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US Entry into World War I
Transcript of US Entry into World War I
• During the summer of 1914, the tensions in Europe that had been growing for many years culminated with the assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand by a Serbian terrorist organization.
• Following the assassination, the Austrian-Hungary government (backed by Germany) and Serbia (strongly backed by Russia) entered into what became an intricate chain of political confrontations.
• Within less than a month, two coalitions emerged—known as the Central Powers, which primarily consisted of Germany and Austria-Hungary, and the Allied Powers, which included France, Russia, and Great Britain.
• As war raged in Europe, President Woodrow Wilson argued that the United States should remain neutral in this conflict, urging Americans to be “impartial in thought as well as in action.”
• Given the distance between the United States and Europe, many Americans readily embraced Wilson’s neutral stance.
Yet at the same time approximately 1/3 of the American population consisted of first and second generation immigrants- and these immigrants didn't necessarily see eye to eye on the conflict.
• While the United States had a long history with Great Britain- including shared language and cultural values- the United States also had a large German population.
Thus in order to recruit American aid and friendship both nations utilized propaganda in an effort to sway the American public
Nonetheless despite these attempts to persuade U.S. opinion, President Wilson and the American people remained firmly neutral.
Testing American Neutrality
When war broke out Great Britain controlled the northern Atlantic Ocean.
To ensure American goods wouldn't be used against the Allies Britain declared all cargo in neutral waters to be contraband- an act Wilson protested vehemently.
Still no matter how much Wilson disagreed with Britain's policy he knew he couldn't upset them any further and opted to remain neutral.
However, while the US government remained officially neutral- American businesses continued to travel across the Atlantic and through the North Sea in an effort to maintain their trade relationship with the warring powers.
Feeling the pressure of the British blockade, Germany was not willing to concede control of the North Atlantic shipping.
In response to Britain’s tactics, Germany fought to establish a submarine war zone around the British Isles, declaring that they would immediately sink all enemy merchant ships encountered in the area.
Shipping At Time of War
Germany began attacking British and American vessels in North Atlantic waters in 1915.
In March 1915, Germany sunk the British steamer Falaba, killing one American. In May, two more lives were lost when Germany sunk the American tanker Gulfight.
In all, during the first months of 1915, German U-boats destroyed more than 90 ships.
However, Germany’s aggression didn't capture significant attention until May 1915 when a German U-boat attacked the Lusitania, a British passenger liner traveling from New York to Liverpool, England- killing 1200 persons including 128 Americans.
• Germany defended the sinking of the Lusitania by [correctly] asserting that the ship was secretly transporting a large supply of small-arms ammunition to the Allies; a fact that did little to convince Americans that Germany's actions were justified.
Wilson Maintains Neutrality
En lieu of declaring war President Wilson began to make a series of diplomatic moves to persuade Germany to shift its tactics.
For starters Wilson issued a message to the German government demanding they halt their policy of unrestricted submarine warfare.
Germany responded with an explanation of their military situation , but did not give any indication that they were willing to change their strategy.
Even then, Germany did not back off of their policy and in August 1915, Germany sunk the Arabic- another British liner, killing two Americans.
It was finally after this attack, the Germany pledged to back off their policy towards passenger ships.
Working to Avoid War
•Wilson accepted Germany’s pledge, but he did not accept the decree concerning the Allies- knowing it was a longshot at best- and would likely upset the American public only a few months before the Election of 1916.
However, in the months following Wilson's reelection, the war was at a stalemate amidst the trenches of the western front- and Germany realized the only way to make something happen was to resort to further attacks.
Knowing more attacks were imminent- Wilson broke diplomatic relations with Germany, but stopped short of asking Congress for a declaration of war.
•Nonetheless, Wilson wouldn't have to wait long for a so-called "overt act" that would further upset the American public.
•Around the same time Wilson ended relations with Germany, newspapers published a telegram intercepted by the British.
The telegram, sent by German Foreign Secretary Arthur Zimmerman, proposed a German-Mexican alliance.
In return for their support Germany promised Mexico Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona with a central power victory.
While the realty of a powerful and successful alliance between Germany and Mexico was unlikely those living in the southwestern United States found it troubling.
Soon after Wilson was forced to acknowledge that the worst-case scenario for America was coming to pass and continuing to manage the German threat was no longer an option.
• On April 2, 1917, Wilson requested a declaration of war from Congress. Congress complied with only six senators and 50 representatives voting against the war resolution.
However, the pledge proved to be temporary as only seven months after the sinking of the Arabic, a German U-boat sunk the Sussex, a French steamer.
In the aftermath, Wilson issued the Sussex Ultimatum, a decree stating that the U.S. would end all relations with Germany if they attacked another unarmed vessels.
US Entry into World War I
However, just because the United States had declared neutrality- didn't mean that the United States was able to avoid the conflict.
After all- the growing US economy relied heavily on overseas trade- a fact both the Allies and Central powers were aware of- and willing to exploit.
Yet with the British policy firmly in place- Americans ship were often found and held for months while they were searched by British forces.
•Over time, these tactics proved to be highly effective- and—trade between the United States and Germany dropped off dramatically between 1914 and 1916.
•Again, Wilson responded with frustration announcing that Germany would be held to “strict accountability” if they injured American ships or citizens.
After the Lusitania incident many openly called for war- but still President Woodrow Wilson remained cautious against any action that would bring America into the battle.
After all, Wilson was up for reelection in 1916- and he certainly wouldn't win without German-American support.
• About one month later, Wilson issued a second, more strongly worded note much to the anger of many in the government who felt the letter would provoke a war with Germany.
• Again, Germany signaled that they would cut off their attack- with one major stipulation: the United States would have to persuade the Allies to stop blockading Germany.