Getting America into the Great War by Michael Neiberg

Foreign Policy Research Institute
21 Apr 201670:45
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TLDRIn this insightful lecture, Professor Michael Nyberg explores the complex journey of the United States from isolation to involvement in World War I. He delves into the American public's perception of the war, the significant shift in attitudes from viewing it as a distant conflict to recognizing it as a matter of national security. Nyberg discusses the influence of key figures, the domestic economic impact, the role of immigrant communities, and the political landscape leading up to the U.S. declaration of war. He challenges the traditional narrative, highlighting a bottom-up approach where public sentiment and private initiatives played a crucial role in pushing the U.S. towards participation in the Great War.

  • πŸ“š Michael Nyberg, a renowned historian and author, discusses American perspectives and responses to World War I from 1914 to 1917, highlighting the shift in public sentiment from isolationism to engagement.
  • 🌊 The Atlantic Ocean was seen as a protective barrier by Americans at the onset of WWI, with a prevailing attitude of 'thank God we are out of it,' reflecting a desire to avoid entanglement in foreign conflicts.
  • πŸ”Š There was a significant shift in American public opinion by April 1917, with the majority agreeing that the outcome of the war was a matter of life and death for English-speaking civilization, indicating a growing sense of urgency and responsibility.
  • πŸŽ“ The 'two Germanys' thesis was prevalent in the U.S., distinguishing between a cultured Germany associated with positive contributions like Beethoven and a militaristic Prussian Germany that was seen as aggressive and responsible for the war.
  • πŸ›‘ The sinking of the Lusitania was a pivotal moment that challenged American neutrality, although it did not directly lead to U.S. entry into the war, it marked a turning point in public perception and policy discussions.
  • πŸ’Ό The U.S. economy initially suffered due to the war in Europe, but by 1915, American industries realized the potential for profit from supplying the Allies, leading to a reorientation of the world economy towards the U.S.
  • 🌐 American foreign policy during WWI was heavily influenced by domestic politics, including the 1916 presidential election, which shaped decisions on military preparedness and neutrality.
  • πŸ’‘ The 'privatization of preparedness' emerged as civilians and private institutions took initiatives to prepare for potential U.S. involvement in the war, due to perceived government inaction.
  • πŸ”— Immigrant communities in the U.S., such as Italian-, Irish-, and Jewish-Americans, played significant roles in shaping American attitudes towards the war, often reflecting a complex interplay of assimilation and international ties.
  • βš”οΈ The Zimmerman Telegram, which proposed a German-Mexican-Japanese alliance against the U.S., intensified American fears of global insecurity and contributed to the decision to enter the war.
  • πŸ† The legacy of WWI is portrayed as a critical turning point in American history, with lasting impacts on U.S. foreign policy, domestic progressivism, and the country's global role, rather than an isolated event.
Q & A
  • What is the significance of the First World War in American history according to the speaker?

    -The speaker indicates that the First World War is a watershed in American history, marking a significant turning point and having profound impacts on the country's trajectory.

  • What was the general sentiment of the American people in 1914 regarding the war in Europe?

    -In 1914, the general sentiment of the American people was that the war in Europe was something bad happening elsewhere in the world, but it was not their concern, thanks to the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans providing a sense of safety.

  • Who was Walter Hines Page and what role did he play during the First World War?

    -Walter Hines Page was an American ambassador to Great Britain. He was initially a journalist and a strong supporter of Woodrow Wilson, which led to his appointment as ambassador. He played a significant role in shaping American perspectives on the war and advocating for U.S. involvement.

  • What does the speaker mean by the 'two Germanys' thesis?

    -The 'two Germanys' thesis refers to the popular belief among Americans that there was a humane and good Germany, known for its contributions to culture and science, and a bad, militaristic Prussian Germany that was seen as aggressive and responsible for the war.

  • How did the sinking of the Lusitania impact American public opinion?

    -The sinking of the Lusitania was a significant turning point that influenced American public opinion. It heightened the perception of Germany as an aggressor and led to increased pressure on the U.S. government to reconsider its stance of neutrality.

  • What was the economic situation in the United States at the outbreak of the First World War?

    -At the outbreak of the First World War, the American economy was in recession. The war exacerbated the situation, leading to a significant economic downturn and the temporary closure of stock markets.

  • How did the United States benefit economically from the First World War?

    -The United States benefited economically by supplying goods to the warring nations, particularly the Allies. This led to a reorientation of the world's economy, with increased trade and financial transactions flowing through the U.S., making it a center for global commerce.

