THE POLITICS OF WAR: The Story of Two Wars Which Altered Forever the Political Life of the American Republic (1890-1920) by Walter Karp

THE POLITICS OF WAR: The Story of Two Wars Which Altered Forever the Political Life of the American Republic (1890-1920)

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From Reconstruction to 1890, the Republican party ruled supreme in American politics; in 1920, the Republican ""oligarchy"" was once again heading toward ruling elite status. On the face of it, the idea that the intervening years represented a watershed in American politics seems dubious, and Karp does nothing to dispel that suspicion. Setting up a schematic straw-man, he contends that historians have traditionally separated domestic and foreign affairs, whereas he intends to show their interrelationship through two critical decades. The Republican leadership, he argues, latched on to an expansionist foreign policy to provide a stimulus to recovery after losing the 1890 Presidential election; and he has little trouble demonstrating the engineered character of the anti-Spanish propaganda effort. But far from restoring them to power, the alliances with big business formed during the Spanish-American War fomented the social unrest that generated the Progressive moment and set the tone for national politics during the ensuing period. Karp again has little trouble--because of the mass of available work on this period--depicting Roosevelt's twofaced trust-busting policies, and adopts Senator LaFollette as the only unmitigated hero of the epoch. Wilson's victory in 1912 is seen as a result of pure opportunism as he adopted the rhetoric of reform to mask an unquenchable thirst for personal glory. Once in office, Karp argues, Wilson shifted his concerns to foreignpolicy in order to avoid the reform promises of his campaign, and manufactured the Mexican crisis of 1914. Karp's Wilson is ardently pro-war from the start of the European conflict, and the drawn-out entry of the U.S. represents for him the final denial of popular opinion and control over elected officials. Karp attributes Wilson's reelection in 1916 to a strategy of tacit support by the Republican elite who preferred to lose the election--the Republican candidate Hughes was not a party regular--than avoid a war, seeing their chance for a return to power in a postwar environment; a strategy which Karp sees as having worked beautifully. Karp's claims are surely overstated, since the period under discussion was itself an aberration, and 1920 can be seen as more a return than a permanent ""alteration.

Pub Date: June 27th, 1979
Publisher: Harper & Row