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America Enters the War

America Enters the War

The U.S. Entry into the War (Jan-Apr 1917)

Although most of the American public was sympathetic to the Allies, the United States stayed neutral for nearly three years. However, in early 1917, a series of events finally drew America into the war.

On February 1, Germany resumed unrestricted sub- marine warfare. Britain’s naval blockade was causing severe shortages for Germany’s military and its civilian economy. Germany saw no reason to continue holding back its most effective naval weapon, especially considering how unprepared the U.S. was for war. German U-boats once again began sinking all ships travelling to or from Allied ports. In response, the United States broke off diplomatic relations with Germany.

Then, in mid-February, the British presented the American government with a telegram they had inter- cepted from Germany’s Foreign Minister Arthur Zim- merman to its Ambassador to Mexico. The message promised to help Mexico recapture territory it had lost to the United States in the Mexican-American War (1846-48) if Mexico joined Germany as an ally. The Zimmermann Telegram (as it came to be called) was published in U.S. newspapers on March 1, further feeding U.S. outrage.

In March, the Germans sank five U.S. merchant ships, with the loss of dozens of American lives. In addition, the fall of the Tsar’s regime in Russia simplified the moral argument for the Allied cause: the war was now between democratic nations and autocratic empires.

On April 2, President Wilson went to the U.S. Congress to formally ask it to declare war on Germany. The Senate granted Wilson’s request two days later, followed by the House of Representatives on April 6. The United States had joined the war.

The Allies on the Brink

By the end of 1917, revolution in Russia, mutiny in France and Britain exhaustion proved that the United States had entered the war just in time.

In Russia, long-simmering discontent boiled over, due to staggering war casualties and shortages on the home- front. In March, nationwide strikes erupted, which the army refused to put down, forcing Tsar Nicholas to give up his throne.

Russia’s new provisional government made a number of reforms, but kept Russia in the war. A second revolution in November brought Vladimir Lenin and the Bolshevik communists to power. Russia ceased fighting and signed a separate peace with the Central Powers.

After yet another disastrous offensive in April, the French Army reached its breaking point. Numerous units mutinied, refusing to go on any more attacks. Order was restored by punishing individuals and units and by promising better conditions for frontline troops. But the French Army would be limited to defense for the time being.

Despite massive losses at the Battle of the Somme in 1916, the British were still ready to press forward.The result was the Battle of Passchendaele (July 31 - November 10), three months of rain, mud, and misery that cost each side a quarter million casualties with little result. The British did better in the Battle of Cambrai in November, thanks to their effective use of tanks, but their gains were offset by German advances in other sectors.

By year’s end, the Allies had lost a coalition partner and were reduced to a simple strategy: hold on until the Americans were ready.

By the end of 1917, revolution in Russia, mutiny in France and Britain exhaustion proved that the United States had entered the war just in time.

In Russia, long-simmering discontent boiled over, due to staggering war casualties and shortages on the home- front. In March, nationwide strikes erupted, which the army refused to put down, forcing Tsar Nicholas to give up his throne.

Russia’s new provisional government made a number of reforms, but kept Russia in the war. A second revolution in November brought Vladimir Lenin and the Bolshevik communists to power. Russia ceased fighting and signed a separate peace with the Central Powers.

After yet another disastrous offensive in April, the French Army reached its breaking point. Numerous units mutinied, refusing to go on any more attacks. Order was restored by punishing individuals and units and by promising better conditions for frontline troops. But the French Army would be limited to defense for the time being.

Despite massive losses at the Battle of the Somme in 1916, the British were still ready to press forward.The result was the Battle of Passchendaele (July 31 - November 10), three months of rain, mud, and misery that cost each side a quarter million casualties with little result. The British did better in the Battle of Cambrai in November, thanks to their effective use of tanks, but their gains were offset by German advances in other sectors.

By year’s end, the Allies had lost a coalition partner and were reduced to a simple strategy: hold on until the Americans were ready.

Topics in Chronicling America - The Zimmerman Telegram

Links to newspaper coverage of Zimmermann Telegram episode. (NOTE: Summary of events mistakenly states Wilson was aware of telegram when U.S. broke off relations with Germany)

https://www.loc.gov/rr/news/topics/zimmerman.html

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