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Date Posted: 14:37:15 04/01/07 Sun
Author: Chuck in ND
Subject: Today's Column

Today's Column

Wilson’s bloody blueprint
Ross Nelson, The Forum

Published Sunday, April 01, 2007

Ninety years ago this April 2, President Woodrow Wilson stood before Congress to call for war against Germany, the war that determined the course of the 20th century. On April 4, Republican Sen. Robert “Fighting Bob” La Follette, in one of the Senate’s greatest speeches, methodically rebutted Wilson’s warmongering. He left no stone atop another.

The Great War was a European colonial powers spat and had nothing to do with America. However, German submarines had declared open war on the seas, sinking several American ships. Wilson seized on these examples to urge his country to “vindicate the principles of peace and justice” and, in an eerie echo of today’s warmongers, make the world “safe for democracy.”

La Follette would have none of it. You rub your eyes now to see it, in this age of congressional knaves gladly sacrificing their country’s interests to their presidents’ whims, but La Follette rejected what he called the doctrine of standing back of the president without inquiring whether the president is right or wrong.”

The senator examined Wilson’s democracy argument. How could the president maintain that allying with England, the largest imperial power on the globe, would be a defense of freedom and self-determination? And how was it that if Germany was waging a war against all the world, only the United States objected? La Follette pointed out that America had lost several ships to England’s illegal mines with hardly a peep of protest.

Much of his speech dealt with treaties and nuances of neutrality and international commerce during war. He argued that England’s mining zones were essentially no different from Germany’s submarine warfare and that the English blockade of Germany’s coast was unlawful, particularly as it was meant to starve the latter’s civilian population. Food, La Follette stated from various sources, was not considered contraband in international law. Noteworthy was Germany’s promise to cease submarine warfare if England lifted the blockade.

It was because we “submitted to England’s dictation” concerning commerce on the high seas while ignoring Germany’s sound position that we found ourselves in a bind, the senator argued. We weren’t neutral, after all, and have reaped the consequences. La Follette ended his speech abruptly after two hours, tears streaming down his face.

It should go without saying that once the bloodlust is upon Americans, there is no recourse to reason. La Follette and like-minded supporters were accused of treason, anti-Americanism, giving aid to the enemy and yes, even criticizing the president. The horror. It’s somehow reassuring to know that our current penchant for witless president-worship and warmongering has a precedent. It’s also disturbing to know we’ve repeatedly shown ourselves unable to break that pattern.

What if we hadn’t entered World War I, leaving Germany triumphant or in a truce much like earlier 19th-century versions? Would American isolationism – or more accurately, neutrality – have been so bad? In this hypothetical case Rabbi Daniel Lapin is blunt: He wishes Germany had won. “Just think of it; no World War II, certainly no Lenin, no communism … How about saving millions of lives that were lost to the scourge of socialism …?”

Neocon Francis Fukuyama likewise speculates: Hitler wouldn’t have gotten a foothold. “No Russian Revolution and Nazism means there would have been no World War II, no Holocaust, no Cold War and no Chinese or Vietnamese revolutions.” And no Iraq either, we might add, a country the British cobbled together after WWI.

Woodrow Wilson helped inaugurate an era of American interventions and optional wars that have only accelerated of late. Looking about us now and at history, it’s clear that our aggressions have not made the world a better place.

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