Why Did the United States Finally Enter War in 1917 on Britain’s Side?

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The First World War began in 1914, following a series of events starting with the assassinations in Sarajevo. In 1917 the war was in its fourth year with the troops from both sides locked in trench warfare, neither side capable of a decisive victory. President Woodrow Wilson was very aware that the causes of war were rarely clear and that the modern European scenario was a complicated one. For this reason, he maintained America’s neutrality, as he did not believe that any of America’s interests should be threatened by a European war announcing on August 4th 1914, that America would be neutral in WW1. That neutrality was also extended to American bankers who could then lend money to both sides in the war. However with the mounting probability of a British defeat and of Europe being under control by the militarist government of Germany, America had to intervene for a number of reasons which will be explored in this essay. In the United States at this time hostility toward Britain was at a high point because of their handling of the Irish rebellion, indifference to peace proposals, continuing violation of the rights of US and other neutral shipping on the high seas, and its blacklisting of US companies that traded with Germany and Austria-Hungary. A major part of the British strategy was to impose a blockade on Germany. The results of the blockade were severe. While the United States was willing to trade with any European power, British warships guaranteed that, in actuality, US vessels could only trade with the allied powers. Wilson and his advisors created a justification for the decision to enter the war. He went before a joint session of Congress and announced that the United States would not choose "the path of submission." The world, he told Congress and the nation, must be "made safe for democracy." On April 6 the House of Representatives voted 373 to 50 in favour of declaring war, and the Senate voted in favour by 82 to 6. Four main factors eventually persuaded America to join and will be discussed in turn, Anglophile sentiment, propaganda, US interests and the economy. The first aspect to be analysed is the Anglophile sentiment. Anglo-Saxon was the dominant culture amongst the ruling classes who were generally all from British descendants including intellectuals, church leaders, bankers, and capitalists and some key characters that were pro English and pro active about going to war. Thus there was sympathy for Britain as a democracy as opposed to the militaristic and unelected leader of Germany. Theodore Roosevelt in the 19th century along with others was foremost in promoting the idea of an Anglo Saxon culture which had grown amongst the US ruling class. Although Wilson’s sympathies lay with the British he had to back the US view of neutrality and arbitration, he once said, ‘England is fighting our fight’ and Influenced by the Anglophile members of his Administration. William Bryan gave way to Robert Lansing as Secretary of State in 1915. Lansing was an campaigner for support for Britain, using loans, support aid and morale, and eventually for involvement on the side of Britain. The attacks on merchant shipping in which there was a loss of American life were used by Lansing as justification for entering war against Germany making it America’s struggle too. He stressed the long term negative effect a German victory would have upon American interests and national security. The US Ambassador in London, Walter Hines Page, took Wilson’s instructions amended them and presented them in a pro-British light. Like Lansing, he believed in the eventually negative effect of a British loss on American security and interests, and the features and ideals of the Anglo-American culture. Page however opposed rules about challenging and disrupting all ships during wartime, a undertaking in which Britain was involved. Consequently, Wilson warned: “If German bureaucratic brute force could conquer Europe presently it would try to...
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