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April 23, 2005

Blame Wilson


by Scott Horton

"[America] goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy.
She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all.
She is the champion and vindicator only of her own.
She will commend the general cause by the countenance of her voice, and the benignant sympathy of her example.
She well knows that by once enlisting under other banners than her own, were they even the banners of foreign independence, she would involve herself beyond the power of extrication, in all the wars of interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy, and ambition, which assume the colors and usurp the standard of freedom. The fundamental maxims of her policy would insensibly change from liberty to force."
-John Quincy Adams 1821

Listen to Scott's interview with Jim Powell

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Woodrow Wilson's decision to bring the United States into Europe's "Great War" (1914-18) wasn't made in 1917. In fact, his agents had already reached an agreement with the governments of England and France to involve the U.S. in the autumn of 1915. He then spent all of 1916 campaigning for reelection on the slogan, "He kept us out of war." When Wilson, who had already invaded Mexico, Nicaragua, Haiti and the Dominican Republic, finally got Congress to declare war against the Central Powers on April 8, 1917, based on the ridiculous Zimmerman Telegram, the renewal of unrestricted submarine warfare by the Germans, and trumped up charges of atrocities against the Belgians, he didn't just get more than 100,000 Americans killed, he solidified the last century's turn toward warfare and totalitarianism that eventually killed over two hundred million people. So says Jim Powell, author of Wilson's War: How Woodrow Wilson's Great Blunder led to Hitler, Lenin, Stalin and World War II. Perhaps he left the Cold War, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the wars against terror and Iraq out of the book's title for brevity's sake.

Powell makes a compelling argument that by the time the U.S. got involved, World War I was a stalemate. Peace was sure to break out soon. The soldiers on all sides were sick, freezing, and in various states of mutiny.

The Russians in particular had been devastated, many of their soldiers were without weapons, and their luck on the battlefield was running out. The commanding generals were so incompetent that Czar Nicholas II left the capital to lead the war from the front. What little existed of a modern economy was being ruined. Primarily due to his refusal to withdraw from the war, Nicholas II was deposed in a popular uprising on March 15, 1917. As soon as the U.S. Congress declared war less than a month later, Wilson began applying diplomatic pressure and paid the Russians $325 million to continue the fight. An Anglophile to the core, Wilson didn't care about the fate of the Russians. His concern was in keeping German forces split along two fronts. The payoff worked: Russia's provisional prime minister Aleksandr Kerensky kept the Russians involved in the war.

Finally, on their fourth try, Vladimir Ilyich Lenin and his sidekick Leon Trotsky seized power. As Powell says in the book,

"If Russia's Provisional Government had quit the war and negotiated peace with Germany in early 1917, we might never had heard of Lenin. He would have returned home to find Russians celebrating the end of the war. Soldiers would have been returning home and the process of reviving the economy would have begun ... Finally of course, the Czar was gone, and the Russian army would have been there to defend the Provisional Government, virtually ruling out prospects for a Bolshevik coup.

Alexander Kerensky and some others in the Provisional Government wanted Russia to stay in the war, and maybe they would have prevailed if they had decided on their own. But relentless diplomatic pressure from Britain and France, and diplomatic pressure and bribes from Woodrow Wilson, helped assure that the virtually bankrupt Provisional Government would stay in the war."

Wilson's intervention led to the creation of the Soviet Union, the Cheka, KGB, Red Terror and Operation Keelhaul. Because of him, Joseph Stalin inherited a dictatorship; next came Lend-Lease, the Gulag Archipelago, Cold War, nuclear arms race, Korean and Vietnam wars, the Contra "freedom fighters," and the Afghan Mujahidin.

