The United States and World War I (1914–1921) for AP U.S. History (page 3)

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Updated on Mar 3, 2011

Keeping America Patriotic

Another new agency created in 1917 was the Committee on Public Information, headed by George Creel. The job of this agency was to spread anti-German and pro-Allied propaganda through newsreels and lectures, and through the cooperation of the press. Germans were portrayed as beastlike Huns wherever possible. Liberty Leagues were established in communities across America; members of these organizations were encouraged to report suspicious actions by anyone (especially foreigners) to their local authorities. George Creel asked newspapers to voluntarily censor themselves and to print only articles that would be helpful to the war effort.

A fine line between patriotism and oppression existed during much of World War I. The National Security League convinced Congress to insist on a literacy test for all new immigrants. German language instruction, German music, and even pretzels were banned in some cities. In April 1918, a German-born American citizen was lynched outside of St. Louis; ironically, an investigation found that he had recently attempted to enlist in the American navy.

Most Americans felt they were fighting the war to help the spread of democracy, yet many critics lamented some of the actions taken by the government during the war era. The 1917 Espionage Act made it illegal to obstruct the draft process in any way and stated that any material that was sent through the mail that was said to incite treason could be seized. The Sedition Act of 1918 stated that it was illegal to criticize the government, the Constitution, the U.S. Army, or the U.S. Navy. Prominent socialist Eugene Debs received a 3-year prison term for speaking against militarism; movie producer Robert Goldstein was even sentenced to 3 years in prison for showing the Americans fighting the British in a Revolutionary War film. Radical labor unions such as the IWW were also harassed during the war years. Over 1000 Americans were found guilty of violations of either the Espionage Act or the Sedition Act.

The war did provide a measure of social mobility for blacks and women. With large numbers of men fighting in Europe and no immigrants entering the country, northern factories needed workers, and encouraged blacks to move north to take factory jobs. This move north was called the Great Migration; during the war, nearly 600,000 blacks moved north. Many women were able to find jobs on farms or in factories for the very first time during the war. After the war, men would replace them in the labor market and force them to return to the "women's sphere."

Woodrow Wilson and the Treaty of Versailles

The Paris Peace Conference began on January 12, 1919, and had the very difficult task of creating lasting European peace. The conference was dominated by the "Big Four": the representatives of England, France, Italy (which had switched sides in the middle of the war), and the United States.

Woodrow Wilson was treated as a hero when he arrived in Paris, yet it was obvious in the initial sessions of the peace conference that the leaders of the victorious countries had very different goals. The suffering of England and especially France during the war was horrific; the goal of the French delegation was clearly to punish Germany as much as possible. Woodrow Wilson, on the other hand, came to France supporting his Fourteen Points, which called for open peace treaties, freedom of the seas, free trade, arms reduction, a gradual reduction of colonial claims, and some sort of a world organization to ensure peace. Wilson's plan was coolly received in France; the French, as stated previously, were mainly interested in what they could get out of the Germans. It was also coolly received in the United States by those who were opposed to continued American involvement in European affairs.

Wilson's Fourteen Points were largely opposed by the other members of the Big Four. Wilson called for a reduction of colonial claims: England and France had every intention of taking Germany's colonies after the war. When the treaty was finally signed, Wilson got only a fraction of what he initially wanted. Germany was held responsible for the war and was made to pay reparations. The League of Nations was created, although initially without Germany and the Bolshevik-led Soviet Union. Wilson believed that this was the most important of the Fourteen Points, so he did not leave Paris totally discouraged.

The United States and the Middle East

During the initial two decades of the twentieth century, the United States became increasingly interested in Middle Eastern affairs. Theodore Roosevelt brokered a settlement to the Moroccan crisis between France and Germany in 1905–1906 (both countries desired to be dominant in the region: the conference eventually supported French claims in the region). It was World War I, however, that drew the attention of many in the United States, including President Woodrow Wilson, to the region.

