The American Pageant (12th Edition)

Chapter 31 – Page 705

Our Critique

705 “Destiny dealt cruelly with Woodrow Wilson. The lover of peace, as fate would have it, was forced to lead a hesitant and peace-loving nation into war.”

This opening passage in the chapter is so far-fetched it is virtual “fake history.” Wilson was not “peace-loving,” though America was; and he was not “forced” to lead the United States into war, he was glad, maybe even eager, to do so. Also, President Wilson was militant toward other nations from the time he entered office until the First World War ended. In the previous chapter (on page 695) Wilson challenged the sovereignty of other nations when he said, “I am going to teach the South American republics to elect good men.”

In Mexico, he eventually helped to overthrow President Huerta; after that he sent General Pershing’s army hundreds of miles into Mexico to root out Poncho Villa. Even Colonel House, Wilson’s confidant, said Wilson wanted a war with Mexico. In 1915, Wilson sent the Marines in to take over Haiti, even though Haiti posed no threat to the United States. The next year Wilson forced himself on the Dominican Republic—and both Haiti and the Dominican Republic took orders from the United States even after Wilson left the White House. On the lead up to the European war, Wilson allowed Britain to prevent US ships from entering Germany, but he insisted American travelers had every right to sail on armed British ships without German interference. In conclusion, President Wilson, like Theodore Roosevelt before him, was not a “lover of peace.”

705 “On January 22, 1917, he [Wilson] delivered one of his most moving addresses, restating America’s commitment to neutral rights and declaring that only a negotiated ‘peace without victory’ would prove durable.”

No leader except Wilson seriously believed that a “peace without victory” was an option in the European conflict. Both the Allies and the Central Powers fought for victory and promised it to their peoples. When the United States did enter the war, it would guarantee victory for the Allies, not “peace without victory.” Just as Wilson was “going to teach the South American republics to elect good men,” his “peace without victory” speech would teach Europe to elect good men. In that speech he talked about a peace “between equals,” the virtues of universal disarmament, “government by the consent of the governed,” and a league of nations to enforce his desires. Wilson was optimistic that human nature in the world had changed, or perhaps could be changed. He assumed the world could be remade, in spite of history telling him otherwise.

705–06 “To defend American interests short of war, the president asked Congress for authority to arm American merchant ships. When a band of midwestern senators launched a filibuster to block the measure, Wilson denounced them as ‘a little group of willful men’ who were rendering a great nation ‘helpless and contemptible.’ But their obstruction was a powerful reminder of the continuing strength of American isolationism.”

Wilson’s tactics were provocative. By arming American merchant ships heading into a war zone, American ships might needlessly engage another ship prematurely, or be sunk by accident. Those senators who disagreed with Wilson were trying to avoid American intervention. Bailey and Kennedy use the term “isolationism” to describe the view of those who disagreed with Wilson. That is a loaded term, unfair to use here. Bailey and Kennedy misuse the term “isolationism” often in this chapter. In reality, those who opposed Wilson were “non-interventionist,” not isolationist. There is a difference. Wilson’s critics, like the Founders, wanted to avoid partisanship toward foreign nations at war, but they wanted to trade with all nations—and therefore were not “isolationist.”