The War to End Wars
I. War by Act of Germany
- On January 22, 1917, Woodrow Wilson made one final, attempt to avert war, delivering a moving address that correctly declared only a “peace without victory” (beating Germany without embarrassing them) would be lasting.
- Germany responded by shocking the world, announcing that it would break the Sussex pledge and return to unrestricted submarine warfare, which meant that its U-boats would now be firing on armed and unarmed ships in the war zone.
- Wilson asked Congress for the authority to arm merchant ships, but a band of Midwestern senators tried to block this measure.
- Then, the Zimmerman note was intercepted and published on March 1, 1917.
- Written by German foreign secretary Arthur Zimmerman, it secretly proposed an alliance between Germany and Mexico. It proposed that if Mexico fought against the U.S. and the Central Powers won, Mexico could recover Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona from the U.S.
- The Germans also began to make good on their threats, sinking numerous ships. Meanwhile, in Russia, a revolution toppled the tsarist regime.
- On April 2, 1917, President Wilson asked Congress to declare war, which it did four days later; Wilson had lost his gamble at staying out of the war.
II. Wilsonian Idealism Enthroned
- Many people still didn’t want to enter into war, for America had prided itself in isolationism for decades, and now, Wilson was entangling America in a distant war.
- Six senators and 50 representatives, including the first Congresswoman, Jeanette Ranking, voted against war.
- To gain enthusiasm for the war, Wilson came up with the idea of America entering the war to “make the world safe for democracy.”
- This idealistic motto worked brilliantly, but with the new American zeal came the loss of Wilson’s earlier motto, “peace without victory.”
III. Fourteen Potent Wilsonian Points
- On January 8, 1917, Wilson delivered his Fourteen Points Address to Congress.
- The Fourteen Points were a set of idealistic goals for peace. The main points were…
- No more secret treaties.
- Freedom of the seas was to be maintained.
- A removal of economic barriers among nations.
- Reduction of armament burdens.
- Adjustment of colonial claims in the interests of natives and colonizers.
- “Self-determination,” or independence for oppressed minority groups who’d choose their government
- A League of Nations, an international organization that would keep the peace and settle world disputes.
IV. Creel Manipulates Minds
- The Committee on Public Information, headed by George Creel, was created to “sell” the war to those people who were against it or to just gain support for it.
- The Creel organization sent out an army of 75,000 men to deliver speeches in favor of the war, showered millions of pamphlets containing the most potent “Wilsonisms” upon the world, splashed posters and billboards that had emotional appeals, and showed anti-German movies like The Kaiser and The Beast of Berlin.
- There were also patriotic songs, but Creel did err in that he oversold some of the ideals, and result would be disastrous disillusionment.
V. Enforcing Loyalty and Stiffing Dissent
- Germans in America were surprisingly loyal to the U.S., but nevertheless, many Germans were blamed for espionage activities, and a few were tarred, feathered, and beaten.
- The Espionage Act of 1917 and the Sedition Act of 1918 showed American fears and paranoia about Germans and others perceived as a threat.
- Antiwar Socialists and the members of the radical union Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) were often prosecuted, including Socialist Eugene V. Debs and IWW leader William D. Haywood, who were arrested, convicted, and sent to prison.
- Fortunately, after the war, there were presidential pardons (from Warren G. Harding), but a few people still sat in jail into the 1930s.
VI. The Nation’s Factories Go to War
- America was very unprepared for war, though Wilson had created the Council of National Defense to study problems with mobilization and had launched a shipbuilding program.
- America’s army was only the 15th largest in the world.
- In trying to mobilize for war, no one knew how much America could produce, and traditional laissez-faire economics (where the government stays out of the economy) still provided resistance to government control of the economy.
- In March 1918, Wilson named Bernard Baruch to head the War Industries Board, but this group never had much power and was disbanded soon after the armistice.
VII. The War, Workers, and Women
- Congress imposed a rule that made any unemployed man available to enter the war and also discouraged strikes.
