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Deconstructing Historical Memory

Like the Russian Bolsheviks before them, the African National Congress regime in New South Africa renamed established cities and roadways for heroes of its communist revolution. In post-revolution Russia, the Society of Marxist Historians “demanded a review of all existing historical literature,” with students at the Institute of Red Professors formed into brigades preparing assessments of large portions of existing literature for publication in the press. The same process of assessment moves forward in New South Africa, as it does in the United States.

Deconstructing Historical Memory

“It may be a trifling issue to deracinated sophisticates, but landmarks in the country’s founding history are slowly being erased, as demonstrated by the ANC’s decision to give an African name to Potchefstroom, a town founded in 1838 by the Vortrekkers.  Pretoria is now called Tshwane.  Nelspruit, founded by the Nel family (they were not Xhosa), and once the seat of the South African Republic’s government during the first Boer War, has been renamed Mbombela. Polokwane was formerly Pietersburg.  Durban’s Moore Road (after Sir John Moore, the hero of the Battle of Corunna, fought in 1808 during the Napoleonic Wars) is Che Guevarra Road; Kensington Drive, [now] Fidel Castro Drive.

Perhaps the ultimate in tastelessly hip nomenclature is Yasser Arafat Highway, down which the motorist can careen on the way to the Durban airport.

The Afrikaans tongue, in particular, has come under the ANC’s attack, as the government attempts to compel Afrikaans schools to adopt English. Afrikaans-speaking universities have been labeled as “racist” in the New South Africa, and have been forced to merge with “third-rate black institutions so that campuses may be swamped by blacks demanding instruction in English.”

On the supplanting of the Afrikaans language, Dan Roodt relates: “Not so long ago, and Indian employee at my local branch of the Absa Bank demanded to know if I was a legal resident in South Africa upon hearing me speak a foreign language, Afrikaans.”

The ANC’s attempt to tame and claim South African history mimics the effort by American elites to deconstruct American history and memory, documented by Samuel Huntington in “Who Are We?”  Wishing to purge America of her “sinful European inheritance,” bureaucrats, mediacrats, educrats, assorted policy wonks and intellectuals trashed the concept of America as melting pot.

In its place, they insisted on ensconcing multiculturalism, inherent in which is a denunciation of America’s Western foundation and a glorification of non-Western cultures.  This mindset does not permit pedagogues to reject faux Afrocentric faux history outright.  They dare not – not if the goal of education is to be achieved, and that goal is an increase in self-esteem among young Africans, in particular.

Other self-styled victim groups, notably natives and women, have had their suppurating historical wounds similarly tended with curricular concessions. Thus, of the 670 stories and articles in “twenty-two readers for grades three and six published in the 1970s and early 1980s . . . none had anything to do with American history since 1780.” The trend, documented by Huntington, accelerated well into the year 2000, when Congress, alarmed by the nation’s historical Alzheimer’s, made an anemic effort to correct decades of deconstruction. It allocated more funds to the Department of Education, which is a lot like letting the proverbial fox guard the historical henhouse.”

(Into the Cannibal’s Pot, Lessons for America from Post-Apartheid South Africa, Ilana Mercer, Stairway Press, 2011, pp. 80-81)

Rebel Perfidy and Juvenile Press Propaganda

During the war, Northern magazines such as “The Student and Schoolmate” targeted juveniles with words and picture games, and songs highlighting Northern political principles. Illustrations were accompanied by phrases: “cannoneers delight in shooting into enemy lines,” and “We propose to make our flag shelter the oppressed wherever it waves.” Ultimately, the magazines “sought to instill an 1860s version of “political correctness” by defining Union war aims, establishing the centrality of slavery in causing the war, and recognizing the humanity of the former slaves.” In short, the children were taught that intolerant “Southern slaveowners had grown arrogant, conceited, overbearing . . . determined to destroy the government they could not control.”

