A history of the campaign to oppose American intervention in World War I.
Initially, the United States wanted no part of war. Despite the energetic cheerleading of "preparedness" supporters like Theodore Roosevelt and Henry Cabot Lodge, the country generally supported Woodrow Wilson's policy of neutrality as Europe tore itself apart and elected him to a second presidential term in 1916 as the peace candidate. A diverse group of leaders worked throughout this period to counter the advocates of war. Dissent co-editor Kazin (History/Georgetown Univ.; American Dreamers: How the Left Changed a Nation, 2011, etc.) builds his narrative around the activities of four of these, prominent at the time but little-known today: feminist crusader Crystal Eastman, socialist New York politician Morris Hillquit, segregationist House majority leader Claude Kitchin, and progressive senator Robert La Follette. Other prominent peace activists also make cameo appearances, as well, including Henry Ford, who sponsored the 1915 "Peace Ship" mission to Europe, four-time presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan, and the indefatigable Jane Addams. While these campaigners were anti-militarist and anti-interventionist, they were not isolationists but rather internationalists, many of whom maintained contact with like-minded Europeans on both sides of the conflict. Despite their efforts, the enigmatic Wilson, for reasons he never clarified, led a glum nation into war in April 1917, bringing down upon his erstwhile political allies an unprecedented program of repression, "the reckless fury of the wartime state.” Kazin ably shows how a movement with sensible goals and the wind at its back can be broken by circumstances—here, the resumption of unrestricted submarine warfare by Germany—and a lack of political courage to resist party loyalties and intense emotional appeals. The author's sympathies are openly with the pacifists, but he presents all parties fairly in this well-researched, carefully written work.
An illuminating, if discouraging, account of a doomed attempt to pull America back from an abyss.