We needed to fight World War I

In the worst presidents thread there’s animosity toward Woodrow Wilson because he got us into World War I, and many people are saying that this was a bad war for us to get in. Let’s look at the facts:

  1. Europe was going to be involved in a large conflict eventually. Technically this war started because Russians didn’t want Austro-Hungary to oppress Serbia. However, Austro-Hungary was more than willing to meet Serbian demands, but Germany prevented them from doing this because they wanted a fight for autocracy. There was no way around this war.

  2. There was a clear moral choice for us. The Central Powers represented autocracy and monarchy, as well as repression. The Allies, with the exception of czarist Russia until Kerensky took over, were all democracies. After this war not a single autocracy existed in Western Europe.

  3. US intervention was needed. This point is sort of obvious, but when people refuse to believe 2, 3 is ignored. It was a stalemate till we entered. A few months after we landed in Europe the Germans were running for their lives.

  4. Fascism and World War II are due to Versailles, not the war itself. Benito Mussolini came to power in part because Italy got virtually nothing despite keeping Austro-Hungary at bay. Hitler came to power because Lloyd George and Clemenceau wanted to punish Germany so much. If Wilson hadn’t had his stroke and played his cards more (the Allies would’ve lost or been locked in a stalemate with Germany without them) he could’ve pushed for a strong League of Nations, rewards for Italy, and a democratic but not punished Germany. Basically a few blood vessels in Wilson’s brain bursting are at fault for World War II, not World War I.

Just a minor point, but Europe was already in a large conflict. The U.S. didn’t get formally involved until 1917, by which time the war had been going for nearly three years already. They were, quite obviously, going to fight with or without us.

And the causes of the war were rather more involved than you indicate. The web of treaties and alliances present throughout Europe at the time virtually ensured that when two countries went at each other, they’d bring the rest of Europe with them. Even so, only Serbia had clear expansionist goals at the onset. The other major powers - France, Russia, Germany, Austria, the British Empire - all became embroiled more out of political fear than any ambition. Interestingly, it was British involvement that truly turned the war from a European war to a world war.

It is worth noting that by 1916, the general attitude of the American people favored intervention in the war. Wilson, however, was amongst the more reluctant to do so. Even after Germany re-instituted unrestricted submarine warfare in January of 1917, Wilson still did not feel that there was quite enough justification to get involved (though diplomatic relations with the Central Powers countries were terminated). It wasn’t until revolt in Russia, in March of 1917, when Tsar Nicholas III abdicated, that the U.S. could then claim that the war was one of democracy vs. autocracy.

And, just for the record, the official reasons given to the American people, at the time, for American involvement were:
[ul][li]The renewal by Germany of her submarine warfare. [/li][li]Imperial Germany was running amuck as an international desperado [/li][li]Prussian Militancy and autocracy let loose in the world disturbed the balance of power and threatened to destroy the international equilibrium. [/li][li]The conflict [had gradually shaped] into a war between the democratic nations on one hand and autocratic on the other. [/li][li][America’s] tradition of isolation had grown out warn and could no longer be maintained in the age of growing interdependency. [/li][li]Because of the menace to the Monroe Doctrine and to [America’s] independence.[/ul][/li][above list from The Great War Society site]

An unstated reason, of course, was the increased political and diplomatic power the U.S. would achieve in post-war Europe from its involvement in the war:

[from this article by Michael E. Hanlon]

  1. The US got involved in WW1 for classic balance-of-power reasons. You didnt want to have to face an superpower German Empire.
  2. Ive got to disagree with your assessment of Versailles though.

Britain and France were just trying to ensure their own security by limiting German Power. Otherwise the war would have been in vain. I blame Wilson.

Wilson really screwed up by not getting a US commitment to the League of Nations and the postwar settlement.

If, for example, the US had agreed to defend France against Germany (and vice versa) the French would not have been so desperate to crush any sign of German recovery.

Like I said, blame Wilson’s stroke, something he had no control over. If he hadn’t had it he would’ve been able to play his cards effectively.

And Clemenceau was out for revenge. Only a non-incapacitated Wilson could’ve stopped him. Actually, George was sort of between Wilson and Clemenceau, but he ultimately sided with the French. If he had gone with Wilson Germany wouldn’t have suffered as much.

Big Kahuna Burger, I think you’ve got the chronology out of order.

