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World War I (WWI) is also known as the Great War of the First World War. It is one of the greatest wars to ever occur in the history of Europe. WWI commenced on July 28 1914 and ended on November 11 1919. This war involved the world’s greatest power assembled in two conflicting forces. One force composed of the Allies and the other group was the central powers.
Over seventy military forces took part in the Great War and this included more than 60 million Europeans. It resulted in the death of over nine million people through the use of great technology. The world war one stated in 1914. During this time, the United States remained neutral and the then president Wilson urged the Americans to remain calm and not to involve themselves in the war.
However, the United States was not able to maintain its neutrality due to some external forces. Many theories have been developed to explain why the US entered the World War I. Some people believe that, the United States entered into the war to defend itself against the Germans who were trying to violate its rights at the sea.
Others believe that, the US never maintained a neutral state and was actually supporting the British. They are still some people who believe that, the US entered into the war to defend itself against the declining economy caused by the war. This paper gives a brief over view of World War I, and how countries fought with each other.
It explains the international relations that existed between countries and how these were broken because of the war. The paper further gives an in-depth analysis of how the Germans waged war against the European countries and the circumstances that forced the United States to abandon its neutrality to take part in the Great War.
War between Germany and Britain and other Allied countries
Germany had about 28 models of U-boats. Five of these models were strong and would withstand the currents from the ocean. These boats measured about 64 meters in length and used two different types of engines that enabled the boats to move on a speed of 27km/h on the surface and 18km/h under water. The U-boats were armed with cannon and held about six torpedoes.
The captain of the U-20 (one of the boats that was strongest), was allowed to fire to the ships that came through the blockage zone. This was because the Germany wanted to stop any ship that supplied weapons to Britain (its great rival). However, this did not stop Britain from taking part in the war. To defend themselves, British ships attacked any of the Germany’s submarines anytime they saw them (Hook 1912). This made the U-boats to stay underwater for long periods of time in order to hide from the British ships.
On 4th February 1915, Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm II issued a warning that all British, Russia, and France ships be sunk in the waters. Ships from countries that did not take side in the war were not to be sunk although this was not guaranteed (Hook 1912). By this time, the United States was still neutral although its leaders could not bear with what the Germans were doing.
They warned the Germans that they would take appropriate steps in order to protect the lives of the Americans and safeguard its property. The president banned all private loans to quarrelsome nations as a way of constraining American involvement in the war. After one year in the war, most of the European nations had already expanded their cash reserve and therefore there was no need for loans. This forced the American president to lift the ban as a way of evading recession.
The Lusitania ship
A warning was sent by the German Embassy to one of the British shipping companies warning it that its crew was at very high risk of the Germans. This was because all the German ships were allowed to attack any ship that bore the British flag. Despite this warning, about two thousand passengers boarded one of the ships (Lusitania) owned by the company.
This was the largest ship measuring approximately 240 m in length. It was also the fastest ship in the company and could move at a speed of 48km/h. The Lusitania left New York for Liverpool with the captain assuring the passengers that they be safe since the ship would withstand any submarine attack (Mark 2).
As the Lusitania was moving across the Atlantic Ocean, one of the British U-boats (U-20) sank two ships in the blockage zone and all British ships were warned. The Lusitania was warned as well and on May 7 1916, it received another warning. This was after the U-20 was sunk in the blockage zone.
At this time, the Lusitania was headed to the coast of Ireland. The passengers boarding the ship had no information that their ship was being attacked by a German submarine (Venzon 10). The captain of U-20 ordered its boat to fire at the British ship and within 8 minutes the Lusitania was hit and sunk drowning more than one thousand passengers and this included more than one hundred Americans.
This outraged the Americans who were also shocked with the news and believed that it was time for them to enter into the war. However, the president held his ground and would not allow the Americans to involve themselves in the war.
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This example portrayed by America was not just an example of peace because it would not involve in the battle, but because peace is the only healing influence and not strife. Instead of allowing the Americans to take part in the war, President Wilson criticized the Germans and told them that the inhuman act was not to be excused (Venzon 12).