  • What was the 'Continental Army Plan' proposed by William Lindley Garrison?

    -The 'Continental Army Plan' was a proposal by William Lindley Garrison, the U.S. Secretary of War, to create a centralized military system with a standing army and reserves under direct federal control, replacing the existing decentralized model involving the National Guard.

  • How did the 1916 presidential election influence U.S. foreign policy and the country's stance on the war?

    -The 1916 presidential election influenced U.S. foreign policy by encouraging both candidates, Woodrow Wilson and Charles Evans Hughes, to avoid discussing the war in Europe to prevent alienating potential voters. Both candidates aimed to maintain neutrality until it was no longer tenable.

  • What was the Zimmerman Telegram and why was it significant?

    -The Zimmerman Telegram was a message from the German government to Mexico, proposing a military alliance and suggesting that Mexico invade the southwestern United States. The telegram was significant because it revealed Germany's intentions and strategies, contributing to the U.S. decision to enter the war.

πŸ“š Introduction to Michael Nyberg and His Expertise

The speaker introduces Michael Nyberg, a distinguished scholar with a background in national security and strategy at the US Army War College. Nyberg's academic achievements include being a Guggenheim fellow and a trustee of the society for military history. His published works focus on significant historical events like World War I and the liberation of Paris in 1944. He is currently working on a history of American responses to the European war from 1914 to 1917, which is the subject of his upcoming book. The speaker also highlights the importance of understanding the First World War's impact on American history and the significance of the 100th anniversary as a period for reflection and learning.

🌐 America's Initial Isolationist Stance During WWI

The paragraph discusses America's initial stance during World War I, as exemplified by the American ambassador to Great Britain, Walter Hines Page. Page, initially reflecting the general sentiment of the American public, was grateful for the Atlantic Ocean's separation from the conflict. However, by October 1915, he had come to believe that a German victory would necessitate a significant increase in American military power, which was an undesirable outcome. Page's views were more advanced than most Americans at the time, and his attempts to convey the urgency to President Wilson were largely unsuccessful. By April 1917, the majority of Americans had come to agree with Page's assessment, marking a significant shift in American sentiment towards the war.

πŸ› The Two Germanys Thesis and American Perception

This section delves into the American perception of Germany before and during the onset of World War I. The 'two Germanys' thesis was prevalent, distinguishing between a cultured Germany, associated with positive attributes like music and science, and a militaristic Prussian Germany that was seen as oppressive. This perception influenced American views, leading to a belief that the United States was at war with the regime, not the people. The narrative was reinforced by figures like Oswald Spengler and Mary Roberts Rinehart, who suggested that the German people were victims of their regime and would eventually rise against it.

πŸŽ“ The Defense of Germany and Its Impact on American Opinion

The paragraph examines the defense of Germany's actions during the war, particularly by Ugo Monberg, a Harvard professor who argued that Germany was not the aggressor. Monberg's stance was controversial, and his efforts to influence American opinion, including writing to President Wilson, ultimately backfired. His views became increasingly isolated, and after the sinking of the Lusitania, he ceased speaking and writing about the war. The American public's response to Monberg was largely negative, reinforcing the belief that Germany was the instigator of the conflict.

πŸ’Ό Economic Implications and American Industry During WWI

This section explores the economic impact of World War I on the United States, particularly the initial recession and the measures taken to stabilize the economy. The American economy was severely affected by the withdrawal of gold from banks and the closure of stock markets. The Wilson administration's response included controversial steps like introducing an income tax and establishing the Federal Reserve Bank. By the end of 1914, the American economy began to recover, and industries like finance, insurance, and agriculture started to profit from the war. The United States saw an opportunity to reorient the world's economy towards itself, with American industries benefiting from the demand for goods by the warring nations.

🌳 The Privatization of Preparedness and American Initiative

The final paragraph discusses the 'privatization of preparedness' in the United States. As the government was slow to act, American citizens and organizations took the initiative to prepare for potential conflict. Notable figures like Thomas Edison and William Henry Welch contributed by training military personnel and creating networks of medical professionals. Educational institutions like Columbia University also played a role, with faculty offering their expertise to support the war effort. This grassroots movement demonstrated a proactive approach to preparedness, reflecting the American spirit of self-reliance and initiative.

