Blame America First

Doug Bandow of the Cato Institute reviews a new book about Woodrow Wilson for the Wasington Times. The book, by Jim Powell, is called Wilson’s War: How Woodrow Wilson’s Great Blunders Led to Hitler, Lenin, Stalin & World War II. Bandow’s review basically recites Powell’s thesis and adds an “amen” at the end.
Powell’s thesis, captured in his title, is that without the blunders Wilson committed “there would have been no World War II [and] no totalitarian empires stretching from Europe to the Pacific.” (I’m quoting Bandow). Powell blames Wilson for his decision to enter the war and for his efforts in connection with the peace treaty. Even though it was the European victors who imposed the vindictive provisions of the treaty that supposedly led to Hitler’s rise, Powell blames Wilson for squandering the credibility needed to prevent the imposition of these vindictive terms.
I’m no fan of Woodrow Wilson, but I’m more than a little skeptical of Powell’s arguments as Bandow portrays them. It strikes me as implausible, for example, to claim that if we had only stayed out of World War I the warring parties would have reached a compromise that would have created a Europe immune to the powerful new ideologies that later caused so much hardship and evil. Powell also contends that it should have been a matter of indifference to the U.S. whether German power in relation to England was curbed. He notes that England suppressed the Irish and that more people worldwide were being oppressed by Entente members than by the Central Powers. But I view Hitler’s rise as confirmation that a Europe in which Germany lacked substantial power was a worthy goal. That Europe didn’t adopt diplomatic and military strategies that kept German militarism in check over the long haul is not Wilson’s fault to any appreciable degree.
When a historian posits that the major tragedies that followed World War I, most of which didn’t occur until 15 years later and some of which persisted through the end of the 20th century, would not have occurred but for the actions of a single man, one suspects that the historian is being aided by an agenda. Here, the agenda seems to extend beyond enmity towards Wilson (enmity that must be difficult for most historians to avoid). Powell concludes that “one of the most important principles of America foreign policy should be to conserve resources for defending the country” and that we should “stay out of other people’s wars.” (I’m quoting Powell here). Indeed, Powell seems to think that our participation in World War II also was unwise, since it was followed by the rise of Communist totalitarian regimes. If Bandow’s review is a fair indication, however, I doubt that Powell has demonstrated even the more plausible proposition that we should have stayed out of World War I.

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