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World War I is the Time Frame 1910 ~ 1920

Roger C. Davis

The War years of World War I are selected as our theme period for this issue. The 1910 and 1920 Census, together with Military Documentation about this period, are good sources to find information about our parents and so start a journey back in time to locate past generations.

In August 1914 the peace of Europe was shattered and Germany and Austria-Hungary (the Central Powers) were pitted against Britain, France and Russia. President Woodrow Wilson issued a proclamation of neutrality on August 4. Each tried to throttle American trade with the other. Britain, whose battle fleet controlled the surface of the Atlantic, succeeded spectacularly. American commerce with Germany had fallen by 1916 to less than 1 percent of its 1914 value. Trade with Britain and her allies tripled. Contrary to traditional practice, submerged U-boats torpedoed merchant ships without warning. When sinkings resulted in the loss of American lives – as in the assault on the British passenger liner Lusitania on May 7, 1915, killing 128 Americans – America protested vehemently. These "overt acts" came with the sinking of several American ships in February and March 1917.

Wilson, though reelected in November 1916 on the slogan, "he kept us out of war," asked Congress on April 2 for a Declaration of War. Four days later, Congress complied.

The 1910 census revealed that one out of every three Americans was either foreign-born or the child of a foreign-born parent. Of those 32 million Americans with strong foreign ties, some 10 million came from what were now the enemy countries of Germany and Austria-Hungary.

The Selective Service Act of May 18, 1917, helped raise the size of the American army from about 200,000 men in early 1917 to nearly 4 million by war’s end. Some two-million men served overseas in the American Expeditionary Force (AEF), of whom roughly three-quarters experienced combat. About a million women entered the labor force during the war, but most quickly departed when peace returned.

Russia, under a new revolutionary government, concluded a separate peace with Germany and left the war in March 1918. General John J. Pershing, commander of AEF, landed in France on June 14, 1917.

In May 1918, green American troops fought at Cantigny and at Chateau-Thiery and Belleau Wood in June. The Saint-Mihiel campaign, September 12-16, 1918 went smoothly. The Meuse-Argonne offensive, launched on September 26, 1918 was bitter and costly in casualties. Pershing hurled some 1.2 million "doughboys" into the Meuse-Argonne attack. What they lacked in experience they made up in numbers. They were able to break the German resistance and the war ended with the surrender of the Central Powers on November 11, 1918.

Total American war deaths were 112,432, more than half from disease. Government expenditures related to the war totaled some $26 billion during war time and eventually with interest rates, veteran’s benefits, and the like cost $112 billion. America’s main contributions to the victory over the Central Powers had been foodstuffs, manpower, and money.

Source: "The Readers Companion to American History," edited by Eric Foner and John A. Garraty, (exerpted from pages 1170-1173.)

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Last Updated  Friday, 30 January 2004 06:20 PM