Book Review: The Path to War: How the First World War Created Modern America


by Michael S. Neiberg

New York: Oxford University Press, 2016. Pp. x, 316. Illus., notes, biblio., index. $29.95. ISBN: 0190464968

America, From Neutrality to Belligerency

Prof. Neiberg (Army War College), author of the well-regarded Potsdam and Dance of the Furies, examines America’s evolution from its declaration of neutrality in the Great War in 1914 through its declaration of war on Germany in 1917. Although arguably this has been well covered before, Neiberg nevertheless manages to throw some fresh light on the chain of events.

Neiberg opens by demonstrating that, at the outbreak of the war most Americans were in fact quite determined to be neutral. He then traces how their position began to erode. This had many roots. There was the increasing evidence of German and other Central Powers war crimes, evidence enhanced, though not invented by Allied propagandists. The German introduction of unrestricted submarine warfare furthered the erosion of neutrality, while, in contrast, Britain modified its own blockade policies, removing what had been an irritant in Anglo-American relations. Neiberg also touches on the still not fully studied German sabotage campaign in the United States, as well as the clumsiness of German propaganda efforts.

Some of Neiberg’s best analysis deals with the evolution of support for the war among America’s many ethnic groups, most notably the Irish, Germans, and African-Americans. All three groups were initially inclined to strict neutrality, but gradually moved to intervention, each primarily because support for intervention underscored their Americanness.

Neiberg concludes The Path to War with a detailed treatment of the final months of peace, between Germany’s announcement of the resumption of unrestricted submarine warfare and the final “Overt Act” that decided the U.S. in favor of war.

There’s much more, of course, including domestic politics, personality clashes, economic trends, and so forth, all making The Path to War good read for anyone interested in America’s entry into the Great War and the lessons that can be drawn from it.

Note: The Path to War is also available in electronic format.


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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