I. America and "Foreign" Wars
A. Historical Suspicion of Foreign Entanglements--most Americans viewed their separation from Europe as a positive, a feeling present since the founding of the country.
B. European War Aims--this war was not fought over democracy, but over retaining imperial control over territory; in fact, it can be said that the European powers (particularly Austria-Hungary) fought in order to deny peoples under their control democracy.
a. King Leopold of Belgium (1835-1909, reigned from 1865-1909) created the Congo Free State as his personal colony, where his private military force forced natives labor on rubber plantations by threats of physical violence--including cutting off the hands of children who did not meet their quota of rubber sap, besides the 10-15 million people that died during the Free State period. The world-wide condemnation of this horrible exploitation eventually forced the Belgian Parliament to force Leopold to turn over the Congo to the Belgian government.
2. England--saw Germany as a threat to its place in the world, and therefore moved to challenge that country's every attempt to gain new colonies. While many American businessmen had close relationships with British counterparts, there was also a great deal of suspicion on the part of many Americans about British intentions.
3. France--had a long continental rivalry with Germany (including an embarrassing defeat in 1871, which led to the toppling of the government and the Paris Commune). France also had valuable colonies in Africa and Asia (Indochina) that it wanted to protect from German encroachment.
5. Russia--longtime rival of the Austria-Hungary empire, and saw itself as the protector of its "Slavic brothers"; also trying to restrain nationalist sentiment in its own provinces.
6. Turkey--again, most interested in restraining nationalist sentiment in its provinces, and in keeping Great Britain out of the Middle East.
II. The Battle for the American Soul
B. Trading as a Neutral--while the United States remained neutral, it attempted to take full economic advantage and trade with both Great Britain and Germany. Because of British naval superiority--on top of the water, if not below it--Great Britain had been able to blockade German ports and prevent trade with that country. American loans floated mainly to the Allied side (due to prior business connections), and it was mainly the loans and the food America sold to the Allies that helped that side win the war, rather than American fighting might.
1. Mining Germany's harbors--to prevent trade, Great Britain placed aquatic mines just outside German ports. This acted to prevent German ships--except the unterseeboot, the infamous U-boat--from leaving port, and other ships from entering these ports, or run the risk of running into a mine and sinking, as several US ships, attempting to trade as a neutral country, did.
3. Zimmerman telegram--intercepted communication between the German government and its ambassador to Mexico, in which it was proposed to the Mexican government that they could regain the territory lost to the United States over the previous century by allying with the Central Powers and attacking the United States
III. War--What is it Good For?
A. War and the National Interest--nations fight wars because they see them serving a particular national interest
2. Speaking Out in Opposition--before war was actually declared, there was a great deal of opposition to the United States becoming involved in the "entangling alliances" that led Europeans to butcher one another. A number of Americans outside of government spoke out in opposition to the war, and continued to speak against it despite the US government's limitation of free speech through the passage of the Espionage Act in 1917, and which was further amended by the Sedition Act in 1918, which outlawed speech that could be construed as "aiding and abetting" enemies of the United States.
The jingoism, or super-patriotism, stirred by government propaganda, the perceived need to pull together during a time of national crisis, led to the severe repression of those institutions and persons perceived as not fully supporting the war effort.