President Wilson had urged neutrality and was determined to keep America out of World War I, until 1917, when Germany U-boats (submarines) began attacking U.S. cargo ships. The last straw came when Germany demanded that Mexico invade the U.S.
- The American war effort took time and preparation, starting with the draft. All men, ages 21 to 31, were required to sign up for military service. These men were given assignments and sent to training. Later, all men ages 18 to 45 had to sign up for the draft. Three million men were ordered to join the army; another two million volunteered.
- As white men were shipped to Europe to fight, they left many jobs behind. These jobs were filled by women and African-Americans, and ranged from factory jobs to jobs as mail carriers, trolley operators, or ambulance drivers. Many women had been homemakers and had never had a job outside their homes.
- While American troops went to battle, the people left at home tried to support them. Herbert Hoover, head of the Food Administration, asked Americans to grow vegetable gardens (Victory Gardens) and use food carefully so that more food could be sent to the troops. Americans were also asked to cut down on their use of fuel for cars and lights.
- American troops arrived in France in 1917. The Germans had marched through Belgium and were invading France. Their goal was to reach Paris, where they expected the Allies to surrender. European troops had been living in trenches – mud-filled and rat-infested tunnels dug in the ground. They were sick, traumatized, and war-weary. American troops arrived just in time, providing a new sense of energy and purpose, as well as military strength.
- The U.S. Navy played an important role, as well. German U-boats had been a powerful force, terrorizing both civilian and military ships. American and British fleets worked together to create a convoy system. Ships began traveling in a group, surrounded by antisubmarine destroyers. Once this convoy system was in place, not a single ship was lost to the U-boats.
- Until the arrival of 100,000 U.S. troops in France, the Germans had the advantage and expected to win the war. But Allied troops won two major battles and cut the German’s main supply line. In November, 1918, German officers signed a treaty, ending the war.
Questions and Answers
Question: What was fighting like for the soldiers?
Answer: Modern weapons, such as machine guns, tanks, torpedoes, and mustard gas, made war a much deadlier, bloodier experience. The New York Times wrote, “War is now so dreadful, it cannot happen.” Troops lived in filthy trenches, completely exposed to the elements. They ate rations – food packed in tin cans – and used nearby holes and trenches as toilets. The dead often lay nearby for weeks before they could be buried.
Visit Scholastic to meet a veteran from World War I.