The Western Allies in the First World War framed the conflict in ideological terms, as Lincoln did in the mid-1860s. The content of the latter’s short Gettysburg speech, probably not delivered as later written by his secretaries and published, was that of the triumph of good over evil – and portrayed as an embattled democracy fighting for its existence.
The leaders of the Western democracies in 1917 were determined to crush an assumed German militarism which they viewed as an evil, while Russians were involved in a political crisis of their own and could care less about the trenches, death and destruction of the World War. Their leadership was practical and local, while the West was messianic globalism.
“How different this was in the Western countries! Here, war fervor had by 1917 attained a terrific intensity. The Western democracies had by this time convinced themselves, as embattled democracies have a tendency to do, that the entire future of civilization depended on the outcome of the military struggle.
There is, let me assure you, nothing in nature more egocentrical than the embattled democracy. It soon becomes the victim of its own war propaganda. It then tends to attach to its own cause an absolute value which distorts its own vision on everything else.
Its enemy becomes the embodiment of all evil. Its own side, on the other hand, is the center of all virtue. The contest comes to be viewed as having a final, apocalyptic quality. If we lose, all is lost; life will no longer be worth living; there will be nothing to be salvaged. If we win, then everything will be possible; all problems will become soluble; the one great source of evil – our enemy – will have been crushed; the forces of good will then sweep forward unimpeded; all worthy aspirations will be satisfied.
It will readily be seen that people who have got themselves into this frame of mind have little understanding for the issues of any contest other than the one in which they are involved. The idea of people wasting time and substance on any other issue seems to them preposterous. This explains why Allied statesmen were simply unable to comprehend how people in Russia could be interested in an internal Russian political crisis when there was a war on in the West.
There was, to be sure, an effort on the Allied side . . . to portray the contest as one of political ideology: as a struggle between democracy and autocracy. To this, I think, we Americans were particularly prone.
Wilhelminian Germany at its worst was much closer to Western parliamentarianism and to Western concepts of justice than was the Tsarist Russia whose collaboration the Western Allies so gladly accepted in the early stages of the war.
The truth is that the war was being waged against Germany, not because of the ideology of her government but because of her national aspirations. The ideological issue was an afterthought.”
(Russia and the West under Lenin and Stalin, George F. Kennan, Little, Brown and Company, 1960, excerpts pp. 5-7)