World War I
WASHINGTON OR WILSON?
By Dr. Robert John*
President Woodrow Wilson has been generally portrayed until recently as a heroic crusader for peace. Driven by the idea of a League of Nations, backed by international bankers and war profiteers, he said that American intervention in World War I would turn it into a war to end all wars. Instead, diplomatic historians are reassessing his contribution to making the 20th century a disaster for western civilization. That World War II was a result, or even a continuation of World War I, is a view supported by some renowned historians. In their analyses, American intervention in World War I, and participation in its aftermath, including the Versailles Treaty, produced circumstances that led to the to the Bolshevik take-over in Russia, the rise of Hitler, National Socialism, and the Second World War. Traditional American neutrality has been turned upside down. Instead, the USA has probably interfered in the affairs of every country in the world.
Editor's note: The U.S. has interfered in the affairs of every country in the world, or certainly betrayed every country.
A guiding principle of American policy toward European conflict prior to World War I was the principle articulated by the first President, of neutrality. American non-intervention in Europe demanded reciprocal non-intervention by European powers in the Western hemisphere, developed as the Monroe Doctrine. But prior to declaring war in 1917, the United States of President Wilson had not been neutral. On 15th May 1915 by Order in Council the British government declared goods of all kinds entering or leaving Germany contraband, a full blockade. Yet the U.S.A. sold war materiel to France and Britain, and virtually supported their food embargo of Germany. William Jennings Bryan resigned as Secretary of State in 1915 on this and other issues and Wilson's neglect of his advice for that of Edward Mandel House.
Wilson, with his new secretary of state, Robert Lansing, and Bernard Baruch, who had set up the finance campaign to elect Wilson, made the decision in 1915 to commit American businesses to extend credit to belligerents Britain and France. When they had sold nearly all their American assets for food and armaments, in 1916 Wilson allowed American banks to fund these credits by lending them more than $2 billion. As Bryan had predicted, these decisions tied American economic destiny to the battlefield fortunes of the Entente powers (Campbell, Craig. Not-So-Strange Career of Charles Beard, Diplomatic History, Volume 25, No. 2, 259).
Early on in the war, Britain had cut the undersea communication cable between the United States and Germany, and therefore had the lead in the propaganda war for American public opinion. Stories of German soldiers impaling Belgian children on their bayonets were hard to counter. Head of the British Military Intelligence Service in the United States, Sir William Wiseman, was successful in bringing much of the American press to support intervention on the side of Britain and France.
Without American partiality, and the expectation of American direct belligerency, the war might have ended in compromise toward the end of 1916, when, according to British Prime Minister Lloyd George's Memoirs of the Peace Conference (p. 726), the Allies had almost exhausted the gold and marketable securities available for American purchases. The saving in lives and suffering would have been enormous. The Bolshevik coup d'tat would have been highly improbable.
As for the peace, America failed to honor President Wilson's Fourteen Points for peace which were announced by him on 8th January 1918, but particularly Wilson's declaration a month later: that there were to be no annexations, no contributions, and no punitive damages. It was on that basis that General Ludendorf had recommended to Field-Marshall Hindenburg that Germany ask for an Armistice. Diplomatic exchanges followed until 23rd of October 1918.
We now know that on 23rd October Wilson, who had become the key player in bringing the Great War to an end, informed the German government "that if the United States had to negotiate with the military masters and monarchical autocrats of Germany now, or if it is likely to have to deal with them later in regard to the international obligations of the German Empire, it must demand not peace negotiations but surrender." (Quoted in Klaus Schwabe, Woodrow Wilson, Revolutionary Germany, and Peacemaking, 1918-1919, Chapel Hill. 1985, 59, translated from German, Diplomatic History, Spring 1992, 175-6. Records of the Department of State, Group 59, 123 M 23/171 ff., National Archives.).
The Kaiser abdicated for his country and people. They were led to believe that he had voluntarily deserted them in their darkest hour. The Berliner Tageblatt of 10 November 1918: reported, "Yesterday morning . . . everything was still there, the Kaiser, the chancellor, the police chief; yesterday afternoon, nothing of all that existed any longer. The March 1917 Menshevik Revolution in Russia was being re-enacted in Germany, with Friedrich Ebert playing the role that Kerensky had played in Russia the year before.
