World War One was a conflict between the Central Powers and Allied Powers. The Central Powers (red) consists of Austria-Hungary, Germany, Bulgaria, and the Ottoman Empire.

Central Powers and Allied Powers

By January 1917 the German situation was becoming more and more difficult, with the starvation blockade taking a terrible toll on civilians. The German military managed to persuade the civilian leadership that it was necessary to engage in unrestricted submarine warfare, even if it meant war with the United States. They believed that Germany could sink enough enemy shipping that the war would be won by the time the Americans could send an expeditionary force to Europe.


Not surprisingly, fewer and fewer American ship captains dared venture into the war zone, not wanting to be sunk by a German submarine. Now for those historians who, out of a misplaced devotion to Wilson’s memory, try to claim that the president was a lover of peace who desperately tried to avoid American involvement in the war, it is difficult to account for what Wilson did next. Breaking with all previous American tradition, the president called for arming merchant ships with U.S. Navy guns and staffing them with Navy crews, and instructing them to fire on any surfacing submarine they encountered. Bearing such instructions, American merchant ships headed for the war zone. Four of them had been sunk by the time Wilson requested a declaration of war from Congress in April.

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