Wilson was not incapacitated during the negotiations of the Versailles Treaty, when he was dealing directly with Lloyd George and Clemenceau. He was in agreement with the final version of the Versailles Treaty.

But in the 1918 elections, the Republicans got control of the Senate and Wilson had a bruising fight on his hands. The Senate rejected the Versailles Treaty.

It was after that rejection that Wilson had his stroke, often attributed to the immense pressure he had been under in campaigning for the ratification of the Versailles Treaty.

Since the stroke didn’t ocurr until well after he left Europe and Versailles, and since he was in agreement with the final version of the Treaty, which included reparations from Germany, I don’t see how you can say that the stroke prevented him from moderating Clemenceau’s position.

From this site:

Serbian demands ? - have I been smoking dope ? IIRC (my books are in transit), the demands were made by Austria-Hungary, directed at Serbia and - according at least to some - made out to be completely unacceptable for Serbia by design and handed over with a downright insulting 48-hour deadline. Even so, Serbia did accept some of the demands , but turned down others that infringed severely on Serbian sovereignty.

Germany’s part was to promise to keep Russia in check, thus more or less giving Austria-Hungary carte blanche to perform a quick little land grab in Serbia. Tzar Nikolai thought he could mobilize “partially” to assist Serbia, which in turn led the Germans to mobilize according to their only plan (Schlieffen) - based on attacking France first - and then the entire courthouse came tumbling down.

There would have been no way to prevent (yet another) Balkan war. But the obscenely wasteful “Great War” could have been prevented several times along the way, had the statesmen and generals been up to their task.

Also, Austria-Hungary had been itching to go to war with Serbia for ages, because they didn’t like the PanSlavic and Yugoslav movements gaining ground in their own territories of Croatia, Slovenia, and Bosnia-Herzgovina.

Serbia was pretty much a rallying point for most of the Balkan nations that were ruled by imperialist powers, such as the Habsburgs and the Ottoman Empire. They were looked upon as the heros-the little guys thumbing their noses at the big guys.

I don’t know that the internal political differences between the Allies and the Central Powers are really as clear-cut as that. There was some difference, but one shouldn’t exaggerate. The kaisers (or their appointed statesmen) of Germany or Austria-Hungary had greater power than their British counterpart, but those two states were hardly “evil empires”. The German Parliament had a lower house elected by universal male suffrage and a secret ballot; universal male suffrage was not introduced into the British House of Commons until 1918 (the culmination of a gradual process of broadening the franchise in Britain which took most of the 19th Century). All of the major powers of that era (including the United States) had major de jure or de facto deviations from what we would consider democracy. The Central Powers were also not necessarily notably repressive or backwards compared to the Allies as regards policies other than suffrage, such as religious liberty, the rights and status of the Jews, independent judiciaries, and popular education. Tsarist Russia was the most classically autocratic and repressive power in Europe, and it of course was on the side of the Allies. It’s also worth pointing out that it was the Allied powers who were by far the most active extra-European imperialists, and their empires in Africa and Asia were neither democratic nor particularly liberal with regards to the individual rights of their non-European subjects.

Why did Bulgaria join the Central Powers? Was it just fear of Russia? Pressure to join the Ottomans by the Turkish and Muslim minority?

I agree that we had to get involved. However, I’ll point out that Wilson actually used his influence to torpedo a modified version of the Treaty of Versailles, which had some modifications by a Senator Lodge, and his isolationist cohorts. Wilson, from his hospital bed, sent word to democrats not to approve the Treaty.

Wilson was one of my favorite presidents, but he messed up here, IMHO.

I think it had more to do with the Tsar of Bulgaria-“Foxy” Ferdinand of Saxe-Coburg-Saefield.

Ferdinand was rather Machiavellian, with delusions of grandeur-evidence being his adopting the term “Tsar”, when he had actually only been Prince of Bulgaria previously. He had his eye on Constantinople, as well as most of Macedonia-and was a rival of Serbia.

But Macedonia and Constantanople were Ottoman. Shouldn’t he have declared war on the Turks?

*Originally posted by Big Kahuna Burger *

I think that your argument is flawed, though I am of the opinion that acts of war from Germany (unrestricted submarine warfare and the Mexican telegram) justified US entry into WWI. Absent those provocations, I think that we shouldn’t have gotten involved.

