US Declares War on Germany - History

US Declares War on Germany - History

Wilson before Congress


On April 6th 1917 the United States declared war on Germany. The action took place after Germany resumed unrestricted submarine warfare and the contents of a communication between Germany and Mexico in which the Germans urged Mexico to invade the US.


When World War I broke out President Wilson vowed to keep the United States out of the war. It tried to implement a policy of neutrality. However with the British controlling the seas the United States willingness to sell arms to anyone who could pay it in fact became the major supplier of arms only to the Allies. The German one effective naval weapon against the superior British navy and that was its submarines. The German use of submarines contravened international maritime law and was strongly opposed by the United States. The sinking of the Lusitania in 1915 started turning US opinion against Germany. The Germans attempted to moderate their submarine campaign, however after their failure to win a victory in the naval battle of Jutland the Germans announced that they would resume unrestricted submarine warfare. That announcement resulted in the United States cutting off diplomatic relations with Germany.

The Germans fearing war with the United States once they began unrestricted warfare made that war inevitable when they sent what has become known as the Zimmerman telegram to the Mexico. In that telegram they encouraged Mexico to go war with the United States. The telegram stated:

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 of 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

Unbeknownst to the German the British intelligence services had broken the German diplomatic code and were able to provide the US the transcript of the communication. Once the Germans resumed their unrestricted submarine warfare public opinion turned strongly against the Germans. There was also fear among foreign policy experts that after their victory against the Russians the Germans were in a position the achieve victory against the British and French and that they felt would not be in the US interest.

Finally on April 2, 1917 President Wilson appeared before a joint session of Congress asking for a declaration of war against Germany. He ended his address by saying :

There are, it may be, many months of fiery trial and sacrifice ahead of us. It is a fearful thing to lead this great peaceful people into war, into the most terrible and disastrous of all wars, civilization itself seeming to be in the balance. But the right is more precious than peace, and we shall fight for the things which we have always carried nearest our hearts,— for democracy, for the right of those who submit to authority to have a voice in their
own Governments, for the rights and liberties of small nations, for a universal dominion of right by such a concert of free peoples as shall bring peace and safety to all nations and make the world itself at last free. To such a task we can dedicate our lives and our fortunes, everything that we are and everything that we have, with the pride of those who know that the day has come when America is privileged to spend her blood and her might for the principles that gave her birth and happiness and the peace which she has treasured. God helping her, she can do no other.”

On April 6th the Congress declared war. In the Senate the vote was 82-6 in the House 373-50


German declaration of war against the United States

On 11 December 1941, four days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the United States declaration of war against the Japanese Empire, Nazi Germany declared war against the United States, in response to what was claimed to be a series of provocations by the United States government when the U.S. was still officially neutral during World War II. The decision to declare war was made by Adolf Hitler, apparently offhand, almost without consultation. It has been referred to as Hitler's "most puzzling" decision of World War II. [1] Publicly, the formal declaration was made to American Chargé d'Affaires Leland B. Morris by German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop in the latter's office. Later that day, the U.S. declared war on Germany, with Germany's action having eliminated any remaining meaningful domestic isolationist opposition to the U.S. joining the European war.


At the First Session Begun and held at the City of Washington, on Friday, the third day of January, 1941.

JOINT RESOLUTION Declaring That a State of War Exists Between The Government of Germany and the Government and the People of the United States and Making Provisions To Prosecute The Same

Whereas the Government of Germany has formally declared war against the Government and the people of the United States of America: Therefore be it Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That the state of war between the United States and the Government of Germany which has thus been thrust upon the United States is hereby formally declared and the President is hereby authorized and directed to employ the entire naval and military forces of the United States and the resources of the Government to carry on war against the Government of Germany and, to bring the conflict to a successful termination, all of the resources of the country are hereby pledged by the Congress of the United States.

(Signed) Sam Rayburn, Speaker of the House of Representatives

(Signed) H. A. Wallace, Vice President of the United States and President of the Senate


Contents

WHEREAS, The Imperial German Government has committed repeated acts of war against the Government and the people of the United States of America therefore, be it resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That the state of war between the United States and the Imperial German Government, which has thus been thrust upon the United States, is hereby formally declared and that the President be, and he is hereby, authorized and directed to employ the entire naval and military forces of the United States and the resources of the Government to carry on war against the Imperial German Government and to bring the conflict to a successful termination all the resources of the country are hereby pledged by the Congress of the United States. Ώ]


Contents

WHEREAS, The Imperial German Government has committed repeated acts of war against the people of the United States of America therefore, be it resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That the state of war between the United States and the Imperial German Government, which has thus been thrust upon the United States, is hereby formally declared and that the President be, and he is hereby, authorized and directed to employ the entire naval and military forces of the United States and the resources of the Government to carry on war against the Imperial German Government and to bring the conflict to a successful termination all the resources of the country are hereby pledged by the Congress of the United States. [1]

In the House of Representatives, the resolution passed at 3 a.m. April 6 by a vote of 373–50. [2] [3] One of the dissenters was Rep. Jeannette Rankin of Montana, who later became the only member of either chamber of Congress to vote against declaring war against the Japanese Empire on December 8, 1941.

