One factor was simply that Americans generally — some ethnic minorities were exceptions — felt stronger ties to Britain and France than to Germany and Austria. By it was clear that Britain and France were nearing exhaustion, and there was considerable sentiment in the United States for saving our traditional allies. The insistence of the United States on her trading rights was also important. Soon after the war began Britain, France, and their allies set up a naval blockade of Germany and Austria.
Even food was contraband. The Wilson Administration complained bitterly that the blockade violated international law. Surely, the Americans argued, international law protected the right of one neutral to trade with another. Britain and France responded by extending the blockade to include the Baltic neutrals.
Mobilizing the Economy
The situation was similar to the difficulties the United States experienced during the Napoleonic wars, which drove the United States into a quasi-war against France, and to war against Britain. Ultimately, however, it was not the conventional surface vessels used by Britain and France to enforce its blockade that enraged American opinion, but rather submarines used by Germany.
When the British who provided most of the blockading ships intercepted an American ship, the ship was escorted into a British port, the crew was well treated, and there was a chance of damage payments if it turned out that the interception was a mistake. The situation was very different when the Germans turned to submarine warfare.
German submarines attacked without warning, and passengers had little chance of to save themselves.
To many Americans this was a brutal violation of the laws of war. The Germans felt they had to use submarines because their surface fleet was too small to defeat the British navy let alone establish an effective counter-blockade. The first submarine attack to inflame American opinion was the sinking of the Lusitania in May The Lusitania left New York with a cargo of passengers and freight, including war goods.
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When the ship was sunk over passengers were lost including Americans. In the months that followed further sinkings brought more angry warnings from President Wilson. For a time the Germans gave way and agreed to warn American ships before sinking them and to save their passengers. In February , however, the Germans renewed unrestricted submarine warfare in an attempt to starve Britain into submission. The loss of several U.
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From a crude dollar-and-cents point of view it is hard to justify the war based on the trade lost to the United States. Suppose that the United States had stayed out of the war, and that as a result all trade with Europe was cut off. Suppose further, that the resources that would have been used to produce exports for Europe were able to produce only half as much value when reallocated to other purposes such as producing goods for the domestic market or exports for non-European countries.
This was about 3. On March 21, the Germans launched a massive offensive on the Somme battlefield and successfully broke through the Allied lines.
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In May and early June, after U. Although a small number of Americans participated it was mainly the old war: the Germans against the British and the French. The arrival of large numbers of Americans, however, rapidly changed the course of the war. The Allies, bolstered by significant numbers of Americans, halted the German offensive. The initiative now passed to the Allies. They drove the Germans back in a series of attacks in which American troops played an increasingly important role. The first distinctively American offensive was the battle of the St.
Mihiel Salient fought from September 12 to September 16, ; over half a million U. The last major offensive of the war, the Meuse-Argonne offensive, was launched on September 26, with British, French, and American forces attacking the Germans on a broad front.
The Germans now realized that their military situation was deteriorating rapidly, and that they would have to agree to end to the fighting. The Armistice occurred on November 11, — at the eleventh hour, of the eleventh day, of the eleventh month. The first and most important mobilization decision was the size of the army.
When the United States entered the war, the army stood at ,, hardly enough to have a decisive impact in Europe.
World War II and the Postwar Years in America: A Historical and Cultural Encyclopedia [2 volumes]
However, on May 18, a draft was imposed and the numbers were increased rapidly. Initially, the expectation was that the United States would mobilize an army of one million. The number, however, would go much higher. Overall some 4,, Americans would serve in World War I. Some 2,, would reach France, and 1,, would see active combat. Once the size of the Army had been determined, the demands on the economy became obvious, although the means to satisfy them did not: food and clothing, guns and ammunition, places to train, and the means of transport. The Navy also had to be expanded to protect American shipping and the troop transports.
Contracts immediately began flowing from the Army and Navy to the private sector. See Table 1 below for this and other data on the war effort. The latter figure amounted to over 12 percent of GNP, and that amount excludes spending by other wartime agencies and spending by allies, much of which was financed by U.
Bureau of the Census , series Y and Y Kendrick , table A-VI, p. Although the Army would number in the millions, raising these numbers did not prove to be an unmanageable burden for the U. S economy. The total labor force rose from about 40 million in to 44 million in This increase allowed the United States to field a large military while still increasing the labor force in the nonfarm private sector from Real wages rose in the industrial sector during the war, perhaps by six or seven percent, and this increase combined with the ease of finding work was sufficient to draw many additional workers into the labor force.
The farm labor force did drop slightly from Indeed, the all-important category of food grains showed strong increases in and The United States then simply maintained the output of these materials during the years of active U. Prices on the New York Stock Exchange, shown in Figure 2, provide some insight into what investors thought about the strength of the economy during the war era. When the war broke out the New York Stock Exchange was closed to prevent panic selling. After the market reopened it rose as investors realized that the United States would profit as a neutral.
The market then began a long slide that began when tensions between the United States and Germany rose at the end of and continued after the United States entered the war. A second, less rise began in the spring of when an Allied victory began to seem possible. The increase continued and gathered momentum after the Armistice. In real terms, however, as shown by the lower line in the figure, the rise in the stock market was not sufficient to offset the rise in consumer prices.
At times one hears that war is good for the stock market, but the figures for World War I, as the figures for other wars, tell a more complex story.
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Table 2 shows the amounts of some of the key munitions produced during the war. During and after the war critics complained that the mobilization was too slow. American troops, for example, often went into battle with French artillery, clearly evidence, the critics implied, of incompetence somewhere in the supply chain. It does take time, however, to convert existing factories or build new ones and to work out the details of the production and distribution process.
The last column of Table 2 shows peak monthly production, usually October , at an annual rate. When Franklin Roosevelt called for 50, planes in World War II, his demand was seen as an astounding exercise in bravado. Yet when we look at the last column of the table we see that the United States was hitting this level of production for Liberty engines by the end World War I.
There were efforts during the war to coordinate Allied production.
To some extent this was tried — the United States produced much of the smokeless powder used by the Allies — but it was always clear that the United States wanted its own army equipped with its own munitions. Where did the money come from to buy all these munitions? Then as now there were, the experts agreed, three basic ways to raise the money: 1 raising taxes, 2 borrowing from the public, and 3 printing money.
Though zoot suits became notorious in , the trend continued into the s until it ultimately faded away. The zoot suit may have been an exaggerated style, but many elements were present in fashionable suits in the years after the war. However, these followed earlier lines of the s and were unpopular. Post-war, an American approach to dressing inspired a more casual, sporting style for both men and women which saw popularity in both the US and Europe.
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