Exam preparation materials

Chapter 22: The United States and World War I, 1914–1920



Archduke Ferdinand of Austria assassinated  •  War in Europe begins


Lusitania sinks  •  Arabic sinks


Germans attack the Sussex  •  Sussex Pledge accepted


Germany announces the resumption of unrestricted submarine warfare  •  Zimmermann Note intercepted  •  United States enters World War I  •  Wilson writes Fourteen Points


Germany and the Allies sign armistice


Treaty of Versailles signed, ending World War I


United States rejects Treaty of Versailles  •  League of Nations formed


United States signs separate peace with Germany



Civilian Council of National Defense

Fourteen Points

Vladimir Lenin

National War Labor Board

Schenck v. United States

Triple Alliance

Woodward Wilson

Archduke Franz Ferdinand

Committee of Public Information

Oliver Wendell Holmes

liberty bonds

General John Pershing

Admiral Sims

Triple Entente

Zimmerman Note

Article X

Espionage and Sedition Acts

Kaiser Wilhelm II

Henry Cabot Lodge


Sussex Pledge



Food Administration

League of Nations



Treaty of Versailles

War Industries Board

“It is a war against all nations…. The challenge is to all mankind…. Our motives will not be revenge or the victorious assertion of the physical might of the nation, but only the vindication of right, of human right of which we are only a single champion.”

–President Woodrow Wilson, April 2, 1917


The war message of Woodrow Wilson was idealistic in its themes and set the tone for the U.S. involvement in World War I. At the peace table, the allied nations viewed President Wilson with suspicion. His attempt to establish an international organization to prevent future wars was met with resistance by the American people, indicating their fear of war and their desire to remain isolated in the aftermath of World War I. In the end, the failure of the country, and the world, to heed Wilson’s advice contributed to the rise of Hitler and a much greater conflagration.


Years of suspicion and competition among the European nations for colonies and markets ultimately led to the outbreak of World War I. The rise of nationalism—and imperialism—in Europe stirred anger and hostility among the countries. In addition, a system ofalliances had formed. The Triple Entente (Allies) consisted of England, France, and Russia; Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Italy made up the Triple Alliance (Central Powers). Finally, an increasing militarism, caused by the desire to dominate trade and protect trading routes, spurred a great arms race and provided the equipment necessary to conduct a war.

The spark that ignited the powder keg that had been growing through the years came in the form of a political assassination. In June 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand (the heir to the Austrian Empire) and his wife were killed in Sarajevo, a province of Bosnia, by Gavrilo Princip, a member of a Serbian nationalist society known as the Black Hand. Austria-Hungary responded by declaring war on Serbia. Because Serbia was an ally of Russia, the Russians sent troops to help Serbia. Germany then declared war on France, Russia’s ally. Great Britain, an ally of France, declared war on Germany. World War I had begun.


World War I differed from previous wars in that new technology was implemented. The Germans had perfected the U-boat. When Great Britain established a blockade along the German coast, Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany announced that any ships carrying goods to Great Britain would be sunk. In 1915, a German submarine sank the British liner Lusitania, which the Germans believed was carrying contraband goods. More than 100 Americans died in this attack. Three months later, the Germans sank another British ship, the Arabic. The United States protested, and Germany agreed not to sink any more liners without warning. However, in March of 1916, the Germans attacked the Sussex, a French passenger ship with Americans on board. Germany agreed to the Sussex Pledge, which provided that no more attacks would take place on unarmed vessels—but only if the United States could persuade Britain to lift the blockade.

The British intercepted a telegram from German Foreign Minister Arthur Zimmermann to the government of Mexico that encouraged an alliance between the two countries. Germany pledged to support Mexico in regaining control of Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona if the U.S. joined the Allies. This Zimmermann Note, published in newspapers in March of 1917, further pushed the United States toward war with Germany.

In an attempt to gain world support against the Germans, Wilson encouraged a negotiated peace settlement that included provisions for establishing a world organization to maintain and support peace, disarmament, and democracy. However, in March of 1917, the kaiser announced the resumption of unrestricted submarine warfare. Wilson knew that U.S. participation in this war was inevitable. Wilson wished to defeat the Germans and make “the world safe for democracy.” On April 6, 1917, the United States entered World War I.

