Americans in the Great War,
1914–1920 Learning Objectives
After you have studied Chapter 23 in your textbook and worked through this study guide chapter, you should be able to:
1. Discuss Europe’s descent into the First World War.
2. Discuss both President Woodrow Wilson’s attempts and the attempts of antiwar activists to keep the United States out of the First World War, and explain the ultimate failure of those efforts.
3. Discuss the response of Americans to the First World War and to American entry into the war, and indicate the extent to which United States participation influenced the outcome of the conflict.
4. Describe the characteristics of draftees and volunteers in the American armed forces during the First World War and discuss their lives as soldiers.
5. Examine the impact of the First World War on the American home front, including its impact on the federal government, business, labor, women, and African Americans.
6. Explain and evaluate the record of government at the local, state, and national levels on civil-liberties questions during and after the war.
7. Explain the differences and similarities between Wilsonianism and the provisions of the Treaty of Versailles.
8. Examine the debate over ratification of the Treaty of Versailles and American entry into the League of Nations, and explain the Senate’s rejection of the treaty.
9. Examine the impact of the First World War on America’s role in world affairs
In Chapter 23, we deal with the causes of the First World War, American entry into the war, and the political, social, and economic impact of the war on the United States and its people. The nation’s entry into the war is discussed in “Precarious Neutrality” and “Submarine Warfare and Wilson’s Decision for War.” Although President Wilson proclaimed the United States to be a neutral in the European conflict, three realities made neutrality practically impossible. Those realities confirm the interrelation of domestic and foreign policy (a dominant theme in Chapter 22). Furthermore, the discussion of the tenets of Wilsonianism and Wilson’s strict interpretation of international law reinforces the concept that a nation’s foreign policy is based on its perception of the world community of nations and of its relationship to those nations.
Besides the underlying reasons for American entry into the war, there were obvious and immediate reasons for that decision: the naval warfare between Great Britain and Germany, the use of the submarine by the Germans, and Wilson’s interpretation of international law as he attempted to protect the rights of the United States as a neutral nation. The authors’ inference that Americans got caught in the crossfire between the Allies and the Central Powers is supported through the tracing of United States policy from the sinking of the Lusitania to the adoption of unrestricted submarine warfare by the Germans. Therefore, the Zimmermann telegram, perceived as a direct threat to American security by American officials, the arming of American commercial ships, and additional sinkings of American ships by German submarines brought a declaration of war by Congress. Finally, America went to war because of a special sense of mission. The country went to war to reform world politics, war being the only means that guaranteed Wilson a seat and an insider’s voice at the peace table.
In spite of antiwar sentiment in the United States, the country began to prepare for war before the actual declaration, as can be seen in the passage of the National Defense Act, the Navy Act, and the Revenue Act. Once war was declared, the country turned to the draft (the Selective Service Act) to raise the necessary army. Even though American military and political leaders believed that American virtue could reshape the world, they feared that the world would reshape the virtue of American soldiers. To protect that virtue, the government created the Commission on Training Camp Activities. In spite of this, venereal disease became a serious problem within the army. Furthermore, American soldiers could not be shielded from the graver threat of influenza and pneumonia, and more soldiers died from disease than on the battlefield. Another serious problem in the American army—one that government and army officials did little to combat—was racism. Not only were African Americans segregated within the army, but they were also subjected to various forms of racial discrimination.
Mobilization of the nation for the war effort altered American life. Government power increased, especially in the economic sphere. Government-business cooperation became part of official government policy. Centralized governmental control and planning of the nation’s economy were largely successful, but there were mistakes and problems. Government policy caused inflation; government tax policies meant that only one-third of the war was financed through taxes; and, although organized labor made some gains, it usually took a back seat to the needs of corporations.
The war intensified the divisions within the pluralistic American society. Entry of more women into previously “male” jobs brought negative reactions by male workers. Increased northward migration of African Americans intensified racist fears and animosities in factories and neighborhoods. The government’s fear of dissent and of foreigners led to the trampling of civil liberties at the national, state, and local levels. In the immediate aftermath of the war, events both within and outside the country heightened these fears, culminating in the Red Scare and the Palmer Raids. The American effort to “make the world safe for democracy” brought actions on the home front that seemed to indicate a basic distrust of democracy.
Divisions also intensified on the political front, as the debate over the Treaty of Versailles indicates. In “The Peace Conference, League Fight, and Postwar World” Wilson’s Fourteen Points are contrasted with the actual terms of the treaty. The divergence was an issue used in the arguments of those opposed to the treaty and to American entry into the League of Nations. But the core of the problem lay in Article 10 of the League covenant. Critics charged that the collective-security provisions of this article would allow League members to call out the United States Army without congressional approval. The belief of many that this was true was at the heart of the debate against the League. Fear that the United States would be forced to forgo its traditional unilateralism in foreign affairs led the Senate to reject the treaty and American entry into the League of Nations.
The American experience in the First World War influenced every aspect of American life, producing consequences for the future. The war changed America’s place in world affairs to one of world prominence, and it continued to shape America’s institutions and decisions both at home and abroad long after 1920.
Listed below are important words and terms that you need to know to get the most out of Chapter 23. They are listed in the order in which they occur in the chapter. After carefully looking through the list, refer to a dictionary and jot down the definition of words that you do not know or of which you are unsure.
Identification and Significance
After studying Chapter 23 of A People and a Nation, you should be able to identify fully and explain the historical significance of each item listed below.
1. Identify each item in the space provided. Give an explanation or description of the item. Answer the questions who, what, where, and when.
2. Explain the historical significance of each item in the space provided. Establish the historical context in which the item exists. Establish the item as the result of or as the cause of other factors existing in the society under study. Answer this question: What were the political, social, economic, and/or cultural consequences of this item?