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HIS 405 World War I and America US History Research paper


The assassination of Archduke Francis Ferdinand in Sarajevo is often cited as the cause of World War I, but there were many other contributing factors that had developed long before 1914. These included the Boxer Rebellion, militarism, and imperialism, the system of alliances, American neutrality, and the effects of ethnicity and the prevalence of Pan Slavism in Eastern Europe. However, some of the most significant causes of the war were the formation of the League of Nations by Woodrow Wilson and the signing of the Treaty of Versailles.

The Boxer Rebellion was a significant factor in the lead up to the war. Led by a secret Chinese organization called the Society of the Righteous and Harmonious, the Boxers rebelled against Western and Japanese influence in northern China. They were known as “Boxers” because they performed physical exercises that they believed would make them impervious to gun fire. The rebellion spread to Beijing, where many Chinese Christians were killed and displaced. An international coalition that included the United States was sent to rescue foreign nationals and Chinese Christians trapped in the region (History on the net, 2016).

HIS 405 World War I and America US History Research paper

Militarism, the idea that a society or government should have a powerful military and be ready to use it aggressively to protect national interests, was prevalent in Europe in the early 1900s. Countries were expanding their military forces and giving them more power in both domestic and foreign affairs. Britain’s introduction of the Dreadnaught battleship and Germany’s development of a plan to attack France through Belgium were examples of this militaristic policy. In addition, imperialism, the policy of extending a nation’s power through military or political means, was also common during this time. The British Empire spanned five continents, and France had control over a large portion of Africa. European countries began annexing undeveloped nations to secure access to raw materials and markets, while German and other leaders saw expansion into Africa as necessary to take land away from the colonists already there.

World War I was primarily caused by two types of nationalism. The first type was the use of power by countries to act in their own political interest, such as the dispute over the Alsace-Lorraine region between France and Germany. The second type occurred in countries with ethnic diversity, particularly in Central and Eastern Europe, where various groups sought control over land and autonomy. Pan-Slavic nationalism, which aimed to unite Slavic people under one flag, was a direct threat to the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Serbia, led by proponent Nicholas Pastiche, was perceived as an aggressor nation by the Austrians. The alliance system also contributed to the outbreak of hostilities, as certain countries had no choice but to declare war if their allies were attacked. Germany and Austria-Hungary were linked by a treaty, as were France and Russia, with a less formal alliance between France and Great Britain.

HIS 405 World War I and America US History Research paper

In the 1930s, the United States adopted a policy of isolationism, despite President Roosevelt’s support for greater involvement. The Hawley-Smoot tariff was passed to protect American industrial interests, causing other nations to levy tariffs against US products. To respond, the US passed a series of neutrality acts, including a ban on selling weapons to countries at war and a ban on lending money to them. Trade with warring nations was only allowed if cash was paid and they transported the goods themselves.

In the United States, ethnic groups generally showed loyalty to their new home country and were less concerned about maintaining America’s neutrality, as many had fled from grievances with their former countries. Consequently, ethnic opposition to entering the war did not become a significant factor. While some German-Americans were hesitant to oppose their friends and families back in Germany, ultimately immigrants from all countries served in the US armed forces when called upon.

In 1917, a series of attacks on US shipping and ships carrying US citizens by German U-boats prompted President Woodrow Wilson to involve the US in the war. Prior to this, Germany had pledged not to attack passenger ships and to allow merchant ship crews to abandon their ships before the attack. However, this pledge, known as the Sussex pledge, was violated by Germany because the US was providing financial assistance to the Allies. Although the German chancellor argued against violating the pledge, Germany no longer saw the US as a neutral party. President Wilson broke off diplomatic relations with Germany without seeking a declaration of war from Congress, as he believed that a declaration would lead to demands from the American people for evidence of Germany’s transgression. Instead, he maintained the possibility of resuming negotiations with Germany if the attacks ceased. However, U-boat attacks continued and Americans continued to be killed.

By 1919, the Paris Peace Conference was held at Versailles to map out a plan for the post-war period. The conference was attended by thirty nations, but it was dominated by the US, France, Great Britain, and Italy, known as the big four. They were the primary force behind the Treaty of Versailles, which ended the war and established the League of Nations as an international forum and security collective agreement. Germany was forced to accept full responsibility for causing World War I through Article 231, the War Guilt Clause, which caused resentment in Germany. The treaty also placed strong limitations on Germany’s ability to make war in the future by restricting the size of its military forces and banning Germany from possessing a U-boat fleet. The US Senate did not ratify the treaty and accepted no responsibility for most of its provisions.


Researching this topic was a pleasure for me as I have always enjoyed learning about pivotal points in American history, particularly the Great Wars. I have a deep appreciation for the military and the leaders who have worked tirelessly to forge our freedom and provide us with a high standard of living.


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Demetria, T. (2014). Why we are fighting? A view of the “Great War” from Across the Ocean. Studies in

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Alpha History Staff, (2014). Imperialism as a cause for world war I. AlphaHistory.com (2014). Retrieved

February 14, 2018 from


Liebknecht, K., (2009). Militarism. Means and effects of Militarism. World War I Documents Archive (July

9, 2009). Retrieved February 14, 2018 from


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