Rebel Perfidy and Juvenile Press Propaganda

“The juvenile press went far beyond providing minutiae about the War. Although it would be too much to argue that children’s writers in the North actually encouraged underage boys to join the army, many stories portrayed the extent to which a few children displayed their loyalty to the Union.

Several threw their protagonists – often twelve years old or less – into battles or other dangerous situations and ranged in length from a paragraph about a fourteen-year-old hero on the USS Cumberland to full-blown short stories and serials.

In the “Little Prisoner,” young James is finally allowed by his widowed mother to become a drummer boy of an Ohio regiment. He proves his mettle at the Battle of the Wilderness, where he is also bayoneted – not seriously – by a Rebel intent on robbing the body of a friend of his father’s. A kindly black woman takes him to an abandoned plantation nearby where she nurses him back to health, reads the Bible with him, and tells her about her long-lost son, who had been “sold-South” years before but miraculously appears just as James is captured by John Mosby’s raiders. The author describes the famous partisan as “manly” but cautions that the “stormy, unbridled passions, and . . . cruel, inflexible disposition” ingrained in this slaveholder made him an oppressive commander and an unworthy enemy.

Eventually, Mosby releases James, who returns home to his mother, revealing how “God dealt with a little boy who trusted in and prayed to Him.”

A similar tale – purportedly a true story – has another twelve-year-old Yankee drummer boy, Robert, captured at the Battle of Chancellorsville, at which he cares for both wounded Union and Confederate soldiers. He encounters Robert E. Lee, who had “none of the smaller vices,” but all of the larger ones; for he deliberately, basely and under the circumstances of unparalleled meanness, betrayed his country, and long after hope of success was lost, carried on a murderous war against his own race and kindred.”

Marse Robert treats the hero patronizingly and responds angrily when Robert declares, “I came out here sir, to help fight the wicked men who are trying to destroy their country.” Robert ends up in Libby Prison, where he survives a nasty fever, studies his lessons with a “good Colonel,” and rediscovers one of the patients he had nursed during the battle, a seventeen-year-old Confederate who kindly helps him escape. This reversal of the magazine’s usual presentation of Rebel perfidy is nevertheless true to form. Young, poor whites are not to blame for the carnage, at least in the war-stricken South presented in the juvenile press; “after all . . . it is true that the same humanity beats under a gray coat that beats under a blue one.”

(Northern Children’s Magazines and the Civil War, James Marten, Civil War History, A Journal of the Middle Period, Volume 41, No. 1, March 1995, (pp. 63-64; 68)

Jun 4, 2021 - Aftermath: Despotism, America Transformed, Enemies of the Republic, Historical Accuracy, Lincoln Revealed, Propaganda, Republican Party Jacobins    Comments Off on Lincoln’s Rewritten Gettysburg Address

Lincoln’s Rewritten Gettysburg Address

Those in attendance at Lincoln’s November 1863 short address after acclaimed orator Edward Everett’s long speech were disappointed, with Lincoln himself describing his remarks as a “wet blanket.”

Lincoln employed three private secretaries, more than any of his predecessors and indicative of his limited writing and communication abilities. What is referred to as his “Gettysburg address,” was certainly revised for publication and one secretary, John Nicolay, admits this. In fact there are five known manuscripts in Lincoln’s own hand, which differ in a number of details as well as contemporary newspaper reprints of the speech which could vary depending on the reporter’s notes.  It is not even clear where exactly Lincoln stood when speaking.

After Lincoln’s assassination, quite possibly arranged by “men unfriendly to him while he lived,” the Radicals of his party and who wanted him out of the way for a free hand with punishing the South, the former president’s apotheosis began.

 

Lincoln’s Rewritten Gettysburg Address

“General Donn Piatt, who traveled with Lincoln during his campaign and knew Lincoln perhaps as well as any man: “When a leader dies all good men go to lying about him. Abraham Lincoln has almost disappeared from human knowledge. I hear of him, I read of him in eulogies and biographies, but fail to recognize the man I knew in life . . . Lincoln faced and lived through the awful responsibility of war with a courage that came from indifference.”

