** World War I -- United States

World War I: The United States

Figure 1.--The Democrats in 1916 campaigned with the slogan "He kept us out of war." President Wilson himself was less enthusiastic about the slogan, fearing that he might not be able to keep America out of the War. Only a month after beginning his second term, the President asked Congress to declare war on Germany. The American Expeditionary Force (AEF) was raised with the second draft in American history. It was the first American army to be deployed to Europe.

American President Woodrow Wilson camaigned for re-election in 1916 with the slogan "He kept us out of war". America at various points tried to negotiate an end to the War. Wilson in a 1917 speech called for a "peace without victory". None of the major European combatants showed much interest in the American efforts. The Britsh were still hopeful that America would join the Allies. Kaiser Wilhelm dimissed Wilson's efforts as unrealistic. The Germans seriously under estimated the potential impact of American involvement and failed to recognize the full consequences of American entry into the War. The German military were convinced that with the empending collapse of the Russian Eastern Front that they could force a decission on the Western Front. Military commanders convinced Kaiser Wilhelm to resume unrestricted sunmarine warfare. After German U-boats sank five American merchant vessels, President Wilson on asked Congress to Declare War on Germany which was approved April 6. Historians speculate as to Wilson's motives. The German decession to resume unrestricted submarine warfare not to mention the Zimmerman telegram proved to be a disastrous German miscalculation. The unrestricted U-boat campaign gained Germany very little. The American and Britsh Navies introduced a convoy system and defeated the U-boat campaign. The collapse of Russia in late 1917 and peace treaty forced upon the Bolsevicks in 1918 enabled the Germans to transfer powerful forces to the Wesern Front. By the tinme they were able to launch their offensive, an American Army of over a million men awaited them in the Allied trenches. Without the arrival of the Americans, it is likely that the Germans would have reached Paris and forced an end to the War. German General Ludendorff was to say after the War that it was the arrival of the American infantry that was the decisive factor on the Western Front.


Isolationism had deep roots in America. President Washington wisely argued that America should pursue its domestic life without foreign entaglements. In the same year the United States Contitution was raified, the French Revolution broke out (1789). Soon major wars enveloped Europe. Americans were divided. Some wanted to support France which had aided American in its Revolution. Other were horrified with the vilonence and terror of the Revolution and were sympathdetic with the British. Despite the strong pressure to enter the European Wars associated with Revoluntionary France, both President Adams and President Jefferson pursued policies to keep out the European Wars. President Madison sucumed to political pressure and asked Congress to declre war against Britain (1812). After the War of 1812, isolationism became an axiom of American foreign policy. America issued the Monroe Doctrine to place the Americas off limit to Europen colonialism. America at the time was a minor power with a very small army and the absence of an industrial base giving it the capoability to project power. Another centerpice of American governance was a bare-bones approach to the military. The United States had a very small army, backed by poorly trained and armed state militias. This was one attractioin for European emigrants, escaping conscription and military service as the European arms race began to gather force. There was also a strong pacifist element among many of the new immigrants. The power calcultion had significantly changed by the turn-of the-20th century. The United sttes still had a tiny professional army, but America since the Civil War had undergone a remarkable metamorphisis. The country had develope from a lsrgely rural, sgricultural country to world's largest and most advanced industrial power. The country had built a modern navy, but had not entered the Europabn arms race and had virtually no army. The United States was the world's only industrial power without a large, well armed military. Severl smll European countties had larger amd better armed armies than the United Stastes. The British recognized the potential importance of the United States. The German's, however, attached much less imporance to the potenial of American power and were more swayed by America's lack of a large, well equipped army. Some Germans were even more dismissive, thinking that America was not a real nation because it lacked a core racial identity. America had changed economically. Industrilization brought with a range of social changes. What had not changed was a virtully rligious committment to isoltionism nd a desire to stay out of European wars. There was no realization in America that the era of inconsequentially, but bloody dynastic wars was over. And the possible domination of Europe by Germany had very real security consequences for the United States. Competent diplomcy on the part of Germany could have played on the trength of American isolationist feeling to keep America out of the War. In stead Germany engaged in both wreckless military ctiins and diplomacy that would for the first time overcome American isolationist sentiment.

Outbreak of World War I (August 1914)

Serbian nationalists assasinated Austrian Grand Duke Franz Ferdinand an his wife in Saraevo (July 1914). This set out a chain of events that led to a general European war. When Austria-Hungary with German backing declared war on Serbia, Russia and France began to mobilize its troops. Germany felt impelled to strike at France before Russia could mobilize its huge army. Germany declaring war on Russia (August 1) and France (August 3). German armies crossed the Belgian frontier (August 4). Btitain which had guaranteed Belgian neutrality, declared war on Germany (August 4). Britain may have entered the War with out Germany invasion of Belgium, but the invasion provided both the causus bellum and popular support for war. Germany's decession to support Austria's desire to punish Serbia turned a Balkans crisis into a major European war. Germany probably would have prevailed in a war with France and Russia. The invasion of Belgium provided tactical advantages, but at the cost of brining Britain and the Empire with its immenense military and material resources into the War. After the War, the Allies demanded that Germany accept the guilt for launching the War. Some authors have laid the blame for the War largely on Germany. [Fischer] Other historians are more inclined to ascribe the blame to other countries as well seeing war in most instances as a reciprocal event. [Strachan]


The German Schlieffen Plan called for attacking France before Russia could fully mobilize. The German Army on August 2 marched into Luxembourg, and soon crossed into neutral Belgium (August 4). The German invasion of Belgium was an effort to go around the strong French border defenses. The British Government voted for war and ordered an Expeditionary Force (BEF) immediately dispatched to France, following plans aprepared before the War with the French High Command. The Germans to their surprise were seriously delayed by the Belgian Army> The Germans were shocked by the Russian Army's advance into East Prussia and how swiftly the BEF reached France and Belgium. The BEF formed on the left flank of the French Army. The French had committed the bulk of its army to a disastrous offensive into Alsace-Lorraine and first clashed with the German army near Mons in southern Belgium. The German invasion force forced the Allies into a strategic retreat. The Germans were convinced they could take Paris before either the British or Russians could intervene. The valiant resistance of the hoplessly outgunned Belgian Army under King Albert I helped slow the advancing Germans who had weakened their right wing, in part because of the Russian offensive. The attack through Belgium gained the Germans a military advantage that brouht them very close to winning the War. The invasion of a small, neutral country, however, painted the Germans as the agressors ad villians in the war. Despite the fact that many Americans were of German ancestry, this was an attitude that continued to grow as the War progressed.

American Relief

It is said of Herbert Hoover that no one in history saved the lives of more European children. Some Americans might have added during the 1930s that few people did less to save the lives of American children during the Depression. One week before Hoover celebrated his 40th birthday in London, Germany declared war on France (1914). The American Consul General in London asked Hoover to help get stranded tourists home. Hoover's committee in 6 weeks helped 120,000 Americans return to the United States. Then Hoover turned to a far more daunting task, how to feed Belgium, which had attacked France through neutral Belgium and overrun most of the country. When the United States entered the war, President Wilson appointed Hoover head of the Food Administration (1917). Hoover succeeded in cutting consumption of foods needed overseas and avoided rationing at home, yet kept the Allies fed. Europe had been devestated by the War. The desestation and the battlefield losses significantly affected agricultural production. After the Armistice, Hoover, a member of the Supreme Economic Council and head of the American Relief Administration, organized shipments of food for starving millions in central Europe. He extended aid to famine-stricken Soviet Russia (1921). When a critic inquired if he was not thus helping Bolshevism, Hoover retorted, "Twenty million people are starving. Whatever their politics, they shall be fed!" This was the greatest exercise in international relief in world history. Had it not been for American food aid after the War, millions mostly children would have starved throughout Europe.


