America and the Great War


The United States had benefited from the distance between it and Europe in the 19th century wars. All this changed in the early 2oth century, and the end result was an end to American isolationism. Several developments brought this about:

Industrial development made world trade attractive.

Steam powered ships and submarines could easily reach U.S.; the Atlantic Ocean was no longer a comfortable buffer.

Woodrow Wilson was a stern moralist who was determined to impose his standards on renegade nations. This was called "missionary diplomacy."

Wilson and Foreign Affairs

Wilson had little background in diplomacy, no practical experience. However, he did have ideas and convictions on the subject. He considered himself a man of destiny who would rather help create a new world order governed by morality and idealism than by national interests. His ideas were quite Calvinist: "progressivism animated by righteousness."

Wilson said that his election had put him on a course charted "by no plan of our conceiving, but by the hand of God who led us into this way." Wilson and his Secretary of State, William Jennings Bryan, believed that the U.S. had been called to advance democracy and moral progress in the world. Their ideas were based on idealism.

1913 Ė 1914, Bryan negotiated 30 "cooling off" treaties, under which the participating nations agreed not to go to war over any disagreement for a period of 12 months pending discussion before an international arbitration panel.

These treaties were soon forgotten; the 20th century proved to be one of the bloodiest in world history.

Wilson renounced "dollar diplomacy." Said he; the Government was not supporting any special groups or interest."

Mexico: Mexico had been ruled by a military dictatorship under President Porfirio Diaz. In 1911, a revolution broke out. Later, in 1913, power was seized by General Victoriano Huerta. Wilson refused to recognize Huertaís government. He allowed the sale of arms to help the revolutionaries under an opposition party; and stationed war ships off the coast of Vera Cruz to stop arms shipments to Huerta.

Later, when an incident broke out between American sailors and Mexican forces; largely provoked by the Americans, Wilson sent American Marines ashore at Vera Cruz, and occupied the town with some loss of life on both sides.

Problems in Mexico had led to gangs of armed bandits; the worst and wildest of whom was Pancho Villa. Villa tried to deliberately provoke American intervention by seizing a train and murdered 16 American mining engineers. When that didnít work, he crossed the border and raided towns in Texas and New Mexico. At Columbus, New Mexico, he murdered 17 Americans.

Wilson had had enough; and sent General John J. Pershing (for whom the Pershing Rifle is named) across the border with 11,000 men, and also mobilized 150,000 national guardsmen. He crossed over into Mexico and chased Villa for a year, but never caught him.

The Caribbean: Wilson kept troops in Nicaragua; where Taft had sent them, to prevent civil war. Also, in 1915, he dispatched troops to Haiti to preserve order. Subsequently, he sent troops into the Dominican Republic where they remained from 1916 until 1924.

Wilson told Sec. of State Bryan: "I suppose there is nothing to do but to take the bull by the horns and restore order." He may have accomplished that, but it was something of a Phyrric victory. The presence of U.S. forces only exacerbated the phobia of Americans felt by many Latin Americans. The New York Times said Wilsonís frequent interventions made Taftís Dollar Diplomacy seem like "ten cent diplomacy."

An Uneasy Neutrality

Europe had been at relative peace since the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815. There had been only local wars; and a century of unprecedented material progress. It seemed unlikely that a major war would break out.

A series of events had created two major alliances in Europe:

The Triple Alliance: Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Italy. They were known as the Central Powers.

The Triple Entente: France, Great Britain, and Russia. They were known as the Allied Powers.

Imperialistic programs by the major powers had led to these alliances; each was very protective of its own territorial integrity as well as of its colonies in Africa and Asia.

Europe in 1914 had been described as a powder keg with a very short fuse. The fuse was finally ignited with the assassination of the Archduke France Ferdinand in Sarajevo.

Franz Ferdinand and his wife were in Sarajevo for an official state visit. Serbia at this time was a province of Austria-Hungary. A Serbian independence movement known as the Black Hand had made plans to assassinate Ferdinand while in Sarajevo. Several assassins had been stationed at various points along his route.

