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American Involvment in World War I Essay

This investigation assesses American involvement in World War I before military intervention, and how this led to military intervention. In order to assess these causes, one must examine America’s involvement in the war before combat, the events that launched America’s military intervention in the war, American sentiments about the war before military intervention, and Woodrow Wilson’s actions before the war.

Two sources used in the essay, America’s Great War: World War One and the American Experience by Robert H. Ziegler and Woodrow Wilson’s speech to congress on April 2nd, 1917 are evaluated for their origins, values, purposes and limitations. The investigation does not asses the pre-war situations of any countries but the United States, and does not asses American military involvement during the First World War Summary Of Evidence Prior to 1917, America was already deeply involved in the First World War, though they did not have troops fighting in the trenches overseas. First, American involvement in the war was purely as a producer and creditor to the Allied Powers.

The war, while catastrophic for the countries involved in its atrophied trench battles, provided America with an astronomical boost to its economy, from 2 billion dollars in exported materials in 1913 to nearly 6 billion dollars in exports in 1916. This economic boom was mainly brought on by Britain’s dependency on American foodstuffs and manufactured goods.. The economic ties between America and Britain tightened with public subscription loans. By 1917, Britain had borrowed 2. 7 billion dollars from American creditors.

Historian Paul Koistinen wrote “Without American supplies, Britain could not continue the war; without American financing of almost 10$ million a day … Britain would exhaust its reserves of gold and securities by March 1917. Its dependence was total. Cutting back procurement . . . would produce disaster in England” Originally, America did nothing but reap the reward of “neutrality”. When Americas turned their eyes to the stage of war in Europe, they were truly terrified. One Chicago newspaper joked “A hearty vote of thanks to Columbus for having discovered America”.

This sentiment was echoed by many American citizens, who showed pride in President Woodrow Wilson’s decision to declare America a neutral state in the war. Americans thoughts on the war lied in their bloodlines, as a majority of Americans were descendants from either Allied or Central Powers nations. Most Americans, early in the war at least, didn’t understand the war or why it was being fought, and were glad that America wasn’t involved. However, these robust Anti-Involvement sentiments began to fade after May 7 1915, the day of the Lusitania crisis.

German U-Boats torpedoed and sunk a passenger liner in British waters, killing nearly 1,200 civilians, including 128 American citizens. The murder of these innocents set off the first widespread pro war feelings in Americans. This outrage was justified, but was also heightened by yellow journalism that demonized Germans as barbarians and deranged killers. President Woodrow Wilson, taking note of this event and the outrage it caused, warned the Germans that any further violation of American rights would result in “Strict Accountability” for these actions.

This, as well as the bloody war dragging on in Europe, brought up the question of military preparedness in the United States. By 1916, pro-preparedness sentiment was widespread, as 135,000 supporters of expanding the military marched on New York City’s 5th Avenue, for 12 hours. In Chicago, 130,000 telephone operators moved in the shape of an American flag, goose-stepping down State Street. In the election of 1916, Woodrow Wilson ran against Charles E. Hughes, who was backed by Theodore Roosevelt, former president and staunch Allied Powers supporter, as well as an advocate for military preparedness.

Woodrow Wilson won the election by only about 600,000 popular votes. However, these sentiments were met with an equally strong anti-militarism force, saying that in a chaotic world, America must be a beacon and resist entrance into war, and resist building an enormous military. Strong anti-militaristic sentiments began to fade when British intelligence officers intercepted a telegram sent from Foreign Secretary of the German Empire Arthur Zimmermann to the German ambassador of Mexico, Heinrich von Eckardt. This infamous proposal, known as the Zimmermann note, proposed that Mexico wage war against the United States.

Throughout America’s neutrality in World War 1, President Wilson had acted as a mediator, but with tension building to a terminal level and with the Zimmermann note, Wilson was forced to ask congress to bolster America’s military forces on April 2nd 1917. Later in the same year, America sent its first military forces oversees Evaluation Of Sources Robert H Zieger: America’s Great War: World War One and the American Experience Origins- (2000) Zieger is a respected labor historian Purpose- Provides an in-depth look at American involvement in the war.