Of the 56 members who voted against the resolution, most represented Western and Midwestern states. Only three came from states on the Atlantic seaboard (Representatives Meyer London of New York, Claude Kitchin of North Carolina, and Frederick H. Dominick of South Carolina) and four from Gulf Coast states (Representatives Edward B. Almon and John L. Burnett of Alabama, A. Jeff McLemore of Texas, and Senator James K. Vardaman of Mississippi).


Document for December 11th: Joint Resolution of December 12, 1941, Public Law 77-331, 55 STAT 796, which declared war on Germany. 12/11/1941

Joint Resolution of December 12, 1941, Public Law 77-331, 55 STAT 796, which declared war on Germany, 12/11/1941 (National Archives Identifier: 299851) Series: Enrolled Acts and Resolutions of Congress, 1789 - 1996 General Records of the United States Government, 1778 - 1992 Record Group 11 National Archives and Records Administration

Following the Declaration of War on Japan on December 8, 1941, the other Axis nations of Germany and Italy declared war on the United States. Congress responded, formally declaring a state of war with Germany in this Joint Resolution on December 11, 1941.
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US Declares War on Germany - History

A t 8:30 on the evening of April 2, 1917, President Wilson appeared before a joint session of Congress and asked for a declaration of war against Germany in order to "make the world safe for democracy." On April 4, Congress granted Wilson's request.

America thus joined the carnage that had been ravaging Europe since 1914. Germany's renewal of unrestricted submarine warfare and the revelation of a proposed German plot to ally with Mexico against the US prompted Wilson's action.

President Wilson exits a
British tank during a warbond drive
Washington, DC, April 1918
In January 1917, Germany renewed its policy of unrestricted submarine warfare that it had abandoned in 1915 after the sinking of the Lusitania. All ships trading with Britain, including those of neutral countries such as the United States would be targets for their submarines and would be sunk without warning.

In February, the British gave the American ambassador in London a copy of an intercepted German telegram. The telegram came from the German Foreign Secretary, Arthur Zimmermann, to the German ambassador to Mexico. Zimmermann proposed that in the event of war with the US, Germany and Mexico would join in an alliance. Germany would fund Mexico's conflict with the US. With victory achieved, Mexico would regain her lost territories of Arizona, Texas and New Mexico. Release of the telegram ignited a public furor further enflamed by the loss of four US merchant ships and 15 American lives to German torpedo attacks. Read the Zimmermann Telegram >>>

Wilson realized war was inevitable but agonized over the decision for what it might do to the spirit of the nation. He feared war would change America forever, making her tougher, less humane. "Once lead these people into war, and they'll forget there ever was such a thing as tolerance . the spirit of ruthless brutality will enter into the very fiber of our national life . every man who refused to conform would have to pay the penalty."

Frank Cobb was Editor of the New York World and a confidant of President Wilson. On the eve of asking Congress for a declaration of war against Germany, the president asked Cobb to visit him at the White House. We join his story as Cobb enters the President's private quarters:

I'd never seen him so worn down. He looked as if he hadn't slept, and he said he hadn't. He said he was probably going before Congress the next day to ask a declaration of war, and he'd never been so uncertain about anything in his life as about that decision. For nights, he said, he'd been lying awake going over the whole situation - over the provocation given by Germany, over the probable feeling in the United States, over the consequences to the settlement and to the world at large if we entered the melee.

He tapped some sheets before him and said that he had written a message and expected to go before Congress with it as it stood. He said he couldn't see any alternative, that he had tried every way he knew to avoid war. 'I think I know what war means,' he said, and he added that if there were any possibility of avoiding war he wanted to try it. 'What else can I do?' he asked. 'Is there anything else I can do?'

I told him his hand had been forced by Germany, that so far as I could see we couldn't keep out."

The Consequences for Germany.

"It would mean that we should lose our heads along with the rest and stop weighing right and wrong. It would mean that a majority of people in this hemisphere would go war-mad, quit.thinking, and devote their energies to destruction. The President said a declaration of war would mean that Germany would be beaten and so badly beaten that there would be a dictated peace, a victorious peace.

'It means,' he said, 'an attempt to reconstruct a peacetime civilization with war standards, and at the end of the war there will be no bystanders with sufficient power to influence the terms. There won't be any peace standards left to work with. There will be only war standards.'

The President said that such a basis was what the Allies thought they wanted and that they would have their way in the very thing America had hoped against and struggled against. W.W. was uncanny that night. He had the whole panorama in his mind. He went on to say that so far as he knew he had considered every loophole of escape, and as fast as they were discovered Germany deliberately blocked them with some new outrage."

The Consequences for America.

"Then he began to talk about the consequences to the United States. He had no illusions about the fashion in which we were likely to fight the war.

Recruitment poster
1918
He said when a war got going it was just war, and there weren't two kinds of it. It required illiberalism at home to reinforce the men at the front. We couldn't fight Germany and maintain the ideals of government that all thinking men shared. He said we would try it, but it would be too much for us.

'Once lead this people into war,' he said, 'and they'll forget there ever was such a thing as tolerance. To fight you must be brutal and ruthless, and the spirit of ruthless brutality will enter into the very fiber of our national life, infecting Congress, the courts, the policeman on the beat, the man in the street.' Conformity would be the only virtue, said the President, and every man who refused to conform would have to pay the penalty.

