The Cold War

Start Free Trial

Compare and contrast Americas engagement in World War I, World War II and the Cold War.

Expert Answers

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

United States involvement, in terms of manpower, was not much in World War I. The US did not declare war until April 1917 and did not start to fully mobilize until late fall of that same year. The United States had been sending money and material to the Allied Powers; this is partially what led to he United Sates getting into the war, as Germany resumed unrestricted submarine warfare in early 1917 in an attempt to win the war. The major powers of Europe courted American involvement in the war well before 1917, but it was doubtful that the United States would join as most Americans perceived this to be a foreign conflict.

The United States became fully involved in World War II on December 7, 1941, after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Before this, however, the United Sates navy was fighting an undeclared war with the German U-boats who were sinking Allied shipping. The US supplied destroyer escorts to Britain through Lend-Lease. American money, supplies, and food helped to prop up first the British fighting effort and later the Soviet Union effort, as well. American forces played more of a role in this war as the D-Day invasions were largely spearheaded by US troops and much of the fighting in the Pacific was waged by American GIs. The US also developed the weapon that led to the end of the war, the atomic bomb. Unlike the aftermath of WWI, when the United States stood back and let Germany take the brunt of France's wrath in the Versailles Treaty, the US took the lead in rebuilding Europe through the Marshall Plan and the occupying of Western Germany and Japan.

The United States was one of the leading actors in the Cold War. The United States sent troops into Korea and Vietnam in attempts to stop the spread of communism. The US also influenced elections in Italy and Guatemala and stopped a popular uprising in Iran in order to keep pro-Western candidates in power, no matter their human rights records. The US was also the leader of NATO and the main enemy of the Soviet Union; most Western powers followed the US's lead.

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

The role of America as a world power changed greatly between the years of 1914 and 1950.

During the First World War, the U.S. remained in isolation for much of it, not wanting to get involved in what most people considered a “European war.” Public opinion eventually changed as the war began to spill onto the western side of the Atlantic, but American involvement in the war was more or less an afterthought. The armed forces and navy were a shadow of what they would one day become. Once the war was finished, the U.S. retreated back into isolationism, deciding not to involve itself in world political bodies such as the League of Nations. The Great Depression in the 1930’s increased American’s isolationism as foreign trade broke down across the globe.  

At the outset of World War II, many Americans felt that...

This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

the conflict was European in origin and not worth the attention of our armed forces. Although ideologically many people felt that Germany and Japan were our moral enemies, they refused to get involved directly. American factories produced limited amounts of munitions for the Allies, but it wasn’t until the Pearl Harbor attack that the U.S. decided to get involved in the war in the Pacific and by proxy the Atlantic. During this conflict, the U.S. landed expeditionary forces Europe and Italy and helped speared head the western drive into Berlin. In the Pacific, it was American marines that took critical airfields needed to launch the final bombing raids that forced the Japanese surrender.

After the Second World War, the U.S. rebuilt Japan and most of Western Europe almost single handedly. The wartime boom had left the U.S. as the undisputed world power in the west thanks to a huge production boom, large amounts of unspent war bonds and little to no bomb damage. The Soviet Union soon began expanding to try and protect itself from future invasions and soon the U.S. saw itself as the only possible means of stopping communist aggression and protecting developing democracies around the globe. That is why during the expanding Cold War the U.S. became the leading western nation in most of the conflicts and political contests.    

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team