A detailed look at one of history’s greatest turning points: the American decision to intervene in the first world war.
In this painstakingly detailed, thoroughly researched analysis, Pines (Out of Focus, 1994, etc.) examines the circumstances that led President Woodrow Wilson to take the United States into World War I in April 1917 and that decision’s short- and long-term consequences. Without that intervention, the author writes, there would have been “[n]o punishing Versailles peace treaty, no humiliation of Germany, no German drive for revenge, no Hitler, no World War Two and likely no Cold War.” These are all familiar hypotheticals, but Pines reinvigorates them with new perspectives and energetic prose. For example, he highlights the British propaganda campaign to sway isolationist America; the departure of staunch neutrality advocate William Jennings Bryan from Wilson’s administration and its effect on American foreign policy; and the March 1917 collapse of Russian czarist rule. He draws attention to the fact that huge portions of America’s manufacturing and agricultural economy were invested in the European war. Pines also looks at the most-discussed factor in American intervention: the German sinking of the Lusitania in 1915, which killed 128 Americans. For Pines, however, the bulk of the blame falls on Wilson himself, whose 1916 re-election slogan (“He kept us out of war!”) belied his interventionist leanings. The book balances expertly narrated accounts of WWI battles with vigorous extrapolations of what might have happened if those battles hadn’t been fought. American doughboys weren’t needed to save the Allies from defeat, Pines contends—“they were needed only to hand them victory” and at an enormous cost. While some of this book’s theories may seem a bit complacent (German militarism, for instance, was a cultural fact regardless of the Treaty of Versailles), its main arguments are immensely insightful.
A carefully and winningly argued case against military adventurism.