American decision to declare war on Germany in 1917, was influenced by several things. The United States entered the First World War not “to make the world safe for democracy” as President Wilson claimed, but to safeguard American economic, social, and political interests. The German naval policy was the immediate cause of US entry into the First World War, but American economic interests and the idealism of Woodrow Wilson were just as influential.
German announcement of unrestricted submarine warfare and the subsequent sinking of ships with U.S. citizens on board, had a major influence on America’s decision to declare war on Germany. Germany broke its promise given to the United States saying they would not sink passenger boats and due warning would be given to all other vessels which its submarines might seek to destroy. After breaking their promise on an extreme level, and sending ships whatever their flag, character, cargo, destination, or errand to the bottom of the sea, President Wilson could not believe that such things would be done by any government that had previously subscribed to the humane practices of civilized nations. As a result, Wilson believed Germany’s actions were a challenge to all mankind and he returned the offer with a declaration of war.
Wilson goes on to say how this declaration of war was not made in order to get revenge or bring injury upon Germany, but only in “armed opposition to an irresponsible government which has thrown aside all considerations of humanity and of right and is running amuck.” Now that the veil of false friendship with Germany had been lifted, Wilson was eager to fight for the ultimate peace of the world and the liberation of its peoples, including German peoples. For rights of nations great and small and the privilege of men everywhere to choose their way of life and of obedience. “The world must be made safe for democracy,” he said. While he claimed this was the reason for entering the war, and it certainly could have been his reason, it was also to safeguard American economic, political, and social interests.
By bringing the peaceful people into a war, civilization itself seeming to be in the balance, Wilson was in fact safeguarding these interests with the end goal of making the world safe for people to live their lives freely. The Fourteen points would be an example of this because it worked to bring peace to all three aspects of human interest. Economically, it sought absolute freedom of navigation upon the seas for trade between all countries. Socially, it sought to correct the rights of all mankind which had been violated. Politically, it sought to get rid of rogue governments that would poison the ultimate goal of making the world safe for democracy.
American economic interests had a major influence on Wilson’s decision to declare war. Economic interests have always been important to the United States. Just before the war, American expansion was driven by America’s economic interest to obtain new markets and develop power. Now, in the face of war, the goal of protecting these interests would only increase. After the war broke out, American trade relations with European countries were in danger and economic ties with Great Britain were at risk. As a neutral nation, America should have been able to continue trade with every nation. The only limiting factor in trade during war was contraband. Anything under contraband could not be sold to another nation who is engaged in war. If this happened, it would the void the selling nation’s neutrality in the war. When Great Britain enacted a blockade, the U.S. was forced to cease trade with central nations. As a result, the great demand for weapons and other supplies needed to participate in war caused the allies to turn to America. The United States did not want to be involved in the war, but were drawn to the economic boom that would result in selling arms to the alliance. America started sending Great Britain, France, and Russia weapons, which resulted in America taking a side as the “Arsenal of Allies.” The United State’s interest in economic gains obtained by supporting the Allies, encourage America to join the war. Wilson stated his view on international commerce in his Fourteen Points. His third point states, “The removal, so far as possible, of all economic barriers and the establishment of an equality of trade conditions among all the nations consenting to the peace and associating themselves for its maintenance” (Wilson Speeches page 5). Evidentially the economic interests of the U.S. were a main factor in Wilson’s decision to go to war.
The idealism of Woodrow Wilson also had a big influence on his decision to declare war on Germany. Wilson desperately wanted to stay neutral in order to win reelection in 1916. Once he secured another term, however, he opted for war to make the world “safe for democracy.” His idealism is explained in his Fourteen Points, in which he addresses his reasons and plans for war. He claimed that he only wanted to enter the war to create a new progressive order, not to acquire material goods. With pressure from the German submarine campaign, the need to reaffirm neutral rights, and the pro-alliance public opinion he decided to declare war. Wilson said, “We enter this war only where we are clearly forced into it because there is no other means of defending our rights” (Declaration of War against Germany). He presented his declaration of war against Germany to a joint session of Congress in 1917. The Fourteen Points stand as the most powerful expression of the idealist strain in United States diplomacy.
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