The USA after World War I 

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Classe(s) : Tle ES - Tle L - Tle S | Thème(s) : The USA and the world since the "Fourteen Points"
Corpus Corpus 1
The USA after World War I




> timelines and maps, p. I-III

On April 2nd, 1917, President Woodrow Wilson requested from Congress a declaration of war against Germany. In his message, he made clear his ambitions for a peace rooted in American moral values. Is this statement a rupture in traditional US foreign policy? What is its posterity
after the end of World War I?

1 Cornerstones of American foreign policy

A Disentanglement*

 In 1796, retiring President George Washington warned Americans to avoid permanent alliances with foreign nations and to set aside their likes and dislikes of foreign nations, lest they be controlled by their passions.

 Washington’s remarks have served as an inspiration for American isolationism.

B Interventionism in Americas

 In December 1823, in his address to Congress, President James Monroe declared that Europeans would not increase their influence or recolonize any part of the Western Hemisphere (meaning Americas). He defined what is known as the Monroe Doctrine.

 In the early 1900s, President Theodore Roosevelt defined a new American approach in Americas, often characterized as the “Big Stick diplomacy”. In December 1904, the Roosevelt Corollary stated that the USA would use military force to restore internal stability in Latin America and the Caribbean islands.

C John Hay’s Open Door policy

 Secretary of State John Hay first expressed the concept of the “Open Door” in China in a series of notes in 1899-1900. These Open Door Notes proposed that all countries should be allowed to trade with China on an equal basis.

 By extension, the USA promoted the importance of free trade all around the world.

2 1918-1941: idealism, isolationism
and back to interventionism

A The Fourteen Points

 During his tenure as President (1913-1921), Woodrow Wilson encouraged Americans to look beyond* their economic interests and to define foreign policy in terms of ideals and morality.

keyword The 14th point proposed
the creation of the League of Nations
to guarantee the “political independence […of] great and small states alike”.

 In a program of fourteen points, Wilson presented to a joint session of Congress on January 8th, 1918, general principles for a peacefulworld: open covenants*; freedom of the seas; free trade; reduction of armaments; and adjustment of colonial claims based on the principles of self-determination.

B Back to “disentanglement”

 In 1919, the US Senate never ratified the Treaty of Versailles and didn’t allow the USA to join the League of Nations.

 The 1920 presidential campain was a referendum on Wilsonian idealism. Americans voted for Republican Warren G. Harding, who promised a return to “normalcy”, meaning isolationism.

 This foreign policy was followed throughout the 1920s and 1930s. From 1935 to 1937, a North Dakota Senator, Gerald P. Nye, persuaded Congress to pass four Neutrality Acts. They required the President to embargo arms supplies to all states in war.

C Roosevelt’s policy

 In December 1940, President Franklin D. Roosevelt asked Congress to permit the British to defer all payments until after the war. This new initiative would be known as the Lend-Lease* Act.

 But Roosevelt refused to enter the conflict. He was “not willing to fire the first shot”. Finally, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941 forced the US government into war.

  • a disentanglement = un désengagement
  • a covenant
    = une négociation
  • a lend-lease = un prêt-bail
  • to look beyond
    = voir plus loin


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