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Subject: Why did the United States side with Britain and France instead of Germany in WWI? rss

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Grand Admiral Thrawn
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My father asked me this the other day at Christmas Eve Eve dinner and I struggled to find a complex and fitting answer. There's a simplistic answer in my head that the USA and UK have similar cultural roots and the German navy was using submarine warfare against our shipping. I can just look more up in secondary or tertiary sources but you guys are exceptionally well-read and helped me with a Holocaust topic. Anyhoo, I defer to your nerdiness.
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einsteinidahosu wrote:
My father asked me this the other day at Christmas Eve Eve dinner and I struggled to find a complex and fitting answer. There's a simplistic answer in my head that the USA and UK have similar cultural roots and the German navy was using submarine warfare against our shipping. I can just look more up in secondary or tertiary sources but you guys are exceptionally well-read and helped me with a Holocaust topic. Anyhoo, I defer to your nerdiness.


Well, you could ask in the Wargames forums for even better answers.

Anyway, the US didn't side with them, at least not until very late (back then the US was determined to remain isolationist and neutral, in large part because America had quite the mix of peoples from all nations concerned), and even then I'd say it was more taking against Germany.

The usual reason given is two-part - the sinking of the Lusitania, or, more precisely, the public outcry arising from that sinking, and the offer (intercepted and published) to Mexico to help re-take territory lost to the US (an offer made at the same time as it was decided to resume attacks on all vessels entering British waters - the Germans knew that this would be seen as aggression against the US, and so really committed to an anti-US strategy).

These are generally taken as the last straws in painting Germany as the aggressor, and the aggressor in a war is by default the bad guy. The public clamour forced Woodrow Wilson's hand, by all accounts, after he had expended considerable time and effort keeping the US out of the European war.

I guess the real question is why the Germans made the strategic choice they did; I've never really looked into it, and it wasn't part of my (very limited) formal education on WW1.
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This is a very good question. USA policies favored the Allies from the beginning. The USA accepted the unconventional British blockade of Germany, while taking a strong stand against the unconventional German submarine blockade of Britain. The USA supplied the Allies with weapons, and loaned them the money to buy these weapons.

Secretary of State Bryan opposed President Wilson favoring the Allies over Germany, because he thought it could lead to war. He resigned because of this.

There are many reasons the USA favored the Allies:
1. The Germans did start the war.
2. The USA favored democracies over authoritarian governments.
3. The Germans invaded Belgium.
4. Allied propaganda was more effective than German propaganda.
5. Allied trade with the USA was a boost to the economy.
6. The British gave compensation when they took goods headed for Germany. The German submarines just sunk ships and killed passengers.

A more neutral US policy would have changed history. It is possible that it would have led to a German victory. It is also possible that it would have led to a fairer peace treaty than the actual one.

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I think the British were the ones who told the U.S. about the Mexican offer of retaking lost territory.

In all honesty were weren't exactly neutral when it came to shipping, we'd follow Uboats and radio their positions.
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We had a lot of German sympathizers ( see American Bundt Rally's) prayer to Japan attacking Pearl Harbor.

In my opinion we were on the fence between England and Germany until Germany's Ally attacked us. But it was kind of a 2/3 1/3 fence.
 
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maxo-texas wrote:
We had a lot of German sympathizers ( see American Bundt Rally's) prayer to Japan attacking Pearl Harbor.

In my opinion we were on the fence between England and Germany until Germany's Ally attacked us. But it was kind of a 2/3 1/3 fence.


The OP asked about World War I, not World War II.

During World War II, we were openly favoring Britain over Germany before Pearl Harbor in 1941. We were attacking German submarines, and they were fighting back.
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MikePustilnik wrote:
maxo-texas wrote:
We had a lot of German sympathizers ( see American Bundt Rally's) prayer to Japan attacking Pearl Harbor.

In my opinion we were on the fence between England and Germany until Germany's Ally attacked us. But it was kind of a 2/3 1/3 fence.


The OP asked about World War I, not World War II.

During World War II, we were openly favoring Britain over Germany before Pearl Harbor in 1941. We were attacking German submarines, and they were fighting back.


It's actually the American Bund.

http://www.thehistoryreader.com/modern-history/6-things-may-...

