The United States joined World War One on April 6, 1917, and fought its first major engagement in the Battle of Belleau Wood in June 1918. The American Expeditionary Force was forced to learn how to fight in a world where warfare had become more aggressive, mechanized and deadly since the U.S. Army’s last war, the Spanish American War in 1898.
The other Allied nations had already learned these lessons the hard way, through senseless slaughter followed by the implementation of new military techniques. As a consequence, the United State’s casualty rate during the conflict was 323,018.
Burning to Join the Fight
While most Americans supported joining the war, there were pacifists who were fundamentally opposed to it. Others thought the U.S. should have entered the war sooner.
One such group was the Preparedness Movement which believed the nation should play a more active role in the war and should require universal medical service. One of its members was Theodore Roosevelt.
Groups that were part of the movement included the American Defense Society, the American Rights Committee, the League to Enforce Peace, and the National Security League.
They formed camps for men to learn military training and held parades to rally people behind their cause.
This ad shows their core beliefs.
Men who wanted to join the fight before April 1917 often found ways around the problem of American’s neutrality. They traveled to Canada, Britain and France and joined the fighting with those countries.
Eugene Bullard was just one such volunteer. Born in 1894 in Georgia, he was half African-American and half Native American.
As a child, his father told him that in France he would be judged by his merit, not his skin color. In France when the war began, he joined the French Foreign Legion and later the French Air Force where he became history’s first black fighter pilot.
He flew 20 missions and was credited with two kills. Bullard also won numerous medals including the Croix de Guerre, the highest French military honor, for his bravery at the Battle of Verdun where he was twice wounded.
Ultimately, Bullard’s father was proved right. In 1917, he tried to join the U.S. Army, which was actively recruiting Americans serving with the French, but was turned away because he was not white.
Should the United States have joined the war sooner than 1917? Leave your thoughts below.
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