World War I

El Centro History Department

Forward to the 1920s        The Magical History Tour         Back to the Progressive Era

World War I (The Great War)
through 1919



World War I on YouTube:
Origins of World War I, Part 1
Origins of World War I, Part 2
Causes of World War I
World War I Footage
World War I Combat Video
Planes and Aces of World War I
Rare World War I Footage
World War I Shellshock (We call in Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder now.)
The Horrors of War
Battle of the Somme
World War I (in color - British)
Secrets of World War I
World War I Era Music and Pictures Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6
World War I Airplanes
General WWI Resources // Events Leading to U.S. Entry
People of WWI
The Military
Social History and 1919

General WWI Resources:
Aces & Aircraft of WWI
Trenches on the Web

Germany and America in the 20th Century
World War I Economy
World War I: An Overview
League of Nations Debate
Treaty of Versailles Debate
First World War

Events Leading to U.S. Entry:
The Assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand
Lusitania - 1915
Wilson's First Lusitania Note to Germany
U.S. Involvement in World War I
Woodrow Wilson Learns of Zimmermann Telegram

People of WWI:
Gavrilo Princip
Woodrow Wilson's Fourteen Points
A Day with Kaiser Wilhelm (1898)
Kaiser Wilhelm II // Abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm II

The Military:

Social History and 1919
Chicago Black Sox
Red Scare

World War I Lecture Notes

View the videos listed about especially the Origins and Causes of the war. Watch the others that interest you.

We need to start with a song sung by soldiers as they marched during World War I. Mademoiselle from Armentieres with Lyrics

The Great War or World War I was as one historian said caused by blunders, miscalculations, and incompetence. Do you agree after viewing the films?

Resentments over old wars and lost territories brought tension to Europe. Serbia wanted Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Austria-Hungarian Empire wanted Serbia. France and Germany hated each other. Most nations were involved in military alliances ore reciprocal treaties. France and Russia had a treaty to help each other if there was a war with Germany. Austria-Hungary and Germany had a treaty of there was a war with Russia. England had a treaty with France to defend Belgium. England also had treaties with Japan and Russia and Russia had a treaty with Serbia. On and on it went to the point if one country in Europe got in a war, it would bring all of Europe into the war. To make it even worse, German leader Kaiser Wilhelm II was anxious for a chance to enhance his nation's power in the world

In 1914, Gavrilo Princip, a Serbian, assassinated the heir to the Austrian-Hungarian throne (Archduke Ferdinand). Germany encouraged Austria-Hungary to declare war on Serbia which would bring Russia and France into the war. And that's what Germany wanted, France in the war. So, Austria-Hungary declares war and most of Europe was at war. Two sides developed. The Central Powers included Germany, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria, and Ottoman Empire. The other side was the Allied Powers that included Serbia, France, England, Russia, Japan, and Italy. Eventually, the U.S. will join the Allied Powers but tried to avoid it.

As the European slaughter began, President Wilson declared the U.S. to be neutral. He said the U.S. would continue trade and travel as if nothing was happening in Europe. But, from the beginning, the U.S. favored the Allied Powers. These were nations the U.S. traditionally had more trade, cultural, and historical ties. This angered the Central Powers and German leaders announced in 1915 that they would put a U-Boar (submarine) blockade around England and sink any ship that tried to cross the blockade. U.S. policy continued to be that Americans were free to travel wherever they wanted despite warning from Germany. These warnings even appeared in U.S. newspapers. So what would you do? If you had your tickets for your dream cruse to England, would you have gone? And, why did Germany include passenger liners in their threat?

On May 7, 1915, German U-Boats sank the passenger liner The Lusitania. Of the 1200 passengers killed, 128 were Americans. Wilson continued to insist the U.S. had freedom of the seas. And, for nine months attacks stopped and Wilson tried to negotiate an end to the war. Without success, Wilson decided it was time for the U.S. to prepare for the worse and he ordered a military build-up. This resulted from political attacks from others like Theodore Roosevelt who accused Wilson of being "weak."

1916 was an election year and Wilson was re-elected based on the slogan "He kept us out of war." He did not promise to continue that path. There was some hope for Wilson, though. By February of 1917 the Central Power struggled and U.S. shipments to Europe came under attack again. So, Germany resumed it's U-Boat attacks. American ships were sunk. Still, Americans hoped to stay out of the war.

That changed in March of 1917 with the publication of the ZIMMERMANN TELEGRAM or NOTE. This was a telegram intercepted by the English and given to U.S. newspapers. The telegram from a German foreign policy minister, revealed a plot to draw Mexico into the war against the U.S. The Mexican government would receive in return all the territory the U.S. had taken from Mexico if the war was won. Meanwhile, four more U.S. merchant ships were sunk. While Mexico would not accept the offer, the distrust of Americans toward Mexico since the Punitive Expedition created fear.

On May 2, 1917, President Wilson asked Congress to pass a declaration of war against the Central Powers. There was opposition with six Senators and 50 members of Congress voting against the declaration including Rep. Jeannette Rankin. Opposition in Congress was mirrored in the public. This opposition grew when Congress passed the Conscription Law establishing a military draft for the war (1917). Protests erupted and attacks on draft offices followed. There was even an attack on the draft office in Dallas. The Green Corn Rebellion was the largest protest when an armed uprising that took place in rural Oklahoma on August 2 and 3, 1917. The plant was to march across the country, eating "green corn" on the way for sustenance. Betrayed by an informer in their midst, the country rebels met with a well-armed posse of townsmen, with whom shots were exchanged and three people killed. In the aftermath of the incident, scores of arrests were made and the Socialist Party of America, formerly strong in the region was decimated in the public eye for allegedly having attempted to foment revolution. Nonetheless, draft evasion became common. One-third of draftees never showed up and by 1918, 10,000 men had been prosecuted for evading the draft.

