World War I: American Neutrality and Involvement


World War I has been shown as the first modern world war as it involved across border conflict which attracted all nations of the world. It was the first war which led to the formation of the allies in the war. The First World War was fought between 1914 and 1918 and war caused by an array of factors which included the conflict and antagonisms of the four decades that led to the eruption of the war. Although the immediate cause of the war can be attributed to the decisions that were made by generals and statesmen in the July 1914 crisis, there were many other factors that can be attributed to the eruption of the bitter conflict that set the world powers into instant conflict with one another and which eventually led to the war.

This was the first war in the world which had a lot of conflicts and which led to massive loss of life and properties. It was also the first war which tried to bring the world together in order to form institutions that would to solve conflicts of which could finally escalate into the same kind of war as was witnessed in this case. Let us look close at the whole war and the factors that were involved in the war.

World War I is seen as truly a modern war since there was improvement in the kind of arms that were used and also an improvement in the kind of military tactics that were employed. There was efficient destruction of property and massive loss of life. There was increased use of iron, armor, crossbow, gunpowder, and other advanced military equipments there was also improved ballistics that enable accuracy in ranges and killing power. It is at this was that the modern trench system was employed which led to killing of many people and destruction for property. There was use of poisonous gas that led to several civilian casualties. There was use of modern submarines that was used to sink ships, zeppelins which were used of drop bombs, pine likes for community and use of electricity and flame throwers. There was general employment of modern technology.

Causes of the First World War

The immediate cause of the war can be directly attributed to the events that happened in July and early August 1914. This has been seen as an effect in which one thing led to another which has otherwise been referred to the treat alliance system. The immediate cause of the war can be attributed to Sarajevo assassination in which Archduke Franz Ferdinand who was heir to the Austro-Humnagian thorne was assassinated in Sarajevo on June 28 1914. Apparently Ferdinand was assisted by the Serbian nationalist security society and this led to series of other events that eventually culminated into the war. The event leading to this can be attributed to the April 1914 attempt by the Serbian military government to establish it authority over the Serbian military which the military resisted. (Vladimir, 1996).

Austrian-Hungary reaction to the death of their heir was just three weeks in coming. There was an argument that the Serbian government was highly implicated in the machinelisations of the Black Hand who had apparently assassinated their heir, the Austria-Hungarian opted to stamp its authority on the Serbian with a crush on the national movement and cementing the Austria-Hungary’s influence in the Balkans regions. (Luigi, 2003).

This resulted to an ultimatum to Serbia. This ultimatum required the assassin to be brought to justice and apparently it nullified Serbia’s sovereignty. Austria-Hungary had expected that Serbia would reject the severe term that were indicated in the ultimatum and therefore it gave here a pretext for launching a limited war on Serbia. This resulted to a great conflict in the whole Europe.

The conflict in Europe

However Serbia had strong ties with Russia which was altogether a different proposition for the Austria-Hungary. There was a great expectation from Austria-Hungary that Russia would not be drawn into the war. However Austria-Hungary sought assurance from her ally Germany that she would come to where aid in an eventuality if Russia happened to intervene in the conflict. Germany agreed to protect her in return. This was the start of the whole conflict in Europe that led to the eruption of the war. There was no available conflict resolution mechanism that could be used to resolve the conflict as it appeared. There was an array of events that eventuality led to the inexorability of the Great War.

Austria-Hungary was unsatisfied with the response of Serbia to the ultimatum that she had given. Though it was hard for a sovereign national like Serbia to conform with what had been given Austria, it was seen as a placatory ultimatum and her jabbing over a number of clauses the had been given in the ultimatum gave Austria her sought after cue an on 28the July 1914, she declared war on Serbia.

Russia was bound by here treat to Serbia and therefore she could not sit and watch as she was attracted. Therefore Russia as well mobilizes its vast armies in defense of Serbia. This was a slow process that took over six weeks to complete.

On the other hand Germany had already assured Austria that she would come to her aid once Russia mobilized its forces in defense of Serbia. Therefore bound by the treaty to Australia she viewed the mobilization of Russia military as a threat to her and on August 1 she declared war on Russia.

France was bound by her treat to Russia and she found herself involved in the conflict. She found herself on the verge of war against the Germany which was extending to Austria-Hungary. This came following a declaration by German on August 3 that she was invading Belgium which was seen as a neutral nation in order to reach Paris in the shortest time possible.

Britain was closely allied to France though by a more loosely worded treaty but which placed a moral obligation to defend France. Britain declared war on German on 4th August. There was also a 75 year old treaty under which Britain was bound to protect the neutral Belgium. With Germany having invaded Belgium, the king of Belgium sought help from Britain and immediately she went to defend her on that very day when she was attacked by Germany. Once Britain entered into the war, her colonies offered the necessary assistance in order to defend here. Therefore there was a lot of mobilization of military and financial assistance from Australia, Canada, India, New Zealand and Union of South Africa. The war was surely becoming a global affair with a worldwide participation.