In November of 1917, the Russian Bolsheviks, under the leadership of Vladimir Lenin, overthrew the czar. The Russians eventually withdrew from the war and signed a separate peace treaty with Germany.


Preparation for the war was fast and furious. To finance the war, liberty bonds were issued. A Committee of Public Information was organized, and a Civilian Council of National Defense was established. In 1917, the War Industries Board was established under the leadership of Bernard Baruch to convert industry to wartime production. Women left their traditional roles at home to work in industry. In 1918, the National War Labor Board, headed by former President William Taft, was established to deal with labor disputes. The Food Administration, headed by Herbert Hoover, helped to regulate the food supply for the troops by encouraging people to give up certain items. A Fuel Administration was also organized to deal with energy demands by allocating scarce supplies of coal. The propaganda machine kicked into gear, encouraging men to enlist in the military.

In 1917 and 1918, the Espionage and Sedition Acts were passed, which fined or jailed people who interfered with the draft or with the sale of government bonds. It also provided for the punishment of people who were disloyal or spoke out against the war effort. This act led to a Supreme Court case that would establish the doctrine of “clear and present danger”—Schenck v. United States (1919). Charles Schenck, the general secretary of the Socialist Party, distributed leaflets in front of an army recruiting station in an attempt to discourage men from entering the military. Schenck claimed that he had the right to do this because he was protected by the 1st Amendment right to free speech. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes disagreed. The Court upheld the conviction of Schenck under the Espionage Act of 1917, stating that “When a nation is at war many things that might be said in time of peace … will not be endured.”

Songs such as George M. Cohan’s “Over There” inspired Americans as they ventured to make “the world safe for democracy.” However, they were sorely disappointed when the hardships of war affected their lives. The number of American lives lost may have been small compared to the losses of the other participating countries, but it nevertheless greatly impacted how the American people viewed participation in future wars.

America’s help in the war effort turned the tide of victory in favor of the Allies. Under the leadership of Admiral Sims at sea and General John Pershing on land, the Allies were victorious, most notably at battles in Chateau-Thierry, Belleau Wood, and Reims. The United States also participated in air battles, a new phenomenon in warfare.

On November 11, 1918, an armistice (truce) was signed between the Germans and the Allies. World War I had ended.


In addition to suffering a tremendous loss of life, the European nations had been destroyed physically. They sought revenge against Germany for its aggression. In contrast, the United States had been little touched by the war, except for the U.S. casualties. This difference affected the peace negotiations that took place in Versailles, France, in 1918.

In January of 1918, before World War I ended, Wilson announced his vision for peace. His Fourteen Points centered on preventing future wars by examining the actions that had caused World War I. Wilson proposed the following:

•  The end of secret alliances

•  Freedom of the seas

•  Establishment of equality in trade

•  Arms reduction

•  Self-determination for nations

•  The return of Alsace-Lorraine to France

•  The establishment of a League of Nations as a general association to deal with world problems before these problems led to war

Wilson himself attended the peace conference, attempting to convince Italy, France, and Great Britain to accept his Fourteen Points. Instead, the Allies wanted revenge against the Germans and accepted only a few of the Fourteen Points, including Article X, which called for the League of Nations to be established. Wilson was disappointed. As a result of the Treaty of Versailles, signed on June 28, 1919, nine new nations were created, and the boundaries of other nations changed. The British and French were given temporary mandates (colonies) over Turkish areas until they were ready for self-rule. Germany was stripped of its army and required to pay reparations, or war damages, to the Allied nations. Germany was held completely responsible for the war.

When Wilson returned to the United States, the Senate, led by Henry Cabot Lodge, a Republican from Massachusetts, rejected the treaty. They objected to Article X, fearful that membership in the League of Nations would lead the country into another war. Wilson refused to compromise and took his case (unsuccessfully) to the American people. Although Congress, at the urging of Wilson, defeated a number of amendments, or reservations, that Lodge had added to the treaty, the Senate failed to ratify it with the necessary two-thirds votes. Wilson’s unwillingness to compromise had defeated the Treaty of Versailles. The United States signed a separate peace with Germany in 1921 and never participated in the League of Nations.


