The Course and Causes of the U.S. Entry into World War I
The United States entered the war on 6 April 1917; it remained neutral before this date (Horne, 512). President Woodrow Wilson was shocked by the destructive nature of the conflict and concerned about its possible adverse effects in the case of a delay of the military action. He tried to mediate between the warring parties, but his peacemaking efforts were unsuccessful mainly due to the fact that both sides did not lose hope to win the decisive battle. Anyhow, American entrepreneurs enriched themselves during the period of neutrality through the trade with the countries of the Entente. However, a number of reasons forced the United States to enter the war. This paper will discuss the course and true causes of the United States entry into World War I.
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The Causes of the U.S. Entry into WWI
In the early years of the war, the United State remained neutral. This policy allowed the United States to grow significantly in the financial and economical way. The most important result of the American policy of neutrality was the growth of its power. Huge demand for American products of the belligerent countries stimulated a significant increase in the industrial production of the country. The policy of neutrality helped to strengthen the financial position of the USA. The Entente countries had to pay for all products supplied by the USA.
Purchases of the Entente in the United States reached colossal proportions during the war. If the amount of the U.S. exports to England, France, Russia and Italy was about 825 million dollars in 1914, then it became about 2 billion dollars in 1915 and 3.2 billion dollars in 1916 (Broadberry and Harrison, 28). The war materials occupied the first place among the goods that were sent from the U.S. to the Allied countries, and food products occupied the second place.
According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, just firearms and explosives were exported in the amount of about 470 million dollars to the Allied countries in the 1915/16 fiscal year (Broadberry and Harrison, 30). This amount is ten times bigger than that of the previous year. The growth of the US export was accompanied by a decrease in the share of imports in the total U.S. trade, which led to the increase in the active balance of the U.S. trade. Thus, if the excess of exports over imports in the United States was about 436 million dollars in 1914, it became about 2.1 billion dollars in 1916 (increased in 4.8 times) (Broadberry and Harrison, 31).
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The total value of goods purchased by the Allies from the United States for the entire period of American neutrality was 7 billion dollars. Part of this amount was covered by the goods imported from the Entente countries (1.6 billion dollars), and the most part consisted of securities and gold. Shortly after the beginning of the war, the United States turned from Europes debtor into its powerful creditor. Conversely, Britain and France, which were creditors before the war, appeared in the position of debtors. The United States of America became a huge military arsenal of the Allied powers (Broadberry and Harrison, 34).
However, the international situation started to change rapidly in the most radical way in late 1916. Hostilities on almost all fronts reached an impasse. It seemed the war had no end. Discontent of the masses and revolutionary moods grew in all the belligerent countries. Depletion of the material resources and the growing threat of revolution caused a sharp turn in the world politics from the imperialist war to the imperialist peace. The ruling circles searched for the fastest way to end the war through the separate negotiations or the last decisive battle.
Some people in the United States expressed the concern over the situation of the Entente countries. Their losses were enormous; the economy was weakened and the resources were depleted. The revolution in Russia had matured, so the kings surrounding was preparing to peace with Germany. The prospects of the Entente looked hopeless. Meanwhile, John Morgan and other American bankers had invested considerable money in the Entente project.
In fact, one could hardly talk about the possibility of the military collapse of Britain and France. The Entente countries maintained the massive economic potential in comparison with the German bloc, because they had an enormous number of external sources of supply (for example, colonies and semi-colonies) and the large and well-armed army and navy. The strategic initiative in the war passed fully to the Entente during the battles in 1916 (LaFeber, et al. 56). The Allies were planning major offensive operations just for the next year. This fact was known in the United States as well as the fact of an almost desperate situation of the Central Europe countries, which experienced serious difficulties with human and material resources in the war on two fronts and were cut off from the external sources of supply (Zieger, 35).
Therefore, the hypothetical possibility of the Entente collapse was not the reason that could push the United States to enter the war. Moreover, the ruling circles of the USA and the Entente realized that the Americans could not help in military terms because of the understaffed and untrained army. The UK did not rush the U.S. entry into the war and was even afraid of knowing the difference between goals and plans of both sides in the war, especially in the post-war redivision of the world.
On the one hand, the much more important and, perhaps, decisive cause of the U.S. entry into the World War I was ever-increasing depletion of material, financial and human resources in Europe (Doenecke 139). On the other hand, the reason was the accumulation of gold and the U.S. capital saturation. The business based on the military orders was becoming risky in terms of the monopolies because the war could suddenly end and orders would remain unpaid. In addition, the end of the war would have caused a crisis of overproduction. It would be difficult to get new super-profits from hungry and ruined Europe. American businessmen were frightened of the coming collapse of the European economy. They wanted to end the war before the complete exhaustion of the belligerent countries, especially Germany. The prospect of providing the poorly secured loans to exhausted Europe was not bright. There was just one the way out, namely to draw the United States into the war, to stimulate the military production and to ensure new maximum profits for the monopolies. Another reason that accelerated the U.S. entry into the war was the fear of the impending revolution in the belligerent countries. The American bourgeoisie was concerned with the widespread growth of peaceful sentiments and the popular protest against the high cost and hunger in the countries involved in the war.
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The final reason lies in the fact that the possibility of the war end meant the struggle for a new division of the world, so the United States would have to join the fighting on behalf of the Entente in order to participate in the worlds division on equal terms.
