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Nothing Less Than War

Nothing Less Than War: A New History of America's Entry into World War I

Justus D. Doenecke
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 436
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  • Book Info
    Nothing Less Than War
    Book Description:

    When war broke out in Europe in 1914, political leaders in the United States were swayed by popular opinion to remain neutral; yet less than three years later, the nation declared war on Germany. InNothing Less Than War: A New History of America's Entry into World War I,Justus D. Doenecke examines the clash of opinions over the war during this transformative period and offers a fresh perspective on America's decision to enter World War I.

    Doenecke reappraises the public and private diplomacy of President Woodrow Wilson and his closest advisors and explores in great depth the response of Congress to the war. He also investigates the debates that raged in the popular media and among citizen groups that sprang up across the country as the U.S. economy was threatened by European blockades and as Americans died on ships sunk by German U-boats.

    The decision to engage in battle ultimately belonged to Wilson, but as Doenecke demonstrates, Wilson's choice was not made in isolation.Nothing Less Than Warprovides a comprehensive examination of America's internal political climate and its changing international role during the seminal period of 1914--1917.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-3003-3
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Preface
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. 1 Setting the Stage
    (pp. 1-18)

    “We are walking on quicksand,” wrote Woodrow Wilson to a cousin in September 1915. For over a year the president had sought to steer a neutral course during a conflict first known as the Great War, then as World War I. Costing 30 million casualties and 8 million dead, the event was sufficiently cataclysmic for diplomat and historian George Frost Kennan to designate it “thegreat seminal conflict of this century.”¹ During the past few months, one major power had confiscated huge amounts of American goods being shipped to Imperial Germany. Another leading belligerent had sunk the world’s largest ocean...

  5. 2 The Earliest Debates: August 1914–March 1915
    (pp. 19-57)

    On the afternoon of August 6, 1914, a dying woman whispered into the ear of her physician: “Promise me that you will take good care of my husband.” As a downstairs clock chimed five times, her spouse asked the doctor, “Is it over?” Receiving a nod, he walked to a window and cried out: “Oh, my God, what am I to do?” Then, composing himself, he vowed: “I must not give way.” Nonetheless, the man remained sitting in his chair, maintaining an isolated vigil. President Woodrow Wilson had just lost his wife Ellen to Bright’s Disease, a fatal kidney ailment....

  6. 3 In Peril on the Sea: February–August 1915
    (pp. 58-92)

    “Our sword must always remain clean. We are not waging war against women and children. We wish to fight this war as gentlemen, no matter what the other side may do. Take note of that.”¹ Kaiser Wilhelm II uttered these words to his admirals late in November 1914 in expressing relief that a large British liner escaped a submarine.

    Just over two months later, on February 4, 1915, the German Admiralty proclaimed a submarine blockade of the British Isles. After two weeks, enemy merchant vessels would be destroyed, “even if it may not be possible always to save their crews...

  7. 4 Toward the Arabic Crisis: January–August 1915
    (pp. 93-121)

    In 1921 West Point graduate Philip Dru, stationed at Fort Magruder, Texas, near the Rio Grande, became lost in the desert and suffered a sunstroke. Discharged from the army, he learned that a secret plutocratic oligarchy had gained control of the United States. Once the American people discovered the plot, civil war broke out, in which Dru successfully led an insurrectionary army. After the war, he ruled America, not as president but as “administrator.” In reality a dictator, Dru fostered a host of domestic reforms that created greater equality and revolutionized the structure of the American government. Just as important,...

  8. 5 Frustrating Times: August 1915–March 1916
    (pp. 122-154)

    On August 19, 1915, seventy miles off Queenstown, Ireland, at about three in the afternoon, the German submarineU-27halted the British mule steamerNicosian.Acting in accordance with the rules of international law, the U-boat was waiting for theNicosian’s crew to evacuate, when a vessel that appeared to be a tramp steamer, flying the American flag, approached. Once the oncoming vessel reached within one hundred yards of the submarine, it hoisted the English flag, opened fire, and immediately sank it. In reality the supposed rescue craft was a British “Mystery Ship” or “Q-boat,” a decoy ship namedBaralong....

