World War I, from 1914 to 1918, began as a local European war between Austria-Hungary and Serbia on July 28 1914; and was soon transformed into a European war against Russia on August 1 1914. Eventually, it became a global war involving 32 nations. Twenty-eight of these nations, known as the Allies included Great Britain, France, Russia, Italy, and the United States. The opposition (known as the coalition or Central Powers), consisted of Germany, Austria-Hungary, Turkey, and Bulgaria.
The causes of World War I were the intense nationalism that infused Europe throughout the 19th Century and into the early 20th century. The political and economic rivalry among the nations, and the establishment and maintenance in Europe after 1871 contributed to the conflict.
When World War I broke out, Woodrow Wilson, the American President at the time, declared America neutral – which many Americans agreed with, despite the vast number of anti-British and pro-German views. As America didn’t have an ‘individual’ identity, it would have been very difficult for the Government to support one side over another without causing a conflict in society. Although, America was neutral, they sent money, munitions and food supplies to Britain and France. It was economically and financially rewarding for America to remain out of the War, as munitions and food were bought from them – improving their economy.
The United States made a formal declaration of war on April 6 1917 against Germany. Many men in the United States volunteered for the military service soon after this declaration of war. America chose to join the War for a number of reasons; for example, due to the number of U-boat attacks on Atlantic shipping, public opinion in America turned against Germany. Also, the death of 128 Americans by the sinking of the Lusitania passenger liner on 7 May 1915, made Americans feel hostile to Germany. War may have arisen also because Wilson’s sympathy lay with Britain and a German victory would have been very damaging financially. By 1917, $2 billion from the USA had been leant to the Allies and American factories were dependant on purchases of war equipment, so America was biased towards supporting the Allies.
Although the majority of Americana did support War, not all did and there was still opposition.
The War forced many people to go and fight (the first United States troops arrived in France on June 27 1917), whilst others, namely women, went to work in large factories producing ammunition and other war related goods. Typical day-to-day life was put on hold for the War and it overtook the lives of all completely. Children were left without their fathers, as most went to fight abroad, whilst mothers were left without their husbands. This caused grief and sadness for families and relatives, as they were left without their loved ones. The inevitable deaths of soldiers would also have caused suffering and hurt for people. This pain would have continued until the end of the War, which came on November 11 1918.
The War had many affects on America – both affecting the American economy and society. After the War had ended, America was the World’s leading economy. The exchange of munitions, food and raw materials from America to the Allies had continued even when America was in the War.
Exports increased dramatically during the War. The export of chemicals expanded from $21.9 million to $281 million – a 1283% increase. Likewise, wheat increased from $87.9 million to $298.2 million. Iron and steel exports raised by forty-three times from 1914 to 1917 – $251.5 million to $1133.7 million. This would have benefited, both the American economy and made America the leading world power for exporting goods.
Therefore, many American companies and industries had flourished and became far more successful than their European competitors. Before the War, Germany had been the leading producer of fertilisers, dyes and chemical products – after the War, America had become the leading power to do this. Also, there was a huge improvement in technology. Mechanisation and the development of new materials like plastics had boomed; allowing the USA to become the world leader in advancing technology and utilizing them into modern-day industry.
Production also increased – in 1914, America produced 41.4 million tonnes of iron ore, 442.7 million tonnes of coal, 265.7 million tonnes of petrol and 763.4 million tonnes of wheat. In 1917, these figures amplified substantially; to 75.3 million tonnes of iron ore, 551 million tonnes of coal, 335 million tonnes of petrol and 1025.8 million tonnes of wheat respectively. This boom would have created more jobs, thus decreasing local unemployment – which again would have benefited the economy.
As industry improved, there was more work available during the War. Many African- America immigrants fulfilled these applications, providing them an income, although not sustainable, which allowed people to buy goods that they otherwise may not have been able to afford. This would also have benefited the local economy as more money would have been spent in shops.
However, despite all the positive affects of the War, there were a number of negative affects. For example, four million soldiers were de-mobbed in 1919. There was also mass unemployment, as many industries before and during the War had expected high levels of production and so let go of many employees. After the War, these soldiers had difficulty in finding new employment. Likewise, due to the War, prices had doubled, but earnings had barely risen. As a result, people had trouble affording goods and produce. Many workers demanded higher wages in order to combat the price increases, but employers realised that high unemployment gave them a power and influence; and so bosses failed to compromise. A wave of violent strikes went on throughout 1919 as a consequence to this.