One assassin threw a bomb at the car; but Franz deflected it with his arm. The bomb exploded and destroyed the car next behind his in the procession. He became very angry at this and asked the mayor "is this how you make your guests feel welcome?" On his way back from his meeting with the mayor, he told his driver to drive to the hospital so that he could visit those wounded in the bomb attack. This necessitated turning the car around in the middle of the road. One assassin, Gavrilo Princeps, aged nineteen, had already assumed he had missed his chance, and was on his way home; but the car stopped immediately in front of him. He ran out into the road, and shot Ferdinand and his wife at point blank range. Ferdinand was shot in the throat, his wife in the stomach. She died first; and his last words were, "Sophie, please donít die, think of the children." Princeps, pursuant to plan, bit into a cyanide capsule and jumped into a canal to drown himself. Neither worked, and he went to prison, although he is normally considered a Serbian hero.

Austria-Hungary was determined to punish Serbia; and Russia mobilized to protect the Slavs in Serbia; this triggered the alliances, and on August 1, 1914, Germany declared war on Russia. Two days later, Germany declared war on France; and invaded Belgium to get to France; and on August 4, Great Britain declared war on Germany.

American Reaction: At first, people in the U.S. were shocked at the war, and later were thankful that there was an ocean between them and the war. One magazine, the Literary Digest, said "our isolated position and freedom from entangling alliances inspire our press with cheering assurance that we are in no peril of being drawn into the European Quarrel."

Wilson repeated issued routine declarations of neutrality. He urged Americans to be "impartial in thought as well as in action."

It was difficult for Americans not to take sides.

Many supported the Central Powers:

Over 30% per cent of the population were first or second-generation immigrants with ties to the old country. The largest group by far were the German-Americans (13 million). Also, 4 million were Irish-American who hated England.

"Old line" Americans supported the Allies:

U.S. and Britain had ties of culture, tradition, and language.

France had been a friend of Americans in Revolution.

France and Britain seemed guardians of democracy; while the Germans seemed autocratic and militaristic.

American military officers were pro-British. Many saw German militarism as a potential threat to America.

Both sides conducted propaganda campaigns to influence American opinions, but the Allies were the most successful. The Germans played on American dislike of autocracy to aim at the Russians, and also used anti-Semitic language; but it was largely ignored. The only people to respond to their "hate England" routine were the German-Americans and Irish-Americans.

Then, the British cut the direct cable between the U.S. and Germany, so that all news reaching the U.S. on the war came through London. Exaggerated reports of German atrocities were published, and believed by Americans.

Another factor was the attitude of Woodrow Wilson himself, who had no use for the German and Irish Americans, or anyone of recent immigration. He called them "hyphenated Americans."

The U.S. traded with both sides during the conflict, but mostly with the allies. This actually proved to be an economic boom for the country. Initially, Wilson disapproved of extending credit to the parties. Bryan told J.P. Morgan that "money is the worst of all contrabands because it commands everything else." Even so, loans to the allies were approved. Before the U.S. entered the war, American investors had advanced over $2 billion to the Allies; and only $27 million to Germany.

August 20, 1914, Great Britain issued an Order in Council that declared the entire North Sea a War zone. They sowed it with mines, and ordered neutral ships to enter only by the Strait of Dover, where they could be easily searched. Subsequently, they stopped ships carrying German goods via neutral ports.

The State department vigorously protested this action; but the British foreign minister, Sir Edward Grey, reminded Americans that this was the same policy that the U.S. had used to keep British goods out of the Confederacy during the Civil War. Turn about, it seems, was fair play.

Britain also blacklisted American companies that traded with Germany, and censored some mail. Then, in reaction to the British blockade, the Germans declared all waters around the British Isles a war zone. Enemy merchant ships in those waters were subject to sinking by submarines.

The rules of war provided that ships were to be stopped; and passengers and crew allowed to disembark if the ship were determined to be a belligerent before it was sunk. The British, however, had taken to flying neutral flags as a ruse; also several times when stopped by a German Unterseeboot (U-boat); they had feigned stopping, and then rammed the sub. As a result, the Germans began torpedoing enemy ships without warning.

The U.S. reacted strongly to Germanyís action, and said that Germany would be held strictly accountable for any loss of American life. Wilson was still pondering the best way to deal with the problem when on May 7, 1915, the British Cunard Liner, RMS Lusitania was sunk off the Irish coast.

