Though the United States would not enter World War I for another two years, the war had been raging in Europe almost 10 months before the opening of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition.
The pall the war cast over the Exposition was noticeable from even before the last building was completed.
The outbreak of hostilities in Europe forced Great Britain and Germany to withdraw their national exhibits and a groundswell of support arose to pressure the directors of the Exposition to terminate the event; Charles Moore steadfastly refused.
The Office of Exploitation tried to use the fact of war in Europe in their favor. They began an advertising campaign promoting the idea that, if travelling to Europe over the summer was no longer an option, how about taking "the grand tour" of the
United States and visiting San Francisco and its Exposition (Benedict, Catalogue, 15).
War became a tool for advertising; a reason for Americans and their families to take a vacation.
The precarious international situation also forced President Woodrow Wilson to stay in the East instead of making the trek to San Francisco to assume the traditional responsibilities of the sitting head of state in cutting the opening day ribbon.
Instead he committed himself to keeping the United States out of war, and stayed in Washington while Congress was in session (Lee, 19).
This did, however, offer the organizers of the Exposition an opportunity to show off some new technology.
They created a telephone line, linked to the top of the Tower of Jewels, so that, by pressing a button from his vacation home in Maine, President Wilson could open the Exposition electrically.
But the events of the late spring eventually moved the United States closer to war, and made people question the meaning of the Exposition even more.
On May 8th a German U-Boat torpedoed the British ocean liner RMS Lusitania. The liner sank, taking 1195 lives, including 123 Americans.
In the wake of this disaster it became apparent that
the United States could not stay out of armed conflict for long.
Though shaken, the firm believers in the power of commerce at the fair thought that the war would help San Francisco assume its proper role as "Queen of the Pacific."
"Never before in history," wrote Herman Whitaker in Sunset Magazine, "has a young and virile nation been confronted by a two-fold opportunity such as offered by the Orient and the European War."
Whitaker further likened the Exposition grounds to the great monuments that victors of war build to themselves in commemoration of their conquests (Brechin, 275).
Bryan stood in opposition to Whitaker.
Bryan, the former United States Secretary of State, came to the Exposition over the Fourth of July holiday to spread his notion of peace.
Amid the pomp of a full military parade, swords shimmering in the sun and rifles held tightly, William Jennings Bryan spoke to a throng of nearly 100,000 people about peace.
"Across the seas," his voice resonated, "our brothers' hands are stained in brothers' blood. The world has run mad.
They need a flag that speaks the sentiment of the human heart, a flag that looks toward better things than war" (Todd, III: 55).
He found open dialogue much more favorable than armed combat.
Though he knew that he spoke from a position that had little support,
Bryan emphasized that the side proposing peaceful dialogue would grow as rapidly as the side promoting war withered.
"Force begets force," he said, "love begets love" (SF Examiner, 6 July 1915).
After his speech ended, and the people had time to digest his words that promoted peaceful compromise over the violence of war, the Exposition treated them to another spectacle.
As 50,000 people amassed on the Marina, an imitation torpedo boat destroyer lingered out in the middle of the bay, miming a dash from the Golden Gate Strait to attack the "Oregon" which sat moored in the harbor.
The boat's cannon's boomed, as if it were attacking the Exposition, and, the boat was "blown to bits" by a submerged mine – much to the audience's delight.
"High into the air went the boat, shattered to smithereens," the Examiner detailed the following day (ibid).
The claim of the Exposition as an international event meant to join people of different backgrounds and cultures seems wholly subverted when the hosting country has one of its most renowned statesmen deliver a speech concerning peace and brotherhood sandwiched in between a display of arms and munitions of tremendous patriotic vigor.
This concept of the Exposition as a cosmopolitan event was further tarnished when, a mere two weeks after Bryan's speech, Theodore Roosevelt demanded that the United States prepare for war.
If the Exposition had truly intended for a multi-national congress to promote the peaceful international intercourse that the Panama-Pacific International Exposition's organizers had hoped for, they probably should not have extended an invitation to Theodore Roosevelt.
The "chief apostle of militarism and navalism in America," spoke to a crowd as impressive as Bryan's what the threat of war posed to an unprepared nation (SF Chronicle, 23 July 1915).
Speaking a mere two weeks after Bryan, his address, which the San Francisco Examiner described as "assertive Americanism," demanded a nation prepared for war, even suggesting the United States enact compulsory military service as a means to assure peace ("Prepare," 23 July 1915).
Roosevelt's warning invoked the specter of involvement in a war on the European continent.
We have been culpably, well-nigh criminally, amiss as a nation in not preparing ourselves, and if with the lessons taught the world by the dreadful tragedies of the last twelve months, we continue with soft complacency to stand helpless and naked before the world, we shall excite only contempt and derision when disaster ultimately overwhelms us ("Pacifists," ibid.).
His call to arms, though not unexpected from the creator of "Big Stick" Diplomacy during his presidency, also conflicted with the cosmopolitan stage provided by the city of San Francisco.
Yet it was with the Panama Canal that he had the closest connection.
"He did not build these palaces or fashion these courts," Charles Moore said of Theodore Roosevelt, "but he is the man that made them possible, for he it was who decided that the Canal should be built" (Todd, III: 94).
Though when he called for the Canal's creation in 1902 he had the dual purpose of developing world trade and expanding the might of the US Navy, he spoke of the Canal's military
advantages to the United States as a part of his speech to this international gathering.
He said that as long as the Canal was fortified and in "our" hands, it nearly doubled the efficiency of the Navy.
With the United States completion of the Canal, he called for the build-up of the military to assure that it and the United states would stay out of future wars (ibid).
He further went on to rail against pacifists and quietists who sought to "Chinafy" America.
The "Chinification" of America, he believed, would bring the United States to their knees because its people would be "too proud to fight."
He thought that the theory "the worst peace was better than the best war" would subject the country to the same centuries of suffering China had endured.
"For generations (China has) been trained to regard peace as the most desirable of all aims and to look down upon war and soldiers," he warned.
With this warning, he further berated "mollycoddles, peace-at-any-price, non-resistance, universal arbitration people" that "men who are not ready to fight for the right are not fit to live in a free democracy" (Todd, III: 96).
Using such racially loaded language, Theodore Roosevelt, the progenitor of the Panama Canal erased the cosmopolitan, international intent of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition and further helped "Americanify" the event.