In 1914, the United States spent nearly 100 years isolated from the conflicts on the European continent and the vast expanse of the Atlantic Ocean from its involvement with Europe. When the main powers of Europe will once again find themselves entangled in another conflict on the continent, everything was about to change. The U.S., under President Woodrow Wilson, originally maintained a rigid isolationist stance and promised to keep out of Europe’s affairs. The country’s opinion was firmly against being embroiled in a conflict in which we apparently had no interest. And if the President and the people of the United States were deeply opposed to the war in which we clearly had no stake. Even though the President and the people of the United States were firmly against the War in 1914 and wanted to remain firmly neutral, German harassment of American shipping in the Atlantic supporting the British would create animosity between Germany and the U.S. because the U.S. had tried diplomatic channels to resolve this dispute and Germany ignored the calls with a continuation of unrestricted submarine warfare in the North Atlantic.
With the advent of steamships and submarines, the protection which the Atlantic Ocean once offered to the United States and America’s near 100-year-long isolation was brought to a screeching halt. Also, the increasing involvement of the United States in globalization in the economic and trade areas with other nations necessitated U.S. involvement with overseas interests and governments. However, even with all these external pressures, there was still a dynamic pacifist movement in the United States. This is somewhat evidenced by one of the popular songs of the time “I Didn’t Raise my Boy to be a Soldier” which featured lyrics which echoed the popular sentiment of the time “Ten million mothers’ hearts must break, for the ones who died in vain” and “Let the nations arbitrate their future troubles, it’s time to lay the sword and gun away” (Gracyk).
The United States managed to stay neutral and simply supply England and France with needed food and munitions for the first three years of the War. President Wilson managed to keep a lid on the rising tensions and calls to enter the War by former President Theodore Roosevelt and Henry Cabot Lodge even as millions of soldiers lost their lives fighting in deadly trench warfare. While keeping a public stance of pacifism and isolationism, Wilson secretly began to push for “preparations for war” and the Congress passed the National Defense Act of 1916 which made provisions to increase the size of the U.S. Army from 90,000 to 223,000 over a five-year period. Finally, events which would unfold in 1917 would necessitate America’s entry into the war. Germany publicly declared, on January 31, 1917, that it was going to sink any U.S. vessels headed for England, France, or Italy without warning. Subsequent to this declaration, in March 1917, Germany torpedoed five U.S. ships in the North Atlantic. Soon after the German action, on April 2nd, President Wilson asked Congress to declare war against Germany which they did on April 4th.
America was now officially in the Great War. President Wilson immediately went about making sure that Americans were firmly behind the war effort and that all necessary preparations were underway. This was also a time when the strength of the federal government grew by leaps and bounds. In this atmosphere of renewed power at the federal level, President Wilson embarked upon a campaign to ensure that America’s involvement in this Great War would work to put an end to all future world wars. Wilson laid out his plan in a speech that has become known as the “Fourteen Points” speech because it lays out 14 separate conditions for lasting peace and stability around the world. The first five of the fourteen points endorsed open diplomacy between nations instead of secret treaties and other points of international diplomacy. The remainder of the points dealt with territorial claims to be settled at the end of the war. In this policy, Wilson was trying to institute his vision for a new world order but the plan would be hotly disputed and watered down in the waning years of his presidency by the two principles in the Great War, England and France.
Gracyk, Tim. “I Didn’t Raise My Boy to be a Soldier.” YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dQwEqhtGcW0&feature=youtu.be. Accessed May 9, 2017.
Shi, …… “… American and the Great War, 1914-1920.” …
Wilson, Woodrow. “President Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points.” The Avalon Project, Yale Law School, Lillian Goldman Library. http://avalon.law.yale.edu/20th_century/wilson14.asp. Accessed May 9, 2017.