Question for Discussion: What
were the United
States major goals in World War I?
Reading: Loewen, pp. 23-30; Hoffman, pp. 164-179;
Wilson "The 14 Points" (web)
United States and World War I
World War I
The United States and World
The United States and the Gulf
1. The American Open Door
2. The larger causes of World
3. The Costs of World War I
4. President Wilson and the
U.S. role in
World War I
5. Wilsonian Idealism in 20th-Century
American Foreign Policy
1. In his 1917 "Speech to Congress,"
what are the
major reforms Wilson argues are necessary to end
World I and create a stable, peaceful global order?
2. Based on your knowledge of Wilson's involvement
in Latin American countries, do you think he really
believes in "government by the consent of the
3. In his "Speech to Congress" asking
declaration of war, what does Wilson argue is
America's larger mission in the world?
4. Do you think Wilson really believes in
principles of democracy he asks for the United States
to defend by entering World War I?
5. Why is George Norris opposed to American
into World War I?
6. What does Norris think are the real reasons
the United States entry into World War I?
7. What kind of "New World Order"
envision in his Fourteen Point plan to end World War I?
8. Is Wilson and the United States really
breaking up the maor global empires and creating a
democratic world of free, independent nations?
9. What do you think are Wilson's and the
States' real motivation behind this "Fourteen Point
Peace Plan"? That is, how would the United States
gain if this plan was implemented?
10. Why do you think Wilson "personally
clause on racial equality in the Covenant of the
League of Nations"?
11. Does Wilson's racism against Blacks call
question his larger commitment to creating a
"New World Order" based on democratic rights
and free, independent nations?
12. Can the United States remain an Empire
still be committed to the breaking up of the major
13. Does Wilson make a moral distinction between
the goals and principles of an American Empire and
those of the European Empires?
14. How does Wilson justify American intervention
in Latin American countries and his commitment to
democracy and basic human rights?
Most Americans were unaware that during
the 1980's Iraq was supplied with $50 billion in American arms to
fight its ten-year war with Iran, and was also financed by Kuwait
and Saudi Arabia. During that time, Kuwait expanded its borders
by 900 square miles to cover Iraqi oil fields and bought the Santa
Fe Drilling Company, which specializes in slant oil drilling, for
$2.3 billion, according to John Stockwell. When, after the war,
Iraq was unable to repay their $80 billion war debt to Kuwait, the
Kuwaitis drove down the price of oil. This cost Iraq $16 billion
and angered Saddam Hussein, who was unable to repay his debts to
the Kuwaitis who were tapping into Iraqi oil fields.
The Iraqi war effort had been assisted by U.S. intelligence following
a 1984 meeting between Ronald Reagan and Iraqi foreign minister
Tariq Aziz. U.S. navy ships helped the Iraqis guide their missiles
to Iranian targets. According to BBC correspondent John Simpson's
From the House of War, on May 17, 1987 the USS Stark was hit by
two Iraqi missiles because the Iraqi pilot "homed in accidentally
on the radio beam from the Stark which was directing the pilot to
his [Iranian] target." The incident killed thirty-seven American
crewmen and the White House never asked Iraq for compensation. On
May 29, Assistant Secretary of Defense Richard Armitage stated publicly,
"We can't stand to see Iraq defeated."
In 1989 the White House ensured loan guarantees of $1 billion to
Iraq, since according to the State Department, Iraq was "very
important to U.S. interests in the Middle East", it was "influential
in the peace process" and was "a key to maintaining stability
in the region, offering great trade opportunities for U.S. companies."
The U.S. supported Saddam Hussein as he crushed the Shi'ites in
the south and the Kurds in the north.