Value- The economic statistics and quotations from various primary and secondary sources allow the reader to evaluate the validity of the claims Zieger makes. Limitations- does not provide any new opinions or claims Woodrow Wilson, April 2nd 1917 to congress to persuade congress to bring the United States Origin- German hostile actions towards the United States Purpose- Persuade congress to declare war on Germany and the Central Powers Value- clearly outlined Wilson’s reason’s for entering war Limitations- doesn’t explain the underlying causes of military intervention or pressure from big business to declare war for entry Analysis America’s involvement in World War One began with producing vital weapons and foodstuffs for the Allied Powers, as well as economically supporting the Allied nation’s governments. Throughout the war, the German Empire repeatedly acted belligerently towards the neutral United States, sinking passenger lines, killing American civilians. Tension with Germany also rose after the proposal to Mexico asking the Mexican army to wage war on the United States.

These belligerent German acts, however, would not have held as much effect as they did if American political opinions had not been shifted by the German actions, the economic pressure of close ties to the Allied nations, or social pressure brought along by shifting political attitudes. These all contributed to tensions growing regarding American military involvement I World War One President Woodrow Wilson was a stalwart proponent of American neutrality in the First World War for the almost all of the war, but the American political climate at the time forced his hand..

He was able to win this election because most voters at the time had pro-neutrality sentiments. However, Wilson took into account his slim margin of victory, and the Republican’s yearning for a prepared military. These yearnings were brought on mainly by the Lusitania sinking. A major proponent for intervention, the previously mentioned Theodore Roosevelt, denounced these acts of the German Empire as acts of piracy. Roosevelt’s popularity made these statements extremely well heard. This shift in public opinion helped force President Wilson’s hand.

America’s involvement in World War One before it entry in combat was extremely vital, producing millions of dollars’ worth of material for Britain and France, as well as financing the war through small loans. This dependency was built by J. P Morgan, who traded nearly 3 billion dollars’ worth of goods with the allied powers. By 1917, America had invested 2. 7 billion dollars in Britain alone. Historian Paul Koistinen’s quote regarding British dependency on American trade shows how deeply entrenched America was with the war’s affairs pre involvement.

These statistics show that the allied powers were completely dependent on American economic support American corporations had an immense amount of wealth in the war, and if they Allied powers lost the war, all of their investments would be worth nothing, because the countries that had been responsible for repaying these debts would no longer exist. The war was taking a detrimental toll on the populations of the warring nations, and the war was almost completely atrophied. It was only a matter of time before one side lost, and it was essential to American business that it was the Allied Powers.

Had the allied powers lost to the central powers, American financers would have lost 2. 7 billion dollars as a whole, 2. 7 billion dollars that were needed to give to American business, 2. 7 billion dollars that banks needed to stay in business. Throughout pre-involvement America, as early as the dawn of the war, so called “hyphenated Americans”, had opinions on what side of the war to support, dependent on their country of origin. German-Americans, the largest ethnic group at the time , supported what they thought of as their motherland, Germany, therefore supported the Central Powers.

The second largest ethnic group, Irish-Americans, saw Great Britain as an oppressor, therefore were also supporters of the central powers. However, most Americans at the time were still pro-neutrality. A Chicago newspaper, expressing thanks to Columbus, wrote an article on the blessing of the Atlantic Ocean. This was a popular sentiment at the time, and many Americans were proud of Wilson’s decision to be neutral. After the sinking of American ocean liner Lusitania the support of neutrality began to fade.

Before the Lusitania disaster, however, 92 ships had been sunken by aggressive German action. None of these attacks had gained as much publicity, partially due to the fact that the previous sinking’s hadn’t been as destructive. But this was also due to the fact that the Lusitania sinking was grabbed onto by yellow journalists. “The blood of these murdered victims cries for vengeance. If that cry is unheard, the people of the United States will always bear upon them the stigma of the greatest humiliation ever put upon a nation. Writes a reporter from the Toronto Telegram. President Wilson demanded that German U-Boats stop sinking civilian liners, and if they continued to do so, they would be met with military retaliation. This didn’t stop Germans from sinking boats, and Wilson’s failure to take action against them infuriated Americans. Observing the protests in American cities at the time, one can judge that huge masses of people were strongly in favor of interventionism.


The process of the American military joining the Allied Powers seemed inevitable from the start of the war, but still took hostile action and over reaction to spark military involvement. America’s pre-war economic ties to Europe and America’s reliance on trade with these nations during the war made America’s involvement with these nations too deep to let them lose the war, therefore forcing combat. Woodrow Wilson’s strong stance on neutrality couldn’t stand up to the enormous pressure he faced from the people of the United States.

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