He thought the Constitution would not survive it, that free speech and the right of assembly would go. He said a nation couldn't put its strength into a war and keep its head level it had never been done.

'If there is any alternative, for God's sake, let's take it,' he exclaimed. Well, I couldn't see any, and I told him so.

The President didn't have illusions about how he was going to come out of it, either. He'd rather have done anything else than head a military machine. All his instincts were against it. He foresaw too clearly the probable influence of a declaration of war on his own fortunes, the adulation certain to follow the certain victory, the derision and attack which would come with the deflation of excessive hopes and in the presence of world responsibility. But if he had it to do over again he would take the same course. It was just a choice of evils."

References:
This account was originally published in Heaton, John L. (ed.), Cobb of "the World" (1924), reprinted in Commager, Henry Steele, and Allan Nevins, The Heritage of America (1939) Ferrell, Robert H., Woodrow Wilson and World War I (1986) Kennedy, David, M., Over Here: The First World War and American Society (1980).


American History: US Declares War on Japan, Germany and Italy

STEVE EMBER: Welcome to THE MAKING OF A NATION – American history in VOA Special English. I’m Steve Ember.

Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor in December of nineteen forty-one was one of the most successful surprise attacks in the history of modern warfare. Japanese warships, including several aircraft carriers, crossed the western Pacific to Hawaii without being seen. They launched their planes on a quiet Sunday morning and attacked the huge American naval and air base at Pearl Harbor

(SOUND: Pearl Harbor attack)

ANNOUNCER: “We interrupt this program to bring you a special news bulletin: The Japanese have attacked Pearl Harbor, Hawaii by air, President Roosevelt has just announced.”

ANNOUNCER: “The attack apparently was made on all naval and military activities on the principal island of Oahu. A Japanese attack upon Pearl Harbor naturally would mean war.”

STEVE EMBER: Many of the American sailors were asleep or at church. They were unprepared for the attack. In fact, some people outside the base thought the Japanese planes must be new types of American aircraft on training flights. The sounds of guns and bombs soon showed how wrong they were.

The Japanese planes sank or seriously damaged six powerful American battleships in just a few minutes. They killed more than three thousand sailors. They destroyed or damaged half the American airplanes in Hawaii.

American forces, caught by surprise, were unable to offer much of a fight. Japanese losses were very low.

There was so much destruction at Pearl Harbor that officials in Washington did not immediately reveal the full details to the public. They were afraid that Americans might panic if they learned the truth about the loss of so much military power.

The following day, President Franklin Roosevelt went to Congress to ask for a declaration of war against Japan.

FRANKLIN ROOSEVELT: “Mr. Vice President, Mr. Speaker, members of the Senate, and of the House of Representatives:

"Yesterday, December seventh, nineteen forty-one -- a date which will live in infamy -- the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan. The United States was at peace with that nation and, at the solicitation of Japan, was still in conversation with its government and its emperor, looking toward the maintenance of peace in the Pacific …

"No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory…

"We will not only defend ourselves to the uttermost but will make it very certain that this form of treachery shall never again endanger us …

"I ask that the Congress declare that since the unprovoked and dastardly attack by Japan on Sunday, December seventh, nineteen forty-one, a state of war has existed between the United States and the Japanese Empire.”

STEVE EMBER: The Senate approved President Roosevelt's request without any opposition. In the House of Representatives, only one congressman objected to the declaration of war against Japan.

Three days later, Germany and Italy declared war on the United States. Congress reacted by declaring war on those two countries.

The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor ended the long American debate over whether to become involved in the Second World War. American politicians and citizens had argued for years about whether to remain neutral or to fight to help Britain and France and other friends.

Japan's aggressive attack at Pearl Harbor united Americans in a common desire for military victory. It made Americans willing to do whatever was necessary to win the war. And it pushed America into a kind of world leadership that its people had never known before.

President Franklin Roosevelt and his advisers had to make an important decision about how to fight the war. Would the United States fight Japan first, or Germany, or both at the same time?

Japan's attack had brought America into the war. And it had severely damaged American military power. But Roosevelt decided not to strike back at Japan immediately. He would use most of his forces to fight Germany.

There were several reasons for Roosevelt's decision. First, Germany already controlled much of Europe, as well as much of the Atlantic Ocean. Roosevelt considered this a direct threat. And he worried about possible German intervention in Latin America.

Second, Germany was an advanced industrial nation. It had many scientists and engineers. Its factories were modern. Roosevelt was concerned that Germany might be able to develop deadly new weapons, such as an atomic bomb, if it was not stopped quickly.

Third, Britain historically was one of America's closest allies. And the British people were united and fighting for their lives against Germany. This was not true in Asia. Japan's most important opponent was China. But China's fighting forces were weak and divided, and could not offer strong opposition to the Japanese.

Adolf Hitler's decision to break his treaty with Soviet leader Josef Stalin and attack the Soviet Union made Roosevelt's choice final. The American leader recognized that the Germans would have to fight on two fronts: in the west against Britain and in the east against Russia.

He decided it was best to attack Germany while its forces were divided. So the United States sent most of its troops and supplies to Britain to join the fight against Germany.

