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America's Great War: Review

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In the book, America's Great War: World War I and the American Experience, Robert H. Zieger discusses the events between 1914 through 1920 forever defined the United States in the Twentieth Century. When conflict broke out in Europe in 1914, the President, Woodrow Wilson, along with the American people wished to remain neutral. In the beginning of the Twentieth Century United States politics was still based on the "isolationism" ideals of the previous century. The United States did not wish to be involved in European politics or world matters. The U.S. goal was to expand trade and commerce throughout the world and protect the borders of North America.

The American belief at the beginning of the war was that it would be short conflict reminiscent of the fight between Germany and France in 1870(Zieger, 9). At the time both the Allies and the Central Powers, along with Americans, miscalculated the impact the involvement of American forces could have for either side. The U.S. Navy was expanded and upgraded during the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt but the Army was still a minimal force.

To keep with the "true neutrality" the United States initially refused to aid either side with supplies or economic assistance. Once the battles became entrenched and a "war of attrition" began, the European nations continued to look toward the United States for aid. As American financial institutions and exporters sought guidance from Wilson's administration they received a different answer: "short term loans and credits by American financial institutions to belligerents in connection with trade were acceptable" (Zieger, 11). Americans could not over look the potential economic boost that could be achieved by supplying the European nations with food, supplies and weapons orders being requested.

Both sides accepted the United States' aid but they also sought to cut-off each other's supply chain. While the Allies barricaded Germany's ports with the British Navy, Germany began attacking merchant ships using their submarines, or U-boats. While Wilson was angered by the British tactics he was even more infuriated by the German's. This would be the ultimate end of U.S. neutrality as Wilson would sternly address Germany's actions and not Britain's.

In 1915 a German U-boat sank a British luxury liner, the Lusitania, killing 1,200 people of which 128 were American. The tragedy was enough to begin anti-German views in Americans but was not enough to bring the U.S. into war. Wilson's vowed to hold German's in "strict accountability" (Zieger, 23) of future American rights violations. The Germans agreed to not attack ships without warning. Wilson's harsh stance on German tactics and his non-equal treatment of Britain would lead to the resignation of his Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan and the end of the United States "true neutrality".

While the war raged on into 1916, the United States transitioned from a "debtors nation" into a "creditors nation". Between 1913 and 1916 American exports rose from 2 billion dollars annually to 6 billion. (Zieger, 16) While it was clear that the Allies were greatly indebted to the United States Wilson saw the opportunity to the U.S. influence to provoke peace between the warring nations. As American sentiment began rising about expanding an American army, most Americans believed that the United States had a responsibility to bring both sides together and resolve the war.

After winning the election of 1916 barring the slogan, "We kept us out of war!" Wilson began his "peace without victory" crusade. (Zieger, 44) He failed to identify the secret treaties that were entered between the Allies during the war and Germany's unwillingness to concede anything from a war they did not lose. When it was apparent that a "peace without victory" would be unattainable all that was left was a catalyst and the United States would enter the war. By all accounts it was the German government, who had become fed up with American treatment and policy against them which would prove to be that catalyst.

In 1917 the Germans sought to swing the war into their favor and resumed U-boat attacks and declared the British seas a war zone. At the same time they attempted to sway Mexico into a alliance with them in case the United States declared war on Germany. The "Zimmerman Telegram" was intercepted by Allied forces and given to President Wilson. Wilson asked Congress to declare war on Germany on April 2, 1917. While Germany had done nothing to threaten our U.S. security, Wilson said in his speech that we would enter the war "to make the world safe for democracy". (Zieger, 53) A point that later spurn the effectiveness of Wilson's influence over peace was that America entered the war as an "associated power" rather than a true Ally.

Zieger points out a great question concerning this vague reason for going to war: If the pathological character of the German state was truly the reason for American entry, why did Wilson take so long to recognize its irredeemable evil? (Zieger, 54) Other would question Wilson's motives and influences for going to war or not going to war earlier for decades to come. Wilson's vision of neutrality and facilitating as peace maker for the warring nations as Roosevelt did in 1906 (Davidson, 647) came to questionable end. Wilson's next vision would be to facilitate peace as a member of the Allies and secure the world from another such war.

From the beginning of the war women were more active in government social affairs. As they protested for both peace and preparedness their roles were expanding. As American men vacated jobs to go over and fight, more women began filling them. The Great War would prove to be the catalyst of a woman's role in the future of America. Woman abandoned their traditional domestic jobs and went to work in factories and for the military. With this also came discrimination from employers, co-workers and even the government. The status-quo of women's role in America was altered and no-one necessarily knew how to deal with it. Although this would set in motion the Nineteenth Amendment (1920) which would give women the right to vote.

The Civil War had been over for nearly fifty years, but African-Americans were still segregated and discriminated against. The war introduced the same new job opportunities for African-Americans



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