The Germans seemed to apologize although from the newspapers published in the country, they were found bragging about the act. The following statement was recorded from one of its newspapers;
“With joyful pride we contemplate this latest deed of our Navy. It will not be the last. The English wish to abandon the German people to death by starvation. We are more humane. We simply sank an English ship with passengers, who, at their own risk and responsibility, entered the zone of operations” (Hook 1914)
Unlike President Wilson, the former president of the United Sates, Theodore Roosevelt was not for the idea of neutrality. He warned the Americans that they should prepare for war. According to him, the country was supposed to gather weapons, expand the military through training and also build warships.
His fear was that, the US would suffer greatly if it was attacked without prior preparation (Mark 20). Despite these fears expressed by the formal president, the US still maintained its neutral state. Songs were composed criticizing the war and urging Americans not to be involved in war.
After the Lusitania, hell broke loose and the Germans continued to attack ships form the Allied countries including Italy, Britain, and France. A total of 37 ships were sunk by the Germans between 1915 and 1916; 24 of this ships belonged to Britain. Sailors were killed at sea and this proceeded to the land.
The war reached a point where President Wilson became worried of the US ships that supplied food to Britain. He feared that if he stopped these ships from supplying to Britain its economy would be destroyed. He was not ready to abandon the country’s European friends by failing to supply to them. However, continuing with the supplies put the ships at very high risk of being attacked by the German U-boats.
The Housatonic ship
On 3rd February 1917 a ship belonging to the US by the name Housatonic left for Liverpool, England. It shipped flour and other grains to England. After traveling for about 32 km, it was approached by one of German U-boat (U-53) (Mark 23). Two seamen together with a German officer left the U-boat and boarded the Housatonic questioning the captain about his intended destination and what he was shipping.
The captain was asked to load his passengers into lifeboats because the Germans had already decided to sink the US ship. The German officer told the captain that he did like what he was doing but had to do it because the ship was delivering food to Germany’s enemies.
The captain asked his crew to board lifeboats as requested and bombs were placed in the US ship by the Germans before leaving for their U-boat. Few minutes passed and a big explosion blew up the Housatonic sinking it. The U-boat and the lifeboats towed towards the shore where the American crew was rescued by a British ship.
The incident with the Housatonic ship outraged the president who would not advocate for peace any more and he asked his congress to cut off all the relations with Germany. Ambassador Bernstorff announced that;
“Unless the Imperial Government should now immediately declare and effect an abandonment of its present methods of submarine warfare against passenger and freight-carrying vessels, the Government of the United States can have no choice but to sever diplomatic relations with the German Empire altogether” (Bass 4).
This marked the end of over two year’s wartime diplomacy in the US. The Americans could no longer hold their neutrality. United States later received a threat from Mexico that made it enter into war. After cutting the relations, Germany was not pleased and persuaded Mexico to invade the American territory.
Zimmermann (a German officer) issued a telegram to the German minister in Mexico encouraging him to invade some of the major cities in the US that Germany had lost a couple of years before. Money was offered for the operation (Bass 7).
Zimmerman’s argument was that, if the United States was attacked, it had to fight for itself and this would prevent it from helping the European countries. This would provide an opportunity for Germany to finish Britain.
The United States enters into war
International relations between Mexico and the United states became tense. One of the border towns in the United States was burned by the Mexican and the US invaded Mexico to punish the person responsible. The Mexican government was splintered and it feared entering into war with the United States.
It was not until February 24, 1917 when the United States received the telegram from Zimmerman which was given on January 19. Having learnt about the telegram, the British had intercepted and decoded it then kept it a secret for over one month. Britain did this so as to release the telegram at a time when the United States would draw into war on their side.
After learning about the telegram, President Wilson asked the military to prepare itself from possible attacks from the Germans. The telegram was later published by the US state department although some of the Americans, who were opposed to war, regarded it as forgery (Keene 2). However, Zimmerman confirmed that he was the one who sent the telegram and this outraged the Americans. This marked the start of the war between German and the United States.
According to Keene (1), the United States entered the Great War in 1917 after the war had gone on for almost three years. Its entry marked a critical turning point in the history of America. For the Americans, the war took time before starting for the common man. The start of the war in America was marked by two years of conflict and agony when the Americans attempted to maintain neutrality.
