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From a British perspective in both WW1 and WW2 the USA have entered the war at a later stage and supported the allies.

The decision for the US to enter the war has often been portrayed to be based on particular acts of aggression against them. The sinking of the Lusitania and the attack on Pearl Harbour.

Was there ever any doubt which side the USA would join? Is there evidence to suggest that these triggers decide which side the USA would join as well as the level of their involvement?

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Extremely unlikely. Note also that in both cases the USA was helping the Allies to some extent (a little in WWI, a lot in WWII) even before officially entering the war. –  Felix Goldberg May 1 at 8:08
    
Doubt by whom? If you mean doubt at the time, maybe look at what earlier diplomatic efforts were made by the side they didn't join to ally with the US, and by the side they did join to prevent them joining the other. If there were no serious efforts then there was probably no serious expectation that it could happen: the actual diplomacy AFAIK was whether and when the US would join at all. –  Steve Jessop May 1 at 10:28
    
@SteveJessop I'm no historian, but diplomatic efforts are secret until made public by a government, which is unlikely for such communication. –  Potatoswatter May 1 at 11:09
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There was a substantial US constituency that wanted to remain neutral. I'm not expert enough to discuss probability, but there was doubt that the US would join the war. I believe the pro-german constituency was small in both wars. –  Mark C. Wallace May 1 at 11:10
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It's normally considered that it was the Zimmermann telegram, not the sinking of the Lusitania, which was the final push for the US to enter WWI. An interesting account can be found in 'The Dark Invader' by Franz von Ritelen. The same source has much to say about pro-German (mostly German-Americans) and anti-British (mostly Irish) sentiment at that period. –  peterG May 1 at 14:16
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6 Answers 6

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I know the answer for the Second World War. The political parties and organizations were all pro Allies except three notable groups:

German American Bund
This was a Nazi organization supported by Germans in the USA. It evolved simultaneously with the NSDAP, but never got enough support to have any notable power. When the war broke out, the organization became unfavored in many ways: there was a tax investigation, and later they refused to be drafted so the members got fined for $10000 and 5 years in jail. By the mid-late war the leaders were in jail or had their citizenship revoked, so the whole organization stopped working.

Silver Legion of America
This was a fascist party in USA which ran in the elections of 1936, but never really got more than 10000 members. Right after Pearl Harbor, the local police occupied the HQ of the Silver Legion and the membership of the party left as the war went on.

And one more notable and popular organization is the America First Committee, which boasted famous aviator Charles Lindbergh as a spokesman. They wouldn't enter into the war on the Axis side, but they strongly argued against entering on any side, even the Allies'. I mention them, because if their points had gotten approval — such as opposing the Lend Lease Agreement, or being neutral — it could have seriously affected the outcome of the Second World War.

So for the Second World War: there was no doubt that the USA was a pro-Allies power, as these organizations were a small minority when Pearl Harbor occurred, and most of the people supported the Allies' cause.

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During WWII, there was less doubt about which side the US would join. War with Japan had been anticipated for years and a strategy of waging war adopted in the 20s called War Plan Orange. With Japan's expansionist policies, and the US' territories in the pacific (Guam, Philippines, Wake) it was more a matter of when than if.

The US considered Germany less of a direct threat. Germany was not a great maritime power, seaborne invasion was not a threat. With no territorial interests in Europe, US had no direct stake in the war. There was a very strong isolationist movement in the US which Roosevelt had to carefully step around to supply the Allies. The more the US got involved in supplying arms to the Allies, the more they came into conflict with German U-boats, the more likely war became.

However, there is a great question of when the US would have entered WWII. It likely would not have been December 1941. The US military was grossly unprepared for war. In 1940 it was largely a reserve force of a few hundred thousand. Due to the delay in rearming and the chaos caused by rapid expansion, Army divisions were still being assembled, trained and brought up to strength. They were far from ready for the complicated logistical task of deploying overseas. The first viable, but rushed and flawed, US medium tank the M3 Lee, was not in production until August 1941. The ubiquitous M4 Sherman would not roll off production lines until 1942. The US Navy, while prepared to fight a conventional war in the pacific, was unprepared for defensive submarine warfare as shown in Operation Drumbeat.

The Attack On Pearl Harbor was a strategically decisive defeat for the Axis in many ways. It forced the US to enter the war early, removing the need to maintain a veneer of neutrality for its own citizens and ramping up production earlier than it would have otherwise. It over strained the Japanese military who were now attacking in every direction, had they waited they could have fought a more concentrated defensive war with preparations, or no war at all!

