Why did the U.S. join WWI?

News Paper Headlines on the Lusitania

On May 7, 1915, less than a year after World War I (1914-18) erupted across Europe, a German U-boat torpedoed and sank the RMS Lusitania, a British ocean liner en route from New York to Liverpool, England. Of the more than 1,900 passengers and crew members on board, more than 1,100 perished, including more than 120 Americans. Nearly two years would pass before the United States formally entered World War I, but the sinking of the Lusitania played a significant role in turning public opinion against Germany, both in the United States and abroad.

The Zimmermann Telegram

Zimmermann note, secret telegram sent on Jan. 16, 1917, by German foreign secretary Arthur Zimmermann to Count Johann von Bernstorff, the German ambassador to the United States. In it Zimmermann said that in the event of war with the United States, Mexico should be asked to enter the war as a German ally. In return, Germany promised to restore to Mexico the lost territories of Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. British intelligence intercepted and deciphered the telegram and sent it to President Woodrow Wilson, who released it on Mar. 1, 1917, to the press. The Zimmermann note helped turn U.S. public opinion against Germany during World War I and strengthened the advocates of U.S. entry into the war.

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Woodrow Wilson's Wartime Speech

Source Summary:

On April 2, 1917, Wilson requested that Congress declare war on Germany, stating that the "The world must be made safe for democracy." Congress declared war on April 6, and Wilson signed the war declaration on April 7. Wilson wanted to make it clear, however, that the U.S. was not fighting as an Allied power, but merely as, what he called, an associate power. The difference rested in each power's war aims: whereas the Entente Allies clearly wanted war spoils such as land, money, and the subjugation of the German people, Wilson declared that the United States was fighting only for moral reasons, namely to protect democracy from tyranny and promote peace throughout the world.

Credibility: The President of the United States is a credible source

Accuracy: President Wilson might have emphasized a few points beyond reality to convince the Senate of the need to go to war. Example: that Germany sought to sink every ship going to the UK, when in fact Germany was attempting to sink military supplies before it could get to the UK.

Reliability: The President does express opinions and is biased. Example: the president refers to German submarines as "outlaws" which is biased against the German cause.

Relevance: This source describes to the U.S. Senate why the United States needed to declare war on Germany.

Date: 1917, as the U.S. declared war

Sources: President speech printed from the U.S. Government's printing office is valid

United States Exports before joining WWI

Source Summary

The United Sates businesses and banks had all the reason to help England and France because they were their main trading partners at the time. The UK became increasingly their main trading partner as the war progressed. Many support England and France because their governments were much closer to the United States democracy system of government.

US Propaganda Poster

Source Summary

This U.S. propaganda poster was aimed at demonizing Germany as the "Mad Brute." Many Americans did not want the United States to join the war. Many Americans were Germans and might have been more supportive of helping Germany. Big business and banks preferred that the U.S. to join the war to make sure they got their investments back on their loans to France and England.

Reason U.S. Joined WWI

1. German submarine warfare: As Germany attempted to cut off England from receiving military supplies, the inadvertenly killed U.S. citizens and sunk a few ships. They may not have purposely tried to get the USA to join the war, but the sinking of American ships and killing U.S. citizens was the main reason the U.S. finally declared war on Germany.

2. The USA had much more in common with England than Germany. Similar culture, language and government system made the UK a natural ally to the U.S. The UK was also their main trading partner and U.S. banks had lent them money. They had motivation to let the UK win, they needed their investments back.

3. The Zimmermann Note was the "final straw" that won the U.S. citizens over to the proposal to join the war against Germany. The threat was not very realistic, Mexico and Germany would not have been able to take lands from the U.S. But the document was "damming" evidence against Germany and swung the U.S. vote.

Comment Stream

3 years ago

The Zimmermann Telegram

The sender of the message was the German ambassador but it was intercepted and translated by the British military.

It seems strange that German would believe itself to be in the position to take lands away from the USA and give them to Mexico.

The British had obvious reasons for the United States to join the war. The source is biased.

The message stated that if Mexico would help fight against the U.S. in the war, Germany would help get their lands back

date difficult to read

From the British military