In 1990, just before America's military
attack on Iraq, President Bush gave his famous "New World Order"
speech, which reflected America's buoyant optimism at the end of
the Cold War. Confronted with a world in which the United States
was now the lone superpower, Bush wanted to redefine America's larger
role in the world. Like many before him who dreamed of this day,
President Bush believed that with the political and
military threat posed by the Soviet Union now gone, the United States
could now be free to finally carry out its destiny: to bring our
values, institutions, way of life, and leadership to the rest of
the World. Having defeated the Soviet communists, Bush hoped that
nothing now would stand in our way. But, alas, there was Iraq and
other rogue "terrorist nations" who refused to recognize
the leadership and domination of the United States over our emerging
global economy and society. If America is going to create this New
World Order, we are going to have to put nations such as Iraq in
their proper place.
Bush opens his speech by declaring that we must "defend civilized
values around the world and maintain our economic strength at home."
In order to do this, the United States must shape, dominate, and
control the world, and we will do this by creating a New World Order.
Bush describes this New World Order in this way:
"[A World] freer form the threat of terror, stronger in the
pursuit of justice, and more secure in the quest for peace, and
era in which the nations of the world, East and West, North and
South, can prosper and live in harmony....
"Today that new world order is struggling to be born, a world
quite different form the one we have known, a world where the rule
of law supplants the rule of the jungle, a world in which nations
recognize the shared responsibility of freedom and justice, a world
where the strong respect the rights of the weak."
By defeating Iraq, by freeing Kuwait from Iraqi domination, the
United States, Bush argues, would be asserting our leadership and
our commitment to creating and leading this New World Order. Bush
now asserts the United States' larger role in this New World Order:
"America and the world must defend common vital interests.
And we will. America and the world must support the rule of law.
And we will. America and the world must stand up to aggression.
And we will. And one thing more; in the pursuit of these goals,
America will not be intimidated."
Since 1975, Indonesia has occupied the former
Portuguese colony of East Timor and conducted a brutally repressive
cultural genocide that has killed 250,000 - over one-third of the
indigenous Timorese population. Massive human rights violations
continue, largely due to the diplomatic support of countries like
to the present American political and economic leaders have supported
an "Open Door" policy, which states that the
United States should have the right to sell its products, buy
resources, and invest corporate profits in any country in the
World. American elites feared that the American economy would
not work if it did not have access to global markets and global
resources. American leaders believed that the only way to ensure
the continued expansion of our economy was through access to the
economies and resources of all the countries in the world.
The Open Door policy was created
to address the growing threat posed to the American economy caused
by the refusal of the major European empires, France, Britain,
Germany, and Belgium, to allow Americans to market their goods
and exploit the cheap resources of their colonies in Africa and
Asia. As a result of this economic threat to American economic
expansion posed by European imperialism, President Wilson soon
came to oppose it. During and after World War I, President Wilson
and the United States will try to force these European empires
to give up their colonies and grant them independence. This isn't
really because Wilson support the democratic rights of colonial
peoples to self-determination, but rather because he believes
that freed from European imperialism these countries will allow
Americans to market their goods, exploit their resources, and
invest their profits in these countries.
But what caused World War I? Millions
of Europeans died fighting a bloody war in the heart of Europe.
What were they fighting for? Many believe that World War I was
simply the result of bumbling between entangled European alliances.
But this is only half true.
World War I began in 1914. It began
as a result of cascading events and reactions to the assassination
of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of the Austria-Hungary Empire. Austria-Hungary
believed that Russia had supported the assassin and therefore
declared war on Russia. Because Germany was an ally of Austria-Hungary,
it too declared war on Russia. Because France was an ally of Russia,
it declared war on Germany and Austria-Hungary. And because Britain
was an ally of France and Russia, it too declared war on Germany
and Austria-Hungary. As a result of these entangled alliances
we have a prolonged bloody war in Europe that lasts from 1914
to 1918. The war last so long because for the most part is was
a bloody stalemate, neither side could afford to advance very
far without experiencing unacceptable losses, sometimes in the
hundreds of thousands of men killed on both sides in just one
If World War I began as a bloody
European was, a struggle between competing European empires, how
did the United States get involved? How could President Wilson
convince Americans they should fight and die in a bloody European
war that appeared on the surface to have nothing to do with the
United States? The answer lies in understanding World War I as
a struggle between competing global empires. From 1870 to the
beginning of World War I, Germany had always played a junior role
in the growth of European imperialism. France and Britain always
dominated the carving up of Africa and Asia for European colonies.
