The Legacy of Woodrow Wilson: American War Aims in World War I

By David M. Esposito | Go to book overview

explained the novelty of the AEF as the natural extension of America's democratic duty into the international arena. He argued that the German military imperialists were uniquely responsible for the world war, and that their impudence and intrigue made American participationinevitable. But now revolutionary Russia and all democratic nations were in danger from German aggression. Wilson did not use the anal-ogy of falling dominoes, but if the metaphor had occurred to him it would have illustrated his argument perfectly. Liberal democratic political institutions were at risk, even without the possibility of actual invasion of the continental United States.

Gone were the subtleties of his peace-without-victory speech. He did not repeat his earlier criticism of the Allies once America entered the war. He identified only one set of sinners in the world, and he colored its ambitions in very dark hues. Perhaps there is never a good time to explore the ironies of fate or the contradictions of power while actively participating in war. It was hardly the hour for moral agonizing and philosophizing, it was time for action to give substance to reason. In January, he had believed that the Allies were stronger than the Central Powers, yet unwilling to make a compromise peace. Six months later, he saw that the Allies were much weaker than he had thought and that Germany wanted a peace which would guarantee its territorial conquests. Although he accepted most of the Allies' interpretation of the war, he still desired to secure a peace without exemplary triumph or punishment. To attain a peace without victory, he would first have to defeat Germany.


NOTES
1.
Lansing Desk Diary, dated March 21, 1917, Lansing Papers, Box 65, LOC.
2.
Address of the President of the United States delivered to a Joint Session of the Two Houses of Congress, April 2, 1917, FRUS, 1917, Supt. 1, 195-7.
3.
Millis, Road to War, 309. Martin quoted in Ronald Spector, "You're Not Going To Send Soldiers Over There Are You?" Military Affairs, February 1972, 12.
4.
Memorandum on Entering the War, April 7, 1917, Lansing Papers, Box 8, Princeton.
5.
House to Wilson, March 30, 1917, House Papers; The former President had been bombarding Baker for permission to organize his

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