World War I: Exporting Progressivism


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Woodrow Wilson's attempt to save the world for democracy in World War I represented an effort to export Progressivism overseas, one that ironically destroyed the spirit of Progressivism on the American home front.

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World War I: Exporting Progressivism

  1. 1. Wilson and World War I The Perils of Idealism: Exporting Progressivism Abroad and Killing it at Home
  2. 2. Wilson’s Two Foreign Policy Goals <ul><li>Traditional Balance of Power Strategy: The Old Strategy </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Arms Race </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Build-Up of Power </li></ul></ul><ul><li>A New Strategy: The League of Nations and the Abandonment of “Balance of Power” </li></ul><ul><li>The American People “Bought” It </li></ul>
  3. 3. Wilson’s Slogans <ul><li>A War to Save the World for Democracy </li></ul><ul><li>A War to End all Wars </li></ul><ul><li>This caused Americans to expect too much from the war </li></ul><ul><li>They were “Riding for a Fall” </li></ul>
  4. 4. Wilson’s Practice <ul><li>At variance with his preaching </li></ul><ul><li>The US was “waging neutrality” on the side of the Allies during the Neutrality Period (1914-1917) </li></ul><ul><li>We aided the British far more than the German </li></ul><ul><li>The problem: not the practice, but the promise </li></ul><ul><li>Wilson was not honest with the American people </li></ul>
  5. 5. The Result of Wilson’s Failure <ul><li>American shock led to a retreat into America’s traditional isolationism, 1919-1939 </li></ul><ul><li>This had fatal consequences since American power was central to world politics for the first time </li></ul><ul><li>Isolationism led to a critical power vacuum in world politics in the 1920s and 1930s </li></ul>
  6. 6. The Causes of World War I, 1914 <ul><li>Balance of Power Politics Gone Wrong </li></ul><ul><li>Nationalism </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Minority Group Independence Movements </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Irredentism (egs., South Slavs and the French) </li></ul></ul><ul><li>A Naval Arms Race Between England and Germany </li></ul><ul><li>The South Slavs Disaffected under the Rule of Austria-Hungary </li></ul><ul><li>Assassination in Sarajevo, Bosnia: June 28, 1914 </li></ul><ul><li>August 1, 1914: The European War Begins </li></ul>
  7. 7. Wilson’s Proclamation of Neutrality, August 19, 1914 <ul><li>Unprecedented and unrealistic </li></ul><ul><li>Americans were told to be neutral in thought as well as in action(!) </li></ul><ul><li>Why was this unrealistic?? </li></ul><ul><li>Many Americans were first or second generation Americans– Neutrality of thought was an impossibility </li></ul><ul><li>Wilson himself could not be neutral in thought </li></ul>
  8. 8. How Wilson “Waged Neutrality” <ul><li>The phrase is Thomas A. Bailey’s (historian) </li></ul><ul><li>American Bank Loans to the Allies: $2,300,000,000 ($2.3 billion) </li></ul><ul><li>American Bank Loans to the Germans: $27,000,000 ($27 million) </li></ul><ul><li>Loans to the Germans were 90 times less than to the British </li></ul>
  9. 9. Where Wilson was Right and Wrong <ul><li>Lopsided Aid to the British was Right </li></ul><ul><li>Wilson should have leveled with the American people </li></ul><ul><li>Wilson held the Germans to a tougher standard </li></ul><ul><li>But then German violations led to loss of life </li></ul>
  10. 10. British and German Violations <ul><li>British Paper Blockades </li></ul><ul><li>British extension of contraband to include food </li></ul><ul><li>German sinking of neutral vessels </li></ul><ul><li>German sinking of the Lusitania (1915) and other passenger vessels </li></ul><ul><li>The Germans meet Wilson’s demands in the Sussex Pledge (May, 1916) </li></ul><ul><li>Wilson was tougher with the Germans, but he had reason to be and the Germans ultimately agreed with his demands </li></ul>
  11. 11. Reasons for American Entry, April, 1917 <ul><li>Germany’s Decision to Resume Unrestricted Submarine Warfare (January, 1917) </li></ul><ul><li>Zimmerman Telegram (Jan., 1917) </li></ul><ul><li>Declaration of War (April, 1917) </li></ul><ul><li>Wilson’s Determination to Make American War Aims as “Progressive” as Possible </li></ul>
  12. 12. Wilson’s “Progressive” Goals <ul><li>The Fourteen Points (January, 1918) </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Five Main Points </li></ul></ul><ul><li>The Pivotal Turning Point (July, 1918) </li></ul><ul><li>The Armistice (November 11, 1918) </li></ul><ul><li>The Treaty of Versailles and its Significance (Summer, 1919) </li></ul><ul><li>Wilson in Paris (Summer, 1919) </li></ul>
  13. 13. Wilson and the League of Nations <ul><li>Wilson had to compromise with his Allied Partners </li></ul><ul><li>They got the right to exact revenge on the Germans </li></ul><ul><li>He got the League of Nations </li></ul><ul><li>But the conflict between the two goals planted the seeds of World War II and soured the American people on the idea of the League </li></ul><ul><li>The Senate eventually rejected the Treaty of Versailles and the League </li></ul><ul><ul><li>This story, and the war on the Home front, will be the subject of the next lecture </li></ul></ul>