Tuesday, October 18, 2022

Review of "America’s Greatest Blunder: The Fatal Decision to Enter World War One," by Burton Yale Pines

 Review of

America’s Greatest Blunder: The Fatal Decision to Enter World War One, by Burton Yale Pines ISBN 9780989148733

Five stars 

Outstanding analysis of the failure of American statesmanship during and after World War One

Pines states two main conclusions, neither of which I can find strong arguments against. The first is that had the United States not entered World War One in 1917, it would have ended with a negotiated settlement that all sides would have hated but endured. Despite the collapse of the Russian armies in the east, Germany did not have the military power to win in the west. The four years of war had so drained the country economically and there had been so many casualties that there was very little left with which to continue the war. The German people were starving due to the British blockade.
Britain and France were also at the end of their resources, in that their manpower was drained and their finances were exhausted. They simply no longer had the strength for offensive operations and the French army had essentially staged a mutiny against further offensives. British politicians had also reached the point where they were beginning to veto any further British offensives.
Pines does an excellent job in describing this situation, using historical precedents for the conclusion of previous destructive and inconclusive European wars where the negotiated peace lasted for over one hundred years. Therefore, absent the American armies, mutual exhaustion would have ended the conflict. The relief that the war was over would most likely have dominated the anger at having given so much for so little.
The second is that American president Woodrow Wilson was incredibly inept at protecting American interests and maintaining even a semblance of American neutrality in the first three years of the war. When Britain walked all over America's rights to unfettered sea access to the Central Powers as a neutral, Wilson's response was extremely weak. The British were allowed free reign in pumping the American media full of their war propaganda while the Germans were denied equal access to put their side forward.
Then, after having put forward an idealistic blueprint for a settlement for the war that the Germans accepted, indeed based their request for an armistice on, Wilson wilted under the pressure from Britain and France, allowing them to increase their colonial holdings from what had been parts of the German and Ottoman Empires. The "treaty" that ended the war was so punitive against Germany that even some of the people on the Allied side spoke of it being a document that would lead to a second round of fighting.
I completely agree with Pines that Wilson was totally overmatched in the area of foreign affairs and the negative consequences of his mistakes are still being felt. Pines puts forward the following line of reasoning. If America had not entered the war (had Wilson not made so many mistakes) then World War One would have ended with a negotiated settlement. Germany would then not have suffered such deprivations in the 1920's that destroyed the middle class, the anchor of economic and political stability in the country. Hitler would then not have risen to power and World War Two in Europe would not have taken place. The Soviet armies would then not have driven to the center of Europe and there would have been no Soviet satellite states in Europe.
While all of this is speculation, it is very intelligent and logical speculation backed up by a great deal of historical analysis. Pines demonstrates a superb understanding of European history, so much that even his extensive speculations are based on solid principles of scholarship.

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