Japan had earlier entered into a treat with Japan and therefore she could not be left out in the war. On 23rd August, Japan entered into the war declaring war on Germany. Two days later Austria declared war on Japan.

Therefore there was a formation of axis which participated into the war. This was seen as war which was led by treaties. The eruption of the war though between Serbian and Austria in the start spread to include the protection of the participants. It ended up as a tit-for-tat war in which countries entered to help each other and to protect the interest of each other. This was a fault alliance that led to participation of all nations into the war.

But one notable thing about the war was that though there was the participation of all continents into the war, America was not represented into the war. Why was the United States not immediately seen in the war?

Policy of American neutrality in the war

Though there was the participation of all nations in the war, it took the United States several days to enter into the war. There was also response into the war which was seen a nation was against the other. To the United States, this was an affair of other nations which it did not have to get involved into. However President Woodrow Wilson who headed the United States at the time declared the policy of neutrality of the United States in the war.

On Augusts 19 1914, the president addressed the congress and made it public that the US would be carrying the policy of neutrality into the affair. He beseeched the citizens also to take that same stance and avoid taking side into the conflict that had degraded to a world affair. This was in spirit of fear of endangering the foreign policy of the US as it needed the relationship that it had with all the alliances that were participating in the war in order to protect her interest.

According to President Woodrow, the European balance of power and publics was not the concern of America. America saw the war as an affair of the European nations which was like a struggle for supremacy among the alliances. Therefore this was seen as a foreign conflict which the US did not need to be involved. America had to take isolation culture and stay out of foreign entanglements.

According to the president America was a great nation that was made of different immigrants from both Germany and Britain who were seen as the main centre of the conflicts. Therefore there was a probability that if America took side with the conflict, there would be a probability of the hatred among the different people of diffrennt nations who were living in America. Therefore the best policy at that time was for America to stay out of the war.

Woodrow also realized the he was faced by an election in 1916 and therefore he wanted to act with naturalist so that he would play on both side. This meant that if he took side, he was likely to lose the votes from the other sides. Woodrow also asserted the war violated the progressive ideals that America had adopted at that time and which has helped her to propel her economy. He wanted America to remain a descent nation in the conflict. He had the concept of “peace without victory” in which he argued the war is un-winnable and he called for immediate armistice.

America also supported the neutral stance that had been taken by the government. They had the option that they had good businesses relationship with Europe and in this case with different nations that had taken side in the war. Therefore the neutral stance was good for her business. Those from the Britain, French and Russian allies supported their own allies and therefore lack of a common support by the civilian was seen as hard to lead one national approach to the war.

Therefore according to Woodrow, he had taken an early idealism that there was no need to lend money to nations. This is because there war a likelihood of the nations inability to pay the money and might lead to future conflict in the world as America asks for the money. He also believed the all nation were equal and there was need to deal with all nation in terms of equality and honor. He asserted that America would not recognize government who seized power. America would work to promoted democracy, pluralism, secularism in the world. He had a strong believe that there was no need for America to interfere with matters of other nations. He considered each nation to have its own sovereignty and therefore there was no need to interfere with the internal affairs of these nations. Woodrow believed with the importance of the international institutions that would help to maintain peace and stability in the world.

This was in light of the events that had led to the eruption of the war. Though the war had started as a small matter between Serbian and Austria, it had erupted to that large scale because there was not international mechanism that could be used by the affected nations to seek redress from the other nation. President Woodrow therefore rooted for the need to have international organization that would be used by and disgruntled national to seek readers from another nation instead of resulting to war.

In his speech Woodrow Wilson emphasized the “America’s mission was to realize an ideal of liberty, provide a model of democracy, vindicate moral principle, give examples of action and ideals of government, uphold the rights of man, work for the humanity and the happiness of men even when, lead the thinking of the world, promote peace- in sum, to serve making and progress”. This was a statement from the President that showed what he meant with his early ideal on the nature of conduct in the world and the stand of the United States in the war.

However there were many instances in which this was not well represented in line with ideals that president had expressed. There were many instances when America did not live to the ideals that were expressed by Woodrow which clearly showed a crush of reality and the real expression and practice of the ideal. For example the US had interfered with the Mexican civil war in which case it did not respect the rights of the Mexican as a sovereign nation. This was also a Mexican war which America did not need to be involved in. There was also the interference in Chinese power struggle between SunYatsen and Yuan Shikai. In this case America had not respected the sovereign nature of the US and therefore e it had unclear intervened in their home affairs. The US had also sent Marines to Mexico, Haiti, Cuba and other nations in a bid to interfere with internal matters of nations. Therefore this was not seen as clear reason which America could not enter into the war.

