FOREIGN POLICY: WILSONIAN IDEALISM AND WWI

I. The Presidency of Woodrow Wilson was characterized by an approach to foreign policy that historians have named Wilsonian idealism—which was also called Missionary Diplomacy b/c Wilson based his political thinking on the religious & ethical beliefs of Presbyterian theology.  In the “real world”, of course, it was not always possible to live out these ideals.

A. In theory he was anti-expansionist--America’s mission in world was not to obtain wealth & power or to bully other nations into doing what suited our agenda.

B. Rather, the U.S. mission was to fulfill a Divine Plan to bring democracy and stability to the world.

 C. In Wilson’s view, the U.S. should intervene militarily only for moral purposes—to promote stability and democracy in our hemisphere, especially.

 D. Wilson intervened repeatedly in our hemisphere—in Santo Domingo, Cuba, Haiti, and the Mexican Revolution—and was also drawn into WWI.

II. Background to the War

                 

A. Tensions had been building in Europe for a long time; there were several issues:

 
1. The Balkans: The states of the Balkans were in the process of breaking away from the old Ottoman Empire

a. the region was composed of several ethnic groups: Serbs, Croatians, Bosnians, Montenegrins,

b. all had a strong sense of nationalism--wanted their own countries

2. Their struggles got caught up in European politics--the 2 leading industrial nations-- Britain & Germany —were competing for markets, colonies, & raw materials around the world--that led to the creation of alliances to protect each others' interests

Triple Alliance : German, Italy , Austria-Hungary in1882--become the Central Powers

 

Triple Entente: France , Russia 1894; Britian-1907--become the Allies

3. These alliances led to arms races & building up of armies

 

a. The German military machine was especially formidable; military spending quadrupled in the decades before the war

B. In 1908 sparks fly and conflict begins

 

1. Austria-Hungary annexed Bosnia-Hertzegovina--upset various factions in Europe

 

2. Then, in 1914 a Serbian nationalist forces assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand - heir to Austrian throne, so Austria declared war on Serbia

C. Russia backed Serbia against Austria-Hungary , then the Entente (France & Britian) drawn in on the Serbian side

1. Against German, Italy , Austria-Hungary

 

2. Although Italy switched sides in 1915

 

III. American reaction

 

A. Wilson promptly declared neutrality & traded w/ both sides

 

1. But the Allies bought more--3 billion in food & manufactured goods & 2.2 billion in armaments & we loaned them over 2 billion $     

 

2. Moreover, Americans were deeply divided over the War

 

B. Some Americans favored the Alliance :

 

1. Germans & Austrians were 1/4 total for-born or 1st generation immigrants

 

2. The Irish also naturally favored Germany b/c they hated Britain

 

C. Other Americans favored the Entente

 

1. Germany was our major eco competitor and was expansionist

                  

2. Banking and commercial interests advocated intervention on the side of the Allies

 

3. Wilson feared Germany would not respect our interests around the world, and that we'd be shut out of shaping the post-war world

 

D. Most Americans, however, just wanted peace--a peace movement sprang up

 

1. Advocates of peace saw agitation to get into war as a result of lobbying bankers & arms manufactures who stood to profit from conflict

 

2. Radical labor groups like the Wobblies and the Socialists saw imperialism behind the war & feared the rich would profit while the poor fought the war

 

3. Women activists founded the Women’s Peace Party (Women’s International League for Peace & Freedom)

 

                             under Jane Addams they had 40,000 members

 

E. British press played up German aggression;

 

1. When German Army overran neutral Belgium , the French & British began propaganda campaign to enlist American sympathy--called it the "Rape of Belgium"

 

2. They claimed many German atrocities = bayoneting babies, raping nuns, running factories where human fat was made into soap

 

(this was mostly exaggerated, but it comes back to haunt us in WWII  when many thought tales of Hitler’s camps were the same thing)

 

F. Thus, a tide of public opinion forming towards GB - away from Germany --but Americans still do not want to become involved

 

III. Submarine warfare and the rights of neutrals finally trigger our involvement

 

