American Foreign Policy in Three Influential Wars Essay

This essay has a total of 3541 words and 14 pages.

American Foreign Policy in Three Influential Wars

American Foreign Policy in Three Influential Wars
Derek Brandt

With the race for the presidential election under way, American foreign policy has entered
the minds of many Americans. Like today, foreign policy was of great importance
throughout the twentieth-century; it has and continues to play key developmental roles in
economic, cultural, diplomatic, and social factors that America has faced. By looking
directly at the United States motivation in entering the Spanish-American War, World War
I, and World War II, it can be seen how these factors developed since the
turn-of-the-century. In this paper, I will compare and contrast the United States’
motivation for entering these wars by examining the four key factors of foreign policy
listed above, while displaying and discussing levels of continuity between these wars.

Much like the involvement in World War I and II, the United States took some time before
declaring war on Spain. Cuba had been dealing with an ongoing revolution in hopes of
acquiring its independence. In 1898, the United States helped Cuba defeat Spain.
However, Cuban independence was not the sole goal of the United States. The U.S. had long
hoped to establish a stronger presence throughout the Caribbean, Central America, and
Asia. According to Walter LaFeber regarding Cuba, “The island’s domination of three of
the four main communication routes in the Caribbean, its short interior lines between
ports, its long coastline and many harbors that made blockade nearly impossible—these
strategic reasons and the $50 million of U.S. investments in the rich sugar and mining
businesses made control necessary (1).” As stated, the economic factor played an
influential role in the Spanish-American War. The United States had just worked its way
out of its greatest depression to date and many Americans became deeply concerned whether
war would shoot the United States back into a depression.

However, as President McKinley promoted and comforted the business community, he began to
gain support. The community started to realize that involvement in the Spanish-American
War might in fact fuel profits in numerous industries and serve to protect the United
States trade and investments in the Pacific and Caribbean. Another benefit that coincided
with going to war was that the troubles in Cuba might subside (2). Some journalists were
even announcing that the war would further strengthen the transportation industry and that
profits in the iron industry had increased before the war had even started. By becoming
involved in the Cuban crisis, the United States thought it might be able to force Spain to
secede not only Cuba and Puerto Rico, but the Philippines as well. This was also of great
economic concern because they might provide the key in opening and strengthening Asian
markets. Emily S. Rosenberg states that, “Both farmers and industrialists hoped to open
Oriental markets, and yet, after China’s defeat in the Sino Japanese War in 1895, China
seemed in imminent danger of being closed off to Americans. A military and political
presence in the Philippines, trade expansionists hoped, would give the U.S. more leverage
in dealing with the big power scramble for concessions and spheres of influence in China.
By serving as a coaling station and base for America’s newly strengthened navy and as a
relay point for an infant communications system, the Philippines would become, one
business publication predicted, America’s Hong Kong—its gateway to the Orient (3).”

Some American’s believed that through America’s economic interests abroad, the United
States could further influence its Manifest Destiny of bettering foreign peoples by
showing them how to live in social and mutual harmony. If the United States acquired the
Caribbean islands and the Philippines, missionaries could strengthen themselves in these
locations. In spite of economic and missionary interests, the majority of American’s only
wanted to better the inhabitants of these islands on the islands themselves. Many people
were strongly opposed to colonizing the inhabitants in respect to their diversified racial
mixtures. The issue was predominantly concerned with Cuba. Americans argued that by
colonizing Cuba, the U.S. would bring inferior races into the country. This would only
add to the already heated racial tensions that were ongoing in the United States. As a
result, the U.S. passed the Platt Amendment, which allowed it to refrain from annexing
Cuba into the union while still increasing control over Cuban affairs; the amendment was
also used to help later presidents develop treaties in the Panama Canal region. The
United States also passed the Foraker Act that helped to do much of the same in Puerto
Rico. As a result of the Spanish-American War, the United States developed into an
economic powerhouse. Through gaining territories from the war, the United States presence
began to enter into the global atmosphere.

World War I had something of a different beginning for the United States. Unlike the
Spanish-American War, the initial causes had very little, if anything, to do with the
United States. There were three main causes that initiated the upheaval of World War I.
The first and most heated was the escalating tensions amongst ethnic groups in the
Austria-Hungary and Balkan nations. The groups were in constant competition for influence
over the region and when the assassination of the archduke of Austria occurred, the
Austro-Hungarian government blamed the Serbian government and declared war. As a result,
other nations were directly brought into the war through agreements and treaties. Other
reasons for World War I included the French and German dispute regarding Alsace-Lorraine,
and naval expansion disputes between Britain and Germany. Initially there was little
concern that whatever happened in Europe would affect the United States. If European
countries wanted to harm themselves, it might even make the U.S. more dominant in its
global presence; the United States declared neutrality. However, America certainly began
to feel the economic affects that the war was having on Europe. With the onset of a World
War, European countries were forced to spend incredible amounts of money on arms and
munitions, iron, steel, and foodstuffs, let alone their astronomical military
expenditures. As a direct result, the United States received a considerable portion of
European money. In a perfect world the United States would have been able to trade with
all nations involved in the war; through the British blockade, Germany eventually became
cut-off from American trade. Still, this did not hinder American profits. Between August
1914 and March 1917, $2.2 billion of arms were received from Britain and its allies (4).

