The First World War was quite a turning point in the history of humanity, not only because of the great number of countries involved into it, but also because of the use of new powerful weapons causing mass deaths and leading to awful casualty rates. The USA President Woodrow Wilson tried his best not to enter this devastating war. However, in 1917 he had to change his policy.
The decision of Woodrow Wilson to enter the war with Germany seems quite controversial after one comes to think about the major slogan of his election campaign in 1916 “He kept us out of war” . However at first Wilson did not want to get his country involved into the World War I indeed. Moreover, his reluctance to enter the war was approved by many citizens of the USA, especially such social groups as German Americans, Irish Americans, religious communities and women. Along with that most of the political, social and economic leaders of the USA were of Scottish or English descent which undoubtedly influenced their political views. Quite a lot of outstanding American people were pro-British and wanted Britain to win. Nonetheless even they did not wish America to enter into the war at first. It was after the sinking of the passenger liner RMS Lusitania with American citizens on board when public resentment over the German actions first rose to a significant point in the USA. “In sinking the cruise liner, Germany had ostensibly acted against International Cruiser Rules, which allowed nations to destroy enemy ships only when carrying contraband”. 1 Woodrow Wilson warned German that if the violation of International Rules continued, the USA would enter the war. For short time Germany stopped its all-out submarine warfare, but soon resumed it in early 1917. Thus all commercial ships headed toward Britain were to be sunk by German U-boats. Woodrow Wilson had nothing else to do than to declare war against Germany on April 6, 1917.
Wilson’s decision to enter the war was in some way a departure from historic US military and policy. First to mention before the World War I America preferred not to interfere in what was going in Europe. Besides previously British Empire was rather an adversary than an ally for America as the two countries fought against each other in the War of 1812. Moreover democracy and liberty were the two goals towards which America always proclaimed itself to be striving – a statement which does not pass very well to entering a war. However, in the circumstances mentioned above Woodrow Wilson seemed not to have had much choice so he finally got America involved into the war stating later that the war was fought for moral cause and in the sake of peace in Europe.
The USA owes World War I a significant change in its national security strategy and policy. With the National Defense Act of 1916 having been enacted, the country started to invest vast amounts of money into army and military technology, which the USA never did before. Among other points, this document enabled the President to mobilize the National Guard in case of war or national emergency. Besides, it authorized the expansion of Regular Army and Army Reserve. “The National Defense Act of 1916 was an important watershed in National Guard history.” 2 Woodrow Wilson understood that the country needed such an act after the liner RMS Lusitania was sunk by the German submarine. Faced with the necessity to declare a war the current government realized that the US military forces provided a poor competition on the international scene. The German army outnumbered the US army twenty times, despite the number of German population was significantly smaller. Thus, the US government came to decision to abandon some of the ideas of pacifism and create national military force which would be strong enough to defend the country in case of war and to make other countries feel more respect towards America. The National Defense Act definitely was a turning point in the American national policy.
The World War I can be characterized as an industrial war due to the changes which the Industrial Revolution of the late 19th century made in technology, social life and consciousness of people. The appearance of large factories and manufactories after the Industrial Revolution made it possible for large amounts of people to gather in one place. Most of people were living in large cities, thus it became easier for governments to agitate and control them. Technological progress was especially obvious, leading to unbelievable numbers of casualties at the front lines. For the first time in history the armies were making use of telephone, tanks, armored cars and aircraft. Guns, mortars and machine guns appeared as well as chemical warfare. Those were weapons which the history never knew before and they made people capable of causing mass destruction. “Technology created marvelously lethal weapons that industry could supply in large quantities. Thus, the mass armies could kill one another’s soldiers with awful efficiency”.3 Altogether this was an absolutely new level of war preconditioned by nothing else but the Industrial Revolution.
On January 1918 Woodrow Wilson gave a speech which is known under the title “The Fourteen Points” to a joint session of Congress. This speech became the basis for the conditions of German surrender. Wilson’s speech was generally welcomed by people in Europe but some of the most prominent politicians of that time were skeptical about Wilson’s optimistic proclamations. The Fourteen Points included the removal of all economic barriers, the prohibition of secret alliances between countries, the reduction of armaments throughout the world and the freedom of seas both in peace and in war. Moreover, Wilson suggested helping other countries to restore after the war, protecting territorial integrity and guaranteeing political independence of all nations. “His Fourteen Points signaled a generous, nonpunitive postwar settlement”.4 In general judging by the Fourteen Points Wilson’s views and intentions seem to be really good and worthy but unfortunately they could have hardly materialized.
Woodrow Wilson showed much of the pacifism and humanism in his actions and decisions, first trying to keep his country out of the war and then providing some really great and inspiring ideas of postwar settlement. However, taking the whole situation into account one may suggest that some of his thoughts were a little too idealistic.
Michael Doubler and John Istman. The National Guard: An Illustrated History if Americas.
Citizen-Soldiers. Dulles, Virginia: Brassey’s Inc, 2003.
Paterson Thomas, Clifford Harry, Maddock Shane. American Foreign Relations: A History –
Since 1895. Boston, MA: Wadsworth, 2010.
Steven Danver. Popular Controversies in World History. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, LLC,
William Griffith. The Great War. NY: Square One Publishers, Inc., 2003.