Homework Help

Why was the United States unable to remain neutral during World War I?

user profile pic

ygraciane | Student, College Freshman | (Level 1) eNoter

Posted May 3, 2012 at 9:33 PM via web

dislike 2 like

Why was the United States unable to remain neutral during World War I?

2 Answers | Add Yours

user profile pic

pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted May 3, 2012 at 9:42 PM (Answer #1)

dislike 1 like

The major reason for this was the fact that the United States wanted to be able to continue trading with the countries of Europe.  This was an important thing for the US economy since losing European trade would have meant the loss of a great deal of money.

But Germany and England did not want the US to trade with their enemies.  The British blockaded Germany using surface ships.  The Germans blockaded England using submarines.  The German blockade led to the sinking of various ships carrying American citizens.  As this grew more common, the US became more and more inclined to join the war on the side of the Allies.

If the US had not felt the need to trade with Europe, it would probably have been able to remain neutral.  However, since it wanted to keep trading, it inevitably got pulled into the war because of the fact that the Germans needed to prevent England from getting supplies by sea. 

user profile pic

beardian | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Assistant Educator

Posted January 4, 2015 at 4:33 PM (Answer #2)

dislike 1 like

During the majority of WWI, the United States wanted to remain isolated in what many considered to be a European conflict.  President Woodrow Wilson himself advocated isolationism until a series of conflicts drew the US into war against Germany. 

First, even though Britain was at war, the US remained an active trading partner.  The US continued to send merchant ships to and from Britain.  In 1915, Germany announced unrestricted warfare against all ships around Britain, including the American merchant ships.  Inevitably, the Germans sank an American ship, angering the US public and President Wilson.  However, this wasn't enough to get us to declare war on Germany.

Later in 1915, the Germans sank the Lusitania, a passenger vessel traveling around Britain.  The Germans claimed that there were munitions on board, so the attack was justified.  While it turns out that the Germans were correct in this assumption, it did not matter to the US- 128 Americans had died on the Lusitania.  This was a major outrage for American citizens, and public opinion started to shift away from isolation and neutrality.

In 1917, a German telegraph sent from Germany to the German US ambassador was intercepted.  This message said that in the event of war against Germany, Mexico should be asked to be a German ally, as a way of damaging the US.  

Ultimately, Germany's refusal to stop attacking allied ships, policy of unrestricted submarine warfare, efforts to gain allies against the US, and US public opinion encouraged Congress to declare war against Germany in April 1917.  

The US was unable to remain neutral because of flagrant attacks on their ships, relationship with European allied powers, and a strong anti-isolationist public sentiment that developed between 1914 and 1917

Sources:

Join to answer this question

Join a community of thousands of dedicated teachers and students.

Join eNotes