πŸ’‘World War I
World War I, also known as the Great War, was a global war that lasted from 1914 to 1918. The video script discusses the United States' entry into the war and the various factors leading up to it, such as the sinking of the Lusitania and the Zimmerman Telegram. The war is central to the video's theme of understanding American history and the country's shift from isolationism to global engagement.
Neutrality refers to the stance of not supporting or helping either side in a war or conflict. The script mentions President Wilson's efforts to maintain American neutrality in the early stages of World War I. However, the increasing global threats and the Zimmerman Telegram eventually led to the U.S. abandoning neutrality and joining the Allied Powers.
πŸ’‘Zimmerman Telegram
The Zimmerman Telegram was a secret diplomatic message from the German government proposing a military alliance with Mexico against the United States. The script discusses how the telegram was a pivotal factor in shifting American public opinion and ultimately led to the U.S. declaration of war against Germany.
πŸ’‘American Isolationism
American isolationism is the policy of staying isolated from political and economic affairs in other countries. The script explores the historical context of the U.S.'s traditional reluctance to get involved in foreign wars, particularly before World War I, and the transformation to a more interventionist stance as global events unfolded.
Propaganda is information, often biased or misleading, used to promote a particular political cause or point of view. The video script refers to the British media's portrayal of German atrocities and the skepticism of some American journalists who urged the public to question the authenticity of such reports.
The Lusitania was a British ocean liner that was sunk by a German U-boat in 1915, resulting in the deaths of over 1,000 people, including American citizens. The script mentions the Lusitania as a significant event that contributed to anti-German sentiment in the U.S. and as a precursor to the country's entry into World War I.
πŸ’‘Woodrow Wilson
Woodrow Wilson was the 28th President of the United States, serving from 1913 to 1921. The script discusses Wilson's initial stance on neutrality and his eventual decision to lead the U.S. into World War I. Wilson's leadership and policies during this period are central to the video's exploration of America's wartime actions and motivations.
πŸ’‘National Defense Act of 1916
The National Defense Act of 1916 was a U.S. federal law that expanded and strengthened the U.S. military. The script refers to this act as a response to the growing global threats and the need to prepare the country for potential military engagement, which eventually materialized with the U.S. entry into World War I.
πŸ’‘Global Strategic Concerns
Global strategic concerns refer to the broader geopolitical interests and security issues that a nation faces in the international arena. The script touches on America's concerns about German activities in Mexico and the Pacific, as well as the rise of Japan, which contributed to the U.S.'s growing sense of vulnerability and need for military preparedness.
πŸ’‘Immigrant Communities
Immigrant communities are groups of people who have migrated from other countries and live together in a new country. The video script discusses the role of immigrant communities in shaping American public opinion during World War I, particularly Italian-Americans who had strong ties to Italy and were affected by Italy's involvement in the war.
πŸ’‘American Public Opinion
American public opinion refers to the collective views and sentiments of the U.S. population on various issues. The script explores how public opinion shifted over time, influenced by events like the sinking of the Lusitania and the Zimmerman Telegram, ultimately leading to widespread support for U.S. involvement in World War I.

Introduction of Michael Nyberg, an esteemed professor and author, known for his extensive work on World War I.

Nyberg's current project focuses on American responses to the European war from 1914 to 1917.

The significance of the 100th anniversary of World War I and the need to understand its impact on American history.

Walter Hines Page's perspective as the American ambassador to Great Britain and his early recognition of the war's importance to the U.S.

The prevalent American sentiment in 1914, characterized by a desire to remain isolated from the war.

The shift in American public opinion from viewing the war as a distant conflict to one of vital importance.

The 'two Germanys' thesis and its influence on American perception of Germany during the war.

Ugo Monberg's role as a defender of Germany in the U.S. and the eventual backlash he faced.

The economic recession in the U.S. at the outbreak of the war and its impact on American financial markets.

The reorientation of the world's economy from Europe to the U.S. as a result of WWI.

The role of immigrant communities in shaping American attitudes towards the war.

The Zimmerman Telegram and its influence on American perception of threats from Germany, Mexico, and Japan.

The 'privatization of preparedness' where American citizens took initiatives in the absence of government action.

President Wilson's reluctance to engage in the war and the pressure from the American public and his cabinet.

The National Defense Act of 1916 and its implications for the U.S. Army's preparedness.

The presidential election of 1916 and the avoidance of war-related topics by both candidates.

Global concerns such as the Pancho Villa crisis in Mexico and the rise of Japan influencing American strategic thinking.

The Zimmerman Telegram as a culmination of American fears regarding international threats.

The American people's motivations for entering WWI and their desire for the war to end.

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