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The Stars and Stripes

Reasons for U.S. Involvement in the War

World War I marked the first time that U.S. troops were sent overseas to defend foreign soil. Some Americans opposed U.S. involvement in the war, which required a massive and swift increase in the number of men in the military. When the United States declared war on Germany in April 1917, the U.S. Army was a force of only 127,500. By the end of the war, nearly five million had served in one of the branches of the military.

Given opposition to the war at home and the huge number of new soldiers, making sure those soldiers believed in their mission was critical to the military's success. One of the purposes of the weekly paper was to reassure soldiers that the war was just and to express in plain terms the reasons for U.S. involvement in a war that was opposed by some Americans. "A Doughboy's Letter to Kaiser Wilhelm," in the paper's second issue, expressed patriotism in simple terms:

"The other day I came across a reported speech of yours in one of a bunch of papers from back home, in which you inquired — as if you really wanted to know — why we Americans were over here. In this speech you said you didn't see what business it was of ours to be over here at all, and you intimated that you didn't think that any of us knew why we were pitted against you and your kind.

But, although I suspect you know pretty well what brought us here, I am going to do what very few people nowadays care to do — take you at your word; and give you the information you say you want. A cat may look at a king, and I rather guess an American doughboy may write to an emperor.

So, here goes.

We are against you and your kind because..."

From "A Doughboy's Letter to Kaiser Wilhelm" The Stars and Stripes, February 15, 1918, page 4, columns 4-6


Read the "Doughboy's" entire letter.

  • According to the "Doughboy," what were the reasons for American participation in the war?
  • Why did the "Doughboy" use an open letter in The Stars and Stripes to express his opposition to the Kaiser?
  • What domestic American problems were attributed to the Kaiser?
  • How did the letter reflect American public opinion during the war?

Even some brief items that appeared to be "fillers" addressed the reasons for U.S. involvement:

"Captain: 'Well, Jim, what do you think of this war game anyway? Glad you joined up?'

Private Jim (wearily): 'Well, sir, a guy what goes to war for Old Glory and the U.S.A. and to avenge martyred Belgium and repay France for what she has done for us and all the rest is on the right track. But a guy what they call a soldier of fortune — what goes around the world lookin' for other people's private wars to butt into for the fun of it — why, he, sir, is my humble opinion, is just a plain _____ _________ fool.'"

From "Two Kinds of Soldiers," The Stars and Stripes, March 15, 1918, page 2, column 8.

The Stars and Stripes often included reports on the brutality of the Germans, whom the paper generally referred to as "Huns." An article in the February 22, 1918, edition told of a 14-year-old boy burned alive in Lorraine as his mother, held by a German soldier, was forced to watch her son's murder. The article reported that soldiers poured gasoline "...on the boy's head and clothes, set fire to him, and while he staggered about, a flaming torch, they shrieked with laughter." The March 29, 1918, issue reported that an elderly Belgian merchant was transported to a prison camp in Germany and held with captive soldiers and civilians. According to the merchant, prisoners were treated brutally by the Germans. The article reported, "...he would tell you he would have never believed a human being capable of the obscene and purposeless brutality it was his lot to see practiced on the helpless inmates of that camp." The paper often reported on similar brutal treatment to American prisoners of war.

  • How effective do you think reports of German brutality would be in convincing the A.E.F. that the war was fought for a just cause? Explain your answer.
  • Find other terms that the paper used to refer to the Germans. Why do you think the paper referred to Germans as "Huns" and other terms, rather than simply as Germans? What connotations do the words have?
  • Read about the reasons for U.S. involvement in World War I in your textbook or another secondary source. How do the reasons compare with those given in The Stars and Stripes? How would you explain any differences that you noted?