The True Story of Woodrow Wilson

By David Lawrence | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XII
REASONS FOR ENTERING THE WORLD WAR

Looking back over the neutrality period which preceded the entry of the United States into the European war, the whole may be divided into three distinct epochs:

First, there was the era in which President Wilson believed the war would come to an early conclusion and that, by a careful balancing of diplomatic notes against Germany, on the one hand, and the Allies, on the other, the legal record of neutrality might be scrupulously kept.

The second stage dated from the sinking of the Lusitania and continued through several months during which sharp- toned notes were exchanged with Germany on the scope of submarine warfare.

The third, the last period, was that in which the United States hoped against hope that America's entry into war would be unnecessary, but preparations were made by both the Army and Navy for the inevitable. Armed neutrality was proclaimed in a desperate but futile effort to avert hostilities.

President Wilson experienced in February 1916 his first real apprehension since the beginning of the European war that Congress might interfere in the handling of the foreign affairs of the nation and fail to support him in the firm policy that he had adopted as to the right of Americans to travel on armed as well as unarmed merchant ships, provided the vessels did not resist or attempt to flee when encountered by the enemy.

Indications were that Germany would ask America to define what it considered an armed merchantman, and how it could place the responsibility for offensive and defensive action at sea. All these questions promised further negotiation and discussion.

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