American pacifism began with religious groups like the Quakers. The modern American pacifist movement has its origins in World War I. Women from the beginning have been important in the pacifist movement. And of course World War I was the point at which the Suffrgett Movemnt reached a critical mass. The 19th Amendment becane law after the War (1919). The first American pacifust group grew out of Jane Adam's Hull House in Chicago. With the outbreak of World War I in Europe, American women who had been engaged in suffrage and social reform movements became involved in the peace movement. Aactivists Jane Addams, Carrie Chapman Catt, and others formed the Woman�s Peace Party (WPP) (1915). Later that same year, the WPP sent a delegation to the International Congress of Women for a Permanent Peace, held at The Hague in the Netherlands, across the border from Germn occupied Belgium. The American and European women met to protest against World War I (April 28. 1915). The outcome was to form the Women's Intrnational League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF). Jane Adams was chosen as the first president. The choice of the Hague was interesting. Unlike neutral Belgium, the Germans did not invade the neutral Netherlands. The Netherlands would, however, be another example in World War II of what happens to a country with a small army unble to protect itself. The American chapter of the WILPF became th oldest Ametican pacifist group. Peace and freedom of course are two very different concepts. History tells us that countless people have lost thir freedom and sometimes their lives because of the inbility to defend themselves. And of course World War I began with the Germany invasion of Belgium and its small army. This of course did not seem to have phased the ladies. The most important group was the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) which was founded after the War. The ACLU grew out of the Anti-Militarist Union, in part a reaction to the Palerson Raids. A third group was the War Resister's League which was formed when Congress passed the Selective Service Act. These three groups still exist and the ACLU is especially important. Other groups were founded, like the Women's Peace Prty ,but no longer exist. This movement was different than the long-standing Isolationist Movement, but not entirely unrelated. Both faith groups and seculr grops incliding, liberals, socialists, and more radical grops including the Communists. Pacifist groups played little role in World War I. And unlike World War II can not be blamed for America's failure to be adequately prepared when it entered the War.

Neutral Shipping

After the onset of the War, both Germany and Britain violated the rights of neutral shipping. This meant primarily American shipping as the largest, most important neutral country. The British blockade prevented Amerucan trade with Germny, an important ore-War trading partner. THe British action, however, seemed more civilized. The Royal Navy surface fleet could stop American ships and turn them back without sinking them. Thus there was no loss of life. German U-boats seemed more ruthless and uncivilized. This was the reaction to the German sinking of the Lusitania, a prestigious British passenger liner (1915). A German U-boat torpedoed the British luxury oceanliner Lusitania off Ireland (1915). Large numbers of Americans were onboard and killed. Americans were aghast. President Wilson's foreign affairs adviser Col. Edward House was in London and cabled Wilson that now was the time to declare war. Wilson replied that "America was to proud to fight." He insisted that some values went beyond war. Former President Theodore Roosevelt called him a "coward". While seeking to avoid being drawn into the war, President Wilson insisted on Americans' right to trde with the Allies. He also demanded the Germans restrict U-boat operations. He held Germany to �strict accountability� for its U-boat operations. The British restrictions on American shipping were much more palitable to the United States because of all the war orders from the Allies. American trade with the Allies tripled to $3 billion annually (1914-16). Both American industry and agriculture benefitted.

German-American Relations

American foreign policy since the Revolution was basically to stay out of European affairs. Unlike European countries which commonly had emnities and territorial disputes dating back centuries, the United States had few differences with Eutopen countries or territorial disputes. The primary differences was with Britain and toa lesser extent Spsin. A major dispute with France had been cut short by the Louisian Purchase. There wrre major disputes with Britain over the Canadian border, but after the Wr of 1812 these were resolved short of war. There were no differences what-so-ever with Germany. And as there was a large German immigrant population there was no reason what-so-ever why American-German relations should descend into major military confrontations in two major world wars. German-Americans had a strong anti-War even pacifist strain. Manjy had conme to America not only for economic opportunity, but to escape military conscription. The ethnic German communities in the mid-West became one of the most important forces oposing American entry into both world wars. American public opinion ws not affected by the Franco-Prussian war and the unification of Germany. America was not as affected as Britain and France by German belicosity which developed after the Wilhelm II became kaiser. American interests in Germany were largely trade relations. German education was very influential in America. Most high chools offered German as a foreign lnugage. It was much more common than Spanish. American-German relations began to deteriorate only when Germany launched World War I by invading neutral Belgium (1914). It ws an act that firmly fixed the German image in thE american mind as an aggressor nation. From a very early point British policy was fixated on drawing America into the War. The German government on-the-other hand was largely dismissive of the Americam military potential. Many Germans and even some Brit duid not believe tht America was a real nation, in large part because of its moxed ethnicity. And America a vety small army. British propganda made the most of German violtion of Belgian neutrality and the harsh German occupation regime. German use of unrestricted sunmarine warfare further cemented the American view of the Germans, especually he sinking of Lusitania with prominent Americans aboard. . Even so, most Americans wanted no part of the War. President Wilson's reelection vioctory was largely due to the facy thst he kept America out of the War. Only incredibly rash German policy decesions brought America into the War. German officials in to world wars would significantly underestimate the ability of the United states to project power and influence miliitary outcomes in Europe.

British Propaganda

British propaganda proved more effective than German propaganda. The German war propaganda lacked subtlety and was seen as strident by most Americans. The British, however, had important advatages. British propaganda was to play an important part in the Allied victory. The British had no propagbda office when the War began, but quickly created one. The War Propaganda Bureau was placed in the hands of Charles Masterman (September 1914). The British had two concens with one broke out. First, The British from the onset needed to influence domestic public opinion. This was more important in Britain than any other because Britain entered the War with only a small all-volunteer army. Thus Britons until 1916 had to be persuaded to volunteer. And the British public as the War progressed will apauling casualties had to be persuaded to continue the War. Second, the British needed to influence world opinion and here it was the United States that most concerned the British. This became increasingly important as the War progressed and neither the Allies or the Central Powers could break the deadlock on the Western Front. By 1917 with the virtual collaose of the French Army and the disolution of the Russian Army that Allied success would depend on America. Here the Germans had given the British a substantial advantage. However the Germans tried to explin it, the fact remained that the War began wjen they invaded Belgium--a neutral nation. And the brutal German occupation regime in Belgium gave the British material for their progand mill. Certainly the British blew iy up out of all proportions, but the Germans provided plenty of material for the British to work with. Had not America rushed food shipments to Belgium, there would have been mass starvation. The British had another important advantage, they controlled the Trans-Atlantic cabels, which meant they controlled the War news America received. Thus from a very early stage in the War, American sympathies were with the Allies. The German introduction of sunmarine warfare and poison gas only confirmed American attitudes toward the Germans and British propaganda made full use of both in their propaganda.