American military leaders hoped to attack Germany quickly by launching an attack across the English Channel. Stalin also supported this plan. Soviet forces were suffering terrible losses from the Nazi attack and wanted the British and Americans to fight the Germans on the west.

However, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and other leaders opposed launching an invasion across the English Channel too quickly. They worried that such an invasion might fail, while the Germans were still so strong. And they knew this would mean disaster.

For this reason, British and American forces decided instead to attack the Italian and German troops occupying North Africa.

British forces had been fighting the Italians and Germans in North Africa since late nineteen forty. They fought the Italians first in Egypt and Libya. British forces had successfully pushed the Italians across Libya. They killed more than ten thousand Italian troops and captured more than one hundred thirty thousand prisoners.

But the British success did not last long. Hitler sent one of his best commanders, General Erwin Rommel, to take command of the Italians. Rommel was brave and smart. He pushed the British back from Libya to the border with Egypt. And in a giant battle at Tobruk, he destroyed or captured more than eight hundred of Britain's nine hundred tanks.

Rommel's progress threatened Egypt and the Suez Canal. So Britain and the United States moved quickly to send more troops and supplies to stop him.

Slowly, British forces led by General Bernard Montgomery pushed Rommel and the Germans back to Tripoli in Libya.

In November nineteen forty-two, American and British forces commanded by General Dwight Eisenhower landed in northwest Africa. They planned to attack Rommel from the west, while Montgomery attacked him from the east.

But Rommel knew Eisenhower's troops had done little fighting before. So he attacked them quickly before they could launch their own attack.

A major battle took place at Kasserine Pass in western Tunisia. American forces suffered heavy losses. But in the end Rommel's attack failed. Three months later, American forces joined with Montgomery's British troops to force the Germans in North Africa to surrender.

The battle of North Africa was over. The allied forces of Britain and the United States had regained control of the southern Mediterranean Sea. They could now attack Hitler's forces in Europe from the south.

The Allies wasted no time. They landed on the Italian island of Sicily in July of nineteen forty-three. German tanks fought back. But the British and American forces moved ahead. Soon they captured Sicily's capital, Palermo. And within weeks, they forced the German forces to leave Sicily for the Italian mainland.

In late July, Italy's dictator, Benito Mussolini, was overthrown and placed in prison. The Germans rescued him and helped him establish a new government, protected by German troops. But still the Allies attacked.

They crossed to the Italian mainland. The Germans fought hard. And for some time, they prevented the allied troops from breaking out of the coastal areas.

The fighting grew bloodier. A fierce battle took place at Monte Cassino. Thousands and thousands of soldiers lost their lives. But slowly the allies advanced north through Italy. They captured Rome in June of nineteen forty-four. And they forced the Germans back into the mountains of northern Italy.

The allies would not gain complete control of Italy until the end of the war. But they had succeeded in increasing their control of the Mediterranean and pushing back the Germans.

One reason Hitler's forces were not stronger in Africa and Italy was because German armies also were fighting in Russia. That will be our story next week.

Our program was written by David Jarmul. You can find our series online with transcripts, MP3s, podcasts and pictures at voaspecialenglish.com. You can also follow us on Facebook and Twitter at VOA Learning English. I’m Steve Ember, inviting you to join us again next week for THE MAKING OF A NATION – American history in VOA Special English.

This was program #191. For earlier programs, type "Making of a Nation" in quotation marks in the search box at the top of the page.


Contents

The American entry into World War I came on April 6, 1917, after a year long effort by President Woodrow Wilson to get the United States into the war. Apart from an Anglophile element urging early support for the British, American public opinion sentiment for neutrality was particularly strong among Irish Americans, German Americans and Scandinavian Americans, [1] as well as among church leaders and among women in general. On the other hand, even before World War I had broken out, American opinion had been more negative toward Germany than towards any other country in Europe. [2] Over time, especially after reports of atrocities in Belgium in 1914 and following the sinking of the passenger liner RMS Lusitania in 1915, the American people increasingly came to see Germany as the aggressor.

As U.S. President, it was Wilson who made the key policy decisions over foreign affairs: while the country was at peace, the domestic economy ran on a laissez-faire basis, with American banks making huge loans to Britain and France — funds that were in large part used to buy munitions, raw materials, and food from across the Atlantic. Until 1917, Wilson made minimal preparations for a land war and kept the United States Army on a small peacetime footing, despite increasing demands for enhanced preparedness. He did, however, expand the United States Navy.

In 1917, with the Russian Revolution and widespread disillusionment over the war, and with Britain and France low on credit, Germany appeared to have the upper hand in Europe, [3] while the Ottoman Empire clung to its possessions in the Middle East. In the same year, Germany decided to resume unrestricted submarine warfare against any vessel approaching British waters this attempt to starve Britain into surrender was balanced against the knowledge that it would almost certainly bring the United States into the war. Germany also made a secret offer to help Mexico regain territories lost in the Mexican–American War in an encoded telegram known as the Zimmermann Telegram, which was intercepted by British Intelligence. Publication of that communique outraged Americans just as German U-boats started sinking American merchant ships in the North Atlantic. Wilson then asked Congress for "a war to end all wars" that would "make the world safe for democracy", and Congress voted to declare war on Germany on April 6, 1917. [4] On December 7, 1917, the U.S. declared war on Austria-Hungary. [5] [6] U.S. troops began arriving on the Western Front in large numbers in 1918.

