The Great War and American Foreign Policy, 1914-24

The Great War and American Foreign Policy, 1914-24

The Great War and American Foreign Policy, 1914-24

The Great War and American Foreign Policy, 1914-24

Synopsis

World War I constituted a milestone in the development of the United States as a world power. As the European powers exhausted themselves during the conflict, the U.S. government deployed its growing economic leverage, its military might, and its diplomacy to shape the outcome of the war and to influence the future of international relations.

In The Great War and American Foreign Policy, 1914-1924, Robert E. Hannigan challenges the conventional belief that the United States entered World War I only because its hand was forced, and he disputes the claim that Washington was subsequently driven by a desire to make the world "safe for democracy." Democratic President Woodrow Wilson's rhetoric emphasized peace, self-determination, and international cooperation. But his foreign policy, Hannigan claims, is better understood if analyzed against the backdrop of American policy--not only toward Europe, but also toward East Asia and the rest of the western hemisphere--as it had been developing since the turn of the twentieth century. On the broadest level, Wilson sought to shore up and stabilize an international order promoted and presided over by London since the early 1800s, this in the conviction that under such conditions the United States would inevitably ascend to a global position comparable to, if not eclipsing, that of Great Britain. Hannigan argues, moreover, that these fundamental objectives continued to guide Wilson's Republican successors in their efforts to stabilize the postwar world.

The book reexamines the years when the United States was ostensibly neutral (1914-17), the subsequent period of American military involvement (1917-18), the Paris Peace Conference of 1919, the ensuing battle for ratification of the Treaty of Versailles (in 1919-20), and the activities of Wilson's successors--culminating with the Dawes Plan of 1924.

Excerpt

The Great War constituted a milestone in the development of the United States as a world power, a matter of immense importance to both American and world history. The United States—or at least elements thereof—grew rich as the European powers exhausted themselves during the conflict, while Washington deployed its growing economic leverage, its military might, and its diplomatic activity in numerous efforts both to shape the outcome of the war and to influence the future of international relations. It can indeed be suggested that the episode constituted a kind of first comprehensive rehearsal for Washington’s subsequent engagement with other major powers, the underdeveloped world, and the foreign policy sentiments of the American people in the twentieth century.

As with most topics associated with what after 1939 would frequently be referred to as the First World War, this one has attracted the interest of historians before. Yet, I think it is hard to come away either from the general literature on the war or from the—on their own terms often quite excellent—studies of America’s role feeling that the subject has been given its full due. This is perhaps because general studies of the Great War have largely been written by historians whose principal background, understandably, is in European history. But I would argue that it is also because those historians have had to rely on an American historical literature that cries out for a broader and more long-range view.

This book delineates the meaning and nature of American policy during the World War I era. Before all else, I would argue, it is a task requiring that U.S. activity be put in proper context. The subject of America and the Great War is usually treated as if it had little to do with events before August 1914, or even May 1915, when the Lusitania was sunk. But that approach makes all but impossible a clear appreciation of what American policy in the era of the Great War was about, this because it simply ignores all-important issues . . .

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