Quote:
1. The German-American Bund, headed by its popinjay leader Bundesführer Fritz Kuhn thrived from 1936 through 1939. Though their membership rolls were secretive, Kuhn claimed he had 200,000 followers nationwide. More reliable estimates from the FBI put the group between 6,000 to 8,000, though an American Legion study found upwards of 25,000 members. Certainly there were enough Bundists to develop a nationwide system of family retreats, businesses, publications, plus the organization’s own versions of Hitler Youth and SS squadrons. At their height in February 1939, the Bund held a rally in Madison Square Garden with some 20,000 people packing the arena to hear speeches by Kuhn and his flunkies. The group came to a crashing end when the Bundesführer went to prison after being convicted on embezzlement charges for using Bund funds to finance his numerous romantic dalliances.



https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/German_American_Bund


Quote:
The German American Bund, or German American Federation (German: Amerikadeutscher Bund; Amerikadeutscher Volksbund, AV), was a German-American pro-Nazi organization established in 1936 to succeed Friends of New Germany (FONG), the new name being chosen to emphasize the group's American credentials after press criticism that the organization was unpatriotic.[4] The Bund was to consist only of American citizens of German descent.[5] Its main goal was to promote a favorable view of Nazi Germany.


America was massively isolationist.

Lindberg who was considered as a presidential candidate spoke on staying out of the war and was given medals by the Germans just before the war.

There were some really big pro-german rallies up until just before the war started.

https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2017/08/23/nazi-germ...

When Nazis Filled Madison Square Garden

Quote:
In 1939, a Bund rally in New York turned violent—and ultimately doomed that era’s American Nazi movement. Could Charlottesville do the same for a new generation of white nationalists?

By GORDON F. SANDER

August 23, 2017

Anxious to find precedents for the frightening and ultimately deadly white nationalist, “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, some media outlets have likened the images of the recent mayhem in Virginia to the chilling ones of the German-American Bund rally that filled Madison Square Garden on February 20, 1939, with 22,000 hate-spewing American Nazis.

That rally, the largest such conclave in U.S. history, shocked Americans at the time. They had seen the press accounts and newsreel footage of the Nazis’ massive Nuremburg rallies; they had read about Kristallnacht, the murderous, two-day anti-Semitic pogrom of November 1938, which the Bund—the fast-growing, American version of the German Nazi party, which trumpeted the Nazi philosophy, but with a stars-and-stripes twist—had unabashedly endorsed.


So.. you guys never heard of this?

Rooseveldt liked Uk. But not all americans. Roosevelt wanted to intervene but many americans wanted to remain isolated-- protected by the oceans. If japan hadn't attacked pearl harbor- it is fairly likely we would have stood out of the war much longer. Until it was too late for UK. And once UK was gone- american intervention wouldn't have been as effective.
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Michael Pustilnik
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maxo-texas wrote:
. . .
So.. you guys never heard of this?

Rooseveldt liked Uk. But not all americans. Roosevelt wanted to intervene but many americans wanted to remain isolated-- protected by the oceans. If japan hadn't attacked pearl harbor- it is fairly likely we would have stood out of the war much longer. Until it was too late for UK. And once UK was gone- american intervention wouldn't have been as effective.


Yes, there were "many" American isolationists, and some outright Nazi sympathizers. But most Americans did favor Britain. A typical American sentiment was "all aid [to Britain] short of war". Congress did approve the lend lease act.

Even without Pearl Harbor, I think America would have gone to war with Germany in 1942. Tensions were steadily rising due to the shooting war in the Atlantic, and Hitler was running out of patience.
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In the category of 'weird geek prejudices', the wargame forum always seems like it would be a huge nightmare to me
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MikePustilnik wrote:
maxo-texas wrote:
. . .
So.. you guys never heard of this?

Rooseveldt liked Uk. But not all americans. Roosevelt wanted to intervene but many americans wanted to remain isolated-- protected by the oceans. If japan hadn't attacked pearl harbor- it is fairly likely we would have stood out of the war much longer. Until it was too late for UK. And once UK was gone- american intervention wouldn't have been as effective.