After the war began in 1914, the United States proclaimed a policy of neutrality despite President Woodrow Wilson's antipathies against Germany.

When the German U-boat U-20 sank the British liner Lusitania on 7 May 1915 with 128 US citizens aboard, Wilson demanded an end to German attacks on passenger ships, and warned that the USA would not tolerate unrestricted submarine warfare in violation of "American rights" and of "international and obligations." [7] Wilson's Secretary of State, William Jennings Bryan, resigned, believing that the President's protests against the German use of U-boat attacks conflicted with America's official commitment to neutrality. On the other hand, Wilson came under pressure from war hawks led by former president Theodore Roosevelt, who denounced German acts as "piracy", [8] and from British delegations under Cecil Spring Rice and Sir Edward Grey.

U.S. Public opinion reacted with outrage to the suspected German sabotage of Black Tom in Jersey City, New Jersey on 30 July 1916, and to the Kingsland explosion on 11 January 1917 in present-day Lyndhurst, New Jersey. [9]

Crucially, by the spring of 1917, President Wilson's official commitment to neutrality had finally unraveled. Wilson realized he needed to enter the war in order to shape the peace and implement his vision for a League of Nations at the Paris Peace Conference. [10]

American public opinion was divided, with most Americans until early 1917 largely of the opinion that the United States should stay out of the war. Opinion changed gradually, partly in response to German actions in Belgium and the Lusitania, partly as German Americans lost influence, and partly in response to Wilson's position that America had to play a role to make the world safe for democracy. [11]

In the general public, there was little if any support for entering the war on the side of Germany. The great majority of German Americans, as well as Scandinavian Americans, wanted the United States to remain neutral however, at the outbreak of war, thousands of US citizens had tried to enlist in the German army. [12] [13] The Irish Catholic community, based in the large cities and often in control of the Democratic Party apparatus, was strongly hostile to helping Britain in any way, especially after the Easter uprising of 1916 in Ireland. [14] Most of the Protestant church leaders in the United States, regardless of their theology, favored pacifistic solutions whereby the United States would broker a peace. [15] Most of the leaders of the women's movement, typified by Jane Addams, likewise sought pacifistic solutions. [16] The most prominent opponent of war was industrialist Henry Ford, who personally financed and led a peace ship to Europe to try to negotiate among the belligerents no negotiations resulted. [17]

Britain had significant support among intellectuals and families with close ties to Britain. [18] The most prominent leader was Samuel Insull of Chicago, a leading industrialist who had emigrated from England. Insull funded many propaganda efforts, and financed young Americans who wished to fight by joining the Canadian military. [19] [20]

By 1915, Americans were paying much more attention to the war. The sinking of the Lusitania aroused furious denunciations of German brutality. [21] By 1915, in Eastern cities a new "Preparedness" movement emerged. It argued that the United States needed to build up immediately strong naval and land forces for defensive purposes an unspoken assumption was that America would fight sooner or later. The driving forces behind Preparedness were all Republicans, notably General Leonard Wood, ex-president Theodore Roosevelt, and former secretaries of war Elihu Root and Henry Stimson they enlisted many of the nation's most prominent bankers, industrialists, lawyers and scions of prominent families. Indeed, there emerged an "Atlanticist" foreign policy establishment, a group of influential Americans drawn primarily from upper-class lawyers, bankers, academics, and politicians of the Northeast, committed to a strand of Anglophile internationalism. [22]

The Preparedness movement had what political scientists call a "realism" philosophy of world affairs—they believed that economic strength and military muscle were more decisive than idealistic crusades focused on causes like democracy and national self-determination. Emphasizing over and over the weak state of national defenses, they showed that the United States' 100,000-man Army, even augmented by the 112,000-strong National Guard, was outnumbered 20 to one by the German army similarly in 1915, the armed forces of Great Britain and the British Empire, France, Russia, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Ottoman Empire, Italy, Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia, Belgium, Japan and Greece were all larger and more experienced than the United States military. [23]

They called for UMT or "universal military service" under which the 600,000 men who turned 18 every year would be required to spend six months in military training, and then be assigned to reserve units. The small regular army would primarily be a training agency. Public opinion, however, was not willing to go that far. [24]

Both the regular army and the Preparedness leaders had a low opinion of the National Guard, which it saw as politicized, provincial, poorly armed, ill trained, too inclined to idealistic crusading (as against Spain in 1898), and too lacking in understanding of world affairs. The National Guard on the other hand was securely rooted in state and local politics, with representation from a very broad cross section of the US political economy. The Guard was one of the nation's few institutions that (in some northern states) accepted black men on an equal footing with white men.

Democrats respond Edit

The Democratic party saw the Preparedness movement as a threat. Roosevelt, Root and Wood were prospective Republican presidential candidates. More subtly, the Democrats were rooted in localism that appreciated the National Guard, and the voters were hostile to the rich and powerful in the first place. Working with the Democrats who controlled Congress, Wilson was able to sidetrack the Preparedness forces. Army and Navy leaders were forced to testify before Congress to the effect that the nation's military was in excellent shape.

