Quotulatiousness

April 18, 2017

In WW1, the United States “was not fighting for survival. It was fighting for an ideal.”

Filed under: History, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Reason‘s Glenn Garvin reviews two new documentaries, including one called American Experience: The Great War (no relation to the YouTube channel I regularly reblog).

World War I, as American Experience: The Great War paraphrases a conclusion already reached by the cast of Friends many years ago, is probably the biggest event in U.S. history of which Americans know next to nothing. In some ways, that will still be true even if they watch The Great War, which views the events strictly through the lens of how Americans were affected. The welter of royal bloodlines and backdoor treaties that turned a seemingly isolated event — the assassination of an Austrian nobleman by a Serbian teenager — into a worldwide conflagration involving Russia, France, England, Italy, Germany, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Ottoman Empire, Bulgaria, Japan, and the United States is barely explored [*]. Nor are many of the war’s geopolitical shockwaves. Even the implosion of Russia’s czarist government, which would eventually result in a Cold War that for nearly five decades threatened to turn apocalyptically hot, only gets a minute or two.

What The Great War does do, in truly spectacular fashion, is limn the voracious expansion of the American government midwifed by World War I. When Woodrow Wilson’s uncertain attempts at neutrality floundered and he called for a declaration of war in 1917 because “the world must be made safe for democracy,” it made the United States unique among the combatants, notes a historian in The Great War: “It was not fighting for survival. It was fighting for an ideal.”

But as The Great War documents in horrifying detail, that ideal was the creation of a Leviathan state with unprecedented power: to draft young men and send them to a foreign war. To set price controls on food and impose dietary restrictions. To arrest and even deport political dissidents. To create a powerful government propaganda organ aimed not at enemy nations but the American people. (It expanded from one employee to about 100,000 in a couple of months.) To send goon squads known as Liberty Loan Committees roaming neighborhoods offering deals on war bonds that couldn’t be refused.

Wilson’s actions did not go without dissent (signs at a protest march in New York City: MR. PRESIDENT, WHY NOT MAKE AMERICA SAFE FOR DEMOCRACY?) and dissent did not go without punishment. Wilson demanded, and got, a new Espionage Act that made it a crime to collect, record and disseminate information “harmful to the war effort,” and he wielded it like an axe against the anti-war movement. By the fall of 1917, the federal government opened prison camps in Utah, Georgia, and North Carolina to house all the “security threats” Wilson’s Justice Department had detected.

Wilson’s security mania spread out into the population, too, where it unleashed what The Great War calls the “wholesale destruction of German culture in the United States. There were moves to ban German music, plays, and even the spoken language. Some of the xenophobic spasms, like beer-stein-smashing contests, were loony enough to be funny; others, like the slaughter of German dog breeds in Ohio, were almost too ugly for words. Though Wilson’s supporters managed to utter some. When an Illinois coal miner of German heritage was lynched by coworkers who thought he might be a spy, the Washington Post labeled it a nothing more than a slightly over-exuberant sign of “a healthful and wholesome awakening in the interior part of the country.”

* Should you want to know more about the non-American aspects of how World War 1 began, you could read my Origins of WW1 series of posts, starting here (there are 12 posts in the series, and even so, I could be accused of omitting a lot of detail).

April 13, 2017

“The First World War is the moment when America says, ‘We’re the big dog on the planet'”

Filed under: Europe, History, Military, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 03:00

In Maclean’s, Allen Abel looks at the US entry into World War 1 a hundred years ago this month, and wonders why it’s so little remembered by Americans today:

Precisely 100 years after U.S. president Woodrow Wilson — “with a profound sense of the solemn and even tragical character of the step I am taking” and with millions of young men of other nations already lying in the graves of Flanders — asked the United States Congress to mobilize a neutral, jazz-happy nation to save Britain, France and little Belgium from obliteration by the German kaiser, there is little in the American capital to remind a visitor of the war to end all wars. There is no sky-piercing obelisk, no haunting roster of the fallen, no sacred shrine to Wilson himself.

