Thursday, April 06, 2017

Time to learn something: "Should America Have Entered World War I?"

On the 100th anniversary of America's entry into World War I, Donald Trump fired cruise missiles at Hafez al-Assad's son. Evidently there are Hama Rules, and there are Mar-a-Lago Rules, but since no one much bothers with history any longer, back to the legacy of the Great War.

It is the source of considerable chagrin in my interior world that an occurrence as cataclysmic as World War I is barely remembered. The topic fascinates me, and I've written about it often since the blog's inception. Here are the last ten or so major references:

An annual reminder: Forgotten fields in Flanders on Armistice (Veterans) Day.

"The nation must be taught to bear losses."

Roger’s Year in Music 2015 (Part 8): How did I die? A WWI lamentation.

Shells still explode in Belgium, one hundred years on.

Gavrilo Princip and the June 28 day.

WWI readings: From what was torn asunder to what was not rebuilt.

See this NAC search thread for more

I'll continue to make the argument that future historians will see World War I beginning with the first Balkan War in 1912, and in terms of cause and effect continued through the post-war settlement, depression and rise of fascist dictatorships, into World War II, then the Cold War, to the Yugoslav civil war in the 1990s. It will be renamed the 80 Year War, or some such.

An equally compelling subplot for Americans involves the way our entry into the war hastened the arrival of Prohibition. It's a case made by Lisa McGirr in her book The War on Alcohol: Prohibition and the Rise of the American State; mandated sobriety by reason of Protestant fundamentalism and anti-immigrant sentiment suddenly merged with sobriety as a patriotic imperative in wartime, and BOOM ... the foundations of greater government intrusion were quickly established and expanded in decades to come.

Michael Kazin covers numerous other key points in his op-ed piece. They're worth knowing.

Should America Have Entered World War I?, by Michael Kazin (New York Times)

One hundred years ago today, Congress voted to enter what was then the largest and bloodiest war in history. Four days earlier, President Woodrow Wilson had sought to unite a sharply divided populace with a stirring claim that the nation “is privileged to spend her blood and her might for the principles that gave her birth and happiness and the peace which she has treasured.” The war lasted only another year and a half, but in that time, an astounding 117,000 American soldiers were killed and 202,000 wounded.

Still, most Americans know little about why the United States fought in World War I, or why it mattered. The “Great War” that tore apart Europe and the Middle East and took the lives of over 17 million people worldwide lacks the high drama and moral gravity of the Civil War and World War II, in which the very survival of the nation seemed at stake.

World War I is less easy to explain. America intervened nearly three years after it began, and the “doughboys,” as our troops were called, engaged in serious combat for only a few months. More Americans in uniform died away from the battlefield — thousands from the Spanish flu — than with weapons in hand. After victory was achieved, Wilson’s audacious hope of making a peace that would advance democracy and national self-determination blew up in his face when the Senate refused to ratify the treaty he had signed at the Palace of Versailles.

But attention should be paid. America’s decision to join the Allies was a turning point in world history. It altered the fortunes of the war and the course of the 20th century — and not necessarily for the better. Its entry most likely foreclosed the possibility of a negotiated peace among belligerent powers that were exhausted from years mired in trench warfare ...

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