Opening Volleys Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

In this initial section we hear primarily from statesmen about the basis for the war and, especially, America’s entry into it. There are clear examples of differing perspectives among leaders of the various nations involved in the conflict. Attempts to bring diverse perspectives together in order to find common ground is ultimately the basis of diplomacy–and there is evidence of that here. But, mainly, what these documents show is the great chasm of understanding and trust between the Allied (or Entente) Powers of France, Britain, and Russia, on the one hand, and the Central Powers of Germany, Austria-Hungary, and the Ottoman Empire, on the other. The United States struggled to maintain its neutrality until 1917, even in the face of growing pressure from the Allies to join with them against Germany. At the same time, as we discover in several of the documents included here, Germany sought and received favorable treatment from the United States, even while the Kaiser’s warships threatened shipping on the Atlantic, and German diplomats sought to downplay aggressive actions on Germany’s part in Belgium and elsewhere. German leaders undertook these actions with the confidence that the United States either would remain neutral for some time to come or, if it did enter the war, would not prove to be a real factor, given its distance from Europe and its apparent unpreparedness for large-scale warfare. Both of those assumptions, however, proved to be disastrously wrong, and Germany and the other Central Powers suffered as a result. In April 1917, the United States declared itself in support of the Allies and soon became a significant war presence, indeed.

In this initial section we hear primarily from statesmen about the basis for the war and, especially, America’s entry into it. There are clear examples of differing perspectives among leaders of the various nations involved in the conflict. Attempts to bring diverse perspectives together in order to find common ground is ultimately the basis of diplomacy–and there is evidence of that here. But, mainly, what these documents show is the great chasm of understanding and trust between the Allied (or Entente) Powers of France, Britain, and Russia, on the one hand, and the Central Powers of Germany, Austria-Hungary, and the Ottoman Empire, on the other. The United States struggled to maintain its neutrality until 1917, even in the face of growing pressure from the Allies to join with them against Germany. At the same time, as we discover in several of the documents included here, Germany sought and received favorable treatment from the United States, even while the Kaiser’s warships threatened shipping on the Atlantic, and German diplomats sought to downplay aggressive actions on Germany’s part in Belgium and elsewhere. German leaders undertook these actions with the confidence that the United States either would remain neutral for some time to come or, if it did enter the war, would not prove to be a real factor, given its distance from Europe and its apparent unpreparedness for large-scale warfare. Both of those assumptions, however, proved to be disastrously wrong, and Germany and the other Central Powers suffered as a result. In April 1917, the United States declared itself in support of the Allies and soon became a significant war presence, indeed.

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