World War I: Why We Fought
December 5, 2006
by William P. Meyers

By "We", I mean the citizen-soldiers of the United States of America. According to family legends both of my grandfathers served in World War I, or at least served in the U.S. armed services during that period.

In yesterday's blog I explained why the sinking of the Lusitania was only a pretext for Woodrow Wilson to lead (from the safety of the Oval Office) the United States of America into war in 1917 against the Axis powers, Germany, Austria and Turkey. Our major allies were Great Britain, France, and Russia.

It is not the case that we were fighting for democracy. Germany and Great Britain had similar systems of government: a king (or Kaiser) plus an elected equivalent of our Congress. France was organized more like the U.S., as a democracy. Turkey and Russia matched well in being closer to pure kingdoms. Austria had an Emperor and had done some minor experiments with democracy. Nor were we fighting against Germany because it had a militaristic society. While Germany had a much larger standing army that Great Britain, this is because it was surrounded by other militaristic states. Great Britain's military had conquered half the world well before World War I broke out; you can't get more militaristic than that.

There are a number of good theories for why we went to war. Some may be true in part. The most cynical is that some wise cabal of secret leaders saw an opportunity to sit and watch the great European powers bleed to near death, then have the U.S.A. jump into the war at the last minute and reap the fine fruit of victory. That is certainly what happened, but there is no solid evidence I know of that it was a plan.

My current thinking is that it was all about money. I used to think that there was a sort of conspiracy between certain English banks and certain American ones like J. P. Morgan & Company and The National City Bank (later Citibank). But apparently no conspiracy theory is necessary to explain the dynamics of the situation.

Great Britain ruled the seas. The British Navy imposed a blockade on Germany and the other Axis powers. As a result the only nations the U.S. could trade with were Britain, France and Russia. But they had only so much to trade with, so they sought loans in the U.S. to cover the trade imbalance. The U.S. had been in a depression (not the Great Depression) before the war began in 1914. In order to keep the economy booming Woodrow Wilson decided to approve some American private bank loans to England and France. This enabled them to buy ammunition, armaments and food from the U.S.A.

We were addicted. To keep the economy going first the U.S. banks and then the U.S. government itself had to lend ever increasing amounts of money to the Allies. The only problem was that even with all this help, it looked like the Axis powers might win the war, or at least come to a stalemate with German armies occupying northern France. Then the revolution took place in Russia (usually called the Communist revolution, but at first it was everyone against the Czar; Lenin's gang took over in a counter-revolution against the genuine revolutionaries). No longer having to fight Russia, the Austrians and Germans were set to crush France, at which point no one figured Britain would be able to carry on the fight alone.

It is not a good idea to lend losers vast sums of money. The rules of war back then is that the losers admitted to starting the war (France and Russia had, in fact, started the war) and paid vast sums of money to the winners. Hence if Germany won the war the outcome would be that France and Britain would not be able to repay the loans lent by the U.S.A.

So the choice that confronted Woodrow Wilson was: make sure the Allies win by joining the war on their side, or watch the economy go into a meltdown.

After the war Germany was made to pay reparations. As part of winning the war, in order to get loans from Jewish bankers, the government of Great Britain promised Palestine to Zionist Jews. German armies were still on French soil when the armistice was signed. Out of this brew the ultra-right in Germany created their stab-in-the-back theory. They said they lost the war because Germany's Jews had sabotaged the war effort. This led eventually to Adolph Hitler and the National Socialists coming to power and World War I having to be fought all over again, only this time they called it World War II.