Shifts in Neutrality: America's Journey into WWI

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1. When World War I broke out, the United States declared its policy of neutrality. To what extent did the United States follow a policy of neutrality between 1914 and 1917? On April 6 of 1917 America officially entered WWI as an ally power after much vouching of their neutrality. Up to that point many government officials preached to America the great strategy of neutrality especially the president of the time Wilson.

At the beginning of WWI in 1914 America did stick to practiced isolationists point of view but as the war progressed and German aggression increased the American extent of neutrality decreased leading to their eventual entrance into the war.

Germany blamed much of Britain’s goings on the United States, and the United States tolerated these ‘retaliations’ for a while but eventually they had to pick a side and the growing tensions between themselves and Germany made it quite an easy decision.

When war broke out about Europe on the 28th of July in 1914, Wilson made sure the nation new his stance.

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1 days after war was declared he gave a message to Congress (Document A) stating that he favored neutrality as a strategy and everyman loving America would as well. He supported this because many citizens of the United States had heritage leading to a side of the war and America entering the war would splinter America. Wilson was correct in his assumption that most Americans did not want to enter the war at that time. The American people to that point had tried to stick with an isolationist’s attitude.

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Though the people wanted neutrality there were still some debates about how America was going about it.

Document B displays a common thought during this time that while America claimed neutrality they actually favored the Allied powers. Munsterburg who wrote this letter was an extremely well educated man but he did not acknowledge in his letter the effect the blockade had America’s claimed neutrality. In the beginning of the war, the strong British navy ensured less readily available supplies for the British by cutting off trade with a blockade. This effectively made it impossible to trade with Germany as Document C reinforces when reflecting on the war.

The British navy was one of the strongest in the world for America to go against them would be suicide and they also depended much more on Britain for trade and economic reasons than Germany. Which meant America was to stick to their neutrality and do nothing. They continued trading to the countries they were able to and left alone the countries they could not. In the letter of secretary of state William Bryan to the Senate Committee of Foreign Relations (Document D) he implies that the U. S. is still neutral. He then goes on to explain what a tight place the U.

S. is in. He addresses many of the points made in Document B and articulates why the U. S. has made some of the decisions it has and gives very convincing argument that the U. S. has had neutrality as its motivation the whole time. Germany was most likely irritated with the United States passive manner and upset that they did not come to German rescue when they still openly traded with they’re enemies and then claiming neutrality.

In their eyes America’s standoffish attitude most likely justified they’re actions towards the U. S. ut to the United States nothing could justify the German aggression they were going to receive as the war progressed. By 1915, the true grittiness of the war had been reached. Germany sent out a mass warning to the people in the United States about transatlantic journeys in the New York Times (Document E). They bluntly sated they’re aggression to anybody in the warzones and this message was intended for the American people. It basically implied that even if it was an American ship trading with Britain, Germany would be aggressive.

This of course made sense as a war strategy because they can’t have an endless amount of supplies flooding in to Britain when they are getting so little but for the U. S. they had to trade with Britain because it played an important role in the economic stability. In 1915, Germany sunk the Lusitania an American ship killing passengers. The American people were outraged for a time until they found out the Lusitania was actually giving ammunition to Britain (Document F). Though this soothed the citizens anger a bit they’re blood still boiled underneath. They did not believe it was far for Germany to treat them so ostilely. After all they were just trying to keep they’re economy afloat and seeing as it was impossible to trade with Germany they traded with Britain.

To this point the United States was still not in the war. However, after two other major events involving German aggression the United States attitude would change completely about neutrality during WWI. One of these events was Germany declaring unrestricted submarine warfare February 1, 1917. After, the Sussex and Lusitania incidents with Germany already under their belts America felt this was a direct threat pushing even further away from their faith in neutrality.

However, the straw that broke the camel’s back on the U. S. neutrality policy was the Zimmerman telegram (Document H). This is a controversial piece of history but it did sway people’s opinion. This telegram was supposedly intercepted by the British and it showed evidence of Germany persuading Mexico to join them and promising them land in the United States pitting Mexico against its then neutral neighbors. This was on March 24, 1917 and on April 6, 1917 the United States entered the war as an Allied power.

The people now had a very different view on neutrality as can be inferred by the political carton (Document I) they saw Germany as a threat to the world and they wanted to do something about it. With the United States entering the war in 1917 it ultimately ended any extent of neutrality it once had shifting the traditional thought of isolationism to nationalism in the United States. This was not for a lack of trying though, the U. S. did try to stay true to their beliefs but German aggression made it almost impossible. Thus a transformation happened.

Documents A and B were grouped together in the second paragraph because they helped demonstrate the point that the United States tried to stay neutral at the beginning of this time frame and some people did question America’s neutrality as time passed. In paragraph three, document C and D are grouped together because it showed that while some doubted the United States neutrality the United States held steady to it even when the British made it difficult to trade. The fourth paragraph serves as to explain the turn in America’s views. Documents E, F, H, and I are used to exemplify German provocation of the United States through aggression.

Updated: Nov 30, 2023
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Shifts in Neutrality: America's Journey into WWI. (2017, Feb 01). Retrieved from

Shifts in Neutrality: America's Journey into WWI essay
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