Entrance of America into the war

When German entered in the war, it slowly started losing its credibility in the world. In order to reach France, it had attached the neutral Belgium which as one of the uproar of many nations about the way Germany was approaching the war. There was more criticism from other nations in the world on the way German had decided to take over Belgium in order to reach Paris.

The allies of the Britain and France were starting to lose powers and therefore they were seeking to have more reinforcement in order to win the war. On the other hand central powers were increasingly seen as aggressor. This was worsened by the behavior of German to use poison gas in the war which was the first time such a weapon had been used against humanity.

The entry of the US into the conflict was instigated by the German’s launch of submarine warfare against the neutral American ships. There were also effective propaganda and a lot of lobbying by breathing in order to have help from American to build on the weakening powers of the allies. (Mark, 2005).

The entry of American to the war was also instigated by other factor. First Britain had massive debt which means if it lost America was also likely to lose in the collection of the debt. Therefore American had come to aid Britain so that it would be able to repay the loan that had been granted for the war.

The 1916 elections were also over and therefore President Wilson did not fear any political repercussion on home. He could not express his own stand on the war now. President Wilson also saw a chance of American becoming a majority player in the world and there it had to enter into the war in order to be involved in the post war decision. Wilson was slowly starting to see American as becoming a major player in the world matters and therefore there was need to move from the position of neutrality and work with other nations. There was also a risk of future attacks on America and therefore there was a need to seek allies in order to ensure that America would acquire help in the future. These were important considerations that had been put in consideration for America to enter into the war. But the most important reason that led the entry of America into the war was the undesired submarine warfare on its commercial ships that threatened its commercial interest. Therefore on 6th April 1917, America entered to the war.

But America was not predated for the war. The army was in a poor state since it had not anticipated participating in the war unlike others in the war who had been preparing for any eventuality. The quality and the quality of the army and the equipments were very poor. There was only 200,000 troops from 1914 to 1917 who had been recruited into the army and how could be used for the war. The state of equipment was also poor as the army used old and unreliable French riffles which jammed at any moment.

The states of the economy was also seen as another factor in which America was not fully prepared for the war. Though there was increased production in the economy, it was to be more directed o the building of the nation rather than being directed to war. Therefore there was a need to retool the industrial from consumer orientation to defense orientation. The society was also not well prepared to participate in the war as some had the bitter memories of the civil war that had left them devastated. They ewer not either ready to sacrifice the consumer lifestyle not were they ready for terrible losses.

In entering the war America contributed 2 million foot soldiers to the French frontline. There were also additional loans, cries and supplies that were advanced to the allies. The American navy also contributed warships and merchant ships that were used in the war. The American army was a morale booster to the Britain and French army who were overwhelmed by the other allies. American forces were able to halt the advice of Germany towards Paris and they were reversed back. (Ellmer, 1999).

The war had most of effect on the American economy. There was weekly allotment of staple items as there was rationing of decently commodities. The finer it’s and luxurious item were not also aviated during the war. The population had to become more self reliance as they grew vegetables, makes the own clothes and invented other means of serving. The industries were retooled in order to produce warfare items. The government was able to fix prices and wages. There were also a growing multi billion debts and increasing participation of women in production as men were involved in the war. There were also other social effects as a result of the participation of America in the war. There was growing unity among the America since the civil war in 1856. There was increased unity among the population as this as a war the integrated southern and northern units since they were fighting together. There was growing patriotism by Americans.

In 1918, there was a massive outbreak of Influenza which killed 40 million people in the world. The cost of the war was now standing at billions and there were more effects of the war on the economy. There was need for the warring party to come to the negotiationalbe and look into the way the conflict could be addressed. American realized that it had to supply Europe in order to get their economy growing again. Influence weekend Europe while at the same time the economy of America expanded.


Presided Wilson had the idea of avoiding vengeance and retribution with German. Therefore there was needed to treat each other with respect. But without mutual respect the idea was futile. According to idealism by Wilson, there was need to treat Germany with respect. But on the reality part of it, was Britain and France that bore the effects of the war rather than American. Therefore most Britain and France considered America as an outside in the conflict. They were not ready to listen to the advice that Wilson was giving to them. Therefore the US rejected the League of Nation which had been formed to arbitrate conflicts in the world since it was seen as a partisan issue and there were also concerns on the American Sovereignty. There was also an issue of wanting toe police the world. Then there was a period of great depression from 1920 till 1939. This has been attributed to the effects for the war at that time. This directly culminated to the Second World War.


Ellmer, H. (1999). The pity of war. Basic Books.

Luigi, A. (2003). Origin of War of 1914. London: Oxford University Press.

Mark, C. (2005). American Destiny. Pearson/Longman Publishing.

McKinney, J. M, American (1920-1939). From ‘excess’ to ‘Depression’ to ‘A new deal’. History 22.

McKinney, J. M, The World at War (1914-1918): “Lafayette….We are Here”. History 22.

Vladimir, D. (1996). The road to Sarajevo. New York: Simon and Schuster.

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