Learn American History through 50 pop songs

World War I


World War I was a military conflict that lasted from 1914 to 1918 and involved most of the world's great powers at the time assembled in two opposing alliances: the Allies and the Central Powers. More than 70 million military personnel, including 60 million Europeans, were mobilized in one of the largest wars in history. More than 15 million people were killed, also making it one of the deadliest conflicts in history.


© Copyright 2010 by Mr. and Mrs. Gillenwater

“Steer clear of permanent alliances”, George Washington had said
And upon this policy of isolationism many future US Presidents had led

150 years later, Woodrow Wilson tried hard to remain
Isolated and neutral as Europe carried out a deadly game

Nationalism throughout Europe had nations wound up for a fight
Imperialism and militarism had everyone flexing threats and might

Then alliances buddied up like Germany, Italy, and Austria
And on the other side was Britain, France, and Russia

World War I, Johnny get your gun
So many mamas lost their sons – to World War I

So when Austria’s Arch Duke Ferdinand was ambushed and assassinated
Russia backed up the Serbs and World War One had started

European Central and Allied Powers went at each other in 1914
Trench warfare and new kinds of guns led to the bloodiest battles ever seen

World War I, Johnny get your gun
So many mamas lost their sons – to World War I

Still the United States stayed neutral till ’17, a good long time
But when Germany sank our Lusitania, we jumped in and joined the allies’ side

So we drafted up and army and sent them ‘over there’
And we helped the allies win but the cost was hard to bear

World War I, Johnny get your gun
So many mamas lost their sons – to World War I

Nine million soldiers lost their lives in battle
And the losing Germans had an enormous debt to settle

Yes, the Treaty of Versailles forged by a League of Nations
Demanded large cash penalties called loser reparations

World War I, Johnny get your gun
So many mamas lost their sons – to World War I
Johnny get your gun
So many mamas lost their sons – to World War I


World War One— World War I, 1914–18, was a conflict fought chiefly in Europe among most of the great Western powers. It was the largest war the world had yet seen.

“Steer clear of permanent alliances”, George Washington had said— In his farewell address President George Washington said “'Tis our true policy to steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world.” Based on these words many American presidents sought to avoid alliances and conflict, including Woodrow Wilson who initially sought to not become involved in World War One.

Isolationism— A national policy of abstaining from political or economic relations with other countries.

Woodrow Wilson— Woodrow Wilson (December 28, 1856 - February 3, 1924) was the 28th President of the United States and the President who led the United States through World War I.

Nationalism— Devotion to one’s nation above and beyond any other.

Imperialism— The extension of rule or influence by one government, nation, or society over another.

Militarism— A policy of a people or a government to maintain a strong military force and to be prepared to use it aggressively to defend or promote national interests.

Austria’s Arch Duke Ferdinand— Archduke Ferdinand was archduke of Austria-Este and the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne. His assassination led to Austria-Hungary's declaration of war against Serbia which caused countries allied with Austria-Hungary (triple alliance) to declare war on those allied with Serbia (triple entente powers), thus, starting World War One.

European Central and Allied Powers— The Central Powers consisted of the German Empire, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Ottoman Empire and the Kingdom of Bulgaria. The Allied Powers were the countries at war with the Central Powers during World War I. The key members of the Allies or Triple Entente were the United Kingdom, France, and the Russian Empire.

Trench warfare— Trench warfare was a type of fighting during World War One in which both sides dug trenches protected by mines and barbed wire. Soldiers stayed in the trenches to avoid being shot at.

Lusitania— The Lusitania was an ocean liner that was torpedoed by a German U-boat on May 7, 1915 and sank in eighteen minutes, eight miles off the coast of Ireland, killing 1,198 of the 1,959 people aboard. The sinking was instrumental in bringing the United States into World War One.

Treaty of Versailles— The Treaty of Versailles was one of the peace treaties at the end of World War I. It ended the war between Germany and the Allied Powers. It was signed on June 28, 1919.

League of Nations— The League of Nations was an international governmental organization founded as a result of the Treaty of Versailles in 1919–1920, and the pre-curser to the United Nations.

Reparations— World War One reparations refers to the payments that Germany was forced to make under the Treaty of Versailles following its defeat during World War One.

Tiered Questions

Tier 1 Questions

Explain the circumstances under which World War One began.

Explain the events that led to the US becoming involved in World War One.

