The Great War
The Triple Alliance
In 1870, as part of its plan to unify Germany, Prussia forced France to give up territory along the German border. As a result, France and Germany became enemies. To protect itself, Germany signed alliances with Italy and with the huge empire of Austria-Hungary, which controlled much of southeastern Europe. This became known as the Triple Alliance.
In 1898 Germany began building a large modern navy. The buildup threatened the British, who rushed to build warships. By the early 1900s, Britain and Germany were engaged in an arms race. The race convinced Britain to build closer ties with France and Russia. The British refused to sign a formal alliance, so the relationship became known as an entente cordiale, or friendly understanding. Britain, France, and Russia became known as the Triple Entente.
The Triple Alliance alarmed Russian leaders, who feared that Germany intended to expand eastward. In addition, Russia and Austria-Hungary were competing for influence in southeastern Europe. A common interest in opposing Germany and Austria-Hungary led Russia and France to sign the Franco-Russian Alliance in 1894. Under the alliance, the two nations promised to come to each other’s aid in a war against the Triple Alliance.
The Triple Alliance
Navies affecting the War
Assassination of Franz Ferdinand
Austria Declares War
On July 28, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia. Russia immediately mobilized its army, including troops stationed on the German border. Within days Germany declared war on Russia and France. World War I had begun.
Germany immediately launched a massive invasion of France, hoping to knock the French out of the war, so it could turn its attention east to Russia. But the German plan required forces to advance through Belgium. The British government, which had signed an earlier treaty with Belgium guaranteeing the country’s neutrality, declared war on Germany when German troops crossed the Belgian frontier.
Sinking of the Lusitania
The Zimmerman Telegram
The United States Declares War
Helping the War Effort
As part of the war effort, Congress created new agencies staffed by business executives, managers, and government officials to coordinate mobilization and ensure the efficient use of national resources. These agencies emphasized cooperation between big business and government.
The War Industries Board (WIB) coordinated the production of war materials. Early problems convinced President Wilson to expand the Board’s powers. The WIB told manufacturers what they could produce, allocated raw materials, ordered new factory construction, and sometimes set prices.
The Food Administration, run by Herbert Hoover, was responsible for increasing food production while reducing civilian consumption. The agency encouraged families to conserve food and grow their own vegetables in victory gardens. “Eat more corn, oats and rye products—fish and poultry—fruits, vegetables and potatoes, baked, boiled and broiled foods. . . . Eat less wheat, meat, sugar and fats to save for the army and our allies,” urged Food Administration posters.
The Fuel Administration managed use of coal and oil. To conserve energy, it introduced the first usage of daylight saving time, shortened workweeks for civilian goods factories, and encouraged Heatless Mondays.
Mobilizing the Workforce
The war effort also required the cooperation of workers. To prevent strikes from disrupting the war effort, the government established the National War Labor Board (NWLB) in April 1918. The NWLB often pressured industry to improve wages, adopt an eight-hour workday, and allow unions the right to organize and bargain collectively. In exchange, labor leaders agreed not to disrupt war production with strikes or other disturbances. As a result, membership in unions increased by over one million between 1917 and 1919.
With so many men in the military, employers were willing to hire women for jobs traditionally held by men. Some 1 million women joined the workforce for the first time, and another 8 million switched to better industrial jobs. Women worked in factories, shipyards, and railroad yards and served as police officers, mail carriers, and train engineers. When the war ended, however, most women returned to their previous jobs or stopped working. Yet the changes demonstrated that women were capable of holding jobs that many had believed only men could do.
Shaping Public Opinion
Progressives did not think that organizing the economy was enough to ensure the success of the war effort. They also believed the government needed to shape public opinion. Soon after Congress declared war, Wilson created the Committee on Public Information (CPI) to “sell” the war to the American people. Headed by journalist George Creel, the CPI recruited advertising executives, artists, authors, songwriters, entertainers, public speakers, and motion picture companies to help sway public opinion in favor of the war.
The CPI distributed pamphlets and arranged for thousands of “four-minute speeches” to be delivered at movie theaters and other public places. Some 75,000 speakers, known as Four-Minute Men, urged audiences to support the war in various ways, from buying war bonds to reporting draft dodgers to the authorities. Nongovernmental groups also helped raise awareness and funds for the war. For example, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee raised $63 million in relief funds. The Jewish Welfare Board set up centers at home and abroad for Jewish servicemen.