As Canada ritually, dutifully, predictably embraces the grimness and glory of Vimy Ridge, the American republic and its new president gird for the inevitable next conflagration — Syria; North Korea — in place of looking backward, weeping, learning.

“The First World War is the moment when America says, ‘We’re the big dog on the planet,'” notes Mark Facknitz of James Madison University, a descendant of three men who fought in the Great War for the U.S., for Germany and, fatally, for Canada, respectively. “Donald Trump keeps saying the same thing,” he goes on, “but it’s no longer true.”

Physically, and allegorically as well, small residue of Wilson’s tragical gambit endures here. Across the Potomac in Arlington, Va., rests the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. In the city itself, a little Doric temple, 12 columns around, was erected by the District of Columbia in the 1920s to commemorate its fallen sons. There is a soaring “national” monument to the courage of the killed, but it is in Kansas City. To many Americans, the most famous battle of the First World War was Snoopy versus the Red Baron.

[…]

“At the level of the purely mythic Great War battles, nothing in the American experience rivals the Canadians at Vimy, the French at Verdun or the British at the Somme,” Facknitz says. “Our deaths from influenza [60,000] outnumbered our combat dead [50,000] in France in 1918. There was nothing compared to other nations’ Golgothas, nor, for that matter, to the enduring symbolism of Civil War battles like Gettysburg and Antietam, or to the Second World War battles that followed a short generation later—Normandy, the Bulge, Iwo Jima.”

I suspect the biggest lasting influence of American participation in WW1 was actually the political and economic ramifications of both anti-German hysteria (a lot of Schmidts became Smiths and Müllers became Millers to avoid the witch hunt) and the first major nationalizations of industry in the US (which set the stage for FDR’s New Deal during the Great Depression).

April 8, 2017

The “Three Stooges of the Apocalypse”

Filed under: Europe, History, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

David Warren takes a well-deserved kick at Lloyd George, Clemenceau, and (especially) Woodrow Wilson:

A century has now passed since President Wilson disowned President Washington’s advice to his successors — to stay out of European conflicts — and war was declared by the United States on Germany. A moral preener, Wilson justified himself by declaring an even more extravagant mission to go with it:

“The world must be made safe for democracy.”

However large, a war is just a war. It should have a beginning and an end. As my old Indian girlfriend explained, “Too much war only leads to peace. Too much peace only leads to war.” As most people prefer peace, most of the time, it is well that war is not a permanent condition. But a war to some idealistic purpose can get very large, and go on for a long time, and morph into conditions which resemble peace, but are not peace. We’ve been making the world safe for democracy for at least a century. By now we have far too much.

[…]

In my view, that Great War, that Totaler Krieg, hasn’t ended yet. The old etiquette, that war was for soldiers — that non-combatants should be non-involved — became a thing of nostalgia. Vast conscript armies had been summoned, and would never be fully demobilized. The men I call the “Three Stooges of the Apocalypse” — Wilson, Lloyd George, Clemenceau — clinched at Versailles this new normal. It was not simply the punitive terms that were imposed on the war’s losers, but a more fundamental reorganization of all national and international affairs: “statecraft” became “policy.”

For Wilson was also the pioneer of progressive schemes to change the American way of life. He was, in some sense, a second Washington, consolidating a second American Revolution that had begun more modestly with Lincoln and the Union victory in the Civil War. America would be recreated, along bureaucratic lines, in a tireless campaign for full secularization, under centralized government control. The general mobilization of the First World War, now in America as well as Europe, created a new opportunity, by accustoming men to following orders; by the propaganda that made them identify with huge abstractions.

This is of course an inexhaustible topic, at which I pick away, in my attempts to explain if only to myself what makes our world so different from all preceding. It embraces more than any single force or event. We must also go back to the Prussian invention of the welfare state, and for that matter to the Gatling gun. Post-modernity is an invention of modernity, as modernity was an invention of the Middle Ages. The contemporary revolution has antecedents that may be found in the Enlightenment and in the Reformation. (What will post-modernity beget?)

