It has been called THE GREAT WAR and THE WAR TO END ALL WARS.

For more than a century Americans obeyed George Washington’s injunction in his Farewell Address to keep out of the political affairs of Europe. That obedience ended on April 6, 1917 when Congress voted for war against Germany. The break with what had been the defining feature of American foreign policy did not come easily. When the “Great War” began in 1914, President Woodrow Wilson immediately declared U.S. neutrality.

Germany responded by launching unrestricted submarine warfare, which led to the sinking of the Lusitania in May, 1915.  During the balance of 1915 and 1916 Germany stopped the unrestricted sub warfare but started back up again in January, 2017.

Wilson initially resisted growing public sentiment for war with Germany, worrying what it would do to the country. But he eventually relented. On April 2, 1917 President Wilson addressed a joint session of Congress to request a declaration of war, saying that “the world must be made safe for democracy.”

In June 1917, as U.S. troops landed in France, Americans were mindful of an old debt owed that nation. France had been the colonists’ most important ally during the Revolutionary War. The Marquis de Lafayette had fought beside Patriot soldiers, equipping some of them at his own expense. He won the affection of George Washington and became a hero to the young nation. Urged on by Lafayette, France had sent ships, troops, and arms that played a key role in the Patriots’ victory. When the American troops first marched under the Arc de Triomphe, where Lafayette lies buried under dirt from Bunker Hill, an American officer lay down a wreath of pink and white roses. Another officer stepped forward, snapped a salute, and declared: “Lafayette, we are here!”


Information provided by and James M. Lindsay, Council on Foreign Relations Blog