Reasons for Involvement

Unrestricted Submarine Warfare: In January 1917, failed crops as well as a naval blockade caused severe food shortages in Germany. Desperate to attack back, Germany decided to establish its own naval blockade around Britain. They decided to sink any ship in the waters around Britain without warning, through the use of submarines. Even though Germany knew this might have bring US in to the war, they thought to defeat Britain before US could mobilize.

  • It was brought home to all America when, on May 7, 1915, the Lusitania was sunk without warning, over eleven hundred persons drowned, men, women, and children, among them more than one hundred and twenty Americans.
  • On August 19th, the ‘Arabic’, a British liner, was sunk without any form of warning being given. Two Americans died.
  • Four unarmed American merchant vessels were sunk in the first two weeks of March 1917.
  • “The sinking of passenger ships,” wrote Wilson, “involves principles of humanity which throw into the background any special circumstances of detail that may be thought to affect the cases, principles which lift it, as the Imperial German Government will no doubt be quick to recognize and acknowledge, out of the class of ordinary subjects of diplomatic discussion or of international controversy. . . . The Government of the United States is contending for something much greater than mere rights of property or privileges of commerce. 11 is contending for nothing less high and sacred than the rights of humanity, which every Government honours itself in respecting and no Government is justified in resigning on behalf of those under its care and authority.”[1]

The Zimmerman Note: in February 1917 the British intercepted a telegram from Germany’s foreign secretary Arthur Zimmerman, to the German ambassador in Mexico.

  • The massage said that Germany would help Mexico “reconquer” the land that it had lost to the United States if Mexico would ally itself with Germany.
  • Therefore, Texas, Arizona and New Mexico would belong to Mexico if the plan was successful.
  • An excerpt from the Zimmerman telegram, “We [Germany] intend to begin on the 1st of February unrestricted submarine warfare.  We shall endeavour in spite of this to keep the United States of America neutral.  In the event of this not succeeding, we make Mexico a proposal of alliance on the following basis: make war together, make peace together, generous financial support and an understanding on our part that Mexico is to reconquer the lost territory in Texas, New Mexico and Arizona…. Inform the President [of Mexico] of the above most secretly…. Please call the [Mexican] President’s attention to the fact that the ruthless employment of our submarines now offers the prospect of compelling England in a few months to make peace”.

Wilson’s Peace Ideals: Wilson, who realized the approaching danger of an eventual American intervention in the War, prepared his peace note of December 18, 1916 to neagotiate with Germany and allied forces to stop the war. He wanted to make it, he wrote House, “the strongest and most convincing thing I ever penned.” [2]

  • However, The Allies were quite unwilling to negotiate with an unbeaten Germany. The Germans were determined to insist upon terms which the Allies would not have accepted until all hope of victory had faded. Neither side wished the mediation of Wilson.
  • The British, according to Sir William Wiseman, felt that Wilson merely talked about ideals for which the Allies were dying.” We entertain but little hope,”
  • Wilson was not discouraged by the failure of the December peace notes. He worked all through January to secure a private statement of German terms, equipped with which he could start negotiations with the Allies. He was determined to save American neutrality. On January 4, 1917, in reply to House’s suggestion of the need of military preparation “in the event of war,” the President insisted: “There will be no war. This country does not intend to become involved in this war. We are the only one of the great white nations that is free from war today, and it would be a crime against civilization for us to go in.”[3]
  • On January 22 he delivered before the Senate the address which he hoped would serve as a general basis for a negotiated peace, a settlement that would leave neither the one side nor the other crushed and revengeful, and “a peace without victory”. It opened, as British writers later insisted, the “last opportunity of ending the war with a real peace. For America was still pacific and impartial. . , . But unhappily for mankind, the British and Prussian war machines had by then taken charge.”
  • After the Germany broke the Sussex pledge, it ended Wilson’s last effort to achieve a compromise peace, and the rupture between Germany and the United States became inevitable. Bernstorff himself insists that “after January 31, 1917, Wilson himself was a different man. Our rejection of his proposal to mediate, by our announcement of the unrestricted U-boat war, which was to him utterly incomprehensible, turned him into an embittered enemy of the Imperial Government.”
  • Therefore, the US declared war on Germany on April 4 1917. In order to unify the US, Wilson declared that the war was being fought “to make the world safe fore democracy” without the fear of autocrats or militants (Germany and her allies).