First Americans

The vast majority of Americans wanted no part in World War I. Most Americans saw it as a struggle between rival nations which was endemic to Europe througjout its history. The German atrocities in Belgium and other actions began to change minds, but the majority of Americans were still opposed to participation. And President Wilson would be reelected in large part because he mintained ythe peace. The campaign slogan was, 'He kept us out of war'. Some americans saw the War very differently--as a crusade to dave western civilization. The first Americans to fight joined the French Foreign Legion to stop Kaiser Wilhelm's invading army, to fight for Frnce and civilization. Their decision was a mix of courage and ideals. [Hamma] With German troops smashing into Belgium France, the American Colony in Paris put together a smll scale volunteer ambulance service to help transport the wounded from the front lines to the American Hospital located on the outskirts of Paris. Volunteers began arriving from merica. One of those was Abram Piatt Andrew, a former Harvard professor and future Congressman from Massachusetts. He began as an ambulance driver, but then assumed a much larger role. He helped transform the service from a subsidiary of the American Hospital to an independent organization that transported the wounded from the front lines to aid stations to the rear. It would eventually be part of a massive american effort once the United States entered the War. The next group of Americans was the flyers of the Laffayette Escadrille. Early in the War, as aviation emerged as an important new service, some Americans offered to join the French Air Service. The French at first were not enthusiastic. They had plenty of volunteers of theor own. The popularity of the air service among French Soldiers. There was also a suspected American flying incident. coupled with a suspected spying incident by an American who deserted the air service early in the war, created some resistance by the French initially.Some requests were granted, usually because the applicants knew some ine of importance. Finally the Lafayette Escadrille was formed. It was the product of the combined efforts of idealistic young American men, prominent Americans living in France, and a few persceptive French officials understanding the importance of American public opinion.

Mexican Expedition (1916-17)

President Wilson decided to support Carranza in the Mexican Civil War (1915). This enfuriated northern commander Panco Villa who had expected American assistance. Villa retaliated by ordering attacks ion americans in northern Mexico and along the border. The most serious incident occurred when Villa's men stopped a Mexican train and found several American engineers (January 1916). The Villistas forced the Americans off the train and then stripped, shot, md mutilated them. Villa ordered his men to stay south of the border to avoid an incident on American terriory which he seems to have realized would have serious consequences. The exception to this was an attck on the border town of Columbus, New Mexico (March 9, 1916). This was no accident. A substantial Villista force attacked the town and its small military post. They shot and killed several resident and burned down much of the town. They escaped back into Mexico with horses and mules, merchandise and guns from the stores, as well as money. Americans were outraged and newspapers throughout the country demanded action. Wilson was also outraged seeing Villa as little more than a bandit. President Wilson ordered General John J. Pershing to enter Mexico and arrest Villa. Pershing was an old calvalry man who had commanded black troops (the Buffalo soldiers) on the Western frontier, earning him the nick name Black Jack Pershing. Perhing crossed the border with a 12,000 mn expeditionary force. The Curtiss JN-3 was used for aerial surveillance. Villa seems to have anticipated the American reaction and used the time after the Columbus raid to disperse and conceal his forces. Pershing entered Mexico in two columns looking for Villa.

British and French Financing

The United States played a major role in finncing the Allied war effort. J.P. Morgan had died a year nfore the outbreak of the War (1913). But the J.P. Morgan banking house that Morgan had founded played a key role in finamcing Allied loans in America. These were private, not Government or Government-backed loans. President Wilson's focus was on Mediating an end to the War, not on promoting it. He did not, however, put any limits in place on private loans to the combatantants, all of which went to the Allies. These loans were made in 1915 and 16 without any real conncern that the British and French could lose the War. The War continued longer than anticipated and the sums mounted. Morgan and the other banks involved had to continue lending. If the Allies lost the War, major banks would have failed. But there is no evidence that by the end of 1916 that this was a major concen of the Wilson Administration. As America was emersed in a very tight presidential election, the British and French were negotiating with Morgan for the finds needed to wage the 1917 campaign. They wanted $1.5 billion. [Tooze, p. 51.] That doesn't sound like much today, but it was an enormous sum at the time.

Election of 1916

The Democrats renominated President Wilson and Vice President Marshall without any real opposition at the St. Louis convention (June). President Wilson's policy of keeping America out of the War while suceeding in convincing Germany to refrain from unrestricted submarine warfare. Former President Roosevelt's Bull Moose supporters wanted him to run again, but Roosevelt realised he had not chance of success, not could he now gain the Republican nomination. His Bull Moose campaign in 1912 had alienated to many Republican Party loyalists. Had Roosevelt not bolted the Party in 1912, he almost certainly would have been bominated in 1916. The Republicans instead nominated the respected Supreme Court Associate Justice Charles Evans Hughes. Thet also Charles W. Fairbanks for vice presudent. Faiurbanks had been Roosevelt's vicepresident. President Wilson's reelection was by no means certain. Since the Civil War, Wilson was one of only two successful Democratic candidates and unlike 1912 there was no thirdy pary spliting the Republicans. Former President Roosevelt campaign strongly for Hughes, in part to restore his status in the Re[ublican Party, The Democrats adopted the slogan, "He kept us out of war." Wilson was uncomfortable about this as he was not at all certain that he could continue to keep America out of the War and in fact within months would sign a declaration of war. This was the decisive issue in the campaign. Hughes held view similar to Wilson, but came to be seen as the war candidate. This was primarily because of Roosevelt criss-crossing the country and speaking in support of Hughes. Roosevelt' belicose speeches, however, left the impression that Hughes would lead America into the War. The former president was still very popular and his speeches given considerable attention in the press. The election in the end was very close. Many historians believe that Roosevelt's belicose speeches leaving the impression that Hughes was a pro-war candidate probably cost him the election. The election was held before Germany resumed unrestricted sunmarine warfare and the Zimmerman Telegram fiasco. Most Americans in 1916 were oppsed to entering the War. The election was settled in California wjhich went Democratic by a mere 4,000 votes.


