8. 3 Neutrality Rights
By international rules the neutral country could trade with any other neutral nation and also with other ’belligerent’ countries not facing a blockade. The Americans wished to continue trade with both belligerent sides.
In the initial stages of the war the British blockade of Germany
created problems for the U.S. The British tried to stop all trade
between Germany and the rest of the world. They extended their blockade
by controlling imports to other neutral countries like Holland,
Denmark and Sweden with are geographically close to Germany The
Americans protested against the violation of neutral rights though
Wilson never put undue pressure on England as no U.S. citizen lost
his life due to the blockade. Moreover, all cargo seized was paid
for at war. It was the German use of submarines in the war that
brought the U.S. in direct confrontation with Germany. The German
submarines fired indiscriminately at neutral ships too. The last
straw was when the British passenger liner ’Lusitania’ was
sunk by German submarines on May 7. It resulted in the loss of 1,200
lives which included 128 Americans. The American public was outraged.
President Wilson immediately demanded compensation from Germany
in a series of notes to Berlin. The tone of these notes was very
crisp and harsh. Ten months after the incident, Germany apologized
for the sinking and offered a compensation for the loss. But the
U.S. was not satisfied. Wilson wanted to make Germany stop the use
of submarines in the war. The Germans refused to comply with this.
The tension with Germany resulted in many leaders advocating preparations for a possible war. The President was pressurized to order the enlargement of the army. Also, a 3-year building program for new ships was given the presidential nod. In 1916, Wilson was re-elected as the President of the U.S.
Meanwhile, Germany declared that the U-boats would
sink all ships: passenger or merchant; belligerent or neutral in
the war zone. This angered the President. Three days later, he broke
off all diplomatic relations with Germany. America still did not
wish to enter the war. However, she took precautions. Wilson ordered
all American merchants ships to be armed. On March 18, 1917, Germany
sank three more American ships without prior warning. By now, Wilson
had realized that without fresh troops and ammunition, the Allies
would collapse. This war partly due to the Russian Bolshevik Revolution
where Russia signed a peace pact with Germany. This had weakened
the Allied camp. So during an extra-ordinary session of the Congress,
the President declared war on Germany (1917). In his war message
he stated: "...We shall fight for the things which we have
always carried nearest to our hearts - for democracy...for the rights
and liberties of small nations, for a universal dominion of right
by such a concert of free peoples as shall bring peace and safety
to all actions and make the world itself last free."
With the entry of the U.S. in the war, the Allies got a fresh lease of life. In 1918, the Central powers faced a crushing defeat. After America’s entry into the war, Wilson realized that the Allied nations had made several secret treaties among themselves. This, Wilson felt, would go against the maintenance of lasting peace in the region. On January 8, 1918 he delivered his now famous speech in the Congress on the 14-Point Plan. These points laid down that: there was to be freedom of seas; open covenants to be openly arrived at; to remove economic barriers between nations; to reduce arms; to reach an impartial settlement on colonial claims; to re-adjust boundaries of Europe with special attention to the principle of self determination; and the establishment of a general association of nations.
Table of Contents
8.0 - Chronology of Major Events
Woodrow Silson's Administration
The U.S. And The First World War
Peace And Diplomacy At The Versailles Conference
8.5 - Points To Remember