International Organization

Revisionism Reconsidered: Exports and American Intervention in World War I

Benjamin O.  Fordham  a1
a1 Binghamton University (SUNY), E-mail:

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Why did the United States intervene in World War I, breaking with its long tradition of noninvolvement in European political and military conflicts? During the 1920s and 1930s, many “revisionist” historians argued that American efforts to protect its trade with the Allies ultimately led to intervention. The logic of the revisionist position closely parallels the contemporary liberal case that interdependence promotes peace but arrives at different conclusions about the relationship between trade and conflict. Historians have largely abandoned this economic interpretation of American intervention, but data on the impact of the wartime export boom on the United States suggest that it should be reconsidered. The export boom was so large that it would have been difficult to ignore, and its progress corresponds to the timing of important decisions leading to American belligerency. An analysis of congressional voting on war-related measures also suggests that export income helped shape politicians' views of the war. a


a I would like to thank Katherine Barbieri, John Coogan, David Clark, Jeffry Frieden, Jack Levy, Brian Lai, Timothy McKeown, David Painter, Strom Thacker, and participants in the world politics workshop at Binghamton University, the political economy workshop at Harvard University, and the Department of Political Science at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, for their many comments and suggestions on earlier versions of this article. Lisa Martin and several anonymous reviewers at International Organization also made many valuable suggestions. I am especially grateful to Thomas Walker, whose good-natured skepticism prompted me to write this paper. An earlier version of this article was presented at the 2005 annual meeting of the American Political Science Association. Any remaining errors and misinterpretations are my responsibility.