Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Woodrow Wilson: the man who destroyed civilization

Woodrow Wilson
"Nicholson Baker, a supremely talented novelist, has written a surprising book of nonfiction titled "Human Smoke." It is composed primarily of snippets taken from contemporary newspapers in the run-up to World War II and makes the daring argument that the war -- our supposedly "good" war -- was not good at all. We shouldn't have fought it." Richard Cohen - Washington Post

"Politicians constantly fondle a small, clean, paperweight version of this war, as if it provides them with moral clarity. We know that it was the most destructive five year period in history. It was destructive of human lives, and also of shelter, sleep, warmth, gentleness, mercy, political refuge, rational discussion, legal process, civil tradition, and public truth. Millions of people were gassed, shot, starved, and worked to death by a paranoid fanatic. The war's victims felt as if they'd come to the end of civilization." Nicholson Baker
David Seaton's News Links
Many people's interest in history begins with reading or seeing films about World War Two. My father's generation fought the war and my street was filled with veterans of North Africa, Sicily, Italy Normandy and the Pacific. It was natural for us to be curious and every house had stories to tell: history was a living thing. Most of us that became history buffs got our start there. This has caused many to have a very distorted view of how historical processes work, as if visiting aliens from outer space, intent on capturing a member of our species in order to study our habits and nature, captured and flew off with a schizophrenic they found talking to himself on a street corner. On debriefing this subject, the visitors from outer space might come to some curious conclusions about humanity's thought processes. In my opinion The Second World War is as valid a sample of typical human history as the schizophrenic, encased in his private logic, would be of the general run of our species.

World War Two, its insanity and evil continue to fascinate and the "Good War" has become a political Swiss Army Knife. As Nicholson Baker says in the quote from the box above:

"Politicians constantly fondle a small, clean, paperweight version of this war, as if it provides them with moral clarity."
I believe, however, that much of this emphasis on World War Two is misplaced or rather misdirected. The wrong questions are asked. What is the correct question?

First, there is no mystery about Hitler himself. Whether he was "evil" or not we must leave to theologians, what he was for sure was bat shit crazy. There are a lot of criminally insane people running around at any time and anywhere. The fundamental question is... has to be:

How did a totally insane, former corporal, failed watercolorist and recent clochard get supreme power in a country that had produced Meister Eckhart, Martin Luther, Kant, Goethe, Hegel, Bach, Beethoven, Einstein and, and, and... the list goes on forever.
Germany was considered by many the most advanced, productive and civilized nation in the world. We are not talking about Idi Amin Dada taking over Uganda.

So, briefly, my idea is not that Hitler destroyed civilization, but that civilization had to be destroyed already for Hitler to have ever left the level of street thug or soapbox agitator. I disagree with Nicholson Baker, by the time Hitler took power war was unavoidable, simply because Hitler would have gotten the atomic bomb and put it on a V-2 rocket.

The war that really has to be studied is World War One. That is the war that could have been avoided and that was the war that could have ended differently. That is where civilization was destroyed. And as horrible a war as it was, it was not the war itself, but how it ended that brought on World War Two.

By 1917, when America entered the war, Germany and the Allies had bled themselves white, essentially they had fought each other to a draw. It was America's entry that "won" the war. If America had stood on the sidelines, the exhausted combatants would have had to make peace on the basis of that exhaustion and have signed a treaty formulating how they would continue to live together. The humiliation of the Versailles Treaty and the ensuing economic ruin and social disorder it brought upon Germany were what broke down Germany's social order to a point where a lowlife like Hitler could seem like an answer to it all.

Therefore, in my revisionist opinion, America' entry into the First World War led directly to the rise of Adolph Hitler and the Second World War and all its insanity. Wilson = Holocaust.

If we add all of the "Wilsonian" ideas of "self-determination" that led directly to the destruction of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Turkish Empire we can see the germs of the tragedies of the Balkans and the Middle East that are still with us today. All in all, I can think of no other individual in the history of humanity that caused so much death and destruction as Woodrow Wilson.