April 3, 2017

“Politics is like the weather; it doesn’t care what you think about it”

Filed under: Government, History, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Jonah Goldberg, from last week’s “G-File ‘News’letter”, on the notion that the old political rules no longer apply:

Here’s the important point. Politics is like the weather; it doesn’t care what you think about it. It simply is. And at least in this sense, I was right when I said that democracy gives the illusion of control.

In 2006, I wrote in the Corner about the Left’s belief, as expressed by Simon Rosenberg, that we were entering an era of “new politics.” Conservatism was over. A new era of modern, expert-driven political management was upon us. To his credit, Rosenberg didn’t say that politics was over, just that this was some new era where the old playbook didn’t apply. But it’s sort of the same thing. The idea that politics will go away if we elect the right person is a form of utopianism that plagues the Left — and, alas, the Right.

Barack Obama entered office thinking the exact same thing (So did LBJ. So did JFK. So did FDR. So did Woodrow Wilson). As I’ve written 8 trillion times, Obama really believed that he was a post-ideological president who only cared about “what works.” This progressive understanding of pragmatism is a kind of exquisite confirmation bias. We’re not ideological, we just want to do the smartest, best thing (which just happens to line up with our undisclosed and unacknowledged ideological biases).

The problem? Politics doesn’t vanish just because you want it to. Wilson was convinced that the wisdom of the Treaty of Versailles was akin to scientific fact. It wasn’t, but let’s say that it was. His view didn’t erase the political necessity of selling it to Congress.

During the election, lots of people told me that a businessman would cut through all the politics by running the government like a business. Jared Kushner is apparently heading up the latest version of this incredibly hackneyed and ancient idea. The simple problem is that government isn’t a business (never mind that Donald Trump is not a typical businessman). The incentive structure of politics is entirely different than the incentive structure for a businessman. A CEO can walk into a meeting and explain to his employees that if they don’t hit their widget sales quota, no one will get their bonus. Politics doesn’t work like that.

Moreover, people who say “Who cares about politics” or “Politics are irrelevant” are like people who go sailing in a hurricane on the assumption that weather shouldn’t matter.

March 28, 2017

Champion for Democracy? – Woodrow Wilson I WHO DID WHAT IN WW1?

Filed under: History, Military, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Published on 27 Mar 2017

Woodrow Wilson, 28th President of the United States, is one of the most controversial characters of his era. His racial views, his view on peace and the post-war world, his decision to go to war with Germany in 1917 are still being debated to this day. We take a look at the life of Wilson to better understand his motivation.

January 27, 2017

Nivelle’s Spring Offensive – Royal Conspiracy In Greece I THE GREAT WAR Week 131

Filed under: Europe, France, Germany, History, Military, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Published on 26 Jan 2017

Germany is about to unleash unrestricted submarine warfare again which might draw the United States into the conflict – but the Germans are not worried. The German Kaiser is instigating with his sister in Greece and Nivelle has big plans for a decisive battle in spring.

January 15, 2017

American Elections – Ottoman Sultan – Austro-German Relations I OUT OF THE TRENCHES

Filed under: Europe, History, Military, USA — Tags: , , , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Published on 14 Jan 2017

It’s time for the Chair of Wisdom again where Indy sits to answer all of your questions about World War 1. This week we talk about the 1916 presidential elections in the US, the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed V and the relations between Germany and Austria-Hungary.

November 10, 2015

The USA Before Joining World War 1 I THE GREAT WAR – Special

Filed under: Europe, History, Military, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Published on 9 Nov 2015

Even though the United States only joined the First World War in 1917, the affects of World War 1 were felt way before. Woodrow Wilson initially wanted the USA to stay neutral but also increased the number of the US Army and expanded the US Navy. Economically, the United States of America had already chosen a side in the conflict before the declaration of war was signed. They supported the Entente with ammunition and other supplies. Things like the sinking of the Lusitania and unrestricted submarine warfare only made it easier to convince the public.

