A.P. U.S. History Notes


Allie Zeznick, Jenna Berry, and Devon Tayman

Mr. DeCarlo


10 February 2016

Pro US Entering Great War Essay

“A government’s first obligation is to protect its people.” This quote by Ronald Reagan perfectly describes the United States’ foreign policy during The Great War.  With unrestricted submarine warfare underway by the time we entered, and the discovery of the Zimmerman Telegram by British intelligence, the US had no choice but to respond to these aggressive actions.  Thus, entering the international conflict at this time served to protect American overseas interests and to eliminate the loss of innocent American lives.

Beginning in 1915, shortly after the outbreak of The Great War in Europe, Germany declared the area surrounding the British Isles a war zone.  This was largely in response to the British naval blockade surrounding the German coast.  This meant that all ships, including merchant ships from neutral countries would be attacked by the German navy.  This policy of unrestricted submarine warfare not only resulted in the loss of thousands of goods and supplies, but it also prevented the U.S. from trading with many European countries.  The lack of intercontinental trade crippled the U.S. economy, as millions of dollars were lost due to the goods that were not exported into these European countries.  And on May 7th 1915, the German navy sank the Lusitania, a passenger ship containing 128 innocent Americans, including women and children. Now the Germans were destroying American goods, as well as taking American lives.  In response, President Woodrow Wilson sent a note to the German Minister of Foreign Affairs demanding that the submarine warfare be controlled.  The German government agreed to limit submarine warfare in the following months, but this soon came to an end when, on March 24th, 1916, a French passenger ship containing more Americans was attacked.  Several Americans were killed, and many more were injured.  Due to increased pressure from the United States, Germany agreed to only attack ships if they were found to be carrying war materials.  However, this agreement, too, was violated.  The desperate German government announced that starting on February 1st, 1917 they would be resuming their policy of unrestricted submarine warfare.  Germany not only killed hundreds of Americans with the submarine warfare policy, but it also directly violated two diplomatic agreements.  The United States gave Germany plenty of chances to resolve this conflict peacefully, and it refused to do so.  The German government gave the U.S. no other choice but to declare war.  

Additionally, the United States joined the war to protect American ideals and restore peace.  Americans felt strongly that every nation should have a democratic government. A second American ideal that justified our involvement in The Great War was to keep the world safe from injustice. The United States had become aware of atrocities committed by Germany specifically in Belgium and Serbia. Germany showed complete disregard for its neighboring countries when they executed the Serbs, and the U.S. felt that it needed to intervene in an effort to help these innocent civilians.  In places such as Guam, Germans were taking away lives and destroying American property and it needed to be stopped. Protection of American lives became even more apparent when Germany attempted to engage our neighboring country, Mexico, against us.  Lastly, President Wilson insisted that all countries should respect other nation’s neutrality in international waters.  As the most powerful and influential country in the world, the United States was compelled to enter The Great War based on the American ideals of spreading peace, promoting democracy, fighting injustice, and protecting its citizens.

In addition to protecting our foreign interests and comrades, we were acting based on information intercepted by British intel that the Germans planned on becoming more hostile. This came in the form of the Zimmerman telegram, which literally began “We intend to begin on the first of February unrestricted submarine warfare. The Germans actually used the word “ruthless” when describing their own submarines. The rest of the telegram elaborates on Germany’s plan to fund Mexico’s desire to retake Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas back from the United States. With this knowledge now in American hands, it would be suicide for the American sailors bringing supplies to Europe to continue doing so. America, at this point, was in a pinch: withdrawing support from the Allied Powers and becoming completely neutral would most probably result in their turning against America, while the continuation of such support would result in countless deaths at the hands of the German submarines. This left America little choice but to declare war on Germany and its allies.

        Lastly, the ideas behind Wilson’s 14 points, which were discussed in the President’s second inauguration speech, made it clear that certain measures would be taken in the event of a global war.  One of the most severely violated points was the “Adequate guarantee, given and taken, that national armaments will be reduced to the lowest point consistent with domestic safety.” It is important to remember that although these points were officially passed after the United States’ formal declaration of war, they were discussed in Wilson’s various speeches to Congress and were known as the U.S. foreign policy before the Zimmerman telegram was sent.

On the other hand, some argue that the United States of America was not justified in entering the Great War, as it was not prepared militarily or economically.  These critics also say that staying out of the war would have actually saved American lives since every war causes casualties.  Furthermore, the Zimmerman Telegram stated that an alliance would be made with Mexico only if the United States formally declared war on Germany.  Thus, continued neutrality would have been the best way to prevent a German-Mexican alliance from forming.  However, the moral obligation of the United States to protect American as well as European citizen’s lives outweighed these trifles.