President Wilson had been President for only a little more than a year when World War I erupted in Europe. He quickly decclared American nutrality and his primary interest was in trying to mediate an end to the War. Wilson dispacted Col. House to Eurooe to persuade the combatants to make peace on a basis fair to all. The Allies humored him and still hoped America would enter the War in the Allied side. . The Kaiser was dismissive. He considered Wilson an amateur and unsophisticated. Kaiser Wilhelm dimissed Wilson's efforts as unrealistic. He had no appreciation for the importance of America, in part because the United States did not have a creditable army or military tradition. House as the personal envoy of the President spent much of 1915 and 1916 in Europe trying with little success to medite an end to the War. House with his rther provincil Texas background lacked any real understanding of European history or society. He developed close relations with the British, perhaps inevitably because of language. He became especually close to British Foreign Secretary Edward Grey, And of course Grey's highest diplomatic goal was to develop Anglo�American relations and draw America into the War on the Allied side. And this was amajor factor in House promoting the Allied case to Wilson. [Ferns] House was Wilson's cloest adviser, but in this case he has his own ideas. After winning reelection on the slogan, 'He kept us out if war', Wilson did not want to become a war president. Rather Wilson following his reelection, launched a major peace initiative (December 1916). After the Somme and Verdun, it might be thought that both the Allies and the Central Powers would have been willing to consider making peace. This was not the case. The Allies had a greater appreciation for America's importance and thus treated House Wilson's proposals with more deferemce. Neither side was, however, willing to give up their war aims. The French would not give up their goal of regainning Alsace-Loraine and the Germans would not give it up. Britain was unable to allow Germany to control the Low Lands and the Germans again would not withdraw. Even Russia and Austria-Hungary, both near collapse, would not willing to accept America mediation. Wilson in an early 1917 speech called for a "peace without victory". None of the major European combatants had showed much interest in the American efforts. Wilson by theend of 1916 realized that moral persuasion was not going to end the War. But he also eralized that he had a club to force the issue--America's emense financial and economic strength. And the Allies in particular would have to lifsen. Wilson did not want to be a war president, but he did want to become a peace maker and the rchitect of a new world order. He understood that anyone who could end the killing would become a highly lauded statesmen by the people of Europe. And he was prepared to go ovr the heads of European leaders to make peace. We hear over and over that American joined the War to prevent the New York banks financing the allies from going bankript. There is no absolutely no evidence of this. We know just what Wilson was planning because he order the Federal Reserve to advise American investors that they no longer considered in approprite to increase holdings of British and French securities (November 27, 1916). [Tooze. p. 53.] This was Wilson's club. He next took the unprecedented step of personally speaking to the Sente and spelling out his plns in detail -- 'peace without victory' (Januart 22, 1917).

American Nationalism

The rise of nationalism in Europe was a major factor in World war I. America was not imune from this as can be seen by the outburst of nationalism in the Spanish American War (1898-99). America by the turn-of-th 20th century had become the world's most powerful industrial nation, albeit without a large army. Perhaps because of this and American isolationist policies , most Europeans did not include America in their security calculations. The Europeans most concerbed with America was the British who until World War I saw Amrica as more of a rival than an ally. The British were not entirely sure how to assess America. The industrial prowess was incovertable. Some British observers dounted, however, that a country without a long shared national experience on the European model and with a polygot population could be a great nation. A factor here is that the European nationalism of the late-19th and early-20th century had become imbued with race. America even befoe the European migration of the late-19th and early-20th century had been a diverse nation. By the time of World War II with large-scale immigration from Italy, Eastern-Europe and Scandanavia, America had becomeethnically a microcosm of Europe. The United States managed, however, to absorb the many varied peoples and within a single generation teansform them into fervent patriots. Here America's public education system as well as uonprecedented economic opportunity played key roles. True there were afinities with their ancestral homelands, byt American nationalism was afervent as that of any Europen country. The basis for that natinalism was not ethnicity, but rather a shared belief in principles, democracy, the rule of law, and individual rights. The idea that a new nation could establish a national ethos on such principles was questioned by many Europeams. Iroinically, the British worked mightly to being the country that they doubted to enter the war. And America whose largest immigrant was the Germans, plyeda key role in destroying the Germany Empire and preventing Germany hegenomy in Europe.

European Calculations

Most World I combatants gave little consideration to America. The United States had never participated in European wars and most expected this war to be over within a few months. And many Europeans were unaware as to how the growth of the American population industry had changed the world blance of power. The fact that the United States did not have a large armY was another factor leading to Europe ignoring America. There was one country which did not ignore the United States and that was the British. And important aspect of British policy from the onset was to bring America into the War. The Germans seriously under estimated the potential impact of American involvement and failed to recognize the full consequences of American entry into the War. The Kaiser was dismissive of the Americans. Bismarck had written years earlier that a major reality of geo-politics was that the growing American republic had linguistic and cultural ties to Britain. The Central Powers by 1917 had at great cost achieved many of their war aims. They had overrun Serbia and Romania. They had knicked Russia out of the war and achieved huge territorial gains in the Treaty of Brest Litovsk. They had largely neutralized the French Army which was no longer capable of offensive action. Final victory now only involved cracking the Western Front. And victory in the East provided the men and material to launch a massive new offensive. The German military pushed the Kaiser to approve a new expanded U-boat campaign to weaken Britain. The German generals were convinced that with the empending collapse of the Russian Eastern Front that they could force a decission on the Western Front before America could effectively intervene. Here Britian's calculation that American intervention coyld win the War for the allids proved to be the correct assessment.

Unrestricted Submarine Warfare

Military commanders convinced Kaiser Wilhelm to resume unrestricted sunmarine warfare. The Germans seriously under estimated the potential impact of American involvement. Gambling that they could force a decission in the Western Front, the military convinced Kaiser Wilhelm to resume unrestricted sunmarine warfare. This was the critical decission of the War and Kaiser Wilhelm made a catetrophic error. The unrestricted U-boat campaign gained Germany very little. In the end the British introduced the convoy system and the U-boat camapign failed. The declaration of unrestriucted submarine warfare, however, brought America into the War and it would be the American infantry that would blunt the German 1918 offensive and turn the tide on the Western Front. Without the arrival of the Americans, it is likely that the Germans would have won the war.

Zimmerman Telegeam (January 1917)

Britain controlled the trans-Atlantic cable links to America. The Germans used the cables to send telegram messages to their diplomatic missions in America. The Germans encoded sensative messages, assuming the British could not read them. German Foreign Minister Arthur Zimmerman sent a coded message to the German Ambassador in Mexico von Eckhardt (January 16, 1917). It instructed him to inform the Mexican Government that Germany would soon resume unrestricted submarine warfare which in a few months would knock Britain out of the War. The Germans assumed this would cause America to declare war. Zimmerman offered Mexico U.S. territory if Mexico would join Germany in the war. We are unsure about the German decession-making process. Surely the failed Mexican expedition must have been a factor. The telegram read, "We intend to begin on the first of February unrestricted submarine warfare. We shall endeavor in spite of this to keep the United States of America neutral. In the event of this not succeeding, we make Mexico a proposal or 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. The settlement in detail is left to you. You will inform the President of the above most secretly as soon as the outbreak of war with the United States of America is certain and add the suggestion that he should, on his own initiative, invite Japan to immediate adherence and at the same time mediate between Japan and ourselves. Please call the 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." Signed, ZIMMERMANN." It was possible the most blatantly incompetent diplomatic approach in history. We are not sure to what extent the Kaiser was involved, but Zimmerman would not have made this offer without the Kaiser's approval. British Naval Intelligence cryptographers using a captured German codebook decoded the message. were surprised when a encoded German transmission came across their desks. German actions in the War, especially in Belgium and on the highseas had brought most Americans over to the Allied side, although public opinion still opposed entry in the war. The British turned the telegram over to the American Embassy in London (February 24, 1917). The Wilson Administration released the telegram to the press (March 1). Some at first thought the telegram a forgery which the Germans and Mexicans first claimed. Zimmerman inexplicteldly admitted he had sent the message (March 3). The American public was outraged. Public opinion shifted toward a declaration of war. [Tuchman]

American Declaration of War (April 6, 1917)

American President Woodrow Wilson camaigned for re-election in 1916 with the slogan "He kept us out of war". America at various points tried to negotiate an end to the War. Wilson in a 1917 speech called for a "peace without victory". None of the major European combatants showed much interest in the American efforts. The Britsh were still hopeful that America would join the Allies. Kaiser Wilhelm dimissed Wilson's efforts as unrealistic. The Germans seriously under estimated the potential impact of American involvement. Gambling that they could force a decission in the Western Front, the military convinced Kaiser Wilhelm to resume unrestricted sunmarine warfare. After German U-boats sank five American merchant vessels, President Wilson on asked Congress to Declare War on Germany which was approved April 6. President Wilson's motives are a subject of controversy among historians. The declaration of war was following the declaration of War an explosion of patriotic fervor not seen in America since the Civil war. Large numbers of young men enlisted. Many cities came close to fulfilling their quota within a few months, well before selective Service went into effect (June 5). There wee patriotic celebrations with children dressing up in uniforms and patriotic outfits. Along with the patriotic fervor. a wave of anti-German hysteria spread over America with the declaration of war on Germany. It was far worse than hate crimes against Arab-looking and turbaned individuals after Septenber 11, 2001.