- The National War Labor Board, headed by former president William H. Taft, settled any possible labor difficulties that might hamper the war efforts.
- Fortunately, Samuel Gompers’ of the American Federation of Labor (AF of L), which represented skilled laborers, loyally supported the war, and by war’s end, its membership more than doubled to over 3 million.
- Yet, there were still labor problems, as price inflation threatened to eclipse wage gains, and over 6,000 strikes broke out during the war, the greatest occurring in 1919, when 250,000 steelworkers walked off the job.
- In that strike, the steel owners brought in 30,000 African-Americans to break the strike, and in the end, the strike collapsed, hurting the labor cause for more than a decade.
- During the war, Blacks immigrated to the North to find more jobs. But the appearance of Blacks in formerly all-White towns sparked violence, such as in Chicago and St. Louis.
- Women also found more opportunities in the workplace, since the men were gone to war.
- This gained support for women’s suffrage, which was finally achieved with the 19th Amendment, passed in 1920.
- Although a Women’s Bureau did appear after the war to protect female workers, most women gave up their jobs at war’s end, and Congress even affirmed its support of women in their traditional roles in the home with the Sheppard-Towner Maternity Act of 1921, which federally financed instruction in maternal and infant health care.
VIII. Forging a War Economy
- Mobilization relied more on passion and emotion than laws.
- Herbert Hoover was chosen to head the Food Administration, since he had organized a hugely successful voluntary food drive for the people of Belgium.
- He rejected ration cards and instead he waged posters, billboards, and other media to whip up a patriotic spirit which encouraged people to voluntarily sacrifice some of their own goods for the war.He was in favor of voluntary “Meatless Tuesdays” and “Wheatless Wednesdays."
- After all, America had to feed itself and its European allies.
- Hoover’s voluntary approach worked beautifully, as citizens grew gardens on street corners to help the farmers, people observed “heatless Mondays,” “lightless nights,” and “gasless Sundays” in accordance with the Fuel Administration, and the farmers increased food production by one-fourth.
- The wave of self-sacrifice also sped up the drive against alcohol, culminating with the 18th Amendment, which prohibited the sale, distribution, or consumption of alcohol.
- Money was raised through the sale of war bonds, four great Liberty Loan drives, and increased taxes.
- Still, the government sometimes flexed its power, such as when it took over the railroads in 1917.
IX. Making Plowboys into Doughboys
- European Allies finally confessed to the U.S. that not only were they running out of money to pay for their loans from America, but also that they were running out of men, and that America would have to raise and train an army to send over to Europe, or the Allies would collapse.
- This could only be solved with a draft, which Wilson opposed but finally supported as a disagreeable but temporary necessity.
- The draft bill ran into heated opposition in Congress but was grudgingly passed.
- Unlike earlier wars, there was no way for one to buy one’s way out of being drafted.
- Luckily, patriotic men and women lined up on draft day, disproving ominous predictions of bloodshed by the opposition of the draft.
- Within a few months, the army had grown to 4 million men and women.
- African-Americans were allowed in the army, but they were usually assigned to non-combat duty; also, training was so rushed that many troops didn’t know how to even use their rifles, much less bayonets, but they were sent to Europe anyway.
X. Fighting in France—Belatedly
- After the Bolsheviks seized control of Russia, they withdrew the nation from the war, freeing up thousands of German troops to fight on the Western Front.
- German predictions of American tardiness proved to be rather accurate, as America took one year before it sent a force to Europe and also had transportation problems.
- Nevertheless, American doughboys slowly poured into Europe, and U.S. troops helped in an Allied invasion of Russia at Archangel to prevent munitions from falling into German hands.
- 10,000 troops were sent to Siberia as part of an Allied expedition whose purpose was to prevent munitions from falling into the hands of Japan, rescue some 45,000 trapped Czechoslovak troops, and prevent Bolshevik forces from snatching military supplies.
- Bolsheviks resented this interference, which it felt was America’s way of suppressing its infant communist revolution.