By remaining neutral during the war, the U.S. gained a considerable amount of income.
With mounting debts in Europe, the nation was becoming a world power through trade while
directly helping the British side. This helped launch the United States status as the
leading global power. Ironically, by remaining neutral the U.S. found itself becoming
part of the European conflict. In May 1915, a German U-Boat sank a British ocean liner
carrying American travelers. A total of 128 American lives were lost. Obviously
infuriated by the incident there was a public outcry. President Wilson sent a letter to
Germany warning that the loss of American lives was not tolerated. With a growing concern
in the war, President Wilson began to voice American diplomacy. In 1916, Wilson attempted
to settle peace negotiations between the warring countries and called for a peace
conference. Although no one really believed that anything would come of it, they attended
anyway. The terms favored the allied side; although the terms were not dismissed right
away, the warring nations never intended to agree upon the conditions. In 1917, the
Russian Revolution occurred and the rise of a communist party took place. This only
heightened the need for direct U.S. involvement. Although Wilson had told Germany to stop
making submarines, they continued to do so. That same year, Germany unleashed an
unrestricted U-Boat campaign. America was aware of the growing influence of Germany in
Mexico. Their awareness was realized when the United States intercepted the Zimmerman
telegram in which the German foreign secretary offered an alliance between Germany and
Mexico. The telegram also mentioned that Mexico might possibly receive some of the lands
it had lost to the U.S. during the Mexican War in 1848. The U.S. could wait no longer.
On April 2, 1917, the United States entered the war.

Despite some effective war efforts, German forces fell in 1918. Soon after, the
Versailles Treaty was signed in Versailles, France, between Germany and the Allies in
1919. Italy, Britain, France, and the United States attended the treaty. As a result of
the war, the German government had been replaced by the German Republic and was
nevertheless excluded from attending the treaty. The treaty had an extreme economic and
social effect on Germany. Germany was forced to pay an enormous amount of money for
reparations. Since it did not have very much money after the war, German payment often
took the forms of ships, trains, and natural resources. The country was also forced to
recognize Poland, Belgium, Austria, Czechoslovakia, and Belgium and give up land to France
and other neighboring countries. Also, Germany was not allowed to trade or produce war
material, demilitarize along the Rhine, and dramatically reduce its military. The effects
these demands had on Germany will be discussed later. In January 1918, Wilson gave his
famous Fourteen Points speech. The speech was a summary of detailed conditions that would
help establish peace after the war. References to open diplomacy, Open Door, arms
control, and the league of nations were included. (5). This was a huge political result
of the war. Realistically, Wilson was asking for too much and was basically forced to
abandon the program. However, he did secure support for the 14th point. The 14th point
would implement the League of Nations that would serve as an international committee for
maintaining peace. Wilson was certain that he had support from his own country in joining
the League of Nations. However, when he went back to the United States he found heavy
opposition. The senate immediately began deliberations. The deliberations about joining
the League and accepting the Versailles Peace Treaty lasted almost a year. Many members
of the senate believed that by joining the League and signing the Treaty, the U.S. would
be obligated to help defend another nation(s) regardless of what Americans felt and quite
possibly end up in another foreign war that had little to do with America. This was
simply too much of a risk and the senate rejected the League of Nations and the Versailles
Treaty. Instead, the U.S. signed a treaty with Germany in 1921.

The economic impact of the war was extreme. At one end of the spectrum people profited
greatly. At the other end, extreme poverty and debt resulted. Inflation had the most
detrimental effect. While huge war budgets were rising, high demand was rising as well.
As a result of inflation, there were shortages on many consumer goods. Another result is
that whenever you lose a large proportion of society, it greatly affects the economy.
Casualties in land forces totaled more the 37 million while almost 10 million civilians
were lost their lives as a result of World War I. Total war costs are believed to have
amounted to $186 billion. The effects of this were astounding. The governments of Europe
and Asia were weakened while it provided the emergence of the United States as the leading
world power and an overpowering economic giant. It also set the stage for a global
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