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World War I, Essay Example

Pages: 2

Words: 683

Essay

In a very real sense, World War I served as a test of American isolationism.  Issues were developing in Europe in the late 19th century, and it seemed inevitable that a major conflict would arise involving multiple nations.  At the same time, the United States, coming into its own with the industrial revolution, wanted to remain distanced from European problems.  Ideologically, this was the country that had completely broken free, not just of Britain, but of the traditional ties to European life.  In no uncertain terms, the U.S. wanted no part of the traditional and messy fighting that had always defined European history.

What actually happened, however, was that the growing presence of the U.S. made it increasingly difficult to remain neutral.  This was reinforced by changes occurring in Europe as well.  More exactly, the growing power of the U.S. both coincided with and led to different relations with England and France.  They had evolved to become important trading partners, if not yet allies pledged to protect one another from aggression.  For the first time, in fact, the world was becoming “global” in terms of complex and vital foreign relations.  The process, again, was inevitable; as the U.S. expanded its interests and capabilities, friendly European nations became more tied to these.  International cooperation was beginning in a way never before known, and this would lead to a degree of involvement the U.S. could no longer ignore.  At the same time, and importantly, national policies and behaviors that had existed in Europe for many centuries were collapsing, and giving way to the New World.  These combined elements, then, of U.S. evolution, increased foreign trade and mutual cooperation, and the radical breaking down of European dynasties all erupted into World War I and also made U.S. involvement necessary.

It is generally felt that the 1914 assassination of Austrian Archduke Ferdinand was the “starting gun” of the war.  This in itself was symbolic of how the conflict would represent the last, great charge of imperialism from the major European powers; as Ferdinand was killed by a Serbian, and as the assassination itself reflected decades of territorial ambitions.  England, France, and Russia joined to oppose Italy, Germany, and the Austria-Hungary.  By July of 1914, conflict was erupting from multiple directions.  Austria-Hungary invaded Serbia in retaliation, Germany invaded Belgium and France, and the Russians then attacked Germany.  The U.S. declared itself neutral, but the position was increasingly difficult to maintain.  A major turning point here was the 1915 German sinking of the British Lusitania, which took the lives of 123 Americans.  A year later, the U.S. Congress passed the National Defense Act, which indicates an American awareness that involvement was becoming necessary.  By 1917, after the U.S. broke off ll diplomatic relations with Germany, declaration of war was sure to follow.  America recruited and sent troops overseas, joining in with heightened Allies response.  The impending collapse of the Russian government in 1917, along with German issues of revolution within its borders, weakened the Central Power aggression enormously.  With Russia gone, Germany effectively surrendered on Armistice Day, November 11th, 1918.

The results of this war were virtually too immense to be defined, although two major consequences can be seen.  On one level, as the war had been the last, great conflict of imperialist powers, its end brought with it the destruction of European imperialism.  The Ottoman, German, Russian, and Austria-Hungary empires were gone, paving the way for the often violent processes of installing new governments.  On another, the global standing of the U.S. had changed forever.  It was now a formidable world power, and one which would, if necessary, play a critical role in international affairs when its own people or interests were threatened.  This was a stance that would be further tested in World War II; the U.S. began to take steps to construct a protective foreign policy after World War I, and in the later war would once again seek to distance itself from foreign conflict.  The fact remains, however,  that World War I irrefutably established the United States as a power comparable to, or greater than, its European counterparts.

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