involvement in World War I
was one of the greater U.S. foreign policy mistakes of the 20th century. Instead of recognizing it for what it was - a war between imperialist European
powers - America
in 1917 entered the war on the premise that it would end all wars.
Of course, things turned out otherwise. President Woodrow Wilson
's idealism, as exemplified in the 14 Points, proved to be devastating. Wilson and many pragmatist
like John Dewey
believed they could bring democracy
. But as should have been clear from the beginning, European
countries were not willing to follow the 14 Points and give up any advantages arising from their victory over Germany
. According to Randolph Bourne
, Americans were not even sure what they meant by "democracy" when they thought they were promoting it abroad.
In 1919, Wilson's 14 Points
, which had enticed Germany
to negotiate in 1918, were more or less sacrificed to the interests of France
and Great Britain
. The Treaty of Versailles
constituted a major setback for American foreign policy, which was outwitted by European
diplomats. In hindsight the treaty's material effects (substantial territorial losses and reparation payments) were hard-hitting, but bearable. However, the emotional effects on the German
people were traumatic and partially paved the way for the Nazi
movement. The Versailles Treaty
also inevitably associated the democracy of the ill-fated Weimar Republic
with the stain of defeat in the consciousness of millions of Germans.
In effect, America
in World War I
proved to be a pawn to Great Britain
. Without American involvement, the war might have resulted in a more balanced outcome.
A domestic effect of U.S. involvement in World War I
was the effective destruction of the lively German-American culture by censorship
and government-sponsored propaganda
. Ironically, Woodrow Wilson
won the presidential election
s of 1916 on the premise that he would keep America
out of war. Only months after Wilson's being sworn into office, America
was entangled in the war.