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World War I. Essay, Research Paper

World War One: U.S. Neutrality

The United States remained neutral in World War One because they saw it in their best interest. At the time the war began, the U.S. industry was struggling. Staying out of the war was a way to boost the industry in America by utilizing trade with both the Ally and Central Powers. The U.S. also had no real reason to join the war. They had close ties with both sides. Some problems, however, would arise that would question the U.S. decision to remain neutral and sway their opinions to one side of the war.

Britain had an advantage over Germany in gaining the U.S. as an ally. Although the U.S. had as many as eleven million immigrants with blood ties to the Germans and Austro-Hungarians, they shared close culture, language, and economic ties with the British. The British were also in control of most of the transatlantic cables. Therefore, they had the ability to censor war stories, which hurt the British cause in the eyes of the U.S. They instead sent only the tales of German bestiality. Also, most Americans were anti-German from the beginning because it seemed as if their government was the embodiment of autocracy. Another disadvantage to the Germans was the British interception of a secretly coded message intended for Mexico. This message, when decoded by the British, asked Mexico to join the war on the Central side if the U.S. declared war on Germany. These actions all compiled into a list of reasons why the U.S. should enter the war in Ally support.

International law was also a big part of United States neutrality during the war. Germany and Britain each sought to end U.S. trade with the other. With a series of what Berlin called “illegal” blockades, Britain gained the upper hand, almost ending U.S. trade with Germany entirely. Americans protested this interference, but when German U-boats began to target U.S. merchant ships, once neutral opinions changed. According to international law, the Germans were authorized to search suspect ships for contraband, remove the passengers safely, and destroy the ship. The Germans, however, began sinking U.S. ships against the laws. They no longer searched ships they just hit them. They tried to reinstate relations with the United States by declaring that they would attempt to not sink neutral ships, but that mistakes may occur. Wilson decided to continue trade, but he warned Germany that they would be held accountable for any attacks on American ships or citizens. In the first months of 1915, German’s sank about ninety ships within the war zone, including the Lusitania, a British ship carrying 128 Americans. Wilson angered at German refusal to comply with international law, threatened to break all diplomatic relations with the country. From this threat came the “Sussex Pledge.” Germans agreed not to sink passenger ships and merchant vessels without giving warning. Wilson accepted the pledge and persuaded the Allies to modify their “illegal” blockades. This was a temporary solution to a problem that would persist and grow.

Remaining neutral became more difficult as the fighting went on. Wilson made one final attempt to keep a hesitant and peaceful nation out of war. In January of 1917, he declared that only a negotiated “peace without victory” would be a safe end to the battle. Germany responded by shockingly announcing that they intended to sink all ships in the war zone, including America’s. Wilson saw no other option then to break off all diplomatic ties with Germany. However, he refused to enter the war until Germans acted out against American lives and property. And thus, the United States continued to remain neutral for longer than most would expect. This on-going decision to remain neutral was a benefit to the Germans. Obviously the United States would eventually enter the war on the British side; the only question was when it would happen. The Germans were lucky that the U.S. held off as long as it did because the addition of the United States to the Ally powers could only be of disadvantage to the Germans. The United States, however, benefited the most from their decision to remain neutral because they were able to avoid a long and brutal war. Their economy and industry was also boosted at the beginning of the war when they were able to trade peacefully with both sides. By remaining neutral, the U.S. was able to delay entering such a controversial war.

In conclusion, the United States’ neutrality policy in World War One gradually slipped away. With many controversies surrounding international law and Germany’s inability to comply with their Sussex Pledge, the neutral position gradually disappeared. The U.S. began to see just cause for entering the war on the British side. They could only hope that this war would be “the war to end war.”


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