Yes, there were "many" American isolationists, and some outright Nazi sympathizers. But most Americans did favor Britain. A typical American sentiment was "all aid [to Britain] short of war". Congress did approve the lend lease act.

Even without Pearl Harbor, I think America would have gone to war with Germany in 1942. Tensions were steadily rising due to the shooting war in the Atlantic, and Hitler was running out of patience.


I agree those are good points!
 
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windsagio wrote:
In the category of 'weird geek prejudices', the wargame forum always seems like it would be a huge nightmare to me


That you think that doesn’t surprise me.
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maxo-texas wrote:
MikePustilnik wrote:
maxo-texas wrote:
We had a lot of German sympathizers ( see American Bundt Rally's) prayer to Japan attacking Pearl Harbor.

In my opinion we were on the fence between England and Germany until Germany's Ally attacked us. But it was kind of a 2/3 1/3 fence.


The OP asked about World War I, not World War II.

During World War II, we were openly favoring Britain over Germany before Pearl Harbor in 1941. We were attacking German submarines, and they were fighting back.


It's actually the American Bund.

http://www.thehistoryreader.com/modern-history/6-things-may-...

Quote:
1. The German-American Bund, headed by its popinjay leader Bundesführer Fritz Kuhn thrived from 1936 through 1939. Though their membership rolls were secretive, Kuhn claimed he had 200,000 followers nationwide. More reliable estimates from the FBI put the group between 6,000 to 8,000, though an American Legion study found upwards of 25,000 members. Certainly there were enough Bundists to develop a nationwide system of family retreats, businesses, publications, plus the organization’s own versions of Hitler Youth and SS squadrons. At their height in February 1939, the Bund held a rally in Madison Square Garden with some 20,000 people packing the arena to hear speeches by Kuhn and his flunkies. The group came to a crashing end when the Bundesführer went to prison after being convicted on embezzlement charges for using Bund funds to finance his numerous romantic dalliances.



https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/German_American_Bund


Quote:
The German American Bund, or German American Federation (German: Amerikadeutscher Bund; Amerikadeutscher Volksbund, AV), was a German-American pro-Nazi organization established in 1936 to succeed Friends of New Germany (FONG), the new name being chosen to emphasize the group's American credentials after press criticism that the organization was unpatriotic.[4] The Bund was to consist only of American citizens of German descent.[5] Its main goal was to promote a favorable view of Nazi Germany.


America was massively isolationist.

Lindberg who was considered as a presidential candidate spoke on staying out of the war and was given medals by the Germans just before the war.

There were some really big pro-german rallies up until just before the war started.

https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2017/08/23/nazi-germ...

When Nazis Filled Madison Square Garden

Quote:
In 1939, a Bund rally in New York turned violent—and ultimately doomed that era’s American Nazi movement. Could Charlottesville do the same for a new generation of white nationalists?

By GORDON F. SANDER

August 23, 2017

Anxious to find precedents for the frightening and ultimately deadly white nationalist, “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, some media outlets have likened the images of the recent mayhem in Virginia to the chilling ones of the German-American Bund rally that filled Madison Square Garden on February 20, 1939, with 22,000 hate-spewing American Nazis.

That rally, the largest such conclave in U.S. history, shocked Americans at the time. They had seen the press accounts and newsreel footage of the Nazis’ massive Nuremburg rallies; they had read about Kristallnacht, the murderous, two-day anti-Semitic pogrom of November 1938, which the Bund—the fast-growing, American version of the German Nazi party, which trumpeted the Nazi philosophy, but with a stars-and-stripes twist—had unabashedly endorsed.


So.. you guys never heard of this?

Rooseveldt liked Uk. But not all americans. Roosevelt wanted to intervene but many americans wanted to remain isolated-- protected by the oceans. If japan hadn't attacked pearl harbor- it is fairly likely we would have stood out of the war much longer. Until it was too late for UK. And once UK was gone- american intervention wouldn't have been as effective.


I miss Shreve.
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mlcarter815 wrote:
windsagio wrote:
In the category of 'weird geek prejudices', the wargame forum always seems like it would be a huge nightmare to me


That you think that doesn’t surprise me.