May 4, 2015

David Warren on the “Three Stooges of the Apocalypse”

Filed under: Europe, History — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

David Warren recently read Margaret MacMillan’s Paris, 1919 and discusses the three leaders who had the most influence over the peace process:

Recently, breezing through Margaret MacMillan’s blockbuster, Paris 1919 (2003) — the kind of book I am apt to pick up from the Salvation Army thrift shop — I considered her mildly revisionist account of the Peace Conference that held the world rivetted through the first six months of that year. Woodrow Wilson, Lloyd George, and Georges Clémenceau are rightly absolved of responsibility for everything that happened in the next twenty years; for there were clowns after those clowns.

I think of them as the “Three Stooges of the Apocalypse.” They were themselves not causes but symptoms of a disease, which for a word we might call post-modernism. President Wilson did the most permanent damage. He was the Barack Obama of that historical moment, enjoying an immense charismatic popularity in Europe. A moral and intellectual simpleton, he had handy to his lips a short list of glib progressive nostrums that appealed to great masses of the war weary.

All three were men of terrific ego, and little substance: models for the new kind of politician that would emerge more fully from the War. Each was from his own peculiarly desiccated cultural background a man largely free of any religious conviction. Wilson had the Calvinist Puritan sensibility, to the degree that he was privately well-behaved; Lloyd George and especially Clémenceau were just old rogues and whoremongers, charming from a distance. Paradoxically, it might have helped had Wilson been more corrupt, and less “principled,” for his principles were exactly those on which post-modern liberalism was awkwardly erected: democracy, equality, bureaucracy, national self-determination, and all the rest of that rot.

To the point, the British and French dealt out pieces of the collapsed Ottoman Empire between themselves like patches on a Monopoly board, except for the Turkey of Ataturk’s fait accompli. Wilson watched with mild distaste while focusing his own efforts on rewarding every poisonous little balkanic European nationalism he could find under a rock. Other problems, like the new Soviet Russia, that could not be painlessly fixed, were progressively ignored. The Old World of aristocratic family orders, above nationalism, was unceremoniously trashed for the new one of seething demagogic republics, and all that would follow from that. It was a Brave New World that would be implicitly, and often explicitly, post-Christian.

April 23, 2015

QotD: Corrupting the youth

Filed under: Education, Politics, Quotations — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Since Plato’s Republic, politicians, intellectuals, and priests have been fascinated with the idea of “capturing” children for social-engineering purposes. This is why Robespierre advocated that children be raised by the state. Hitler — who understood as well as any the importance of winning the hearts and minds of youth — once remarked, “When an opponent says ‘I will not come over to your side,’ I calmly say, ‘Your child belongs to us already … You will pass on. Your descendants, however, now stand in the new camp. In a short time they will know nothing but this new community.'” Woodrow Wilson candidly observed that the primary mission of the educator was to make children as unlike their parents as possible. Charlotte Perkins Gilman stated it more starkly. “There is no more brilliant hope on earth to-day,” the feminist icon proclaimed, “than this new thought about the child … the recognition of ‘the child,’ children as a class, children as citizens with rights to be guaranteed only by the state; instead of our previous attitude toward them of absolute personal [that is, parental] ownership — the unchecked tyranny … of the private home.”

Jonah Goldberg, Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left, From Mussolini to the Politics of Change, 2008.

March 8, 2015

The War of 1812 as a statist enabling event

Filed under: History, Liberty, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 05:00

On the right side of the border, the War of 1812 is viewed as a key event in the progress towards independence. On the south side of the border, the war is usually considered to be a minor error, but as Sheldon Richman points out, it was an inflection point in the road to bigger, more coercive government in the United States:

In 1918, having watched in horror as his Progressive friends gleefully jumped onto Woodrow Wilson’s war wagon, Randolph Bourne penned the immortal words: “War is the health of the state.” As he explained it,

    The republican State has almost no trappings to appeal to the common man’s emotions. What it has are of military origin, and in an unmilitary era such as we have passed through since the Civil War, even military trappings have been scarcely seen. In such an era the sense of the State almost fades out of the consciousness of men.

