USA Neutrality in World War One
The following are excerpts from an on-going debate I was involved with in the Seattle PI about the 1911 thru 1920 arguments between Senator Henry Cabot-Lodge, a conservative scholar who felt a weak military put the nation at greater risk, vs President Woodrow Wilson, also a historical scholar, who argued the opposite and ultimately devised the League of Nations concept following the war, which ironically the United Stated declined to join due to the lobbying efforts of Senator Lodge & others.
Arguments from previous posters or other web sites are in italics. The far superior arguments made by the wise and knowing HugoC (my pi alias).
Posted in the Seattle PI on 7/13/2010 8:03 a.m.
Lets take a look at a general assessment of what caused WW1. There’s a terrific site that describes the causes & reasons at:
But let’s take a couple of key paragraphs from the situation:
Britain’s Splendid Isolation
Bismarck did not initially fear an alliance between France and Britain, for the latter was at that time in the midst of a self-declared 1870s policy of “splendid isolation”, choosing to stay above continental European politics.
If not Britain then, how about Russia and, conceivably, beaten foe Austria-Hungary?
HugoC – So right there you have Chancellor Bismarck gambling that since gathering the northern German states took a mere seven weeks to accomplish, he could do the same with the southern states. Part of that gamble was based on the below, so let’s clip this section:
One Thing Led to Another
So then, we have the following remarkable sequence of events that led inexorably to the ‘Great War’ – a name that had been touted even before the coming of the conflict.
* Austria-Hungary, unsatisfied with Serbia’s response to her ultimatum (which in the event was almost entirely placatory: however her jibbing over a couple of minor clauses gave Austria-Hungary her sought-after cue) declared war on Serbia on 28 July 1914.
* Russia, bound by treaty to Serbia, announced mobilisation of its vast army in her defence, a slow process that would take around six weeks to complete.
* Germany, allied to Austria-Hungary by treaty, viewed the Russian mobilisation as an act of war against Austria-Hungary, and after scant warning declared war on Russia on 1 August.
* France, bound by treaty to Russia, found itself at war against Germany and, by extension, on Austria-Hungary following a German declaration on 3 August. Germany was swift in invading neutral Belgium so as to reach Paris by the shortest possible route.
* Britain, allied to France by a more loosely worded treaty which placed a “moral obligation” upon her to defend France, declared war against Germany on 4 August. Her reason for entering the conflict lay in another direction: she was obligated to defend neutral Belgium by the terms of a 75-year old treaty. With Germany’s invasion of Belgium on 4 August, and the Belgian King’s appeal to Britain for assistance, Britain committed herself to Belgium’s defence later that day. Like France, she was by extension also at war with Austria-Hungary. With Britain’s entry into the war, her colonies and dominions abroad variously offered military and financial assistance, and included Australia, Canada, India, New Zealand and the Union of South Africa.
* Unites States President Woodrow Wilson declared a US policy of absolute neutrality, an official stance that would last until 1917 when Germany’s policy of unrestricted submarine warfare – which seriously threatened America’s commercial shipping (which was in any event almost entirely directed towards the Allies led by Britian and France) – forced the U.S. to finally enter the war on 6 April 1917
* Japan, honouring a military agreement with Britain, declared war on Germany on 23 August 1914. Two days later Austria-Hungary responded by declaring war on Japan.
* Italy, although allied to both Germany and Austria-Hungary, was able to avoid entering the fray by citing a clause enabling it to evade its obligations to both. In short, Italy was committed to defend Germany and Austria-Hungary only in the event of a ‘defensive’ war; arguing that their actions were ‘offensive’ she declared instead a policy of neutrality. The following year, in May 1915, she finally joined the conflict by siding with the Allies against her two former allies.
HugoC – The USA was aligned with Britain in loose form, while Britain had vowed to defend France. France held the territories that Bismarck had eyes on, thus my argument is that attacking France, if wasn’t over quickly, ultimately would bring the USA into the conflict.
Due to the Woodrow Wilson agenda, the USA’s military was wholly unprepared to respond, hence the “balance of power” was skewed towards the Axis Powers even if the USA was not involved. If the USA did become involved, then the balance of power would obviously be tipped towards the Allies since the USA was a sleeping force at that time that would dwarf any of these other powers if they ever decided to tool up.
So my argument (which I learned from professors Bridgeman & Findlay at the University of Washington) is that the USA was actually the key player in Bismarck’s decision to attack. Had the USA been tooled up and ready to go, which they were not and what TR & HCL argued, there is no possible way that Bismarck would have made the gamble to go after France. The gamble was made because the USA had yet to make he decision to be a player in the world scene and had not adequately increased the strength of their military.
Ultimately Wilson was forced into the war, and ultimately that made the USA the major power of the time. Which was not the case before the war. Hence the argument, the one that TR & HCL made time and again, is that military strength decreases the chance of war based on the “balance of power” concept. That states considering war ALWAYS make/made those judgements based on the balance of power. A strong USA would tilt the balance of power towards the Allies, thus Bismarck would have never made the decision to go after the French states had the USA been strong and tooled up. He would, and ultimately did, make the decision specifically because the USA was not tooled up in 1914.
Wilson’s decision to de-emphasize the military thus, became directly responsible for the millions upon millions killed in two World Wars that followed. Had Wilson gone with the alternative of a strong military, chances are Bismarck would have made a different decision, the decision to not go forward with imperialistic plans southward.
Followed by this post in the SeattlePI, on 7/13/2010 at 8:14 a.m.
HugoC – We saw a similar situation play out again during WW2 when Neville Chamberlain was doing his Carter/Obama routine (ie: running around the planet cutting deals & negotiating with key enemy powers/leaders who we knew we could not trust). And again, per the TR/HCL doctrine, we saw enemy military powers attacking others due to a reluctant USA that was not prepared to act.
Skip forward 57 years. George W Bush (the hated and despised “stupid” president) calculated, correctly in my opinion, that we could not repeat the mistakes of the past. Saddam had too many similarities to Bismarck & Hitler in terms of military ambition, we learned the hard way what happens when you either ignore or attempt to “contain” theses types of leaders, thus the way to deal with the situation was to enforce resolutions that Saddam was ignoring from the UN. 17 separate times.
Wilson’s entire “League of Nation” concept (later survived by today’s United Nations) was dependent on an organization that would enforce edicts. The United States ultimately failed to go along with Wilson’s concept due to the arguments of Henry Cabot Lodge, that the lessons of WW1 taught us that treaties obligating otherwise neutral member states put the world at greater risk, not less risk. TR & HCL argued the only true and proven deterrent was a member state with a very strong military, vowing for peace yet willing to use the military if threatened by competing states with no such convictions. In 2002, Bush, acting on the painful lessons of history that taught us that isolation was the WORST policy, acted accordingly.
Liberals & conservatives both, have been arguing about it ever since. And yet Bush was did what he knew he had to, knowing he was likely sacrificing his legacy, because he was familiar with the history and these arguments of Henry Cabot Lodge, far better than his critics.