Meet Eric Muenter, instructor in the German language at Harvard University and World War I independent saboteur for the German cause. Muenter’s early history is not particularly well known, he was a German immigrant to the United States who found work as an educator, got married, and had a child on the way in 1915 when he became impassioned about the German cause and enraged at what he perceived as the United States meddling in the war, meddling he saw as prolonging the war and preventing Germany from bringing its war to a favorable ending. As a German nationalist Muenter was unwilling to allow this to continue and he developed a plan to alert the United States public that they needed to end this “illegal and immoral” intervention in a European war. Muenter decided that he would wage this necessary demonstration upon the United States and bring American intervention into the war to an end.
Muenter began by poisoning his pregnant wife with arsenic, it is unclear why he wanted to kill off his wife and unborn infant but once he had murdered them Muenter fled his hometown to avoid arrest and traveled to Washington D.C. to plant a bomb in the United States Capital building. On 2 July 1915 Muenter was able to sneak into the Capital building with a timer detonator and three sticks of dynamite, he was not able to get into the actual Senate chamber itself, it was locked, but he was able to get into the Senate Reception chamber and hide his bomb within the room. At twenty minutes before midnight on 2 July 1915 the bomb went off and badly damaged the room, including wrecking the telephone switchboard that served the Senates needs. Muenter had hoped his action would spark a backlash in the United States against the war, he explained his actions in a letter to the Washington Evening Star, however prior to its publication he continued his plan of individual sabotage by planting a bomb aboard a munitions ship, the S.S. Minnehaha and then attempting an assassination.
His target was J.P. Morgan, American financier/banker and one of the most visibly influential financial leaders in the United States. Muenter blamed American banks and financial institutions for prolonging the war, and violating the principle of United States neutrality, due to their heavy lending to the Triple Entee nations, Great Britain, France, Russia, and Italy. Muenter planned to kill Morgan to put a fear of lending to the Western European nations into American bankers, he was able to get into the Morgan’s mansion and met Morgan himself in the front entrance, where Muenter opened fire. Muenter’s aim wasn’t very good and ended up shooting Morgan in the “groin region” as a later article delicately alluded, apparently Muenter also merely upset Morgan who attempted to subdue him. Muenter fled but was captured – either by the local police and/or Morgan’s servants.
Muenter was arrested but before his trial killed himself in his jail cell. Apparently he initially attempted suicide by cutting his wrists using a small bit of metal he pried off of a pencil eraser, the effort though failed. Afterwards he resorted to killing himself by falling, as a 1942 article on him colorfully states: “he climbed a latticework of prison bars and dived head first to the concrete floor, dashing his skull to pieces.”
Muenter was not an official agent of the German government nor were his actions sanctioned, but he is just one example of World War I sabotage undertaken to undermine the American effort in World War I. The German government was far more creative in its sanctioned efforts, like the time it destroyed an entire island off the coast of New York.