America and the Great War
Human history knows many wars. However, one of the most terrible and devastating wars was the Great War. All the major countries of the world participated in it. More than four years – from 1 August 1914 to 11 November 1918 – lasted the First World War. It involved 38 states with a population of 1 billion people. Despite the fact that the state winners mainly blamed Germany as a initiator of the war, this war arose because of certain historical reasons and immediate causes. What is more, every country had its own reasons, which mainly were just territorial claims. However, there are some factors, which had the biggest influence on the outbreak of the Great War.
Militarism is a policy of military build-up and increased military preparations. It has become one of the main causes of World War I. A great race of armaments started throughout Europe and generated hostilities and hatred among nations. The armies of the main European states had doubled; it led to a fierce competition among them. The strongest militarism was in Germany because Germany as a new dynamic empire aspired to a full leadership on the continent, which included military aspects. Militarism was driven by the emergence of new technologies in industrial production, namely new weapons. Also, a huge experience in previous wars, such as the Crimean War and Russo-Japanese War, had a great influence on the appearance of militarism. According to Llewellyn (2014), militarism alone did not start World War I, but it formed an environment where war, rather than diplomacy, was considered the best way of resolving international disputes.
Aggressive nationalism was responsible for World War I too. It created a quite favorable atmosphere for arising of hostilities. Nationalism began as an intense form of patriotism, when some nations started regarding themselves superior to other nations. While British nationalism was a manifestation of a century prosperity and comparative peace, German nationalism was a kind of a new phenomenon, which emerged because of the unification of Germany in 1871. The ambitions of the German Kaiser William II were increasing, and it led to the strengthening of the German influence in every part of the world. It came into serious conflicts with the all the major powers of Europe, except Austria-Hungary, which was very close to Germany because of the common ideas, history, and language.
Another form of nationalism arose in Southern and Eastern Europe. The movement concerned with the integrity of the Slavic Peoples was called Pan-Slavism. Slavic nationalism became the most powerful force in Serbia. Pan-Slavism acted against the control of Austro-Hungarian Empire over the region. Radical Slavic youth joined nationalist organizations, which aimed at driving Austria-Hungary from the Balkans and creating a unified state for all Slavic people. All in all, the strength of Pan-Slavism is proved by the fact that in the course of a century, it never quite disappeared (Levine, 2012).
Imperialism also contributed to the outbreak of the Great War. It is defined as a policy of extending a state’s influence and power through different means, which include colonization, military force, and others. Gathering colonies was the main tool of imperialism. At that time, France and Britain were the largest empires with their numerous colonies in Africa, Asia and Pacific. However, Germany would not stop trying to gain more power, become wealthier, and build its international image. The state wanted to have some colonies where it could gather raw materials and cheap labor. Actually, all these controversies on the distribution of the colonies led to strained relations among the main European state-actors. For instance, France rivaled with Germany over Morocco having caused two Moroccan crises; Italy rivaled with France over Tunis; and Britain and France nearly began the war over Sudan.
An alliance is a coalition between two parties or more aimed at reaching common political goals and interests. These agreements meant that if one country was attacked, allied countries had to defend it. The six major powers in Europe assembled in two opposing alliances: Triple Entente (Britain, France and Russia) and Triple Alliance (Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy). These states, with the exception of Italy, created the two warring sides in the Great War.
The chain of alliances involved so many countries in the World War I. Initially, Russia decided to defend Serbia from the intervention of Austria-Hungary; then Germany, which saw Russia mobilizing, declared war on Russia. After these events, France started military actions against Germany and Austria-Hungary. Then Germany attacked France and pulled Britain into the war; Japan entered the war. Later, the United States and Italy joined on the side of the Triple Entente. At that time, the Ottoman Empire and Bulgaria entered the war on the side of the Triple Alliance.
America Entrances into the War
The United States conducted the policy of non-interventionism under President Woodrow Wilson. Foreign policy was based on the Monroe Doctrine (1823), and strong isolationist circles in the United States restrained the country’s entry to any of the blocks. Public opinion played an important role as people preferred neutrality; these views were the strongest among German Americans and Irish Americans, who had grievances against some of the Allied powers (Hanlon, 1992). Also, these sentiments spread among women, church leaders, and Southern farmers. The economy of the United States was on a peaceful scale; the position of a neutral state made it possible to trade profitably with almost all countries because economic problems, which emerged in all warring powers, not actually affected Americans. Wilson decided to take on a mediating role between to alliances.
Meanwhile, starting from October 1915, the trade and credit policy of the United States became more closely linked with the economy of the Triple Entente, and Germany began its submarine warfare at that time. In May 19I5, the British passenger liner RMS Lusitania sank with 128 Americans aboard in the defiance of international law. This led Wilson to serious thoughts on the possible entry into the war, but anti-war sentiments in the American society suspended the implementation of these intentions. What is more, Germany eventually agreed to stop unrestricted submarine warfare, but only after Wilson’s threats to apply drastic measures.
Since October 1916, German provocations against the US became more frequent. In 1917, they openly declared the willingness to sink every enemy suspicious merchant or transport ship. This decision was directed primarily against the US ships. Moreover, Germany began threatening the United States that in case of the breach of neutrality it will create an alliance with Mexico and help it return the captured territories. All these events and news about terrible financial situation with the Triple Entente finally convinced Wilson in the need for the US to enter into the war on the Allied side. This decision was announced on April 2, 1917 at a meeting of the US Congress.
America's Contribution to the War
In particular, the United States helped to bring the war to an end. U.S. military power became a big surprise for the German Kaiser. At that time, Germans were pretty close to the total exhaustion, but so were the French and British Empire armies. The United States contributed millions of troops to the side of the Triple Entente; thereby, this action strengthened the industrial force of the Allies and helped them end the warfare faster.
The Role of President Woodrow Wilson
By the end of the war, President Woodrow Wilson proposed the Fourteen Points, which outlined his vision for a safer world: free trade barriers, end of the secret diplomacy, respect for national self-determination, and reduction of armaments. Unfortunately, European leaders could not support Wilson because they had some other ideas.
All the main decisions were made at the Paris Peace Conference. Wilson was one of the principal authors of the Treaty of Versailles (1919) signed by the winners of the First World War (the US, Britain, the French Republic, the Kingdom of Italy, the Empire of Japan, Belgium, etc.) from the one side and defeated Germany from the other. However, strong anti-interventionist mood dominated in the United States. After America entered the war, many Americans wanted to free themselves from European affairs as soon as possible. Therefore, the Treaty of Versailles was not ratified by the US Senate.
Apart from this, Woodrow Wilson was the initiator of the creation of the League of Nations, the important part of the Treaty of Versailles. It was the first international intergovernmental organization established to promote cooperation, peace, and security among nations. Perhaps the absence of such a significant power as the United States had a negative impact on the activities of the League of Nations. In fact, it was not effective and unable to maintain peace and balance among international actors.
All in all, the United States undoubtedly made a valuable contribution to the triple Entente in the Great War. However, after the end of the warfare, America returned to the policy of isolationism because of the fears from the side of both population and senators that the United States will lose its freedom and independence by joining the treaty.
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