American Mobilization

America for 3 years reveled in its moral superiority, staying out of the European war. There was no great public demand for involvement. Most Americans wanted no part of the War, a sentiment that was particularly strong in the geavily German populated Mid-West. Only incredibly reckless German policy managed to bring America into the War, arguably the greates miscalculation in Germn history. Unlike Europe, however, American had no reserve force to quickly mobilize. The British and French expected that with the declaration of war, a huge American Army would immediately arrive in France. This was not possible because there was no such army. General Pershing and a small staff was dispatched to France, but it would be many months before an American Army could be trained and shipped to France. Baracks went up all over the country. Some men were shipped to France without training, to be trained by Pershing in France. Men volunteered for service, but it soon became evident that a draft would be needed to build a massive army that would be needed to to have an impact on the Western Front. The Congress enacted only the second draft in American history. The lack of a conscription law had been one of the attractions that brought immigrants to America. The Germans had managed to significantly shift American public opinion. The draft was just one aspect of mobilization. The Federal Government assumed enormous power, unprecedented in American history to convert the economy for war. And in the patriotic explosion that followed the declaration of war, few questioned the measures taken to prosecute the War. Not only did America not have an army to send to France, but American industry had to be converted to war production. Steps were made to shift production to arms, but American soldiers would fight the war with mostly British and French arms.

Lafayette We Are Here

One of the heros of the American Revolition was the Marquis de Lafayette. In fact French naval and army units played a decisive role in the American Revolution. Gradually American soldiers did begin to arrive in France. Their ranks would eventualy swell to nearly 1.8 million doughbous. The British and French wanted the Americans to be used as replacements in thir lines. These were the same military commanders that had used their cown country's manpower so poorly, sustaining enormous losses. Pershing refused, although apparently on natioanlistic grounds rather than an adverse assessment of British and French leadership. General Pershing insisted that American soliders fight as American units with American officers under the American flag. [Mosier]

Russian Revolution (March-November 1917)

The collapse of the hard-pressed Russia Army in late 1917 forced the Russians out of the War. The Kerensky Provisiojal Government honored the committment to the Allies of no separate peace. Such was the demand for peace among Russians that this proved Kenrensky's undoing. The Bolchecicks offering peace, seized power in November 1917 and asked the Germans for an armistace. The Germans forced the Bolchecicks to sign the humiliating Treaty of Brest-Litovsk wjhich among other provisions separated the Ukraine from Russia. The Russian collapse enabled the Germans to transfer powerful forces to the Western Front to prepare for a massive 1918 offensive. The Germans were convinced that this offensive combined with the resumption of unrestricted submarine warfare would finally enable them to crack the Allies before the Americans arrived in France in force.

Home Front

America by 1914 had a modern navy, but virtually no army outside of a small professional force. America was, however, the largest producer of industrial and agricultural products in the world. This meant in any war of attrition that America would play an important role, even as a beutral. The Royal Navy's command of the seas gave the Allies access to American production. This was extreemly frustrating to the Germans, but what the Germans did not correctly assess was that American as a beligerant would be a much great assett to the Allies. An American in the War would help the Allies finance war purchases and field an enormous army. War purchases created a booming economy, but the Allies were limited by their ability to pay for purchases. Once America entered the War, loans enabled the Allies to buy vast amounts of wa supplies and most of these loans were bever paid back. America's vast productive resorces meant that a strict rationing system was not required. America mobilized for war through a patriotic outburst and Government requests for voluntary compliance on the part of farmers, industry, and consumers. Several new Federal agencies were created to manage a war-time economy. The Food Administration was placed under Herbert Hoover and would not only oversee domestic markets but provide food assistance that would save millions of Europeans--especially children. Hoover became known as the Great Engineer. Hoover never instituted food ratiining, but did introduce a range of voluntary efforts that proved highly affected. Hoover as Food Administrator ncouraged American mothers as a patriotic act to hold to "meatless Mondays" and "wheatless Wednesdays" to conservev food supplies. The Treasury under William Gibbs McAdoo used some of the same voluntary tactics. McAdoo oversaw massive public rallies to sell war bonds. The Federal Government also created the War Industries Board which was administered by financeer Bernard M. Baruch,. The Board had broad powers, but for the most part used persuasion rather than draconian administrative action. Baruch was unsure of the legality of the Board's power and personally reluctant to oversee extensive Government intervention in the economy. He thus relied on persuasion, and on a few occassions public redicule.

Fourteen Points (January 1918)

President Wilson defined American war aims in a proposal submitted to the Senate in January 1918. He indicated that America was not making war on the German opeopkle, but against its authocratic government. The 14 points included an end to secreat internationala greements, freedom of the seas, removal of trade barriers, reduction of armaments, reassessment of colonial claims in the interests of the people concerned, self determination for European populations, and the creation of an international organization to preserve the peace. This was the basis for his description of World War I as "the war to end all wars". America's allied, Britain and France, were not enthisiastic about many aspects of the 14 Points. French Primier Clemanceau sniffed, "Moses brought down 10 Commandments, Wilson needed 14."

German Offensive (May-July, 1918)

