Nationalism as a Cause of World War I


World War I is the greatest event that affected the world at the beginning of the 20th century. This paper will reveal some of its triggers and identify how the USA was engaged in the war. In particular, attention will be paid to the major forces that led to the outbreak of World War I. The focus will also be made on the decision to remain neutral and America’s role in the outcome of this event.

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Nationalism, Imperialism, and Militarism

World War I was triggered by numerous causes, and nationalism is one of them. It is mainly perceived as a sense of pride experienced by a nation (Llewellyn, 2017). Nationalism was observed in Italy and Germany before World War I, as some delegates who gathered at the Congress of Vienna revealed that they wanted to create a new Europe that would not include these countries. In the 19th century, the Pan-Slav movement started promoting a sense of Slav unity. Intellectuals focused on national identity and emphasized similarities between Slavic countries, which separated them from the rest of the world. German states were bound due to a similar movement that was backed by German militarism.

Imperialism presupposes the willingness of a country to become superior to others. In this way, it can enhance its power and wealth. This concept facilitated the development of World War I, as it was observed in all European countries and it encouraged them to have the fight to take over each other. Such actions were supported by militarism. According to it, the use of force is the best way to solve issues among nations. As a result, armies grew, as well as the powers needed to participate in wars.

Finally, the Alliance System affected the world’s situation and triggered the war. It made rivaling countries start battles. As a result, the number of participants in the war increased, and it became more difficult to develop a compromise that would appeal to everyone. Hence, the competition between nations exhilarated.

The USA in World War I

At the beginning of World War I, the USA tried to be neutral. However, when its ships started to be attacked by the German navy and sank, the country realized that its economy and safety are affected significantly (Proctor, 2017). Initially, the country was focused on the desire to improve its economy. Thus, it was not interested in the possibility to participate in World War I and resolve global problems. The USA dealt with human rights and unemployment and citizens supported this decision.

The USA did not want to become a part of World War I since it realized that all its achievements associated with the improvement of local situation and enhancement of well-being would be wasted. The country wished to remain impartial and friendly towards others. It expected its population to be loyal and follow the developed plan. Neutrality was seen as the tool for saving the US achievements obtained due to its hard work.

Moreover, it is significant to consider the fact that the USA was created when the representatives of various nations united into one. They represented different races and ethnicities, which meant that they could hardly be treated as friends or enemies of some countries engaged in World War I. In this way, neutrality made the USA develop its nationalism. This idea was immediately distributed by the media. Politicians and the representatives of government institutions promoted togetherness. In this way, the participation of the USA in World War I would divide its populations and affect national stability.

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America’s Entrance into the War and Its Contribution

At the beginning of the 20th century, the British ocean liner on which numerous Americans were present was attacked by Germans. The USA realized that German submarines could threaten its population but decided to remain neutral regardless of this event because Americans were hurt indirectly. Wilson stated that the USA valued its peace more and that military response would not be the best option, considering its consequences. As a result, American delegates came to Germany, asking its authorities not to attack ships anymore. However, this request was not satisfied. Soon, Germany started destroying all ships in the foreign waters, attacking Americans as well (Proctor, 2017). These actions made the President address Congress with the intention to declare war against Germany. He emphasized that this country refused to end unrestricted submarine warfare. Moreover, it tried to develop an alliance with Mexico to fight against the USA. Along with the submarine attacks, the Zimmermann telegram motivated Americans to become engaged in World War I (Proctor, 2017).

It is important to recognize American contribution even before its official engagement in the war. For instance, it supported the Entente powers. The country supplied them with military forces, financial resources, and industrial necessities. As the USA entered the war, Germany started great attacks that resulted in the US response. The country gathered numerous military troops and used tanks along with other countries. As a result, Germany lost the greatest part of its army and surrendered.

The Treaty of Versailles and the role of President Woodrow Wilson

The Treaty of Versailles was formulated at the end of World War I. According to it, peaceful relationships between Germany and other participants of the war were ensured (Ross, 2015). The main goal of this treaty was to make certain that future peace will not be ruined. In order to make this initiative even more effective, the League of Nations was created (Ross, 2015). However, the USA was not included because it waited for Congress’ clarifications. The statements of this document did not appeal to Congress, so the USA had never joined the League of Nations. In particular, it was stated that the country could provide too much power. Even though this organization included numerous participants, it failed to meet its goal. As a result, the peaceful situation in the world was ruined, and World War II started.

Wilson was the president of the USA at the discussed period of time. He wanted to ensure that the country did not participate in World War I due to the harmful influences and consequences of this event. However, those occurrences that were observed during World War I made him alter his position. As a result, he initiated the war against Germany. Having had no desire to be engaged in military affairs, the president started them because of the unrestricted submarine welfare. Wilson contributed to the development of the USA significantly because he controlled the economy of the country. In addition to that, he supported the army effectively. When World War I ended, the president went to France as he was interested in the Treaty of Versailles. Wilson believed in democracy and wanted to ensure that World War II would not happen.


Thus, it can be concluded that the development of nationalism, imperialism, and militarism in the most powerful countries triggered the first critical conflicts between them. Under the leadership of Wilson, the USA did its best to focus on its personal development and remain neutral during World War I. However, Germany’s actions provoked the USA, and it entered the war. Over the course of time, the involved countries managed to overcome this issue, but a peaceful environment did not last for a long time.


Llewellyn, J. (2017). Nationalism as a cause of World War I. Web.

Proctor, T. (2017). World War I: A short history (2nd ed.). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

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Ross, S. (2015). World War I. London, UK: Britannica.

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