How did the US become involved in World War I?

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The US had been trading with almost all of the countries involved in World War I, but after 1914 began to send increased amounts of material and aid, especially to the British and French. But Woodrow Wilson had campaigned for reelection in 1916 and wanted to keep the US out of the war directly. However, Germany sought to avoid the resupply of its enemies, and its actions soon had the opposite of the intended effect.
The US entered the war in 1917 for a variety of reasons. Here are some summaries of explanations given by WikiAnswers Contributors.

Submarine Warfare and the Lusitania:
  • There were unauthorized German submarines along the US East coast. Germany's resumption of unrestricted submarine warfare in the spring of 1917 provided the final straw for US politicians, and America declared war.
  • The first and foremost answer would be the sinking of the Lusitania, a British transport ship, bound for Britain from New York. The German U-boat ring sought to sink all supply ships headed for Britain in order to starve the island. It sank the Lusitania as part of its efforts. 1195 people died, including 128 Americans.
  • The Lusitania's sinking was the biggest influence on the American decision to enter the war. German submarine warfare sank many ships of many countries during the war.

Some say the "bankers" were involved.
  • The US had huge economic investments with the British and French. If they were to lose, then they would not be able to pay the U.S. debt back (amounting to about two billion dollars while Germany only borrowed a mere 27 million). If the Allies could not pay back all the loans made to them by the American bankers, the US economy could collapse.
  • France and England were financing their war with US loans. In addition, they were buying massive amounts of arms from the US on credit. The US wanted to make sure that it got paid back. Germany also purchased arms, but in a much more limited fashion.

  • Propaganda from both sides influenced the American decision.
  • Woodrow Wilson did not want to go to war but when Teddy Roosevelt decided to run for another term, Wilson felt threatened and announced that there would be a preparedness program and possibly that the country would go to war.
  • By entering the war, the US got to flex its muscles on the world stage and establish itself as a world power.
  • After both sides of the Mexican civil war demanded that our troops leave and public opinion badly swayed against US intervention in Mexico, Wilson had no choice but to withdraw. By having the threat of Germany helping Mexico fight back against him, Wilson knew he had to take action. He couldn't go back into Mexico because the American people would not allow it.

  • President Wilson wanted to make the world safe for democracy ("Wilson's War Address to Congress").
  • It was partly for idealistic reasons (propaganda was not seen as an evil until after the Great War). The occupation of Belgium and the sinking of the Lusitania changed a lot people's minds in the US about Germany.
  • There was more to it than just the submarine warfare and the sinking of the Lusitania although those were the formal and legalistic reasons for declaring war. A moral sense had developed that Britain and France were fighting the good fight for freedom against a genuine evil. If that sense had not existed, the US might have let the Lusitania pass. As it was, it was nearly two years after she was sunk that the US finally declared war.

Zimmerman Telegram:
Other points influenced entrance to the war, but the Zimmerman Telegram (sometimes called the "Zimmerman note" or "Zimmerman telegraph") finally pushed the US to war. The Zimmerman Telegram was sent from the German foreign secretary to the German Ambassador to Mexico. It stated the following:
  • On the first of February, 1917, submarine warfare will be reinstated unrestrictively.
  • The US has to stay neutral.
  • Germany proposes an alliance with Mexico on the following basis: If the US goes to war, Mexico must fight on the home front in an financially supported alliance with Germany; If Mexico agrees to fight, they will reconquer New Mexico, Texas and Arizona.

The telegraph was intercepted by British Intelligence and transmitted to the American government by the Brits. This infuriated Americans. It was the same sort of alliance that plunged Europe into war.

Other WikiAnswers Contributors agree:
  • The clincher was "discovery" of the Zimmerman Telegram (it was de-coded by the British and forwarded to US diplomats; with obvious self-interest on the part of the Brits).

Problem regarding the Lusitania as a reason (cause) for American entry:
Twenty-two months plus passed between the sinking of the Lusitania in May 1915 and U.S. entry into World War 1 in April 1917. In view of this it is very hard to see the Lusitania as a cause of American entry. It no doubt did much to turn American public opinion against Germany, but that's a different matter. It really seems that the idea that the Lusitania was a cause or the #1 reason is a myth.
(also see the related link)
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