:'(
 
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einsteinidahosu wrote:
My father asked me this the other day at Christmas Eve Eve dinner and I struggled to find a complex and fitting answer. There's a simplistic answer in my head that the USA and UK have similar cultural roots and the German navy was using submarine warfare against our shipping. I can just look more up in secondary or tertiary sources but you guys are exceptionally well-read and helped me with a Holocaust topic. Anyhoo, I defer to your nerdiness.


Well, knowing that the queen of England is originally German - and knowing the past history between England and France - it is already surprising that UK did not side with Germany and against France.
WWI should have really been US&France vs UK&Germany

Edit: and it would have made for a much more balanced game. It's pretty clear that WWI was poorly play-tested......



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gameced wrote:
einsteinidahosu wrote:
My father asked me this the other day at Christmas Eve Eve dinner and I struggled to find a complex and fitting answer. There's a simplistic answer in my head that the USA and UK have similar cultural roots and the German navy was using submarine warfare against our shipping. I can just look more up in secondary or tertiary sources but you guys are exceptionally well-read and helped me with a Holocaust topic. Anyhoo, I defer to your nerdiness.


Well, knowing that the queen of England is originally German - and knowing the past history between England and France - it is already surprising that UK did not side with Germany and against France.
WWI should have really been US&France vs UK&Germany

Edit: and it would have made for a much more balanced game. It's pretty clear that WWI was poorly play-tested......





King George V, Kaiser Wilhelm II, and Tsar Nicholas II were all cousins. In this case blood isn’t thicker than politics.
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The US history teacher in high school AP US history argued strongly that pragmatically the US had far more cause to declare war against Britain and its Allies (the Triple Entente) than against what in the US became known as the Central Powers (the Quadruple alliance). America sold arms and supplies to both sides, defied embargoes from both and against sides, and so lost shipping to both sides. Yet, my teacher argued, Britain in particular violated US shipping rights (as the US saw them) far more often and more substantially than the Germans did. Nevertheless, so he argued, ideology backed by Wilson who was a staunch Anglophile carried the day over pragmatism.

It's been most of three decades since then and so I cannot reproduce those arguments in any detail. They seemed convincing at the time and were backed by various references. He regarded the notorious Zimmerman telegram as an obvious and racist forgery, as I recall.
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whac3 wrote:
The US history teacher in high school AP US history argued strongly that pragmatically the US had far more cause to declare war against Britain and its Allies (the Triple Entente) than against what in the US became known as the Central Powers (the Quadruple alliance). America sold arms and supplies to both sides, defied embargoes from both and against sides, and so lost shipping to both sides. Yet, my teacher argued, Britain in particular violated US shipping rights (as the US saw them) far more often and more substantially than the Germans did. Nevertheless, so he argued, ideology backed by Wilson who was a staunch Anglophile carried the day over pragmatism.

It's been most of three decades since then and so I cannot reproduce those arguments in any detail. They seemed convincing at the time and were backed by various references. He regarded the notorious Zimmerman telegram as an obvious and racist forgery, as I recall.


Sounds like he had an axe to grind on the latter point, which is pretty solidly attested. Such as by Zimmermann admitting it was genuine, which reduces what you describe to conspiracy theory. And what the British never did was the equivalent of sinking the Lusitania. That didn't bring the US into the war, but it made allying with the Central Powers a non-starter.
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In the overall scheme of things, Britain did violate U.S. shipping rights both more often and more consistently than Germany. The Royal Navy had total control of the merchant shipping lanes and seized anything bound for Germany or the Netherlands.

However, as has been pointed out, the British paid for the seized cargoes, while Germany's submarine fleet could only sink the ships, which killed the crews and passengers and resulted in a total loss. Wilson had it in his authority to order that no U.S. ship proceed into the war zone; but this would have been an extremely unpopular way of surrendering freedom of the seas, which was a core tenet of U.S. foreign policy. It's Point II of Wilson's Fourteen Points, in case anyone was unaware or has forgotten.

---------------------------------

The primary reasons that the U.S. entered the war are three-fold, and all of them occurred virtually simultaneously, between the day Wilson was re-elected as the "peace candidate" and the day he was sworn in for his second term.

1. Resumption of unrestricted submarine warfare.
2. The Zimmerman Telegram.
3. The fall of the Tsar.

The fall of the Tsar and his replacement by a provisional government with democratic trappings remade the war into a fight of republics and constitutional monarchies against the absolute monarchies of Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Turkey. This uncomplicated the political question to a considerable degree.

