Episode Three opens in the fall of 1918, on the eve of the bloodiest battle in American history the Meuse-Argonne in northeastern France and charts the ways in which that climactic struggle, and the ensuing peace, forever changed a president and a nation.
President Wilson had given General Pershing just one directive: help win the war so that Wilson could set the terms for peace. The general had waited for more than a year to launch the attack as he built an army two million strong and... [see more] devised plans he believed would bring a swift end to the war. It was not to be. Only hours after launching the offensive, Pershings troops were bogged down, sinking in mud, their transport ensnared, their spirits dampened. It was exactly the outcome Pershing had sworn to avoid.
Back in the United States, a deadly new enemy swept through cities and military camps: the flu. At the front, more American soldiers were killed by the flu than in combat.
At home, the war unfolded in headlines and at carefully staged fairs and expos. Americans read about a Lost Battalion and tracked the exploits of a new hero pilot Eddie Rickenbacker. Meanwhile, a small group of Native American soldiers translated messages into Choctaw to confound German intelligence reports and help the American army break through at last.
Wilson had gone to war in order to shape the peace, and when the tide turned the Germans reached out to him. The Americans, they believed, would be less vindictive than the British and the French: they wanted a cease-fire on Wilsons terms.
At 11:00 a.m. on November 11, 1918, the guns fell silent along the Western Front. The war was over and some 50,000 doughboys lay dead on the field of honor in France. For Wilson, the last fight still remained. At the end of 1918 he traveled to Paris to negotiate the terms of the final peace treaty. Although Wilson won the world over to his beloved League of Nations, he faced unexpected resistance at home. Felled by a stroke at the critical moment, the president failed to convince the Senate to ratify the Treaty of Versailles, with tragic consequences.
While Wilson had heralded the triumph of American values abroad, many were worried about democracy at home. During the 19 months that the U.S. was at war, more than 2000 citizens were prosecuted under the Espionage and Sedition Acts, and thousands of enemy aliens were interned. Twenty-five cities were torn apart by violent race riots that left hundreds dead. Leroy Johnston, a soldier in the African American New York Fifteenth National Guard, survived some of the worst fighting of the war, but was murdered by white mobs when he returned to Arkansas.
The Great War changed the country forever. Despite reprisals, African Americans who had fought in the war found ways to continue to push for change. Womens suffrage gained converts, including Wilson. And America stepped onto the world stage. America had a new idea of the role it could play in the world, said Jennifer Keene. It could be the diplomat. It could be the peacemaker. It could be the humanitarian. Those ideals continue to animate our foreign policy; they continue to be the goals we strive to achieve.