To combat opposition, Wilson launched a pro-war campaign. He said "it was a war to end all wars." He promised it would "make the world safe for democracy." It was a "progressive war." In a famous speech called "The Fourteen Points" he promised to end secret treaties, there would be no harsh punishment for the losers, and he would establish the League of Nations to prevent future wars. Opposition continues so Wilson and Congress passed the Espionage and Sedition Acts making it illegal to criticize the war, the government, or the Constitution during a war (1917-18). Do you think that would be constitutional?

Approximately 900 people were arrested for speaking out against the war including Eugene Debs (leader of the Socialists) and Emma Goldman (the anarchist). Mail was confiscated from radical organizations and unions destroyed. Well-known Americans were ostracized included Jane Addams, the social worker, who was labeled a "serious threat" due to her anti-war stance. The laws were found to be constitutional. Today most of the laws have been removed although remnants still remain.

Wilson also launched a propaganda campaign hiring muckrakers and speakers. The efforts of writers and speakers proved to be effective, too effective. War hysteria spread throughout the U.S. German-Americans were attacked in the streets. Sauerkraut became "liberty cabbage." Frankfurters became "hot dogs." Teachers were required to take loyalty oaths. Textbooks were revised to exclude anything good about the Central Powers. And, those who supported the war received rewards.

The American Federation of Labor (AF of L) led by Samuel Gompers supported the war. As a result, Gompers became an adviser in the government that led to the acceptance of mediation in labor disputes, pay increases in the defense industry, and endorsement of the eight-hour day. Even equal pay for women received endorsement. The NAACP and W. E. B. DuBois supported the war. An anti-lynching law was endorsed.

African-Americans, however, will pay a heavy price. 75,000 will serve in the military and they were significantly over-drafted. Draft rates should reflect the percentage of the population. During the draft process which was handled by local, predominantly white committees, led to discrimination. Some 25% of Anglos drafted were found to be eligible to serve. 36% of African-Americans were accepted. The most over-drafted, however, were Hispanics at 40%. Once in the military, minorities were segregated and they met with racial attacks. Riots erupted throughout the country with one of the worst in Houston, Texas, when 17 whites were killed, 13 African-Americans executed, and 100 court martialed.

At the same time ironically, minorities and women benefited from the war. Although temporary, they were eligible for non-traditional jobs with better pay. This brought about an immense leap in self-confidence.

The military machine created as a result changed the course of the war. The U.S. military was called the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF)under the command of General John "Black Jack" Pershing from the Punitive Expedition. And when all was said and done, 60% of the military members volunteered. They would become known in Europe as the "Doughboys." The origination of that term is somewhat unclear, but one of the most common was that U.S. military personnel always had money and therefore the "dough" or money boys.

At first many saw Theodore Roosevelt's vision of war. It would be an adventure and romantic. Unfortunately, war had changed. Many first appeared during World War I. This included the first use of tanks, the first use of chemical warfare (mustard gas), the first long distance artillery, and the first use of airplanes in war. This led to the dogfights in open cockpit airplanes. The most famous ace was "The Red Baron" (Manfred von Richthofen) like "Peanuts" and the pizza. But he was the enemy to the U.S. Our most acclaimed ace was Eddie Rickenbacker who shot down 26 enemy planes.

In addition, World War I led to the U.S. development of primitive sonar to detect U-Boats, the development of the convoy system for ship protection, depth charges to destroy U-Boats, and mines. But, mostly the war was deadly trench warfare. Soldiers dug trenches in which they lived and hid from the enemy. The environment was filthy and rat infested. Then there was a flu pandemic that almost ended the war known as the Spanish flue. 50,000 American troops died and they brought it the U.S. mainland. 3-5% of the world's population was killed. Almost 700,000 Americans died. (NOTE: The St. Paul Cemetery near my house has a historical marker since it was expanded during the pandemic to make room for the casualties. Whole families are buried there that died in 1918.)

Then things got worse for the Allies when Russia pulled out of the war due to the Bolshevik Revolution. In 1917 Communists won control of the government and signed a separate treaty and exited the war in 1918.

Eventually, the U.S. will send 30 divisions and a million and half troops just in time for the Allies. By the end of 1918, the Central Powers were ready to surrender. It was not total defeat but they believed the promises of President Wilson that there would be no major penalties for the losers. But, on the 11th hour, of the 11th day, of the 11th month of 1918 the war ended with Treaty of Versailles. It was not what Wilson had promised.

The treaty included huge reparations to be paid by the losers to the winners, the Allied Powers. Nations were reorganized. Yugoslavia was created by combining Serbia, Bosnia, and other countries that will lead to problems during the 1990s. Poland was created. Austria-Hungary was split into two countries. Czechoslovakia was created. The Ottoman Empire was dismantled into Turkey and Syria. England and France were given control over the Middle East. England had an eye on the southern portion of Iraq that we know as Kuwait. That country was created by the English due to it's oil resources and will lead to yet another war.

The war also led to the creation of the League of Nations. The U.S. never joined fearing foreign entanglements. In addition, the U.S. did not sign the Treaty of Versailles since it did not reflect promises made. So what were the results of the war?

53,000 troops were killed in the war in addition to the 50,000 who died of the flu. Another result was the creation of the Communist Soviet Union that many Americans saw as a threat. But, many Americans asked "why?" Disillusionment swept the U.S. as American realized how little benefit the war had brought. The U.S. would not even receive reparations. The U.S. retreated into isolationism unaware that the foundations of World War II had been laid.

To 1919-1929
Page created by: Wanda Downing Jones