Causes of WW1

First day in the trenches

Why Italy joined WW1 on the side of the Triple Entente

On the 23rd May 1915, Italy entered the First World War on the side of the Triple Entente and declared war on Austria-Hungary.

Italy was actually Austria-Hungary’s ally under the terms of the Triple Alliance, but the Italian government had initially opted for neutrality before being persuaded to join with its theoretical opposition.  Under the terms of the Triple Alliance, Italy was well within its rights not to provide military assistance to Germany and Austria-Hungary since the treaty was entirely defensive.  Since Austria-Hungary had instigated hostilities against Serbia, Italy argued that the alliance was void.

Italy therefore remained neutral for the first nine months of the war.  However, behind the scenes Prime Minister Antonio Salandra and his minister of Foreign Affairs, Sidney Sonnino, were investigating which side would be the best to join.  In a secret agreement signed on 26th April in London, Italy agreed to leave the Triple Alliance, join the Triple Entente, and declare war on Austria-Hungary and Germany.  Assuming they won, Italy would in return receive large areas of territory from the Central Powers such as Italian-populated areas of Austria-Hungary and in the region of the Adriatic Sea.

Italy duly entered the war against Austria-Hungary on 23rd May 1915.  Despite superior numbers, the Italians struggled against Austria-Hungarians.  However, they did emerge victorious and so Premier Vittorio Emanuele Orlando went as the Italian representative to the Paris Peace Conference.  However, the offers of land were not as much as Italy had hoped for and so he left the Conference in a boycott.

USA joins WW1

Why did the USA declare war on Germany on 6 April 1917?

American President Woodrow Wilson had made his case for war before a special joint session of Congress four days earlier. During his address he claimed that, ‘we have no selfish ends to serve’ since the war would ‘make the world safe for democracy’. American involvement was, therefore, a moral obligation.

Wilson’s decision to request a declaration of war came in the wake of two significant developments against the United States. Firstly, Germany’s decision to resume unrestricted submarine warfare meant that all ships, including those from neutral countries, which traded with Germany’s enemies were now a permissible target for sinking. Secondly, the British passed on the intercepted contents of a secret telegram from the German Foreign Secretary, Arthur Zimmermann, to the Mexican government. The telegram sought a German alliance with Mexico in the event of the United States declaring war. Significantly, it promised that Arizona, Texas and New Mexico would return to Mexican control once victory had been achieved.

Wilson had initially been reluctant to declare war due to his belief that public opinion in the United States was against it. However, with civilian merchant and passenger ships once again under threat, and with the Zimmermann telegram’s indication of German intentions to attack the United States itself, he felt that the American public were ready to change their minds.

Following Wilson’s address to the joint session, the Senate and the House met separately to debate and vote on the resolution. The Senate passed it by 82 votes to 6, while the House of Representatives did so by 373 to 50.