Wilson's War : How Woodrow Wilson's Great Blunder Led to Hitler, Lenin, Stalin, and World War I I
The fateful blunder that radically altered the course of the twentieth century--and led to some of the most murderous dictators in history
President Woodrow Wilson famously rallied the United States to enter World War I by saying the nation had a duty to make "the world safe for democracy." But as historian Jim Powell demonstrates in this shocking reappraisal, Wilson actually made a horrible blunder by committing the United States to fight. Far from making the world safe for democracy, America's entry into the war opened the door to murderous tyrants and Communist rulers. No other president has had a hand--however unintentional--in so much destruction. That's why, Powell declares, "Wilson surely ranks as the worst president in American history."
Wilson's War reveals the horrifying consequences of our twenty-eighth president's fateful decision to enter the fray in Europe. It led to millions of additional casualties in a war that had ground to a stalemate. And even more disturbing were the long-term consequences--consequences that played out well after Wilson's death. Powell convincingly demonstrates that America's armed forces enabled the Allies to win a decisive victory they would not otherwise have won--thus enabling them to impose the draconian surrender terms on Germany that paved the way for Adolf Hitler's rise to power.
Powell also shows how Wilson's naivete and poor strategy allowed the Bolsheviks to seize power in Russia. Given a boost by Woodrow Wilson, Lenin embarked on a reign of terror that continued under Joseph Stalin. The result of Wilson's blunder was seventy years of Soviet Communism, during which time the Communist government murdered some sixty million people.
Just as Powell's FDR's Folly exploded the myths about Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal, Wilson's War destroys the conventional image of Woodrow Wilson as a great "progressive" who showed how the United States can do good by intervening in the affairs of other nations. Jim Powell delivers a stunning reminder that we should focus less on a president's high-minded ideals and good intentions than on the consequences of his actions.
A selection of the Conservative Book Club and American Compass
The Holocaust, the gulags, the Cold War and a death toll exceeding 61,911,000 can all be laid at Wilson's doorstep, contends this sophomoric work in isolationist historiography. Powell, a Cato Institute fellow and author of FDR's Folly, argues that Wilson's intervention in WWI enabled the Allies to defeat Germany and impose a punitive peace settlement that made Germans bitter and antidemocratic, facilitated Hitler's rise, etc. Extending--indeed, almost parodying--Niall Ferguson's contrarian arguments from The Pity of War, he insists that a victorious German Empire would have subsided under its own weight, with Hitler and Stalin remaining unknown malcontents. Powell rehashes his arguments at inordinate length to associate Wilson's policies with subsequent Nazi and Soviet atrocities. When not flaying Wilson, Powell rides Cato's hobbyhorse of libertarian doctrine, sprinkling his chronicle of totalitarian horrors with prim sermons on free trade and laissez-faire economics; the Bolsheviks are thus scolded for their opposition to "consumers freely voting with their money, deciding which quantities, qualities, brands, styles, colors, prices, and so on that they preferred." Powell scores some points criticizing the flimsiness of Wilson's pretexts for intervention. But in using the unforeseen consequences of Wilson's actions as a brief for isolationism, he ends up blaming the 20th-century time line on one man. The result is a tendentious and heavy-handed distortion of history. (Apr.)
Copyright (c) Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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April 24, 2006
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Excerpt from Wilson's War by Jim Powell
HOW DID THAT MONSTROUS WAR HAPPEN?
World War I marked the end of a glorious era, the most peaceful period in modern history. The last general European war had concluded a century earlier, in 1815, when the French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte was defeated and banished to a shabby house on St. Helena, a British-controlled island in the South Atlantic Ocean, about 1,140 miles west of South Africa.
The Napoleonic Wars helped convince several generations that war was an evil to be avoided. The dapper Corsican Napoleon had emerged as a military strongman amid the wreckage of the French Revolution. In 1799 and 1800 he led successful French military campaigns against Austro-Hungarian armies in Italy and Germany. In 1799 he seized power in a coup. He declared himself to be consul for life. He resolved to conquer Egypt, gain French territory in the Caribbean, and extend his influence throughout the Mediterranean. He annexed Piedmont and forced a more congenial government on the Swiss Confederation.
Napoleon established the first modern police state. He tapped Joseph Fouche, who had been educated for the clergy but had never taken his vows as a priest, to organize a secret police force. As a Jacobin during the French Revolution, Fouche had organized mass shootings. He developed Napoleon's spy network throughout Europe, and he arranged to have adversaries abducted and shot.
The nationalist fury that swept through Germany during the mid-twentieth century, providing political support for Hitler, began to develop after Napoleon humiliated the German-speaking people. He defeated the Austrian army at Austerlitz (1805) and crushed the Prussians at Jena (1806). Prussian generals turned out to be cowards, and the Prussian army quickly disintegrated. Prussia had built a system of forts that were expected to provide a sturdy defense, but they generally surrendered without much resistance. Napoleon ordered that German-speaking states, including Bavaria, Wurttemberg, Baden, Hesse-Darmstadt, Nassau, and Berg, be combined to form the Confederation du Rhin--the Confederation of the Rhine. The French had already, in 1792, annexed territories west of the Rhine, notably Cologne and Mainz.
Napoleon dismissed corrupt old tyrants, an action that local people surely appreciated, but in many cases they were replaced by Napoleon's relatives, who became corrupt new tyrants. He imposed his Code Napoleon on conquered territories. Based on Roman law and some 14,000 decrees issued during the French Revolution, this was a simplified civil law code providing uniform rules for people to live by. Napoleon abolished the hodgepodge of feudal laws and customs. As historian J. M. Thompson noted, "The Code Napoleon contained less than 120,000 words and could be carried in the pocket."
Some 100,000 of Napoleon's troops occupied Prussia at the nation's expense. In 1807 he signed the Treaty of Tilsit with Russia, stripping Prussia of German-speaking provinces north and west of the lower Elbe River, and Polish provinces to the east.Altogether, Prussian territory was cut from 89,120 square miles to 46,032. Napoleon demanded that the Prussian government pay him 140 million francs. This amounted to a huge tax that devastated the economy. Making things worse was Napoleon's "Continental System," aimed at harming Britain by closing Europe's ports. The Continental System meant that Prussia couldn't earn its accustomed revenues from grain exports.