AMERICA AND THE GREAT WAR 1914—1920
A. The Origins of Conflict
A complex system of alliances divided the continent into two opposing blocs.
In central Europe, the expansionist Germany of Kaiser Wilhelm II allied itself with the
multinational Austro-Hungarian Empire. Confronting them, Great Britain and France
entered into alliances with tsarist Russia.
On June 28, 1914, a Serbian terrorist assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to
the Austro-Hungarian throne, in Sarajevo.
With Germany’s support, Austria declared war on Serbia on July 28.
Soon Turkey and Bulgaria joined Germany and Austria to form the
—Britain, France, and Russia—were joined by Italy and Japan.
Britain drew on its empire for resources, using troops from India, Canada, Australia, New
Zealand, and South Africa. The war had become a global conflict, waged not only in
Europe but also in Africa, the Middle East, and East Asia.
B. American Attitudes
Most believed that the United States had no vital interest in the war and would not
However, neither the American people nor their president stayed strictly neutral.
German Americans often sympathized with Germany, and many Irish Americans hoped
for a British defeat that would free Ireland from British rule. But most Americans
sympathized with the Allies.
Like other influential Americans, Wilson believed that a German victory would threaten
America’s economic, political, and perhaps even strategic interests.
Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan was genuinely neutral, but most officials
favored the Allies.
Robert Lansing, counselor of the State Department; Walter Hines Page, the ambassador
to England; and Colonel Edward House, Wilson’s closest adviser on foreign affairs—all
assisted British diplomats, undercut official U.S. protests against British violations of
American neutrality, and encouraged Wilson’s suspicions of Germany.
British propaganda bolstered American sympathies. British writers, artists, and lecturers
depicted the Allies as fighting for civilization against a brutal Germany that mutilated
nuns and babies.
C. The Economy of War
Economic issues soon threatened American neutrality.
International law permitted neutral nations to sell or ship war materiel to belligerents and
with the economy mired in a recession when the war began, many Americans looked to
war orders to spur economic recovery.
But the British navy prevented trade with the Central Powers. Only the Allies could buy
Other Americans worried that this one-sided war trade undermined genuine neutrality.