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America and World War I

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When war erupted in 1914, the United States attempted to remain neutral and was a proponent for the rights of neutral states. Isolationist foreign policy was encouraged by Congress’s apprehensions about giving other countries a political door into US policies and the cultural melting pot of the United States’ population. In spite of these factors, the United States did enter World War I, as a result of several events. In an attempt by both the allied and the central powers to involve the Americans, the US was heavily saturated with propaganda. Much of the material had a Pro-British slant which was aided by the connection to Britain as a “cultural brother” and the United States’ concern with affairs in Western Europe. While propaganda sympathetic to Germany did also exist, it did not carry much weight with the American public. Germany was seen by most Americans as a dangerous monarchy with autocratic militarist thinking, including a hidden agenda to undermine democracy and US power. There were allegations of industrial sabotage, poisoning water supplies, kidnapping individuals, and engaging in espionage within American labor unions by Germans to keep the United States busy on the home front. These rumors, along with extensive submarine warfare, added to the distrust of the Germans.

The US fought many battles but the second battle of Marne seems to have been the one that led to the demise of Germany and an eventual victory for Allied troops. In what began as the last major German offensive of the First World War, the Second Battle of the Marne developed into a significant Allied victory. After it became clear that the Germans had not only failed in their aim to win the war in this offensive they had in fact lost ground. The battle took place over the course of July 15- August 5 1918, in the final year of the war. Erich Ludendorff, effectively the German Chief-of-Staff was convinced that the war could best be won by an attack in Flanders. To that end he determined to lure Allied forces from Belgium to the Marne in a huge diversionary attack, preparatory to a renewed offensive further north. The second Marne offensive was launched on the back of an earlier push towards Paris which recaptured the Chemin des Dames ridge en route, a formidable position held by the Germans in 1914 and lost, at great cost to the French, during the 1917 Nivelle Offensive.

On the day of the offensive’s launch, on July 15, 23 German divisions of the First and Third Armies, under Mudra and Einem, attacked the French Fourth Army to the east of Reims, while a further 17 divisions of the Seventh Army, assisted by the new Ninth Army, attacked the French Sixth Army in the west. In attacking Reims in this way, Ludendorff aimed to split the French forces. Joining the French were 85,000 U.S. forces, although the majority of the latter’s forces were located further north in Flanders. The attack to the east quickly proved a failure and was halted at 11 am on the first day without being resumed.

However, the offensive to the west of Reims was more successful, breaking through the French Sixth Army and crossing the Marne at Dormans. With the aid of six divisions, established a bridgehead nine miles in length and four in depth before the French Ninth Army, British, American and Italian troops, halted his advance. With the Germans having ultimately failed in their efforts to break through, Ferdinand Foch, the Allied Supreme Commander, authorized a counter-offensive on July 18, launching 24 divisions of the French army alone, in addition to U.S., British and Italian troops and some 350 tanks. His aim was to eliminate the large German salient among the French lines. In this he was entirely successful. On July 20 the Germans ordered a retreat and by August 3 they were back where they had started at the launch of the great spring 1918 offensive: at the Aisne-Vesle rivers.

Casualties were high, more so among the German forces that the Allies. France suffered 95,000 casualties, Germany 168,000, with Britain incurring 13,000 losses and the U.S. 12,000. Although troops were glorified for defending countries in Europe, there wasn’t much in the way of healthy living when you were on the front lines. Life in the trenches during the First World War took many forms, and varied widely from sector to sector and from front to front. Undoubtedly, it was entirely unexpected for those eager thousands who signed up for war in August 1914.

Death was a constant companion to those serving in the line, even when no raid or attack was launched or defended against. In busy sectors the constant shellfire directed by the enemy brought random death, whether their victims were lounging in a trench or lying in a dugout. Rats in their millions infested trenches along with disease, lice, frogs and even worse. The only good thing to go along with this would be the cycle out of the trenches. Typically, a battalion would be expected to serve a spell in the front line. This would be followed by a stint spent in support, and then in reserve lines. A period of rest would follow – generally short in duration, before the whole cycle of trench duty would start over again. In reality the cycle was determined by the necessities of the situation. Even while at rest men might find themselves tasked with duties that placed them in the line of fire. Overall life was bad in war but seemed to be necessary.


Schultz, K. M. (2012). HIST2, volume 2 (2nd ed.). Boston, MA: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning

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