The first two were entirely Germany's fault, and they represented a desperate attempt to win the war quickly, before their economic and materiel house of cards collapsed. The British blockade worked, up to a point. Germany was starved of resources. In addition, the vast numbers of men called into service left its agricultural production seriously depleted. There were food riots, strict rationing, and compulsory labor. The failure of the potato crop in 1916 left many Germans eating Swedish turnips instead. The Austrians were in even worse shape, and their new Kaiser was begging the Germans to negotiate a settlement.

The Germans were well aware that U.S. political opinion would rapidly shift against them as a result of a return to unrestricted submarine warfare, so they pulled out all the stops and issued the Zimmerman Telegram as well. They hoped to keep the U.S. preoccupied long enough to allow them to wrap up the war in the east (they were on the verge of winning) and transfer both men and materiel west.

It almost worked. The U.S. took a year to mobilize its army and get it into the field. Germany wrapped up the war in the east and signed a very advantageous peace treaty with the Russians. The Ludendorff Offensives repeatedly broke through. In the end, though, the Germans spent their best troops, came up just short, and then had to pay the price of adding another enemy to the list.

---------------------------------

The argument that we'd be better off had Germany won the First World War is heavily biased by what happened afterward (World War II). German victory would have been a bitter pill, for Europe at least. Germany would have absorbed its conquered territories, which included Belgium, northern France, and the Ukraine. It would likely have done away with the communists in Russia, yes, but in exchange it likely would have absorbed even more territory in the east. In short, the map of Europe by 1920 would have looked remarkably like the map of Europe in 1941, when Nazi Germany was at the height of its power. This can hardly be viewed as a positive development.

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Somebody has to. I guess.

 
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I was told that US banks had lent more to UK and France than to Germany/Austria. When Russia were out, it looked like Germany would win, which would make said loans useless (or very very "subprime"). I have no idea how much truth there is to that explanation.

Bramadan wrote an interesting post here about why Europe might have fared better from a German/Austrian victory.
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windsagio wrote:
In the category of 'weird geek prejudices', the wargame forum always seems like it would be a huge nightmare to me


How? Why? What do you think goes on there? (Where I'm a regular...)
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Mondainai wrote:
I was told that US banks had lent more to UK and France than to Germany/Austria. When Russia were out, it looked like Germany would win, which would make said loans useless (or very very "subprime"). I have no idea how much truth there is to that explanation.

Bramadan wrote an interesting post here about why Europe might have fared better from a German/Austrian victory.


Did you mean this one?

bramadan wrote:
slatersteven wrote:
quozl wrote:
What would have happened if Britain had not entered the war?
Hard to say, but most likely a French defeat.


France would have lost, probably "before chrismass". Would have probably had to cede some African colonies to Germany (highly unlikely that any European teritorije would have changed hands).
Eastern front would have went on much as it had likely as not - except that victorious Germany would have much greater incentive and ability to intervene against Bolseviks (and Oberost infrastructure from which to do so).
In the end Russia would have probably lost Poland and possibly Ukraine, former to be incorporated either as a semi-independent state or as part of greater Germany, later to Austria-Hungary (probably on client basis).

Russians would also had to stop fanning the flames of Slavic nationalism.

On the upside, they would have probably ended up with some form of royalist/constitutional government in the aftermath of the German intervention.

Austria would have bought itself another generation to work out its internal problems and integrate Slavs properly. It would have likely become a triple monarchy with additional capital at Prague.

More importantly - without British alliance it is (just) possible France would not have given Russia assurances that made it feel secure in declaring war and whole thing would have been limited to a well deserved Austrian punitive expedition on Serbia. (Seeing as there were many instances when "war was inevitable" at least as much as in 1910s and it did not end up happening).


The Austrian war against Serbia was neither well deserved, nor was it just. Austria was willing to make a deal, except Bethmann Hollweg (who was usually much more responsible) urged Austria to take a very hard line.