Turkey joined the war on the side of the Central powers (Germany and Austria- Hungary) in late 1914, thus causing the war to spread to the Middle East. The Ottoman Empire, which controlled much of what we call the "Middle East" today, had been gradually collapsing for over a century. World War I completed this collapse. Residents of the Ottoman Empire, including Jews, suffered from disease and famine during the war. To support the Jews in the region, many Jews in the United States gave moral and financial backing to various factions of the Zionist movement, which was dedicated to creating a homeland in Palestine for Jews from around the world (the Zionist movement had its origins in Europe in the nineteenth century). In 1917, the British issued the Balfour Declaration, which supported, at least in principle, the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine. President Wilson announced his support of this policy.

The tragedy of the Armenian Massacre also caused many in the United States to become more interested in Middle Eastern affairs. Caught up in the war between the Turks and the Russians, the Armenians revolted in 1915 against the Turks, who had occupied their homeland. The Turks brutally suppressed this uprising, with thousands of Armenians being executed (to this day, the Turks have failed to take responsibility for this event). American missionaries and aid workers were already present in Armenia (Armenians were Christians), and some of these Americans witnessed the slaughter.

In 1916 and 1917, there were countless rallies organized by Armenian immigrants and church organizations in the United States to protest the killing of the Armenians and to raise money for Armenian relief efforts.

At the end of the war, Woodrow Wilson's Fourteen Points called for the breakup of the Austro-Hungarian and the Ottoman Empires and stated that residents of these areas should be encouraged to move towards "autonomous political development." At the same time, in the immediate aftermath of World War I, the British and the French sought to increase their colonial holdings in the region. The Paris Peace Conference authorized the United States to establish the King-Crane Commission, whose members went into areas that the Europeans were trying to control to determine what political structure the residents of these areas desired.

The King-Crane Commission found that many in the region wanted independence; if that could not be attained, almost all were opposed to French or British control. If anyone was going to have a mandate over the region, public opinion said it should be the Americans, who were seen as having no desire to exploit the people or the lands of the region. The commission recommended against the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine, since vast numbers of non-Jews already living in Palestine would have to be displaced to establish this state. The commission supported the creation of a single state in the region that would be under the control of the Americans. Predictably, the British and the French saw to it that this report was never formally presented at the Paris Peace Conference, as it was directly against their interests. In the end, the Balfour Declaration was issued, the British received mandates over Palestine, Iraq, and Transjordan, France received mandates over Syria and Lebanon, and the only country to experience "self-determination" was Saudi Arabia, which was given independence.

The Treaty of Versailles and the United States Senate

Woodrow Wilson had not appointed a Republican member of the Senate in the United States delegation to the Paris Peace Conference. This proved to be a huge political mistake. Wilson returned from Paris, needing Senate confirmation of the Treaty of Versailles. Many Republicans in the Senate had huge reservations about the treaty; all of them centered around American commitment to the League of Nations. A dozen senators were "irreconcilables," opposed to American membership in the League under any circumstances. Another large group, led by Henry Cabot Lodge, were called "reservationists" and wanted restrictions on American membership in the League. Lodge, for example, wanted it stated that the Congress would have to approve any American action on behalf of the League, and that provisions of the Monroe Doctrine remain in place even if the League of Nations opposed them.

To win national support for the Versailles Treaty, Wilson began a national speaking tour on September 3, 1919. On October 2, he suffered a severe stroke and never totally recovered. Lodge stated that he would support passage of the Versailles Treaty with certain reservations; Wilson rejected the reservations, and the treaty never got the two-thirds majority necessary for its passage. Many politicians both at home and abroad urged Wilson to compromise with congressional leaders and to get America into the League of Nations. Wilson was never willing to do this; his chief biographer maintains that his stroke impeded his judgment during this era. In 1921, the United States formally ended the war with Germany, but the United States never entered the League of Nations.

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