Woodrow Wilson, Revolutionary Germany, and Peacemaking, 1918-1919: Missionary Diplomacy and the Realities of Power

By Klaus Schwabe; Rita Kimber et al. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER III

The United States and
the German Revolution

I. Bourgeois Democracy's Struggle for
Survival in Germany

ONE

When the first reports of the Kiel mutinies reached Washington on November 7, 1918, Breckinridge Long, an Assistant Secretary of State, noted in his diary: "This is the worst news of many months. If true, it means the advent of Bolshevism in force in Germany." 1 Not long before this, Bullitt had spoken in similar terms of a "serious situation" in Germany. 2 News of the overthrow of the German government was received in American government circles with very mixed feelings indeed. What had happened in Berlin hardly demonstrated the "respect for constituted authority" which the United States Government's circular of November 8 had urged on the peoples of central Europe. 3

If the United States had its reservations about the newly established republic in Germany, these reservations arose from the American fear of Bolshevist penetration into Europe. We have encountered these fears before. They were on Wilson's mind at the outset of his exchange of notes with Germany. It is even possible that Wilson was acting on these fears when he did not insist on winning unqualified acceptance of his Fourteen Points at the Paris armistice talks. He did not want to hold up the talks with debate of this kind, for he felt that any delay in the armistice deliberations would only serve the Bolsheviks' interests. 4

Although there was general agreement in Washington that the "Bolshevist danger" had increased rapidly, opinions differed widely on just what the "Bolshevist danger" was. As late as October 1918, the American press was still hailing Karl Liebknecht as the true champion of German freedom. From this point of view, the Spartacus League was a genuine ally of the Associated Powers, and there was no Bolshevist problem at all. 5

The United States Government had tried to demonstrate exactly the opposite when it published the sensational Sisson documents in mid

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