A. International law recognized our right to inspect non -contraband goods in any belligerent ports not under blockade--we wanted to keep tabs on who was shipping arms but the European powers did not cooperate

 

B. The Brits blockaded Germany so they countered w/ U - boats; this also upset us--it seems so unsporting, shooting someone out of nowhere

 

 In 1915, Germ announced area around GB war zone & all ships entering the area would be sunk regardless of whether they were neutral or civilian ships

 C. WW sent many messages to Germany ; better not destroy our ships or hurt our people

D. But of course they did: the Lusitania & the Sussex

 

1. in May of 1915 the British luxury steamship Lusitania - sailing from America to GB

 

Germany warned this luxury liner not safe in American newspapers—knew were 42,000 cases of munitions being smuggled

 

Brit went ahead w/ ship— Germany sank it - 1198 dead - 128 Americans

 

Americans outraged - WW sent angry notes demanding reparations & promises to never do it again; 1 year later Germ apologized

   

2. then in March Germans sunk French liner (unarmed) Sussex - several Americans were injured

WW threatened to break diplomatic ties

 

 Germans responded w/ the Sussex pledge - spare all lives on merchant ships if WW would guarantee Brits wouldn't smuggle w/ them

 E. Despite continued neutrality Wilson asked for $ for arms--straddling fence

 

1. 1916 National Defense Act - raised 500 million for defense; got this money through new graduated income tax

 

F. Election of 1916 - fought over ? of isolation; Wilson won by arguing that he kept us out of war while arming to protect our shipping

 

then Germany getting desperate b/c were really hurt by blockade; announced resumed unrestricted sub warfare; WW broke diplomatic ties w/ Germany (the first step toward war)

 

G. Zimmerman telegram 1917; Brits intercept message from German Foreign Secretary Zimmerman to the government of  Mexico

 

1. He proposed an alliance with Germany should America join the fighting in Europe

 

2. If Mexico helped Germany defeat the U.S. Germany promised to return the territory taken from Mexico in the Mexican War of 1846

 

J. further U - boat sinkings finally led to war in April 4, 1917

 

 III. WWI – The Home front: The Activist State —Propaganda & Civil Liberties and Mobilization

 

A. Wilson saw the war as an idealistic crusade to "make world safe for democracy"! To sell this to the American people he created the Committee for Public Information – with George Creel in charge

 

Creel sold the war as a noble crusade of good against evil: democracy against autocracy; he used 150,000 painters. writers, actors, educators & clergymen to get his message out

 

This drew great support: $ raised by citizens’ groups was over 21 billion dollars!

 1. But had a dark side: the country plunged into an hysterical backlash;

 

people turned on German-Americans, pacifists, Progressives, & the Irish;

 

many communities banned German books, music, public speaking in German; more serious intimidation tactics included vigilante mobs and lynchings;

 

B. Urged on by the general hysteria, Congress passed legislation that violated civil liberties

1. The Espionage Act, June 1917

 

- 20 years in prison, fine of 10,000 to anyone who

 

- helped enemy, obstructed draft, encouraged insubordination in armed services

 

-the government read and censored mail under this act

 

2. The Trading w/ the Enemy Act, Oct 1917 shut down all for magazine publications

 

 in addition to cutting off all trade to Germany

 

3. Sedition Act, May 1918: established fines & imprisonment for anyone who discouraged the sale of war bonds

 

made it illegal to "utter, print, write, or publish any disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language about the form of government of US or Constitution or flag or uniform of Army or Navy.”

 

Over 1500 persons arrested under this act including: labor leaders—Wobblies, pacifists,

 socialists: Debs spent 10 years in a federal prison for anti war speeches

college professors—fired; Columbia Professor of history Charles Beard dismissed for criticizing the government

 

led to the founding of the AAUP--American Association of University Professors

 C. Mobilization for the war also contributed to the expansion of the activist state & greater control of business by govt.  

