Episode One explores America's tortured, nearly three-year journey to war.
In August 1914, a war unprecedented in size and violence broke out on the European continent. Three thousand miles away, President Woodrow Wilson sat at his wife's bedside as she lay dying. Heartbroken and distracted, but ever the idealistic diplomat, Wilson vowed to keep his country out of "the Great War."
As death tolls mounted in Europe that summer, fall and winter, Wilson's neutrality was widely supported... [see more] but reports from Europe began to challenge America's delicate position. From behind the battle lines, U.S. journalists like Richard Harding Davis and Edith Wharton cabled home reports detailing German atrocities in Belgium and France. Then in April 1915, the German army violated the international rules of war and launched history's first chemical attack. In May, a German U-Boat sank the British liner Lusitania, killing 128 Americans. But Wilson stood firm, asserting that America would not fight — this was not her war.
Despite Wilson's pleas, American volunteers, both men and women, flocked to the hospitals and fighting fields of France, insisting this was their war. Their published letters introduced the nation to a new kind of combat: barbed wire, trenches, mud and death on a scale never imagined.
By 1916, there was a growing sense that the European war was coming closer to home. German spies seemed to be around every corner, a national hysteria fanned by the press. Record-setting numbers of Americans marched in parades, vowing to be prepared if war came. That November, Wilson won re-election with the campaign slogan: "He Kept Us Out of War." Less than a month after his second inaugural, Wilson found himself on the brink of war. The Germans resumed a policy of "unrestricted submarine warfare" and began once again sending American ships to the bottom, while the British intercepted a secret telegram disclosing Germany's efforts to persuade Japan and Mexico to declare war on the U.S. On April 2nd, Wilson appeared in front of a solemn joint session of Congress and asked for a declaration of war against Germany, proclaiming that "the world must be made safe for democracy."