Armed Hostilities

America and the Great War, Nationalism, Imperialism, and Militarism

The rise of nationalism, militarism, imperialism, the conflicts between the allies played their part in the outbreak of the World War I. Although America tried to stay neutral during the years 1914-1917, later the country had to join the war. The Treaty of Versailles was opposed by the Senate, and the United Nations never became a member state of the League of Nations.

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Nationalism, Imperialism, and Militarism in the Great War

To understand nationalism, the relationship between an individual and a state must be addressed. The ideology claims that the needs of the state are always more important than the needs of the individuals; such nationalism began to develop in both in France and Germany (Cean, 2011, p. 23). Other countries experienced the rise of nationalism as well: such shape of thought was dominant in Britain, Italy, Russia, the Balkan States, etc. Rising imperialism was influenced by philosophical views; Cean (2011) argues that Nietzsche’s understating of power triggered the rise: “This goes beyond the idea of competition for survival… this is competition of achievement” (p. 28). Germany, Italy, Britain, France, and others had created colonies on different continents, so militarism was a natural extension of imperialism: “It built up vast stockpiles of weapons that, in peace, was a source of competition and anxiety… in war would ensure devastation” (Cean, 2011, p. 32). Militarism demanded a perfect tactical efficiency of every state. Together, nationalism, imperialism, and militarism in every state engaged caused the World War I.

Role of Pan-Slavism, German Nationalism, and the Alliance System in the Great War

To understand the historic events that were the beginning of the World War I, pan-Slavism and German nationalism require a closer approach. Pan-Slavism aimed “to destroy the Austrian and Ottoman empires in order to establish a federation of Slav peoples under the aegis of the Russian emperor” (Wright, Tuthill & Wells, 2015, p. 504). Pan-Slavism had its roots in nationalism and influenced both Russia’s strategies and the Balkans’ opposition to Austria-Hungary; Slavs in Austria-Hungary regarded the pan-Slavic movement as anti-Habsburg (Wright et al., 2015, p. 504). The nationalist aspirations of the Balkan peoples eventually lead to the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand.

Most of the German population believed that Germany’s neighbors were a danger to the country. Germany, as they believed, had no other option as to defend (Horne, 2010, p. 10). German nationalism grew both from the fear of encirclement and conviction that Germany was superior to the others. The Kaiser Wilhelm II described the coming war as “the Germanic peoples’ fight… against Russo-Gallia….it is not a question of high politics, but one of race….a struggle between Teuton and Slav” (Crean, 2011, p. 26). The nationalist views of the Kaiser were yet another cause for the following outbreak of the war.

The Alliance Systems consisted of two rivaling parts: “Triple Alliance” (Germany, Austria-Hungary, Italy) and “Triple Entente” (France, Britain, Russia). Their aim was to prepare for future wars with the help of the military alliances (Horne, 2010, p. 24). Every member of the alliance had to protect other members if a conflict arose, so the alliances themselves were the cause of the World War I: the local conflict between the Balkans and Austria-Hungary lead to a full-scale war.

The USA in the World War I: Neutrality; Ethnicity; Contribution

The USA stayed neutral throughout the years 1914-1917. The policy of the President Woodrow Wilson demanded neutrality of the country; however, not every citizen of the US agreed to it: “Americans fiercely debated every facet of the administration policy, ranging from how best to sustain traditional commercial rights to providing the most effecting means of maintaining the country’s security” (Doenecke, 2012, p. 2). Wilson focused primarily on the inner matters of the country and “his nation’s moral responsibility… [he] was indifferent to military and naval strategy, hostile to power politics…” (Doenecke, 2012, p. 3). The USA did not cease its trade to the Central Powers and the Allied Powers which later lead to two consequences: first, Britain claimed that the goods the USA shipped to Germany were contraband; second, one of German U-boats sunk a liner ‘Lusitania’ with 128 Americans among other passengers (Doenecke, 2012, p. 71). This incident was widely discussed in press; it has also given the pro-Allied individuals the opportunity “to openly advocate policies that would risk war with Germany” (Doenecke, 2012, p. 72). It became clear that the USA would soon enter the war.

The population of the USA was divided: the descendants of British and French immigrants claimed that it was murder; German and Irish Americans and their press “deplored the tragedy and hoped that the United States would avoid conflict” (Doenecke, 2012, p. 72). The Central Powers’ propaganda appealed to the German and Irish-American population; the Allied Powers had British and French Americans by their side. Nevertheless, the USA had to enter the war when four more ships were destroyed by the German forces; the famous telegram concerning a German-Mexican alliance was also the reason why Wilson eventually received a declaration of war from Congress (Doenecke, 2012, p. 220). Although the American troops were relatively small when the USA entered the war, by 1918 the U.S. First Army, 500,000 men, had engaged (Doenecke, 2012, p. 281). America also helped The Allied Powers with supplies that demanded the economy mobilization (Horne, 2010, p. 458). Almost three million Americans were mobilized; the biggest impact the American army had had was during the Meuse-Argonne offensive that eventually caused the end of the war (Horne, 2010, p. 477). Although the USA participated in the war only for seven months, it had an enormous influence on its denouement but sustained big losses.

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Treaty of Versailles and League of Nations

Shortly after the war had ended, the President Wilson presented the famous Fourteen Points, the program that mediated principles that could sustain the world in peace. Wilson believed that after this war the world needed an organization that would help the states resolve future conflicts without arms (Slavicek, 2011 p. 32). During the Paris Peace Conference Wilson suggested creating the League that would both serve the idea of a peaceful world and care for international security (Slavicek, 2011, p 35). The Covenant of the League would eventually become Part I of the Treaty of Versailles; Wilson returned to the Unites States to ratify the document, but the event took an unexpected turn – the Senate declined the ratification (Slavicek, 2011, p. 44). The biggest opponent for Wilson in this matter was Henry Cabot Lodge – the relationships between Lodge and the President were competitive, and the failed ratification had only worsened them (Doenecke, 2012, p. 310). Wilson’s aim to make the world safer came to nothing.


The USA did not become a member of the League, although the state did cooperate with it; in the mid-1920s the USA were more concerned with the economy; the tendency to isolation grew, the immigration experienced some limits. Isolation led to America’s non-interference in affairs of the European countries (Horne, 2010, p. 512). The fascism in Italy and German national socialism were not addressed by the USA; if the state were a part of the League of Nations, the inevitable conflicts and total war would possibly unfold in other circumstances.


Crean, G. (2011). Political Philosophy and the Great War. New York, NY: Amazon Digital Services.

Doenecke, J. (2012). Nothing less than war. Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky.

Horne, J. (2010). A companion to World War I. Chichester, U.K.: Wiley-Blackwell.

Slavicek, L. (2011). The Treaty of Versailles. New York: Chelsea House.

Wright, E., Tuthill, M., & Wells, L. (2015). A dictionary of world history. Oxford, U.K.: Oxford University Press.

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