I hate to use the word propaganda but what a lot of us were taught regarding America’s involvement in WWI does include a good amount of it which I’ll explain in a moment. First of all, President Wilson (D) was mostly a pacifist and wanted to remain neutral when Germany made their move on Brussels, France, and Russia.
He was able to refrain from declaring war on Germany even when the British luxury passenger liner Lusitania (that had some Americans on board), was sunk by a German U-Boat. But just because we hadn’t declared war doesn’t mean we weren’t engaged in the war.
Although Wilson said we would remain neutral, Germany and Austria-Hungary didn’t see it that way (nor did German Americans), because we were selling supplies (i.e. ammo, clothing, food, weapons, etc.), to the Allied Forces. Although not shared in most U.S. history textbooks, the main reason Germany sank the Lusitania was that it was hiding military supplies in the hull of the ship that the passengers didn’t know about. In Germany’s mind we had chosen sides and weren’t neutral like President Woodrow Wilson’s Administration was telling everyone.
The Wall Street Investor J.P. Morgan, Jr. had even established a $500 million line of credit for Britain and France. Keep in mind the U.S. was in a recession then all of a sudden manufacturing took off and the same money we were lending was being spent here in the U.S. and collecting interests; it was truly a win-win for us.
Then there’s the fact that we had every incentive to insure the Allies’ success because that’s the only way we’d get our $500 million back. It was actually the same scenario that France had with us during the Revolutionary War when they backed us with credit and supplies. It was extremely important for them that we win our Revolution.
So it wasn’t the sinking of the Lusitania with its innocent victims that got us to declare war against Germany or the atrocities they were guilty of that we’d known about for years; instead it was when President Wilson received a cable from Germany that they’d no longer allow us to sell supplies to the Allied forces and that they’d use their U-Boats to sink our merchant ships if we tried to support them.
This was President Wilson’s final straw of no longer being a pacifist and remaining neutral so what truly changed at this point? Germany’s atrocities were already well known. Quite simply, a big part of it was our ability to make money off the war and if Germany won, we wouldn’t get all the money back that we were owed by Britain and France.
The spin of course was that we were a great country who was going to help out our brethren but to be realistic we should admit there was more to our generosity. Our Allies who had long been trying to get us to help knew exactly what our motives were but they certainly didn’t care, they just wanted the help.
My goal was to accomplish four things with this post. First, that the use of propaganda isn’t something only prone to communists’ or socialists’ countries as it doesn’t matter which of our political parties are in office, they twist the truth to fit their needs. Another way of putting it is they mislead us or some would go as far as saying they lie to us, it just depends upon your moral compass.
Second, that it’s easy for some people to demonize people who profit off the war but the fact is, our economy benefits not just a bunch of corporate executives. Even today people work for companies who have military contracts with our Federal Government and they’re pumping money into the economy. If you were one of these people keeping your family afloat with your job how would you feel about us being a pacifist’s country?
Third, when trying to find out the motive regarding many things, especially politics, the answer can typically be found sitting alongside the money. President Wilson was a brilliant man so he knew he was misleading people about us truly being neutral. He knew we were benefiting from the war and that we desperately needed the Allies to win.
Lastly, he wanted to stick to his ideology about being passive/neutral but the real world of economics gave him an awakening. The thing is, someone’s ideology means little when people are struggling to put a roof over their heads and/or food on the table. You can be as philosophical as you want but only after you've met the most basic human needs.
I think this is an amazing statement made by President Wilson where it’s easy to see that a realistic world view was finally sinking in for him: “It would be a hopeless piece of provincialism to suppose that because we think differently from the rest of the world we are at liberty to assume that the rest of the world will permit us to enjoy that thought without disturbance.”
In this particular case of WWI, many people thought it wrong to join the war effort and had huge peace marches taking place in New York City and in Washington, DC. They felt they were taking the moral high ground but were they? If the U.S. would’ve helped the Allied forces sooner, how many millions of lives could’ve been saved?
Millions of brothers, fathers, sons, uncles, etc., died partly because people in the U.S. including President Wilson, believed in pacifism. How many more people would’ve died through German atrocities in WWII if we would’ve stayed on the sidelines? A true pacifist would still say we shouldn’t have helped the Jewish people being brutally murdered but how is this moral?
Sometimes taking the moral high ground means being responsible for authorizing and/or committing violence. For example, if you saw a woman being brutally beaten and raped would you pursue a peaceful solution? Would you jump in and use physical violence to stop the man? Would you run and get help so that someone else would take care of the physical violence so you wouldn’t have to because you’re a pacifist?
The title of this article is: “To War or not to War, That is the Question.” To help protect citizens the U.S. has to be on the world stage because if our voice isn’t heard and respected it makes us vulnerable to outside influences. Our enemies no longer have to travel on ships to reach us they can be thousands of miles off our coast and have the ability to annihilate major U.S. cities. Avoiding foreign wars would’ve been feasible back in the 1700’s and 1800’s but not any longer.
The fact is we’ve learned over thousands of years that in most cases peace is achieved through strength and sometimes it takes war to bring people to the table to discuss peace. Closing our eyes and hoping for the best to occur around the world so that we aren’t negatively affected is naïve. We certainly shouldn’t enter war lightly but we also shouldn’t not enter it lightly either.