    With the shock of war, however, the State comes into its own again,…

    [I]n general, the nation in wartime attains a uniformity of feeling, a hierarchy of values culminating at the undisputed apex of the State ideal, which could not possibly be produced through any other agency than war. Loyalty—or mystic devotion to the State — becomes the major imagined human value.

An earlier group of Americans would have agreed, although they would not have shared Bourne’s horror. These are the men who sought war with England in 1812.

[…]

The retired founders were not the only ones who worried. They were joined by the men who still exercised power, especially Republicans James Madison and James Monroe, and such influential men of the next generation as John Quincy Adams, Henry Clay, and John C. Calhoun. As war with England approached, Republicans (as opposed to the Federalists) had no problem finding silver linings. War would not only inject government with a new dynamism—with important implications for trade policy, money and banking, and internal improvements — it would also give the people a shot of badly needed national spirit.

Thus the War of 1812 is an underrated turning point in American history, rivaling the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, and the two world wars. Indeed, the War of 1812 helped to launch the empire that manifested itself in those later conflicts. In its aftermath, America’s rulers could believe that their continental and global ambitions, backed by the army and a global navy, were fully realizable. They just needed a government equal to the task.

March 6, 2015

QotD: Persecuting political heretics

Filed under: Government, Politics, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

It seems to be forgotten that the current American theory that political heresy should be put down by force, that a man who disputes whatever is official has no rights in law or equity, that he is lucky if he fares no worse than to lose his constitutional benefits of free speech, free assemblage and the use of the mails it seems to be forgotten that this theory was invented, not by Dr. Wilson, but by Roosevelt. Most Liberals, I suppose, would credit it, if asked, to Wilson. He has carried it to extravagant lengths; he is the father superior of all the present advocates of it; he will probably go down into American history as its greatest prophet. But it was first clearly stated, not in any Wilsonian bull to the right-thinkers of all lands, but in Roosevelt’s proceedings against the so-called Paterson anarchists. You will find it set forth at length in an opinion prepared for him by his Attorney-General, Charles J. Bonaparte, another curious and almost fabulous character, also an absolutist wearing the false whiskers of a democrat. Bonaparte furnished the law, and Roosevelt furnished the blood and iron. It was an almost ideal combination; Bonaparte had precisely the touch of Italian finesse that the Rough Rider always lacked. Roosevelt believed in the Paterson doctrine in brief, that the Constitution does not throw its cloak around heretics to the end of his days. In the face of what he conceived to be contumacy to revelation his fury took on a sort of lyrical grandeur. There was nothing too awful for the culprit in the dock. Upon his head were poured denunciations as violent as the wildest interdicts of a mediaeval pope.

The appearance of such men, of course, is inevitable under a democracy. Consummate showmen, they arrest the wonder of the mob, and so put its suspicions to sleep. What they actually believe is of secondary consequence; the main thing is what they say; even more, the way they say it. Obviously, their activity does a great deal of damage to the democratic theory, for they are standing refutations of the primary doctrine that the common folk choose their leaders wisely. They damage it again in another and more subtle way. That is to say, their ineradicable contempt for the. minds they must heat up and bamboozle leads them into a fatalism that shows itself in a cynical and opportunistic politics, a deliberate avoidance of fundamentals. The policy of a democracy thus becomes an eternal improvisation, changing with the private ambitions of its leaders and the transient and often unintelligible emotions of its rank and file.

H.L. Mencken, “Roosevelt: An Autopsy”, Prejudices, Second Series, 1920

December 27, 2014

QotD: Political morality

Filed under: Politics, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 00:01

There is in him, in his professional aspect, no shadow of principle or honour. It is moral by his code to get into office by false pretences, as the late Dr. [Woodrow] Wilson did in 1916. It is moral to change convictions overnight, as multitudes of American politicians did when the Prohibition avalanche came down upon them. Anything is moral that furthers the main concern of his soul, which is to keep a place at the public trough. That place is one of public honour, and public honour is the thing that caresses him and makes him happy. It is also one of power, and power is the commodity that he has for sale. I speak here, of course, of the democratic politician in his role of statesman – that is, in his best and noblest aspect.

