In April 1918, as American doughboys faced down the Germans in France, California’s schoolchildren were enlisted to open a new Western Front. “We have enemies here at home more destructive, perhaps, than some of the enemies our boys are fighting in the trenches,” state horticulture commissioner George H. Hecke warned in an impassioned call-up for “School Soldiers.” He exhorted children to do their part for Uncle Sam by organizing “a company of soldiers in your class or in your school” and marching out to destroy their foe: “the squirrel army.” This children’s crusade was part of Squirrel Week, a seven-day frenzy in which California tried to kill off its ground squirrels. The state’s farmers and ranchers had long struggled to decimate the critters (also known as Otospermophilus beecheyi), which were seen as pests and a source of pestilence, particularly the bubonic plague. The burrowing foragers—not to be confused with tree squirrels—devoured an estimated $30 million worth of crops annually, about $480 million in current dollars... By the time Squirrel Week ended on May 4, children across the state had turned in 104,509 tails, though this was thought to represent a fraction of the total casualties. Even after the contest ended, the Commission of Horticulture reported that kids’ enthusiasm for killing squirrels continued for “an indefinite period.” During an anti-squirrel campaign in Lassen County later in the year, one girl brought in 3,780 tails; a boy brought in 3,770...more
current events, some children would need therapy dogs if they even heard about the killing of these critters.
How do you think a program like this would be received today? Can you imagine the reaction?
Anyway, there are some great posters accompanying the article. Here are a few: