Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

America's Greatest Blunder: The Fateful Decision to Enter World War One — Reviewed by Dennis Linton

America's Greatest Blunder: 
The Fateful Decision to Enter World War One
by Burton Yale Pines
RSD Press, 2013

Entering Europe’s war truly was a gigantic and fateful American decision. As it turned out, it was America’s greatest blunder of the century

This provocative statement by Burton Yale Pines is clearly an attention-getter on bookshelves cluttered with World War I selections surrounding the 100th anniversary. However, is the distinguished journalist actually able to convince a reader this is unequivocally true? At the end of the book, each individual reader is provoked to render his or her own verdict. The title sparks interest to read the book, but what keeps your attention is a well researched and easy to read overview of the war and America's involvement. Whether one believes America's entry into the war was the biggest blunder of the century actually becomes unimportant somehow. The author convincingly illustrates the U.S. decision to enter the Great War as one of history's rare pivot points. The beginning of the book states this bold thesis and supposes that without America's entry into the war, the war would have stalemated and a "peace among equals" would have ended the conflict. However, with America's entry, the decisive victory of the Allies led directly to an unjust peace settlement, which in turn led to the rise of Nazism, the horrors of World War II and the tensions and conflicts of the Cold War.

Poster Created by the Committee for Public Information Led by George Creel

The true beauty of the narrative is in the chapters describing America's entry and role in the war's outcome. Through eight chapters the author seeks to answer the questions he raises at the end of the introduction of his thesis. "How did America end up fighting a war it never thought it would fight and in which no national interests were at stake?" and "What difference was made by America's fighting?" The author's significant research combined with a journalistic style makes this section of the book one of the most readable overviews of America's entry on the shelves today. The section on effectiveness of British and America propaganda is intriguing. The book explains how George Creel, in charge of the American propaganda machine, was able to turn a neutral population with strong Germanic roots to not only support the war, but vilify the Kaiser.

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As the author finishes with the American Expeditionary Forces' entry into combat and its role in the final campaign successes, bringing the war to conclusion, one is left to ponder: "What blunder?" Certainly, Germany blundered with reintroducing unrestricted submarine warfare. Certainly, President Wilson blundered with his optimistic belief he could influence the peace talks and subsequent treaty to be fair. However, does this rise to America's greatest blunder? How could this be? The war pulled the U.S. out of a recession, and tied the Allies forevermore to our economy. America now had a victorious military with global projection. America had arrived. Thus it's not surprising that the reader wonders, Where did America blunder at all, given victory and our rise as a global power?

I will not summarize how the author synthesizes and defends his thesis in the final chapters. Why? Because this is a book that should be read this year, if for nothing more than as one of the finest overviews of the war and America's entry into it and the effects of our entry on its outcome. Additionally, I think the author purposely finished the book in a manner to leave readers pondering their own thoughts on whether it was a blunder. Did it really lead to the horrors of the 20th century, and by staying neutral would we be living differently now?

Dennis Linton

Author Burton Pines at a French Cemetery During a Recent Trip to the Western Front

Our reviewer, Col. Dennis Linton, U.S. Army, retired, is an assistant professor, U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, KS, and a Museum Docent at the National World War One Museum at Liberty Memorial, Kansas City, MO. 


  1. Is it true that Wilson did not understand that declaring War on Germany did not mean that the US would send a 2M man US Army to France?
    Tom Morgan

  2. I think he knew given the desperate situation of the British and French armies. All the histories written by English and Frenchmen, the need was for men. 1918 British and French man power resources exhausted.

  3. Blunder might be too strong of a word but it does make you think.
    The US went to war because the French and the British needed to win or else the US would not be paid. This war make the US the largest creditor in the world.

  4. I couldn't have said it better. I'm glad someone, at least by the title, agrees with me. We inherited every mistake made by the British and have been paying through the nose since then- World War II was just the beginning. Just think Middle East and nothing more need be said

  5. Certainly the US economy was tied to the Allied side and an Allied loss would have meant severe economic dislocation in the US. But had we not entered, what would the map of Europe looked like had the Germans won? Would that have been a just peace? I doubt it. Would not the same issues have come up, only from the other side - reparations, occupied territory, bitterness and desire for revenge?

    1. Well said. Could Nazism/Fascisti have spawned and been rampant in Britain and France?

  6. I think this question can ONLY be asked in hindsight. AT THE TIME, Germany was the clear aggressor and TOOK countries and headed for Paris. They were sinking US ships - in the AO. It was CLEAR Germany must not win, and we tipped the balance. Wilson tried for a just peace, but ALL the victors did not join in and it failed, including injustice to Japan. This failure and war then led directly to WWII and the continued devastation of the world, as people were drawn to strong, charismatic, and dictatorial leaders. Those who weren't were denigrated... As Hitler said, "Who remembered the Armenians."