Being the first global international conflict in the twentieth century, World War I challenged the European countries as well as the USA to mobilize their military forces to oppose German aggression.
In spite of the fact the USA insisted on the state’s neutrality about the conflict to protect the interests of the citizens and preserve the stability within the country, America entered the war in 1917 with the proclamation to support the principles of democracy over the world. The American entry into World War I was discussed by citizens as the controversial decision because of all the possible positive and negative consequences for the country.
Although the opinions of politicians, social activists, and other citizens regarding the American entry into the war were rather opposite, the negative vision of the situation prevailed, with references to the problematic mobilization, controversy about the adequate reasons for entering, and the citizens’ distrust associated with the possible outcomes.
The challenging necessity to form the troops for entering the war was met negatively by politicians, representatives of the military authorities, and by citizens. Discussing the problematic situation and all the possible outcomes in his speech, Robert LaFollette concentrates on the idea to develop “a volunteer army to fight on foreign soil” to provide soldiers with the opportunity to choose the participation in the war (LaFollette).
To support his idea, LaFollette focuses on the unnecessary violence of the war locating in Europe which does not influence the USA directly. Moreover, being sent to fight against their will, soldiers cannot realize the orders completely. Thus, the vision of the ordinary Americans of the war is not taken into consideration because the majority of the population does not share the idea of the entry (LaFollette).
Furthermore, the process of mobilization is also complicated with references to the US actual absence of readiness to the challenges of the war. Following the principles of neutrality, America helped the European countries with weapons and resources, but the accents were made on US independence and detachment about the war conflict.
Thus, President Woodrow Wilson’s decision to enter the war was argued and discussed at different levels. The public was inclined to support the point of view that there were no adequate reasons for the USA to participate in World War I actively. On the one hand, LaFollette states that only neutrality can work “in the name of democracy” when the entry is the way to numerous unreasoned deaths of young Americans (LaFollette).
On the other hand, the war is the necessary factor to speak about the Americans’ identity as the nation and their readiness to fight for the nation’s ideals. According to Du Bois, there is a range of reasons for which the American soldiers fought, but all these reasons are rather controversial, and they can be discussed from different positions.
Thus, Du Bois states, “for the America that represents and gloats in lynching, disfranchisement, caste, brutality and devilish insult – for this, in the hateful upturning and mixing of things, we were forced by vindictive fate to fight” (Du Bois).
Operating the ideals of democracy as the main reasons for entering the war, politicians attracted soldiers to fight for these ideals, but the consequences of the war were not correlated with the proclaimed ideals. That is why the position of soldiers and citizens who were challenged by the war directly and the vision of politicians differed significantly.
It is important to note that World War I revealed the problematic aspects of US democracy about dividing the country’s population into Americans and non-Americans. The expansion of democratic ideals with the help of weapons and participation in World War I can be discussed as one of the stages in the process of Americanization.
From this point, the fact of entering the war was necessary not only to save the principles of democracy in the world but also to impose the ideals of American democracy on the European countries. The process revealed a lot of drawbacks in the system and the social life of the Americans. The processes of assimilation, nativism, and racial discrimination were emphasized.
The problem is in the fact that these issues were typical for the American society before entering World War I, and the participation in the war only contributed to the problems’ development. Randolph Bourne provides his vision of the situation, stating that “we blamed the war, we blamed the Germans.
And then we discovered with a moral shock that these movements had been making great headway before the war even began” (Bourne). In his work, Bourne is inclined not to present the strict opinion on the war and its effects on the USA with references to the positive or negative conclusions, but he pays attention to the fact that World War I helped see those problems which were not accentuated earlier.
According to Bourne, the war emphasized the diversity of American culture. Thus, “it is our lot rather be a federation of cultures. This we have been for half a century, and the war has made it ever more evident that this is what we are destined to remain” (Bourne). Bourne’s discussion can be examined as one more point of view on the problem of the war and its impacts.
The victory of the democratic principles within the democratic world was proclaimed as the main desirable outcome of World War I. However, the reality was different, and the citizens’ distrust in relation to the achievement of the war’s goals and its impacts increased, especially with references to those persons who saw the horrors of the war by their own eyes.
Thus, Laura Frost and Theodore Jones in their notes emphasize on the illusory character of the possible positive outcomes of the war while participating in the war actions or helping hundreds of wounded soldiers (Frost; Jones). The adequateness of reasons for the entry into the war and trust to the ideals of democracy remained to be controversial points for the American citizens involving in the war at the other continent.
The reaction of the American citizens to the state’s entry into the war differs about the social position and ideas shared by the representatives of this or that social category or political force.
However, it is possible to note that the proclamation of the fight for democracy did not provide the necessary positive effect on citizens because of the actual impossibility to avoid the great number of victims died during the fight for the democratic ideals. In contrast, the war revealed a lot of negative aspects of the American social situation.