Ward Lamon, intimate friend of Lincoln and his United States Marshal for the District of Columbia, and Colonel in the Secret Service; Historian Shepherd of Baltimore; W.H. Cunningham of the Montgomery (Missouri) Star, who sat right behind Lincoln at Gettysburg, all agreed and publicly stated that the speech published was not the one delivered by Lincoln . . .

[B]oth Edward Everett and [Secretray of State William] Seward expressed their disappointment and there was no applause; that Lincoln said: “Lamon, that speech was like a wet blanket on the audience. I am distressed by it.”

These gentlemen who heard the speech all say that the speech delivered was not the one which has been so extensively printed. Even [Lincoln secretary John] Nicolay says: “It was revised.”

William H. Herndon, under whom Lincoln began his law practice and longtime friend, wrote one of the first biographies of Lincoln, “Story of a Great Life,” but because of its frankness in unfolding the life of Lincoln it was bought up and suppressed. It was republished some years later, much modified . . . Lamon, in his “Life of Lincoln,” said:

“The ceremony of Mr. Lincoln’s apotheosis was planned and executed after his death by men who were unfriendly to him while he lived. Men who had exhausted the resources of their skill and ingenuity in venomous distractions of the living Lincoln were first after his death to undertake the task of guarding his memory, not as a human being, but as a god. Among those participating in the apotheosis Lamon names Seward, Edwin Stanton, Thad Stevens and Charles Sumner.”

(Two Presidents: Abraham Lincoln, Jefferson Davis, The Naylor Company, 1973, pp. 78-79)

Truth, Bromides and Sales Talk

Truth, Bromides and Sales Talk

“It has hardly been grasped that the media have assumed a strange and dominant role in American politics. They have constituted for more than half a century an impermeable barrier between the voters and the candidates. Nothing has been presented without their prior censorship. Whatever this may be, it is not democracy.

Who are these people who proliferate in print, airwaves, and the internet, and who pass down imperious moral pronouncements without any known credentials to do so? Who voted for them? Who gave them such great and irresponsible power?

Merely by speaking the truth, by refusing to bow to their pretensions, [Donald] Trump has weakened their power. That is all it took. Simply speak the truth, and the “commentators” and “reporters” are revealed as the malicious ignoramuses that they are.

The Republicans have never had the courage to do that. They follow consultants, who warn them not to look unattractively mean-spirited. Don’t speak to the people, and for Heaven’s sake, don’t listen to them. Give them bromides. Anything else will upset the smooth pursuit of office, the only goal that has ever been sought by Republican “leaders” other than protecting and enhancing wealth.

A baker’s dozen of presidential wannabes all spouted identical sales talk. “Conservative” means nothing to them except as a popular advertising slogan.”

(Sounding the Trump, Clyde Wilson, Chronicles Magazine, October 2016, excerpt pg. 16)

Slavery and Secession

Though the British discovered a peaceful path to end African slavery in its empire, no practical or peaceful solutions to end slavery in the United States came from New England abolitionists. Rather than look back at their section’s role in the transatlantic slave trade which brought Africans traded for Yankee notions and rum to the West Indies and the South, Massachusetts inventor Eli Whitney’s gin and New England cotton mills which perpetuated slavery, and New England’s threatened secession since 1804, blaming the South for slavery became popular. They would also have found that New England’s financial basis for its industrial revolution was acquired through its African slave trade, which helped Providence, Rhode Island surpass Liverpool as the center of that transatlantic slave trade by 1750.

Slavery and Secessionists

“Soon after the assassination of President Lincoln, the Rev. Daniel C. Eddy of the Baldwin Place Congregational Church in Boston spoke of the fundamental differences he perceived between the South and the North:

“Argue as we may, our Southern people are a different race. Slavery has given them a different idea of religion . . . Slavery has barbarized them, and made them a people with whom we have little in common. We had an idea of Southern civilization when Judge Hoar was driven out of Charleston . . . when Sumner was bleeding in the Federal Senate . . . when ornaments were made for Southern ladies of the bones of the brave soldiers killed at Bull Run . . . in the atrocities perpetrated upon our poor soldiers . . . And now we have another exhibition of it in the base, wanton, assassination of the President.”

