The United States and World War I

War broke out across Europe after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir presumptive to the Austro-Hungarian throne, and his wife Sophie on June 28, 1914. Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia a month later. This led to Russia mobilizing as a supporter of Serbia, which in turn led to Germany declaring war upon Russia. Germany also declared war on France and while moving in to try to take France, they went through Belgium, who had declared neutrality. This violated the Treaty of London causing the United Kingdom to declare war on Germany on August 4, 1914. That same day, the United States professed their neutrality.

The United States was determined to stay out of the war and maintain isolationist policies. Woodrow Wilson was the 28th president of the United States and issued a proclamation of neutrality on August 5, 1914. The proclamation, reprinted in The Fremont County Leader on August 6, claimed American neutrality and noted prohibited acts under the proclamation. One of the prohibited acts was enlisting or entering the service of any of the countries involved in the war. While most of the United States appeared to agree with Wilson on staying neutral, some did feel it was their duty to join in the war regardless of the proclamation. Men joined the British, Canadian, and French Forces, others joined the American Field Service (AFS) as ambulance drivers while both men and women joined the American Red Cross as nurses and doctors.

The American Red Cross at the beginning of war found it difficult to find people and funding to help their efforts. They managed to gather enough supplies and people to send a ship overseas to the front despite little support from their country who strongly supported neutrality. However, sentiments began to change as the war dragged on, and once the United States joined the war on April 6, 1917, the American Red Cross received more funding and ranks swelled, both on the front and at home.

So why did the United States enter the war in 1917, completely changing the attitude of 1914? A culmination of events led up to America declaring war on Germany but the unrestricted submarine warfare by the Germans is considered a major cause. The Lusitania, a British ocean liner, was torpedoed by a German U-boat on May 7, 1915 with a death total of 1,198 passengers and crew. This total included 128 Americans, shifting public opinions against Germany. Wilson threatened to sever diplomatic relations with Germany unless passenger ships were no longer attacked and enemy merchant ships were evacuated before sinking. The “Sussex Pledge” was accepted by Germany and signed. In 1917, the terms were broken and unrestricted submarine warfare resumed. Wilson was upset but still refrained from declaring war until several other United States ships were sunk and a telegram, intercepted by the British, sent to Mexico by Germany offered help in regaining territory ceded to the United States in return for Mexico’s support in the war. On April 6, 1917, the United States declared war on Germany and officially entered World War I.

Are you interested in learning more about Fremont County’s role during World War I? Visit the museum Wednesday – Saturday between 10 AM – 4 PM to see our WWI exhibit or browse our WWI file!

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