Foreign Policy Research Institute A Nation Must Think Before it Acts Chapter 16: Wilson’s Peace

Chapter 16: Wilson’s Peace

The Tragedy of U.S. Foreign Policy:

How America’s Civil Religion Betrayed the National Interest


McDougall Book Jacket

The original draft of this book contained 172 pages of endnotes, which had to be shed in the name of economy. Thanks to the Internet, readers can access them here. Unfortunately, of course, the author had to substitute page and paragraph numbers for the original superscripts in the text, but in most cases it should be clear which sentences in a given paragraph match up with which sources.

Paragraphs appearing in their entirety on a single page are identified by the page number (e.g., p. 122). Paragraphs divided between two pages are identified by those pages (e.g., pp. 92-93). Paragraphs that share a page with another complete paragraph are identified by the page number and paragraph number (e.g., p. 103, ¶ 1).





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Chapter 16: Wilson’s Peace:

154-55: Richard M. Gamble, The War for Righteousness: Progressive Christianity, the Great War, and the Rise of the Messianic Nation (Wilmington, Del.: ISI Books, 2003), pp.149-208 (quotes, pp. 154-59, 202-3); Andrew Preston, Sword of the Spirit, Shield of Faith: Religion in American War and Diplomacy (New York: Knopf, 2012), 253-90; Robert E. Osgood, Ideals and Self-interest in America’s Foreign Relations: The Great Transformation of the Twentieth Century (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1953), pp. 256-63 (Croly quote, p. 258). In his “Brotherhood of Men and Nations” speech in Denver, Rockefeller said: “No longer can any man live to himself alone, nor any nation. The world has become a unit.”  Accordingly, the “peace and prosperity of the world are dependent on the happiness and the welfare of all the nations in the world” (Preston, p. 279).

155: Lloyd E. Ambrosius, Wilsonianism: Woodrow Wilson and his Legacy in American Foreign Relations (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002), pp. 137-55, argues that Wilson’s presidency cannot be comprehended without regard for his physical and psychological condition, his progressivism, especially his Social Gospel as he interpreted US participation in the World War within the framework of his Christian faith. I agree, but by labeling the last his American civil faith all else falls into place.  See also George D. Herron, Woodrow Wilson and the World’s Peace (New York, Kennerley, 1917; Cooper, Woodrow Wilson, p. 417; Anders Stephanson, Manifest Destiny: American Expansion and the Empire of Right (New York: Hill and Wang, 1995), pp. 109-29.

155-56: Jonathan H. Ebel, Faith in the Fight: Religion and the American Soldier in the Great War (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University, 2010), quotes pp. 149-50; Ronald Schaffer, America in the Great War: The Rise of the War Welfare State (New York: Oxford University, 1991), pp. 3-30, 96-108. Edward M. Coffman, The War to End All Wars: The American Military Experience in World War I (New York: Oxford University, 1968), p. 133, describes the powerful Commission on Training Camp Activities under (who else?) the Rockefeller Foundation’s Raymond Fosdick, which oversaw the moral and physical welfare of soldiers and reported to Secretary of War Newton Baker. When Fosdick discretely informed him of French premier Clemenceau’s offer to provide brothels for American troops, Baker shouted, “For God’s sake Raymond, don’t show this to the President or he’ll stop the war!”

156: One Democratic opponent of Wilson’s “dictatorship” was the blind Progressive Senator Thomas Gore. A former ally of Wilson, he was unsurpassed in opposing his wartime policies and the illiberal trappings of the League of Nations. “Gore did not for a moment accept the Wilsonian presumption that the world would be moved beyond the pale of power politics.  In addition, Gore acknowledged the inevitable role of the national interest standard in foreign policy conduct while contending that a war to make the world safe for democracy would assuredly make Americans less secure and less free to enjoy the blessings of liberty.” See Greg Russell, “Defending Democracy in Wartime: Thomas P. Gore’s Liberal Dissent in World War One,” Democracy and Security 4 (2008): 119-147 (quote p. 120).  Debs warned the jury at his trial that war and fear were the greatest threats to liberty and that not he, but “American institutions are on trial before a court of American citizens”: Nick Salvatore, Eugene V. Debs: Citizen and Socialist (Urbana: University of Illinois, 1982), p.295.  On war propaganda read the man himself, George Creel, How We Advertised America: The First Telling of the Amazing Story of the Committee on Public Information That Carried the Gospel of Americanism to Every Corner of the Globe (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1920).  See also Susan A. Brewer, Why America Fights: Patriotism and War Propaganda from the Philippines to Iraq (New York: Oxford University, 2009), pp. 46-86.

156 cont.: One well-known poster depicts the German as a slavering gorilla in a spiked helmet with a bare-breasted virgin in one hand and a club labeled “Kultur” in the other. But one of the most widely viewed American productions was a silent (of course) film released in March 1918. It was called “The Kaiser” or “The Beast of Berlin,” ran 70 minutes, and starred Lon Chaney, Sr. 

