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‘Kickin’ the Kaiser’ historical program is Sept. 26 at MCC

Michael Luick-Thrames

Michael Luick-Thrams opening the exhibit “Behind Barbed Wire,” shown in spring 2015 at Universität Heidelberg’s Center for American Studies (HCA).

Marshalltown Community College’s Western Civilization class is co-sponsoring a program that’s part of a 60-venue, four-state, five-week fall tour entitled “The Kaiser, The Killer, The Clan and The Cow War: The Lasting Legacy of Reaction-Based Social Movements in America’s Heartland, 1914-1934.” Iowa historian Michael Luick-Thrams will present “Kickin’ the Kaiser” at MCC on Wednesday, Sept. 26, at 2 pm. Thanks to 50 percent financial underwriting by Humanities Iowa, the program is free and open to the public.

“The Kaiser, The Killer, The Clan and The Cow War” project consists of libraries, schools, museums, colleges, civic groups, and others working to host a series of related programs that explore Iowa’s social history, with implications for today. Audiences served are evenly distributed: urban and rural, young and elderly, as well as multi-ethnic. Besides popularizing stories facing extinction, Luick-Thrams’ case studies offer a rich resource to those across the region who seek to build and sustain civic-minded, critically-thinking and caring communities.

The four dovetailing topics complement Luick-Thrams’ review of Iowa social history from 1914 to 1934. The first program in the series, “Kickin’ the Kaiser,” examines anti-German hysteria during World War I. The program begins with a survey of the vast size and scope of the pre-war German-American community in the Midwest (40-60 percent of the population in some places), as well as historical tensions between Anglo (i.e., East and later West Coast) elites and “those Krauts out on the prairies.” Then, Luick-Thrams documents the “flip” that occurred in April 1917 when the U.S. entered the war: Anti-German sentiment became socially acceptable and quite literally exploded overnight with, for some, deadly consequences. The program ends by exposing the hidden connections between wartime anti-German sentiment and the subsequent enactment of Prohibition in 1920.

“As each of the four stories in the series was such a significant event, how could it be that little is taught about them—or even warrants mental footnotes in today’s popular culture?” Luick-Thrams asks. “For one, unconscious social reflexes to erase ‘upsetting’ or trying shared experiences (war, diseases, economic hardships, hate and discord) from public memory doom many events to sudden obscurity. In contrast, however, are current conscious efforts to squash these unpleasant topics from being openly examined. One librarian who’d chosen the Ku Klux Klan as the focus of his town’s presentation, for example, was told by his board to choose another topic; similarly, two institutions with African-American staff also resisted hosting it.”

“Everywhere I go in Iowa,” Luick-Thrams recounts, “someone quietly approaches me after a program and says, ‘You know, my parents told me about the time…’ and proceeds to confirm that, indeed, German-American Iowans were often hounded during the First World War, or many lost family or friends during the 1918 pandemic. And, as most Iowans have rural roots, many can share personal anecdotes about how their family navigated life in the Hawkeye State during the Great Depression.”

Having grown up on his family’s Century Farm in Cerro Gordo County, the speaker’s own great-grandfather—and namesake—George Michael Luick, was in the Belmond Klan in the 1920s.

Michael Luick-Thrams (Ph.D. 1997, Humboldt Universität in Berlin) divides his time between Germany and the American Heartland, as he serves as executive director of a non-profit, educational organization in each country—Spuren e.V. ( and TRACES (; both of which provide history-based public programming to educational and cultural institutions of various kinds. He is the recent author of a genealogy-based Midwest social history, “Oceans of Darkness, Oceans of Light—a Pentalogy: Our Troubles and Treasures in the New World”.

This program is supported by Humanities Iowa and the National Endowment for the Humanities. The views and opinions expressed by this program do not necessarily reflect those of Humanities Iowa or the National Endowment for the Humanities. Additional funding provided by Illinois Humanities, Center for Prairie Studies/Grinnell College, and Vander Haag’s Inc., as well as by local hosts and their supporters.

“Kickin’ the Kaiser” will be presented at MCC on Wednesday, Sept. 26, at 2 pm in room 410. For more information, call MCC History Instructor Cecil Holland at 641-844-5781 or

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