The German launched a massive offensive in the summer of 1918. Ludendorf conceived it as an all or nothing offensive. The Germans were convinced it would be a War-winning offensive and break the Britsih and French before the American infantry, then arriving in France in substantial numbers, were fully trained. Ludendorf was commiting his last reserves to this offensive and would face defeat once the AEF was fully equipped and trained. Failure meant that the Germans would face disaster. The Germans rushed units freed from the Eastern Front west after the Soviet capitulation. The Germans were able to amass a force of 192 divisions to coinfront the 178 Allied divisions. The units rushed west were some of the finest remaining in the German army. The Germans in 1918 were victorious on all fronts. Only on the Western Front had victory eluded them. The Allies had greater stocks of equipment, more artillery and planes and a far greater force of tanks. The Allied ranks were also being enlarged by the deployment of the AEF. Some German strategists believed that they should strike the French. Ludendorf realized that Germany only had the strngth for one great blow. He decided to strike the British 5th Army at the center of the Western Front befoire the AEF could turn the ballance of forces. The German offensive began March 21. Ludendorff directed 76 well prepared German divisions against 28 British weaker divisions. The attack was preceeded by an intense artilleyr barage. Mixed in with the explosive shells was mustard gas, clorine, and phosgene with lachrymatory (to induce the defenders to rmove their gas masks) shells. The Germans made huge inroads in the Allied line, and it looked for a time as if they would succeed in achieving breakthrough and separating the English and French armies. They were, however, stopped British tanks. The final German effort came July 15 and Ludendorff committed all his remaining force. The British and French had lost 150,000 men. The Germans pushed forward. The French prepared a desperate effort to save Paris. [Mosier] The Germans crossed the Marne and Paris seemed within their grasp. The French counter attacked and with them were five divisions of the AEF (American divisions were larger than the English, French, and German divisions). The Germans had to retire back across the Marne. The German offensive had failed to take Paris and had disasterously weaked the German army. More than 90 German divisions had been serioiusly depleted. The allies had suffered huge losses, but many were from support units. The German losses came from the front line combat soldiers. [Keegan , pp.392-414.] Now an exausted German army no longer faced the also exhausted British and French armies, but the AEF which was now appearing in force on the Western Front.


By the time the Germans were able to launch their offensive, the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) of over a million men was in France. Both the Allies and Germans felt that the Americans were not yet ready. Pershing had continued to refuse to feed American soldiers into Britsih and French units. Many Europeans doubted the effectivness of American units. Many viewed Europe as the heighth of civilization and that only the major European countries could ammass effective military units. Pershing was later to describe the prevailing attitude, "For 200 years the Europeans viewed us as incapable of competing. They were disparaging of our military and organizational skills. Then, in a brief time--just a year--we went from noncombatant to victor." It was at this time that Pershing marched into a glum Allied military planning session and announced it flawed but clear French, "I have come to tell you that the American people would consider it a great honor for our troops to be enagaged in the present battle. I ask you for this in their name and my own. At this moment there are no other questions but of fighting. Infantry, artillery, aviation, all that we have is yours; use them as you wish. More will come, in numbers equal to the requirements." [Eisenhower] The AEF was committed to stop the German onslaught. To the asstonishment of British, French, and German commanders, the AEF not only stopped the Germans, but took heavily defended German positiions, the first important Allied victories on the Western Front. [Mosier]

U.S. Navy

America's entry into World war I was the deciding factor in the War. Here it was the American infantry that brike the dead lock on the Western Front. The Royal Navy and French blockade of Germany played a major role in undermining the German and Autrian economies and civilian morale. This was largely accomplished before America entered the War. America had the third largest navy in the world, second only to the British and German navies. The 300 warships of the American Navy only added to the effectiveness of the Allied blockade, but were primarily deployed in the North Atlantic to guard the sea lanes between America and the Britain and France. Especially important was guarding the troopships that delivered the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) to France. A few Navy vessels were deployed in the Mediterranean, but the bulk of the Navy was deploted in the North Atlantics. Only a few Navy vessels were sunk during the War. The cruiser San Diego sunk by mines set by a German U-boat off New York. Two Navy destroyers protecting convoys were sunk by U-boats. It was German U-boats and the German decesion to resume unrestricted sunmarine warfare that brought America into the War. The German U-boat campaign proved unsuccessful because of the convoy system imnplemented by the Royal Navy and the invention of ASDAC (SONAR). The United States had a small sunmarine force of 30 ships. The U.S. Navy established its Submarine School at the main Submarine Base in New London, Connecticut (January 19, 1917). The American submarines would play little role in World War I, but the force would play a major role in World war II.

American Contribution

The Germans had gambled in 1917 that unrestricted submarine warfare would cut off Britain and force the British to make peace. They reasoned that it would be some time before the Americans could train, equip, and deploy an army to France. And the German Navy assured the Reichstag tht the Americans would never even come because German U-boats would sink transport ships. And the U-boats could win the war by starving the British. The resumption of un-restricted submarine warfare was a mistake of enormous proprtions which cost Germany the War. Here the U-boats failed and in 1918 the German Army had to deal with the consequences of the Kaiser's failed gamble--the AEF. The Russian Army had prevented the Germans from focusing on the Western Front. Now with the Russuans out of the War, the Germans brought America into the War, a country with manpower comparable to Russia. The AEF was, however, still training and not yet deployed in force when the Germans launched their Spring Offensive. President Wilson had given General Pershing only one order when he assumed command of the AEF. That was that the AEF was to fight as a separate force under the American flag and not as replacements for deplete British and French units. In the emergency, American units still being trained were rushed to the front to support hard-pressed British and French units (March 28). The AEF fought the War largely with Allied (British and French) weapons. The War ended before American industry could be brought to bear. Given the fact that America was the largest industrial nation in the world, the enormity of the mistake bringing the United States into the War cam be seen. And it highlights while the German spring offensive was their last chance to win the War. If it failed, so did the entire German war effort.


The British and French for their own purposes perpetuated a myth that by 1918 that the German Army on the Western Front was near collapse by the time the AEF arrived in France. Thus the Americans made only a minor contribution to the Allied victory. We notice this opinion in even modern British histories of the War. [Strachan] Nothing could be farher from the truth. The Germans had been buoyed by their victory against Russia. The forces that had been committed to the Eastern Front had been brought West and until the AEF had been committed had smashed an entire Britsish Army and were moving to seize Paris. [Mosier] Here the Germans were under no illussion as to what brought defeat on the Western Front. No less a person than Field Marshall Ludendorf attributed it to the American infantry. The actual statistics also demonstrate the importance of the American contribution. The British had 1.7 million men on the Westen Front. The French which for most of the War provided the bacckbone of the Allied troops on the Western Front also had 1.y million mem, down from a high of 2.2 million men. The AEF by 1918 consisted of more than 2.0 million men and more were on the way in American training camps.

Allied Offensive: The 100 Days Campaign (August-November 1917)

After the German offensive failed, the Allied bolstered with an American army of over 1 million fresh soldiers launched the Meuse-Argon offensive against the much vaunted Hindenburg Line. The German Westernt Front cracked. Pershing planned a massive new offensive for November 14, but it never occurred. Germany sued for peace and an Armistace agreed to on November 11. The Americans held 16 miles more of the front than the British when the armistace was declared. German General Ludendorff was to say after the War that it was the arrival of the American infantry that was the decisive factor on the Western Front. Given the importance of American units in World War I, it is astonishing that a German leader at war ith Brith and the Soviet Union in World war II would declare war on the United States.

Armistice (November 11, 1918)

Allied offensives on the Western Front cracked the German front forcing them back toward Germany. The German Navy mutined. Riots broke out in Germany cities. The General staff informed the Kaiser that they could no longer guarantee his saftey. He abdicated and fled to the neutral Netherlands. A German Government was hastily formed and asked for an armistice based on President Wilson's 14 Points. After determining that the request came from a civilian German Government and not the Kaiser or German military, the Allies accepted the German offer. The gun fell silent after 4 years of vicious fighting at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month (November 11, 1918). There had been over 8.5 million soldiers killed and 21.2 million wounded.