The Lusitania had left New York bound for Liverpool. Unknown to its passengers, it had a secret manifest and was carrying weapons, which would make it a belligerent ship, and thereby a lawful target. Also, in order to save time, the Captain had sailed in a straight-line course, rather than the zigzag pattern ordered to evade submarines. The ship was close enough to the Irish Coast that people on the shore saw it and recognized it.

The U-Boat captain of submarine U-20 was actually on his way back into port to refuel and rearm. He had only one torpedo left in his galley. He fired the torpedo almost as a pot shot; but when he hit the Lusitania, there was a tremendous secondary explosion, and the ship sank in minutes. 1,1,98 people died; including 128 Americans.

The American public was outraged; Theodore Roosevelt declared it an "act of piracy." Wilson urged patience. Said he, "There is such a thing as a man being too proud to fight. There is such a thing as a nation being so right that it does not need to convince others by force that it is right."

Wilson sent strongly worded notes of protest to the Germans. William Jennings Bryan was unwilling to risk war over the Lusitania issue, and resigned in protest. He joined the peace effort as a private citizen.

In response to the uproar, and following the subsequent sinking of a British liner, RMS Arabic Germany issued the Arabic Pledge on September 1, 1915.

Liners will not be sunk by our submarines without a warning and without the safety of the lives of non-combatants provided that the liners do not try to escape of offer resistance.

After the Lusitania incident, there was a growing demand for a stronger American army and navy. Progressives and others from the South and West opposed expansion. Americans had traditionally been opposed to standing armies.

The National Defense Act of 1916 expanded the Army from 90,000 to 175 000 men. It also expanded the National Guard, and provided federal funds for summer training camps for civilians.

Progressives were determined that the wealthy should bear the financial burden of the increase in the military. As a result, progressive congressmen forced through increased income taxes designed to place the burden on wealthy Americans.

Election of 1916: The Republicans hoped to regain their majority, and Roosevelt hoped to be the party nominee; but too many remembered that he had bolted the party in 1912, and probably given the election to Wilson. Not only that, his saber rattling (he was downright bellicose) scared many people. So, the Republicans nominated Charles Evans Hughes, the former governor of New York, and most recently on the Supreme Court. The Progressive Party gathered in Chicago for the last time, but soon disbanded, after endorsing Hughes.

The Democrats nominated Wilson once more. Wilsonís slogan soon became "he kept us out of the war."

This was a neat way of taking credit for what had already happened, and not making any promises about the future.

Wilsonís campaign was based on "peace and progressivism," while the Republicans tried to straddle the fence. Roosevelt hurt the Republicans more than he helped, traveling around the country making speeches in which he denounced the Kaiser. In the end, Wilson won a close victory. Wilson was not assured a win until the vote from California was counted. The electoral vote was 277 to 254; the popular vote 9 million to 8.5 million.

After the election, Wilson sent notes to the belligerents asking each to state its war aims, hoping to negotiate a settlement. The Germans said they would only state their aims at a conference of the belligerents at a neutral site. The Allies said they intended to ask for reparations, break up the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman Empires, and destroy German power.

In a speech before Congress Wilson made one last try and called for a "peace without victory."

Wilson didnít know it at the time, but he was already too late. The Germans had grown exasperated at the stalemate of the war, and had decided to abandon the Sussex pledge and resume Unrestricted Submarine Warfare. On January 31, 1917, the German High Command issued a new policy stating that submarine warfare would resume the next day.

February 3, 1917, Wilson told Congress that the U.S. had broken diplomatic relations with Germany. He soon asked for authority to arm American merchant ships.

February 25, 1917, Wilson received word that the British had intercepted and decoded a message from the German Foreign Minister, Arthur Zimmerman, to the German Minister in Mexico. This was the infamous Zimmerman Telegram in which Germany promised to help Mexico regain "lost territory" in New Mexico, Texas, and Arizona."

Americans were outraged. Also, to complicate matters, a revolution overthrew the czarist government in Russia, and established the Russian Republic. This created an illusion for Americans that the Allies were fighting for Democracy.

March 17, 1917, German Submarines sank five U.S. merchant vessels. April 2, Wilson asked Congress for a formal declaration of war. The War Declaration was issued on April 6, 1917, Good Friday.

All this was less than three years after Wilsonís proclamation of Neutrality. What happened?

