After the end of the American Civil War the United States had very little interest in foreign affairs in particular, President Woodrow Wilson vowed the Neutrality Act for the United States in the midst of an exploding World War in 1914. Most Americans preferred this position. However, Britain was one of United States big trading partners, and tension kept increasing between the United States and Germany over the attempted barricade of Britain. Several U.S. ships traveling to Britain were damaged or sunk by German U-boats, and in 1915, Germany announced unrestricted warfare against all ships, neutral or otherwise, that entered the war zone around Britain. A month later, Germany announced that a German cruiser had sunk a private American vessel. President Wilson was outraged, but the German government apologized and called the attack an accidental mistake.
The British owned ship the Lusitania was torpedoed without warning in May. Of the total 1,959 passengers 1,198 were killed, including 128 Americans. The German government claimed that the Lusitania was carrying ammunitions. The United States insisted on compensation and an end to German attacks on unarmed passenger and merchant ships. Germany finally vowed to see to the safety of passengers before sinking unarmed vessels, but soon after, the Germans sunk an Italian passenger ship without warning, killing 272 people, including 27 Americans. With these attacks, public opinion in the United States began to turn against Germany. Germany, determined to win its war against the Allies, announced the unrestricted warfare in war zone waters. The United States broke diplomatic relations with Germany and days after this declaration, Germany sunk four more U.S. merchant ships in March. Congress passed a bill intended to make the United States ready for war. On April 2 President Wilson appeared before Congress and called for a declaration of war against Germany, his request was granted.
The US was transformed domestically by its entry into the war. The conflict was a struggle for America and as such things were needed to be reorganized to maximize efficiency. Among the results were the entrance of women into blue collar jobs that had formerly been exclusively been male territory. The migration of black workers to the north would lead to the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote and, in the longer term, start the process of delivering racial equality.
The event that changed America into a nation at war during World War Two was the attack on Pearl Harbor. Though the final break of isolationism was through the Lend Lease Act which allowed the United Sates to “sell, lend, and lease any defensive military weapon to Great Britain. But the key ingredient that perpetuated the United States to war was Pearl Harbor. Soon after Franklin D Roosevelt announced that the US would no longer trade items such as gasoline and iron to Japan who needed it for their war with China, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. Over 2,000 people were killed while eight battleships were destroyed, greatly harming the Pacific fleet.
Harry S Truman, who was the president of the United States during World War Two, decided to drop the nuclear bombs on two cities in Japan. Part of the reasoning for this decision was that the Americans wanted to avoid the loss of life that would accompany an invasion of the Japanese mainland. Hiroshima was the first city and then Nagasaki. The two bombs killed approximately 100,000 Japanese instantly. By September 2, 1945, the Japanese unconditionally surrendered.
By the end of the World War Two, more than 12 million American soldiers had joined or been drafted into the military. United States had to change a lot internally to undertake such a massive war effort. Widespread rationing occurred for about everything, For example, families were given coupons to purchase certain foods based on the size of their families. Rationing covered more than just food – it also included goods such as tin cans and gasoline. Some items were just not available, during the war no cars were produced until the end of the war. These plants were innovated for the manufacturing of war specific items.
Many women entered the workforce to help make ammunitions and other tools of war. These women were nicknamed “Rosie the Riveter” and were a central part of America’s success in war. Wartime restrictions were imposed on civil liberties. Especially for Japanese-Americans, German-Americans and Italian-Americans. Truman gave an order that forcefully reallocated Japanese-Americans during this war and this order eventually forced close to 120,000 Japanese-Americans in the western part of the United States to leave their homes. They were allocated to ten different facilities across the nation.
After World War Two, the United States followed the Truman Doctrine which is the principle that the US should give support to countries threatened by Soviet forces or communist insurrection, this was deeply connected economically. Fearing that some countries would become communist due to economic aide from communist countries, Truman implemented the Marshal Plan. This plan gave about 13 billion dollars towards economic aid to struggling European countries. The Soviet Union refused help, this was economic containment for communism.
War broke out again, this time North Korea decided to invade South Korea. This invasion was the first military action of the Cold War. Soon American troops entered the war on South Korea’s behalf. As far as the people were concerned, it was a war against democracy itself. After some back and forth across the 38th parallel, the fighting stalled with casualties in the millions on both side with nothing to show for it. Meanwhile, American officials worked tirelessly to create a truce with the North Koreans. The alternative, they feared, would be a wider war with Russia and China which could have possibly lead to World War Three. Finally, the Korean War came to an end. In all, some 5 million soldiers and civilians lost their lives during the war. It also cost Truman politically, when MacArthur publicly disagreed with Truman over Truman’s decision not to invade China, the general was fired but MacArthur returned to a hero’s welcome in the US, and Truman was scorned as being soft on communism.
Throughout the war effort, more than 80% of the American people supported President Truman’s idea to go to war. However, as causalities racked up and the war seemed endless, more Americans began to rethink their decision on supporting the war. During this war the United States was in a very prosperous state. Suburbs were growing at an exponential rate. The Interstate High Way system was being built. 75% of Americans owned at least one car. Television was huge and more women were standing up for more civil rights.
U.S.A officials saw that the Marshal Plan would not be sufficient to contain communism therefore NSC 68 was proposed. NSC 68 concluded that the only sensible way to deter the Soviet Union was that President Truman had to support a massive buildup of both conventional arms and the development of a hydrogen bomb. More specifically, NSC 68 seek to protect the United States and its allies from Soviet attacks. In order to fund the increase in military spending, the report suggested that the government expand the military budget of the United States by increasing taxes.
With NSC 68 in place, the United States soon got involved in another war. The Vietnam War, it was a long and costly war. The communist government of North Vietnam fought against South Vietnam and its greatest ally, the United States. The war was already on going but it was intensified by the ongoing Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union. Again the United States intervene in this war to protecting democracy from communism. More than 3 million people were killed in the Vietnam War, and more than half of the dead were Vietnamese civilians. Supported by the Americans in its early stage this war bitterly divided Americans as Americans turned on the news to see the bodies of their young flown home in bags. The average age of a soldiers was 19. The public became intolerant and President Richard Nixon ordered the withdrawal of U.S. forces in 1973. The north communist forces ended the war by seizing control of South Vietnam in 1975, and the country was unified as the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.
Overall with little interest in foreign affairs, the United States got involved in many wars some couldn’t be helped but many were of our own volition and internal politics. These wars have definitely shaped the United States internally and into a global power a hundred years later after the Civil War.
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