The Great War reached a major turning point in the first week of February 1917. To the horror of German Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg, on January 31 Kaiser Wilhelm II allowed his military leadership to resume unrestricted submarine warfare against the Allies and their supporters. It was not quite the final straw for the United States; the pacifist sentiment among a majority of Americans was still too great. The New York Peace Party, for one, implored President Wilson to explore every measure for avoiding entrance into the war. Wilson was caught in the middle of several competing military and political forces, domestically and abroad. One hundred years ago today at 2:00 pm President Wilson addressed a joint session of Congress announcing the severing of diplomatic relations with Imperial Germany.
For all the talk among Preparedness advocates–not least Theodore Roosevelt–that Wilson was doing too little, the sitting president had been increasing America’s military readiness for much of the past year, especially with the appointment of Newton Baker as Secretary of War the previous March. It would take a few sinkings and the Zimmerman Telegram to finally bring America fully into the war. No one knew it at the time of course, but Wilson would address Congress asking for a declaration of war less than two months later on April 2.
(image/Library of Congress)