In reality, neither the US Army nor US Navy was in shape for war in terms of manpower, size, military hardware or experience. The Navy had fine ships but Wilson had been using them to threaten Mexico, and the fleet's readiness had suffered. The crews of the Texas and the New York, the two newest and largest battleships, had never fired a gun, and the morale of the sailors was low. The Army and Navy air forces were tiny in size. Despite the flood of new weapons systems unveiled in the war in Europe, the Army was paying scant attention. For example, it was making no studies of trench warfare, poison gas or tanks, and was unfamiliar with the rapid evolution of aerial warfare. The Democrats in Congress tried to cut the military budget in 1915. The Preparedness movement effectively exploited the surge of outrage over the "Lusitania" in May 1915, forcing the Democrats to promise some improvements to the military and naval forces. Wilson, less fearful of the Navy, embraced a long-term building program designed to make the fleet the equal of the British Royal Navy by the mid-1920s, although this would not come to pass until World War II. [25] "Realism" was at work here the admirals were Mahanians and they therefore wanted a surface fleet of heavy battleships second to none—that is, equal to Great Britain. The facts of submarine warfare (which necessitated destroyers, not battleships) and the possibilities of imminent war with Germany (or with Britain, for that matter), were simply ignored.

Wilson's decision touched off a firestorm. [26] Secretary of War Lindley Garrison adopted many of the proposals of the Preparedness leaders, especially their emphasis on a large federal reserves and abandonment of the National Guard. Garrison's proposals not only outraged the provincial politicians of both parties, they also offended a strongly held belief shared by the liberal wing of the Progressive movement, that was, that warfare always had a hidden economic motivation. Specifically, they warned the chief warmongers were New York bankers (such as J. P. Morgan) with millions at risk, profiteering munition makers (such as Bethlehem Steel, which made armor, and DuPont, which made powder) and unspecified industrialists searching for global markets to control. Antiwar critics blasted them. These selfish special interests were too powerful, especially, Senator La Follette noted, in the conservative wing of the Republican Party. The only road to peace was disarmament in the eyes of many.

National debate Edit

Garrison's plan unleashed the fiercest battle in peacetime history over the relationship of military planning to national goals. In peacetime, War Department arsenals and Navy yards manufactured nearly all munitions that lacked civilian uses, including warships, artillery, naval guns, and shells. Items available on the civilian market, such food, horses, saddles, wagons, and uniforms were always purchased from civilian contractors.

Peace leaders like Jane Addams of Hull House and David Starr Jordan of Stanford University redoubled their efforts, and now turned their voices against the President because he was "sowing the seeds of militarism, raising up a military and naval caste." Many ministers, professors, farm spokesmen and labor union leaders joined in, with powerful support from a band of four dozen southern Democrats in Congress who took control of the House Military Affairs Committee. Wilson, in deep trouble, took his cause to the people in a major speaking tour in early 1916, a warm-up for his reelection campaign that fall.

Wilson seemed to have won over the middle classes, but had little impact on the largely ethnic working classes and the deeply isolationist farmers. Congress still refused to budge, so Wilson replaced Garrison as Secretary of War with Newton Baker, the Democratic mayor of Cleveland and an outspoken opponent of preparedness. [27] The upshot was a compromise passed in May 1916, as the war raged on and Berlin was debating whether America was so weak it could be ignored. The Army was to double in size to 11,300 officers and 208,000 men, with no reserves, and a National Guard that would be enlarged in five years to 440,000 men. Summer camps on the Plattsburg model were authorized for new officers, and the government was given $20 million to build a nitrate plant of its own. Preparedness supporters were downcast, the antiwar people were jubilant. The United States would now be too weak to go to war. Colonel Robert L. Bullard privately complained that "Both sides [Britain and Germany] treat us with scorn and contempt our fool, smug conceit of superiority has been exploded in our faces and deservedly.". [28] The House gutted the naval plans as well, defeating a "big navy" plan by 189 to 183, and canceling the battleships. The battle of Jutland (May 31/June 1, 1916) saw the main German High Seas Fleet engage in a monumental yet inconclusive clash with the far stronger Grand Fleet of the Royal Navy. Arguing this battle proved the validity of Mahanian doctrine, the navalists took control in the Senate, broke the House coalition, and authorized a rapid three-year buildup of all classes of warships. [ citation needed ] A new weapons system, naval aviation, received $3.5 million, and the government was authorized to build its own armor-plate factory. The very weakness of American military power encouraged Germany to start its unrestricted submarine attacks in 1917. It knew this meant war with America, but it could discount the immediate risk because the US Army was negligible and the new warships would not be at sea until 1919 by which time the war would be over, Berlin thought, with Germany victorious. The notion that armaments led to war was turned on its head: refusal to arm in 1916 led to war in 1917.