Germany always got the lesser colonies. With its growth as a major
industrial power by the early 1900s, Germany wanted to assert
its economic, political, and military dominance in Europe. It
believed that by fighting and winning a war with Britain and France,
Germany could assert its dominance in Europe. Britain and France,
on the other hand, did not want to accept German dominance over
European and German challenges to their extensive empires in Africa
and Asia. We can only understand World War I in the light of this
global competition between European empires for economic and political
dominance in the world.
During the early years of World
War I, the United States tried to remain neutral, believing that
this was a European conflict. However, American corporations and
bankers were making tremendous profits supplying both sides in
this European war with economic and military supplies and loans
to fund their respective war machines. Needless to say, Germany
did not like the United States supplying its enemies, France and
Britain; and France and Britain did not like the United States
supplying its enemy, Germany, with supplies. Both sides tried
to blockade American shipping to their enemy. These blockades
angered President Wilson and the United States because they threatened
the "Open Door" trading policy of the United States.
Wilson charged that they were a "violation of the freedom
of the seas."
In 1917, Germany took a tremendous
gamble, it believed that if it could shut off American economic
and military supplies to France and Britain that it could quickly
win the war before the United States could intervene. Thus Germany
began submarine warfare against American shipping, sinking American
ships going to France and Britain. President Wilson declared that
this was an act of war, despite the fact that France and Britain
had been stopping American ships going to Germany. In 1917, declaring
that Germany was a threat to world peace, the United States declared
war on Germany and entered the war on the side of France and Britain.
The United States sided with France and Britain fearing the growth
of German imperialism, believing that only by supporting France
and Britain could they limit the growth of German military and
economic power, which if not stopped could one day challenge the
Let's now look at President Wilson's
larger arguments for the war. He declared:
The world must be made safe for
democracy. Its peace must be planted upon the tested foundations
of political liberty. We have no selfish ends to serve. We desire
no conquest, no dominion. We seek no indemnities for ourselves,
no material compensation for the sacrifices we shall freely make.
We are but the champions of the rights of mankind.
Wilson believed that now was America's
chance to remake the world in its own image, to finally take its
place as the leader of the world. Like earlier Presidents, Wilson
believed that America had a manifest destiny to bring its economic
and democratic institutions and its culture and values to the
rest of the world.
President Wilson hoped that with
American leadership there could be a just settlement to the war
in Europe and the creation of a global community of nations that
would prevent all future wars. Wilson described his larger goal
in World War I this way: [We fight] for democracy, for the right
of those who submit to authority to have a voice in their own
Governments, for the rights and liberties of small nations, for
a universal dominion of right by such concert of free peoples
as shall bring peace and safety to all nations and make the world
itself at last free.
It is a fearful
thing to lead this great peaceful people into war, into the most
terrible and disastrous of all wars, civilization itself seeming
to be in the balance. But the right is more precious than peace,
and we shall fight for the things which we have always carried
nearest our hearts for democracy, for the right of those who submit
to authority to have a voice in their own governments for the
rights and liberties of small nations, for a universal dominion
of right by such a concert of free peoples as shall bring peace
and safety to all nations and make the world itself at last free.
President Wilson, "U.S.Declaration of War"
should adopt the doctrine of President Monroe as the doctrine
of the world: that no nation should seek to extend its polity
over any other nation or people, but that every people should
be left free to determine its own polity, its own ways of development,
unhindered, unthreatened, unafraid, the little along with the
great and the powerful."
