World War I

Start Free Trial

Analyze the social, political, and economic ramifications of World War One on the US home front. What were the social, political, and economic effects of WWI?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The United States officially entered World War I on April 6, 1917, after the Senate and the House of Representatives overwhelmingly voted to declare war on Germany. President Woodrow Wilson had originally attempted to maintain a position of neutrality, but this became impossible as Germany became more aggressive in sinking American ships and ships with American passengers. The final straw was the infamous Zimmerman Telegram, in which Germany promised U.S. territory to Mexico in return for Mexico entering the war on Germany's side. More than 2 million U.S. soldiers served on European battlefields, and about 50,000 were killed.

Industrial production ramped up as a result of the war, and the United States experienced an economic boom that lasted several years. This was followed by a depression after the war ended and production decreased. Unlike the situation in Europe, in which vast amounts of infrastructure were destroyed, America was far from the war zone. It became the industrial leader of the world, and consumerism increased among the wealthy elite. This ushered in an era known as the Roaring Twenties. At the same time, however, there was high inflation, and as industrial intensity decreased, many people lost jobs or saw their wages reduced. This led to an increase in strikes and worker protests.

The situations of women changed significantly during and after World War I. As men went off to war, women took over jobs on the home front. This profoundly changed the roles of women in society and led to the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment to the US Constitution, which gave women the right to vote.

Many African Americans served their country during World War I, and they expected conditions to change upon their return home in acknowledgment of their service. Instead, they were met with the same prejudice and ill feelings as before, which led to race riots. However, the war had given African Americans an increased appreciation for their social and political rights, and this awareness fueled future struggles for civil rights. After World War I, many African Americans left the Deep South and moved north and west into other parts of America in a movement known as the Great Migration.

Although President Wilson had been an advocate for the League of Nations, a precursor to the United Nations, isolationists strongly opposed this organization, and the United States never joined. The United States also never ratified the Treaty of Versailles, which ended the war. Diverse viewpoints about the League of Nations and the Treaty of Versailles caused political discord in the United States for years.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Socially, the war changed the concept of the hyphenated American. Many European communities managed to hang on to their native languages and culture upon reaching the New World, but WWI brought about a surge in nationalism as many communities sought to ban the German language. In some cities, hamburgers became "liberty steak" and sauerkraut became "liberty cabbage" to reflect anti-German sentiment. Some schools even banned the teaching of German. Though the federal government did not have official programs that promoted this anti-German hysteria, it said nothing about local and state laws persecuting German-language speakers.

The war was also instrumental in getting women the right to vote in 1920. Many women took jobs that men held, as men were enlisted to fight the war. Women were also instrumental in planting victory gardens as well as sewing bandages for the Red Cross. This new emphasis on the work of women would lead to women taking more prominent social roles in the next decade.

Politically, the war brought about the end of a lot of new Progressive legislation as emphasis shifted to foreign policy. The federal government's power increased as it sold war bonds, encouraged rationing, managed the selective service, and set price ceilings. Under the Espionage Act, the government also spied on citizens who were considered to be antiwar agents. Eugene Debs, a prominent socialist, was arrested for speaking out against the draft. The war also broke the power of the Wobblies since they did not approve of the federal government and business joining forces at the potential expense of the worker. This federal power would continue after the war as the federal government feared Bolshevik subversion.

Economically, the war led to the end of a recession that was going on during the early Wilsonian era. Farmers received good prices for their crops as they were expected to feed war-torn Europe as well as American fighting forces. The abrupt end of the war in November 1918 led to falling commodity prices at a time when farmers were in debt for land and machinery they bought during the boom times. Many African Americans moved North to find work in factories—this would lead to race riots later. Many Americans saved money and bought war bonds. The federal government also worked with unions to discourage striking.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

World War I had numerous impacts on America. As the country's first conflict of the twentieth century, it was the first modern war.

The war led to the expansion of national government. The public was exhorted to buy bonds. The economy was put on a wartime footing. The Food Administration, under Herbert Hoover, increased agricultural production and reduced domestic consumption. The War Industries Board, ably led by Bernard Baruch, fixed prices and set production quotas.

As millions of men joined the military, there was a severe labor shortage. Women and minorities entered the labor force. There was a Great Migration as thousands of people, especially blacks, moved to the North for employment. However, they were not usually welcomed, and there were bloody race riots in E. St. Louis and Chicago. Women assumed many jobs that had hitherto been held only by men. After the war, most women returned to their prior roles. Even though women's gains in the labor force were transitory, their contribution helped win them the right to vote after the war.

The government spread propaganda and did not allow dissent during the war. The Committee on Public Information was a propaganda machine. A movie, The Beast of Berlin, portrayed Germans as rapacious brutes. The Espionage and Sedition Acts targeted socialists and other dissenters.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The way that the US responded socially was to adopt some of the openness of Europe in terms of changing sexual mores and social changes but they also became more isolationist politically as they didn't want to be involved in what they saw as "Europe's" problems.  This led to the end of Wilson's League of Nations idea and to more pressure for tariffs and other protectionist policies.

Economically it was relatively beneficial for the US as demand for many goods rose to support the Army and the various industries involved in supplying them and equipping them.

Politically it helped to establish the US as one of the dominant world powers particularly because many of the former European powers began to show massive signs of weakness.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial Team