In the early 1900's European politics developed into a powder keg waiting to explode and drag the world into war with it. Militarism built up European nations to the point where they were war ready without a war, in essence a loaded gun looking to be used. Imperialism had led to Europe carving up Asia and Africa each seeking global power and domination, and all the while creating feuds and conflicts between the Europeans over who would have that top spot amongst the imperial powers. Between the growing military power and the growing empires of Germany, France, and Britain came such strong feelings of nationalism and pride. Each nations people feeling empowered to dominate the world. This powder keg finally exploded with the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and the start of WWI. While the assassination started the war it was the conflict created by imperialism, nationalism and militarism that laid the foundation for war. Once the war began it engulfed all of Europe and from the start pulled the United States towards having to make a crucial decision; to enter the war or not to enter the war. Obviously if entering the war a choice on who's side to join would have to be made as well. There were the Allies France, Britain and Russia, each having long friendly ties with the United States, both politically and economically, and of course ties from the birth of our nation. Then their were the Central Power, Germany, Prussia and the Ottoman Empire, which each had a government far from democracy and American ideals. The choice that the US would ultimately make was swayed by propaganda as much as political and social reasons.
Economically speaking the US had closer ties with France and Britain, and the war helped those ties. The US was supplying much of the supplies needed by these countries, leading to great economic growth.
" Briefly, the situation, as I understand it, is this: Since December 1st, 1914, to June 30, 1915, our exports have exceeded our imports by nearly a billion dollars, and it is estimated that the excess will be from July 1st to December 31, 1915, a billion and three quarters. Thus for the year 1915 the excess will be approximately two and half billion dollars.
- Robert Lansing- " Letter to the President" 1915
This type of economic growth obviously was favored and led to the growth of loans for the Allies so that they could continue to purchase US materials. These loans though led to the US having a greater interest in the Allies winning, the Allies losing could hinder loan repayment, and cripple the US economy in the future, which caused the US to have a much greater interest in the Allies winning, and may have led to the US joining the war.
Politically speaking propaganda was much more of a simple subject to get across to the US people. Articles discussing Germany's plans of bringing down all democracies and building an empire with a dictator caused people to fear a German victory. German involvement in Mexican affairs causing anti-US feelings brought that idea of an evil empire to the doors of the US itself. Stories of German involvement in Latin America furthered this image. Propaganda mixed with reality painted the German people as war hungry, empire hungry people, seeking to dominate Europe and then the Americas, bringing down all democracies.
"these three great empires would constitute an almost irresistible coalition against the nations with republican and liberal monarchical institutions"
"I imagine that Germany would be the master of Western Europe, Africa and probably the Americas"
- Robert Lansing 1915
Ideas like these pushed US views to focusing on Allied success, by means of loans or if needed US military involvement.
Social aspects of propaganda existed as well. Of course there was the obvious that the Central powers opposed democracy and wanted to imperialize the world, thus threatening freedom and liberty world wide, issues close to the hearts of US citizens since it was these issues that led to the birth of America. These heart strings were pulled to the fullest extent, the idea of saving liberty and democracy and fighting for freedom rifled through any propaganda aimed at US involvement in the war. Another issue was German war tactics. German submarine warfare led to many ships with innocent citizens being killed, the US Lusitania the most famous of those. Their use of poison gas, killing of regular citizens, women and children were subjects that made US involvement seem needed. Political cartoons of Germans killing babies, crucifying people, and using poison gas were regular propaganda methods. Propaganda is meant to make one side look evil and these issues worked well, the thought of German success, and maybe even war in our soil made Americans see entering the war as needed, in order to battle the evil that was Germany.
The pro-war propaganda from WWI was very much on the side of the Allies, and one looking at history could say it worked. The US entered the war and soon after the Allies were victorious. The anti Germany works of literature and art may very well have changed history, and these ideas of pro or anti war propaganda still fill our lives.