Preparing for War

The shipping act created to create a shipping board to building, buying ships for trade. The selective services Act imposed all men from 21-30 to register for war and by 1918, the age increased to 21-45.

Army: Wilson increased the army to 223 000 and the national guard to 450 000. 32 camps across the US were built for army training. John Jay Pershing was the commander of the first US troops which was an expeditionary force. Overall, a total of 2 million Americans were sent off to war and 1.4 million actual fought.

Navy: 500 000 men, 2000 ships under William S. Sims. The navy helped in developing convoy systems. 2 million naval troops were sent and 5 million tonnes of weapons/clothing/medical supplies/food were sent.

Air Force: By 1917, it was a part of the army. 1 000 planes were produced from which 200 were exported to Britain. American pilots flew mainly in British and French planes. They had 20 Aces and air force was the first division to radically employ women more.

Wilson’s 14 points: Great Britain, France and Italy all wanted Germany to suffer and repay for the loses they suffered. G.B wanted Kaiser Wilhelm to be hung and for Germany to pay war debts. France wanted financial and territorial gains and have the German military demobilized/taken away. Other allied forces (Japan, Italy, etc) wanted spoils of war such as ownership of German colonies. Wilson was not that harsh on Germany thus introduced a plan of 14 points to prevent another World War.

  • The first main theme of the 14 points was the granting of national independence to all the “oppressed peoples!” (i.e.: the Poles who were under the control of Germany and A-Hungary)
  • The second main theme was of Open diplomacy (no secret treaties of alliances, trade, whatsoever)
  • The third theme was the establishment of the League of Nations to “guarantee political independence and territorial integrity, to small states alike”.

However, Wilson faced opposition back in America over the ratification of the LON.

  • The congress was Republican, while Wilson was a Democrat.
  • Chairman of the senate committee on foreign relations, a powerful republican named Henry Cabot Lodge and Wilson did not get a long well.
  • Isolationists did not like the LON because it made a permanent alliance with Europe (which George Washington had warned America not to do on his farewell address!)
  • Hun-Haters thought the treaty was not harsh enough on Germany for what they committed.
  • Liberals: Thought the treaty was too harsh.
  • German Americans, Italian Americans, and others thought the peace treaty was not favourable enough for their native lands.

Results of the War

Europe was left war torn and near bankruptcy after the War and America had prospered immensely due to Blood money and trading between the allies thus they emerged as the political and economical leader of the world. US lost 54 000 men, 200 000 were wounded and 63 000 died of disease. 24.5 billion Spent on the war effort. However, through taxes and liberty bonds/ War bonds, 31.5 billion was raised. (11 billion from taxes and 20.5 from bonds).

Role of Women

  • It was not until World War I that women received full status as members of the military. In 1917, the Navy became the first of the services to recruit women, with almost 12,000 eventually serving as Yeomen (F). The Marine Corps followed, enlisting 305 women shortly before the end of the war. The Yeomen (F) and Marine Reservists (F) were discharged after the war with the same military benefits as men.
  • Labour shortages provided a variety of jobs for women, who became streetcar conductors, railroad workers, and shipbuilders. Women also volunteered for the war effort and sold war bonds. Women mustered support for woman suffrage, a cause that finally achieved its long-sought goal. The 19th Amendment, granting women the right to vote, triumphed in Congress in 1919 and was ratified by the states in 1920.
  • The American suffragist movement scored its climactic victory shortly after World War I. In 1919 Congress approved the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which provided that “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.” Ratified on August 18, 1920, the 19th Amendment became the law of the land
  • The participation of women in the labour force expanded dramatically during the 20th century as seen on the graph below, with the greatest increase occurring among married women. In 1900 less than 10 percent of married women held jobs outside the home. In 1998 about 61 percent held jobs in the work place.

[1] Charles Seymour. American Neutrality: the experience of 1914-1917 (Washington: 14th vol. Foreign Affairs Journal, 1958) 25.

[2] Charles Seymour. American Neutrality: the experience of 1914-1917 (Washington: 14th vol. Foreign Affairs Journal, 1958) 25.

[3] Charles Seymour. American Neutrality: the experience of 1914-1917 (Washington: 14th vol. Foreign Affairs Journal, 1958) 29.

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