In January 1917, Germany resumed unrestricted submarine warfare in hopes of forcing Britain to begin peace talks. The German Foreign minister, Arthur Zimmermann invited revolution-torn Mexico to join the war as Germany's ally against the United States if the United States declared war on Germany in the Zimmermann Telegram. In return, the Germans would send Mexico money and help it recover the territories of Texas, New Mexico and Arizona that Mexico lost during the Mexican–American War 70 years earlier. [29] British intelligence intercepted the telegram and passed the information on to Washington. Wilson released the Zimmerman note to the public and Americans saw it as a casus belli—a justification for war.

At first, Wilson tried to maintain neutrality while fighting off the submarines by arming American merchant ships with guns powerful enough to sink German submarines on the surface (but useless when the U-boats were under water). After submarines sank seven US merchant ships, Wilson finally went to Congress calling for a declaration of war on Germany, which Congress voted on April 6, 1917. [30]

As a result of the Russian February Revolution in 1917, the Tsar abdicated and was replaced by a Russian Provisional Government. This helped overcome Wilson's reluctance to having the US fight alongside a country ruled by an absolutist monarch. Pleased by the Provisional Government's pro-war stance, the US accorded the new government diplomatic recognition on March 9, 1917. [31]

Congress declared war on the Austro-Hungarian Empire on December 7, 1917, [32] but never made declarations of war against the other Central Powers, Bulgaria, the Ottoman Empire or the various small co-belligerents allied with the Central Powers. [33] Thus, the United States remained uninvolved in the military campaigns in central and eastern Europe, the Middle East, the Caucasus, North Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa, Asia and the Pacific.

The home front required a systematic mobilization of the entire population and the entire economy to produce the soldiers, food supplies, munitions, and money needed to win the war. It took a year to reach a satisfactory state. Although the war had already raged for two years, Washington had avoided planning, or even recognition of the problems that the British and other Allies had to solve on their home fronts. As a result, the level of confusion was high at first. Finally efficiency was achieved in 1918. [34]

The war came in the midst of the Progressive Era, when efficiency and expertise were highly valued. Therefore, the federal government set up a multitude of temporary agencies with 50,000 to 1,000,000 new employees to bring together the expertise necessary to redirect the economy into the production of munitions and food necessary for the war, as well as for propaganda purposes. [35]

Food Edit

The most admired agency for efficiency was the United States Food Administration under Herbert Hoover. It launched a massive campaign to teach Americans to economize on their food budgets and grow victory gardens in their backyards fort family consumption. It managed the nation's food distribution and prices and built Hoover's reputation as an independent force of presidential quality. [36]

Finance Edit

In 1917 the government was unprepared for the enormous economic and financial strains of the war. Washington hurriedly took direct control of the economy. The total cost of the war came to $33 billion, which was 42 times as large as all Treasury receipts in 1916. A constitutional amendment legitimized income tax in 1913 its original very low levels were dramatically increased, especially at the demand of the Southern progressive elements. North Carolina Congressman Claude Kitchin, chairman of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee argued that since Eastern businessman had been leaders in calling for war, they should pay for it. [37] In an era when most workers earned under $1000 a year, the basic exemption was $2,000 for a family. Above that level taxes began at the 2 percent rate in 1917, jumping to 12 percent in 1918. On top of that there were surcharges of one percent for incomes above $5,000 to 65 percent for incomes above $1,000,000. As a result, the richest 22 percent of American taxpayers paid 96 percent of individual income taxes. Businesses faced a series of new taxes, especially on "excess profits" ranging from 20 percent to 80 percent on profits above pre-war levels. There were also excise taxes that everyone paid who purchased an automobile, jewelry, camera, or a motorboat. [38] [39] The greatest source of revenue came from war bonds, which were effectively merchandised to the masses through an elaborate innovative campaign to reach average Americans. Movie stars and other celebrities, supported by millions of posters, and an army of Four-Minute Men speakers explained the importance of buying bonds. In the third Liberty Loan campaign of 1918, more than half of all families subscribed. In total, $21 billion in bonds were sold with interest from 3.5 to 4.7 percent. The new Federal Reserve system encouraged banks to loan families money to buy bonds. All the bonds were redeemed, with interest, after the war. Before the United States entered the war, New York banks had loaned heavily to the British. After the U.S. entered in April 1917, the Treasury made $10 billion in long-term loans to Britain, France and the other allies, with the expectation the loans would be repaid after the war. Indeed, the United States insisted on repayment, which by the 1950s eventually was achieved by every country except Russia. [40] [41]

Labor Edit

The American Federation of Labor (AFL) and affiliated trade unions were strong supporters of the war effort. [42] Fear of disruptions to war production by labor radicals provided the AFL political leverage to gain recognition and mediation of labor disputes, often in favor of improvements for workers. They resisted strikes in favor of arbitration and wartime policy, and wages soared as near-full employment was reached at the height of the war. The AFL unions strongly encouraged young men to enlist in the military, and fiercely opposed efforts to reduce recruiting and slow war production by pacifists, the anti-war Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) and radical socialists. To keep factories running smoothly, Wilson established the National War Labor Board in 1918, which forced management to negotiate with existing unions. [43] Wilson also appointed AFL president Samuel Gompers to the powerful Council of National Defense, where he set up the War Committee on Labor.