(Negotiations for a series of loans totaling $190,000,000 by the United States to the Provisional Government in Russia of the Jewish leader, Alexander Kerensky, had then begun on the advice of the U. S. ambassador to Russia, David R. Francis, who noted in his telegram to Secretary of State Lansing, "financial aid now from America would be a masterstroke. Confidential. Immeasurably important to the Jews that revolution succeed." [U.S. State Dept. Document 861.00/288, 19 March 1917].)
A leading American textbook misinformed generations of readers of the "Kaiser fleeing ignominiously to Holland." (Samuel Flagg Bemis, A Diplomatic History of the United States, Holt, 5th edition, 1967, 628).
According to the outstanding British military-and geopolitical analyst Major General J. F. C. Fuller (pioneer of coordinated air, tank, and infantry attack. Hitler invited him to watch German military maneuvers in 1937, and to whom I was introduced in the 1950s), although it had held together well throughout the hardships of the years of war, much the same happened to the Austro-Hungarian Empire because Wilson insisted that the complete satisfaction of the Austrian and Hungarian Slavs should be a condition of the Armistice. . . . on 12 November 1918 the Emperor Karl renounced his share in it, after which a republic was proclaimed in Vienna and the ancient Austro-Hungarian monarchy ceased to exist. Thus chaos was planted in Europe." (The Conduct of War, Rutgers, 1961, 182). A former Princeton professor, without reference to the American Congress, with no foreign experience, had ended three centuries of Habsburg rule. Europe needed stability and political evolution. Wilson used American power in the name of peace and democracy, interfering in the local process of political evolution, for revolution.
The Versailles Peace Treaty called for the creation of the League of Nations, as planned by President Wilson and Edward Mandel House. In spite of the Kaiser's abdication, the terms of the Treaty of June 1919 were those imposed by complete surrender. American perfidy toward Germany is seldom acknowledged by historians. The Treaty formally asserted Germany's war guilt and placed limits on German armed forces. It restored Alsace and Lorraine to France, gave Prussian Poland and most of West Prussia to Poland, made Danzig a free city, put Germany's colonies under the League of Nations, placed the Saar under French administration, called for plebiscites in various territories newly freed from the Central Powers, and called for the demilitarization of the Rhineland. Germany was ordered to pay huge reparations to the Allies, waived by the United States, which had profited considerably from the War. Every shell fired had profited the Guggenheims, who controlled copper. Every ounce of nickel used enriched Alfred Mond who controlled that metal, for example. German investments and corporations in the United States were confiscated and patents appropriated.
Until Germany signed the Treaty, the Allied food blockade of Germany continued for nearly six months after the war had ended. Even the German Baltic fishing fleet, which had augmented German food supplies during the war, was prevented from putting to sea. Estimates are that 750,000 Germans died from disease or starvation as a result. (The Politics of Hunger: The Allied blockade of Germany, 1915-1919. Vincent, C. Paul, Ohio University Press, 1985, and the Kath-Kollwitz lithograph Deutschlands Kinder hungern - Germany's Children are Starving.) This was a precedent for later policy against Iraq and Yugoslavia.
The economy of postwar Germany was such that the Allies could not be paid. In 1923, France and Belgium occupied the Ruhr district with Senegalese and other African colonial soldiers because of German defaults, an act that further embittered the Germans. The outraged Germans countered with passive resistance, and inflation soared. The careful middle class lost their savings and more millions their livelihood. Still unable to pay the debts which the Allies had added to the burden of repairing devastation that Germans had been forced to bear, in January 1932 Senator Copeland suggested to Congress that the United States should keep Germany from financial collapse.
This must be known to understand a response by some Germans to Adolf Hitler when in a typical speech he said the country will win back her honor with him as leader. The Nazis emphasized fighting the system, not personalities (N.Y.Times, 28 F. 1932, 18:2).
