The World Remade: America in World War I
by G. J. Meyer
Bantam Books, 2016
|1919 Portrait of Woodrow Wilson |
as a World Statesman
The first quarter of the book is a biography of the president. We learn that he demanded unquestioning loyalty; his way was the only possible way. Colonel (a self-bestowed honor) House sensed an opportunity to become part of a major historical event and latched on to him when he was governor of New York, becoming the ultimate suck-up, albeit a very skilled performer. The Democratic machine elected Wilson president only to watch him ungratefully become a progressive who betters the lot of the working man—for a while. Inexplicably, he retreated from that approach and became withdrawn.
Wilson also served as his own State Department and press secretary, typing out his communications on a typewriter. He had the time as he didn't pay much attention to the operations of the government, usually playing golf every day.
The Great War began and while he claimed neutrality for the U.S., his actions favored the Triple Entente. But then Wilson had his own definition of neutrality such as Americans should be able to safely travel on vessels flagged as belligerents. Thus, the sinking of the Lusitania which killed 128 Americans was unacceptable.
When the US entered the war, Wilson would not tolerate any dissent. Much like John Adams a century earlier, he signed into law the Espionage (1917) and Sedition (1918) Acts and 850 Americans went to prison for speaking out about the war, or being Socialists, while the press was censored. It wasn't so much that the press was told what not to publish as it lost its mailing privileges as the Postmaster General interpreted the law accordingly. While men fought and died to protect the rights of their nation, an act of Congress suspended the Bill of Rights. After the war, many would be deported as part of the Red Scare.
Wilson met his Waterloo at Paris. Neither Prime Minister Lloyd George nor Premier Clemenceau liked Wilson, nor wanted him at the treaty negotiations or thought he had earned the right to be there. He hadn't served in the political trenches long enough nor had his country suffered enough to justify his presence. The U.S. lost 116,000 killed in the war while the British and French lost about a million each. They would get their vengeance by holding his beloved League of Nations hostage while they redrew the map of the world to serve their own purposes, acquiring hundreds of thousands of square miles with riches and people accordingly. Wilson paid the ransom but still lost.
|President Wilson and U.S. Peace Commissioners in Paris|
The most poignant part of the book to me was the German process of dealing with the treaty and finally signing it. The German Foreign Minister, upon grasping the consequences of the treaty, shook so badly that he could not light a cigarette. Fortunately for him, the government fell and he did not have to sign the treaty. Despite outcries from many sources, neither Clemenceau or Lloyd George would soften the treaty.
Meyer doesn't justify the title of his book until the second to last page when he briefly discusses the tragedies derived from the War that haunt us today and almost implies that the US should have remained out of the war. Yet Meyer, like so many other authors, never discusses what Europe--or the world--would have been like if the Germans had won. Obviously, that would involve considerable speculation but imagine if US "neutrality" had not included money, munitions and finally men for the Triple Entente; General Hindenburg (the Kaiser had long been irrelevant) would be ruling France, Germany, Belgium, Poland and parts of Russia with the English blockade expanded to starve even more of Europe. We can only speculate, of course, and Meyer does not go that far. However, The World Remade remains an informative, challenging, and intriguing book-a worthy companion to the author's earlier (2007) "companion" volume, A World Undone: The Story of the Great War.