Great War and America
Aggression, brutality, and greed have always constituted a negative and destructive part of human nature and forced humanity to perform unethical, dangerous, and violent actions. Religious, political, and military leaders have always exploited these factors to persuade their followers to perform acts of aggression against dissidents and weaker groups that could not protect themselves. This tendency resulted in a large number of wars throughout the history of humankind that led to huge casualties among the civilian population and soldiers and destruction of infrastructure on a massive scale. There were several main reasons that led to the outbreaks of armed conflicts: expansionism that involved capturing territory and resources, religious and philosophical views and beliefs that implied subduing people with other opinions, and egoism of powerful individuals that demanded self-affirmation at the cost of weaker groups and nations. The combination of these causes resulted in one of the most destructive wars in the history of humanity – World War I that is also known as the Great War. Determining the causes of the conflict could help in preventing such disastrous events in the future by avoiding misunderstanding, disrespect, and mistrust between nations with different cultural background. It is essential to pay additional attention to the role of the United States of America in World War I because the efforts of American people contributed to final victory and the establishment of peace significantly.
One of the major causes of the war was the rise of nationalism in Europe in 19th and the first decades of 20th century and especially in German-speaking states that were united by the desire of spreading influence over the whole region. According to specialists, the main idea of the approach included the creation of a powerful and unified nation by capturing the territories of other countries inhabited by the population with German cultural and ethnical background. This type of ideology was efficient at influencing public opinion and social reality due to several reasons: in the late 19th century, Prussia waged highly effective military campaigns that resulted in the significant expansion of borders; its politicians concentrated on promoting the principles of German dominance over the lesser people of European region. The combination of these factors allowed Prussian military and political leaders to seize control over German-speaking states that had constituted parts of Denmark, Austria, and France and create the German Empire in 1871.
Additionally, the founders and followers of the idea of German dominance used the factor of language to promote imperialism and nationalism in other countries among people with German cultural background and unite them under a common goal. According to research, the leader of Germany Otto von Bismarck wanted to capture the entire continent and used personal, political, and military skills along with the increasing economic and industrial might of the nation to expand the territory of the empire further and subdue such internal minority groups as Polish, French, Czech, and Russian. This evidence proves that the rise of nationalism in Germany, growing ambitions of its leaders, and the rapid spread of the idea of German dominance contributed to the intensifying tension in the European region and provoked the eventual outbreak of the war.
The German Empire was not the only power in Europe that wanted to expand borders and capture human and natural resources. One of the important factors that contributed to the growing tension and rivalry in the region was the rise of imperialism and nationalism in the countries of Eastern Europe, including the Serbia and the Russian Empire. These nations adopted the ideas of pan-Slavism that was created in the 16th century by a Croatian scholar Vinko Pribojevic. The approach concentrated on promoting the dominance of Slavic people in Europe and uniting them as the nation with strong monarchical traditions that would be ruled by a powerful authority figure. The Russian Empire used the popularity of Pan-Slavism to its advantage and claimed to be the only Slavic country powerful enough to implement the idea in practice. Additionally, the approach was popular among people with Slavic background who inhabited Balkans and the territory of Austro-Hungarian Empire and were unsatisfied with the authorities. This evidence proves that the rise of Pan-Slavism in Eastern Europe and desire of Serbians to join the Russian Empire was one of the main reasons that resulted in the outbreak of World War I.
The system of alliances and political relations in Europe at the beginning of the 20th century also contributed to the growing tension between the nations that inhabited the region. According to specialists, the Russian Empire provided full military support to allied Serbia, and this action was viewed as the declaration of war by the Austro-Hungarian Empire and its German allies. In turn, France had to assist Russia due to political and military agreements, and Britain decided to protect Belgium from Germany to prevent the spread of German nationalism over Europe because it received significant military support from numerous colonies, including India, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. Japan joined the conflict due to existing treaties with Britain, and Italy decided to contain German and Austro-Hungarian expansionism.
One of the countries that produced the greatest impact on the outcome of World War I was the United States of America. Despite significant economic, military, and political potential of the nation, President Woodrow Wilson officially declared the position of neutrality. There were two reasons that led to the decision: American citizens were opposed to the idea of waging war across the ocean without an evident purpose, and the country could receive profit from trading with all of the opposing sides. Moreover, immigrants constituted a third of the US population, and the majority of them were German, Russian, Jewish, and Irish. These groups supported the opposing sides of the conflict in Europe, and the US government decided to adopt the position of neutrality to maintain public order and eliminate possible reasons for the outbreak of a civil war.
The United States remained neutral even despite the British trade blockade and occasional accidental that involved German naval forces. Nevertheless, the implementation of unrestricted warfare policy by Germany and the attack of German submarines on American civil and trade ships forced the US to join the conflict in 1917 and start a mobilization campaign. American military forces provided allies with ships, airplanes, and soldiers that were used in the battles of strategic significance while the supply of food, medicine, equipment, spare parts, weapons, and fuel allowed decreasing the economic and social pressure. This assistance played an important role in the eventual victory because European nations depleted their resource potential during the years of war. According to research, the contribution of the US consisted of approximately two million soldiers and more than fifty thousand died during service.
Eventually, the joint efforts of the Allies resulted in the defeat of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and surrender of Germany. President Woodrow Wilson took the position of a negotiator and peacemaker and developed Fourteen Points that would provide compensation for German aggression and ensure the demilitarization of Germany and long-lasting peace in Europe. The negotiations with Germany ended in the adoption of the Treaty of Versailles on June 28, 1919 and the official end of World War I. The contribution of the US and its growing economic might allowed the nation to become one of the most powerful and influential powers in the international political arena during the post-war decades. Additionally, the ideas promoted in Fourteen Points developed by Woodrow Wilson were used as a basis for the creation of the League of Nations even despite the fact that the US never actually joined the organization.
To conclude, the Great War was caused by the rise of nationalism and imperialism in Germany and German-speaking states, the rapid development of Pan-Slavism in Eastern Europe and Balkans, the system of political and military alliances that forced the majority of countries to join the conflict. At first, the US adopted the position of neutrality due to economic and social reasons, but the declaration of unrestricted warfare by Germany forced the country to engage in the war. The United States supported allies with military forces as well as supplies of food, equipment, and ammunition. The adoption of the position of a negotiator and peacemaker by President Woodrow Wilson allowed ending the war and signing the Treaty of Versailles and ensured the political, military, and economic dominance of the US in the world during the 1920s and 1930s. The Fourteen Points contributed to the establishment of the League of Nations by serving as a basis for the organization.