Should America have entered World War I?

Friday, April 7th, 2017

The US entered the Great War 100 years ago, but why?

The war lasted only another year and a half, but in that time, an astounding 117,000 American soldiers were killed and 202,000 wounded.


America intervened nearly three years after it began, and the “doughboys,” as our troops were called, engaged in serious combat for only a few months. More Americans in uniform died away from the battlefield — thousands from the Spanish flu — than with weapons in hand. After victory was achieved, Wilson’s audacious hope of making a peace that would advance democracy and national self-determination blew up in his face when the Senate refused to ratify the treaty he had signed at the Palace of Versailles.

But attention should be paid. America’s decision to join the Allies was a turning point in world history. It altered the fortunes of the war and the course of the 20th century — and not necessarily for the better. Its entry most likely foreclosed the possibility of a negotiated peace among belligerent powers that were exhausted from years mired in trench warfare.

Although the American Expeditionary Force did not engage in combat for long, the looming threat of several million fresh troops led German generals to launch a last, desperate series of offensives. When that campaign collapsed, Germany’s defeat was inevitable.

How would the war have ended if America had not intervened? The carnage might have continued for another year or two until citizens in the warring nations, who were already protesting the endless sacrifices required, forced their leaders to reach a settlement. If the Allies, led by France and Britain, had not won a total victory, there would have been no punitive peace treaty like that completed at Versailles, no stab-in-the-back allegations by resentful Germans, and thus no rise, much less triumph, of Hitler and the Nazis. The next world war, with its 50 million deaths, would probably not have occurred.

The pacifists failed:

Since the war began, feminists and socialists had worked closely with progressive members of Congress from the agrarian South and the urban Midwest to keep America out. They mounted street demonstrations, attracted prominent leaders from the labor and suffrage movements, and ran antiwar candidates for local and federal office. They also gained the support of Henry Ford, who chartered a ship full of activists who crossed the Atlantic to plead with the heads of neutral nations to broker a peace settlement.

They may even have had a majority of Americans on their side. In the final weeks before Congress declared war, anti-militarists demanded a national referendum on the question, confident voters would recoil from fighting and paying the bills so that one group of European powers could vanquish another.

Once the United States did enter the fray, Wilson, with the aid of the courts, prosecuted opponents of the war who refused to fall in line. Under the Espionage and Sedition Acts, thousands were arrested for such “crimes” as giving speeches against the draft and calling the Army “a God damned legalized murder machine.”

The intervention led to big changes in America, as well as the world. It began the creation of a political order most citizens now take for granted, even as some protest against it: a state equipped to fight war after war abroad while keeping a close watch on allegedly subversive activities at home.

To make the world “safe for democracy” required another innovation: a military-industrial establishment funded, then partly and now completely, by income taxes.


  1. Wan Wei Lin says:

    Most mistakes of the US can be laid squarely at the feet of Democrats/Progressives: Slavery, KKK, segregation of Federal govt, entry into WW1, internment camps, dropping the atomic bombs, entry into Vietnam, escalation of Vietnam, catalyzing the Iranian revolution making Iran today’s terror hub and ignoring intelligence/opportunities pre-9/11. There’s more, but you get the idea.

  2. Lucklucky says:

    “If the Allies, led by France and Britain, had not won a total victory, there would have been no punitive peace treaty like that completed at Versailles, no stab-in-the-back allegations by resentful Germans, and thus no rise, much less triumph, of Hitler and the Nazis.”

    And another indigent case of giving any pretext as a justification factor.

    Maybe this guy should explain what was the “Versailles” that provoked the prosecution and later the murder of Jews in Holocaust and many other crimes…
    Or maybe explain why Germany still not started the III World War, after all the II was much more punitive than the I…
    Or Japan, or…

  3. Anon says:

    The US still have troops in both Germany and Japan some 70+ years after the end of WWII. In addition the US guarantees the security of both Germany and Japan. Not to mention many, many other countries.

    They have no reason to fight. American taxpayers are, for the most part, footing the bills to make sure they behave.

    As expensive as that is, it is still considerably less expensive than having to go to war with them to make them behave. Germany and Japan feel they are getting a good deal. Hundreds of thousands of Americans, if not millions, are alive because they aren’t causing trouble any more.

    Win-Win for all concerned.

  4. Cassander says:

    In 1917, the French army mutinies were put down largely by the French government and general staff going around promising that there wouldn’t be a major offensive until the Americans showed up. In the absence of the expectation of millions of doughboys arriving, those mutinies get a lot harder to deal with. Combined with the Russian revolution, the position of the Allies looks extremely shaky. A negotiated peace, or at least ceasefire, in 1917 was a very strong possibility if the US didn’t enter the war.

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