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Why Did America Enter World War 1 The Great War?

Updated on August 8, 2015

America and World War One

America entered World War 1 in April 1917 as an "associated power", on the side of the Allies following a passionate speech by U.S President Woodrow Wilson to Congress within which he presented a powerful argument for declaring war on Germany.

This Lens seeks to explain why America and Americans felt it necessary to join what was essentially a European war.

So why did America enter World War 1?

Newspapers Coverage of the War

Horrific Images and Accounts of Trench War

By April 1917 World War 1 was in its 3rd year of conflict and America was very aware of the horrors of 'Trench Warfare' and although there was pressure from American-German and American-French groups for America to enter the war on their side the majority of Americans were against any involvement.

Newspaper images and articles portrayed the war in an accurate and brutally honest fashion.

At the start of World War 1 in 1914 young men in Great Britain were enthusiastic about joining an adventure with an expectation that the war would be over in months.

Three years of News coverage gave Americans a realistic idea of the horrors of War and in particular the horror of entrenched warfare which stalemated both sides. It's no wonder that Americans had no appetite for European war. So what changed?

Sinking of the Lusitania in 1915

German U-Boat Kills Americans on Cruise Ship

In February 1915 Germany declared that any merchant ship including neutral ships in a specified zone around Britain would be considered legitimate targets. America was still neutral at this time and President Woodrow Wilson warned Germany they would be brought to account if any American ship was targeted.

Three months later in May 1915 British civilian ocean passenger liner 'The Lusitania' on route from New York to Liverpool was sunk by a German U-boat, killing 1,198 including 128 Americans. The sinking of the Lusitania touched a nerve with the American people and later became a symbolic icon for recruiting. The United States applied diplomatic pressure on Germany and demanded that the targeting of peaceful shipping by U-Boats stop or face the consequences.

Germany stopped the practice of targeting civilian shipping until January 1917 when the commenced unrestricted submarine warfare.

This decision together with a telegram from the German Empire to the Mexican Government in January 1917 encouraging Mexico to declare war on the USA pushed America too far.

Germany encourages Mexico to declare War on the USA

The Zimmermann Telegram (German Government)

By January 1917 the Germany Government anticipated that it was only a matter of time before the United States entered the war on the side of the allies. The sinking of Merchant shipping was tipping the scales against them and in an attempt to disrupt the mobilization of America the German government sought to encourage Mexico to form an alliance with Germany and the Japanese Empire and declare war against the USA and sent a coded telegram message to the Mexican Government.

The Mexican Government rejected the proposal and once the American Government learnt of the Telegram and Germanys intentions it was only a matter of time before the USA entered the War.

Did you know that Germany attempted to persuade Mexico to declare War on the USA

Did you know that Germany attempted to persuade Mexico to declare War on the USA?

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America Goes to War

In June 1917 General John J. Pershing (nicknamed 'Black Jack Pershing') American Commander in Chief arrived in France and set about getting America into the War.

The involvement of America was greeted with much enthusiasm by the Allies who had suffered terrible losses of men and the industrial might of America provided the Allies with much needed material,

The American economy needed to change from a civilian economy to a War economy and although they had been assisting the British and French with equipment they now needed to train and equip an American army. By July 1918, America assisted by British merchant marine ships had transported over 584,000 men to France.

General John J. Pershing now had an Army which could make a difference and Americans were not just replacing British troops.

American losses were high as were the losses on all sides, and victory didn’t come easy, but the might of American combined with the Allies prevailed and the armies of Germany, Austrai-Hungary and Italy were defeated.

Incidentally General John J. Pershing was Americas first 4 Star General

Woodrow Wilson's War Message

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      reasonablerobby 4 years ago

      An interesting period of US international history.

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      robertbadour 4 years ago