During the first
two decades of this
century, the United States effectively
made colonies of Nicaragua, Cuba,
the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and
several other countries....Wilson's
sentiment for self-determination
and democracy never had a chance
against his three bedrock "ism's":
colonialism, racism, and anti-
communism.....It seems that Wilson
regarded self-determination as all
right for, say, Belgium, but not for
the likes of Latin America or
Loewen, p. 26
Wilson imagined that by intervening
in World War I the United States could help create "a new
world order" led and shaped by our principles and values.
After helping win World War I by defeating Germany and Austria-Hungary,
Wilson asked Americans to accept the League of Nations, a global
body of nations designed to protect the peace and security and
economic prosperity of the world. Wilson was asking Americans
to accept a much more expanded role in the world. He wanted the
United States to be a global policemen, enforcing the peace, promoting
law and order and stability, and helping develop and guide backwards
nations and peoples. But Americans refused to accept the League
of Nations and the United States as a global policemen.
Despite Wilson struggle to win
American acceptance for the League of Nations, Americans refused.
They refused because many Americans believed that it would cost
too much in terms of the American economy, American military commitments,
and American society if the United States was constantly forced
to exercise its power and influence throughout the world. Many
Americans had already got a taste of the costs of being a global
policemen, when they witnessed the United States constantly intervene
in Latin America throughout the 1910s to protect American interests
and "law and order." In fact Americans had forced Wilson
to withdraw out troops from Mexico, after Wilson tried to intervene
in the Mexican civil war to make sure our side won. As Williams
argued, Americans wanted empire but not at the cost of being the
Just as Americans refused to accept
Wilson grand vision of an American-led New World Order, the Europeans
rejected Wilson's demands that they give up their colonies in
Africa and Asia. These European empires saw the United States
as a growing global empire that wanted to force them to accept
American domination and control. But these European nations refused.
They believed, much like America, that they had a manifest destiny,
what Kipling called "the White Man's Burden," to bring
their civilization, economic wealth, and culture to backward peoples.
Having refused Wilson's grand vision
for an American-led New World Order, what was the United States
strategy for maintaining and expanding its growing global empire
in the 1920s? Williams argued that President Herbert Hoover best
articulated this new imperial strategy. Unlike Wilson, Hoover
believed that America could not force other peoples to accept
our control and domination, even if in the end it was best for
them in the long run. Instead, Hoover argued that America should
try to develop the economies and countries of backward, or what
we now call underdeveloped, countries. By helping these countries
become developed, they would see that the United States really
supported their needs and interests. After helping these countries
develop, they would then accept our leadership and control recognizing
that such American domination was good for them in the long run.
Thus the United States has two competing imperial strategies for
building its global empire: 1) Force other countries to accept
our economic and political dominance as the global policemen,
or 2) Guide and assist other countries to develop their economies
and countries as the leader of global development efforts. However,
these strategies aren't really that incompatible with each other.
From 1920 to the present, if other
countries refuse our assistance and guidance to help build their
economies, then the United States all too often uses its military
power to force these countries to accept American domination and
control. You might say that if the carrot of development assistance
doesn't work, then we will use the stick of military power to
force these countries to accept our control. But why should we
expect and demand that other countries accept our global leadership
and dominance? Don't we believe, as Wilson seemed to believe,
that all people in all countries have the right to freely shape
and control their own lives, governments, and societies? Isn't
the United States supposed to be promoting democracy throughout
the world, as Wilson said--"Make the World safe for democracy"?
The answer is really simple: no. American leaders believe that
people have the freedom to accept our domination and control,
but they don't have the freedom to demand their independence and
develop their economies and countries outside of American control.
Throughout the twentieth century,
the United States has challenged every country that tries to withdraw
from this American-controlled global economy. In the 1910s and
1920s, the United States tried to intervene in the Russian, Chinese,
and Mexican civil wars to prevent nationalists who demanded that
their countries free themselves from this foreign domination over
their economies and societies from winning. America believes that
these "revolutionaries," and "communists"
as we would call them later, are a threat to global peace and
development. These countries simply don't understand what is best
for their economic and social development. Since 1920, the United
States has used its military and economic power to punish countries
who try to escape from this global capitalist economy. We have
punished the Soviet Union, Communist China, Cuba, Libya, Iran,
Grenada, Nicaragua, Chile, Indonesia, Guatemala, etc.
