If you're seeing this message, it means we're having trouble loading external resources on our website.

If you're behind a web filter, please make sure that the domains *.kastatic.org and *.kasandbox.org are unblocked.

Main content
Current time:0:00Total duration:7:05
KC‑7.3.II.A (KC)
Unit 7: Learning Objective F
WOR (Theme)

Video transcript

Despite the fact that Wilson had just won reelection in 1916 based on a platform of keeping the United States out of war, by April of 1917, the administration had decided that Germany had gone too far. And in particular, had gone too far with the unrestricted submarine warfare. So this right over here is a picture of President Wilson on April 2, 1917, giving a war message to Congress as to why the US needs to declare war on Germany. And April 4, Congress passes the resolution to declare war. And then the President approves it on April 6. So by early April, the United States was at war with Germany. Which is a good time to start thinking about, why did all of this happen. Now, the things that are typically cited, and these are the things that are inflamed public opinion in the US and that many of which were cited by President Woodrow Wilson. And in this tutorial that this is part of on khanacademy.org, I put the entire text of his speech, which I highly recommend reading to see all of the things the President Wilson cited in his speech. But just as a summary of that, the things that tend to get cited most often are the unrestricted submarine warfare on the part of Germany. And particular cases or the most cited example of that is the sinking of the Lusitania. The Germans had stopped doing that for a little under two years. But then, as we enter into 1917, they began doing it again. And it also made the Americans quite angry to realize that the Germans were trying to incite the Mexicans against them. So you have the Zimmerman telegram. Zimmerman telegram is also a reason that the Wilson administration, and why people in general, were fairly angry about things. Now, on top of that, there were atrocities committed by the Germans in their march through Belgium as they were trying to execute on the Schlieffen Plan. So Belgian atrocities. And these were earlier in the war in 1914, which immediately made many Americans not like what's going on. Belgian atrocities. And to put on top of that, the British were able to leverage the Belgian atrocities to fairly, to execute a fairly effective propaganda campaign in America. Now on top of that-- and this is something that Wilson speaks very strongly about in his speech-- is the notion of fighting for democracy. And what you have here, in the First World War, the Central Powers. You're talking about the German Empire, you're talking about the Austro-Hungarians. These are monarchies. These are emperors who are controlling it. And even though the UK, the United Kingdom, was nominally a kingdom, it was really a democracy. At least for those who could vote. We're not talking about the entire British Empire. So UK is functionally a democracy, democratic. And so was the Third French Republic. And so was France. So there's this argument that the US is fighting for the representation of people. Now, there is a more cynical argument that some people have made. And I think it's reasonable to give that to due time. And one of the cynical arguments, or more cynical arguments, is that the US had close financial and trade ties to Britain, not to mention cultural ties. Financial ties to the British. On top of that, you had very successful British propaganda. One, talking about the atrocities in Belgium, which did actually happen. But the British were able to exploit this as a propaganda machine. Successful propaganda. But they also spread rumors that after the sinking of the Lusitania that the Germans had their school children celebrating. And these were all made up propaganda. And then, more cynical view of why the US entered the war-- and this is true of probably most wars-- is that there was a lot of lobbying on the part of war profiteers. In fact, in "Little Orphan Annie," Daddy Warbucks, the name, the reason why his last name is Warbucks is because he made his fortune as a war profiteer during World War I. And war profiteers, these are people who might be selling arms to the Allies. Or who might sell arms to the US government if the US were to get into a war that might somehow supply the troops. And it includes, potentially, folks on Wall Street. There were significant lending to the Allies, and mainly the Allies, not the Central Power. And so the view is if the Allies win, those loans are going to be made good. And I had the entire text of the speech from Senator George Norris who was one of five senators, or sorry, one of six senators to vote against the resolution to go to war. There were 50 representatives who also voted against it. This is a little excerpt but also in this tutorial, I have the full text of his speech. And I highly, highly, highly recommend reading that along with Wilson's text of his speech to Congress in his war message. But I'll just read this part because it does, I think, point out that the US, from the beginning, did have biases that were more pro-British. And so this is part of his speech. "The reason given by the President in asking Congress to declare war against Germany is that the German government has declared certain war zones, within which by the use of submarines, she sinks, without notice, American ships and destroys American lives. The first war zone was declared by Great Britain. She gave us and the world notice of it on the 4th day of November 1914. The zone became effective November 5, 1914. This zone, so declared by Great Britain, covered the whole of the North Sea. The first German war zone was declared on the 4th day of February, 1915, just three months after the British war zone was declared. Germany gave 15 days notice of the establishment of her zone, which became effective on the 18th day of February, 1915. The German war zone cover the English Channel and the high seawaters around the British Isles. It is unnecessary to cite authority to show that both of these orders declaring military zones were illegal and contrary to international law. It is sufficient to say that our government has officially declared both of them to be illegal and has officially protested against both of them. The only difference is that, in the case of Germany we have persisted in our protest, while in the case of England, we have submitted." And I encourage you, once again, to read the text of both Wilson's speech and Senator Norris' speech and come up to your, with your own decisions. And it might be a little bit of both.