Bringing the Boys Home (1919)

The Germans believed that the Americans could not rapidly create and transport an army to France. That was why the Kaiser decided to resume unrestricted submarine warfare (February 1917). The Germany Navy assured him thatt the U-boats could sink troopships if the Americans tried to send an an army to France. This proved to be an illusion. After declaring War (April 1917). The United Sttes began an enormous effort to create the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) and tranport the men to France. Most of the AEF was shipped without much training or equipment and were traind and equipped in France. This effort continued until the armistice (November 1918). At that time the United States was still preparing to send another 1 million men to France and had just begun to shift American industry over to war production. The German Army began collapsing with only the appearance of 1 million American troops on the western Front. It is not difficult to see what another 1 million men with the Front broken woulkd have meant in addition to the huge potential American industrial production. With the Armistice and the cesation of hostilities, the United States faced a huge logistical problem in reserse. The American Doughboys now had to be brought home. Not only did the men want to come home right away, but thee was enormous political pressure back home to do so. This would, however, take some time just as it had taken time to get them to France. And there were military concerns as well. American troops thus remained in Europe for some time as the demobilization process began. The allies were concerned with possible renewed German hostilities. The United States activated the Third Army which crossed the French border into Germany (December 1). They occupied the area around Koblenz, between Luxembourg and the Rhine River. The Third Army used eight divisions organized into three corps to conduct this very limited occupation of Germany. The Americans encountered no real difficulties or resistance on the part of the German popultion. The rest odf the AEF was gradually moved to French ports and transport home. And even this limited force was rapidly drawn down after the Paris Peace Conference ended (May 1919). This time unlike World war II, there would be no extensive occupation of Germany. The United states had the troopships that had brough the men to France. In addition, foreign-flagged ships were used to transport the men home. There were also ships seized by the Germans used. The transports began in late-1918, but most took place in 1919. used only for troop returns. The men were met with jubilent crowds in New York and other ports as well as parades in their home towns. Only about 15,000 American troops were left in Europe by the beginning of 1920.

Women's Rights

President Wilson despite have a very capable wife and three accomplished daugters was no advocate of women's sufferage when he arrived in the White House (1913). And as aresult, the white House became a target of Suffragette picketing. Gradully he began to change his mind. A factor was the harsh tratement doled out to women arrested for demonstrating, especially during the War. Imprisoned Suffragettes engaging in hungerstrikes were subjected to brutal forced feedings. The service of 10,000 women in the Navy and Marines as well many more in factories and offices during the War seems to turned the Presient around and he began promoting the 19th Amendment. He publically changed his strance in 1918, even lobbying the Senate. The President said, "We have made partners of the women in this war. Shall we admit them only to a partnrship of suffering and sacrifice and toil and not to a partnership of privilege and right?" The Senate rejected the proposed amendment by two votes (1918). Finlly the nexy year Congress approved the amendment (1919).

Change of Opinion

American public opinion was strongly pro-British and pro-French even before America entered the War. The invadsion of Belgium, sinking of RMS Lusitania, and British war propaganda had all strongly affected American public opinion. The Zimmerman Telegram only confirmed what most Americans alreadty thought. When Congress declared war, the American people enthusiastically embraced the Allied cause. Support for the war continued even after the death toll in France began to escalte. There was, however, a rapid change in American public opinion after the Armistice and end of the War. We are not entirely sure why this occurred. The casualties must have been a factor. We suspect that the resurgence od deeply help pacifist and isoltionist beliefs may have been more important. They had been covered over by the patriotic feaver, but not abandoned. In one aspect this change in American public opinion built on an aspect of the patriotic fervor that swept America. This included an animosity toward foreigners and radicals--especially socialism which was seen to have European origins. Perhaps the diplomatic wrangling following the War looked to many Americans like the typical European diplomatic conspiracy following every other War rather than a peace settlement anticipated with the War to End All Wars. There were major differences between America and the European colonial powers and these became more apparent after the war. Many Americans came to feel that they had been rushed into the War. Some even felt that American had been drawn into the War by British propaganda. The specter of Communism and the association of socialism with European immigrant groups in America were other factors affecting the change in American attitudes. Whatever the cause, many Americans began to think that America would be better off by cutting its brief participation in European affairs and returning to a more isolationist approach. [Wells, p. 930.] This was part of the "return to normalcy" for which the Republican Presidential candidate Warren Harding would soon begin campaigning.

Versilles Peace Treaty (June 1919)

The Versailles Peace Treaty ending World War I was signed on June 28, 1919, about 7 months after the Armistace stopping the fighting on November 11, 1918. It had a huge impact on the international status of Germany, impacting the country territorially, militarily, and econimically. Germany was made a pariah country and largely blamed for the start of the War. Of major significance, the Germany being punished was the Germany of the Weimar Republic and not Imperial Germany as the Kaiser had abdigated. As a result, the domestic German oposition to the changes, including the territorial changes, came to be directed at the Weimar Republic and not the Imperial Government and German military that had conducted the War. The NAZIs and other right-wing groups were to saddle demoncratic politicans with the "shame of Versailles". Germany under the terms of the Treaty suffered many consequences. The navy and merchant marine was lost. The battleships had to be turned over the the Allies. The battleships ships in fact steamped into the British naval base at Scappa Flow. The German captains, however, rather than turning them over to the British, scuttled them. Germany lost her African and Pacific colonies. Along with territorial losses in Europe were important natural resources. The German Army was reduced to virtual impotence. And the country was sattled with immense retributions. A critical elemement in the treaty was the principle of national self determination promoted by President Wilson. This resulted in the creatiion of a large number of small, weak states in Eastern Europe. It must be said that the the Versailles Treaty was not as onerous as the Treaty of Breast-Litovsk (1918) imposed on the Russians. Still it was undenuably harsh. Many historians see it at the first step toward World War II.

The Senate Rejects the Treaty

The Versailles Peace Treaty ending World War I was signed on June 28, 1919, about 7 months after the Armistice stopping the fighting on November 11, 1918. It was one of the most important treaties of the 20th century. President Wilson after submitting a Draft Covenant for a League of Nations on February 14, 1919, left Paris on February 15, returning to the United States. He sought to promote the League which he saw as the central feature of the Versailles Peace Treaty and a "world made safe for democracy" without the scourge of war. Upon arriving in Boston on February 15, he gives his first speech promoting the League. Wilson met with highly skeptical Congressional leaders over dinner on February 26. Key Republican leader, Republican Majority Leader and Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Henry Cabot Lodge, in a February 28 speech rejected the principle of mutual guarantee in the Wilson proposal, but not the League outright. With Wilson's refusal to compromise, the Senate overwhelming rejected the Treaty by wide margins in two votes on November 19. The Senate rejected the Treaty with the 14 Lodge reservations 39-55. Both Democratic candidates actively expoused President Wilson's global idealism and promoted the League. Americans were having none of it. The War losses, mild by European standards, were very real. The economy by 1920 had turned down in post-war recession. The Republican candidate, Warren G. Harding was another Ohio publisher serving in the Senate. Harding offered a "return to normalcy" and was on November 2, elected in a Republican landslide. This effectively end the debate in the United States over the League of Nations and active participation in European affairs.

