The slaughter of WWI...America's fault?!?

It might come as a surprise to a few 'dopers who are familiar with me that I have quite a few friends who live in Europe. This weekend one of them visited me and my wife and we got into an interesting discussion over some good scotch and cigars regarding the US in WWI. My friend (who is in all honesty not a big fan of the US…though he likes me and my wife well enough) stunned me with something I’ve never heard before…that much of the slaughter in WWI was the fault of the US!

My friend’s rational was as follows: Many of the most destructive weapons used during WWI including the machine gun, air plane, submarine, barbed wire (and a few more that I don’t now recall…it was a LOT of good scotch) were invented in the US and sold, stolen or simply developed by the Europeans before the war. In addition by the US remaining neutral instead of coming in on one side or the other drew out the slaughter much longer than it had to be…and left it until all sides were exhausted and devastated before we trotted in to finish things off. Also, we didn’t properly support the allies after the war, which lead (somehow…not clear on this point) to WWII…but thats another rant.

My replies were basically that, while its true that several of the inventions mentioned WERE originally invented by American’s (mostly EUROPEAN Americans who immigrated to the US), the US military itself basically ignored all or most of them. They were picked up and developed almost exclusively by the various European powers. In addition, WE didn’t put a gun to the collective heads of the Europeans (heh!) to use the things. Also, IMHO artillery and the rifle were bigger killers on the battlefield…and IIRC it was the Europeans (Germans with the rifle, though not exclusively them, and French with their rapid firing 75 on the artillery side) who developed those…and this leaves out poison gas and other things like mustard gas (which isn’t really a gas but a liquid) that were exclusive to the Europeans (developed first in Germany IIRC).

As for our late entry into the war drawing out the conflict, it wasn’t our fight IMHO…even at the end we had no great stake in the conflict except maybe from a naval perspective.

Anyway, for debate I’d like to ask…what do you think? Is it plausible to blame the US for these inventions? Wouldn’t they just have been invented in other countries (European countries) anyway? For instance, IIRC wasn’t the powered air plane under development in many other countries before the Wrights? Would all or most of these things been invented or adapted anyway? And even if not…is it our fault that they were? Finally, has anyone ever heard this before? I’ve NEVER heard anyone blame us for the slaughter in WWI (though I’ve certainly heard grousing about our late entry in the war before).


You got to be pretty dumb to charge machine guns with cavalry.

I would say no, it was the implementation of those weapons that caused great loss of life.
Aircraft, for example were used for reconnaissance and pilots waved at each other until some vicious bastard took a firearm up. :slight_smile:

Purportedly, a friend of Hiram Maxim, to H.M., in 1883.

Re: Aircraft. ISTR that the French were more keen on aircraft than the Americans were before the war. The U.S. didn’t field any of its own fighters in WWI, instead using French and English designs. Early aircraft were used for reconaissance. After the observers started taking potshots at each other, the French and the Germans developed the interrupter gear that allowed aircraft to be used as fighters. It was a Frenchman, Roland Garros, who fitted metal deflectors on his propeller so that he could fire through the prop.

IMO WWI was a European diagreement. It was their treaties that widened the Balkans conflict into a wider war. It was the stupid tactics such as those used by Field Marshal Haig (‘Ah, would this brilliant plan involve us climbing out of our trenches and walking very slowly towards the enemy, sir?’) that caused a lot of the casualties. Heck, some French even mutinied after their comrades’ lives were wasted by their commanders.

I don’t think the U.S. was to blame in WWI.

That’s why officers carry sidearms.

Before WW1, we were Isolationist.
The man who makes the gun is not a murderer, the bastard who pulls the trigger is.
Your “friend” is fulla six kinds of horsesh^t.

Wasn’t rifling invented by Americans during the Civil War? That’s what civ4 scenarios tell me, at least.

By the way, WW2 wasn’t America’s fault. China didn’t take a major military role in that conflict either, but is anyone blaming them for the war? Hell, they invented GUNPOWDER. If it’s anyone’s fault, it’s China’s, right?

[Emphasis added]
In reference to the bolding, I think its safe to say that neither of these inventions was created with malice in mind. The first was the realization of a dream humanity had held for centuries; the second merely a cost-effective and convenient way to bound livestock. To blame a creator/manufacturer for the destruction wrought by their inventions when used in ways said creator had not envisioned is folly. (I’m thinking of Alfred Nobel here.)

In addition, a quick wiki of submarines reveals that the first submersible (with records/blueprints) was constructed in 1620, more than 150 years before the U.S. had declared independence, and that the first workable military submarine (in my completely subjective and inexpert opinion) used by the U.S.–specifically the Union during the American Civil War–was of French design.

IANA WWI Expert by any means, so I will leave the debate of the reprecussions of the U.S.'s intial ambivalence and ‘our’ collective responsibilities for the atrocities of chemical warfare to those better versed on the topic.
*not sexist, just genuinely wondering if a woman has invented a modern weapon of war…

It takes creative thinking to blame America for the invention of the machine gun, since Sir Hiram Maxim, while born in the U.S. was a full-fledged Brit when he invented the Maxim gun, which fostered the eloquent British colonialist phrase:

Whatever happens, we have got
The Maxim gun, and they have not

The British also were the first to use this weapon in wartime (the Matabele War).

