World War I

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Causes of the War

America’s Great War looks at the close ties America had with Europe. It notes that in America of 1917 one third of American citizens were foreign born, had one parent who was foreign born or were children of immigrants. It also looks at the strong financial ties that America had developed with Europe, especially Britain. The United States was becoming a financial banker to the other nations of the world as the war progressed. War was good business for the United States.

Although Good Americans discusses more about the war time experience of Italian and Jewish soldiers, it strongly suggested that many immigrants fought because of the ethnic or cultural ties to the old world.

The United States’ entrance into World War I, according to Trial by Friendship, was more for economic power than the imperial goals of the British. The United States wanted to show that it was a world power and what better way than to enter the war to spread freedom and democracy and not to keep colonies.

War and Progressivism

In several of the books discussed, War World I and how Progressivism affected it were not directly addressed. In America’s Great War it is one of the themes Zieger discussed. In his view the war is the height of the Progressive Movement. The Progressives were middle class reformers who promoted social change. There are social and labor changes during the war that the progressives had fought to achieve for many years.

In Doughboys, the Great War, and the Remaking of America, Keene looks at how the officers pushed Progressive ideas about assimilating and motivating large groups of individuals more efficiently. However, this may have had more to do with different levels of American society mixing than actual Progressive influence. The Progressive influence helped enshrine the war as a part of the American character. Yet, the Progressive influence may have contributed to the disillusionment and isolationism that would creep into the nation’s psyche the following years.

World War Race and Class

In many of the books class position within American society seems to be a theme. In the Good Americans, Italian and Jewish soldiers went to fight the war as a way to show they were Americans and as a way of proving their citizenship. The white middle class saw fighting in the war as an obligation to their country and also a way to prove their manliness. In looking at the South, in Rich Man’s War Poor Man’s Fight, Keith describes how class division resulted in many middle class and poor being drafted in disproportionate numbers compared to the upper class. Class divisions were also evident in the way jobs were assigned in the army. Black soldiers and uneducated immigrants were most often relegated to noncombatant positions, such as cooks and waiters.

War and Gender

During the war the men fought while women were put into supporting roles. Still, many jobs opened up to women that previously were out of their reach. Women also proved their support of the war through sending their sons off to fight. Those who disagreed and spoke out were singled out by the government as unfit mothers.

War and the Draft

Wilson wanted the Selective Service Act passed as a way to avoid the problems of the Civil War when many within the upper class simply bought their way out of fighting. Several of the books discuss how the draft was a failure in getting the best men for the army. Keith looks at the southern region of the U.S. and pointed out that class distinctions trumped racial differences resulting in a selective draft. Local draft boards were given broad powers to provide men for the army. In many cases more poor whites and blacks were drafted rather than the upper classes. However, the South was the only region looked at and information for the rest of the country wasn’t available. Keene also suggests the draft failed at getting the best men for the army. Keene suggests the draft may have played a part in what was the beginning of the welfare state.

War and Citizenship

Many immigrant groups went to fight in the war to prove their citizenship. Fighting in support of their country was a way immigrant groups or those on the fringes of society could prove they belonged. Many of the individuals who were drafted were born in the United States, but because of their race or class weren’t considered equal to others. However, once these citizen soldiers returned they wanted to be recognized by their country. They wanted to be included in the political process as citizens and not looked at from their ethic backgrounds. Also, after the war many soldiers came home with a sense that they had been left behind and deserved some kind of financial compensation for their war-time service.

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