1. 1916 the War Industries Board coordinated war production across the private sector:

 

it allocated all raw materials to all business, emphasizing the war machine; set production schedules for arms manufacturing, and induced competing companies to cooperate and save raw materials

 

2. 1917 the Fuel and Food Administrations also expanded the power of the government to act on business

 

controlled all energy production—mostly coal; introduced daylight savings time to help save energy;

 

controlled agricultural production for the war machine and oversaw voluntary “downsizing” by ordinary Americans

 

Result of this mobilization: The economy boomed: From 1914-1919 factory output grew by more than a third; agricultural production soared and ag. prices went up

 After the war these agencies disbanded, but the precedent had been set for centralized control of the economy for later emergencies

3. Thousands of women worked in war-time industries and in other areas of mobilization and service

 

suffragettes claimed that women’s wartime service entitled them to gain the vote; they marched on the White House and embarrassed Wilson--how can you be for democracy abroad if you deny women at home their right to vote

 

 this finally won the passage of the 19th Amendment, ratified in 1920; which granted women the right to vote

 women's economic gains were more fleeting, however; most lost their jobs when men returned home from the war

 

 

IV. The War in Europe —mostly covered in your book

 

A. War fought - trenches - Amc only fought 1 yr: Spring of 1918 to Nov 1918

 

B. Europe saw tremendous losses:

Fr: lost 1 out of every 28 people in pop [NOTE: remember this the next time someone makes a snide comment about how the French are "cheese eating surrender monkeys" b/c they did not join us in Iraq]

Germ: 1 out of every 32 people in pop

Eng: 1 out of every 57 people in pop

Russia : 1 out of every 107 people in pop

 

C. US lost + 50,000 - dead from action, 63,000 from disease, 2,200 MIA, 206,000 wounded

 

V. the Paris Peace Conference Jan - June 1919

 

A. The "Big 4" met to decide the peace: WW - US; Prime Minster David Lloyd George - England ; Premier Vittorio Orlando - Italy ; Premier George Clemenceau - France

 

B. WW had high idealistic goals - to settle issues to war & create a balance of power; create a better society;

 

1. Wilson ’s slogan was “Peace w/o Victory” and he argued for Fourteen Points to reach this end; broadly these included:

 

2. Self-determination for all nations- including adjustments in colonial areas; freedom of seas & trade; arms reduction; redrawing Europe boundaries to return to their pre-war configurations; all treaties & trade agreements made in open; a League of Nations

 

C. However, Europe wanted revenge, and the treaty wound up w/ heavy war reparations & guilt on Germans

 

1. All points failed except the League—which was not a police force but rather an international forum for disputes  

 

2. It had no authority, no armies, and no way to make members pay dues; only had conscience & participants

 

3. It did, however, make permanent the court of international justice—the World Court—at the Hague , in the Netherlands

 

D. WW had to sell League at home to get treaty ratified, but he failed

 

1. partisanship— Wilson had not brought a single Republican representative to Versailles in the peace delegation

 

2. extreme nationalism—some feared the surrender of American sovereignty to foreign international power

 

3.  isolationism—others feared abandon America 's traditional isolation, which had served us so well in the past

 

4. personal pettiness—WW was high-handed, uncompromising, and sanctimonious--people fought him on personal grounds

 

5. Wilson went on public speaking tour to drum up support for his 14 Points; gave brilliant speeches but had little effect on Congress

 

Finally Sept. 25, 1919 collapsed in Pueblo —the strain of crusade caused a stroke

 

6. we finally ended war w/ joint resolution—we made separate treaties w/ each person in the conflict

 

 VI. Post-war Cultural Conflict: The Red Scare

 

A. Inflation and recession followed the war, 1919—1921

 

1. With the end of war, the  government cancelled contracts with industries and dumped returning servicemen on job market

 

2. Yet business continued to produce faster than consumers would absorb

 

3. So fed reserve system raised interest rates & reduced flow of money; this resulted in inflation--the cost of living rose 97% between 1918 and 1920; the economy contracted, and unemployment jumped up to 10%

 