H.L. Mencken, Notes on Democracy, 1926.

August 23, 2014

Immutable human nature will not be wished away

Filed under: History, Media, Politics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 08:07

Charles C. W. Cooke on the evergreen notion that “this time, it’ll be different”:

H. G. Wells’s famous prediction that the First World War would be the “war to end all wars” was met with skepticism by the British prime minister. “This war, like the next war,” David Lloyd George quipped in the summer of 1916, “is a war to end war.” History, he sighed, is not shaped by wishful thinking.

Two decades later, Lloyd George would be proven right. And yet, in the intervening period, it was Wells’s sentiment that prevailed. The horrors of the trenches having made rationalization imperative, a popular and holistic narrative was developed. The Great War, Woodrow Wilson quixotically argued, had finally managed to “make the world safe for democracy” and, in doing so, had served an invaluable purpose. Henceforth, human beings would remember the valuable lesson that had been written in so much blood, coming together in mutual understanding to, as Wells rather dramatically put it, “exorcise a world-madness and end an age.” And that, it was thought, would be that.

In hindsight, it is easy to criticize the idealists. But, historically, their instincts were by no means anomalous. The most successful politicians today remain those who are dispositionally Whiggish, and who possess in abundance the much coveted ability to sell the future as the cure for all ills. Come election time, candidates from both sides of the aisle promise Americans that their country’s “best days are ahead of her” and that it is now “time to move forward.” Customarily, these promises are paired with a series of less optimistic corollaries, most often with the simplistic insistence that we must never, ever “go backwards,” and with the naïve — sometimes spluttering — disbelief that anything bad or primitive could exhibit the temerity to occur in these our enlightened times. “It is amazing,” our jejune political class will say of a current event, “that this could be happening in 2014!” And the audience will nod, sagaciously.

This week, responding to the news that an American journalist had been executed in Syria by the Islamic State, President Obama contended that the group “has no place in the 21st century.” One wonders: What can this mean? Is this a statement of intent, or is it a historical judgment? Certainly, insofar as Obama’s words indicate a willingness to extirpate the outfit from the face of the Earth, they are useful. If, however, they are merely an attempt to shame the group by explaining that in 2014 the good guys no longer behave in this manner, it is abject and it is fruitless. As a matter of regrettable fact, IS does indeed have a place in the 21st century — and, like the barbarians who hypothetically had “no place” in the Roman Empire, it is presently utilizing that place to spread darkness and despair. Assurances that “our best days are ahead of us,” I’d venture, are probably not going to cut it with the mujahideen.

March 23, 2014

QotD: Woodrow Wilson

Filed under: History, Politics, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 09:59

The fraudulence of Wilson is now admitted by all save a few survivors of the old corps of official press-agents, most of them devoid of both honesty and intelligence. No unbiased man, in the presence of the revelations of Bullitt, Keynes and a hundred other witnesses, and of the Russian and Shantung performances, and of innumerable salient domestic phenomena, can now believe that the Doctor dulcifluus was ever actually in favor of any of the brummagem ideals he once wept for, to the edification of a moral universe. They were, at best, no more than ingenious ruses de guerre, and even in the day of their widest credit it was the Espionage Act and the Solicitor-General to the Post Office, rather than any plausibility in their substance, that got them that credit. In [Theodore] Roosevelt’s case the imposture is less patent; he died before it was fully unmasked. What is more, his death put an end to whatever investigation of it was under way, for American sentimentality holds that it is indecent to inquire into the weaknesses of the dead, at least until all the flowers have withered on their tombs. When, a year ago, I ventured in a magazine article to call attention to Roosevelt’s philosophical kinship to the Kaiser I received letters of denunciation from all parts of the United States, and not a few forthright demands that I recant on penalty of lynch law. Prudence demanded that I heed these demands. We live in a curious and often unsafe country.

H.L. Mencken, “Roosevelt: An Autopsy”, Prejudices, part 2, 1920.

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