A sturdy one-volume study of America’s role in World War I.
As a companion to historian Meyer’s A World Undone: The Story of the Great War, 1914-1918 (2006), which focused on Europe, this work focuses exclusively on America’s involvement in World War I, from its embrace of neutrality to “the law of selfishness” in plunging the U.S. into Europe’s conflagration in 1917. The author debunks many myths about America’s valiant intentions in joining the war, especially regarding President Woodrow Wilson’s sense of destiny on the world stage, and he closely examines why Wilson acquiesced to joining the fight. Indeed, Meyer devotes an entire chapter to “Why,” including the political pressure from the outrage of the Zimmermann Telegram and the sinking of the Lusitania by German torpedoes. Yet, wonders the author, was Britain “so deeply in debt to the United States that its defeat would have plunged the nation into depression”? Or was it true that if the U.S. did not join the effort, Wilson, “as president, would be left with no major part to play in the postwar settlement”? Meyer gives a good sense of America’s future at that negotiating table and Wilson’s celebrated role at Versailles as the leader of the free world. The author also looks at America’s path in arriving at that fraught moment—manipulated by the propaganda effort of the British communications campaign, vilifying the Germans, and the struggle to raise conscription and maintain morale at home. In alternate chapters, Meyer chronicles narrative back stories, such as the role of Col. Edward House in influencing the president and that of “Fighting Bob” La Follette, the congressman from Wisconsin who passionately argued that America had no quarrel with the German people and that Wilson needed to be held accountable. Meyer also examines the unprecedented restrictions on censorship called for by the Wilson administration, and, as an appendix, he includes Wilson’s “Program for Peace” in its entirety.
A refreshing look at this still-much-debated world debacle.