After initially resisting taking a stance, the IWW became actively anti-war, engaging in strikes and speeches and suffering both legal and illegal suppression by federal and local governments as well as pro-war vigilantes. The IWW was branded as anarchic, socialist, unpatriotic, alien and funded by German gold, and violent attacks on members and offices would continue into the 1920s. [44]

Women's roles Edit

World War I saw women taking traditionally men's jobs in large numbers for the first time in American history. Many women worked on the assembly lines of factories, assembling munitions. Some department stores employed African American women as elevator operators and cafeteria waitresses for the first time. [45]

Most women remained housewives. The Food Administration helped housewives prepare more nutritious meals with less waste and with optimum use of the foods available. Most important, the morale of the women remained high, as millions of middle class women joined the Red Cross as volunteers to help soldiers and their families. [46] [47] With rare exceptions, women did not try to block the draft. [48]

The Department of Labor created a Women in Industry group, headed by prominent labor researcher and social scientist Mary van Kleeck. [49] This group helped develop standards for women who were working in industries connected to the war alongside the War Labor Policies Board, of which van Kleeck was also a member. After the war, the Women in Industry Service group developed into the U.S. Women's Bureau, headed by Mary Anderson. [50] [49]

Propaganda Edit

Crucial to US participation was the sweeping domestic propaganda campaign. In order to achieve this, President Wilson created the Committee on Public Information through Executive Order 2594 on April 13, 1917, which was the first state bureau in the United States that's main focus was on propaganda. The man charged by President Wilson with organizing and leading the CPI was George Creel, a once relentless journalist and political campaign organizer who would search without mercy for any bit of information that would paint a bad picture on his opponents. Creel went about his task with boundless energy. He was able to create an intricate, unprecedented propaganda system that plucked and instilled an influence on almost all phases of normal American life. [51] In the press—as well as through photographs, movies, public meetings, and rallies—the CPI was able to douse the public with Propaganda that brought on American patriotism whilst creating an anti-German image into the young populous, further quieting the voice of the pro-neutrality supporters. It also took control of market regarding the dissemination of war-related information on the American home front, which in turn promoted a system of voluntary censorship in the country's newspapers and magazines while simultaneously policing these same media outlets for seditious content or anti-American support. [ citation needed ] The campaign consisted of tens of thousands of government-selected community leaders giving brief carefully scripted pro-war speeches at thousands of public gatherings. [52] [53]

Alongside government agencies were officially approves private vigilante groups like the American Protective League. They closely monitored (and sometimes harassed) people opposed to American entry into the war or displaying too much German heritage. [54]

Other forms of propaganda included newsreels, large-print posters (designed by several well-known illustrators of the day, including Louis D. Fancher and Henry Reuterdahl), magazine and newspaper articles, and billboards. At the end of the war in 1918, after the Armistice was signed, the CPI was disbanded after inventing some of the tactics used by propagandists today. [55]

Children Edit

The nation placed a great importance on the role of children, teaching them patriotism and national service and asking them to encourage war support and educate the public about the importance of the war. The Boy Scouts of America helped distribute war pamphlets, helped sell war bonds, and helped to drive nationalism and support for the war. [56]


Activity 3. The U.S. Declaration of War on Germany, April 1917

The third exercise asks the students to review primary sources so that they can write a brief essay answering this question: Was Wilson's policy of neutrality impossible to maintain during World War I?

The following documents are available at the EDSITEment-reviewed sites the Great War Primary Documents Archive and History Matters. Excerpts may be found on pages 18-19 of the Text Document.

After completing this lesson, students should be able to write brief (1-2 paragraph) essays answering the following questions:

  • Why did Wilson want the United States to remain neutral in World War I?
  • Why was neutrality so difficult to maintain?
  • What did Wilson hope to accomplish by bringing the United States into the war in 1917?
  • Do you think that U.S. entry into World War I was justified? Why or why not?

Students should be able to identify and explain the significance of the following:

  • Lusitania
  • "peace without victory"
  • "unlimited submarine warfare"
  • William Jennings Bryan
  • Robert Lansing

Some of the lesson's activities, especially those pertaining to the difficulty of American neutrality could be adapted and extended. Students could research the sinking of the Lusitania in 1915, for example, or Wilson's sending of his trusted adviser Colonel Edward M. House to Europe several times to mediate an end to the war. For more on the latter topic, see the text of the 1916 House-Grey memorandum on the EDSITEment-reviewed web site First World War.com

  • Once the United States was in the war, Congress and the Wilson administration faced the dual challenge of expunging lingering support for neutrality and mobilizing an ethnically diverse nation to join the fight in Europe. The American Memory project at the Library of Congress offers an online collection of recordings of pro-war speeches that could be played in class.
  • Likewise, students could be shown posters produced by the U.S. Food Administration, which encouraged civilians to conserve food and plant gardens
  • The negative consequences of mobilization included the repression of dissent and sporadic attacks on or harassment of German-Americans. For the latter, see 'We Had to Be So Careful': A German Farmer's Recollections of Anti-German Sentiment in World War I, at History Matters

There are numerous films about the American experience in World War I, though most relate to the fighting on the Western Front. The 2001 television movie "The Lost Battalion" dramatizes the plight of some 500 American soldiers pinned down by a German unit late in the war. A portion of the PBS/American Experience biography "Woodrow Wilson" details Wilson's struggle to keep the United States neutral.