3 Apr 2017     home | subject timeline

President Wilson making the world safe for democracy

One hundred years ago, on April 6 to be exact, the US House of Representatives voted 373 to 50 to declare war on Germany. Congressmen greeted the results of their decision standing on their chairs, waving their American flag lapel pins and cheering. The evangelist Billy Sunday was delighted and claimed that the United States was on its way to fighting "Christ's war."

The US was aligning itself in war with the British, French and Russians. The Russians had overthrown their tsar in February. Wilson could now consider these three countries democracies and at war against autocracy, and he announced his decision to go to war as making the world "safe for democracy." His primary enemy was Germany. Its king (kaiser, in the German language) was seen as responsible for the war in Europe, and to many Americans the Kaiser was a horrible creature, the world's living devil.

How did that happen? Germany in 1914 went to war to defend itself against an invasion by the Russians. (The Russians were indeed coming.) The French were allied with the Russians, and the Germans thought the best defense was an offense. The Kaiser didn't want a war with France, but German forces headed for Paris and were more successful than the French who were headed for Berlin. This success made the Germans appear to be aggressors. German soldiers were on French soil rather than French soldiers on German soil.) There was also the issue of Britain's naval blockade against Germany and Germany's counter blockade with its submarines — the submarine a hideous form of warfare that some in the US claimed we would never employ.

It was the German navy's return to submarine warfare in 1917, public opinion's horror and Wilson caving in to public opinion that put the United States into the war.

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Copyright © 2017 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.