The script put laughably false words into the Kaiser’s mouth that nonetheless found their way into a popular textbook by Henry Eldridge Bourne and Elbert Jay Benton, A History of the United States (Boston: D.C. Heath, 1919), pp. 544-46.  Americans began to realize the purposes of the military masters of Germany.  The successes of the German armies tempted German writers and speakers to boast how they were to make the world over.  Smaller and weaker nations were to have no place.  The law of might was to be the rule….  Such a Germany would threaten the peace of the United States.  The German Emperor said to the American ambassador, ‘After the war I shall stand no nonsense from the United States’” (italics added).  Walter Russell Mead, God and Gold: Britain, America, and the Making of the Modern World (New York: Knopf, 2007), pp. 36-41, cites J. P. Morgan.  Anders Stephanson, Manifest Destiny: American Expansionism and the Empire of Right (New York: Hill and Wang, 1995), p. 120, notes that Wilson’s vision suffered from a basic contradiction in liberal political theory, which is that imposition of laws and norms will simply make politics disappear.  It doesn’t, which is why liberalism “always ends up using illiberal, political means or criminalization when the irreconcilable returns.”

156-57: The quote is self-refuting since the German emperor’s title was Deustcher Kaiser. He would never refer to himself as der Kaiser von Deutschland. Ray H. Abrams, Preachers Present Arms: The Role of American Churches and Clergy (Scottsdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 1969 <originally New York, 1933>), quotes on pp. 99, 101, 106, 110, 229, is scathing.  The war and military draft proved agonizing for earnest Americans such as the Christian Socialist Norman Thomas and his three brothers. See the beautiful book by Louisa Thomas, Conscience: Two Soldiers, Two Pacifists, One Family – A Test of Will and Faith in World War I (New York: Penguin, 2011).

157-58: Arlie J. Hoover, The Gospel of Nationalism: German Patriotic Preaching From Napoleon to Versailles (Stuttgart: Franz Steiner, 1986), pp. 45-55. German civil religion, like the American, contended with a large minority of Catholics, but managed (after initial setbacks) to rally them against foreign enemies such as the decadent, sensuous French, the greedy and philistine English, and the semi-Asiatic barbarian Russians.

158-59: Robert Kagan, Dangerous Nation (New York: Knopf, 2006), pretends that Americans always favored revolutions and could not wait until they were in a position to support them. The truth became almost the opposite as twentieth century revolutions against social order confused or replaced revolutions for independence. In 1905, when the word “soviet” first became known to American readers, Roosevelt, Root, Hay, and Ambassador George von Lengerke Meyer in St. Petersburg were initially hopeful but quickly turned sour.  See Michael H. Hunt, Ideology and U.S. Foreign Policy (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University, 1987), pp. 92-124.

159: Thomas J. Fleming, The Illusion of Victory: America in World War I (New York: Basic Books, 2003), pp. 476-77. George Morgenstern made the same point in his review of John Dos Passos, Mr. Wilson’s War (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1962) in Modern Age (Summer 1963): “Woodrow Wilson was one of those people who, having found the pleasing verbal formulation, thought it took care of everything. He was a literary person who tended to confuse rhetoric with reality” (p. 327).  On Progressives see John A. Thompson, Reformers and War: American Progressive Publicists and the First World War (New York: Cambridge University, 1987), “unflinching” quote p. 212. Erez Manela, The Wilsonian Moment: Self-Determination and the International Origins of Anticolonial Nationalism (New York: Oxford University, 2007) coined the phrase.  Robert Lansing thought self-determination the most dangerous demon unleashed by his boss.  He later wrote that since self-determination clearly did not apply to “races, peoples, or communities whose state of barbarism or ignorance deprive them of the capacity to choose intelligently their political affiliations,” there was tremendous “danger of putting such ideas into the minds of certain races.”  He predicted it would “create trouble in many lands” and “breed discontent, disorder and rebellion” (p. 24).  But Wilson had no intention of challenging imperialism: self-determination was for white Europeans only just as full citizenship was for white Americans only.  “Perhaps no one knew better the limits of Wilson’s faith in equality than William Monroe Trotter, the black leader whom Wilson had thrown out of his White House office several years earlier for urging him to fulfill his election promises to African Americans.”  Trotter went to Paris over State Department objections in April 1919 to use the Peace Conference as a stage for black self-determination.  See also Trygve Throntveit, “The Fable of the Fourteen Points: Woodrow Wilson and National Self-Determination,” Diplomatic History 35, no. 3 (June 2011): 445-81, which further restricts Wilson’s conception of self-determination to civil self-government, not international sovereignty.  The delicious TR quote is in Gregory Russell, The Statecraft of Theodore Roosevelt: The Duties of Nations and World Order (Boston: Martinus Nijhoff, 2009), pp. 172-73.