In the antebellum years some Northern clergy looked upon the South as a distasteful part of the Union that they advocated the Garrisonian position whereby the South should separate itself from the South. In 1851 Charles G. Finney, coming to the realization that revivalism was not going to bring an end to slavery, suggested “the dismemberment of our hypocritical union.” Finley detested the thought of living in a nation where slavery existed. It was better to separate from such an evil.

In two sermons delivered in 1854, Eden B. Foster, a Congregationalist minister from Lowell, Massachusetts, proposed the secession of the North from the Union as a last resort to check the spread of slavery. Inherent in the slavery system, said Foster, were such evils as cruelty, ignorance immorality and sin. On April 4, 1861, less than two weeks before the cannons at Charleston began to bombard Fort Sumter, [Boston preacher] . . . Eddy urged the North to free itself from the burden of Union with the South so that the North might more fully “develop all those forces of a high-minded Christian civilization.”

Later that month, on April 28, after the surrender of Fort Sumter, Eddy changed his mind and advocated war to save the Union.”

(God Ordained This War: Sermons on the Sectional Crisis, 1830-1865, David B. Chesebrough, University of South Carolina Press, 1991, excerpt pp. 58-59)

Republicans to Restore the Good Old Days

From its formation from the ashes of the Whig party in 1856, the Republican party in less than 5 years drove the Southern States to secession and engulfed the country in a devastating war which destroyed the American republic of 1789.  This party was formed in violation of Washington’s solemn warning against the formation of geographical political parties which he knew would endanger the very existence of the Union.

Republicans to Restore the Good Old Days

“The Republican leaders sought to convince the Northern voter that there would be no just cause for secession in the event of the election of the sectional president: that the Southern leaders were only bluffing and were trying to intimidate the Northern voter into voting against the dictates of his conscience.

[William] Seward, the author of the “Irrepressible Conflict” oration, explained that “the South would never in a moment of resentment expose themselves to war with the North while they have such a great domestic population ready to embrace any opportunity to assert their freedom and inflict revenge.”

He further explained that the election of Lincoln would terminate the conflict he had prophesied – not begin it. “Vote for us,” he cried, “and you will have peace and harmony and happiness in your future years.” And again he said, “When the Republicans are in office, what may we expect then? . . . I answer, “No dangers, no disasters, no calamities . . . all parties will rejoice in the settlement of the controversy which has agitated the country and disturbed its peace for so long.”

However, the New York Herald openly accused Seward of “pussyfooting.” Seward, it asserted, was a “moderate anti-slavery man at Detroit, a radical abolitionist at Lansing, a filibusterer at St. Paul, and the Brother Seward of John Brown did not hesitate to claim to be a good conservative, Union-loving patriot in New York.”

The election of Lincoln, according to Salmon P. Chase, another of the Republican leaders, would mean a restoration of the good old days of concord and goodwill between the North and the South, Tranquility, liberty and Union under the Constitution.” [Horace] Greeley, the Republican editor whose paper had the largest circulation of any paper in the United States, solemnly assured his readers that the election of Lincoln would be like “oil on troubled waters and would promptly remove all sectional excitement.”

(The Peaceable Americans of 1860-1861: A Study in Public Opinion, Mary Scrugham, Columbia University, 1921, excerpt pp. 45-46)

History versus Social Studies

Richard M. Weaver wrote: “Where education is under the control of collectivist fanatics, not only is the individual’s loyalty to truth despised, but the objective findings of science may be thus perverted to serve the ends of a political ideology.” And, he adds: “There are those in America today who apparently get academic freedom mixed up with students’ rights in general” – “and it goes without saying that academic freedom is not a tool for the “democratizing” of universities by turning them over to students.”