A German victory would have been very bad. The Germans were harsh with the French in 1871, and they were even harsher with the Russians in 1917-1918. They would have kept control of Europe for a long time. To do this, they would have kept up their large military and their patriotic fervor. This would have resulted in the suppression of liberal, democratic, and socialist movements inside Germany.

The best possible result might go as follows: Britain allies with France as it did, but the US takes a more even handed approach. The US gives the Allies enough economic help to avoid defeat, but not the military help they need to win the war. In 1918, mutual exhaustion results in a fair peace treaty. Germany gets its colonies back, but in exchange gives up some Prussian territory to the new Polish nation.

The German people are disgusted with the wasted lives and wealth, and demand political reform. But since the peace treaty was fair, neither the Allies nor the Germans have any reason to seek revenge. So, no World War II.
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MikePustilnik wrote:
Mondainai wrote:
I was told that US banks had lent more to UK and France than to Germany/Austria. When Russia were out, it looked like Germany would win, which would make said loans useless (or very very "subprime"). I have no idea how much truth there is to that explanation.

Bramadan wrote an interesting post here about why Europe might have fared better from a German/Austrian victory.


Did you mean this one?

bramadan wrote:
slatersteven wrote:
quozl wrote:
What would have happened if Britain had not entered the war?
Hard to say, but most likely a French defeat.


France would have lost, probably "before chrismass". Would have probably had to cede some African colonies to Germany (highly unlikely that any European teritorije would have changed hands).
Eastern front would have went on much as it had likely as not - except that victorious Germany would have much greater incentive and ability to intervene against Bolseviks (and Oberost infrastructure from which to do so).
In the end Russia would have probably lost Poland and possibly Ukraine, former to be incorporated either as a semi-independent state or as part of greater Germany, later to Austria-Hungary (probably on client basis).

Russians would also had to stop fanning the flames of Slavic nationalism.

On the upside, they would have probably ended up with some form of royalist/constitutional government in the aftermath of the German intervention.

Austria would have bought itself another generation to work out its internal problems and integrate Slavs properly. It would have likely become a triple monarchy with additional capital at Prague.

More importantly - without British alliance it is (just) possible France would not have given Russia assurances that made it feel secure in declaring war and whole thing would have been limited to a well deserved Austrian punitive expedition on Serbia. (Seeing as there were many instances when "war was inevitable" at least as much as in 1910s and it did not end up happening).


The Austrian war against Serbia was neither well deserved, nor was it just. Austria was willing to make a deal, except Bethmann Hollweg (who was usually much more responsible) urged Austria to take a very hard line.

A German victory would have been very bad. The Germans were harsh with the French in 1871, and they were even harsher with the Russians in 1917-1918. They would have kept control of Europe for a long time. To do this, they would have kept up their large military and their patriotic fervor. This would have resulted in the suppression of liberal, democratic, and socialist movements inside Germany.

The best possible result might go as follows: Britain allies with France as it did, but the US takes a more even handed approach. The US gives the Allies enough economic help to avoid defeat, but not the military help they need to win the war. In 1918, mutual exhaustion results in a fair peace treaty. Germany gets its colonies back, but in exchange gives up some Prussian territory to the new Polish nation.

The German people are disgusted with the wasted lives and wealth, and demand political reform. But since the peace treaty was fair, neither the Allies nor the Germans have any reason to seek revenge. So, no World War II.


If you want to avoid WWII you need to avoid the conditions that led to the rise of the Nazi party. Less ill will from WWI might help, but avoiding the Great Depression would be an even better plan.
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the manatee
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Fly on the wall here: excellent question, OP, and I've been loving the answers--learning a lot! Keep 'em coming!
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Xander Fulton
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SPIGuy wrote:
The fall of the Tsar and his replacement by a provisional government with democratic trappings remade the war into a fight of republics and constitutional monarchies against the absolute monarchies of Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Turkey. This uncomplicated the political question to a considerable degree.


I don't think you can entirely sell short the common language, either. While it's true the US (especially at that period) had a very large immigrant population, the vast majority of the population - as today - spoke English.

Obviously that's not enough to guarantee an alliance and common goals (I mean, hell, both our countries have had their own civil wars, so...clearly not), but when you are otherwise split between two parties fighting each other and don't have an initial bias one way or the other...that you can easily and freely communicate with one and not the other isn't nothing.
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