All in all, the United States’ entry into The Great War was necessitated by aggressive German attacks. The continued loss of American lives, as well as Germany’s disrespect of America, had to stop.  The government’s primary obligation was to protect Americans, and it did exactly that.  


Rebuttal notes:

Rebuttal for the US should not have gotten involved in the “European affair”

  •         It wasn’t just a European affair since Germany was attacking US merchant ships
  •         Germany and other countries thought of the United States as weak. This was a chance to prove to other countries that the US was in fact a world power who was to be taken seriously, thus stimulating trade and positive relations.
  •         Germany needed to be stopped before they took over the world
  •         The US saw that Germany was attacking other neutral countries (they had to stopped)

We understand that the Great War was not in the continental U.S, and we aren’t denying that. What we’re saying is that there was a moral obligation to protect European as well as American citizens from Germany.

o   Germans murdered over 6000 citizens including women and children, burned over 25000 homes, and destroyed universities and libraries in what is sadly known as “The Rape of Belgium.” (1914)

  • It is our business to get involved in things if the things we see are unjust. The atrocities in Europe made the U.S. want to contribute to the war by hopefully ending the war quicker and result in peace.

Rebuttal for the US should not have entered the war because wars are costly

  •         The US economy was not only thriving prior to the breakout of the Great War (it was also thriving during and after the war)
  •         Since we were thriving economically, we were more than capable of incurring a little debt from entering the war
  •         Also, the German navy alone was costing us more money than entering the war would ever cost by preventing us from trading with many European countries

– In the long run, the U.S. would have lost way more money if they had not taken any action and helped to win the war. Germany could have taken over Europe, Russia, etc, and they could have become so powerful that they would have impacted our economy. It was important to stop the Central Powers before they became so powerful that they could have an even more costly effect on us than the expense of a war.

Rebuttal for George Washington’s proclamation of Neutrality

  •         First of all, this proclamation of neutrality was delivered regarding a conflict that was only between France and Great Britain (we agree that we should remain neutral in those situations…however, in situations that do involve the US we need to respond)
  • Remaining neutral would have obviously been our preference however not after the atrocities in Belgium and Serbia, not when Germany asked Mexico to fight against the U.S. in the Zimmerman telegraph, not when Germany was blowing up our expensive trading goods, not when innocent American lives were being taken away. We could no longer just sit on the sidelines and do nothing.

  •         Washington warned against “entangling foreign alliances” but foreign alliances were not the reason that the US entered the war
  •         Also, we did not have formal alliances at the time- someone needs to make sure that this is true
  •         His speech was also influenced by the fact that the United States was such a new country at that time (now the times have changed and the US could handle a full scale war with multiple nations)

Rebuttal for atrocities of the Great War DEVON HAS DIBS

  •         This debate is about whether or not the US was justified in entering the Great War, therefore anything that happened after the war started is irrelevant
  •         Every war has downsides, but this risk did not come close to the negative impact that not entering the war would’ve had on the United States (we would have lost more money from not being able to trade with countries and from having to recreate goods that were on merchant ships that were attacked.  We would have probably been attacked by a combined force of Germany and Mexico)

Other Rebuttal Notes

  •         Germany needed to be stopped before they took over the world (hundreds of innocent Americas were killed)
  •         The only logical response to Germany’s behavior is the declaration of war (we warned Germany that if they resumed unrestricted submarine warfare that the US would cut off all diplomatic relationships and use force in order to stop the warfare
  •         The German military/government officials were the aggressors (we did nothing to provoke them, they just took out their frustration with the British blockade on the US)

Vicarious Reinforcement effect, for all you AP Psych kids, is the famous bobo doll experiment where it was discovered that no punishment for a violent behavior has nearly the same effect as encouragement. That means that not attacking Germany would be like saying “Yeah, go Germany, we WANT you to destroy cities and attack our ships!” DEVON ALSO HAS DIBS ON THIS

Rebuttal for not being prepared militarily

President Roosevelt created the great white fleet to establish American superiority in the seas

  •         How could the United States of America let Germany go unpunished for its crimes against humanity?

Maybe include TR quote at the end, “The best thing to do is make the right decision, the 2nd
worst thing to do is to make the wrong decision, and the worst thing to do is
do nothing at all.” (we would just say the first part)



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