Let's look at two contrasting examples
of the American use of military and economic power to maintain
its global economic and political domination. In 1990, Iraq invaded
and conquered Kuwait. The United States under President Bush declared
that "this will not stand." After a quick, brutal destruction
of the Iraqi army and society, the United States forced Iraq to
leave Kuwait. But this isn't the whole of the story.
Throughout the 1980s, Iraq, controlled
by the brutal dictator Saddam Hussein, was an American ally. We
gave Iraq up to 8 billion dollars in military and economic aid
during the 1980s. The very brutal dictator Bush compared to Adolph
Hitler was our ally. The United States continued to support him
in the late 1980s even after he used poison gas to bomb and kill
whole villages of Iraqi people. Why did we do this if we are the
champions of freedom and democracy in the world? In fact, after
defeating Iraq in the Gulf War, the United States made a conscious
decision to leave Saddam Hussein in power, believing that he was
the best leader we could get to govern Iraq. Another leader might
be even more dangerous and anti-American than Hussein was. But
the larger reason is that the United States has traditionally
supported strong military and authoritarian rulers in developing
countries, believing that only strong rulers can maintain law
and order and support American interests.
We can better understand American
policy as a global policemen by looking at the 1975 Indonesian
invasion and conquering of East Timor. Unlike the Iraqi invasion
of Kuwait, the United States did not order Indonesia out of East
Timor. In fact, the United States President Ford had met with
the Indonesian dictator, Suharto, and personally approved the
Indonesian invasion. Not only did the United States approve this
invasion, we resupplied the Indonesian military to help them dominate
and control East Timor. Under Indonesia control, one-third of
the population of East Timor has been killed. If the United States
promotes global democracy and human rights, why does it continue
to support Indonesia's brutal crushing of the East Timor people?
In order to understand this, we
need to briefly look at the historic relationship between Indonesia
and the United States. In 1965, with American military support
the brutal dictator Suharto came to power. During his first years
in power, he killed over 500,000 people, claiming that they were
dangerous communists, when in fact they were opponents of this
brutal dictatorial rule. Since 1965, the United States has supported
and continues to support the brutal dictator Suharto. We believe
in the case of countries like Indonesia that only strong military
rulers can maintain law and order and support American economic
interests. Under Suharto, American and global corporations have
profited at the expense of the majority of the Indonesian people.
So when Suharto came to the United States in 1975 and asked permission
to invade and conquer East Timor, he was our military and economic
ally. Indeed, American oil companies pressured the United States
to allow Indonesia to conquer East Timor because they had worked
closely with the Indonesian dictator to exploit Indonesian oil
resources, and they hoped that under Indonesian control, the oil
wealth of East Timor could soon be theirs. Supporting American
economic interests and our dictator, Suharto, the United States
allowed a small, helpless country to be brutally swallowed up.
The irony of all this is that at
the end of the Gulf War President Bush, like President Wilson
earlier, declared the birth of a "New World Order."
Bush promised that now under American leadership the world would
finally become a global capitalist economy led and dominated by
the United States. What Bush was really saying is that after defeating
the Soviet Union in the Cold War, there was now no other real
challenger to American global economic, political, and military
dominance. Bush believed that America was now free to impose its
economic and political institutions and culture and values upon
the entire world. But he was wrong. Many countries throughout
the world still resist and resent American domination and control.
They want to be free to develop their own economies, societies,
and cultures. Americans are again faced with the same dilemma
they faced after World War I : Can America afford to be a global
policemen and support a global empire? Can we afford to continue
to try to impose our economic and political control over the world?
The answer to this question forces Americans, as Williams argues,
to examine the costs of "empire as a way of life."
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by Chris H. Lewis, Ph.D.