11.4 How did America change because of World War I?
This inquiry set focuses on how the US government prepared for war. Speeches by American political leaders, documents that show ordinary Americans readying for war, and images that feature California as a central place in wartime mobilization frame students’ exploration into American involvement in World War I.
- HSS 11.4.5 Analyze the political, economic, and social ramifications of World War I on the home front.
How did America change because of World War I?
World War I began in 1914, and while the US began to supply the Allies with weapons and goods that year, American soldiers did not join the conflict until three years later. Although American entry into the Great War came later than the Allied Powers hoped for, when Wilson asked Congress for a declaration of war in April 1917, he did so in an effort to continue promoting America’s vision for the world. When American troops arrived in Europe in the fall of 1917, their participation helped bring an end to the war and establish the United States as a global power. Students should read Wilson’s Fourteen Points as a justification for why he felt America should go to war, analyze how the Fourteen Points were an extension of earlier policies, and identify which of the points might be controversial in the context of the war. With the end of the war, Wilson was heralded as a hero in Europe when he traveled there to attend the Paris Peace Conference. Despite his significant role in designing the Versailles Treaty that ended the war, Wilson ultimately could not convince Congress to join the League of Nations. Students may identify the significance of World War I in transforming America into a world leader, but they should also understand that the aftermath of the war ushered in a decade of isolationism, which by the end of the 1920s would have serious consequences for the world economies. Just as World War I stands as an important marker of the new role for the US on the world stage, the war also stands as an important event that started a century long growth of the federal government. Once the United States entered the war, the government grew through the administration of the draft, the organization of the war at home, and the promotion of civilian support for the war.
On April 6, 1917, the United States formally entered World War I, or the Great War, and the US government expanded to prepare for and support the war effort in Europe. This inquiry set examines the many interventions of the federal government in the lives of Americans as the United States entered into the war. The government nationalized industry that was necessary to engage in transportation and communication, such as the railroad and telegraph industries. It regulated agricultural and energy production. It created Liberty Bonds and leveraged the newly established income tax to generate revenue. It initiated the Selective Service to conscript an army. It engaged in the development of propaganda to mobilize support for the war effort. With the advent of war came many components of what we would recognize as a modern nation-state. The sources included in this set highlight the ways that everyday Americans were engaged in and affected by the federal government’s war effort.
America’s entry into World War I marked the first time that the United States fought a war in Europe. The prospect of joining Britain, Russia, and France and troops from across their respective empires in the fight against Germany sparked some strong feelings. Sources 1 and 2 highlight the ways that Americans developed civic organizations to support the war even before Congress declared war on the Central Powers. Source 1 suggests that Americans were preparing for war and demonstrating this preparation to their fellow citizens. Source 2 highlights Americans’ humanitarian concern for victims of the war, particularly the Armenian victims of genocide. Through both of these sources, students can consider the ideological positioning of Americans who were interested in world affairs and who considered the United States to have the moral authority to bring peace to the warring states of Europe.
Not all Americans supported the war effort. Source 3, a speech by Senator George W. Norris, offers students an antiwar perspective. Norris argued that the war would benefit the elite and believed that proponents of the war were willing to risk the lives of Americans to benefit financially. After the war, speeches and articles like this encouraged American resentment of involvement in World War I and made people deeply suspicious of joining future conflicts. In contrast to Norris’s perspective, President Woodrow Wilson’s message to the American people (Source 4) calls upon men and women of all walks of life to actively support the war effort. By laying out the specific ways that Americans can support the war, he highlights how deeply every aspect of the American economy would be enmeshed in the war, which may offer students a contrast to today when our nation’s wars are distant and require little sacrifice from the general population
Sources 5 through 10 exemplify the many ways that Americans engaged in the war effort. Source 5 presents senators purchasing war bonds to model the types of behavior they hoped Americans would engage in to financially support the war. The federal government initiated a draft (Source 6) through the establishment of the Selective Service, which included men from all ethnicities, many of whom participated in the hope that they would earn citizenship and access to the liberties for which they were fighting. Sources 7 through 9 illustrate the development of military installations, many in California, to train soldiers for war. The training camps in San Diego, California (Sources 8 and 9), remain important military sites today. Finally, Source 10 includes an image of female agricultural workers, the Women’s Land Army, who served on the home front in the hopes that they too would be included in the rights of citizenship that could only be conferred by the federal government. Taken together, the ten sources provide a variety of perspectives that help students to develop a nuanced response to the question, How did America change because of World War I?
