masses frolicked in blissful ignorance of what the future truly held. This was their moment and they were not to be denied.
It was noon in the eastern US, and 9 AM on the west coast when special report bulletins preempted regularly scheduled television programming. News anchors, some visibly fighting to keep their composure, informed the nation that NATO nations were ordering their armed forces to mobilize and begin moving to their wartime staging areas and positions. President Reagan was expected to address the nation for the second time in less than 48 hours later that same afternoon. Speculation ran high in media circles that Reagan would announce a full-scale US mobilization.
The response of the average American citizen to the news from Brussels was a stark contrast to how Europeans responded in similar news on the eve of World War I. Collectively, Americans were entirely aware of how severe the situation was in Europe. For the past two days, a number of peace marches and protests had taken place in a number of major cities. The marches mirrored the fears of most people concerning the possibility of this crisis leading to eventual nuclear war. This fear had a sobering effect on almost everyone in North America and it was evident in the lack of pomp and circumstance surrounding the addresses of national leaders and announcements of mobilization.
Public opinion polls indicated a large amount of support for President Reagan’s actions and the US position thus far. Americans realized this was not a crisis of their own government’s making, and the majority of people polled laid responsibility square on the Soviets. Ironically enough for the Reagan administration, the heightening tensions in the past two months had served to deflate the growing cauldron of public interest and concern in the Iran-Contra matter. The Reagan administration had allegedly sold arms to Iran in violation of an embargo then in place, and subsequently used the money from the sales to fund the Contra rebels in Nicaragua. News had broken in November of 1986 and following the release of the Tower Report joint House-Senate hearings were scheduled and got underway in May. Public attention had waned as the international situation worsened. On the previous day the Senate announced the postponement of the hearings underway, effectively erasing the Iran-Contra affair from the American psyche.
(Apologies for splitting this post in two parts. Work commitments for this afternoon have to take precedence)