History versus Social Studies

“History has always been a sobering discipline because it presents the story not only of man’s achievements but also of his failures. History contains many vivid lessons of what can happen to man if he lets go his grip upon reality and becomes self-indulgent; it is a record of the race, which can be laid aside alongside the dreams of visionaries, with many profitable lessons.

Yet the modern tendency is to drop the old-fashioned history course and to substitute something called “social science” or “social studies,” which one student has aptly dubbed “social stew.” What this often turns out to be is a large amount of speculation based on a small amount of history, and the speculation is more or less subtly slanted to show that we should move in the direction of socialism or some other collectivism.

Often this kind of study is frivolous; the student is invited to give his thought to the “dating patterns” of teenagers instead of to those facts which explain the rise and fall of nations. There is more to be learned about the nature of man as an individual and as a member of society from a firm grounding in ancient and modern history than from all the “social studies” ever put together by dreamy “progressive” educators.”

(In Defense of Tradition: Collected Shorter Writings of Richard M. Weaver, 1929-1963, Ted J. Smith, III, editor, Liberty Fund 2000, excerpt pp. 191; 201-202)

Feb 26, 2021 - Historians on History, Historical Amnesia/Cleansing, Memorials to the Past, Propaganda, Southern Educators    Comments Off on The Study and Appreciation of Lost Causes

The Study and Appreciation of Lost Causes

Many lost causes of history are worthy of study to reveal what may have been omitted by court historians of the time or later, or somehow missed relegation to the Memory Hole. Author Richard Weaver cites Schopenhauer’s statement that “no one can be a philosopher who is not capable of looking upon the world as if it were a pageant” as having made a strong impression on him. His view was that this type of detachment, produced by suppressing the instinct to be arbitrary, “seems to me a requirement for understanding the human condition.”

The Study and Appreciation of Lost Causes

“I am now further convinced that there is something to be said in general for studying the history of a lost cause. Perhaps our education would be more humane in result if everyone were required to gain an intimate acquaintance with some coherent ideal that failed in the effort to maintain itself.

It needs not be a cause which was settled by war; there are causes in the social, political and ecclesiastical worlds which would serve very well.  But it is good for everyone to ally himself at one time with the defeated and to look at the “progress” of history through the eyes of those who were left behind.

I cannot think of a better way to counteract the stultifying “Whig” theory of history, with its bland assumption that every cause which has won has deserved to win, a kind of pragmatic debasement of the older providential theory.

The study and appreciation of a lost cause have some effect of turning history into philosophy. In sufficient number of cases to make us humble, we discover good points in the cause which time has erased, just as one often learns more from the slain hero of a tragedy than from some brassy Fortinbras who comes in at the end to announce the victory and proclaim the future disposition of affairs.

It would be perverse to say this is so about every historical defeat, but there is enough analogy to make it a sober consideration. Not only Oxford, therefore, but every university ought to be to some extent “the home of lost causes and impossible loyalties.” It ought to preserve the memory of these with a certain discriminating measure of honor, trying to keep alive what was good in them and opposing the pragmatic verdict of the world.”

(In Defense of Tradition: Collected Shorter Writings of Richard M. Weaver, 1929-1963, Ted J. Smith, III, editor, Liberty Fund 2000, excerpt pp. 38-40)

 

Remembering Pearl Harbor

The sacrifices of those who served in the American military in December, 1941 should be recounted often for us all to ponder and appreciate that the 3000 Americans who died at Pearl Harbor should not have perished in vain.  The sincerest memorial to those who fought and died in this tragedy (and others in American history) is to analyze and discuss the multitude of reasons why it happened and how we ensure that American servicemen are not knowingly put in harm’s way for political purposes ever again. 

As there is far too much information available today for the surprise attack myth to survive even cursory scrutiny, and thanks to the Freedom of Information Act and declassification of hundreds of thousands of decoded Japanese messages, we can now get a very clear picture of how events unfolded in 1940-41.

