Although the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand on June 28, 1914, served as the immediate cause of World War I, the situation that led to this event was forming throughout the nineteenth century. The rise of nationalism, imperialism, and militarism in Eastern and Western Europe turned into open opposition of counterparties. The alliance system also accelerated the outburst of violence. The purpose of this paper is to analyze the role of the United States in World War I. To accomplish this task it is necessary to give an overview of America’s entrance into the war and the US contribution to the events. The role of the country after the end of the war is also important for the broader understanding of the historical context.
The Rise of Nationalism, Imperialism, and Militarism
The Great War started with an array of nationalist decisions. Archduke Franz Ferdinand arrived at the capital of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Sarajevo, on 28 June 1914 to prove its loyalty to the Austro-Hungarian imperium. As a future ruler, he wanted to strengthen his positions. Pan-Slavism in the Balkans created tensions in that area. Archduke knew about the nationalist organization the “Black Hand” and chose to ignore the threat. Gavrilo Princip, a 19-year old student, killed him for the creation of a Greater Serbia.
This event gave rise to nationalist and militarist decisions in the countries of Western and Eastern Europe. Germans decided to collaborate with Austrians also aspiring for a Greater Germany. The Russian Empire provided its military support to the Slavs in Serbia. While France respected its previous agreements with Russia, the Germans decided to attack the French from Belgium to be protected from the surrounding countries. The British Empire first started the war with Germany in fear of invasion. The creation of the alliances provoked the outbreak of the war, while counterparts were ready for military actions with the support of other countries (Strachan, 2014, p. 17). All empires around the globe tried to use the conflict to expand their influence.
America’s contribution to the war
The world war across the ocean shocked the majority of Americans. On 19 August President Woodrow Wilson presented a speech in which he underlined the need to stay neutral in this situation because the people of the United States included all nations that were at war. Most citizens of New York agreed to stop demonstrations in support of the countries of their origin.
Nevertheless, the diplomatic choices of Woodrow Wilson contradicted his statement. The future collaboration of the United States with the Allies was evident. American productions supplied the British Empire with materials and food while the US banks presented financial support. According to Kazin (2014) “by 1915, J.P. Morgan and Company had become the banker for the Allies” (p. 76). The entrance into the war stopped the economic decline in the United States.
The decisions of the President gave rise to the biggest antimilitarist movement in the United States of that time. Women were the first to express their protest against the war in Europe. They did not want to send their fathers, husbands, and sons to the slaughter across the ocean. The movement quickly developed to become nationwide. The leaders of the antimilitarist coalition tried to persuade the President to remain neutral in case of the world war.
Woodrow Wilson ignored the Blockade of Europe by the Allies but promised to deploy warships when German submarines started to sink trade ships. Since the British Empire had an advantage on the sea, the U-boat campaign was the only possible measure against the blockade of Germany. The repeated attacks on the British trade routes by the German Navy forced the United States to participate in military actions.
The decision made by the president of the United States was based on a good cause. As it was said before, the supplies to the Allies helped to raise the economy of the United States. Therefore, the safety of trade routes was vital for all parties. German submarines seriously limited the number of supplies, which was unacceptable for the United States.
Moreover, Woodrow Wilson had a strong sympathy for the British Empire. His mother was of British origin, and he admired such political leaders as Edmund Burke and William Gladstone (Kazin, 2014, p. 76). After the beginning of the world war, he expressed the opinion that in the case of success Germany could impose militarism on the United States. While Wilson voted for peace and talked about the necessity for America to stay aside from military actions, he knew exactly on what side he was on.
The Treaty of Versailles
The outcomes of the war were greatly influenced by the decisions of the United States. The American military forces did not play a decisive role in the defeat of German troops. They actively participated in the actions only at the end of the war. The sheer prospect of fighting a new army was enough for the exhausted and starving German soldiers to give a final assault on France without much success.
As a result of the world war, America prospered economically and gained influence in Europe. Nevertheless, for the rest of the world, the decisions of the United States marked the beginning of a downfall. President Woodrow Wilson waited in vain for “peace without victory”. The agreements made in 1919 at Versailles did not last long. The Versailles Treaty ridiculed Wilson’s image of a “final war for human liberty” (Beckett, 2014, p. 74).
The treaty spared the winners, European empires, and placed a heavy burden on Germany that served as an impulse for the further rise of nationalism. The United States contributed to the victory in the world war but failed to reach peace. The reputation of the president was blackened by the unfulfilled promises. Therefore, World War I became a forgotten war in the history of the United States (Tooze, 2014, p. 185).
The rise of nationalism, imperialism, and militarism in countries around the globe provoked the outburst of World War I. The creation of the Allied Powers and the Central Powers supported the major conflict leading to battles all across Europe. Although the United States of America tried to stay neutral at first, their participation in the war played a decisive role in the outcomes and consequences of the conflict. After the Treaty of Versailles America became the leading and most prosperous nation of the twentieth century. Nevertheless, the decisions of President Woodrow Wilson during and after the war created a heavy burden for the rest of the participants in the conflict. Therefore, World War I is considered a forgotten war in the history of the United States.
Beckett, I. F. (2014). The Great War: 1914-1918. New York, NY: Routledge.
Kazin, M. (2014). America and the Great War. Raritan, 34(1), 75.
Strachan, H. (2014). The Oxford illustrated history of the First World War: New edition. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
Tooze, A. (2014). The deluge: The Great War, America and the remaking of the global order, 1916-1931. New York, NY: Penguin books.