British propaganda.

American involvement with Allies in trade.

German domination of Europe was seen as a threat to American security, particularly if the British navy were destroyed.

Submarine warfare was the deciding factor.

By taking a stand for neutral rights, Wilson had placed himself at the mercy of the German High Command; says Shi, "he was led, step by step into a war over what to a later generation would seem a rather quaint, if noble, set of principles."

Americaís Role in the War

      American forces during the war were commanded by General John J. Pershing. (1860 - 1948).  He had commanded the "Pershing Expedition" into Mexico. Pershing had attended a "normal school" before winning a competition to enter the U.S. Military Academy.  His first service was among the Indians and for a time he led a company of Sioux scouts.  His nickname, "Black Jack," came from his having commanded a black cavalry unit but was also a reference to his tough drillmaster methods.

    In the Mexican campaign, Pershing applied new devices like radios, airplanes and machine guns to military uses.  His ability to stay within the strict political guidelines given him in Mexico won him Wilson's favor and command of forces during World War I.  He was a model soldier -- square jawed, of rigid bearing, calm, forceful, discreet.  Many of his junior officers later became the great American commanders of World War II.

    Quote:  The most important question that confronted us i the preparation of our forces of citizen soldiery for efficient service was training. . . .  Few people can realize what a stupendous undertaking it was to teach these vast numbers thier various duties when most of them were ignorant of practically everything pertaining to the business of the soldier in war. (Memoirs, 1931).


    No one expected more than a token military involvement in the war. The army and navy were both small and undeveloped. This assumed under the leadership of Admiral William Sims, who assumed command of American ships in European waters. This decreased allied shipping losses from 881,000 tons in April 1917 to 289,000 in November of that same year.

Also, the Navy sowed a minefield across the North Sea that threatened U-Boat access to the North Atlantic.

The British and French insisted that Americans commit troops to the fighting, if nothing else, as a morale booster. On June 26, 1917, the first American contingent, 14,500 men, landed on the French Coast under the command of General John J. Pershing. Pershing soon determined that the Allies were too war-weary to win the war alone, and advised the war department to send a million men by the following spring.

Under the Selective Service Act of 1917, all men 21 Ė 30 were required to register. They were divided into several groups, the first and most likely to be drafted were unmarried young men with no dependents.

Wilson and his secretary of War, Newton D. Baker, saw troop mobilization as an opportunity for "social engineering." The idea was to improve the recruitís character and outlook while preparing them for war.

The end result was the Commission on Training Camp Activities (CTCA). The idea was to inculcate middle class "progressive" virtues and values into recruits. The CTCA provided sex education to stop the spread of venereal disease, and worked with local authorities to arrest prostitutes. Entertainment was provided in the form of dances, and religious services were also held; all in an attempt to minister to the physical and moral well being of the trainees.

Mobilizing America

In order to efficiently conduct the war, it was necessary to mobilize the home front also. Wilson didnít do the best job of this, because of lack of coordination.

The Lever Food and Control Act of 1917 created a Food Administration under future President Herbert Hoover. Hoover was a mining engineer, and had worked on relief projects in Europe. Hooverís slogan for the Administration was: Food will win the War." They organization promoted meatless Tuesdays; wheatless Wednesdays, porkless Saturdays, planting victory gardens, and using leftovers.

The War Industries Board, under Bernard Baruch exercised virtual dictatorship over the economy. The purchasing bureaus of the U.S. and the Allied governments submitted needs to the board which planned production accordingly.

The number of fighting men and closing off of foreign immigration created a labor shortage. To meet the need, women, blacks, and other ethnic minorities were encouraged to work in industry and agriculture; jobs previously dominated by white males. Northern businesses sent recruiting agents South to find workers. As a result, over 400,000 blacks began the "Great Migration" northward.

Blacks were not always welcomed north of the Mason-Dixon line. Many whites resented them, and racial tensions caused race riots. In 1917, 40 blacks and 9 whites were killed in a riot at a defense plant in St. Lewis. Later, race riots broke out in Chicago.

Women also entered the work force. Originally, they had supported the effort in traditional ways, conserving food, working for the Red Cross, or serving as nurses. But as the war widened, industry mobilized women workers. They worked on farms, loading docks, even as railway crews.

