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America and the War

While armies moved across the face of Europe, the United States remained neutral. With the onset of World War One, the United States, despite its declared neutrality, rapidly emerged as the leading participant in the international munitions trade. During the period of its neutrality -- August 1914 to March 1917 -- the United States exported approximately $2.2 billion in war supplies to Europe. In 1916, the United States shipped more than $1 billion of arms in a single year. (The enormity of the American presence in the international arms market of that period is suggested by the fact that by 1920 the United States accounted for more than 52% of global arms exports.)

The fact that the United States, despite its proclaimed neutrality, was engaged in arms trade during the war served as an indirect cause of United States entry into the war. The British, seeking to stop the movement of arms to the Central Powers, established a naval blockade to deny aid to the German forces. Germany, in retaliation, resorted to increased submarine warfare, and on 17 May 1915 sank, among other ships, the British liner Lusitania with a loss of 1,000 lives, many of them American. The Germans claimed that the ship was being used to carry war materiel to Britain and was thus a legitimate target of war. Nonetheless, the attack was seen by the Americans as wanton perdition on an unarmed merchant vessel, and this event accelerated the movement to entanglement in the broils of Europe. Coincidentally, German submarine warfare began to erode American confidence in its "sea barriers."

As an item of further note, a prominent international lawyer of that period, Charles Hyde, petitioned Secretary of State Lansing to reduce the United States arms trade. Hyde noted that during World War One, the United States was becoming "a base of supplies of such magnitude that unless retarded, the success of armies, possibly the fate of empires, may ultimately rest upon the output of American factories." However, President Wilson saw this American output of munitions as "an arsenal of freedom."

In 1916 Woodrow Wilson was elected President for a second term, largely because of the slogan "He kept us out of war". On the last day of January 1917 the patience of President Woodrow Wilson broke, when Kaiser Wilhelm notified the American people that unrestricted submarine warfare would be commenced on the following day. Diplomatic relations were severed on 3 February, but the President decided to wait until the next overt act before asking Congress to declare war. He did not have long to wait. In February and March, several US ships were sunk and in March, the British Secret Service obtained the famous Zimmerman telegram, detailing German plans against the US under which Mexico was to reconquer the lost territory in Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. The note was deciphered and passed on to the Americans. Wilson sent his war message to the Senate on 02 April 1917 and war was declared four days later.

The US mobilized more than 4,000,000 troops, over 2,000,000 of whom were sent to battlefields in France under the command of Major General John J. Pershing. US Army and US Marine Corps units were integrated into joint infantry divisions. The Allies used combined campaigns successfully to wage land warfare in an environment of mass warfare and advanced technology. On the other hand, Germany, like Napoleonic France a hundred years earlier, failed properly to coordinate its land and sea power and eventually lost the war.

The 1918 offensive of the German army, carefully planned at Berlin, was intended to overcome the Allies before America could bring any effective number of her troops. To meet the successive German drives, which began 21 March 1918, the Allies under General Foch adopted the tactics of a slow and cautious retreat. In the July drive, General Foch felt himself strong enough to inaugurate a policy of counter-attack. The German's crown prince threw his forces forward in a slant across the Marne. Successive French-American attacks imperiled the position of the German army and brought about its retreat. The addition of America's forces to the war effort ended the bloody stalemate. German forces were undefeated in the field, although the allied nations had had some significant successes. But Germany's Kaiser Wilhelm II abdicated and German politicians were left to sue for peace.

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Page last modified: 05-07-2011 02:36:41 Zulu