This month marks the 100th Anniversary of the United States into the First World War. So I thought I’d devote the month to the nuggets I discovered while researching WW1 for my Love’s Great War series.
President Wilson had ran on a platform to keep the US out of the European War. After all, he ran a nation of immigrants. The US population had just as many hyphenated Americans of German descent as it did of English origins. And those progeny of the Irish refugees of the Potato Famine were decidedly not pro-British.
Indeed during the outbreak of hostilities, many newspapers were actually pro-German. Think about that for a moment. If the US had entered on Germany’s side the world today would be a very different place. Even the famous journalist Nelly Bly favored the Central Powers and traveled to Germany to report on the war from the Kaiser’s perspective.
America’s delayed entry changed the public’s leanings and eventually we entered on the side of the Allies. Generally, there are 3 main reasons for declaring war on Germany on 12 April 1917:
The sinking of the RMS Lusitania on May 1st 1915 by German U-boats killed 185 Americans and effectively turned many in the US against Germany. Her practice of unrestricted warfare had already ruffled feathers in the US and the Germans had suspended the practice for a time, but eventually restarted it. Germany acknowledged that she hadn’t fired a warning shot (given advances in countermeasures this risked the chances of the U-boat being sunk) in violation of Cruiser Rules. However, she also stated the British were using civilian vessels to transport munitions. And in fact the mysterious internal explosion that occurred, sinking the vessel in 18 minutes and killing over a thousand passengers seemed to confirm this. Britian maintained there was no ordnance aboard until the 1980s when the government admitted the ship would not be raised because of the danger of munitions. FMI
The Zimmerman telegram. Back in January 1917, the German foreign office sent a telegram offering Mexico the return of Texas, Arizona and New Mexico if it would join them and fight the US should she entered the war on the side of the allies. The telegram’s authenticity was confirmed by the German Foreign secretary Zimmerman in March after the British decoded the message and gave it to Wilson.
The first two are fairly well known, but there was a third piece of the puzzle. Mid-March in 1917, German U-Boats sank the City of Memphis, Illinois, and Valencia (Vigilancia). These were American merchant and passenger liners. Both the Memphis and Illinois received warning, but not so the Valencia. Newspapers reported it was from the sinking of these three ships that President Wilson called a special session of Congress when war was declared. FMI
Until next time.