XI. America Helps Hammer the “Hun”
- In the spring of 1918, one commander, the French Marshal Foch, for the first time, led the Allies and just before the Germans were about to invade Paris and knock out France, American reinforcements arrived and pushed the Germans back.
- In the Second Battle of the Marne, the Allies pushed Germany back some more, marking a German withdrawal that was never again effectively reversed.
- The Americans, demanding their own army instead of just supporting the British and French, finally got General John J. Pershing to lead a front.
- The Meuse-Argonne offensive cut German railroad lines and took 120,000 casualties.
- Sgt. Alvin C. York became a hero when he single-handedly killed 20 Germans and captured 132 more; ironically, he had been in an antiwar sect beforehand.
- Finally, the Germans were exhausted and ready to surrender, for they were being deserted, the British blockade was starving them, and the Allied blows just kept coming.
- It was a good thing, too, because American victories were using up resources too fast.
- Also, pamphlets containing seductive Wilsonian promises rained down on Germany, in part persuading them to give up.
XII. The Fourteen Points Disarm Germany
- At 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, the Germans laid down their arms in armistice after overthrowing their Kaiser in hopes that they could get a peace based on the Fourteen Points.
- This “Armistice Day” later became “Veterans’ Day.”
- It was the prospect of endless American troops, rather than the American military performance, that had demoralized the Germans.
XIII. Wilson Steps Down from Olympus
- At the end of the war, Wilson was at the height of his popularity, but when he appealed for voters to give a Democratic victory in 1918, American voters instead gave Republicans a narrow majority, and Wilson went to Paris as the only leader of the Allies not commanding a majority at home.
- When Wilson decided to go to Europe personally to oversee peace proceedings, Republicans were outraged, thinking that this was all just for flamboyant show.
- When he didn’t include a single Republican, not even Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, a very intelligent man who used to be the “scholar in politics” until Wilson came along and was therefore jealous and spiteful of Wilson, the Republicans got even more angry.
XIV. An Idealist Battles the Imperialists in Paris
- At the Paris Conference in 1919, the Big Four—Italy, led by Vittorio Orlando, France, led by Georges Clemenceau, Britain, led by David Lloyd George, and the U.S., led by Wilson—basically dictated the terms of the treaty.
- Conflicting ambitions ruled the conference. Britain and France wanted to punish Germany, Italy wanted money, the U.S. wanted to heal wounds through Wilson’s League of Nations
- Wilson’s baby was the League and so he bargained with Britain and France.
- Britain and France agreed to go along with the League, Wilson reluctantly agreed to go along with punishment.
- The War Guilt Clause was passed doing two things, (1) it formally placed blame on Germany, a proud and embarrassed people, and (2) it charged Germany for the costs of war, $33 billion.
XV. Hammering Out the Treaty
- However, at home in America, the Republicans proclaimed that they would not pass the treaty, since to them, it would be unwise to turn American decision over to a group of foreign nations (the League of Nations). Opponents of the Versailles Treaty reasoned that America should stay out of such an international group and decide her decisions on her own.
- Led by Henry Cabot Lodge, William Borah of Idaho and Hiram Johnson of California, these senators were bitterly opposed to the League.
- Upon seeing Wilson’s lack of support, the other European nations had stronger bargaining chips, as France demanded the Rhineland and Saar Valley (but didn’t receive it; instead, the League of Nations got the Saar Basin for 15 years and then let it vote to determine its fate) and Italy demanded Fiume, a valuable seaport inhabited by both Italians and Yugoslavs.
- The Italians went home after Wilson tried to appeal to the Italian people while France received a promise that the U.S. and Great Britain would aid France in case of another German invasion.
- Japan also wanted the valuable Shantung peninsula and the German islands in the Pacific, and Wilson opposed, but when the Japanese threatened to walk out, Wilson compromised again and let Japan keep Germany’s economic holdings in Shantung, outraging the Chinese.