So, my plea would be when ever you hear Woodrow Wilson and "Wilsonism" invoked in order to invade or to bomb, remember what Wilson and Wilsonian really mean and the harm they have done and are doing at this very moment and the basically Wilsonian attitude of all of the candidates
running for President of the United States today. DS


Richard said...

This is an extremely one-sided view. Your American 'doughboys' had no effect on WW1 whatsoever - can you name a single battle or campaign where they gave a decisive input?

Woodrow Wilson had a certain amount of vision, and some very idealistic ideas about world organisation - in which he was entirely right. He (or rather his successor, screwed up the League of Nations - deja vue - all over again)

He was effed about by all those silly little tribal states in Europe.

Roosevelt, though, only 20+ years later, put the revival of the defeated Germans, (and other second-rate Europeans, like the French) first, via the Marshall Plan.

He done right.

I just wish we had a Redneck Superpower President with an ounce of Woodrow Wilson's intelligence and foresight.



Richard said...

And wasn't the Marshall Plan a little bit like the sub-prime mortgages racket?

(Lend money to someone who can't afford it ? - then sell the promise-to-pay to some other sucker ?)

Luckily, in those days, nobody had invented 'derivatives', Gordon Gecko wasn't even born, and it worked.

It won't now.



David Seaton's Newslinks said...

Most reputable historians mark America's entry into WWI as the stalemate breaker that led to Germany's position unraveling.

That Germany was not really defeated totally is what led to the mythic (real?) perception that Germany had been "stabbed in the back" by an "international conspiracy".

It was Wilson that took America into the war against the Washingtonian tradition of not getting involved in Europe's quarrels.

Once the Versailles Treaty was in place the die was cast for the rise of Hitler and WWII. Thus my sweeping statement that Wilson is Hitler's father.

What was done during WWII and after is another story, again dictated by Europe's 1914-1918 Nakba.

As to your statement:
"I just wish we had a Redneck Superpower President with an ounce of Woodrow Wilson's intelligence and foresight."
All I can tell you is that I'm glad that the Martians have released you from their laboratories and let you be reunited with your loved ones. (see the last sentence, paragraph one of my post)

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this exceptional contribution. HL Mencken was an American who had Wilson's number; he wrote a wonderful essay "The Archangel Woodrow."

RLaing said...

There is no "Washingtonian tradition of not getting involved"; this is a libertarian myth. The American people would just as soon be completely self-absorbed as not, but this is certainly not true of their rulers. Where in the world is it any other way?

Looking for morality in global affairs is a fool's errand. The fact of the matter is that American influence and power expanded greatly in the years following both wars, in no small part because the country stayed out of both conflicts, at least in the European theater, until close to the end.

It wasn't America bringing WWI to a conclusion that was the problem, so much as the Treaty of Versailles. Did Woodrow Wilson write that all by himself, or did he have help from some short-sighted Europeans?

So far as WWII goes, as technological advances made it a possibility, sooner or later some nation or coalition of them was going to attempt to make a unified political bloc of the Eurasian continent. This is what the US pretty much had to act to prevent, and don't tell me the Japanese started it. Roosevelt piled the pressure on until there wasn't much else they could do (Day of Deceit - Robert Stinnet).

Anonymous said...

David -

I agree with your argument. Even if Wilson took us into war, he did not have to send an army. American participation could have been limited to naval operations - after all, the US wasn't attacked nor was it under threat of attack, only our shipping was.

On the home front, World War I also saw suppression of dissent that was unprecedented since the Alien and Sedition acts.

Yes, Wilson established in his 14 points ideal principles of self-determination; but these were only selectively enforced, and we needn't have entered the war to espouse them.

As for our tradition (up until then) of not being involved in European struggles, it was none other than George Washington who said:

"The great rule of conduct for us, in regard to domestic nations, is in extending our commercial relations, to have with them as little political connection as possible. Europe has a set of primary interests, which to us have none, or a very remote relation. Hence she must be engaged in frequent controversies the causes of which are essentially foreign to our concerns. Hence, therefore, it must be unwise in us to implicate ourselves, by artificial ties, in the ordinary vicissitudes of her politics, or the ordinary combinations and collisions of her friendships or enmities."

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