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Nothing Less Than War

A New History of America’s Entry into World War I

Justus Doenecke

Publication Year: 2011

When war broke out in Europe in 1914, political leaders in the United States were swayed by popular opinion to remain neutral; yet less than three years later, the nation declared war on Germany. In Nothing Less Than War: A New History of America’s Entry into World War I, Justus D. Doenecke examines the clash of opinions over the war during this transformative period and offers a fresh perspective on America’s decision to enter World War I. Doenecke reappraises the public and private diplomacy of President Woodrow Wilson and his closest advisors and explores in great depth the response of Congress to the war. He also investigates the debates that raged in the popular media and among citizen groups that sprang up across the country as the U.S. economy was threatened by European blockades and as Americans died on ships sunk by German U-boats. The decision to engage in battle ultimately belonged to Wilson, but as Doenecke demonstrates, Wilson’s choice was not made in isolation. Nothing Less Than War provides a comprehensive examination of America’s internal political climate and its changing international role during the seminal period of 1914–1917.

Published by: The University Press of Kentucky

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. ix

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pp. xi-xii

Some years ago I was privileged to participate in a seminar on the presidency of Woodrow Wilson conducted by Arthur S. Link, the world’s foremost scholar on America’s twenty-eighth president. My doctoral dissertation, however, though written under Link’s direction, centered on U.S.–Far Eastern relations in the early 1930s. Since then I have worked primarily in the presidencies of Herbert Hoover and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, with a side excursion ...

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1. Setting the Stage

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pp. 1-18

For over a year the president had sought to steer a neutral course during a conflict first known as the Great War, then as World War I. Costing 30 million casualties and 8 million dead, the event was sufficiently cataclysmic for diplomat and historian George Frost Kennan to designate it “the great seminal conflict of this century.”1 During the past few months, one major power had confiscated huge amounts of American goods being shipped ...

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2. The Earliest Debates: August 1914–March 1915

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pp. 19-57

On the afternoon of August 6, 1914, a dying woman whispered into the ear of her physician: “Promise me that you will take good care of my husband.” As a downstairs clock chimed five times, her spouse asked the doctor, “Is it over?” Receiving a nod, he walked to a window and cried out: “Oh, my God, what am I to do?” Th en, composing himself, he vowed: “I must not ...

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3. In Peril on the Sea: February–August 1915

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pp. 58-92

We are not waging war against women and children. We wish to fight this war as gentlemen, no matter what the other side may do. Take note of that.”1 Kaiser Wilhelm II uttered these words to his admirals late in November 1914 in expressing relief that a large British liner escaped a submarine. Just over two months later, on February 4, 1915, the German Admiralty ...

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4. Toward the Arabic Crisis: January–August 1915

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pp. 93-121

In 1921 West Point graduate Philip Dru, stationed at Fort Magruder, Texas, near the Rio Grande, became lost in the desert and suffered a sunstroke. Discharged from the army, he learned that a secret plutocratic oligarchy had gained control of the United States. Once the American people discovered the plot, civil war broke out, in which Dru successfully led an insurrectionary ...

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5. Frustrating Times: August 1915–March 1916

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pp. 122-154

On August 19, 1915, seventy miles off Queenstown, Ireland, at about three in the afternoon, the German submarine U-27 halted the British mule steamer Nicosian. Acting in accordance with the rules of international law, the U-boat was waiting for the Nicosian’s crew to evacuate, when a vessel that appeared to be a tramp steamer, flying the American flag, approached. Once ...

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6. Tensions with Germany and Britain: January–September 1916

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pp. 155-187

Before Wilson joined the preparedness crusade, he faced a major challenge: Britain’s arming of merchant ships. Th e practice, accepted in international law, had begun over a century earlier. A merchantman would have a small gun on deck to ward off pirates or “privateers,” that is, private vessels that governments commission in wartime to attack enemy ships. ...

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7. Preparedness Debates and the Presidential Election: March–November 1916 [Includes Color Plates]

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pp. 188-216

So spoke the chairman of the House Military Affairs Committee and author of one of the most provocative bills of the Wilson presidency. Representative Frank L. Greene (R-Vt.) responded that after the war a prosperous United States would find itself subjected to the jealous rivalry of “any or all the powers of the Old World.” Hay in turn ...

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8. To End a Conflict: October 1916– January 1917

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pp. 254-249

After two years of fighting on the various fronts, the belligerents were merely continuing their mutual slaughter. By September 1916, France and Germany had experienced 1 million casualties at Verdun; by November Britain had lost 400,000 men in the Somme offensive. If, that summer, Russian offensives cost the Central Powers 600,000 men, the czarist regime ...

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9. The Break with Germany: January–March 1917

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pp. 250-277

On January 31, Ambassador Bernstorff presented Lansing with Germany’s response to Wilson’s recent “peace without victory” plea. Th e ambassador endorsed Wilson’s call for an economic open door, freedom of the seas, and equal rights for all nations. He backed the president’s plea for self-government of subject peoples, though he pointedly referred to British domination of Ireland and India. He denied that Germany sought to annex Belgium; Germany ...

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10. And the War Came: March–April 1917

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pp. 278-299

On March 12, at 6:00 a.m., the German U-38 attacked the Algonquin, an American merchantman, sixty-five miles off the Isles of Scilly. A former lake steamer bound from New York to London, it carried $1.25 million worth of foodstuff s as well as copper, tin, machinery, and chemicals. Th e ship had just been transferred from British registry to the American Star Line. Th e vessel displayed Old Glory; the nation’s colors were painted clearly on its side. ...

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11. Conclusion

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pp. 300-308

To evaluate American policy during the first half of World War I, one must focus on the leadership of Woodrow Wilson. As president he held responsibility for the individuals he chose to advise him and execute his policies. Here, far too often, the chief executive made poor choices. Secretary of State Bryan remained an inept moralist, for whom every broad problem could be solved by a dogmatic form of neutrality and every narrow one by ...


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pp. 309-348

Bibliographic Essay

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pp. 349-368


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pp. 369-394

E-ISBN-13: 9780813130033
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813130026

Page Count: 432
Publication Year: 2011

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • World War, 1914-1918 -- Diplomatic history.
  • World War, 1914-1918 -- Public opinion.
  • Wilson, Woodrow, 1856-1924.
  • United States -- Politics and government -- 1913-1921.
  • World War, 1914-1918 -- United States.
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