Sunday, April 16, 2017

PBS: The Great War

Continued to watch PBS's The Great War. I don't think it ever sufficiently credited the American Socialist Party, led by Eugene V. Debs, and also the Wobblies for their principled opposition to American entrance into the war. But the show, once again. offered compensations.

I already knew how rabidly racist Woodrow Wilson was, and how he reversed whatever small progress blacks had made in entering civil service but the show hammers that point home. Wilson, grand idealist and determined self-determinist that he was, was also a rank, low grade racist. 
The show makes it clear American troops were decisive in the allied defeat of Germany. About that, let there be no doubt.

A recent NY Time piece — Michael Kazin Should America Have Entered World War I? — argued that it would have been better for all concerned if the United States had not become involved because the exhausted European powers would then have been forced to arrive at a lasting arrangement, giving Germany a say in the peace, and steering it away from revanchism.

That's one possible counter-history. Certainly it's hard to imagine worse outcomes than the factual history that ensued. But when Kazin blames the creation of "a military-industrial establishment" in the United States on American war he seems to be making things up: the United States did not stay armed or ramp up as it did after WW II. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor found us woefully unprepared.

A better argument might be that once the United States entered the war, only the unconditional surrender of Germany should have been the goal. That Germany did not surrender unconditionally made room for the fantasy that it might have won the war, but for "the stab in the back" by socialists and Jews.

Back to the PBS show: Woodrow Wilson committed the United States to winning a war on the highest, most noble principles and, yet, due to his personality, continued to undercut them.

Wilson wanted:

-- An end to war.

-- Self-determination, no imperial dominance, for all nations concerned

-- A League Of Nations, to adjudicate conflicts and eliminate the necessity of war.

But the particularities of Wilson's character blocked implementation of such ideals.

Out of sheer hauteur, Wilson wouldn't reach across the aisle to Republican Senator Henry Cabot Lodge to bring Lodge with him to Versailles. Had he done so, there might been bipartisan support for Wilson at Versailles, and beyond that, in Congress, for Wilson's commitment to a League of Nations.

Nor would Wilson accept the few, relatively trivial changes to his League of Nations proposal, put forward in the Senate.

And so he lost Congress for the League of Nations.

There was someone else who played a huge role in this war and its aftermath, someone else who was even more uncompromising in his belief that it could end all wars.

Do you know who I mean?

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