Armed Hostilities

World War I: Causes and the United States’ Role


It could hardly be doubted that World War I, also referred to as the Great War or “the war to end all wars,” was an immensely influential event in world history. Its impact on the overall development of international relationships and the political situation in the world could not be overlooked. While the significance of the war and its aftermath is largely recognized by numerous scholars, the question of reasons that led to the outbreak of the war is still debated. Thus, this paper aims to investigate these underlying causes along with the exploration of the role of the United States in World War I.

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Nationalism, Imperialism, and Militarism as Factors that Led to the Outbreak of the War

As of now, a considerably large theoretical base concerning the causes that led to World War I is established and developed. The works of numerous historians and academics from other branches of social sciences contributed significantly to the overall understanding of the historical background that caused the outbreak of the war. This background comprises an extensive and interrelated set of reasons; however, the majority of scholars agree on the perspective that nationalism, imperialism, and militarism were the most important factors.

Arguably, nationalism is the factor that relates primarily to the case of Germany. According to Fitzpatrick (2015), nationalistic movements began to rise in the German empire long before the outbreak of World War I. In general, the author discussed the expulsions of the Jesuits, as this population was vastly discriminated against in the late XIX century in Germany. However, it is also important to notice that the Jesuit Law of 1872 served as a template for the discrimination of other minorities, including Jews, French, Poles, and Protestant Danes. Thus, the rise of nationalism in Imperial Germany served as the foundation for the development of Nazism several decades later. Additionally, it is highly important to mention the rise of Pan-Slavism in Eastern Europe, as it was perceived as a threat from the Russian empire in German-speaking states.

Imperialism and militarism were two other closely related factors that also largely influenced the outbreak of World War I. As it is mentioned by Levy and Vasquez (2014), “the field of rivalry dynamics appears to have contributed significantly to the outbreak of war” (p. 85). The authors emphasize the fact that there were no definite causes for the war, but the constant confrontation of the contemporary empires created a certain level of tension. Thus, despite the fact that none of the governors desired war, they were obliged to obey “the new factor public opinion” (MacMillan, 2013, p. 192) and to get involved in the conflict to defend their highly paced imperialistic interests. Accordingly, the alliance system also contributed to the development of the conflict as it also created political tension and rivalry between countries.

The United States’ Participation in the War

Further, the question of the participation of the United States in World War I should be discussed. From the war’s outbreak and until 1917, the United States remained neutral, not supporting any country or political power. The core reason for this neutrality was the policy of isolationism, which was largely promoted throughout American history. Ethnicity also played a significant role, as the self-identity of America’s population was largely based on the idea of the “American creed” (Lieven, 2016). This concept represented the idea of every American citizen having a common political creed, despite the differences in race, origin, class, et cetera (Lieven, 2016).

However, the tension within American society grew steadily as the majority of people began to perceive Germany as the major aggressor in Europe. In particular, Germany’s decision to attack every ship that approaches British waters, which was declared in 1917, forced the United States to break its neutrality (O’Neill, 2002).

It is possible to state with certainty that the United States’ entrance to the war, despite the fact that it was a difficult decision for the US government, contributed significantly to the end of the war. Primarily, it could be mentioned that American contribution to the victory over Germany manifested itself in the amounts of various supplies that were shipped to allies (O’Neill, 2002). The United States provided its allies with military equipment, raw materials, fuel, and monetary support. Also, it should not be overlooked that American troops participated in the battles in Europe.

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Finally, the defeat of the Treaty of Versailles should be observed as a highly important event in American history. Most importantly, the efforts of President Woodrow Wilson for the establishment of the League of Nations, an organization that, according to Wilson’s intent, should have been working for the creation of a more cooperative international politics (O’Neill, 2002). However, the internal political tensions within the Senate led to the defeat of the Treaty of Versailles. Particularly, Republican isolationists led by Henry Cabot Lodge blocked the ratification of the Treaty of Versailles. Ultimately, it put the United States into the position of political isolation for the period between the end of World War I and the outbreak of World War II.


The importance of World War I is evidently exemplified in this essay. Particularly, this paper discussed the significance of nationalism, imperialism, and militarism as the driving factors that led to the political tension in Europe, creating the background for the war’s outbreak. Also, the paper discussed various stages of the United States’ involvement in the war.


Fitzpatrick, M. P. (2015). Purging the empire: Mass expulsions in Germany, 1871–1914. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Lieven, A. (2016). Clinton and Trump: Two faces of American nationalism. Survival, 58(5), 7-22.

Levy, J. S., & Vasquez, J. A. (2014). The outbreak of the First World War: Structure, politics, and decision-making. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

MacMillan, M. (2013). The war that ended peace: The road to 1914. New York, NY: Random House.

O’Neill, W. L. (2002). A democracy at war: America’s fight at home and abroad in World War II. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

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