America and Europe at War - Part One
A Reluctant Superpower?
America is increasingly criticised on the world stage for it's aggressive, almost imperialistic approach to politics. The Middle East is currently a powder keg which could erupt at any time and the United States has a finger in a lot of pies in that region. The world's only remaining superpower(although China may be very close), seems to many as a heavy handed battering ram whilst to others a necessary interference in order to maintain the 'status quo.' Following the attacks on the World Trade Centre, a very American, very Republican president promised vengeance and the rest of the world held it's breath as we all exclaimed, 'the world will never be the same again.'
Against the backdrop of an aborted invasion in the early 90's by his father, George W Bush unleashed shock and awe on a third world country with little means to defend itself. American military might devastated the already fragile country and 'W' sailed on the crest of a polls wave. Britain and the rest of the allies proudly followed in the war against terror and the hunt for WMD. Next on the hitlist would be Afghanistan and any other tiny, poor country completely unable to defend itself. Meanwhile more dangerous threats like North Korea and China are dealt some serious tough talk in the public domain.
These recent American conflicts and contratemps follow Grenada and Cuba and Vietnam and Russia and Korea and countless smaller infractions across the world since 1945. Stateside paranoia towards the evils of communism balloned in the fifties and sixties - or is that a little simplistic and perhaps unfair? A very wise man once said, 'with great power comes great responsibility' and maybe this pertains to Uncle Sam? Maybe the events of the late 19th and early 20th centuries changed America forever - infinitely more than any individual act of terrorism.
A Changing World
Historians have argued for years over how the First World War started. The truth is that this was a war many years in the making. Let's start in 1832, a time when the military power of the world was still Britain which,at the time, had a frosty relationship with the USA. The treaty of London was signed between the British and the Belgians which was a military alliance whereby Britain would defend the 'neutrality' of Belgium. In 1871, the Prussian Prime Minister, Bismarck, suceeded in unifying several German states after years of political planning and a manufactured war with France in which the new German empire took vast areas of France for herself - a fact the French never forgot.
During the next 43 years, a mesh of treaties between the French, Russians and British were signed. At the same time, the new German state had treaties with Russia and most importantly the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Britain had an informal alliance with Japan and strong links with the countries of the Commonwealth - and of course her territories around the world. The world's first arms race was taking place between Britain and the German Empire as both nations grew paranoid about the alliances and military power of the other. France was still seething and waiting for revenge after the war of 1870 and was keen to get Britain involved in any conflict. However, this was a time of British isolation and although she was part of a number of treaties, there were no plans to get involved in the dynamic situation developing on the continent.
This was a time of tremendous growth in the USA and the start of an isolationist attitude to the rest of the world's war mongering. Of course, America was struggling to put it's own country back together after civil war and war with the Mexicans over Texas, New Mexico and Arizona - a fact that would be used by the Germans in an attempt to keep the USA from signing any alliances with the British, French or Germans. The American navy in particular had grown strong after disputes over trading routes with the British over many years. US public opinion, however was very much against entering any conflict, indeed Wilson became President on an isolationist manifesto.
Europe is now smouldering with suspicion, treaties, paranoia and leaders trying to exert their power. France had undergone a third revolution and Russia was on the brink after a brief yet unsucessful war with Japan. Then, on th 28th June, 1914, a small Serbian group of nationalist called the Black Hand, assassinated the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne. Three weeks then passed as blame was attributed and tensions flared. Supported by the Germans, the Austro-Hungarians saw an opportunity to slap their neighbours down and assert their authority in the region. They issued a formal demand of the Serbians to bring the killers to justice or face the consequences. This had an emasculating effect on the Serbian government and she couldn't publicly capitulate and forego her sovereignty. The Austro-Hungarian Empire declared war on July 28th 1914.
The touch paper was now lit on nearly 80 years of treaty signing, conflict and border expansion. Russia, in treaty with Serbia, began mass mobilisation of her forces. Nervous by this, Germany declared war on Russia and by extension, Serbia on August 1st, 1914. France, bound by treaty to Russia, found itself at war with Germany and her allies. Germany invaded Belgium in order to base it's armies there in preparation for an invasion of France. Germany had asked Britain through formal diplomatic channels to 'tear up' the London treaty, signed with Belgium way back in 1932. Britain declined and on August 4th, 1914 Britain found itself, in defence of Belgium, at war with Germany and by extension it's ally, Austria-Hungary.
Of course at the time Britain had an alliance with Japan which declared war on Germany on August 23rd of 1914. Britain also had the assistance of her colonies and former dominions including Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India and South Africa. This was now truly a World War, the first one the world had ever seen and it was caused more by political alliances than any one great evil, territory expansion or indeed the assassinaton of a Prince.
Europe in 1914
The Giant Sleeps
Woodrow Wilson publicly declares in a congressional address that the USA will remain completely impartial as war rages in Asia, Africa and Europe. The address was given on August 19th 1914 and so began a policy that would remain in place until 1917.
The effect of the war upon the United States will depend upon what American citizens say and do. Every man who really loves America will act and speak in the true spirit of neutrality, which is the spirit of impartiality and fairness and friendliness to all concerned.
The spirit of the nation in this critical matter will be determined largely by what individuals and society and those gathered in public meetings do and say, upon what newspapers and magazines contain, upon what ministers utter in their pulpits, and men proclaim as their opinions upon the street.
The people of the United States are drawn from many nations, and chiefly from the nations now at war. It is natural and inevitable that there should be the utmost variety of sympathy and desire among them with regard to the issues and circumstances of the conflict.
Some will wish one nation, others another, to succeed in the momentous struggle. It will be easy to excite passion and difficult to allay it. Those responsible for exciting it will assume a heavy responsibility, responsibility for no less a thing than that the people of the United States, whose love of their country and whose loyalty to its government should unite them as Americans all, bound in honour and affection to think first of her and her interests, may be divided in camps of hostile opinion, hot against each other, involved in the war itself in impulse and opinion if not in action.
Such divisions amongst us would be fatal to our peace of mind and might seriously stand in the way of the proper performance of our duty as the one great nation at peace, the one people holding itself ready to play a part of impartial mediation and speak the counsels of peace and accommodation, not as a partisan, but as a friend.
I venture, therefore, my fellow countrymen, to speak a solemn word of warning to you against that deepest, most subtle, most essential breach of neutrality which may spring out of partisanship, out of passionately taking sides.
The United States must be neutral in fact, as well as in name, during these days that are to try men's souls. We must be impartial in thought, as well as action, must put a curb upon our sentiments, as well as upon every transaction that might be construed as a preference of one party to the struggle before another.
Compilation of European Troops Heading for War
Part Two Coming Soon
Part two will explore why America eventually entered the war, in what capacity and how they effectively ended the war. It will also examine Europe in the run up to world war 2 and the stance the Americans took.
More World War One resources
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