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Peace and Propaganda

Remembering World War I

When the war began in 1914, neutrality was the official American policy. The war was considered to be a European conflict which did not require United States involvement. This policy followed a long (though not uninterrupted) history of American neutrality, a precedent set forth by George Washington when he advised the U.S. not to become entangled in European affairs.

At first, neutrality seemed to be the only option, as there were many recent immigrants to the U.S. from countries aligned with both the Central Powers and Allied nations, making it politically difficult to join one side or the other. However, the war gradually came to be seen as a battle between the autocratic nations of the Central Powers and the democratic nations of France and England. The U.S. felt the need to support democracy over autocracy. Other political events pushed the U.S. towards joining the Allies in the war against Germany. Finally, on April 6, 1917, Congress declared war on Germany at President Woodrow Wilson’s request. As Austria-Hungary refused to sign a separate peace with the U.S., Congress also declared war on the Austro-Hungarian Empire in December, 1917.

In order to sustain the country during war, propaganda was used to encourage citizens to assist in the war effort. People were asked to ration food, invest in government loans, and give their time to help the war effort. This section includes newspaper advertisements, political cartoons, and other forms of propaganda used to inspire a spirit of national pride during the war.

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