Did the United States Want to Remain Neutral in WWI?

Yuji Sakai/The Image Bank/Getty Images

The United States wanted to remain neutral during WWI because it was not a signatory to the international agreements that had drawn other nations into the conflict. Disagreements occurred over who started the war.

The Main Players

World War I was fought between the Allies and the Central Powers, and was fought on European soil. The Allied Forces initially consisted of Britain, Belgium, France, Serbia and Russia, and eventually totaled 18 nations, including Japan, Italy and the United States. Due to economic woes and food scarcity, as well as the rise of the Bolsheviks, Russia left the conflict two months before the U.S. joined the battle. The Central Powers were made up of the Austro-Hungarian regime, Bulgaria, Germany and the Ottoman Empire.

American Neutrality

American citizens largely favored neutrality for a host of reasons. At this time, America was largely made up of European immigrants who were thankful to have left what they regarded as inherent ruling deficiencies across Europe, according to The Telegraph. There were disagreements over who started the war. With nationals from both sides of the conflict now living as one nation, the United States sought to limit any political divisions that could tear the country apart. President Woodrow Wilson was elected largely because of his platform of neutrality, and he is famous for declaring the United States “impartial in thought as well as in action,” as stated by Politico.

Neutrality Hangs by a Thread

Following a trade blockade by the British against the Germans, the latter resorted to the use of a new weapon. The German U-boat initiated surprise attacks on vessels carrying soldiers and supplies to the Allied countries. The Germans used these weapons to destroy artillery, which resulted in casualties for the Allies. Many of the targeted vessels came from neutral nations (including the United States) that were trading munitions and food supplies to the Allies. By February of 1915, Germany declared war against all ships entering the conflict area, regardless of purpose, as stated by Politico.

The Sinking of the Lusitania

American neutrality was pushed to its limits by the attacks on trading ships, especially after the sinking of the passenger ship Lusitania. The ocean liner was carrying 1,959 passengers, including 128 Americans, as it headed from New York to Britain. After stringent protest from the U.S., Germany apologized and promised to limit the scope of its U-boat attacks. However, this did not pan out, as the Germans then sank an Italian ship and four additional U.S. merchant ships. This led President Wilson to request a declaration of war against Germany from Congress. On April 6, 1917, Congress passed the declaration of war, with the House of Representatives voting 373 to 50 and the Senate voting 82 to six in favor, according to History.

American Values of Freedom and Democracy Are Explored

These ship attacks generated support in the United States for entering the war. The U.S. entered the conflict with the goal of using this war to end all wars, and to make the world safe for the spread of democracy. These ideals would endure throughout the century to modern-day times, according to History.

Entering the Conflict: 1917

By June 26, the first U.S. troops arrived in France to begin training. The United States military initially sent 14,000 infantry troops, and the well-supplied forces proved to create a major turning point in WWI. The war ended on November 11, 1918, just one year, seven months and five days after the United States entered the conflict.