The myth reported by our historians and the media is that the United States was minding its own business until the Japanese launched an unprovoked attack at Pearl Harbor, thereby dragging a reluctant US into a world struggle.  In reality, the US under FDR had been deeply involved in Far Eastern affairs for some time, and those policies actually provoked the Japanese attack. 

As Oliver Lyttleton, British Minister of Production stated in 1944…”Japan was provoked into attacking America at Pearl Harbor.  It is a travesty to say that America was forced into the War.”

After FDR’s numerous provocations toward Germany without retaliation (while the US was neutral) he switched his focus to Japan and had assistance with Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes, who stated in October 1941 that “for a long time I have believed that our best entrance into the war would be by way of Japan.” 

And as early as January 27th, 1941, US Ambassador to Japan in Tokyo, Joseph C. Grew noted in his diary that “there is a lot of talk around town to the effect that the Japanese, in case of a break with the US, are planning to go all out in a surprise mass attack on Pearl Harbor.  Of course, I informed our government.”  Even Admiral Ernest J. King wrote a prescient report on 31 March 1941 that predicted a surprise Japanese dawn air attack on Hawaii as the opening of hostilities. 

The US had prepared for a Japanese-American conflict since 1906 with “War Plan Orange” which predicted the Philippines as the expected target, attacked by surprise as the Japanese were notorious for.  By early 1940 Claire Chennault, an American airman hired by the Chinese, was urging General Hap Arnold and Roosevelt to provide bombers with which to firebomb Japanese cities in retaliation for their attacks on China.

While we cannot excuse Japan’s aggressiveness in Asia in the 1930’s, those in high position in the United States government continually provoked the Japanese by freezing assets in the US, closing the Panama Canal to her shipping and progressively reducing exports to Japan until it became an all-out embargo along with Britain’s. 

The Philippines, by 1941, were reinforced to the point of being the strongest US overseas base with 120,000 troops and the Philippine Army had been called into service by FDR.  General MacArthur had 74 medium and heavy bombers along with 175 fighters that included the new B-17’s and P-40E’s with which to attack or defend with.  The mobilization of troops and munitions has always been recognized as preparation for attack and we thus assumed this posture to the Japanese.

The US then implied military threats to Tokyo if it did not alter its Asian policies and on 26 November 1941, FDR issued an ultimatum that Japan withdraw all military forces from China and Indochina as well as break its treaty with Germany and Italy.  The day before the 26 November ultimatum was sent, Secretary of War Stimson wrote in his Diary that “the question was how we should maneuver [the Japanese] into the position of firing the first shot.” 

The bait offered was our Pacific fleet.

In 1940, Admiral J.O. Richardson, then commander of the Pacific Fleet, flew to Washington to protest FDR’s decision to base the fleet in Hawaii instead of its normal berthing at San Diego. His concern was that Pearl Harbor was vulnerable to attack, was difficult to defend against torpedo planes, lacked fuel supplies and dry docks.  Richardson came away from his meeting with FDR “with the impression that, despite his spoken word, the President was fully determined to put the US into the war if Great Britain could hold out until he was reelected.”

Roosevelt relieved Richardson of command with the comment that the admiral “didn’t understand politics.” He replaced Richardson with Admiral Husband Kimmel, who was still concerned about Pearl Harbor’s vulnerability but did not challenge FDR.

Also to be considered was the April, 1941 ABD Agreement FDR concluded with the British and Dutch in Indochina which committed US troops to war if the Dutch East Indies were invaded by the Japanese.  Add to this the 1940 $25 million loan and Lend-Lease aid provided to China.

The Dutch and British were of course eager for US forces to protect their Far Eastern colonial empire from the Japanese while their military was busy in a European war.  And FDR’s dilemma was his 1940 election pledge of non-intervention (unless attacked) to the American people and the US Constitution, which allowed only Congress authority to declare war.  

