Neutraility 1914-17

  • Created by: Pip Dan
  • Created on: 20-09-17 14:27

Wilson and Moral Diplomacy

President Woodrow Wilson and his Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan genuinely believed that the USA had a responsibility to improve the  lives of foreign peoples through US example. They spoke of a 'moral diplomacy' in which the desire to do good would govern US policy. They believed that contact with the USA could only benefit others; that the USA was morally superior to other nations and that its diplomacy was governed by noble and benevolent principles. This description of his ideological perspectives on foreign policy is also known as Wilsonianism.

To this end, the USA gave Colombia $20 million in reparations for the role the USA had played in encouraging the Panamanians to rebel from Colombian rule in 1903. Nevertheless, Wilson went on to intervene many times in Latin America. In this sense he continued and indeed extended the policies of Roosevelt and Taft, which he had opposed before taking office.

Wilson's idealism

Wilson declared, on taking office, that future co-operation in Latin America would only be possible with 'just' government, the implication being that he would oppose military dictatorships or revolutionary governments. This took the Roosevelt Corollary to a new level. The goal in Latin America became 'to support the orderly processes of just government based upon law and not upon arbitrary or irregular forces'. Indeed he went further, saying 'I am going to teach the South American Republics to elect good men'. One of his envoys, Walter H. Page, actually went further still, saying, presumably in an  unguarded moment, that US forces would 'shot men until they learn to vote and rule themselves'.

All this may seem naïve in the world of international relations. However, Wilson's idealism did achieve some successes:

  • He fought against special concessions - he insisted that Congress, for example, repeal the 1912 law exempting US coastal shipping from paying tolls to the Panama Canal
  • US interests built highways, bridges, airfields, hospitals and schools and set up telephone services throughout Latin America

However, Wilson involved the USA more than any president in its history thus far in foreign affairs.

The onset of war, 1914

At the onset of war in August 1914, the USA apparently adopted a policy of neutrality which was maintained until April 1917, when it entered the war as an associated power on the side of the Allies. During the 1916 presidential elections. Wilson campaigned to keep the USA out of war, and yet a few months after his electoral victory he had joined the conflict.

Reasons for neutrality

There are various reasons why the USA attempted to remain neutral in August 1914 including the weight of public opinion and Wilsonianism.

  • Public opinion - The prevailing mood in the USA was that the war in Europe had nothing to do with them. There was a widespread feeling that wars were wrong and achieved little. On 29 August 1914, 1,500 women marched down Fifth Avenue in New York in black robes to the beat of drums to protest


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