Why Did the US Enter WW1? What Were the Reasons?

Why did the US Enter WW1? World War I, often referred to as the Great War, lasted from 1914 to 1918 and saw the involvement of numerous countries, including the United States. The reasons behind the U.S. entry into the war are complex and multifaceted. This post provides all the answers you need.

World War I Begins

On June 28, 1914, an event took place that would ignite a chain of events leading to a devastating war. 

Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the next in line to become the ruler of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and his wife Sophie were assassinated in Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina, by a Bosnian Serb nationalist.

Just a month later, on July 28, Austria-Hungary responded to the assassination by declaring war on Serbia. This declaration set off a rapid series of alliances and declarations, drawing in major powers. 

Within a week, Russia, France, Belgium, Great Britain, and Serbia had aligned themselves against Austria-Hungary and Germany. The conflict, initially known as the Great War, had officially begun.

Who Were the Central Powers?

Germany and Austria-Hungary joined forces with the Ottoman Empire and Bulgaria, forming the Central Powers. On the other side, Russia, France, and Great Britain, known as the major Allied Powers, were later joined by Italy, Japan, Portugal, and other nations.

As World War I erupted across Europe on August 4, President Woodrow Wilson declared the neutrality of the United States. He emphasized that the nation must not only be neutral in name but in practice as well during these challenging times.

Many Americans supported this stance since there were no significant interests at stake for the nation. 

Moreover, the United States had a diverse population of immigrants from countries involved in the war, and Wilson aimed to prevent it from becoming a source of division.

Despite the neutrality, American companies continued to export food, raw materials, and weapons to both the Allies and the Central Powers. However, trade with the Central Powers was greatly limited due to Britain’s naval blockade of Germany. 

Additionally, U.S. banks provided loans to the warring nations, with the majority going to the Allies.

Why Did the US Enter WW1?

Germany took a dangerous risk by sinking numerous American merchant ships near the British Isles, which ultimately led to the United States entering World War I.

Hein Goemans, a political scientist from Rochester, explains why Germany was willing to take such a gamble despite President Woodrow Wilson’s desire to avoid war.

When the war broke out in Europe in 1914, President Wilson promised neutrality, aligning with the prevailing sentiment among the American public.

However, as Wilson tried to steer clear of war for the next three years and sought a collective approach to international stability through negotiations, he found himself running out of options. 

Tensions escalated when Germany attempted to isolate Britain in 1915 and announced unrestricted attacks on all ships entering the war zone near the British Isles.

In early April 1917, with the increasing number of sunken U.S. merchant ships and civilian casualties, Wilson appealed to Congress for a “war to end all wars” and to “make the world safe for democracy.” 

Thus, on April 6, 1917, a hundred years ago, Congress voted to declare war on Germany, joining the bloody conflict that was then optimistically referred to as the “Great War.”

According to Hein Goemans, the U.S. decision to declare war was essentially an acknowledgment that Germany had taken a very risky gamble.

One that posed a significant danger to Germany itself but was seen as the only way to achieve the victory they sought domestically.

Final Thoughts 

The United States entered World War I, also known as the Great War, for several key reasons. Firstly, the unrestricted submarine warfare by Germany, including the sinking of the British passenger liner Lusitania, led to public outrage and a shift in American sentiment. 

Additionally, the interception of the Zimmermann Telegram, in which Germany sought an alliance with Mexico against the US, further pushed the nation towards war. 

Lastly, economic factors, such as trade disruptions and loans to the Allied Powers, played a significant role in the US decision to enter the conflict.