World War I, often called “The Great War,” was a global conflict that took place from 1914 to 1918. It was one of the deadliest conflicts in history, with approximately 40 million casualties, and it had profound political, cultural, social, and economic effects that shaped the 20th century. The war was primarily fought between the Central Powers, which included Germany, Austria-Hungary, and the Ottoman Empire, and the Allied Powers, comprising France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and eventually, the United States.
The United States initially maintained a policy of neutrality when the war broke out in Europe in 1914. President Woodrow Wilson, who was in office at the time, strived to keep the nation out of the conflict, believing it was Europe’s war to fight. However, a series of events, including the sinking of the passenger ship Lusitania by a German submarine in 1915 and the Zimmermann Telegram incident in 1917, which exposed Germany’s attempts to incite Mexico against the United States, gradually shifted American public opinion.
In April 1917, the U.S. Congress declared war on Germany, and the United States officially entered the conflict on the side of the Allies. The U.S. entry into the war provided a significant boost to the Allies, both in terms of resources and morale. The influx of fresh American troops and supplies helped tip the balance in favor of the Allies, leading to the eventual defeat of the Central Powers in November 1918.
How many US Presidents fought in WWI?
Contrary to what one might expect, only one U.S. President has the distinction of having served in World War I: Harry S. Truman.
Harry Truman was a young man from Missouri when the United States entered the Great War in 1917. Prior to the war, Truman had held various jobs, but his life was fundamentally transformed when he decided to enlist in the military. He joined the National Guard and was soon promoted to the rank of captain in the artillery branch. Truman was assigned to the 129th Field Artillery and sent to France as part of the American Expeditionary Forces.
Truman’s unit saw significant combat during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, which was one of the final Allied offensives of the war. As a captain, Truman was responsible for the leadership of Battery D, a rowdy group of men that he managed to discipline and lead effectively. His battery did not lose a single man in combat under his command, a testament to his leadership and strategic capabilities.
Under often treacherous conditions, Truman led his men with a combination of stern discipline and deep-seated care. Despite being a relatively small unit, Battery D played a crucial role in the offensive, providing critical artillery support to the infantry units. They fired thousands of rounds at the German positions, thereby facilitating the advance of the Allied forces.
During the war, Truman demonstrated qualities of courage, tenacity, and leadership. His experience in World War I helped shape him into a resilient and determined individual. After the war, Truman remained in the Reserves, eventually reaching the rank of colonel. He was profoundly affected by his experiences in World War I, and these experiences would play a vital role in shaping his later political career.
From Soldier to Statesman
Following his service in World War I, Truman returned to civilian life and entered politics. He served as a county judge in Missouri before being elected to the U.S. Senate in 1934. As a senator, Truman gained a reputation for his honest and straightforward approach.
In 1944, Truman was chosen as Franklin D. Roosevelt’s running mate for the presidential election, which they won. However, just a few months into his fourth term, Roosevelt died suddenly in April 1945, and Truman was thrust into the presidency. Truman thus became the 33rd president of the United States, a role he would occupy from 1945 to 1953.
In his initial months as president, Truman faced the daunting task of leading the country through the final stages of World War II. He made the controversial decision to drop atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, effectively ending the war. Truman’s presidency was also marked by the beginning of the Cold War, the implementation of the Marshall Plan to rebuild war-torn Europe, and the establishment of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
Truman’s military service in World War I undoubtedly influenced his leadership style and decision-making as president. His experiences on the battlefield gave him a unique perspective on the horrors of war, the value of strong alliances, and the importance of effective leadership. These lessons served him well during his presidency, as he navigated through some of the most challenging periods of the 20th century.