On January 22, 1917, Woodrow Wilson made one final, attempt to avert war, delivering a moving address that correctly declared only a “peace without victory” (beating Germany without embarrassing them) would be lasting. Germany responded by shocking the world, announcing that it would break the Sussex pledge and return to unrestricted submarine warfare, which meant that its U-boats would now be firing on armed and unarmed ships in the war zone. Wilson asked Congress for the authority to arm merchant ships, but a band of Midwestern senators tried to block this measure. Then, the Zimmerman note was intercepted and published on March 1, 1917. Written by German foreign secretary Arthur Zimmerman, it secretly proposed an alliance between Germany and Mexico. It proposed that if Mexico fought against the U.S. and the Central Powers won, Mexico could recover Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona from the U.S. The Germans also began to make good on their threats, sinking numerous ships. Meanwhile, in Russia, a revolution toppled the tsarist regime. On April 2, 1917, President Wilson asked Congress to declare war, which it did four days later; Wilson had lost his gamble at staying out of the war.
II. Wilsonian Idealism Enthroned
Many people still didn’t want to enter into war, for America had prided itself in isolationism for decades, and now, Wilson was entangling America in a distant war. Six senators and 50 representatives, including the first Congresswoman, Jeanette Ranking, voted against war. To gain enthusiasm for the war, Wilson came up with the idea of America entering the war to “make the world safe for democracy.” This idealistic motto worked brilliantly, but with the new American zeal came the loss of Wilson’s earlier motto, “peace without victory.”
III. Wilson’s Fourteen Potent Points
On January 8, 1917, Wilson delivered his Fourteen Points Address to Congress. The Fourteen Points were a set of idealistic goals for peace. The main points were… No more secret treaties.
Freedom of the seas was to be maintained.
A removal of economic barriers among nations.
Reduction of armament burdens.
Adjustment of colonial claims in the interests of natives and colonizers. “Self-determination,” or independence for oppressed minority groups who’d choose their government A League of Nations, an international organization that would keep the peace and settle world disputes.
IV. Creel Manipulates Minds
The Committee on Public Information, headed by George Creel, was created to “sell” the war to those people who were against it or to just gain support for it. The Creel organization sent out an army of 75,000 men to deliver speeches in favor of the war, showered millions of pamphlets containing the most potent “Wilsonisms” upon the world, splashed posters and billboards that had emotional appeals, and showed anti-German movies like The Kaiser and The Beast of Berlin. There were also patriotic songs, but Creel did err in that he oversold some of the ideals, and result would be disastrous disillusionment.
V. Enforcing Loyalty and Stiffing Dissent
Germans in America were surprisingly loyal to the U.S., but nevertheless, many Germans were blamed for espionage activities, and a few were tarred, feathered, and beaten. The Espionage Act of 1917 and the Sedition Act of 1918 showed American fears and paranoia about Germans and others perceived as a threat. Antiwar Socialists and the members of the radical union Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) were often prosecuted, including SocialistEugene V. Debs and IWW leader William D. Haywood, who were arrested, convicted, and sent to prison. Fortunately, after the war, there were presidential pardons (from Warren G. Harding), but a few people still sat in jail into the 1930s.
VI. The Nation’s...