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American Involvement in World War I: How the War Changed After America's Entry

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  • 0:05 American Involvement in WWI
  • 0:39 Building Troops & Funds
  • 3:08 U.S. Participation in the War
  • 4:45 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Clint Hughes

Clint has taught History, Government, Speech Communications, and Drama. He has his master's degree in Instructional Design and Technology.

As much as the U.S. wanted to stay neutral during World War I, it proved impossible. This meant the U.S. had to raise the forces and money to wage war. Find out how Americans played their part in WWI in this lesson.

American Involvement in WWI

Now, up until just before the U.S. declared war on April 6th, 1917, the U.S. had desperately tried to stay neutral, but ties to Britain, propaganda, the sinking of ships by German U-boats, and a German attempt in the Zimmermann Note to get Mexico to declare war on the U.S. pushed the U.S. to getting involved. In this lesson, we will look at how the U.S. got the troops and funds for the war, the impact at home, and American involvement in combat and bringing the war to an end.

Building Troops & Funds

OK, so U.S. ties to Britain, both culturally and practically, for trade reasons, had set the stage for justification for U.S. entry into the war. When Germany refuses to stop sinking U.S. ships and tries to get Mexico to attack the States, President Woodrow Wilson goes before Congress and requests a declaration of war. But now, how does the nation wage this war?

President Wilson actually opposed a draft, but at the point the U.S. declared war there were fewer than 400,000 troops in the U.S. Army and National Guard together. They were in no way prepared for a major war. So, Congress passed the Selective Service Act on May 18, 1917. The act required men between the ages of 21 and 30 to register for the draft. In time, the age range was expanded to 18 to 45. Over 2.8 million were drafted through the war.

That summer, the new recruits, those drafted and enlisted, reported for training. The military was far from ready for them. The barracks had not been built, so soldiers had to sleep in tents. So few supplies had arrived that the soldiers had to train with sticks instead of rifles and barrels instead of horses!

It wasn't only the troops that had to be raised, it was also the funds. Most of the revenue raised was from taxes, but there was also a huge amount of push for war bonds. War bonds are used by countries to raise money for war. Essentially, they are loan notes taken out by the government from the people. In World War I the U.S. dubbed them Liberty Bonds. Many celebrities, including the likes of Charlie Chaplin, made appearances at huge public rallies selling bonds. The Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts actually had a large campaign to sell bonds. Their slogan was, 'Every scout to save a soldier.'

Not every method of funding the war was so direct. Victory gardens were another campaign meant to help financially. These gardens could lessen the stress the war was having on the food supply. But victory gardens did more than just leave more food for the soldiers; they were also a great morale booster. It gave everyday Americans, even those of little means, a way to do their patriotic duty. Simply by growing their own vegetables, a family could be fighting the war at home.

U.S. Participation in the War

So at home, U.S. citizens were buying bonds, raising their own vegetables, and the military was trying to train up all of these new soldiers, but what part did the U.S. actually play in the war? Well, President Wilson put General John J. Pershing in charge of the American Expeditionary Forces. He gave Pershing a direct order, ''that the forces of the United States are a separate and distinct component of the combined forces, the identity of which must be preserved.'' This meant that the U.S. soldiers didn't just get thrown in as replacements with the British military, which is actually what the Allied commanders had wanted.

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