Wilson’s failure to gain approval for the Treaty of Versailles undermined any positive effects the League of Nations might have had. The harshness of the treaty placed Germany in an economic depression that led to a depression across Europe that deepened with the Great Depression in the United States in 1929. It also created a fertile breeding ground for Adolf Hitler and his supporters. Wilson’s desire to participate in a “war to end all wars” was not accomplished.


•  Alliances: A grouping of nations where each one pledges mutual support to the others, usually defensive in nature; the formation of alliances was an underlying cause of World War I.

•  Imperialism: A policy of empire building in which a nation conquers other nations or territories with the goal of increasing its power and expanding the area it controls; a cause of World War I

•  Militarism: The development of large military forces, not only for defense of the nation but for possible aggression into other nations; one of the causes of World War I

•  Nationalism: This is a strong feeling of pride in and devotion to one’s nation. For people under the control of a foreign power, nationalism is expressed as a desire that one’s nation should become a free and independent country. For people who already live in an independent country, it is expressed as a belief that one’s nation should be made greater and more powerful. Nationalism contributed to the problems that led to World War I.


1.   All of the following led to World War I EXCEPT

(A)    the rise of capitalism.

(B)    the formation of alliances.

(C)    imperialism.

(D)    the desire for self-determination among nations.

(E)    extreme nationalism.

2.   The immediate cause of the United States’s entrance into World War I was the

(A)    assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria.

(B)    announcement by Germany of the use of unrestricted submarine warfare.

(C)    sinking of the Lusitania.

(D)    Zimmermann Note.

(E)    attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

3.   Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points, written in 1918, aimed to

(A)    guarantee that all people live under a democracy.

(B)    spread U.S. influence in the world.

(C)    shift U.S. policy from isolation to involvement.

(D)    establish a peacekeeping force in Europe.

(E)    prevent future wars by rectifying the causes of World War I.

4.   Henry Cabot Lodge objected to the League of Nations on the grounds that it

(A)    violated the Constitution.

(B)    might lead the United States into future wars.

(C)    was too idealistic to be workable.

(D)    was to be located outside of the United States.

(E)    violated the principals of self-determination.


1.    A

The rise of capitalism, an economic system based on free enterprise and competition, was not a cause of World War I. Answer choices (B), (C), (D), and (E) were all causes of World War I. The rise of militarism was the other main cause of World War I.

2.    B

Germany announced that it would resume unrestricted submarine warfare and violate the Sussex Pledge, and this was the immediate reason for the U.S. entry into World War I. The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria by a Serbian nationalist was the immediate cause of World War I in Europe but not the reason the United States entered the war. The sinking of the Lusitania occurred in 1915, and some Americans were killed. However, the United States didn’t declare war until 1917. The Zimmermann Note was intercepted in 1917 but was not the immediate cause of U.S. entry into the war; the issue of freedom of the seas and submarine warfare was. The attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, was the immediate cause of U.S. entry into World War II.

3.    E

Wilson’s Fourteen Points examined the causes of World War I with the hope of preventing future wars. Wilson desired to maintain peace with the principals of his Fourteen Points. Although Wilson would have loved to see democracy everywhere in the world, the principal of self-determination was set forth, allowing nations to choose their own government. The United States was not interested in using its influence around the world to bring great changes. The people of the United States were still basically isolationists, as evidenced by the rejection of the League of Nations and the Treaty of Versailles. There was no talk of maintaining peacekeeping forces in Europe.

4.    B

Lodge objected to Article X in the Treaty of Versailles, which established the League of Nations. He felt that U.S. participation in the League of Nations would lead the United States into war again. There was no constitutional argument against the League. Although some considered Wilson idealistic, this was not Lodge’s criticism of the League of Nations. Location of the League was not an issue, and the League was not imposing government on any nations and, therefore, was not a violation of self determination.

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