XVI. The Peace Treaty That Bred a New War
- The Treaty of Versailles was forced upon Germany under the threat that if it didn’t sign the treaty, war would resume, and when the Germans saw all that Wilson had compromised to get his League of Nations, they cried betrayal, because the treaty did not contain much of the Fourteen Points like the Germans had hoped it would.
- Wilson was not happy with the treaty, sensing that it was inadequate, and his popularity was down, but he did make a difference in that his going to Paris prevented the treaty from being purely imperialistic.
XVII. The Domestic Parade of Prejudice
- Returning to America, Wilson was met with fierce opposition, as Hun-haters felt that the treaty wasn’t harsh enough while the Irish denounced the League
- The “hyphenated” Americans all felt that the treaty had not been fair to their home country.
XVIII. Wilson’s Tour and Collapse (1919)
- When Wilson returned to America, at the time, Senator Lodge had no hope to defeat the treaty, so he delayed, reading the entire 264-page treaty aloud in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, held hearings for people discontent with the treaty to voice their feelings, and basically stalled, bogging the treaty down.
- Wilson decided to take a tour to gain support for the treaty, but trailing him like bloodhounds were Senators Borah and Johnson, two of the “irreconcilables,” who verbally attacked him.
- However, in the Rocky Mountain and Pacific Coast regions, reception was much warmer, and the high point came at Pueblo, Colorado, where he pleaded that the League was the only hope for peace in the future.
- That night, he collapsed form physical and nervous exhaustion, and several days later, a stroke paralyzed half of his body.
XIX. Wilson Rejects the Lodge Reservations
- Lodge now came up with fourteen “reservations” to the Treaty of Versailles, which sought to safeguard American sovereignty.
- Congress was especially concerned with Article X, which morally bound the U.S. to aid any member of the League of Nations that was victimized by aggression, for Congress wanted to preserve its war-declaring power.
- Wilson hated Lodge, and though he was willing to accept similar Democratic reservations and changes, he would not do so from Lodge, and thus, he ordered his Democratic supporters to vote against the treaty with the Lodge reservations attached.
- On November 19, 1919, the Treaty of Versailles was defeated by a vote of 55 to 39.
XX. Defeat Through Deadlock
- About four-fifths of the senators actually didn’t mind the treaty, but unless the Senate approved the pact with the Lodge reservations tacked on, it would fail completely.
- Brought up for a vote again, on March 19, 1920, the treaty failed again, due in part to Wilson’s telling of Democrats to vote against the treaty…again.
- Wilson’s feud with Lodge, U.S. isolationism, tradition, and disillusionment all contributed to the failure of the treaty, but Wilson must share the blame as well, since he stubbornly went for “all or nothing,” and received nothing.
XXI. The “Solemn Referendum” of 1920
- Wilson had proposed to take the treaty to the people with a national referendum, but that would have been impossible.
- In 1920, the Republican Party was back together, thanks in part to Teddy Roosevelt’s death in 1919, and it devised a clever platform that would appeal to pro-League and anti-League factions of the party, and they chose Warren G. Harding as their candidate in the “smoke-filled room,” with Calvin Coolidge as the vice presidential candidate.
- The Democrats chose James M. Cox and Franklin D. Roosevelt as VP, and they also supported a League of Nations, but not necessarily the League of Nations.
- Warren G. Harding was swept into power
XXII. The Betrayal of Great Expectations
- U.S. isolationism doomed the Treaty of Versailles and indirectly led to World War II, because France, without an ally, built up a large military force, and Germany, suspicious and fearful, began to illegally do the same.
- The suffering of Germany and the disorder of the time was used by Adolf Hitler to seize power in Germany, build up popularity, and drag Europe into war.
- It was the U.S.’s responsibility to take charge as the most powerful nation in the world after World War I, but it retreated into isolationism, and let the rest of the world do whatever it wanted in the hopes that the U.S. would not be dragged into another war, but ironically, it was such actions that eventually led the U.S. into WWII.