Woodrow Wilson's Presidency

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How does Wilson use the meaning of the word freedom to justify war?

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David Morrison eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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President Wilson drew upon the American tradition of liberty in deciding to involve the United States in World War I. This was a clever way of selling the nation's entry into the war to a population that was largely skeptical of the benefits of American involvement. But Wilson was also careful to link the concept of freedom with national self-interest. Making a world safe for democracy was all very well, but such a high-sounding phrase would not have been enough to convince the general public on its own; American freedom itself was under threat, particularly due to the increasingly aggressive submarine campaign conducted by the Germans in the Atlantic Ocean.

The freedom of American shipping and commerce was under threat, and it was largely economic self-interest that finally pushed the United States into the war. But Wilson saw further ahead and recognized that the freedom of America to conduct international trade and remain the dominant power in the Western Hemisphere was dependent on a lasting international peace. By yoking these two interests together, Wilson was hoping to establish a new birth of freedom, one that would be stable, and more enduring, redounding to the benefit of both the United States and the world as a whole.

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Michael Koren eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Many of our stated reasons for going to war have to do with the concept of freedom.  One goal was to make WWI a war to end all wars.  If this would be the last war ever, it would help to ensure freedom throughout the world.  In a way, this was a war between countries that freely elected their leaders and those that didn't.  Thus, an Allied victory would ensure a world with more freedom.  Another goal was to make this a world "safe for democracy."  In democratic governments, people have more freedom than in totalitarian governments.  If the Allies won, this would hopefully ensure more democratic governments than nondemocratic ones.  This would lead to a freer world.  Finally, we believed our rights as a neutral nation were being violated by Germany with their use of unrestricted submarine warfare.  Germany was sinking our ships, which infringed on our rights or freedom as a neutral nation to freely trade with other nations.  We were fighting to preserve those rights.  Thus, an Allied victory would hopefully create a freer world.  Wilson believed our entrance into the war would create a world with more freedom.

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