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United States enters World War I

KC‑7.3.II.A (KC)
Unit 7: Learning Objective F
WOR (Theme)
Learn about the United States' reasons for entering World War I.  Created by Sal Khan.

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  • blobby green style avatar for user Jeff Carlyle
    What do you mean by the Belgian Atrocities committed by the Germans? War crimes against the citizens?
    (11 votes)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user poopypantsmr132
    I don't understand. Germany sank US ships, supposedly. Did Britain do the same? (While both the British and Germans were declaring their war zones). I am missing the context of Senator Norris' speech I guess. He focuses on the US favoring Britain over Germany in regards to war zones. But why didn't he mention anything like "Well, while both (Britain and Germany) declared war zones, only Germany attacked?" Or is it irrelevant as "war zone" means it's ok to fight there? What IS a war zone? I'm confused, someone help.
    (5 votes)
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    • leaf yellow style avatar for user Dorme
      The Luisitania was a British ship, not an American one, but it was an ocean linear which on its trip back from the USA was carrying American passengers. The Germans did not attack the USA directly, therefore - the Luisitania was flying the British, not the American flag. So neither country sank American ships - they sank each other's ships.

      A war zone is an area in which the country intends to attack every vessel of its enemy or their allies. That is to say, Germany proclaimed it would attack any British, French, Russian, Italian etc. ship carrying military or other supplies they came across in the seas around Great Britain: Great Britain declared its intention of sinking every German, Austro-Hungarian, Ottoman, etc. ship carrying military or other supplies spotted in the North Sea.

      Senator Norris was convinced the US was favouring Britain over Germany (while staying officially neutral) because the US traded with Britain, but not with Germany, thus helping the British war effort, but not the German; that's not real neutrality.
      (13 votes)
  • leaf yellow style avatar for user ♦SamuelM♦
    Were there any other speeches made by senators and other people in the goverment before congress agreed to declare war on Germany?
    (4 votes)
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  • male robot hal style avatar for user Redwan
    Why did Germany go back on their word?
    (3 votes)
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    • leaf orange style avatar for user Rebecca Gray
      Britain's blockade of Germany was devastating - Sal mentioned in another video that approximately 400,000 civilian deaths were attributed to Britian's blockade. Germany decided 'ruthless submarine warfare' was their best hope of retaliating and relieving the pressure the blockade was putting on them.
      (7 votes)
  • blobby green style avatar for user eparker1978
    were there any other communist parties prior to the Bolsheviks?
    (4 votes)
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    • aqualine tree style avatar for user David Alexander
      The Christian communist League of the Just in 1836 led by Wilhelm Weitling later merged with the Communist Correspondence Committee in Brussels. This merger of the two groups in 1847 formed the Communist League, headed by German socialist labour leader Karl Schapper, who then tasked two founding members, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, to write a manifesto laying out the principles of the new political party
      (3 votes)
  • winston default style avatar for user Dhanashree Kathare
    This question may sound weird but what exactly do we mean by" CONGRESS "I have heard it many a times but no one told me it's exact meaning
    (1 vote)
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  • male robot hal style avatar for user ZORDOX
    Hitler was the enemy of WWII, but did they influence the time period before World War II at all?
    (4 votes)
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    • aqualine tree style avatar for user SonOfGum
      The Nazis indeed in fact influence some of our advances and culture after World War Two and even today. You see, the Nazi's were the first to do a lot of things, such as make the first Jet Aircraft/fighter plane. Plus, they also created the V-1 and V-2 rockets, the first long range guided ballistic missiles that could be launched from Germany into London without interruption. The Nazis Olympic stadium, built for the 1936 Berlin Olympic games, is still used today after being refurbished by the German people. The German Nuremberg area where they held Nazi rallies, is now used as a park, and other events.
      (3 votes)
  • winston default style avatar for user Redapple8787
    Why do some governments have a bias toward another certain government (e.g. United States pro-British bias)?
    (3 votes)
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    • piceratops sapling style avatar for user Joe Williams
      There are many reasons that governments may work together or against each other. In addition to having similar ideologies, as Drewseph mentioned, they may perceive an alliance to strengthen both partners. Other alliances might not work if the other partner is perceived as harmful.

      In Europe before World War One, France and Germany were natural enemies, as Germany had seized Alsace-Lorraine following their humiliating defeat of France in 1871. Chancellor Otto von Bismark, widely agreed to be one of the best statesmen in history, urged German leadership to remain on good terms with Russia, in order to avoid a future two fronted war. There were even serious talks of an alliance. However, in a move that may have doomed the German Empire, Bismark was dismissed in 1890 by the Kaiser, and he cancelled any plans for an alliance with Russia. Relations collapsed, and in 1894 Russia formed an alliance with Germany's nemesis--France.

      Many alliances are based much more on strategy than on ideological similarities. Consider the current alliance between the United States and Saudi Arabia. The United States prides itself on democracy, human rights, and Christianity. Saudi Arabia, by contrast, is ruled by a King with absolute authority over the country. The Saudi government severely represses women, non-Muslims, and opponents to the regime. However, due to the critical importance of trade between the Middle East and North America, both see the alliance as critical to their goals.
      (2 votes)
  • blobby green style avatar for user joaopanegalli
    I think I missed something. Why did Germany wanted to provoke the US into entering the war? Wouldn't it be better if Germany had the fewest possible enemies?
    (3 votes)
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    • male robot donald style avatar for user RebelChild42
      Germany wanted to keep America OUT of the war... By having Mexico start a war with America. Germany sent a message to Mexico using different lines so nobody would know that they were sending a coded message to Mexico about the war. Zimmerman told the German ambassador to fully fund and supply Mexico to help with the war. If Mexico won the war, they could have the original land that America took from them: Texas, New Mexico and Arizona, and Germany would have the rest. The British intercepted this message before it could reach Mexico. It was then decoded by British Intelligence. America finally heard about it and declared war on Germany. Germany wanted to keep America out of WWI, but all they did was push them into it.
      (4 votes)
  • leaf orange style avatar for user Annabelle
    What about the sinking of the Sussex?
    (3 votes)
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    • piceratops ultimate style avatar for user Jet Simon
      It enraged the US public opinions towards Germany because some Americans were injured although not dead. In response Germany issued a declaration called the Sussex pledge which Germany promised not to target merchant and passenger ships, this conflict will lead to Germany's institution of unrestricted submarine warfare.
      (3 votes)

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.