The First World War shattered the conventions that had guided western thought since the Age of Reason. The rationalism that had served the industrial age and produced and fostered a sense of confidence in the utility of science had led a generation. The major powers that were locked in combat in 1914 came to the tragic realization that power could also turn against the hands that wielded it. Sir Edward Grey captured the moment that year when he sadly remarked that “The lamps are going out all over Europe; we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime.” 1
The conduct of this war horrified Americans. The sheer scale of the conflict in Belgium, France, and Russia staggered contemporary observers. The prospect of losing, in one battle, casualties comparable to the entire American Civil War was something beyond the imagination of U.S. leaders and the public at large. 2 More to the point, the havoc it created among the European combatants led many outside observers to openly question whether they or their system of foreign affairs could or should survive the war. The balance of power paradigm embraced by the capitals of Europe had led them from a small flash point in the Balkans to a world war. The stakes involved in forging a new peace were enormous. Postwar diplomacy would not be a simple matter of discovering an alternative to the old European order, but finding a means adequate to ensure human survival from a man-made disaster.
Initially, the United States enveloped itself in neutrality as it sought out an alternative to the way it dealt with international affairs. Part of this decision was a matter of practicality. In 1914, the country had neither the will nor any intention of intervening in the war. Opposition to the war, from leaders as diverse as Samuel L. Gompers, Jane Addams, and Woodrow Wilson, reflected a nation anxious to avoid the bloodbath unfolding on the western front. 3 So the country reverted to a position reminiscent of the America of George Washington and John Adams. For three years, the United States attempted to establish itself as