Though the Germans were more interested in seeking a negotiated peace than the Allies led by Britain and France, the Western battlefield was still on French soil. Without the help of conscripted American soldiers it is much more likely that the Allies would have negotiated sooner and demanded less vengeful terms. And vengeful terms they were: Clause 231 and 232 of the Treaty of Versailles forced the Germans to accept blame for the entire war, and to "make compensation for all damage done to the civilian population of the Allied and Associated Powers and to their property during the period of belligerency of each as an Allied or Associated Power against Germany by such aggression by land, by sea, and from the air, and in general all damage." This amounted to an open ended claim for German reparations. These articles were to be enforced by "measures as the respective Governments may determine to be necessary in the circumstances." This, as all school children presumably know, caused the German Government to turn on the printing presses, leading to terrible hyperinflation and the complete destruction of the German economy.

Wilson's handler, Colonel Edward Mandell House, had tried to send an ambassador to Versailles, and keep Wilson at home. At least that way a diplomat would have had the excuse that he had to follow instructions from the boss back home. Wilson, however, insisted on "playing his role" on the "world stage," and at Versailles, this advantage was lost – he was the boss. He supposedly thought he could restrain the hateful impulses of the British and French. If he had had details in mind for just peace terms, it might have been different. Instead he was thoroughly dominated by the French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau and the British foreign secretary Lord Edward Grey.

One wish of Wilson's was granted: he had demanded that the German Kaiser resign. He would only accept surrender from a "democratic government," presumably meaning one like his. Due to this decision, the German democrats who had opposed the war were discredited for being those responsible for signing the terrible treaty. The opposition took all the heat, rather than the people who got the country into the war in the first place.

The series of maneuvers Hitler used to seize power were difficult enough as it was. Without the destruction of the German economy by the demands of massive reparations and the discrediting of the moderate factions, Adolph Hitler and his National Socialist German Workers' Party would never have been able to seize power. Hitler's entire propaganda program was based on the idea of punishing the "traitors of 1918" (those who signed the Versailles treaty), and restoring dignity to a country so humiliated by the aftermath of the first world war. Wilson enabled the rise of Nazi Germany and its bloody fruition, World War II – 50 million individuals killed, the master race, the holocaust, the American Empire and the Bush family fortune.

Wilson's blunder also paved the way for our current conflicts in the Middle East. With the overwhelming victory of the Allies, made possible by US involvement, the British Empire expanded by over a million square miles. The French were able to greatly expand their territories as well. The current nation-states of Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Yemen and what was then called Palestine were drawn on a paper napkin by Winston Churchill with no regard for local populations at all. On top of all this, Lord Grey's successor, British foreign secretary Lord Arthur James Balfour, issued his famous "declaration," in the form of a letter to Lord Lionel Rothschild declaring the "establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people..." This has been, and will continue to be, a cause of major problems for the West, and the United States in particular, to say nothing of the people who live there.

The common refrain that "if only the Versailles treaty had been ratified by the U.S. Senate and we had participated in the League of Nations everything would have been great," is as old as Wilson himself:

"This is the Covenant of the League of Nations that you hear objected to, the only possible guarantee against war. I would consider myself recreant to every mother and father, every wife and sweetheart in this country, if I consented to the ending of this war without a guarantee that there would be no other. You say, 'Is it an absolute guarantee?' No; there is no absolute guarantee against human passion; but even if it were only 10 percent of a guarantee, would not you rather have 10 percent guarantee against war than none? If it only creates a presumption that there will not be war, would you not rather have that presumption than live under the certainty that there will be war? For, I tell you, my fellow citizens, I can predict with absolute certainty that within another generation there will be another world war if the nations of the world do not concert the method by which to prevent it."

Consider the unlimited arrogance of this man, who could send a hundred thousand people to their deaths, set up millions more for the same fate, and then blame those who would preserve America's independence for the consequences of the first part of his program by their refusal to go along with the rest of it.

Woodrow Wilson's presidential legacy consists of central banking, national income taxes, the destruction of the separation of powers, the Palmer raids, massive expansion of the national government's power and the worst slaughter of Americans since 1865. No wonder he's George W. Bush's hero. Let's hope the consequences of the foreign adventures of our current megalomaniac-in-chief are not as harmful as those of his predecessor.

 

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  • Scott Horton is an assistant editor at Antiwar.com and the director of Antiwar Radio.

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