When U.S. troops first entered action in WWI, they were mostly using European weaponry, as hardware was slow in getting overseas from the U.S.

Certainly American firms profited from the arms trade during the war, but U.S. companies were hardly alone in this.

Incidentally, the protagonists in WWI could have learned a lot about the futility of sending infantry against massed artillery, had they studied the American Civil War. We had plenty of lessons to provide in that regard, but they were ignored, resulting in slaughter.

Weren’t the Royal Families of Great Britain and Imperial Germany also related to one another?

[Boy is my face red…]
Please disregard the footnote in my last post, it pertained to text which I deleted in editing.

It was in use during the Napoleonic Wars.
I believe during the American Revolution, too.

Is an interesting question though. The only example I can think of is Lise Meitner’s work on fission, which kinda sorta led to the A-bomb, but thats a bit of a stretch.

In 1914, the United States was pretty much a military non-entity as far as the European powers were concerned. Our influence on the events that were happening was virtually non-existant. If we had been 100% pro-Central Powers or pro-Entente, pro-war or pro-peace, it would have made no difference.

Nor did the United States have any major arms industry in 1914. Our main exports at the start of the war were food and uniforms (we did have a thriving textile and leather industry). We did develop an arms industry during the war but it was in response to a booming (heh heh) European market that European manufacturers couldn’t keep up with.

So your friends pretty much have it completely backwards. The Europeans got themselves into that mess all on their own and then dragged us into it.

In “The Guns of August” Barbara Tuchman laid the blame for most of the loss of life squarely at the feet of the generals who prosecuted the war, for prosecuting it about as stupidly as humanly possible. It wasn’t just that they ignored the lessons about massed charges against modern rifles and machine gun fire from the Civil War. It was that they repeatedly failed to learn that lesson when it was taught to them over and over and over again on their own battlefields.

Tuchman also points out that there was an element of class prejudice that led to the slaughter. Sure, some of the officers were members of the upper crust, but the vast majority of the people who did the fighting and dying and getting ordered “over the top” were not. They were just not the right people, not the right sort if you know what I mean. So it didn’t matter so much that they died in droves.

What submarine was ever used by Federal forces during the Civil War? The only submarine that I recall being employed effectively was the CSS Hunley, of local (Southern) design and I recall no U.S. Submarines, at all.

Rifling of muskets, (making them rifles) preceded the American War for Independence. Several units of the Continental Army made good use of them during that war. leading, eventually, (over the next 90 - 100 years), to the replacement of muskets by rifles.

Rifling of cannons was developed nearly simultaneously by British, French, and American founders a bit prior to the U.S. Civil War, during which they were extensively tested in battle and improved.

Rifling dated back to at least the 15th century. I’m pretty sure that back in those days you saw rifles used by recreational hunters and your typical rank and file soldier would carry a smoothbore musket. So far as I know, the American Civil War was the first war in which the rank and file soldier was issued a rifle for battle. Strangely enough, during the Civil War most commanders did not take great advantage of the rifles superior range in their offensive actions though they took advantage of it when they were in defensive positions.


xtisme, someone else, or perhaps you, posted a while back about a European friend who placed the blame for World War II and Viet-Nam squarely on the shoulders of Woodrow Wilson and by extention the United States. I have never before heard a European blame the United States for either World Wars, though sometimes they have complained about us entering late in every war, so I’m going to assume they’re just crackpots. We’ve got crackpots so why shouldn’t Europe?

I don’t know where to begin to address the incredulous claim that the United States was responsible for the slaughter of World War I. The United States didn’t force Europe to arm itself, the United States was not responsible for the Mexican standoff (balance of power) that made Europe into a powder keg, and it was not the United State who threw a lighted match on that powder keg by killing some two bit Archduke. In short, your friend doesn’t have a leg to stand on.


WW1 was “just” another European war, albeit with machine guns, tanks, poison gas and aeroplanes.

The opinion stressed in the OP is the opinion of an idiot, not of Europeans. This is the first time I’ve heard it expressed that America was at fault for either world war.

Tuchman is of coure entirely correct. The tactics were breathtakingly stupid. Had the generals been willing to learn from their own mistakes it would have been a very diffrent war indeed.

In all fairness, well as much as the Generals deserve despite their fatal murderous stupidity for most of the war, they did in fact learn. By the end of 1917 tactics had changed* and by 1918 there were actual advances in the lines and breakthroughs**. The idea that the entire war, from begining to end, was stalemate isn’t exactly true.

Now we aren’t talking about the mobility of the next world war but it was still mobility compared to the first two years.

Had they not exhausted their men and machines in the needless early slaughter and continued another year the war could have taken on a completely new face.

  • IE The Canadian Success at Vimy Ridge using Creeping artillary fire with a closely followed infantry assault.

Another success for the British was the Battle of Cambrai with a successful use of massed tanks. In both cases the success were short lived only due to lack of reinforcing the areas that were breeched.
In the case of the second example the German’s counter attacked using their newly formed Sturmtruppen (Storm trooper) Units which learned the art of assaulting and capturing sections of trenches.

**The German Spring offensive (with a 60 mile advance outting germany within shelling distance of Paris) and the Allied counter offensive (utilizing tanks aircraft and artillar in combined attacks successfully) were signs that the wars tatctics were changing in nature