Peace and a New World Order?
Even before the end of the war, Woodrow Wilson, in his "Fourteen Points" address, outlined a vision for a new peaceful postwar world order that fostered global collaboration and free trade among nations. The international conference that convened in Paris in January 1919 to negotiate a peace settlement presented the president with the opportunity to realize this vision. However, the war had transformed the world, and U.S. allies and other Americans had ideas contrary to Wilson's proposals. As the conference delegates negotiated compromises, Wilson placed his hopes in a new League of Nations, an organization where disputes between countries could be addressed. The resulting Treaty of Versailles imposed severe terms on Germany, arousing criticism within the United States, but most objections centered on the League of Nations. Ultimately, the U.S. Senate refused to ratify the treaty or join the League. The United States would play a very different role in the postwar world from the one Wilson had envisioned.
Woodrow Wilson's "Fourteen Points"
Reintegrating soldiers into American life greatly concerned government policymakers. In addition to the War Risk Insurance Act of 1917, which established disability pensions for AEF soldiers, Congress approved the Vocational Rehabilitation Act (VRA) in 1918. The VRA sought to retrain wounded returning soldiers for new roles, particularly if they were unable to return to their previous vocations due to disability. The implementation of this controversial legislation was met with resistance. The agency responsible for delivering training to disabled veterans largely failed in its mission. Numerous veterans argued that they were being forced into vocations while being denied access to academic courses that might serve as a bridge to more lucrative professional careers. The ongoing activism of World War I veterans would lay the groundwork for the modern disability movement. By 1932, in the midst of the Great Depression, veterans organized a mass protest in Washington, D.C., over compensation promised to them as a result of their activism. Referred to as the "Bonus March," veterans demanded immediate payment of bonds that were not scheduled for conversion until 1945.
Remembering the War
Immediately following the armistice, Americans worked hard to assure that future generations would remember the catastrophic war and honor those who served and sacrificed. Medals and military decorations signified the extraordinary contributions individual veterans had made. Local monuments, erected around the country, and publications memorializing soldiers and their war service embodied community sentiments and memories of the war. American military cemeteries in Europe provided a somber reminder of the human cost of the Great War. To honor U.S. soldiers missing in action with no known grave, the government erected the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery. What and how to remember were not always easy questions to answer, and Americans offered an array of ways to memorialize the war. However, each of them testified to the profound impact and lasting significance of the Great War.