America's Emergence as A World Power
America's Emergence As A World Power
Woodrow Wilson's Declaration of Neutrality … 83
Woodrow Wilson's War Message … 91
Woodrow Wilson's Fourteen Points … 101
The United States experienced far less loss of life than its allies in World War I, and none of the physical devastation that was visited upon France, Italy, Belgium, and several other Allied countries. Nevertheless, the United States was profoundly changed by its involvement in World War I. When the war started in August 1914, the U.S. government was strongly committed to neutrality (not taking sides) and thought that it could avoid the problems of a European war. As the war progressed, however, it became obvious that neutrality was no longer possible. American ships were regularly sunk by German submarines, and France and Great Britain, longtime friends of America, implored the United States to enter the war. Finally, in 1917, America ended its policy of neutrality and joined the Allies (led by France, Great Britain, Belgium, and Italy) in their fight against the Central Powers (Germany and Austria-Hungary).
The U.S.'s decision to declare war on Germany on April 6, 1917, ended something besides three years of neutrality: It marked an important shift in American foreign policy. Ever since America was founded, it had prided itself on keeping its distance from the diplomatic policies of European nations; policies which U.S. leaders believed to be corrupt. The United States, its leaders declared, would represent the interests of the people and would not engage in the imperialism (the policy of extending a nation's power by aggressively acquiring territory) and secret treaties favored by autocratic European leaders. Thus for hundreds of years the United States pursued a policy that has been termed "isolationism," steadfastly avoiding entanglement in European problems.
By the turn of the twentieth century, however, it had become increasingly difficult for the United States to maintain isolation from world affairs. The American economy grew rapidly in the nineteenth century, and American businessmen looked for foreign markets for their goods. By the time World War I started, Americans were thoroughly engaged in foreign trade and depended on nations throughout the world for the exchange of goods. Could the United States remain a neutral trading partner of European countries who were engaged in a bloody war with each other? In truth, it could not.
Although American merchants provided supplies to both Allied and Central Powers at the beginning of the war, the North Sea blockade that England enforced against Germany quickly made trade difficult with the Central Powers. American merchants soon were providing goods mostly to Allied countries, especially England. Germany wanted such trade to stop, for it knew that a well-supplied England was a strong England. To disrupt trade between America and England, German submarines sometimes stopped American ships and seized goods. Such polite and bloodless seizures did not stop American merchants from trading and Germany soon made more aggressive attacks on American merchant ships. German submarines began attacking and sinking American and other neutral vessels, killing those aboard. Trading with mainly Allied nations had broken the bonds of neutrality in Germany's opinion, and Germany treated American merchants as opponents in the war. To protect its economic interests and the lives of its citizens, the United States would have to engage in warfare.
The decision to enter the war alongside the Allies was not an easy one. There was a deep belief among many American citizens and politicians that the United States should stay
out of the war. President Woodrow Wilson (1856–1924) originally shared this firm belief in U.S. neutrality, but eventually he came to believe that America must fight in order to put an end to the terrible war and lay the plans for peaceful interactions between countries after the war. He called for the entrance of the United States into the war not just to protect American lives but to make the world "safe for democracy."
The documents excerpted in this chapter show the slow development of the official American policies regarding the war. The first document, Declaration of Neutrality, is from a speech given by President Wilson to the Senate just after the start of the war. In this speech Wilson asks Americans to stay neutral "in fact as well as in name" (which meant to speak and act in impartial ways toward the Central Powers and the Allies) so that they may act as impartial (fair) mediators in the war. The second document is Woodrow Wilson's War Message, issued on April 2, 1917. In this message, Wilson explains to Congress why the United States can no longer remain neutral. The final document is arguably the single most important diplomatic document of the entire war; it is known as Woodrow Wilson's Fourteen Points. In this address, given before Congress on January 8, 1918, Wilson proposes ground rules for establishing peace between the Allies and the Central Powers. The Fourteen Points became the basis on which the Allies eventually negotiated the Treaty of Versailles—the agreement that officially ended World War I. Wilson's Fourteen Points speech is also important because it shows Wilson pushing America to venture even further in its engagement with international politics. Wilson wanted the United States to lead an international rule-making body called the League of Nations. Though Wilson's isolationist opponents in Congress kept the United States from joining the League of Nations, Wilson's idea that America should become more involved in world affairs became the dominant force in U.S. foreign policy following World War II (1939–45).
Autocratic: Unlimited power.