One of the most revealing elements in FDR’s beforehand knowledge of Japan’s intentions was breaking of the Japanese diplomatic and naval operations codes as early as mid-1939. Copies of all deciphered Japanese messages were delivered to Roosevelt and the Secretaries of War, State and Navy, as well as Army Chief of Staff Marshall and Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Harold Stark. 

With no deciphering machines in Pearl Harbor, though three machines went to Britain, the commanders in Pearl Harbor were left completely dependent upon Washington for information.  It must be understood that with this deciphered information, our government officials could not have been better informed had they had seats in the Japanese war council.

It is in this bare political light that Pearl Harbor should be examined and judged for historical perspective.  Our military should not be pawns used by presidents to initiate war, the very fundamental reason the Founders deliberated extensively on the establishment of a standing army which might be used as such.

As nothing happens in a vacuum and the post-World War One US Neutrality Acts were in place to avoid the political machinations that dragged us into that conflict, FDR’s steady erosion of US neutrality and secret agreements led to that unnecessary loss of brave American service-men.  We hopefully have learned from this.  Bernhard Thuersam

Sources:

Betrayal at Pearl Harbor, Rusbridger & Nave, 1991, Summit Books

The Years of MacArthur, Vol 1, D. C. James, 1970, Houghton Mifflin Company

Blankets of Fire, Kenneth P. Werrell, 1996, Smithsonian Institution Press

Desperate Deception, Thomas E. Mahl, 1998, Brassey’s Books

Pearl Harbor: The Secret War, George Morgenstern, 1947, Devin-Adair Co.

Ten Year’s in Japan, Joseph C. Grew, 1944, Simon & Schuster

The Covenant with Power

In Woodrow Wilson’s call for a declaration of war against Germany, he spoke of freedom of the seas yet was silent on Britain’s blockade of Europe. He also proclaimed self-determination as a great principle while declaring Irish independence as irrelevant and avoiding the question of Southern self-determination 56 years earlier in his own country. Senator Robert LaFollette wrote of Wilson: “I sometimes think the man has no sense of things that penetrate below the surface.  With him, the rhetoric of a thing is the thing itself.  Words, phrases, felicity of expression and a blind egotism have been his stock in trade.”

The Covenant with Power

 “If the United States had refused to intervene in 1917, would a German victory in 1918 have been a better historical alternative? The answer is debatable.

What would have happened if Wilson had taken William Jennings Bryan’s advice and practiced real rather than sham neutrality? Without the backing of American weaponry, munitions and loans, the Allies would have been forced to abandon their goal of the knockout blow. The war might have ended in 1916 with a negotiated peace based on a mutual admission that the conflict had become a stalemate.  As a genuine neutral, Wilson might have even have persuaded both sides to let him be a mediator.

Lloyd George’s argument – that unless the United States intervened, Wilson would have no place at the peace table – was specious at best. Both sides would have needed America’s wealth and industrial resources to rebuild their shattered economies.

A victorious Germany would have no need of political adventurers such as Adolf Hitler. Nor would this counterfactual Germany have inserted the Bolsheviks into Russia and supported them with secret-service money.  Lenin and Trotsky might have agitated in a political vacuum in Switzerland unto a crabbed old age. The war created the collapse that gave Bolshevism its seventy-year reign of blood and terror.

Perhaps the best way to look at Woodrow Wilson’s tragically flawed intervention in World War I is, in the words of the historian Lloyd C. Gardner, as a covenant with power. Painfully, with mistakes aplenty, the United States recognized that power is at the heart of history.

At the Paris Peace Conference, Wilson discovered limitations to America’s power . . . [especially those that] lay in the prime illusion of idealism – the expectation that noble words can easily be translated into meaningful realities.

Woodrow Wilson struggled with his inadvertent covenant with power. Like Lincoln, who suspended habeas corpus and jailed [thousands] of dissenters during the Civil War, Wilson tolerated a brutally realistic government of the home front.”

(The Illusion of Victory: America in World War I, Thomas Fleming, Basic Books, 2003, excerpts pp. 480-482)

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