The Great Migration
The war also encouraged other groups to migrate. Between 1917 and 1920, more than 100,000 Mexicans migrated into the Southwest, providing labor for farmers and ranchers. Mexican Americans also found new opportunities in factory jobs in Chicago, St. Louis, Omaha, and other American cities.
Espionage and Sedition Acts
The Selective Service Act
African Americans in the War
New Technology in the War
Breaking through enemy lines required new technologies. The Germans first used poison gas in 1915, and the Allies soon followed. Gas caused vomiting, blindness, and suffocation. Both sides developed gas masks to counter fumes. In 1916 the British introduced the armored tank, which could crush barbed wire and cross trenches. But there were still too few of the slow, unreliable machines to revolutionize warfare.
World War I also marked the first use of aircraft in war. Early in the war, the Germans used giant rigid balloons called zeppelins to drop bombs on British warships in the North Sea. At first, airplanes were used to spy on enemy troops and ships. Then the Allies equipped them with machine guns and rockets to attack the German zeppelin fleet. Other aircraft carried small bombs to drop on enemy lines. As technology advanced, airplanes shot down other airplanes in battles known as dogfights.
Winning the War at Sea
Russia Leaves the War
In March 1917, riots broke out in Russia. Czar Nicholas II, the leader of the Russian Empire, abdicated his throne, and the Russian Revolution began. A temporary government took command whose leaders wanted Russia to stay in the war. However, the government was unable to deal adequately with the problems afflicting the nation, so Vladimir Lenin’s Bolshevik Party seized power and established a Communist government in November 1917.
Germany’s military fortunes improved with the Bolshevik takeover. Lenin pulled Russia out of the war to concentrate on establishing a Communist state.
America Enters the War
The War Ends
Meanwhile, a revolution had engulfed Austria-Hungary. In October 1918, Poland, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia declared independence. By early November, the governments of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Ottoman Empire had surrendered to the Allies.
In late October, sailors in Kiel, the main base of the German fleet, mutinied. Within days, groups of workers and soldiers seized power in other German towns. The German emperor stepped down, and on November 9, Germany became a republic. Two days later, the government signed an armistice—an agreement to stop fighting. On November 11, 1918, the fighting stopped.
Wilson's Fourteen Points
President Wilson arrived in Paris in 1919 with a peace plan known as the Fourteen Points. It was based on “the principle of justice to all peoples and nationalities.” In the first five points, Wilson proposed to eliminate the causes of the war through free trade, freedom of the seas, disarmament, an impartial adjustment of colonial claims, and open diplomacy.
The next eight points addressed the right of national self-determination,the idea that the borders of countries should be based on ethnicity and national identity. Supporters of this idea believed that when borders are not based on national identity, nations are more likely to go to war to resolve border disputes. This principle also meant that no nation should keep territory taken from another nation. This required the Central Powers to evacuate all invaded countries and Germany to restore the French territory of Alsace-Lorraine, taken in 1871.
The fourteenth point called for the creation of a League of Nations. The League’s members would help preserve peace by pledging to respect and protect each other’s territory and political independence. Wilson was willing to give up his other goals in exchange for support for the League.
Treaty of Versailles
The Treaty of Versailles, reluctantly signed by Germany on June 28, 1919, included many terms designed to punish and weaken Germany. Germany’s armed forces were greatly reduced and its troops were not allowed west of the Rhine River. The treaty also specifically blamed “the aggression of Germany” for the war. This allowed the Allies to demand that Germany pay reparations—monetary compensation for all of the war damages it had caused. A commission decided that Germany owed the Allies about $33 billion. This sum far exceeded what Germany could pay all at once and was intended to keep its economy weak for a long time.
Wilson had somewhat better success in promoting national self-determination. The Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Russian Empire, the German Empire, and the Ottoman Empire were dismantled, and new nations created. In general, the majority of people in each new country were from one ethnic group. But both Poland and Czechoslovakia were given territory where the majority of the people were German, and Germany was split in two in order to give Poland access to the Baltic Sea. This arrangement helped set the stage for a new series of crises in the 1930s.
The Treaty of Versailles ignored freedom of the seas, free trade, and Wilson’s goal of a fair settlement of colonial claims. No colonial people in Asia or Africa received independence. France and Britain took over colonial areas in Africa and the Middle East, and Japan assumed responsibility for colonies in East Asia. The treaty did, however, call for the creation of a League of Nations. League members promised to reduce armaments, to submit all disputes that endangered the peace to arbitration, and to aid any member who was threatened with aggression.