Epochal Change

The arrival of Americam infantry in France to save the Allies marked a epochal change in modern history. For the first time, America clearly emerged as a major world power. Europe would again call on America to save it, next from the NAZIs and then from the Soviets. But it was in World War that the shift in the international power ballance first became apparent. The War also changed America. Americans who never traveled much beyond their home towns suddenly found them selves in Europe. It was an eye opening experience that deeply indluenced American society. The Europe after the War was in many ways a sick society that spawned modern totalitarianism--Communism and Fascism. America relatively unscathed by the War emerged as the major economic power. Many Europeans who welcomed Americam assistance resented the emergence of America and questioned its competence in international diplomacy. Freed from the NAZI and Soviet menance, this is an attitude which is enjoying increasing currency in modern Europe.

Post-War Dissolusionment

The military, both the U.S. Navy and Army, was affected by the end of World War I and the overall political and economic trends of the inter-War era. The American people turned away from the Democrats and Wilsonian Idealism. The vast majority of Americans not only wanted a return to peace time pursuits, but were less interested in the progressive reform movement that had played such an important role in the early-20th century. There were a range of issues that America needed to address, almost all of which were domestic matters: adjusting to demobilization, farm problems, labor issues, immigration, prohibition, and arrange of other issues. The euphoria of the World War I victory soon dissolved into disillusionment and rejection of war. Many Americans came to regret participation in World War I. Even before the end of the War, this attitude began to to appear. Critics popularized the charge that America was dragged into the War by British propaganda, greedy bankers, and international arms merchants. The position of America in a Europe dominated by Imperial Germany was simply ignored in the debate during the 1920s. The number of men wounded and killed were substantial despite the fact that American units were in combat less then a year. They were a fraction of the losses experienced by the Europeans, but still had a substantial impact on American thinking. No one seemed to ask what would have resulted had the Germans been allowed to win the War and dominate Europe. For centuries the British had based their security on the independence of the Low Countries. Americans in the 1910s did not seem to feel a German-dominated Europe was a threat. Many were objected to the treaty-making process that followed the War. There was not only a rejection of the War, but a growing feeling that industrialists (arms makers which began to be referred to as the 'merchants of death') had drawn America into the War. This would be a recurring theme in inter-War politics and engendered Congressional hearings. And even though Congress turned up no evidence of these changes, it remained a popular theme, in part because it dove tailed with a popular tenant of Socialist thought. After the rise of the NAZIs in the 1930s and Germany's rearmament, it became increasingly clear that Europe was moving toward another war. There was considerable talk of war profiteering. Many were determined that America should avoid war at any cost. The anti-war sentiment in America and the memories of the men lost convinced many Americans that America must not get involved in any future European war.

American Legion

The American Legion is a veteran's organization formed by members of the American Expoditionary Force (AEF) at the end of World War I in Paris (1919). The purpose originally invisioned was to "preserve the memories and incidents of our association in the great war". The Legion became active in civic and patriotic events and lobbied for the returning veterans. The Legion focudsed on issues like pensions and veterans hospitals. It was largely reponsible for the creation of the Veteran's Bureau, now a cabinent department. The Legion also became active in programs to promote patriotism and civic responsibilities among young people. One of the best known efforts is the Boys' State and Nation program. The American Legion Auxiliary founded the Girls State and Nation program. The Legion also set up a youth baseball program. The Legion's initiated a High School Oratorical Contest (1938). The Legion set up its Child Welfare Foundation (1954). At the time ordinary Americans did not commonly aboroad. The returning veterans were thus some of the few Americans with overseas experiencs. The Legion began taking right-wing stances under National Commander Alvin Owsley who campared the Legion to Italy's Fascist Party (1923). Some Legion leaders disturbed by President Roosevelt's New Deal were acused of planning a Fascist coup in the 1930s--the Business Plot. The Legion worked to assist World war II veterans during the 1940s. They supported President Roosevelt's the G.I. Bill of Rights (1944). The Legion pushed for the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. After the War the Legion demanded a congressional investigation into the Americam Civil Liberties UNion (ACLU). They were disturbed by ACLU efforts to end loyalty-oath laws for public workers during the Red Scare of the 1950s.

The Bonus March (1932)

One of the shabiest chapters in America's treatment of its veterans is the Bonus March that occurred during the Great Depression. Tanks and banyonets deployed against unenployed veterans against the background of the Depression caused mant to question the future of America. As a result of the Depression there had been a number of small marches on Washington, but nothing along the domensions of the Bonus March. Congress after World War I promised veterans a bonus to honor their service. Congress passed the Adjusted Service Certificate Law (1924). The bonus was to be paid in 1945. The American Legion has pushed for the legislation. The Law was not just what the Legion wanted and they pushed for revisions, especially after the Depression began. Veterans were of course among the millions of unemloyed Americans.The Legion pushed for a bill allowing veterans to borrow against 50 percent of the bonus certificate value (March 1931). Congress passed the bil, but President Hoover vetoed it. He believed that the Government could not afford it and deficit spending would just impede recovery from the Depression. Congress passed the bill over Hoover's veto (February 1932). Thus many veterans began to see money from their bonus as a real possibility. Walter W. Walters and a group of other unemployed cannery workers decided that the Government should pay their bonus now when they really needed it. They came to WAshington and set up camp, calling themselves the "Bonus Expeditionary Forces" (May 1932). As word spread of the initial encampment, thousands of veterans, many brining their family, headed for Washington. Eventually about 20,000 veteranns massed in Washington. Some of the veterans set up the Mall, but most built a "Hooverville" at nearby Anacostia Flats. The House of Representatives passed the Patman Bonus Bill moving up the payment date (June 15). The Bonus Army demonstrated at the Capitol as the Senate considered the bill (June 17). The Senate rejected it. The District of Columbia police attempted to evict some of the remaining Bonus Marchers from a Federal construction site (July 28). In the ensuing mele the police shot and killed two Bonus Marchers. The Marchers then attacked the police. They did not use fire arms, but they managed to injure several policemen who fell back. District of Columbia authotities informed President Herbert Hoover that they could not deal with the situation. President Hoover ordered Secretary of War Hurly to "surround the affected area and clear it without delay." Hoover did not order an attack on the major encampment at Anacostia. The resulting attack, however, would be one more action that would descredit President Hoover in the eyes of many Americans. The action against the Bonus Marchers involved three future luminaries of World War II.


Eisenhower, John S.D. Yanks: The Epic Story of the American Army in World War I (Free Press, 2001).

Ferns, Nicolas. "Loyal advisor? Colonel Edward House's confidential trips to Europe, 1913�1917." Diplomacy & Statecraft Vol. 24, No. 3 (2013), pp. 365-82.

Hanna, David. Rondezvous with Death (2016).

Keegan, John. The First World War (Alfred A. Knopf: New York, 1999), 475p.

Mosier, John. The Myth of the Great War: A New Military History of World War I (Harper Collins, 2001).

Strachan, Hew. The First World War (Viking, 2004), 354p. While we disagree with Strchan's marginalization of the impotance of the AEF, this is an excellent summary of the War.

Tooze, Adam. The Great War, America and the Remaking of the Global Order, 1916-31 (Viking: New York, 2014), 644p.

Tuchman, Barbara. The Zimmermann Telegram.

Wells, H.G. The Outline of History: The Whole Story of Man (Doubleday & Co.: New York, 1971), 1103p.


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Created: 2:05 AM 7/24/2005
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