World War I is also known as the Great War. The world conflict started in 1914 and lasted until 1919. “The war was fought between the Allies and the Central Powers. It changed the geo-political scenario of the world and witnessed the downfall of four empires in Europe: The German, the Austro-Hungarian, the Ottoman, and the Russian. The immediate cause of the World War I was the assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife by a Serbian in 1914” (Bruce, 11).
Although the main fight was between Germany and Russia over the supremacy in Europe, the United States and Great Britain got involved in the war due to political compulsions. “The United States entered the World War I on April 2, 1917 by joining the Allies. The participation of the US in the Great War was the beginning of American dominance in the world affairs. When the war broke out in 1914, the US maintained neutrality. The United States was only concerned about its trade and business both in land and sea. The continuous German activities on the seas in Belgium threatened the US trade.
The attack on the US ships and later the sinking of Belgian ship by the German submarine in which 124 American were killed forced the US to take on Germany directly” (Kent, 24). The decision of the US to participate in the war evoked a mixed reaction in the country. American population was divided over the participation of their nation in the Great War. There were a large number of people who supported the intervention of the US in the war. However, there were a significant number of people who took strong positions against the US participation in World War I.
Interventionist and Anti-participation Positions As the war intensified and causalities increased, both the hawks and doves argued over the US participation in the war. The ideological difference between the interventionist and anti-war activist was clearly visible. “Those who regarded the enemy or potential enemy as a threat to the American interests and establishments vociferously advocated the involvement in the war. They were termed as interventionists. The other group of people dismissed such views as baseless and believed that such reasoning was provided to justify the war-mongering attitude.
They urged the government to distance itself from the war and mind its own business” (Jones, 117). “President Woodrow Wilson, who announced to remain neutral on the eve of the World War I, had a tough time in dealing with the pressure on the home front. The public pressure made it difficult for the President to maintain neutrality of the US. When the US entered the war, interventionists welcomed it and supported the government. However, the number of anti-war campaigners was equally strong and they protested everywhere.
The US compulsion could be seen from the war message made by President Wilson, “It is a fearful thing to lead this great peaceful people into war”. It was a tough decision for him to go into war defying the anti-war sentiments of a large number of people in the country” (Herwig and Neil, 48). The interventionist position was based on several factors. One of them was the suspicion about the war aims of Britain and France. It was felt that Britain would gain from the war and can be a major threat for the US in trade and business in the coming days.
Another factor was America’s isolation from European turmoil. The imperial rivalries in Europe made people believe that the US had a role to play in the ongoing tussle in order to safeguard its interests. “The ethnic divisions in American society played an important role in the division of opinions among people. According to the 1910 census, one-third Americans were either foreign-born or the child of a foreign-born parent. A substantial part of that population belonged to the enemy countries such as Germany and Austria-Hungary.
They urged the government not to go into war with these countries” (Jones, 111). These differences of opinions forced the Wilson administration to launch an extraordinary campaign, which aimed at making the American opinion in favor of war. The interventionists were also in the opinion of punishing Germany for the loss of lives in the attacks on Belgian and American ships. They believed that if the US does not take any strong action, Germany would dominate both the land and sea and might pose a direct threat to the US economy.
They argued that Germany had waged a war against the mankind and the US had a responsibility to save the mankind from the onslaught of Germany to prove itself as a champion of human rights. The anti-war campaigners differ from the interventionists on these issues. According to them, it was Britain which created the war zones in water first forcing Germany to follow suit. They dismissed the views that US would save the mankind from danger and would protect human rights violation by going into the war.
They argued that cruelty and inhumanity could be found on both sides in a war and Germany could not be alone held responsible for it. They strongly supported the idea of non-participation and neutrality. Conclusion Difference of opinions exists in every society. The US was no different. However, the US administration did what it thought was necessary at that time. The United States participated in the Great War and a new era in world history began with the emergence of the United States as a superpower.
The impact could be visible later in World War II. The US became a major player in global arena after the World War I.
Bruce, Anthony. An Illustrated Companion to the First World War. London: Penguin, 1989. Herwig, Holger, and Neil Heymann. Biographical Dictionary of World War I. Westport, 1982. Jones, Maldwyn A. The Limits of Liberty: American History 1607-1980. New York: Oxford University Press, 1983. Kent, Zachary. World War 1: The war to End Wars. USA: Enslow Publishers, Inc. , 1994.