On 30 January 1933 Hitler was sworn in as Chancellor, affirming that he would carry out his obligations without party interests and for the good of the whole nation. The chain of events that had begun with World War I and America's abandonment of neutrality, with President Wilson's insistence on the abdication of the Kaiser and American participation in the intolerable Versailles Treaty, was in train. World War II would follow.
Wilson's War to End All Wars "was a commital of a much higher degree of importance than the decision to embark upon the war against Germany, since it involved not merely a single temporary effort but a complete break with American tradition and entrance upon revolutionary paths." (Charles Seymour, American Diplomacy in the World War. Baltimore, 1934, reprint Hamden, 1964, 396, ibid. 128).
Proclaiming "Peace," Wilson was the midwife for American participation in the most destructive war in world history, taking his country from neutrality in European affairs, and "hemispheric regionalism to global universalism" (Lawrence Gelfand, Wilsonian Foreign Policy, Diplomatic History Vol. 18, No. 1, 1994, 128).
Woodrow Wilson has been commonly portrayed as a staunch moral idealist, an advocate of peaceful resolution of international disputes. Frederick Calhoun has suggested that in this regard, there is a serious paradox, for in Wilson's presidency, there was "a way of war," which Calhoun sought to explain in his book, Power and Principle: Armed Intervention in Wilsonian Foreign Policy (Kent, OH 1986). He writes:
"No other American President before or since used force more often than he. Within four years, from April 1914 to July 1918, Wilson resorted to force twice in Mexico, in Haiti, in the Dominican Republic, in World War I, northern Russia and in Siberia" (Diplomatic History, Vol. 18, No.1, 1994, 128).
President Wilson, giving in to "the most fervent pro-allied sympathies" almost as soon as the war began, adopted a policy of "informal accommodation" that "made a mockery of neutrality." Kendrick Clements, on the whole a sympathetic biographer, concludes that if this argument is "overstated," it remains true that "the Americans had let trade reshape their neutrality so that it favored the allies" (Woodrow Wilson World Statesman, Boston 1987). Robert Ferrell states that Wilson never was neutral, he merely waited until public opinion and world events set loose the conditions under which he might lead the nation to war (Woodrow Wilson and World War I, 1917-1921, NY 1985). If ideals drove Wilson in the abstract, George Schild argues, his ends in any given case were strongly influenced by realpolitik (Between Ideology and Realpolitik: Woodrow Wilson and the Russian Revolution, 1917-1921, Westport, CT., 1996, 100-107).
Calhoun similarly blends these two influences by posing an ongoing dialectic within Wilson between ideals and a penchant to use force. Wilson's ideal was peace, yet "he had no principled aversion to compelling others to accept his views;" he sought democracy, but the means he employed "military intervention--denied others the opportunity to develop in their own way."
As suggested by Clements, a major factor must be the money that was to be made from war, and not from neutrality. Britain and France were selling their investments in the U.S.A. to buy armaments. Germany's industrial assets there would eventually be sequestrated. The copper in every shell the Allies fired enriched the Guggenheims, who controlled copper; every use of nickel enriched Alfred Mond who controlled that metal, for example.
Wilson's closest adviser, Colonel E. M. House wrote to Wilson on 16 June 1915, "I need not tell you that if the Allies fail to win, it must necessarily mean a reversal of our entire policy." (Charles Seymour, The Intimate Paper of Colonel House, Houghton, 1926, 469). House had performed services relating to Federal Reserve and currency legislation for Jacob W. Schiff and Paul Warburg (ibid. 161, 174). House, not Secretary of State Robert Lansing, was appointed by Wilson to sit in the president's place in the inner group or Council of Four at the Versailles Peace Conference when he left, that really dictated its terms. Wilson openly rejected Lansing's advice with the remark that he did not want any lawyers drafting the treaty. (D. Lazo, Lansing, Wilson, and the Jenkins Incident. Uses Lansing's Papers. Diplomatic History Vol. 22, No. 2, 1998,177).
