The US Waiting to Enter WWI
July 1914 was the start of the first war that swept across Europe and reached across the ocean. April 1917 the United States entered te war. Nearly three years had passed before the war pulled the other side of the ocean into its bloody mess.
Why did the United States wait so long to enter World War I? What factors dragged them in? Too often we don't know these answers though we think we do. Some of us think this was so far back that it doesn't matter.
To say there is only one answer would to minimize the war and all those involved. War was not something anyone of sane mind would jump into.
Keep It in Europe
Like many politicians, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson was hesitant about going against public opinion. Politicians are highly impacted by the feel of their citizens on specific topics. The war involved Europe, and many Americans felt like it should stay across the ocean. It was a European war, not American. During this political hesitation, Germany took the advantage and continued “unrestricted submarine attacks on all Allied and neutral shipping within prescribed war zones”. (1) They knew they had free reign with America on the sidelines. No one else had the ability to fight back.
America still refused to act beyond severing diplomatic ties with the offensive country. They didn't approve of their actions but also did not see it as their role to step in. The hope that peaceful negotiations could be achieved prevailed over the reports of the diabolic acts of Germany. Rushing into war was not desired by many in charge of the government or the people of America. It would be costly and have potentially politically disastrous. The procrastination in getting involved also came from the fact that the war was far removed. There were no tanks roaming the streets nor were there any bombs going off. All was quiet on the far side of the ocean. Out of sight and out of mind played strong. It did not hit close enough to home to be something desired by the masses and the leaders.
Push by Zimmerman
It would take the Zimmerman telegram to show the United States that the war could become something personal and not so far away. "On January 16, 1917, British code breakers intercepted an encrypted message from Zimmermann intended for Heinrich von Eckardt, the German ambassador to Mexico. The missive gave the ambassador a now-famous set of instructions: if the neutral United States entered the war on the side of the Allies, Von Eckardt was to approach Mexico’s president with an offer to forge a secret wartime alliance. The Germans would provide military and financial support for a Mexican attack on the United States, and in exchange Mexico would be free to annex “lost territory in Texas, New Mexico and Arizona.” In addition, Von Eckardt was told to use the Mexicans as a go-between to entice the Japanese Empire to join the German cause." (History.com)
Mexican involvement meant the war was right on the doorstep of American soil. Though the Zimmerman affair did not push America directly into war, it convinced many political leaders that war might be the only option. Through it all, Wilson continued to hold off favoring war. It was only when he rationally decided that avoiding the war only lost lives and created public drama that only grew larger as the war progressed that war became the most obvious route the nation. By going into war, America would actually help bring peace to the western world. (2)
Entry Was Done With Caution
War was not something that the United States rushed into, but it was something the nation felt was the only option as Europe found itself falling apart under fire and blood. Only through entering the war would the war have a chance to end.
In essence, Germany invited the US to the dance. If they had not made the plans to ally with Mexico, who knows if the US ever would have stepped in. Germany stepped out of Europe and expanded the war which led to their defeat.
(1) “American Entry into World War, 1917,” U.S. Department of State, http://history.state.gov/milestones/1914-1920/wwi.
(2) John Milton Cooper, Jr., Pivotal Decades: The United States, 1900-1920, (W.W. Norton: New York, 1990), 266.