White Americans believed that they were being deprived of work, or forced to accept lower wages because of the abundancy of cheap labour available in the form of immigrants.
There were also many fears of radicalism. The Communist revolution in Russia had been triggered by the War in Europe. In the USA, two Communist parties formed in 1919, where rebels and anarchists began a wave of bomb attacks. This rise in Communism combined with the violent strikes, made people terrified that revolution was spreading to America. The Bolshevik Revolution in Russia of 1917 with its intention to spread communism abroad, caused widespread fear in all democratic states – the most of which being feared in America. A virtual ‘witch hunt’ resulted in US political circles, creating an atmosphere of fear and suspicion, which was responsible for uncharacteristic actions of a nation pledged to liberty and freedom.
President Woodrow Wilson expected the USA to take a leading role in world affairs after the War. Wilson had drawn up the ‘Fourteen Points’ – which soon became the basis for the League Of Nations, of which Wilson wanted America to play a large role in. This united grouping of countries would allow Wilson’s dream of world peace. However, in 1919, Americans were against Wilson and the League of Nations. They believed that America had done enough for other countries during the War. Also, they thought that the USA would end up having to pay the consequences of any European quarrels that may occur. Americans, likewise, did not want their soldiers being killed in order to resolve disputes around the World – which people believed had nothing to do with America. The majority of Americans desired to return to the Isolation of the 19th Century. In 1919 and 1920, Congress refused to support Wilson and the League was rejected. Wilson lost the 1921 Presidential election to Warren G Harding – who had the idea of ‘normalcy’. Americans wanted to get their lives back to normal after the War had disrupted people’s day-to-day life immensely.
This presidency of Harding (1921-23) had a negative affect on America after the War. Woodrow Wilson, president until 1921, believed in world peace, whilst Harding believed in ‘normalcy’ and letting the country lead its self. However he did limit immigration which became a major problem later on; thus actually improving some social activities.
The feelings of isolationism went further for some Americans causing more problems and disruption for all of those in the USA and for those wanting to enter the USA. Some Americans wanted to prevent immigrants entering America. These feelings had been building for some time. By 1900, there was little land available due to the increase in mechanism; thus reducing the need for workers. Americans also believed that the quality of immigrants was decreasing; as many of the new immigrants were poor labourers who had little formal education. During the war, this feeling towards immigrants increased significantly – especially towards Germans. It is significant, that in 1920, there were 1,683, 298 Germans and 1,607,458 Italians in America – two countries that America was against in the War. The feeling of hostility towards immigrants may have arised due to the number of ‘opposition’ immigrants in the country. America and the Allies won the War, and they would not want to be in close contact with those of whom they defeated.
As many immigrants had poor education skills, in 1917, a literacy test was introduced in which all immigrants had to prove that they could read a 40-word passage. If they failed to read the piece, the individual would not be allowed into America.
Problems got worse after the War had ended. Immigrant ghettos appeared in the large northern cities of America. These areas became very dangerous – with violent crime, drunkenness and prostitution common. The majority of Americana believed immigrants were the cause to all of their problems; which led to widespread intolerance towards foreigners.
The migration from the southern rural areas had begun in the 1890’s, but reached its peak of an estimated 500,000 African- Americans during the War. This aggravated long-established racial tension between blacks and whites causing conflict and many social problems. As a result, there were many incidents of race riots between 1917 and 1919; – there were riots in 23 cities throughout America. The Black community in particular faced attacks from Whites – a reaction to the discrimination and poor economic circumstances faced by all Americans after the War.
In conclusion, the First World War had a negative impact on America. During the War however, America’s economy did boom, which could give the impression that they benefited from the War whilst it was taking place.
Nether the less, there were more problems caused than were solved. When the War ended in 1918, America’s economy declined resulting in mass unemployment of true white Americans, as immigrants provided cheaper labour for employers. This created racial tension and discrimination, resulting in many social problems which all had to face. This led to many race riots and violent strikes – again causing tension and hostility between workers and employers. The views towards immigrants declined leading to the number of immigrants being limited by Harding and the Government.
This, together with the customary pain of war and conflict, shows that the War had negative effects on the American public and all those living in America at the time.