This literacy activity will help students do a close reading of President Wilson’s wartime message to the American people (Source 4) to use it as evidence to respond to the inquiry question, How did America change because of World War I? Wilson’s message aimed to prepare Americans for the sacrifices they would have to make in order to support the US war effort. The included graphic organizer can provide all students — and especially English learners — with support to consider the details of the speech. This organizer can be used as evidence to respond to the inquiry question, How did America change because of World War I?
Introduce the activity. Begin with a review of the inquiry question, How did America change because of World War I? Explain to students that we will use Source 4 to better understand the specific ways that Americans were asked to support the war through their labor and engagement in the economy.
Read, discuss, and analyze the text.
Ask students to read the excerpt or read it aloud to the class.
In partners or individually, students should complete the graphic organizer as they reread the source. The teacher should model the first line. Teachers highlight that students should translate Wilson’s speech into their own words in the graphic organizer.
The teacher can then debrief the content for the whole class.
Teachers then guide students to develop a shared claim to respond to the question, How did America change because of World War I?
Extend the learning.
Students can use Sources 5, 8, 9, and 10 (all photos) to illustrate the ways that people engaged in and sacrificed for the war effort. Students can draw another image based on the speech or do online research to find an image representing one of the ideas of sacrifice presented in the speech that is not represented in the photos.
Student Handout 11.4: The Rise of the US as a World Power
President Wilson, April 17, 1917: Message Regarding World War I (Source 4)
There is not a single selfish element, so far as I can see, in the cause we are fighting for. We are fighting for what we believe and wish to be the rights of mankind and for the future peace and security of the world. To do this great thing worthily and successfully we must devote ourselves to the service without regard to profit or material advantage and with an energy and intelligence that will rise to the level of the enterprise itself. We must realize to the full how great the task is and how many things, how many kinds and elements of capacity and service and self-sacrifice, it involves.
We will continue to read the speech to identify the service and sacrifice that the government required of the people of the United States to support the war effort. The answers to who, what, and how may not all be present; you may have to infer who was doing this work and how it changed America. The first item has been modeled for the student. The second includes the excerpt from the source, and the student should fill in the Who and How.
If students need assistance, the ideas to include in the graphic organizer have been underlined.
The entrance of our own beloved country into the grim and terrible war for democracy and human rights which has shaken the world creates so many problems of national life and action which call for immediate consideration and settlement that I hope you will permit me to address to you a few words of earnest counsel and appeal with regard to them.
We are rapidly putting our navy upon an effective war footing and are about to create and equip a great army, but these are the simplest parts of the great task to which we have addressed ourselves. There is not a single selfish element, so far as I can see, in the cause we are fighting for. We are fighting for what we believe and wish to be the rights of mankind and for the future peace and security of the world. To do this great thing worthily and successfully we must devote ourselves to the service without regard to profit or material advantage and with an energy and intelligence that will rise to the level of the enterprise itself. We must realize to the full how great the task is and how many things, how many kinds and elements of capacity and service and self-sacrifice, it involves.
These, then, are the things we must do, and do well, besides fighting, the things without which mere fighting would be fruitless:
We must supply abundant food for ourselves and for our armies and our seamen not only, but also for a large part of the nations with whom we have now made common cause, in whose support and by whose sides we shall be fighting.
We must supply ships by the hundreds out of our shipyards to carry to the other side of the sea, submarines or no submarines, what will every day be needed there, and abundant materials out of our fields and our mines and our factories with which not only to clothe and equip our own forces on land and sea but also to clothe and support our people for whom the gallant fellows under arms can no longer work, to help clothe and equip the armies with which we are coordinating in Europe, and to keep the looms and manufactories there in raw material; coal to keep the fires going in ships at sea and in the furnaces of hundreds of factories across the sea; steel out of which to make arms and ammunition both here and there; rails for worn-out railways back of the fighting fronts; locomotives and rolling stock to take the place of those every day going to pieces; mules, horses, cattle for labor and for military service; everything with which the people of England and France and Italy and Russia have usually supplied themselves but cannot now afford the men, the materials, or the machinery to make.
It is evident to every thinking man that our industries, on the farms, in the shipyards, in the mines, in the factories, must be made more prolific and more efficient than ever and that they must be more economically managed and better adapted to the particular requirements of our task than they have been; and what I want to say is that the men and the women who devote their thought and their energy to these things will be serving the country and conducting the fight for peace and freedom just as truly and just as effectively as the men on the battlefield or in the trenches. The industrial forces of the country, men and women alike, will be a great national, a great international, Service Army, a notable and honored host engaged in the service of the nation and the world, the efficient friends and saviors of free men everywhere. ...
Student Handout 11.4 Key: The Rise of the US as a World Power