Oddly, when the war was over, it was suggested that a womanís patriotic duty was to relinquish her job for the man who had been fighting the war; and many women went back to domestic life; however, the efforts of women in the war years led to Wilsonís endorsing female suffrage.

War Propaganda: Eight days after the declaration of war, a Committee on Public Information was formed. The idea was to influence public opinion by expression, not repression. Journalists, photographers, artists, etc. were enlisted to produce information campaigns. The Committees promoted war bonds, saving food and fuel for the war effort.

Progressivism soon became channeled into "Americanism." The result was a German witch-hunt.

Wilson had seen this coming. "Once lead this people into war, and theyíll forget there was even such a thing as tolerance."

Anything German was equated with disloyalty. Schools dropped courses in the German language; Orchestras refused to play music of Bach and Beethoven, because they were German; Sauerkraut became "liberty cabbage" German measles "liberty measles," and dachshunds were "liberty pups."

Congress passed several acts which indicated an absurd attitude towards disloyalty.

Espionage Act of 1917: provided for penalties of 20 years in prison or fines of $20,000.00 for giving aid to the enemy, inciting insubordination, disloyalty, or refusal of duty to the armed services, or for circulating false reports and statements with intent to interfere with the war effort.

Wonder what Jane Fonda would think of this. In the Viet Nam war, she publicly visited North Viet Nam and spoke against the war effort. When an American POW handed her a note describing the way they were treated by the Vietnamese, she handed the note to her hosts; betraying her own countryman.

Sedition Act of 1918: made it illegal to interfere with sale of War Bonds, or say, write or publish anything "disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive about the American Government, Constitution, Army, or Navy.

Over 1000 people were convicted under the two Acts. Socialists were often the targets of the acts. Over 100 members of the IWW Wobblies went on trial, but were not convicted. Eugene V. Debs publicly declared "I am opposed to every war but one; I am for that war heart and soul, and that is the world-wide revolution. Debs repeatedly urged American men to refuse to serve. He knew he would be convicted for his remarks and said, "I would a thousand times rather be a free soul in jail than a sycophant and a coward on the streets." He got his wish. He was sentenced to twenty years in Prison.

While still in Prison, Debs ran for President again, and received almost 1 million votes.

After the War, the Supreme Court upheld the Constitutionality of the Espionage and Sedition Acts. IN the case of Schenk vs. United States, a man was convicted of circulating anti-draft leaflets among members of the Armed Forces. Chief Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes said, ďThe most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theater and causing a panic ... " He said that the act applied where there was a "clear and present danger" of evil results. This was the first use of the phrase "Clear and Present Danger."

The holding of the Schenk Case is still the law of the U.S. today; although it has been construed very strictly.

Until early 1918, American troops played little more than a token role in European fighting. The situation became desperate in October when Italian lines collapsed and they were overrun by the Austrians. The Russians pulled out of the war and made their own peace with the Germans, and the war became a "race for France." The French Premier, Georges Clemenceau appealed to Americans saying "a terrible blow is imminent. Tell your Americans to come quickly."

March 21, 1918, Germans began an offensive to end the war before the Americans arrived. They broke British and French lines at the Somme, and pushed on to the Marne River along a 40-mile front. By May, 1918, there were 1 million fresh American troops in the war. Their biggest impact was on Allied Morale.

The turning point of the war was on July 1918 in the Second Battle of the Marne. AT that point, over three days, the Americans reversed a German offensive. Thereafter, British, French and American rolled the German front back.

September 12, 1918 was the first strictly American offense of the war at Verdun. Later, on September 26, the great Meuse-Argonne Offensive began. It was the largest American offensive of the war. It involved 1.2 million Americans troops, and cost 117,000 American casualties, including 26,000 dead.

German General Erich Ludendorff said that "America thus became the decisive power of the war."

Gatesí grandfather, John Gates, fought in the Battle of the Argonne, and suffered from mustard gas poisoning. Many years later, when Peter Funke stayed with us; I discovered that his Great Grandfather had also fought at the Argonne. This Kid is living in my house, and our forefathers were shooting at each other.

