The First World War was a terrible military conflict in which a little less than a hundred countries took part, and approximately 10 million of soldiers, as well as millions of civilians, perished (Foner 733). The war was provoked by a political assassination; due to the existence of numerous military alliances in Europe, many countries became involved soon after. The U.S. did not participate in the war at first, but events such as the sinking of Lusitania, the publishing of the Zimmerman Note, and the Russian Revolution convinced the American authorities to cause the U.S. to intervene. After the war, despite Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points, the Treaty of Versailles imposed severe restrictions and reparations on Germany, which added to the causes of the Second World War.
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Some time before the beginning of the World War I, a number of military alliances had been created in Europe in order to establish military dominance in Europe, as well as to maintain the possession of the European colonies in the “Third World”. Two major factions – the Allies (Great Britain, France, Russia and Japan) and the Central Powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary, and the Ottoman Empire) had emerged. The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, who had been to inherit the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, by a Serbian nationalist on June 28, 1914, caused a chain of happenings that led Austria-Hungary to declare war on Serbia. Due to the existence of the military alliances, the Allies and the Central Powers soon declared war against each other (Foner 733).
The U.S. at first proclaimed a neutral position; inside the American society, citizens of different origins supported different sides of the conflict (Foner 734-735). However, the British naval blockade of Germany stopped American vessels from trading with Germany, and in May 1915, Germany sank the British liner of Lusitania; 1198 passengers, including 124 Americans, died. This caused an outrage in the American society, and Woodrow Wilson initiated the policy of “preparedness” (Foner 734-735).
The U.S. remained out of conflict until 1917; in January 1917 Wilson urged the warring countries to agree to a “peace without victory”. However, Germany declared its intention to continue its submarine warfare against vessels coming to and from Britain (which it had previously stopped), and sank a number of merchant ships from the U.S. Furthermore, the Zimmerman Telegram was intercepted and made public by Britain; the note from the German foreign secretary urged Mexico to join the war that would soon be declared on the U.S. The Mexicans were promised assistance with reclaiming the lands that were lost to the U.S. in 1846-1848.
Besides, the Russian Revolution that overthrew the czar’s despotic rule further convinced the U.S. that they would be fighting for democracy if they supported the Allies. On April 2, 1917, Woodrow Wilson asked the Congress to declare war on Germany; the respective resolution was passed after that (Foner 735).
However, significant American forces came to Europe only in spring 1918. The next turn of the Russian Revolution in 1917 led to the signing of the secret treaties initiated by Lenin; according to these treaties, the Allies were to divide the lands claimed after the war. In response, Wilson, who proclaimed that American military intervention was needed to fight for freedom and justice, published the Fourteen Points in January 1918.
One of the aims was to convince the American society that the U.S. participated in the war because of the moral reasons. The Fourteen Points set a number of principles to be followed after the war; they included “self-determination of all nations, freedom of the seas, free trade, open diplomacy… and the creation of a ‘general association of nations’” (the last principle led to the establishment of the League of the Nations after the war) (Foner 736). The Fourteen Points had a large influence on the agenda of the peace conference which took place after the hostilities finally ceased.
In 1919, Wilson traveled to Versailles (France) to participate in the peace conference that would conclude the war. The Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28, 1919, exactly five years after Franz Ferdinand was assassinated. The Fourteen Points had a significant impact on the conference, and allowed to fulfill some of the aims of Wilson; the League of Nations was created, and a number of new, independent countries (Finland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Austria, Yugoslavia, and Estonia) appeared in Europe.
However, the Treaty of Versailles imposed severe restrictions on Germany, such as a partial occupation of German territories by France, a restriction on the size of the future German military forces, and tremendous reparations, which, according to various assessments, totaled $33-56 billion. These restrictions and reparations crumbled the German economy completely, and contributed to the sense of resentment among Germans that added to the causes of the rise of Nazism and the beginning of the Second World War (Foner 761).
As it was possible to see, the American society was initially divided, and the U.S. did not join the war when it began. However, a number of events (such as the sinking of Lusitania and the publishing of the Zimmerman Telegram) allowed the U.S. authorities to cause an American military intervention. Wilson’s Fourteen Points played a major role in the Versailles peace conference; however, the Treaty of Versailles imposed severe restrictions and reparations on Germany, which contributed to the reasons that led to the beginning of the World War II.
Foner, Eric. Give Me Liberty!: An American History. Vol. 2. 4th ed. 2013. New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company. Print.