Dual biography of two men who stand in this account as avatars of worldwide change in a critical historical moment.
Woodrow Wilson and Vladimir Lenin are not, on the face, a natural pairing in the same way that the murderous dictators Hitler and Stalin are. Then again, Hudson Institute senior fellow Herman (Douglas MacArthur: American Warrior, 2016, etc.) did put Gandhi and Churchill together in a study of the decline of the British Empire, and putting Wilson and Lenin together does help to show how the foreign policy of the nascent superpowers, the United States and the Soviet Union, would have as their overarching goal not “to protect their own national interests as narrowly understood, as almost all nations understood foreign policy before 1917, but to make others see the world as they did.” For Wilson, this was a longtime insistence on a Pax Americana, formulated well before World War I, and one of the newsworthy aspects of Herman’s readable, engaging book is that Lenin once approached the U.S. with “a bizarre offer”: since, for obvious reasons, Germany could no longer be Russia’s chief industrial partner, as it had been before the war, then why not America? In exchange for help modernizing Russia, then, the U.S. would have had oil, mineral resources, and fur. “For a few tantalizing days…the world rocked on its hinges at the prospect of a future U.S.–Russian consortium dominating the postwar world,” writes Herman—but Wilson declined. Another great what-if: Germany declined the offer to stop fighting with status quo, meaning it could keep conquests and colonies in exchange for peace. In either instance, the world today would be much different from what it turned out to be, which, rather than Wilson’s much-longed-for peace, was a century of endless conflict.
Mixing both real events and a few moments of speculation, a fine account of a climacteric year.