On April 1917, America declared war against Germany for all the damage it had caused the country. At the start of the war (1914), President Wilson did not see any reason for the US to take part in the war. However, the war proceeded to the seas and this affected the American vessels and its passengers.
The president did not have a choice then but to declare war against the Germans (Jones 2). The president’s decision to enter into the Great War did not only affect the government but the nation at large. Millions of men and women in America were impacted by the formal decision. The Great War required support from different troops and also from a diverse network of labor force and volunteers.
Almost 15% of the American male populace volunteered to serve in the military in order to save they country from the Germans. The military together with some political leaders decided to fight along the western front and this influenced, to a great deal, the lives of a big group of the solders. The Americans who volunteered in the war were pleased in defeating Germany but the failures they encountered disillusioned them and did not see the sense of the sacrifices they offered.
Three US ships were sunk by Germany’s U-boats. President Wilson and former president Theodore waged war against Germany and vowed to regain the country’s peace. By the time Germany was being forced to sigh the Armistice, the Americans had already won the war (Jones 3).
The US lost about 50,300 set of soldiers against 4 million from other Allied war. By Armistice Day, the American troops constituted a third of the Allied troop and the number was still growing.
The First World War began with two major killings but ended with almost 14 million people being killed over a period of four years. Europe and the US entered the war from two different angles. The European powers marched into the battle in august, 1914.
However, most of the Europeans were prevented from considering the impacts of the Great War by the intoxicating does of patriotism. On the other hand, Americans took over two years to consider the impacts of the war on the national security and well-being of the Americans. By the time American made a formal decision to enter into the war, few illusions remained about the horror posed by use of technology such as firearms in the war.
Unlike the Europeans who entered into the war soon after it started, the Americans knew the kind of the war they were entering into when they decided to do so in 1917. When the war started President Wilson believed that all the nations that entered into the war then were abandoning their diplomacy by rushing into war.
At first, a number of Americans held the perception that the war concerned them directly and they ensured that the Americans remained in conflict over whose responsibility it was for starting the war.
The US tried to remain neutral but this proved to be difficult. Way before the president declared a formal entry into war, some of the Americans found it hard to remain calm. The United States was faced with the problem of remaining neutral while still protecting its economy.
A large number of American products were exported to Europe and this meant that if the county discontinued its trade with warring nations, then its economy would be hurt. The president of the US was up to fight for the rights of the Americans and was ready to go to all odds. The US was forced into the war as it tried to protect itself from the external forces. For instance before 1915, German had a policy that warned and allowed some time to pass so that ships carrying passengers would evacuate before they sank.
However, during this time, no warning was given and the Lusitania was sunk before been given time to evacuate. This incident killed more than one hundred and twenty Americans. As if this was not enough, another ship was sunk one year latter and at this time, the Americans were outraged at the violation of the rights to use the sea.
A group of Americans together with one of the former president Roosevelt demanded an instantaneous move by the government. The president acted to they plea by increasing the number of military forces and issued a warning to all the Germans. The US government could not just sit down and watch things as they went out of hand, something had to be done right away and this marked the start of the US involvement in world War I.
To many Americans, including Wilson, it warranted almost any act against it in vengeance. Expressing his feeling of revenge, Wilson cut all relations with Germany. Germans were not pleased with this move and it responded by ceasing its submarine warfare for two years. This warfare was continued in 1917 after the announcement of Ambassador Bernstorff who declared an end to the diplomatic relations held with the US.
Bass, Herbert. America’s Entry Into World War I. Chicago: Holt, Rinehart And Winston, 1964. Print.
Hook, Vander. The United States Enters World War I. Essential Events Set 4. New York: ABDO, 2010. Print.
Jones, Jerry. U.S, battleship Press operations in World War I. Texas: Naval institute Press, 1998. Print.
Keene, Jennifer. World War I. The Greenwood Press “daily life through history” series. London: Greenwood Publishing Group, 2006. Print.
Mark, Henry. The US Army of World War I. New York: Oseprey Publishing, 2003.Print.
Venzon, Capriano, and Miles Paul. The United States in the First World War: an encyclopedia Volume 1205 of Garland reference library of the humanities. California: Garland Pub, 1999. Print.