World War I, known in America at the time it happened as the Great War, was not only an international military conflict but also a series of historical processes that changed American society and were reflected in populations’ experiences. Before the war, there had been attempts to improve the relationship between labor and capital, and part of the process was labor migration of southern African-Americans northward and westward. The war changed the ethnic composition of the working class, and the need for manpower reinforced labor unions and movements (Zieger, 2000); particularly, more women became involved, gaining more political and economic power in the home front.
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By the time the war began, more and more people in the United States believed that they were a great nation with claims to global leadership. Before that, the widespread view on American history was exceptionalism, and Americans were only willing to intervene in international processes or conflicts when a serious threat was recognized. However, such conflicts as Spanish-American War and Philippine-American War showed that the United States was interested in expanding its influence; this was demonstrated in World War I, as America became a strong global power, and expansionism continued after the war.
There was a heated debate in the American society concerning the county’s involvement in the Great War, and President Wilson was heavily criticized not only for the fact of entering the war but also for the way the United States carried out its participation. However, the debate was focused on the United States, and little concern was expressed about the impact on the international community. According to a historian Ross A. Kennedy (2001), the dominant belief was that the American nation had a mission, and entering the war and facilitating international relations upon its completion was part of this mission.
Wartime production needs to launch industrial expansion in the countries that participated in World War I, including the United States. More factories appeared, and since the process was rapid and forced, the working conditions for people in those factories were poor. However, the economic impact was the growing economic power of the United States, both internally and externally; also, the growing working class became a more active participant of economic relations in the country.
Before the war, the dominant mood in society was neutrality. The experience for entering the bloodiest war that had ever happened in the history of humankind was a significant shift, and this is demonstrated in the way most Americans in the post-war period were keen on the idea of American global influence (Ives, 2017). The very notion of American patriotism changed.
A key figure in the process was President Wilson himself, as he was an ardent supporter of the United States’ participation in international relations. His overall idea was that this participation was a crusade for liberty, but many assessed it as the continuation of the American imperialism (Zieger, 2000).
John J. Pershing, a general who commanded all the United States forces in Europe, was a supporter of promoting the influence, and he refused to integrate his army into the armies of the United States’ allies in Europe, as he insisted on having a separate American unit.
The allies, French Premier Georges Clemenceau and British Prime Minister David Lloyd George, were suspicious about the growing power of the United States, but they could not initiate confrontation because they needed help from the Americans in the European front. After the war, the United States wanted to become a superpower through facilitating international relations; the attempt to create the League of Nations, although ultimately a failure, demonstrated that the President of the United Stated positioned himself as a person responsible in a way for the world peace.
Ives, S. (Director). (2017). The Great War: A nation comes of age. Web.
Kennedy, R. A. (2001). Woodrow Wilson, World War I, and American conception of national security. Diplomatic History, 25(1), 1-31.
Zieger, R. (2000). America’s Great War: World War I and the American experience. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.