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The Great Departure
Word Count: 1117
Daniel Smithís, The Great Departure illustrates very well
the United Stateís evolution from a traditionally isolationist
nation to an interventionist nation. WWI literally dragged the
U.S. out of its isolationist shell and placed the U.S. at the
forefront of international politics. The pressure to join WWI
was resisted greatly by the Wilson administration and the
country as a whole. Smith does an excellent job at
presenting the factors that influenced the U.S. to enter the
war and at conveying the mind set of American leaders
during this time and the issues they faced pertaining to the
The author illustrates the factors of interest or the eventual
causes involvement in WWI in chapters II, III, IV. He offers
good points to the issues and now I would like to discuss
some of the issues he has mentioned.
Propaganda was a tool used by Germany and the allies to
influence the U.S., whether that propaganda was used to
keep the U.S. out of the war or to try and draw the U.S.
into the war makes no real difference. The extent of
propaganda in the U.S. is shown by the Dr. Albertís
briefcase affair and the German execution of Nurse Edith
Cavell and other atrocities of war carried out by either side.
The author, while recognizing the importance of these
propaganda stories and the heterogeneous culture of the
U.S., underestimates the actual impact on public sentiment it
actually had I feel. The U.S., "the great melting pot" had an
enormous immigrant population, to underestimate the effect
of propaganda on a population that had close personal ties
to their homeland, and their ability to influence the actions of
government in a democratic republic is a mistake. President
Wilson was operating under this assumption that the people
would influence the government when he neglected to accept
any of the Senator Lodgeís changes to the peace treaty.
While I agree with Smith that this is not the reason the U.S.
joined the allies in WWI, I feel the heterogenous makeup of
the U.S. population is possibly the major influence the U.S.
had to move away from an isolationist state.
Balance of Powers was another great factor that influenced
the U.S. in its views of WWI. The U.S. and the world had
come to rely on the principle of balance of power to ensure
peace, security and trade throughout the world, and it was
no doubt that a victory by the Central Powers would
catapult Germany to superpower status and upset the
balance of power in Europe and thus the rest of the world.
The only check on German powers then would be the U.S.
This situation is what the U.S. feared. The author offers and
example of this sediment from the viewpoint of Robert
Lansing; counselor to the State Department (at the time):
"Germany the leading representative of a militaristic
and statist philosophy, could be said to be a triple threat
to the United States: ideologically it menaced
democratic institutions and values, militarily it
endangered the nationís security, and it was the most
serious rival of the United States for economic and
political influence in Latin America." I agree with Smith
that this fear of future aggression on the part of Germany
influenced foreign policy greatly. However, the scope of
influence in Latin America is exaggerated. Germany did have
large amounts of money invested in Latin America at the
time but German investments were dwarfed by the
investments of Great Britain in Latin America. So the claim
of Germany being the most serious rival of the U.S. for
economic influence in Latin America is invalid. I am not
underestimating the amount of influence Germany had in
Latin America, the Zimmermann telegraph clearly illustrates
the influence Germany had in the region and this proposal of
Germany to Mexico to aid Germany in the event of U.S.
involvement in the war and Mexico would receive territory it
had lost to the U.S. earlier. I feel that the U.S. and Britain
had a much larger scope of influence in Latin America for
Germany to bring in Latin American countries to align
themselves with the Central Powers. I do agree with Smith
that the Zimmerann telegraph did prepare the public for the
possibility of the U.S. entering the war.
Trade is another important issue that the U.S. faced is its
postwar period. The U.S. economy was booming from the
war trade. While the U.S. government at first did not
actively trade in war materials, many American companies
did. The Wilson administration sought to actively protect
American companiesí interest. Trade and the freedom of the
seas was a complex issue for the Wilson administration. The
submarine warfare of the Germans threatened American
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Freemen of the City of London, Presidency of Woodrow Wilson, Woodrow Wilson, Propaganda, Foreign policy of the United States, Latin America, American entry into World War I
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