160-61: Fleming, Illusion of Victory, pp. 298-299.

161: The U.S. intervention in the Russian Civil War was pathetic and unserious: far too small to influence events but enough to give the Bolsheviks endless propaganda. The immense Cold War-induced literature on the episode is untrustworthy (even if earnest) because of the lack of Russian sources, but see David S. Fogelsong, The American Mission and the ‘Evil Empire”: The Crusade for a ‘Free Russia’ Since 1881 (New York: Cambridge University, 2007) , pp. 34-59.

161-62: Diplomatic historians assume the term Covenant was an expression of Wilson’s Calvinist vocabulary. But the Biblical covenants from which Jewish and Christian theology is derived were all sacred agreements between God and Man. The League of Nations Covenant, by contrast, was made between Man and Man and thus had to be civil religious.  Lawrence E. Gelfand, The Inquiry: American Preparation for Peace, 1917-1919 (New Haven: Yale University, 1963), describes Wilson’s brains trust.  Fred L. Israel, ed., Major Peace Treaties of Modern History 1648-1967, 4 vols. (New York: Chelsea House, 1967).

162-63: The Nation quoted by Osgood, Ideals and Self-Interest in America’s Foreign Relations, pp. 299-300, 321-32; The New Republic in Thompson, Reformers and War, pp. 234-36; Ross A. Kennedy, The Will to Believe: Woodrow Wilson, World War I, and America’s Strategy for Peace and Security (Kent, Ohio: Kent State University, 2009), pp. 221-27.

163: Lodge would draft the 1920 Republican platform plank on foreign policy that stated: “We favor an association of nations to promote peace in the world.” He also agreed with Philander Knox that “if freedom and peace of Europe be again threatened by any power or combination of powers, as was the case in 1914, the United States should regard such a situation with grave concern as a menace to its own peace and freedom.” He simply did not favor submerging U.S. sovereignty in an international body.  See John Milton Cooper, Breaking the Heart of the World: Woodrow Wilson and the Fight for the League of Nations (New York: Cambridge University, 2001), pp. 381-82.  See also David A. Mayers, Dissenting Voices in America’s Rise to Power (New York: Cambridge University, 2007), pp. 244-247; William Widenor, Henry Cabot Lodge and the Search for an American Foreign Policy (Berkeley: University of California, 1980), p. 326; Lodge Speech of August 12, 1919, on the Treaty of Peace with Germany:

164 ¶ 2: Gamble, War for Righteousness, pp. 230-31;Marku Ruotsila, The Origins of Christian Anti-Internationalism: Conservative Evangelicals and the League of Nations (Wsahington, D.C.: Georgetown University, 2008), especially pp. 1-78 (“terrible crime,” p. 72); John Milton Cooper, Breaking the Heart of the World: Woodrow Wilson and the Fight for the League of Nations (New York: Cambridge University, 2001), pp. 371-372.

165: But what of another less-known counterfactual? What if Wilson had been so incapacitated as to be judged unfit to serve? In that event Vice President Marshall would have emerged as a weak, caretaker president very likely to bow to Congress in urgent matters.  He said he would have agreed to replace Wilson only if his wife, Edith Bolling Galt, and doctor, Cary T. Grayson, had acquiesced to it in writing.  “I have sometimes thought that great men are the bane of civilization, that they are the real causes of all the bitterness and contention that amounted to anything in the world”: Recollections of Thomas Riley Marshall (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1925), p. 363.


Roosevelt’s World: The Civil Church Agonistes

167: Ellen Torrelle, ed., The Political Philosophy of Robert M. LaFollette (Madison, Wisc.: LaFollette Co., 1920), p. 263.

168-69: Peter J. Kuznick, “Losing the World of Tomorrow: The Battle over the Presentation of Science at the 1939 New York World’s Fair,” American Quarterly 46, no. 3 (Sept. 1994): 341-73 (quote, p. 360).

169-70: Jane Holtz Kay, Asphalt Nation: How the Automobile Took Over America, and How We Can Take It Back (New York: Crown, 1997.

170 ¶ 1: Kuznick, “Losing the World of Tomorrow,” pp. 363-64.

170 ¶ 2: See Arthur Herman, Freedom’s Forge: How American Business Produced Victory in World War II (New York: Random House, 2012), pp. 66-84.

170-71: Robert W. Merry, Sands of Empire: Missionary Zeal, American Foreign Policy, and the Hazards of Global Ambition (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2005), pp. 3-20. Merry in turn cites Robert Nisbet, History of the Idea of Progress (New York: Basic Books, 1980), p. 10, on Providence and Progress.

171: Robert Descharnes, Salvador Dali: The Work, the Man, trans. Eleanor R. Morse (New York: H. N. Abrams, 1984).


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