B. In response to growing pressure on workers, there were a series of strikes - factory workers and miners trying to keep wages up with cost of living; ltogether in 1919 there were 3600 strikes involving over 4,000,000 workers

 

1. In 1919 steel workers across the nation struck for an 8hr work day, 6 day week, higher wages, recognition of union

                            

the company - US Steel - refused all these demands and, after a 4 month struggle,  violence broke out; the press blamed “the commies”

 

 In 1919 400,000 coal workers walked out - demanding a 60% wage increase, 6hr day, 5 day week

 

 Attorney General Palmer got a court injunction against it & the strikers were forced to back down

 

2 Most disturbing, however, was the 1919 Boston Police Strike—which began over low pay

 

Police Commissioner fired 19 protesters & the entire work force walked off; there was an outbreak of looting & rioting in Boston

 

Mass. Governor Calvin Coolidge called in the national guard who put down the strike

 

Public reaction - for Coolidge and against the workers; many blamed communists b/c Russian Revolution had followed series of workers' strikes                  

 

3. And Bolshevik leaders had just met in Moscow in March of 1919 (called the 3rd International) to reiterate their commitment to world communist revolution

 

American Communist Party formed at this time—very small and mainstream organized labor strongly opposed them; only the IWW (Wobblies) joined

 

But the backlash against communism hit organized labor & any labor leaders tied to the communist or socialist parties was driven from office

C. In this climate of economic and social upheaval, the Palmer Raids occurred

 

1. They began w/ a bomb scare in 1919 when an alert postal worker discovered a 3 of suspicious packages addressed to 36 prominent public figures—JD Rockefeller & Chief Justice of the SC Oliver Wendell Holmes included

 

2. Turned out to be bombs - detonated by police – no one was hurt, but the public reaction was one of hysteria

 

3. Under the leadership of J. Edgar Hoover & Attorney General Palmer the justice department conducted an investigation of suspected radicals

 

4. These led to a series of raids on anarchists & workers’ groups in 1920 in which hundreds of aliens who had committed no crimes were deported

 

5. These raids violated civil liberties—violated laws of due process, coerced confessions & police brutality

 

6. In the end, the raids didn't unearth any weapons (only found 3 pistols)

 

but Palmer claimed that he had found evidence there was going to be a huge uprising on the1st of May 1919:

 

the police & state militia armed to teeth, but it passed without revolt; discredited Palmer

 

D. Last Gasp of repression: Sacco & Vanzetti

 

1. April 1920 2 men in South Braintree Mountain killed a paymaster & guard in daring daylight robbery of shoe factory

 

2. Shortly thereafter, Nicola Sacco & Bartolomeo Vanzetti were charged; they were Italian immigrants & self -proclaimed anarchists who had evaded the draft

 

3. The trial was a travesty: Judge Webster Thayer referred to them as "those anarchist bastards" and acted like a prosecuting attorney

 

evidence was purely circumstantial - and focused on the fact that they were vocally anarchistic

 

4. In 1921 they were convicted of murder—they sat on death row for 6 years (until 1927) while court battles raged over their conviction and sentencing

 

5. In August of 1927 both were executed; long term results: Anti—Communism hysteria would become a permanent part of our national scene

                             -

E. But the immediate legacy of this trial was Immigrant Restriction

         

1. the 1921 Emergency Quota Act - limits yearly immigration of every country to 3% of that group in US in 1910

 

2. the 1924 National Origins Act – allows immigration of 2% from any group that was here in 1890

 

this was preceding the huge wave of Eastern and Southern Europeans, so it favored Scand, Irish, British, & German immigrants

 

Summary In the end, Americans were bitterly disillusioned by war and the upheavals of its aftermath and wanted to go back to isolationism. The1920 elections saw a rejection of Democrats & their internationalist plank supporting the League. Republican Warren G. Harding was elected on the slogan that America should "return to normalcy" (whatever that was). Though isolationist, the U.S. emerges from the war the unchallenged financial & industrial leader of the world--we had lent 10 million $ to Europe. Americans rejected Progressivism & Wilsonian idealism - progressive legislation died out in the 1920s