President Woodrow Wilson, to this day, stands as one of the most interesting Presidents in U.S. history. His legacy included a horrendously botched attempt to build what we now know as the United Nations, one of the most profound Presidential doctrines, and an interesting entry into the modern world’s first war.
On May 7, 1915, the British ocean liner Lusitania was torpedoed by a German submarine off the Southern coast of Ireland.
Within minutes, the ship had sunk into the Celtic Sea. There were 1,959 souls on board. 1,198 of them perished — including 128 Americans.
Of course, this act sparked considerable indignation in the United States as Wilson had pledged neutrality in the growing war. The Germans defended the attack noting that they had issued a warning to all ships, neutral or otherwise, who entered the war zone around Britain. In early May of 1915, several national papers had issued the notice from the German Embassy in Washington. It warned Americans traveling on Allied ships do so at their own risk.
When the war erupted in 1914, Wilson had pledged a position of neutrality. However, in an increasingly interconnected world, Wilson would find that neutrality remains an illusive idea.
Germany had expressed anger over the United States’ relationship with Britain and the attempted quarantine of the British Isles.
Prior to the Lusitania’s departure, the British government had warned the captain to find an alternate route, or use evasive maneuvers to avoid the inevitable attack. The captain ignored the warnings.
At 2:12 pm on May 7, 1915, the Lusitania was struck by a torpedo on its starboard side.
It was later revealed the ship was carrying nearly 200 pounds of war munitions from the United States back to Britain. The Germans would cite this as further justification for attack. Claiming neutrality, the United States sent three separate notes to Berlin protesting the attack. Germany would apologize and end the policy of unrestricted submarine warfare.
In November, German submarines also sank an Italian ship, this time without warning. The attack claimed the lives of 272 individuals — including 28 Americans.
This event began to drastically turn American public’s opinion of the war effort — inching them closer to supporting entry into The Great War.
Interested in winning this war of attrition, on January 31, 1917, Germany announced it would resume unrestricted warfare in war-zone waters. Three days later, the United States broke diplomatic relations with Germany and the tide began to turn.
Hours later, Housatonic was sunk by a German U-Boat. By February 22, Congress passed a 250 million dollar arms appropriation bill to ready the United States for war.
In late March, Germany sunk four more U.S. merchant ships. On April 2nd, President Wilson went before Congress and asked for a declaration of war against Germany. Two days later, the Senate declared war. On April 6th, the House of Representatives endorsed the decision.
With that, America entered World War I.