The Great Departure

Daniel Smith’s, The Great Departure illustrates very well

the United State’s evolution from a traditionally isolationist

nation to an interventionist nation. WWI literally dragged the

U.S. out of its isolationist shell and placed the U.S. at the

forefront of international politics. The pressure to join WWI

was resisted greatly by the Wilson administration and the

country as a whole. Smith does an excellent job at

presenting the factors that influenced the U.S. to enter the

war and at conveying the mind set of American leaders

during this time and the issues they faced pertaining to the


The author illustrates the factors of interest or the eventual

causes involvement in WWI in chapters II, III, IV. He offers

good points to the issues and now I would like to discuss

some of the issues he has mentioned.

Propaganda was a tool used by Germany and the allies to

influence the U.S., whether that propaganda was used to

keep the U.S. out of the war or to try and draw the U.S.

into the war makes no real difference. The extent of

propaganda in the U.S. is shown by the Dr. Albert’s

briefcase affair and the German execution of Nurse Edith

Cavell and other atrocities of war carried out by either side.

The author, while recognizing the importance of these

propaganda stories and the heterogeneous culture of the

U.S., underestimates the actual impact on public sentiment it

actually had I feel. The U.S., "the great melting pot" had an

enormous immigrant population, to underestimate the effect

of propaganda on a population that had close personal ties

to their homeland, and their ability to influence the actions of

government in a democratic republic is a mistake. President

Wilson was operating under this assumption that the people

would influence the government when he neglected to accept

any of the Senator Lodge’s changes to the peace treaty.

While I agree with Smith that this is not the reason the U.S.

joined the allies in WWI, I feel the heterogenous makeup of

the U.S. population is possibly the major influence the U.S.

had to move away from an isolationist state.

Balance of Powers was another great factor that influenced

the U.S. in its views of WWI. The U.S. and the world had

come to rely on the principle of balance of power to ensure

peace, security and trade throughout the world, and it was

no doubt that a victory by the Central Powers would

catapult Germany to superpower status and upset the

balance of power in Europe and thus the rest of the world.

The only check on German powers then would be the U.S.

This situation is what the U.S. feared. The author offers and

example of this sediment from the viewpoint of Robert

Lansing; counselor to the State Department (at the time):

"Germany the leading representative of a militaristic

and statist philosophy, could be said to be a triple threat

to the United States: ideologically it menaced

democratic institutions and values, militarily it

endangered the nation’s security, and it was the most

serious rival of the United States for economic and

political influence in Latin America." I agree with Smith

that this fear of future aggression on the part of Germany

influenced foreign policy greatly. However, the scope of

influence in Latin America is exaggerated. Germany did have

large amounts of money invested in Latin America at the

time but German investments were dwarfed by the

investments of Great Britain in Latin America. So the claim

of Germany being the most serious rival of the U.S. for

economic influence in Latin America is invalid. I am not

underestimating the amount of influence Germany had in

Latin America, the Zimmermann telegraph clearly illustrates

the influence Germany had in the region and this proposal of

Germany to Mexico to aid Germany in the event of U.S.

involvement in the war and Mexico would receive territory it

had lost to the U.S. earlier. I feel that the U.S. and Britain

had a much larger scope of influence in Latin America for

Germany to bring in Latin American countries to align

themselves with the Central Powers. I do agree with Smith

that the Zimmerann telegraph did prepare the public for the

possibility of the U.S. entering the war.

Trade is another important issue that the U.S. faced is its

postwar period. The U.S. economy was booming from the

war trade. While the U.S. government at first did not

actively trade in war materials, many American companies

did. The Wilson administration sought to actively protect

American companies’ interest. Trade and the freedom of the

seas was a complex issue for the Wilson administration. The

submarine warfare of the Germans threatened American

shipping and the blacklisting of American