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World War I


World War I Guide


When World War I or the Great War, began in 1914, the United States was not immediately involved. Countries during this time were following policies of militarism, alliances, nationalism, and imperialism. The assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand was a spark that brought about war.

Alliances formed in Europe at the start of the war and how these alliances led to other countries’ becoming involved in the war. Though the United States was neutral, its neutrality did not prevent German U-boats or submarines from attacking American ships that approached their blockade of Britain’s shores. These attacks became a force on public opinion in the United States.

On May 7, 1915, when a German U-boat sank the Lusitania, a passenger ship. Nearly 1200 people died, including over one hundred Americans. Image of newspaper in the public domain American attitudes about entering the war remained divided. Many feared the loss of life and immense destruction that would accompany American involvement. Others believed that the addition of American troops and supplies would aid the allies to victory.

Eventually, American officials, including President Woodrow Wilson, ended the United States stance of neutrality when German resumed unrestricted submarine warfare on American ships. On April 2, 1917, Wilson requested a declaration of war from Congress. The United States began to send troops to fight in Europe but it was apparent that this was going to be a difficult war. Revolution in Russia had created a new communist government, and the newly formed country, the Soviet Union, withdrew from fighting against Germany. As Germany continued to attack France, the addition of American troops and supplies helped prevent German success. This resulted in Germany’s defeat and a call for the war to end.

Political leaders turned to diplomacy to end the war. The Armistice to end World War I went into effect on November 11, 1918, when soldiers on both sides left their trenches and celebrated. A cease fire went into effect until peace negotiations occurred in Versailles, France.

Ultimately, a peace treaty known as the Treaty of Versailles was signed in June 1919, in which one part of Wilson’s Fourteen Points for securing peace was included. This marked the creation of a global peace keeping organization called the League of Nations. This precursor to the United Nations was created to provide countries with a means to settle disagreements through diplomacy rather than war.

Unfortunately, the treaty did not create the lasting peace that Wilson envisioned. Germany was forced to accept blame for the war, pay reparations, and give up territories and overseas colonies. This created German resentment that would be a factor in the events that lead to World War II. We can easily see how World War I (The Great War) led directly to World War II, this was certainly not the case at the time. People then believed that such a conflict would never occur again, and it is difficult for us to comprehend that sense of relief.