The Russians suffered tremendously during the war, over three years, they suffered over 5,5 million casualties. The Czarist government collapsed and a Russian Republic was formed, but it didnít last long; in November 1917, the Bolsheviks overthrew the Republic. They were led by Vladimir Lenin. They promised the Russian people, "Peace, Land, Bread."

The Germans had seen this coming, and added a bit of fuel to the fire. Lenin was living in exile out of the Country, and the Germans allowed him to pass through their lines and be smuggled into Russia in hopes that it would destabilize the country. They were right.

The Bolsheviks unilaterally stopped fighting. Their peace representative, Leon Trotsky, tried to "withdraw" from the war, but the Germans said "not so fast." They dictated their own terms of peace. The treaty was the treaty of Brest-Litovsk.

Wilson was afraid that this could hamper the war effort, so he sent American ships to the Russian arctic ports. He wanted to stop Russian supplies from falling into German hands, he also wanted to support an anti-Bolshevik revolution, and he also wanted to make sure that the Japanese, who were interested in the area, did not invade.

Wilsonís intervention into Russia failed; the Bolsheviks were able to consolidate their power quickly. More importantly, the intervention caused Soviets to develop a deep and long-lasting distrust of the West.

As the war neared an end, Wilson stressed that the U.S. had no selfish purpose in participating in the war. Said he: "We desire no conquest, no dominion. We seek no indemnities for ourselves, no material compensation for the sacrifices we shall freely make. We are one of the champions of the rights of mankind.

Wilson drew up a plan for peace which became known as the famous Fourteen Points. They were delivered in a speech to Congress.

The first five called for open diplomacy, freedom of the seas, removal of trade barriers, reduction of armaments, and an impartial adjustment of colonial claims based on the interests of the populations involved.

Most of the remainder called for the Central Powers to evacuate occupied land.

Point 13 called for an independent Poland with access to the sea.

After the several partitions of Poland during the previous century, it had ceased to exist as a separate Country; having been swallowed up by Austria, Germany, and Russia.

The Fourteenth called for a League of Nations to secure guarantees of peace and territorial integrity of all countries, great and small.

The Fourteen Points were actually a weapon of psychological warfare. They were intended to accomplish several things:

Keep Russia in the War.

Reassure Allies that they were acting in a noble cause.

Offer Peace at a reasonable price, drive a wedge between the governments of the Central powers.

September 29, 1918, General Ludendorff advised his government to seek the best terms of peace possible. At first the Allies refused to discuss peace until the U.S. threatened to seek peace on its own; at which point they accepted the 14 points with two reservations:

The right to discuss freedom of the seas.

They demanded reparations for war damages.

Loss of morale was taking its toll in Germany, and Germanyís allies were dropping out of the war one by one. Finally, on November 9, 1918, Kaiser Wilhelm II abdicated, and a German Republic was proclaimed.

The Armistice to end the war was signed on November 11, 1918 at Aix-Au-Chapelle. The guns fell silent at eleven in the morning that same day. It is easily remembered: The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, 1918.

The Armistice was signed in a Railroad Car at Compienge. A plaque was placed memorializing the spot. Later, when World War II broke out, the Germans quickly overran France, and the French found themselves asking for terms of surrender. In an act of recompense, Hitler had the Railroad Car moved back to the same spot, and forced the French to surrender in the same car. After the surrender was signed, he had the plaque and the railroad car blown up.

Wilson decided to personally attend the Peace Conference in Paris. It was the first time a sitting President had left the Country for such a long period of time. It was part of Wilsonís view of himself as something of a messiah come to bring peace to the world, again, a part of his moral attitude.

It was a good move in that the prestige of the Presidency helped move along negotiations at the treaty. It was bad in that he lost touch with developments at home. The progressives whom he had led were losing ground fast. Farmers were complaining about the Government controlling the price of wheat, labor was unhappy with inflation, etc.

Wilson made matters worse by the fact that he did not involve a single prominent Republican in the peace negotiations. When the Mid term elections of 1918 rolled around, he appealed for a Democratic Congress, which he said would strengthen his hand in negotiating.

Wilson apparently hoped to get a solid majority in the Senate, and could breeze the treaty through. Will Rogers, the humorist, said Wilson was telling the Republicans, "Iíll tell you what, we will split 50-50. I will go and you fellows can stay." Former President Taft said that Wilsonís intention was to "hog the whole show."

