Amer­ica’s mo­men­tous en­try into World War I

The Great War proved a ma­jor turn­ing point of the 20th cen­tury

The Washington Times Daily - - OPINION - By Tim Goe­glein Ti­mothy Goe­glein is vice pres­i­dent of gov­ern­ment and ex­ter­nal re­la­tions at Fo­cus on the Fam­ily in Washington, D.C.

One hun­dred years ago, April 6, 1917, the United States en­tered World War I. More than 53,000 Amer­i­cans lost their lives on the bat­tle­fields in that hor­rific Euro­pean con­fla­gra­tion. Dis­ease alone added an­other 60,000 wartime deaths. More than 204,000 oth­ers were wounded, many of them maimed with ter­ri­ble dis­fig­ure­ments. In to­tal, some 15 mil­lion peo­ple lost their lives in World War I.

The late en­try of the United States into the war — it had been rag­ing since 1914 — was a ma­jor in­flec­tion point in 20th cen­tury his­tory. While Amer­ica’s in­volve­ment in the war in­dis­putably as­sured the Al­lied vic­tory over Im­pe­rial Ger­many by Novem­ber 1918, it left a road of ru­ina­tion, blood and de­struc­tion that even to­day is dif­fi­cult to in­ter­nal­ize.

Not only did those bloody bat­tle­fields soak up Amer­i­can lives en masse but also they re­minded a restive Amer­ica that Pres­i­dent Woodrow Wil­son, who had been first elected in 1912, was not in­fal­li­ble. De­spite an al­most ob­ses­sive zeal, he was un­able to gain pas­sage in the United States Se­nate of the Treaty of Ver­sailles even as he was be­ing li­on­ized across Europe as a colos­sus of vic­tory. That fail­ure in the Se­nate pre­vented the United States from en­ter­ing the League of Na­tions, which the pres­i­dent viewed as his own legacy of in­ter­na­tional diplo­macy and a fit­ting close to the war.

Wil­son said he wanted “peace with­out vic­tory,” and just as the war came to its close that Novem­ber, con­gres­sional elec­tions were un­der­way. The pres­i­dent un­suc­cess­fully ap­pealed to the Amer­i­can peo­ple to sup­port his global ef­forts and to re­turn a Demo­cratic Congress to Capi­tol Hill. Repub­li­cans made up the new ma­jor­ity in both houses, and Wil­son soon found him­self ea­ger to lead with few will­ing to fol­low.

Against the best coun­sel of his clos­est ad­vis­ers, Wil­son trav­eled to the Paris peace con­fer­ence any­way. Ev­ery­where he went he was the sub­ject of stand­ing ova­tions and siz­able crowds, an ut­ter dis­junc­tion from how he was viewed at home.

Wil­son re­turned to Washington and lob­bied for the Ver­sailles Treaty, which con­tained his vaunted idea of a League of Na­tions. Al­most all as­pects of the treaty re­flect­ing what be­came known as “Wil­son­ism” were evis­cer­ated and the Se­nate twice re­jected the act that would have for­mally rat­i­fied the treaty.

Just two days af­ter his pow­er­ful speech to a joint ses­sion of Congress, in the early morn­ing hours of Good Fri­day, April 4, 1917, the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives passed the res­o­lu­tion 373 to 50. Wil­son signed the res­o­lu­tion, which would di­rect 50,000 Amer­i­cans to their demise.

Wil­son had supreme con­fi­dence that Amer­ica needed to get into the Euro­pean con­flict and lever­age the coun­try’s strength to bring it all to a de­ci­sive and vic­to­ri­ous close. The United States was much larger than any na­tion in Europe with the ex­cep­tion of Rus­sia. Just as Amer­ica en­tered the war, the Rus­sians with­drew amid rev­o­lu­tion and re­volt.

While the over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity of the Amer­i­can peo­ple be­lieved that Euro­pean wars were not the busi­ness of Amer­ica, the United States re­tained its right to trade with any na­tion at war. But when Ger­many vi­o­lated the neu­tral­ity of Bel­gium and pro­pelled it­self into un­re­stricted sub­ma­rine war­fare, it was broadly viewed as a vi­o­la­tion of in­ter­na­tional law.

In March 1917, Wil­son was in­au­gu­rated for a sec­ond term, and less than a month later, he came to Capi­tol Hill ask­ing for the war res­o­lu­tion. He said, in essence, the war had al­ready come to Amer­ica be­cause of Ger­many’s in­tran­si­gence.

One of the most im­por­tant bench­marks was reached in Au­gust 1918, when plans were firmly in place to use the Amer­i­can First Army as a sin­gle unit. At 11 a.m. on the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, the Great War ended.

Less than two miles from the White House is the R Street home where Pres­i­dent Wil­son moved af­ter leav­ing of­fice, the vic­tim of a mas­sive stroke suf­fered in 1919. For a month af­ter be­ing stuck down, only his doc­tor and wife were per­mit­ted to see him. Wil­son never fully re­cov­ered.

In 1913, Woodrow Wil­son told a friend from Prince­ton that it would be a real irony if his ad­min­is­tra­tion had to deal in any sig­nif­i­cant man­ner with for­eign af­fairs. But dur­ing the Wil­son pres­i­dency, the Great War had in part pro­pelled and cod­i­fied the up­ward tra­jec­tory of United States of Amer­ica as the most pow­er­ful and dom­i­nant na­tion in the world.

This is why the cen­ten­nial we mark to­day mat­ters.


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