The Course of the U.S. Entry into WWI
Woodrow Wilson focused on the issues related to the foreign policy when he won the US presidential election in November 1916. He foresaw the aggravation of international relations, but, given the anti-war sentiments of most Americans, he posed himself as a peacemaker and a humanist. Moreover, he people from other countries to consider him like that, so he made a public appeal for peace that, in his opinion, was supposed to () cause the widespread sympathy and trust in the United States and its president. However, Germany was ahead of him and offered to call a peace conference on December 12, 1916 (Burns, Siracusa and Flanagan 151). Nevertheless, the State Department published the note on December 18, which received a great international response. It stated that the causes of war are unclear to the U.S. President and he asks the belligerents to clarify those causes and give the peace terms. However, he made it clear that the United States allegedly does not have any material interests and are ready to act for the sake of peace.
The note pleased people in petty-bourgeois and social-pacifist circles. However, the leaders of the belligerent powers did not feel delighted. They understood Wilsons note as an application for participation in the peace conference and, consequently, in the war and as a clear allusion to the secret treaties on the redivision of the world. On January 31, 1917, US Secretary of State Robert Lansing published a special statement, in which he inadvertently stated that the country was on the brink of war (Burns, Siracusa and Flanagan 152). Such an explanation of the Presidents note only increased anxiety of the belligerent powers and the Americans, so Lansing had to made a public statement that the United States does not want to abandon the neutrality (Kennedy 126).
Germany had correctly understood Wilsons statement as a sign of the U.S. imminent entry into the war and decided to forestall it by announcing unrestricted submarine warfare on February 1, 1917, allowing American ships travel to Europe on quite humiliating terms. In turn, with the support of the leaders of the Senate, Wilson announced the severance of diplomatic relations with Germany and the withdrawal of the American Ambassador to Berlin on February 3 (Burns, Siracusa and Flanagan 152).
Various ministries and departments were quickly, but carefully preparing for the war. However, Wilson suddenly went into the shadows and was silent for 23 days. There were rumors (weakly refuted by Lansing) that the president hoped to avoid the war. At the same time, the United States rejected the offer to negotiate with Germany, using the mediation of Switzerland. Sure, Wilson waited for some careless move by Germany in order to declare the war. It seemed as if German leadership was aimed to facilitate this task. A dozen of American ships were sunk by a German submarine. The UK Ambassador W. Paige had received a telegram intercepted and decoded by British intelligence and handed it over to the White House. It was a proposal from the German Empire offering a military alliance with Mexico and possibly with Japan against the United States. The telegram was sent by the Foreign Secretary of the German Empire, Arthur Zimmermann, to the German Ambassador for Mexico Heinrich von Eckardt on January 16, 1917 (Horne 213). The idea was not unfounded (considering the anti-American position of Carranza and longstanding subversive anti-American works of Germans and Japanese in Mexico), but impracticable. The Zimmermann telegram was beneficial for the United States, even necessary, that Wilson did not immediately believed in it, suspecting a hoax. However, German diplomats themselves confirmed its authenticity.
On February 26 Wilson finally appeared before Congress, with the Zimmerman telegram and a message about the sunken ships (Kennedy 141). After listing all the wrongs done by Germany to the Americans, he demanded to declare the armed neutrality and to arm the merchant ships. Even then, Wilson made it clear that he was not sure about declaring the war and was waiting for the reaction of Congress and the people. The House of Representatives approved the proposal of the President, but 11 senators (pacifists and isolationists) disrupted the adoption of relevant decisions and delayed the debate until the end of the session. Wilson strongly condemned those senators and published the Zimmerman telegram on March 1 (LaFeber, et al. 82). The furious chauvinist campaign rose in the country. Congress had passed the bill that provided on the allocation of 517 million dollars for the construction of the fleet, and Wilson signed it.
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The second inauguration of Wilson was held on March 4, and soon an emergency session of Congress was announced to be held on April 16. President, without waiting for Congress confirmation, ordered the arming of American merchant ships. Thereafter, the military preparations were held openly, and the newspapers and meetings talked about the actual war with Germany. Congress session was hastily rescheduled to April 2, when Wilson announced that the United States was in the state of war with Germany. Four days later, on April 6, 1917, Congress officially declared the state of war (Burns, Siracusa and Flanagan 152).
Of course, Wilson did not mention the true purpose of entering the war, and held forth on the establishment of perpetual peace on the earth, liberation of people, the rights of great and small nations, and so on. It is noteworthy that Wilson chose the formulation of the state of war instead of the declaration of war, because he wanted to shift the burden of responsibility on Germany. Wilson was able to stretch the procedure of the declaration of war for two months not because of the hesitation or any considerations about humanity and morality. He took into account the anti-war sentiment of the majority of the American people, and believed that few people would have responded to his call to fight in February-March.
Thus, the United States virtually entered World War I on February 3, 1917, and formally on April 6, 1917.
There is variety of reasons that forced the United States to enter World War I. It is believed that the United States entered the war because of the sinking of American ships by the German submarine. In fact, the United States entered the war due to other goals and reasons. After joining the Entente, the US began to provide loans to the Allies at a sufficiently high percentage. Such a move gave the country a chance to earn income in the future, as well as have some influence on the debtor countries. At the same time, the part of money returned immediately to American industrialists, who actively traded with the countries of the Entente during the period of neutrality.
In the authors opinion, the United States waited for a convenient pause for the entry into the war in order to best meet its interests without suffering large losses. In fact, the United States succeeded in achieving this goal. Firstly, the granted loans returned with interest, causing the great enrichment of the country. Secondly, the United States managed to get ahead and become one the worlds leaders because of the disintegration of old Europe. Thus, after entering World War I shortly before the end, the United States became the world leader in all aspects.