Wilsonís strategy backfired, and in elections one week before the Armistice, Republicans gained majorities in both houses of Congress.

The delegates at Paris were a bit more tough-minded than Wilson had planned; they didnít exactly consider him Moses coming down the mountain with the tablets. Georges Clemenceau, the French premier sneered, "God gave us the Ten Commandments and we broke them; Wilson gave us the Fourteen Points. We shall see."

Wilson was determined to have his League of Nations, and compromised on a number of points to get it. He went home on routine business for a month, only to find that the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, one Henry Cabot Lodge, had already announced that the treaty was unacceptable; and produced a statement with the signatures of 39 Republican Senators or Senators elect; more than enough to kill the treaty. Wilson thought he had the advantage, though, and simply told them, "we will see."

Henry Cabot Lodge: was an aristocratic New England scholar.  A descendant of the ancient Lodge and Cabot lines of Massachusetts, he married his cousin Ann Cabot Davis.  He studied history under Henry Adams and wrote scholarly but strongly pro-Federalist biographies of Washington, Hamilton, Webster, and his grandfather, George Cabot.  He was a close friend of Theodore Roosevelt and was also a friend of Wilson's antagonist at Princeton, Dean West.  Although highly intelligent, Lodge was narrow in outlook and comfortable only with those of his own background and class.  He was rigid and opinionated and, like Wilson, tended to turn political agreements into personal animosities.

Quote:  We have twice succeeded in creating a situation where Wilson either had to take the Treaty with strong reservations. . . or else was obliged to defeat it.  He has twice taken the latter alternative.  His personal selfishness goes beyond what I have seen in any human being.  It is so extreme that it is entirely unenlightened and stupid. . . . (Letter, 1920)

The final treaty, the Treaty of Versailles, contained provisions particularly bitter to the Germans, which Wilson would have been wise to not accept.

Germany had to sign a "war guilt clause" assuming total responsibility for the war; which was untrue. This caused long lasting bitter resentment on the part of the German people, and set the stage for World War II.

The French and English insisted that Germany pay War reparations for the entire cost of the war, including veterans pensions. The amount of the reparations was over eight times the net worth of the entire German nation. It was to be paid in annual installments over a period of 70 years.

Had the Germans paid all the Reparations, the final payment would have been made in the year 1989. The German delegates originally protested; and brought a 422 page list of how the terms violated the 14 points; but the French would not budge, and threatened to order their troops to march; whereupon the German delegates signed, albeit reluctantly.

Wilson returned home amid great fanfare; and a treaty that was quite popular with the public. A third of the state legislatures had endorsed the League of Nations, and 33 of 48 state Governors also had endorsed it; but he ran into problems in the Senate; primarily in the person of Senator Henry Cabot Lodge; chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee which would have to hold hearings on the treaty.

Lodge intensely disliked Wilson, which did not help matters; and he also feared that Wilson had promised more than he could deliver. He was also close friends with Theodore Roosevelt who was still popular, and who attacked the idea of the League, saying he just couldnít trust "a man who cares for other nations as much as his own.

Roosevelt had tried to volunteer to fight in the War; but was turned down because of his age. Several of his sons did fight; one of them was killed in the war; a fact which broke Rooseveltís health, and probably hastened his death a few years later.

A number of groups were opposed to the treaty, primarily:

Americans of German, Irish, and Italian descent resented its terms.

Liberals were disappointed with the promises Wilson had made.

Mobilization had caused economic problems and distracted supporters.

The Revival of an isolationist sentiment was also supported.

One group in the Senate, called the "irreconcilables, were opposed to ratification on any terms whatsoever. Lodge belonged to a larger group known as reservationists, who insisted on limiting American involvement in the League of Nations.

Lodge offered several amendments to the treaty; and Wilson agreed to some changes in interpretation, but would agree to nothing that would reopen negotiations.

By September, Wilson decided to take the treaty to the people, or in his own words, "purify the wells of public opinion." Against the advice of his doctors and friends, he went on a coast-to-coast trip traveling 8,000 miles in 22 days, and gave 32 major addresses. He typed out his speeches on a typewriter on the train between stops.