Tier 2 Questions

Compare and contrast the sinking of the Battleship Maine prior to the Spanish American War and the sinking of the Lusitania prior to World War One. How were these events similar? How were they different?

Tier 3 Questions

Explain how an advancement of weaponry but not mobility led to trench warfare.

Explain why trench warfare is considered a stale mate in warfare.

Test Prep Questions

1) What was a major reason the United States entered World War I (1917)?

  • (1) The Japanese had occupied Manchuria.
  • (2) Foreign troops had landed on American soil.
  • (3) The Austro-Hungarian Empire had invaded Belgium.
  • (4) Germany had resumed unrestricted submarine warfare.

2) President Woodrow Wilson’s policy of strict neutrality during the early years of World War I was challenged by

  • (1) German violations of freedom of the seas
  • (2) British disrespect for the Roosevelt corollary
  • (3) attacks by Mexicans on United States border towns
  • (4) the refusal of the League of Nations to supply Peacekeepers

3) President Woodrow Wilson’s statement “The world must be made safe for democracy” was made to justify his decision to

  • (1) end United States imperialism in Latin America
  • (2) support tariff reform
  • (3) send troops into Mexico to capture Pancho Villa
  • (4) ask Congress to declare war against Germany

4) In the years before the United States entered World War I, President Woodrow Wilson violated his position of strict neutrality by

  • (1) secretly sending troops to fight for the democratic nations
  • (2) openly encouraging Mexico to send troops to support the Allies
  • (3) supporting economic policies that favored the Allied nations
  • (4) using United States warships to attack German submarines

5) At the beginning of World War I, President Woodrow Wilson followed a traditional United States foreign policy by

  • (1) refusing to permit trade with either side in the conflict
  • (2) sending troops to aid Great Britain
  • (3) declaring American neutrality
  • (4) requesting an immediate declaration of war against the aggressors

6) President Woodrow Wilson used the slogan, “He kept us out of war.” In April of 1917, Wilson asked Congress to declare war on Germany. What helped bring about this change?

  • (1) Bolshevik forces increased their strength in Germany and Italy.
  • (2) Britain was invaded by nations of the Central Powers.
  • (3) Russia signed a treaty of alliance with the Central Powers.
  • (4) Germany resumed unrestricted submarine warfare.

7) Which argument did President Woodrow Wilson use to persuade Congress to enter World War I?

  • (1) making the world safe for democracy
  • (2) retaliating against the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor
  • (3) assisting the neutral nations with their defense
  • (4) removing the Nazi threat from the Western Hemisphere

8) Which situation was the immediate cause of the United States entry into World War I in 1917?

  • (1) The League of Nations requested help.
  • (2) The Maine was blown up in Havana Harbor.
  • (3) Nazi tyranny threatened Western democracy.
  • (4) German submarines sank United States merchant ships.

9) What was a major reason for United States entry into World War I?

  • (1) to overthrow the czarist government of Russia
  • (2) to keep Latin America from being attacked by Germany
  • (3) to maintain freedom of the seas
  • (4) to break up the colonial empires of the Allies

10) The demand for German war reparations by the European Allies helps to explain the failure of the peace settlement following

  • (1) World War I
  • (2) World War II
  • (3) the Korean War
  • (4) the Vietnam War

Thematic Essay 1

Theme: Change — War
United States participation in wars has resulted in political, social, and economic changes for various groups of Americans. These changes have had varying impacts on American society both during and after each war.

Task: Identify two different groups of Americans that were affected by United States participation in a war and for each

  • Describe a social, political, or economic change the group experienced because of the war
  • Discuss the extent to which that change affected American society

You may use any appropriate group from your study of United States history. Some suggestions you might wish to consider include enslaved persons during the Civil War, Native American Indians during the Indian Wars, women during World War I or World War II, Japanese Americans during World War II, and American college students or army draftees during the Vietnam War.

Thematic Essay 2

Theme: Change — Turning Points
Major historical events are often referred to as turning points because they have led to important political, social, and economic changes.

Task: Identify two major events in United States history that were important turning points and for each:

  • Describe the historical circumstances that led to the event
  • Discuss the political, social, and/or economic changes that resulted from the event.

You may use any major event from your study of United States history. Some suggestions you might wish to consider include the signing of the Declaration of Independence (1776), end of Reconstruction (1877), Henry Ford’s use of the assembly line (1913), United States entry into World War I (1917), Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (1954), passage of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution (1964), and the fall of the Berlin Wall (1989)