Daily Class OutlineDaily Class QuestionsDaily Class Web LinksDaily Class Notes

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)

Video: The United States and World War I

Daily Class Web Links

World War I

The United States and World War I

The United States and the Gulf War

Daily Class Outline

1.  The American Open Door Policy

2. The larger causes of World War I

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

Daily Class Questions

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 for a
declaration of war, what does Wilson argue is
America's larger mission in the world?

4. Do you think Wilson really believes in the
principles of democracy he asks for the United States
to defend by entering World War I?

5. Why is George Norris opposed to American entry
into World War I?

6. What does Norris think are the real reasons for
the United States entry into World War I?

7. What kind of "New World Order" does Wilson
envision in his Fourteen Point plan to end World War I?

8. Is Wilson and the United States really committed to
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 United
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 vetoed a
clause on racial equality in the Covenant of the
League of Nations"?

11. Does Wilson's racism against Blacks call into
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 and
still be committed to the breaking up of the major
European Empires?

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?

Daily Class Notes

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 Canada.


From 1900 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 bloody battle.

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 United States.

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"

"The nation 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."
         President Wilson, 1917

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
Southeast Asia.
                 James 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 global policemen.
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."



© 2002 by Chris H.  Lewis, Ph.D.
Sewall Academic Program; University of Colorado at Boulder
Created 7 August 2002:  Last Modified: 9 Oct. 2002
E-mail: cclewis@spot.colorado.edu
URL:    http://www.colorado.edu/AmStudies/lewis/2010/wwi.htm
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