On October 2, 1919, he suffered a severe stroke in Pueblo Colorado. The stroke left his left side paralyzed; and he was an invalid for the rest of his life. He didnít meet his cabinet for over seven months; and his wife kept him isolated as much as possible. Now he was more stubborn that before; and refused to budge. When someone suggested he compromise, his response was "let Lodge compromise."

The Senate adopted fourteen reservations to the treaty, most dealing with the League of Nations; Wilson still wouldnít budge, and the vote was 35 for ratification and 55 against.

On May 20, 1920, Congress passed a joint resolution declaring the war at an end, and the stubborn Wilson vetoed the resolution. It was only ended with a resolution passed in 1921 when Warren Harding was President.

After the War

A number of problems waited on the Country at the end of the war.

A. No plan had been made to demobilize and demilitarize after the war. Contracts for war materials were suddenly cancelled, and workers and businesses were caught by surprise. Former soldiers returning from the war found no work. Wilson had become very peevish after his stroke, and in the last two years of his Presidency, he offered precious little leadership.

B. Soldiers returning from the war brought back the Spanish Flu which erupted into a worldwide epidemic. In 1918 alone, it killed more than 22 million people worldwide; twice the number who had died in the war. Over 500,000 Americans died, five times the number of combat deaths. Life Insurance companies went bankrupt, and cemeteries ran out of burial room. Over one quarter of the population were exposed to the illness.

I remember when I was about 13 walking through Olympia Cemetery while my grandfather cleared the family grave plot, and seeing large numbers of tombstones dated 1918. Sometimes whole families, father, mother, and children buried together all dying in that year. I said to my Granddad, "something bad must have happened in 1918." I can still hear his voice when he said, "It did. It was a flu epidemic." Later, I heard my Dad say that he remembered his mother, who was 18 (and married) say that caskets were stacked at Union station every day.

The Spanish Flu epidemic killed more people in a shorter period of time than any other disease, plague, famine or natural catastrophe in the history of the World. It was a true Pandemic.

C. Labor unrest was a problem. Workers had had wages frozen during the war; now that it was over, and with prices rising, they were much more willing to go on strike than before. A great deal of public resentment arose from the strikes; many people claimed that communists, "reds" were behind the strikes.

The most famous strike was the Boston Police Strike. It was not all that significant; but started a Presidential Career. Governor Calvin Coolidge sent the National Guard to keep order, and refused to reinstate the police when they were ready to return to work. Samuel Gompers appealed to the Governor to reinstate them. Coolidge replied with a telegram that made him famous: "There is no right to strike against the public safety by anybody, anywhere, any time."

D. Racial Tension. A number of race riots broke out in the North and South in the summer of 1919. James Weldon Johnson called it the "Red Summer." Whites invaded the black section of Longview Texas searching for a teacher who had accused a woman of a liaison with a black man. They burned shops and ran several Blacks out of town. Other riots occurred in Washington D.C. and Chicago. In the Chicago riot, 39 people were killed. There were over 25 race riots that year.

E. The public reaction to labor strikes and race riots was that it had all been inspired by the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia. Many saw it as the beginning of the World Wide Revolution of which the Communists spoke. The result was a Red Scare; similar to the German scare that had invaded the country.

People might not have worried so much except for the lunatic fringe. A small group mailed bombs to government officials. Over 40 bombs were intercepted; but at least one slipped through the cracks and was opened by the maid of a Georgia Senator. The bomb exploded and blew off her hands. Another destroyed the front of the Attorney Generalís residence.

The Attorney General, who wanted to run for President, set up a special division known as the General Intelligence Division, headed by J. Edgar Hoover. It raided Union and Communist meetings, and deported a large number of people, primarily Russian immigrants, without the benefit of a hearing.

The end result was a crusade for "100% Americanism. Public sentiment grew against Labor Unions, as they were considered nests of Red sympathizers. Campaigns called for "open shops," where union membership was not crucial for employment.

Most Americans were profoundly disillusioned at the end of the War. Wilsonís attempt to reform the world had failed.


Further Reading


An excellent website containing extensive detailed material on World War One is:                         Trenches on the Web.



A substantial list of documents from the War are contained in the World War I Document Archive.



Dr. James Stokesberry has written a detailed and readable narrative of the war entitled A Short History of World War One.  It is available on tape.