Wilson Schemes for the Big Idea
Claude Kitchin was born near Scotland Neck, North Carolina in 1869, and served in the US House of Representatives from 1901 until his death in 1923. In 1916, he witnessed US munitions manufacturers preening for war, and a proposal for an enlarged standing army that many saw as “a long step toward the Prussianization of America.” Kitchin stated that the only possible excuse for the army’s increase in strength “was a contemplated war of aggression.” Further, he said of the battleship building proposals: “If this program goes through, it will no longer be a question of whether we may become a nation given over to navalism and militarism, but we shall have become one.”
Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com
Wilson Schemes for the Big Idea
“In July, 1916, Great Britain announced the most high-handed of all her blockade [of Germany] policies – that of the Black List. Neutral firms alleged to be German-owned, or friendly to Germany, or to have been “trading with the enemy” or with other neutral firms having “enemy” connections were subjected to a ruinous boycott. Even [Woodrow] Wilson was momentarily incensed by thus extreme course.
Colonel House had slipped in and out of belligerent capitals, seeking to draw out diplomats as to the prospect of a settlement through American mediation. He had naively drunk deep of British and French propaganda, flattering himself the while that he was being treated to the frankest intimacies of the mighty.
It was bad enough that he disclosed to the Allies in this way the [Wilson] Administration’s bias in their favor, thus making Wilson more impotent in dealing with their transgressions; but it was worse that he inveigled the President into backing his ill-advised schemes.
The most notorious of these was the House-Grey agreement [which intended that the US government] might secretly reach an understanding with the Allies as to peace terms which they would be willing to accept. Whenever they thought to time opportune, Wilson, as arbiter, might submit such a proposal to both sides. The Allies, for effect, might appear reluctant at first, and then accept.
If the Central Powers agreed, the war would be ended by Wilson’s mediation; if they refused, as they almost certainly would, the United States would enter the war on the side of the Allies to force a “righteous” settlement. Though hesitant at first, Wilson came embrace the scheme. Aware, however, that only Congress could actually declare war he inserted the word “probably” in the clause that promised intervention on the side of the Allies.
When [Sir Edward] Grey inquired whether our Government would participate in a proposed League of Nations to maintain the post-bellum status and to prevent future wars, Wilson’s interest quickened. Here was a Big Idea.
Was it really possible that this horrible slaughter might be turned to purposes benign? A war to end war! Destroy German Militarism, — therefore all militarism; — redraw the map of the world on lines of justice and right (such as the Allies would agree upon) . . . and to punish any Power that sought to alter the new order. Even a world war – even American participation – might be justified as the price of such an outcome.
[On January 31, 1917] Germany announced [unrestricted submarine warfare]. An exception was made whereby American merchantmen might go to and from Falmouth England through a designated lane without hindrance, provided they were marked on hull and superstructure with three perpendicular stripes, a meter wide, of alternating white and red, and displayed from their masts large red and white checkered flags.
Three days later the Wilson Administration severed diplomatic relations with Germany. This was an almost certain prelude to war. Armed neutrality was the next move of the Administration [as it armed merchant ships].
One of the most condemnatory letters which Kitchin received with reference to his pacific stand came from a Methodist parson in Wilson, North Carolina. On the other hand, from the town of Littleton, also in his district, he received a petition from the ministers of the Episcopal, Methodist Episcopal, Methodist Protestant, Christian and Presbyterian churches, stating:
“1. A war that could be averted is murder on a national scale. 2. This war could be averted on the part of the United States. 3. There is not sufficient justification. 4. We are dealing with a nation which in a desperate struggle for existence has become exasperated and war mad. To arm our merchant vessels will tend to promote war. Hence [we are] opposed to any such measure.
Perhaps [Kitchin] took the President at his word when, asking Congress for the right to arm merchantmen, he pledged that he was not moving toward war. And he promised that, if granted this sanction, he would do all in his power to prevent actual hostilities.
In yielding the point, Kitchin said to the House [of Representatives]: “I shall vote for this bill but not without hesitation and misgiving . . . The nation confronts the gravest crisis . . . Already the European catastrophe threatens the faith of mankind in Christianity – in civilization. Clothed with the powers given him by the Constitution, a President of the United States can, at his will, without let or hindrance from Congress, create a situation which makes war the only alternative for this nation.”
(Claude Kitchin and the Wilson War Policies, Alex Mathews Arnett, Little, Brown and Company, 1937, excerpts, pp. 202-207; 212-217)