Really? Even though Germany had universal male suffarage and Britain didn’t? Even though all of the allies other than the US were monarchies, with the royal families still retaining some power (unlike today)? And I think you might want to talk to an Irishman or Indian before talking about how Britain didn’t represent repression, or an Algerian about French Repression, or a Congonese about Belgian repression, or any of the various Russian minorities. For that matter, you might want to ask blacks in the US about how little repression the US represented…

That 'Western Europe" conveniently ignores Russia, which was in a civil war which led right into the most totalitarian government around.

This is only relevant if there’s a reason for US intervention - in WWI, neither side were angels or demons (unlike WW2) and, absent Germany’s acts of war against the US, there was no reason for the US to enter.

Versailles, IMO, had very little to do with actually causing WWII - it was used as a propaganda point, but wasn’t much of a cause. The reparations for Germany were not actually as large of a drain on her economy as was often claimed (the German govenment elected to print money to make payments instead of using real money, which caused the inflationary spiral, but Germany didn’t have to do that), and the armed forces restrictions wouldn’t have lasted - the former Allied powers had pretty much given up on those by the time Hitler started forcing them out of the way. Any treaty (that could have been imposed at the time) could have been pointed to by a defeated Germany as a humiliation and justification for a new war.

In the First Balkan War, Bulgaria was allied with Serbia, Montenegro, and Greece against Turkey. The Balkan allies were able to take practically all of Turkey’s remaining European territory, but they fell out among themselves over the division of the spoils, and Bulgaria was defeated in the Second Balkan War by its former allies and Romania and Turkey, with the result that Bulgaria gained very little territory as a result of the Balkan Wars.

The Britannica notes that on the outbreak of the First World War Bulgaria “declared strict neutrality, but the [Bulgarian] tsar and a Germanophile government under Vasil Radoslavov encouraged both sides to bid for Bulgarian intervention”; given its territorial disputes with Serbia, Greece, and Romania (all of which eventually wound up on the Allied side), it seems inevitable that Bulgaria would in the end join the Central Powers, including its old overlord and former national enemy, Ottoman Turkey.

I suppose all of this reinforces the point I was making in my first post–the First World War wasn’t a clash of competing social and political systems the way the Second World War or the Cold War at least to some extent were. It was the result of the power politics of states most of which were by and large increasingly civilized domestically, but which still practiced foreign affairs in a way we would find downright barbarous today. This isn’t to say there were no wrongs or rights invovled–I think Germany certainly deserves blame for its invasion of neutral Belgium–but the war wasn’t about moral crusades, and trying to justify U.S. involvement in it on that sort of ground is wrong-headed.

I’ll look it up again-give me some time. Okay, in a book I have here, it says that Bulgaria had attacked her former allies from the First Balkan War in the Second Balkan War. When this happened, Roumania, Greece and Serbia struck back at Bulgaria, resulting in the Treaty of Bucharest in 1913. I’ll look up more later.

Constantinople was Ottoman. Macedonia had, just a couple of years earlier, been divvied up by the Serbs and Greeks, at the expense of the Bulgarians, after they all ganged up on Turkey. Given the history of the Balkan Wars, it would not surprise me if at some point Bulgaria wouldn’t have wound up trying to double-cross fellow Central Power Turkey over any remaining territorial disputes the Bulgarians had with the Turks, but I guess Macedonia was the bigger piece of the pie.

Was that what all the fighting at Salonika was about?

Actually, France was a republic. I’m not sure if they had universal suffrage or still had some property requirements for voting; a quick read of the encyclopedia implies that they had a system of parliamentary constituencies which over-represented conservative, rural areas (sounding rather reminiscent of some political maneuvers from the pre-civil rights era Old South), so they probably weren’t living up to modern “one man [person], one vote” ideas about democracy.

Of course women could not vote. Women didn’t get the vote in France until after WWII.

Evidently the whole issue of Greece getting into the war was something of a mess, with neutralist and pro-Allied factions, and a major geographical split between the old Greek territories and the newly-annexed areas from the First Balkan War. There were also assorted internal political convulsions and factions over which side to be on in Bulgaria.

Heh. There’s a reason why the whole “Balkans” metaphor was seized upon so quickly when Yugoslavia began to break up back in the '90’s. (Not to say the whole “Oh God, not the Balkans again” reaction wasn’t somewhat facile, but still, sheesh…)

I’d just like to agree with you about Versailles.