Part 5 of 8
President Woodrow Wilson won reelection by running on a platform of, “he kept us out of war.” There was a very large segment of the U.S. population that wanted nothing to do with Europe’s war. However, actions, particularly on Germany’s part, lead to the U.S. declaring war on Germany on April 6, 1917.
The massacre of approximately 6,000 Belgium civilians at the start of the war, along with using airships to bomb civilian targets, the use of poison gas and unrestricted submarine warfare, played into the hands of those wanting the U.S. to enter the war on the side of the Allies. Though the U.S. government was “officially” neutral, almost all the U.S. banks and factories involved with the war were involved on the side of the Allies.
Germany executed an English nurse by the name of Edith Cavell on Oct. 12, 1915, in Brussels, Belgium. Cavell tended to all wounded and injured soldiers whether Allied or Central Powers. After she helped 200 Allied soldiers escape from German-occupied Belgium, she was captured, tried by the Germans and executed. This German action lead to an explosion of outrage, especially in England.
The Zimmerman telegram was an attempt, rather poorly and clumsily executed, by the Germans to get Mexico to go to war with the U.S. Germany promised that if Mexico would go to war against the U.S. that they would be awarded Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. The German foreign secretary, when pressed, admitted he sent the telegram. U.S. opinion was further ignited and war became all the closer.
The Lusitania was sunk by a German U-boat off the coast of southern Ireland. Germany had expanded its use of U-boats and declared that Allied ships around Britain and Ireland were likely to be sunk. On April 22, 1915 Germany published an announcement to passengers intending to sail on the Lusitania that the ship was going into the war zone. The captain of the Lusitania bragged that it was too fast for a German submarine to attack it.
When the Lusitania sailed into the Irish Sea, it had to slow down and turned directly into the path of a German U-boat. One torpedo was fired hitting its target and exploding almost in the precise middle of the Lusitania. The liner sank in 18 minutes, making it impossible to launch enough lifeboats; 1,198 people died, including 128 U.S. citizens and 100 children.
After the declaration of war, the U.S. decided to appoint Gen. John Pershing commander of the American forces. Though the war had been going on for several years, the fighting forces of the U.S were not prepared. Eventually, by war’s end, some 2.8 million soldiers were sent to France. Just as important, the U.S. became the world’s largest industrial power.
In three short years, steel production increased more than 75 percent. Ships launched in two years increased five-fold. Labor shortages for the first time drew women into the outside-the-home manufacturing workforce, and it is estimated that nearly 500,000 African-Americans migrated from the South to northern cities for new job opportunities.
In most of the battles that U.S. forces would fight in, they were the deciding factor. They included the Battle of Belleau Wood, the Saint Mihiel Salient and the Battle of the Meuse Argonne, to mention just a few.