Most years, April 6 is just another Spring day.
Citing Germany's unrestricted submarine warfare and a telegram proposing an alliance with Mexico, the USA formally entered the Great War on April 6, 1917, with President Woodrow Wilson pledging to make the world "safe for democracy". Germany believed unrestricted submarine warfare would defeat Great Britain before the unprepared US armed forces could effectively intervene, and resumed it on February 1, 1917. How did American get embroiled in this titanic struggle and what did it mean for the next 100 years? US losses totaled perhaps 115,000 dead, twice that many wounded.
The cornerstone of Woodrow Wilson's 1916 presidential campaign was neutrality in the face of war. Election promises, however, often go awry.
Why did Wilson make his fateful decision to enter what was sold as the "war to end all wars"? First Division troops fired the first US shell at German lines and suffered the first American casualties of the war. American military might was borne in the years of neutrality, with US armaments used on the killing fields of Flanders and beyond. A great nation can not stand apart from world affairs.
Across the Atlantic, the American economy boomed with war spending.
American neutrality had withheld even through the sinking of the Lusitania by a German U-Boat in 1915 off the coast of Ireland, and the loss of many American lives.
It was a situation Wilson had done his utmost to avoid over the preceding two and a half years, enduring the brickbats and howls of anguish which came his way from opponents demanding active intervention in Europe.
His view of the matter didn't change when America declared war on Germany. The British naval blockade of European ports was starving Germany into submission.
Total victory by the Allied Powers would create the prospect of imposing terms and creating a system of global government.
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If any leader had the potential to create worldwide peace it was Woodrow Wilson in the months following Germany's defeat. In return, the Germans promised subsidies and assistance in reclaiming territories lost in the Mexican-American War of 1846-1848. Along the way, the role of the federal government grew, as did official intolerance for dissent. Germany hoped to keep the US military focused exclusively on Mexico, and not be distracted by the European war. The telegram states the agreement of Germany and Mexico to join arms against the USA when the latter goes to war against the Central powers. On Jan. 19, the British picked up and decoded a telegram sent by German Foreign Minister Arthur Zimmermann to the German Ambassador in Mexico City.
This massive backfire of German strategy was enough to force Wilson's hand.
The Daily Progress reprinted the complete six-point resolution resulting from the meeting; the first of which stated: "We the citizens of Charlottesville and Albemarle County, Virginia, in mass meeting assembled, pledged our support to the President and Government of the United States for the most vigorous prosecution of the war which the German government has wickedly forced upon us, and we will bring it to an early and triumphant conclusion".
The legacy of the Great War is hard to overstate.
Gen. John Pershing "was essentially tasked with the full responsibility for mobilizing, recruiting, training, deploying and commanding the American forces", said Bart Hacker, who's curating an exhibit on Pershing at the Smithsonian's Museum of American History. France and Britain were spent, a generation of men gone. "But the feeling was that German provocation left the United States with no alternative", says Prof Afflerbach. Estimates of military dead range from 8.5 million to 10 million, including 2 million Germans, 1.8 million Russians, 1.4 million French, and 900,000 British. If Congress had done so, then the First World War would have ended in a negotiated peace at some point soon, and America could have offered its good offices (although with financial help to both sides) to reach a lasting and fair peace. It also gave legacy to the 20 century struggles of western ideals versus communist ideology, and stirred up a Middle East hornet's nest that we live with today. The act remains in place to this day (it even cropped up this year, when some constitutional experts warned President Donald Trump could, in theory, pursue criminal charges against journalists and government leakers under the law). Only now has American returned to a more non-interventionist strategy.
The Great War doesn't shy from the battles also raging on the home front among pacifists and suffragettes seeking a voice for women.
Americans might remember the day the war began in 1914, and chances are they'll remember the day, the month and the year - November 11, 1918 -that it ended.
To Goemans, World War I illustrates a modern insight into the nature of war-that it basically takes two sides to fight.