World War I: America's Post-War Disillusionment


Figure 1.--Here American soldiers and sailors are returning home after the World War I. This photograph was taken in Washington, D.C. Even before the War ended, voices in American were questioning the War. It took more than a year to get the AEF home and by the time that had occurred, recriminations about the War were becoming increasingly common.

The military, both the U.S. Navy and Army, was affected by the end of World War I and the overall political and economic trends of the inter-War era. The American people turned away from the Democrats and Wilsonian Idealism. The vast majority of Americans not only wanted a return to peace time pursuits, but were less interested in the progressive reform movement that had played such an important role in the early-20th century. There were a range of issues that America needed to address, almost all of which were domestic matters: adjusting to demobilization, women's sufferage, farm problems, labor issues, immigration, prohibition, and a range of other issues. The euphoria of the World War I victory soon dissolved into disillusionment and rejection of war--all war. Many Americans came to regret participation in World War I. Even before the end of the War, this attitude began to to appear. Critics popularized the charge that America was dragged into the War by British propaganda, greedy bankers, and international arms merchants. The position of America in a Europe dominated by Imperial Germany was simply ignored in the debate during the 1920s. The number of men wounded and killed were substantial despite the fact that American units were in combat less then a year. They were a fraction of the losses experienced by the Europeans, but still had a substantial impact on American thinking. No one seemed to ask what would have resulted had the Germans been allowed to win the War and dominate Europe. For centuries the British had based their security on the independence of the Low Countries. Americans in the 1910s did not seem to feel a German-dominated Europe was a threat. Many were objected to the treaty-making process that followed the War. There was not only a rejection of the War, but a growing feeling that industrialists (arms makers which began to be referred to as the 'merchants of death') had drawn America into the War. This would be a recurring theme in inter-War politics and engendered Congressional hearings. And even though Congress turned up no evidence of these changes, it remained a popular theme, in part because it dove tailed with a popular tenant of Socialist thought. After the rise of the NAZIs in the 1930s and Germany's rearmament, it became increasingly clear that Europe was moving toward another war. There was considerable talk of war profiteering. Many were determined that America should avoid war at any cost. The anti-war sentiment in America and the memories of the men lost convinced many Americans that America must not get involved in any future European war.

The U.S. Military

The military, both the U.S. Navy and Army, was affected by the end of World War I and the overall political and economic trends of the inter-War era. This was intensified by the Great Depression. Naval spending was reduced, but maintained at a moderate level. Army spending was slashed to the bone. The result was that the Japanese managed to close the very substntial naval gap in the Pacific with the U.S. Pacific fleet. The Roosevelt Administrtion did pass naval spending bills that kept American in the game, but did not maintain a superior force in the Pacific. The Administration had taken steps to expand the Navy, but spending was still far below Japanese levels. Weapons development was poorly financed. As a result, the Pacific Fleet would be thrust into the Pacific war without aworking torpedo nd with obsolete aircraft. As regards the Army, the United States did not even pertend to maintain an important army along the lines of the major powers. The U.S. American Army as Europe moved toward war was almost non-existent as a major fighting force. Many small European armies were lager than the U.S. Army. At the time of the Muich crisis (September 1938), the Regular Army consisted of about 167,000 men. Countries like Romania had larger armies. This was abdsurdly small given the dangers posed in Europe and Asia. The Administration had moved to expand enlistments, but events in Europe moved much faster. The United States in 1940 was still without a significant army. Weapons development was also slashed. With the onset of the Depression, there was little interest in military spending. In particular the U.S. army except for a small professional core practically did not exist. There were still calvalry units and the force that did eist was not armed with modern weapons. The United States in 1940 despite the wars raging in Europe and Asia and the willingness of hostile powers to persue naked agression, American had not yet begun building a powerful army. As a result, when Hitler and Stalin launched World War II, the United States had virtually disarmed itself. President Roosevelt did moderately increase allocations for the air force, at the time the U.S. Army Air Corps.

Domestic Issues

The American people turned away from the Democrats and Wilsonian Idealism. The vast majority of Americans not only wanted a return to peace time pursuits, but were less interested in the progressive reform movement that had played such an important role in the early-20th century. There were a range of issues that America needed to address, almost all of which were domestic matters: adjusting to demobilization, women's sufferage, farm problems, labor issues, immigration, prohibition, and a range of other issues. Prohibition consumed much of the public debate. Here women's sufferage (19th Amendment) whatever its merits added large numbers of voters to the electorate that were not supportive of the miltary and military spending.The miltary cold not be further from the minds of most Americans. With economy booming, the aura of the era during the Roaring 20s was to enjoy life. The public mind shifted withthe Wakk Street crash (1929) and the Depression. The major interest during the 1930s was to end the Depression and most people wanted increaseddomestic spending, not military spending. The Depression brought a subtantial change in leadership and policies, but neither the Rpublicans or Democrats wanted substantially increased military spwnding. This aonly began to change in as Hitler moved toward war (late-1940s).

Anti-War Feeling

The euphoria of the World War I victory soon dissolved into disillusionment and rejection of war--all war. Many Americans came to regret participation in World War I. Even before the end of the War, this attitude began to to appear. The World War I casualties, although a fraction of the European fallen, were still sobering. Critics popularized the charge that America was dragged into the War by British propaganda, greedy bankers, and international arms merchants. The position of America in a Europe dominated by Imperial Germany was simply ignored in the debate during the 1920s. The number of men wounded and killed were substantial despite the fact that American units were in combat less then a year. They were a fraction of the losses experienced by the Europeans, but still had a substantial impact on American thinking. No one seemed to ask what would have resulted had the Germans been allowed to win the War and dominate Europe. For centuries the British had based their security on the independence of the Low Countries. Americans in the 1910s did not seem to feel a German-dominated Europe was a threat. Many were objected to the treaty-making process that followed the War. There was not only a rejection of the War, but a growing feeling that industrialists (arms makers which began to be referred to as the 'merchants of death') had drawn America into the War. This would be a recurring theme in inter-War politics and engendered Congressional hearings. And even though Congress turned up no evidence of these changes, it remained a popular theme, in part because it dove-tailed with a popular tenant of Socialist thought. Anti-War feeling divived into two major camps. First, There were pacifists who opposed all war and opposed preparations and military appriopriations. Second, There were also isolationits who wanted no part in another European war, although were not as opposed to a string stand ahainst the Japanese. The Isolationists, unlike the pacifists were not opposed to limited military appropriations supporting a strong continental defense.

Growing Threats

After the rise of the NAZIs in the 1930s and Germany's massive rearmament program, it became increasingly clear that Europe was moving toward another war. The Japanese threat was well understood. The growing Soviet power was simply ignored. It was Hitler and te NAZIs who made the headlines. The equally dark events in the Soviet Union were largely ignored. The Ukranian Genocide ws largely unknown. Hitler and the NAZIs made more headlines in part because they were proud of what they were doing, supressing disscent, terrorizng Jews, rearming the country. And they seemed so sucessful. Themilitary threat only behn to become apparent with the Minich Crisis and the Allied abandoment of democratic Czechoslovakia. Many Americans despite the growng threat did not want to fight the Germans again. This was in part because of the anti-War feeling and also the belief, accurate as it would prove, tht the Germans were so goodat war. There was also considerable talk of war profiteering despite the favt that the chrges had been largely disproven. Many Americans were determined that America should avoid war at any cost. The anti-war sentiment in America and the memories of the men lost convinced many Americans that America must not get involved in any future European war. Fortunately for America and the world, President Roosevelt clearly saw the growing danger.







HBC







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Created: 2:46 AM 12/12/2012
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