Second, and this is often overlooked, Pearl Harbor caused Germany to declare war on the US. It is often assumed it was the other way around, that the US automatically declared war on Germany, not the case. There was a great risk of having the US fight Japan and, wanting to put all its attention and resources into that war, not fight in Europe. Germany's declaration of war eliminated the possibility for the US to be knocked out of the war in Europe without firing a shot.

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Although I agree broadly with CsBalazs, we should not overlook the fact that there was a rather strong pro-Nazi sentiment among the upper classes, and especially the academic elite, in the US. For example: Martin Sprengling, director of the Oriental Institute in Chicago ; Walter Nitze, head of the Romance faculty in Chicago ; George Kingsley Zipf, teacher of German at Harvard and inventor of “Zipf’s law” ; all of them were self-proclaimed Nazis, but no one ever seems to talk about this. By the way, pro-Nazi thinking was also very widespread among the aristocracy and upper-middle classes in Britain.

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Not something people are likely to admit to afterwards! –  Liath May 1 at 10:07
    
It was rumoured Henry Ford refused to return his Nazi medal –  Nick Maroulis May 2 at 0:01
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antisemitism was pretty popular everywhere at the time, not just Nazi Germany who took it to the next level. –  Ryathal May 2 at 13:42
    
Ryathal makes a good point, another name that's still widely known would be Coco Chanel (French). –  Amicable May 2 at 13:57
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You make a good point but it does not answer the question - were the pro-Nazi sympathizers in the USA ever strong enough to potentially swing America over to the Axis camp? Not really. If these 3 relatively unimportant men are the top USA Nazis I think that proves the point handily. –  Felix Goldberg May 7 at 5:34
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During WW1, the U-Boat attacks DID have a significant effect on turning American opinion against Imperial Germany. Furthermore, it is unlikely that the US would have entered the war without the sinking of the Lusitania or another similar provocative event. It is often forgotten in this day and age that the second largest ethnic heritage group in the United States is German, outnumbered only by the English. The rebranding and suppression of German culture during WW1 was significant, far beyond anything before or since in this country. Those who laugh/sneer at "Freedom Fries" probably think nothing of eating cream cheese, or as it used to be known prior to WW1, schmeerkase. Stop and think about it for a moment. Why does the second largest heritage group in America has such a small distinct cultural footprint today?

With regards to WW2, US entry without provocation was much more likely. Contrary to what others have said, the US was not "grossly unprepared" for the war. During WW2, the US Navy took delivery of 9 brand spankin' new battleships, 2 battlecruisers, and 2 dozen fleet carriers. ALL of the battleships were under construction before the war started, as were a third of the carriers. The expansion of the Army started in 1940. Almost every major weapon system used by the US during WW2 was designed before the war, and either in development or production when the war started. The upshot is "grossly unprepared" is a gross overstatement. Unprepared? Yes, certainly tactically on that Sunday morning in December. Preparing? Definitely. The US was rearming with a speed and breadth that is astounding.

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True. Neither belligerent started the WWII "fully prepared", with exception of France and Japan. –  kubanczyk May 2 at 10:38
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No, the side we would take if we were to enter both wars was undisputed. The only problems was the absence of public unity about going to war. This was a primary concern when America entered the war on April 6, 1917. In Washington, unwavering public support was considered to be crucial to the entire wartime effort. That is why on April 13, 1917, President Wilson created the Committee on Public Information (CPI) to promote the war domestically while publicizing American war aims abroad. Walter Lipmann and Bernays were crucial on this front.

accessible article http://www.propagandacritic.com/articles/ww1.cpi.html. Lipmann's Public Opinion excellent source to see the philosophy behind it.

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Alfred Thayer Mahan's doctrine pretty much dictated that the United States will be fighting alongside the British, who were the other naval superpower, rather than Germany which was a land power.

Japan is an interesting case, while at the start of WWII it demolished the British navy, raw racism precluded any possibility of alliance. Recall Japanese immigrants were subject to all kinds of exclusions in the United States at the time, and the implementation of internment.

In any case, the United States wasn't about to share the Pacific anyway.

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Sources to support your claims would be nice. (Stuff like articles from the time, policy papers, memoirs, etc.) Btw, the racism angle is not really relevant at all- for example Japan was Britain's ally for a long time. –  Felix Goldberg May 7 at 5:37
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