Between Ideology and Realpolitik: Woodrow Wilson and the Russian Revolution, 1917-1921

By Georg Schild | Go to book overview

2
"Without Annexations and Contributions": Wilson, Lenin, and the War-Aims Question

[T]he whole state of sentiment in Russia is so confused and even problematical that I have found nothing more difficult than determining what course would be best to pursue. -- Woodrow Wilson to Edward Woods, 17 April 1918. 1

The years of Woodrow Wilson's presidency were a tumultuous era in international relations. Revolutions and wars in Central America, Asia, and Europe forced the president to devote considerable time and energy in response to foreign political problems. The issues he faced in those conflicts, moreover, concerned very fundamental political and social issues, such as overcoming the heritage of imperialist domination of China and reacting to socially and economically motivated uprisings in Mexico and Russia. Contemporary comments by Wilson show that he was well aware of the importance of the uprisings at the time. In an August 1914 letter to Secretary of War Lindley M. Garrison, for example, he compared the Mexican rebellion to the French Revolution. In his letter to Congressman Frank Clark of November 1917, he emphasized the parallels between the French and the Russian October revolutions. 2

Wilson's comparison of events in Mexico and Russia to the French Revolution yields some insights into the president's thinking about the uprisings he witnessed. The revolution of 1789 and

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