The Great War and the United States’ Role in It


The First World War belongs to the number of the most famous armed conflicts in the history of human society. The number of military service people mobilized for the participation in the war exceeded seventy million whereas the overall human losses for countries whose armed forces were involved in the conflict are still difficult to be estimated. Considering that the war still has an influence on the global political situation, there is a need to understand the nature and the causes of the war more thoroughly and characterize the role of the United States in the course of events.

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Main Body

It is widely accepted that the First World War was caused by the assassination of Franz Ferdinand and his wife. The crime committed by a nationalist from Serbia in 1914 became one of the brightest events of the decade, but the prelude to the assassination and the conflict following it was strictly interconnected with the forces of militarism, nationalism, and imperialism. Militarism became one of the key ideas for Europeans after the Franco-German War in the second half of the nineteenth century as conflicts between the leading capitalist superpowers were escalating. Understanding that further armed conflicts were inevitable, numerous countries including Russia, Great Britain, Germany, and France increased the numerical forces of their armies.

The willingness of leading countries of the twentieth century to acquire new territories and extend their power can be called one of the primary forces that contributed to the war; the Russo-Japanese War that ended in the defeat of the Russian Empire became an inciting factor for European countries to resolve their multilateral conflicts through the use of force. As a force, nationalism appeared in Europe at the beginning of the nineteenth century; since that time, a range of books touching upon inequality between nations was published.

For instance, “The Foundations of the Nineteenth Century” proclaiming the importance of national division and containing references to eugenics became extremely popular both in Great Britain and Germany (Chapman, 2015). The combination of these forces and growing conflicts between neighboring countries presented the prerequisites to the Great War; when it comes to the prelude to the war, the rise of Pan-Slavism must be considered. The idea proclaiming the necessity for all Slavic peoples to form a steady geopolitical union was spreading with an enormous speed – the growth of nationalist sentiment in the Balkans and other European regions can be listed among the most obvious reasons for the crime denoting a new dramatic stage in global political relationships (Weigel, 2014).

Nationalism in German-speaking countries and Pan-Slavism in Eastern Europe were developing simultaneously, and the outright contradiction of these ideologies together with the willingness of strong Germany to gain control over the continent did not leave a chance to avoid the war. The alliance system initiated by Bismarck was considered as the primary tool supporting the domination of Germany in Europe. Among the forces formed at the end of the nineteenth century, there were Dreikaiserbund undermining the power of France, the alliance of Germany and Austria against the Russian Empire based on the national principle, and many others (Sewell, 2013). After a series of territorial conflicts, the Entente Powers and the Triple Alliance whose contradictions laid the foundation for the war were formed.

In 1914, the United States did not play a significant role in the First World War. The country entered the discussed war only six months before the Great Socialist Revolution in Russia. Before 1917, the United States remained neutral even though the government did not support the ideas prioritized by German leaders. The role of ethnicity in neutrality is obvious as the decision emanated from the welfare of Americans. The willingness of the country to stay on the sidelines during the war can be attributed to a few facts. First, the agreements acting as strong reasons for European countries to start the war had almost no influence on the positions of the United States in the world.

Apart from that, having weighed up the pros and cons of entering the war, the American government understood that the outcomes for Americans would be cost-prohibitive. At the beginning of the war, there were a few unsuccessful attempts of Woodrow Wilson to make peace efforts, but the further escalation of the conflict was inevitable (Keene, 2014). As for the events that drew the United States into the armed conflict, they were a result of the unwillingness of Germany to demonstrate the appropriate attitude to citizens of countries that were staying neutral.

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In 1915, one of the German submarine vessels sank the British passenger ship, and at least one hundred American citizens died. Even though Germany was informed that these actions were a blatant violation of accepted norms of international law, it sank a few more American ships in the spring of 1917 (Peifer, 2015). After that, the American government had no choice but to declare war on Germany. The contribution of the United States to the war effort became extremely important for countries trying to hold the German army back; thus, at least one million Americans were mobilized to strengthen France and avoid the capture of Paris.

American soldiers took part in a range of armed conflicts on the Western and Italian fronts. At the same time, it is necessary to acknowledge that not all efforts made by the army of the United States were successful. Taking into account the depleting resources of countries contradicting the German domination, the participation of the United States made a certain contribution to the end of the war; the enormous credits were offered to the allies of the United States. What is more, the project of the peace treaty was offered by Wilson to encourage the end of combat operations and establish the League of Nations controlling the aggression through diplomatic negotiations.

The Treaty of Versailles is known as one of the most important agreements in the history of the Great War. Being a key document for the majority of countries that were involved in the war, the treaty was defeated. Speaking about the events that led to these outcomes, it is important to consider the opinions of other outstanding figures in the United States. Numerous objections based on possible social instability after its adoption followed the presentation of the treaty. It is widely accepted that the Treaty of Versailles encouraged economic crisis in Germany and became a reason for moral panic of Germans with low and medium incomes (Anievas, 2014). The treaty also had an impact on the role of the United States in the world as conflicts between the country and its allies continued to escalate.


In the end, due to the efforts of Woodrow Wilson, the decision to establish the League of Nations was included in the statement defining the principles for peace. The failure of the United States to enter the League of Nations is still considered as one of the greatest mistakes made by the government of the country.


Anievas, A. (2014). International relations between war and revolution: Wilsonian diplomacy and the making of the Treaty of Versailles. International Politics, 51(5), 619-647.

Chapman, M. (2015). Missionaries, modernism, and German theology: Anglican reactions to the outbreak of war in 1914. Journal for the History of Modern Theology/Zeitschrift für Neuere Theologiegeschichte, 22(2), 151-167.

Keene, J. (2014). What did it all mean? The United States and World War I. Histoire Politique, 1(1), 120-136.

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Peifer, D. (2015). The sinking of the Lusitania, Wilson’s response, and paths not taken: Historical revisionism, the Nye Committee, and the ghost of William Jennings Bryan. Journal of Military History, 79(4), 1025-1045.

Sewell, K. C. (2013). Remembrance and research: Some reflections on a pending centenary – Conclusion. Pro Rege, 42(1), 22-30.

Weigel, G. (2014). The Great War revisited. First Things, 243, 23-30.

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