  9. 6 Tensions with Germany and Britain: January–September 1916
    (pp. 155-187)

    Before Wilson joined the preparedness crusade, he faced a major challenge: Britain’s arming of merchant ships. The practice, accepted in international law, had begun over a century earlier. A merchantman would have a small gun on deck to ward off pirates or “privateers,” that is, private vessels that governments commission in wartime to attack enemy ships.

    The German navy had long contended that submarines could not safely surface and warn armed merchantmen before sinking them. In mid-November 1915 a U-boat captured a copy of secret British instructions; these orders confirmed long-held suspicions that armed commercial vessels were obligated to pursue...

  10. 7 Preparedness Debates and the Presidential Election: March–November 1916
    (pp. 188-216)

    “Who is attacking the institutions of this country?” asked Congressman James Hay in mid-March 1916. “What nation on earth is attacking them? My friends, there is not a country on earth today that has any idea of making war on the United States.” So spoke the chairman of the House Military Affairs Committee and author of one of the most provocative bills of the Wilson presidency. Representative Frank L. Greene (R-Vt.) responded that after the war a prosperous United States would find itself subjected to the jealous rivalry of “any or all the powers of the Old World.” Hay in...

  11. Photograph gallery
    (pp. None)
  12. 8 To End a Conflict: October 1916–January 1917
    (pp. 217-249)

    After two years of fighting on the various fronts, the belligerents were merely continuing their mutual slaughter. By September 1916, France and Germany had experienced 1 million casualties at Verdun; by November Britain had lost 400,000 men in the Somme offensive. If, that summer, Russian offensives cost the Central Powers 600,000 men, the czarist regime lost 1 million of its own. In battles on the Isonzo River that lasted most of the year, Italy repulsed the Austrians but sustained losses of 150,000 by early summer.

    Though the Germans occupied most of Belgium and parts of northern France, the Central Powers...

  13. 9 The Break with Germany: January–March 1917
    (pp. 250-277)

    On January 31, Ambassador Bernstorff presented Lansing with Germany’s response to Wilson’s recent “peace without victory” plea. The ambassador endorsed Wilson’s call for an economic open door, freedom of the seas, and equal rights for all nations. He backed the president’s plea for self-government of subject peoples, though he pointedly referred to British domination of Ireland and India. He denied that Germany sought to annex Belgium; Germany simply wanted to assure itself that enemies could not use the neighboring state as a base for instigating hostile intrigues. He accused the Allies of engaging in a “lust for conquest,” seeking to...

  14. 10 And the War Came: March–April 1917
    (pp. 278-299)

    On March 12, at 6:00 a.m., the GermanU-38attacked theAlgonquin,an American merchantman, sixty-five miles off the Isles of Scilly. A former lake steamer bound from New York to London, it carried $1.25 million worth of foodstuff s as well as copper, tin, machinery, and chemicals. The ship had just been transferred from British registry to the American Star Line. The vessel displayed Old Glory; the nation’s colors were painted clearly on its side. When the crew asked the submarine commander to tow them toward land, he refused, saying: “I’m too busy. I expect a couple of other...

  15. 11 Conclusion
    (pp. 300-308)

    To evaluate American policy during the first half of World War I, one must focus on the leadership of Woodrow Wilson. As president he held responsibility for the individuals he chose to advise him and execute his policies. Here, far too often, the chief executive made poor choices. Secretary of State Bryan remained an inept moralist, for whom every broad problem could be solved by a dogmatic form of neutrality and every narrow one by cooling-off treaties. Colonel House, although far more cosmopolitan, was equally inexperienced at diplomacy. Given the sensitive nature of his missions, his capacity for self-deception made...

  16. Notes
    (pp. 309-348)
  17. Bibliographic Essay
    (pp. 349-368)

    By far the most extensive bibliography is Thomas J. Knock’s “The United States, World War I, and the Peace Settlement, 1914–1920,” inAmerican Foreign Relations since 1600: A Guide to the Literature,2 vols., ed. Robert L. Beisner (Santa Barbara, CA: ABC Clio, 2003), 1:665–735.

    Superior accounts of World War I include Martin Gilbert,The First World War: A Complete History(New York: Henry Holt, 1994); John Keegan,The First World War(New York: Knopf, 1999); Correlli Barnett,The Great War(London: BBC, 2003); and David Stevenson,Cataclysm: The First World War as Political Tragedy(New York: Basic...

  18. Index
    (pp. 369-396)