British conservative historian Niall Ferguson in his The Pity of War: Explaining World War I (1999) argues that had Britain stayed out of World War I, Bolshevism would never have triumphed in Russia, Hitler and his movement could never have come to power in Germany, and Britain would not have exhausted its substance and undermined its empire. Germany's vague pre-war ambitions do not demonstrate a "plan" to launch an aggressive war for hegemony, and German planning, once the war was under way, was no more or less reprehensible than the Allies' plans to carve up the Ottoman empire, seize German colonies, and break up Austria-Hungary. The difference is that the Allies got to carry out their plans.
The supposed "worse case" scenario is one in which the German Empire under Wilhelm I would have dominated much of Europe economically. This seems rather benign compared to the actual history that we got. Since a German-dominated European economic community is what we have now, Ferguson asks whether postponing that outcome for 80 years was worth the price paid.
What is the relevance of all this for American policy and our future? America and Britain starved the people of Iraq for a decade, because the policy makers for America wanted to be rid of Iraq's Kaiser, Saddam Hussein. America led NATO in sanctions against Yugoslavia with the objective getting President Milosevic out of office. The precedents were made by a revolutionary internationalist, President Wilson.
Should we rather expect our presidents to reconsider the guidance of our first President? The twentieth century world would have been better for that. The fundamental policies of the United States have been moved far out of alignment from the positions on foreign affairs, and limited central power, of its visionary Founders. That formulation on foreign relations, expressed by President Washington as good relations with all, special relations with none, was affirmed by John Quincy Adams: "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" (1821).
Misdirection and misdiagnosis have been fateful. The most seditious misinformation put out by seducers of America's sovereignty is the canard that Word War II was a result of the U.S.A. not joining the League of Nations. The truth is that Wilson's policy was motivated by the League of Nations idea, and America's intervention in the Great War resulted in the Second World War. In a rare admission in an establishment publication, "America at 200," (Essays by Morris and Graff published by the Foreign Policy Association, 1975, 55) states, "It is today highly dubious whether even with the most vigorous participation by the United States in the League, international relations could have been reshaped. Of course, we will never know." We know that President Washington's vision was clearer than President Wilson's. Let it guide us again.
Few Americans are aware or perhaps care that their government is a prime violator of international law, for which President Washington had considerable regard, particularly with interference in the internal affairs of other countries. Here is just an admitted token:
"The National Endowment for Democracy, created 15 years ago to do in the open what the Central Intelligence Agency has done surreptitiously for decades, spends $30 million a year to support things like political parties, labor unions, dissident movements, and the news media in dozens of countries, including China. . . . In the mid-1980's, it provided $5 million to Polish émigrés to keep the Solidarity movement alive. . . . It provided a $400,000 grant for political groups in Czechoslovakia that backed the election of Vaclav Havel as president in 1990." $3 million went to Nicaragua in 1990 for "technical assistance," but actually to bolster the presidential candidate favored by the United States. The U.S. has also meddled in Japanese elections, for example (N.Y.Times March 31, 1997 A1).
Now suppose you are a patriotic candidate for election who does not want to be an American-supported politician.
*Dr. ROBERT JOHN is a leading policy analyst, and diplomatic historian. He is the author of The Palestine Diary: British, American and United Nations Intervention 1914-1948, 1970, 2 volumes, with a foreword by Arnold Toynbee, and Behind the Balfour Declaration: The Hidden Origins of Today's Mideast Crisis, 1988
Dr. John has broadcast on the Overseas Service of the BBC, the Canadian Broadcasting Service and on CBS and NBC television. At the 1994 Second Orwellian Symposium in Carlsbad, Czech Rep., partly sponsored by UNESCO, Dr. John was given the Outstanding Scholarly Contribution Award. He was presented with the 1997 FREEDOM AWARD by the International Institute for Advanced Studies in Systems Analysis in Baden-Baden, Germany, for his outstanding work and contributions towards the fight for human rights, justice, and liberty.
Dr. John is a Life member of the Hon. Society of the Middle Temple, Inns of Court (Law) and the American Political Science Association. He is also a member of the Organization of American Historians, and The Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations.
My thanks to Michael Santomauro for publishing this article.
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