ARLINGTON, VA--(Marketwired - April 05, 2017) - The American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC), originally created to construct memorials to the Great War in Europe, eventually evolved to be the caretaker of America's overseas military cemeteries from World War I and World War II. Now, 100 years later, the hallowed grounds of ABMC cemeteries serve as world-wide examples of the reverence and respect given to Americans who served and died as a member of the Armed Forces. During the course of the American WWI Centennial new exhibits, events, and resources will be made available by ABMC to commemorate this piece of our American history, including:
Congress declared war on Germany on April 6, 1917, formally bringing the United States into World War I. With more than four million Americans in military service during the war, and more than 115,000 who lost their lives, the effects of the Great War cannot be understated. Americans viewed this experience of war and loss as very personal, and expected the government to commemorate and honor the war dead. World War I laid the foundation for the creation of the American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) -- a defining decision by the American government regarding how we, as a nation, honor those who paid the ultimate sacrifice.
How the United States Became Involved in World War I
While the United States officially remained neutral early in the war, public opinion soon tilted against Germany. They invaded neutral Belgium as the war began, and committed atrocities there. Germany's introduction of gas warfare and use of Zeppelins to bomb cities garnered unfavorable press coverage as well. Some Americans found themselves anxious to join the fight against the "Hun."
Volunteers found their ways into service in British, Canadian, French and other armies, and they swarmed to serve in the French Foreign Legion. (The Legion offered a way to retain U.S. citizenship, since volunteers swore allegiance to the Legion rather than to France.) This in turn became a recruiting ground for famous American-manned organizations such as the Lafayette Escadrille and Lafayette Flying Corps. Other Americans served as civilians in the American Red Cross, Norton-Harjes Ambulance Service, and similar organizations. These volunteers became newsworthy, the subjects of poignant and thrilling accounts from the front. Their service and sacrifice inspired neutral American observers to become supporters of the Allied cause.
In the early stages of the war, Great Britain and Germany had both imposed naval blockades, but in very different ways. The British blockade was traditional, intercepting ships on the surface and assuring the safety of their crews. The Germans relied on submarines, which had strong incentives to strike without warning due to vulnerability when they surfaced. The United States almost went to war with Germany after the May 1915 sinking of the RMS Lusitania, where 128 American lives were lost. Further sinkings and American protests followed, but in time Germany relented rather than go to war with the United States. Germany promised not to attack passenger vessels, and to assure the safe evacuation of crews from other ships. At the time this move placated the United States.
President Wilson attempted to broker a negotiated end to the war, with little success. To avoid provoking the Germans and in part for budgetary reasons, Wilson's government kept the American armed forces weak. The Army remained pitifully small, and Navy ships were undermanned and undertrained. Making points with both pacifists and those preferring neutrality, Wilson was re-elected in 1916, due in part to his isolationist platform and the campaign slogan "He kept us out of war."
By early 1917, changes on the world stage no longer allowed the United States to remain neutral. The Russian Empire was on the verge of collapse, and the Germans, who were desperate after years of war and the English blockade, saw a way to victory. Germany believed unrestricted submarine warfare would defeat Great Britain before the unprepared U.S. armed forces could effectively intervene, and resumed it on February 1, 1917. The Germans also attempted to conspire with Mexico against the United States with the infamous "Zimmermann Telegram." Intercepted by the British, news of the telegram was published in the American press on March 1, followed by the sinking of five American merchant ships later that month. Already morally supportive of the Allied cause, these German actions outraged the American public. The United States had reached its tipping point.
President Wilson asked Congress for a Declaration of War, and got one on April 6, 1917. Wilson characterized the war he had tried so hard to avoid as a "war to end war" and an endeavor to "make the world safe for democracy." The American people had come together to support this great endeavor, and were more united than ever before. E pluribus unum.
Established by Congress in 1923, the American Battle Monuments Commission commemorates the service, achievements, and sacrifice of U.S. armed forces. ABMC administers 26 overseas military cemeteries, and 27 memorials, monuments, and markers.
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