TENT AND TRENCH
Chapter 1
To Make The World Safe For Democracy: America Enters the War

The establishment of Camp Wadsworth was a direct result of the United States entry into World War I on April 6, 1917.  Though already the preeminent industrial and economic power in the Western Hemisphere; the United States lacked a significant standing army.1  This was largely a result of the country's geographical isolation.  At the dawn of the 20th century, the United States' borders were almost completely free of the threat of foreign invasion.  Hostile Native American tribes in the West had been defeated for years, and the British territory of Canada stood as a friendly and stable northern neighbor.  Only in Mexico did the United States face a potentially unstable and troublesome neighbor.  Internal difficulties and popular resentment towards American meddling in Mexican affairs spawned violence and rebellion within the country.  On March 9th, 1916, the Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa crossed the American border and attacked the small town of Columbus, New Mexico.  This resulted in the famous American punitive expedition against Mexico.  From 1916 to 1917, the small United States regular army and federalized National Guard were mobilized in an effort to capture or kill Villa.  General "Black Jack" Pershing, future commander of the American Expeditionary Force in France, led the campaign.  The punitive expedition was largely uneventful, and resulted in little besides American troops marching across the Mexican countryside.  Though the expedition failed in its goal of capturing Villa, it did achieve one benefit.  The border campaign served the practical purpose of allowing the American high command to refine tactical doctrine and gain experience with large scale troop movements.2

            The United States declared war on the Central Powers in April of 1917 for several reasons.  Foremost among these was the issue of unrestricted submarine warfare.  The British Royal Navy had successfully blockaded Germany since the beginning of the war in 1914.  This strangled Germany's maritime trade, and gradually resulted in severe shortages of food and other necessities within the country.  In an effort to counter Britain's blockade, the German Navy unleashed its submarine fleet against the Allies.  The German U-Boats were given the task of sinking any merchant vessels trading with the Allies, regardless of nationality.    This policy of unrestricted submarine warfare was temporarily halted after the sinking of the British passenger liner R.M.S. Lusitania on May 7, 1915.  Of the ship's 1,950 passengers and crew, only 764 survived.  Among the dead were 114 Americans.  The destruction of the Lusitania resulted in tremendous international outcry, and was a contributing factor in turning American public opinion against Germany.3  By 1917, however, Germany felt herself compelled to reinstate the policy of unrestricted submarine warfare in a final all out attempt to strangle British trade and end the war.  This resulted in the loss of yet more American ships and lives.  Thus, the American government entered the conflict in April of 1917 to ensure the freedom of trade on the high seas.4    

            Finance was another factor in the United States' decision to go to war in 1917.  Sine the outbreak of hostilities in 1914, American capital had heavily favored the Allies.  If Germany should win the war, almost all American investment in the Allies would likely be lost.5  In 1917, a German victory seemed to be a definite possibility.  The United States' entry into the war caused Germany to accelerate her campaign of unrestricted submarine warfare against Allied shipping.6  Germany also concentrated her efforts against the collapsing Russians.  In October of 1917, the Bolshevik Revolution resulted in Russia's rapid withdrawal from the war.7  This allowed Germany to pool her resources on the Western Front for one last ditch offensive before American troops could arrive in France.  The great German Spring Offensive broke on the Allied lines on March 21, 1918.  Directed primarily against weary and demoralized British forces, the offensive initially resulted in significant territorial gains.  Over the following weeks, it appeared a distinct possibility that the Great Spring Offensive would end the war in Germany's favor.8  This would result in tremendous financial losses for America. 

            The United States' decision to declare war in April of 1917 could not have come at a more dramatic or definitive time.  Though it would be months before enough American troops could reach the battlefields of France in significant numbers, the mere fact that the United States had entered the war resulted in an immediate bolstering of Allied moral.  The exhausted soldiers of Britain, France, and Belgium were now almost assured of victory if they held the German armies at bay until American troops could enter the trenches and "do their bit."  By entering the war at this crucial moment, the United States was not only playing a major role in saving the Allied cause, but also acting to protect its own financial interests.9 

            The United States' entry into the First World War was also heavily influenced by the Wilsonian Progressivism that dominated the country.  Progressivism was a social and political force that emerged during the latter half of the nineteenth century.  The Progressive movement grew out of the social problems that accompanied America's industrialization.  Progressive activists and politicians sought to breakup corporate trusts, improve the working conditions for laborers, and to instill predominantly white urban middle-class values in the lower classes of society.  Progressivism, however, was far from a monolithic movement.  This is demonstrated by the popular late nineteenth and early twentieth century American temperance movement.  One of the most powerful of the Progressive movements, the campaign for temperance was primarily female led.  Women supported temperance because it meant that more household income would be spent on the family instead of alcohol.  Female Progressives also theorized that the elimination of alcohol would result in lower domestic violence rates.  Other Progressives supported temperance for different reasons.  For some, the primary benefit of eliminating alcohol could be boiled down to a simple increase in efficiency.  Such Progressives argued that a permanently sober man was better able to manage his life, attend to his duties, and make a genuine contribution to society.10 

            President Woodrow Wilson was devoted to many Progressive causes.  Wilson fought the corporate trusts, instituted the graduated income tax, and established the Federal Reserve to regulate the nation's banking system.  He was a man of great extremes.  A consummate internationalist, Wilson believed that the time had come for the United States to play a larger role on the world stage.  America, Wilson reasoned, was the greatest force for democracy and good in the world.  For Wilson, the war would be a titanic struggle for the preservation of democracy and the defeat of autocracy and Prussian militarism.  Wilson was a staunch supporter of national self-determination for oppressed ethnic minorities.  Yet, few presidents have been as blatantly racist towards African-Americans as Woodrow Wilson.  Like the majority of white Americans in the early twentieth century, Wilson believed in the inherent cultural and racial superiority of Western Civilization.  As the new and dynamic force in the world, the United States would act as the savior of a Western Civilization that had become mired in war and decay.  It was with this crusading view that Wilson took the United States into war in April of 1917.11

            The United States' entry into the First World War required a tremendous strengthening of the country's armed forces.  Considerable debate existed as to whether or not the United States could mobilize its forces in time to make a decisive impact on the conflict.  To the surprise of many Europeans, the United States succeeded in committing elements of its regular army to the Western Front as early as-.  The regular army was far too small to make a decisive impact by itself, however.  In order to enlarge the military, the United States government reinstituted the draft and called the National Guard into federal service.  The training of such a large force was a massive undertaking, and necessitated the rapid construction of 32 army mobilization centers.  The 32 cantonments were to be split into an even number of National Army and National Guard training facilities.  Each cantonment was tasked with organizing a complete army division.  The division was the largest typical army organization, and consisted of approximately 40,000 personnel.  The sixteen National Army cantonments trained divisions primarily composed of draftees, and were equipped with steam heated two story barracks.  National Guard cantonments were veritable canvas cities, with thousands of soldiers living in large pyramidal tents.  Of the two types, National Army cantonments were far more refined and comfortable.12

For Notes please see Appendix C - Bibliography



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