Actions Speak Louder than Quotes

I want to begin by acknowledging Professor Moser’s breadth of knowledge of famous quotes. However, I fail to see how noting which quote I chose to include and which I chose to omit is germane to the discussion other than to act as a red herring. In an attempt to put the discussion back on course I submit that “Wilson’s famous quote” provides support for the position I put forth in my original response.

Because neither individuals nor history are “clean,” analysis of an individual’s actions must be taken on the whole. Wilson was a complicated man. He was neither wholly good or wholly bad. As such, it is Wilson’s cross to bear that he lamented the loss of liberty while remaining passive as others limited civil liberties in his name. “Once lead this people into war and they will forget there ever was a thing as tolerance” is a testament to Wilson’s ability to “read” the American people. The attacks on German-Americans and the constant bombardment from state and local officials to take action against labor radicals are but two examples of how right Wilson was in his assessment of the American people and what he called their “mob passion.” I agree with Professor Moser that the president did not protect individual liberties during the war. While it is claimed he disagreed with many of the actions taken under the Espionage Act, the mistake he made was to not reverse or call for a stop to them.

Professor Moser seems to have missed the point entirely in his second response to my comments. Wilson did not abandon his hopes for international reform. Rather, they simply did not come to fruition, as he feared. Decisions to go to war in order to have a seat at the table notwithstanding, Wilson’s hope was for a world without war. Did he succeed by leading the United States into the war? I submit the rise of fascism and the Second World War as exhibits A and B that he did not. Additionally, basing the argument on Wilson’s belief that a seat at the table would allow him to reach his goals falls flat once the lens is expanded to encompass the Paris Peace Conference and the presence of Lloyd George, and Georges Clemenceau. Both of these men spent four years pressuring Wilson to get involved in the war and then held Wilson at arm’s length due to the lack of American blood spilt on European fields. Actions, as Professor Moser has acknowledged, speak louder than quotes.

Also from this issue

Lead Essay

  • John E. Moser notes the strong initial appeal that the First World War held for Progressives. Many of them believed that war showed how the federal government could and should undertake a general refashioning of society. Indeed it did; while the United States did not turn socialist, as some progressives hoped, the federal government did vastly expand in scope and authority. The Progressives’ ideal of the permanent war footing, in which all relevant resources are put under unified federal control to achieve one or more pressing social ends, has been with us ever since.

Response Essays

  • Justin Quinn Olmstead looks at a time when U.S. engagement with the world wasn’t a given, and when the world needed the United States a lot more than we needed it. That time was immediately after World War I. He characterizes World War I as “only the prelude” to a state of affairs that has been with us for decades now, namely, a constant war footing that was formerly unknown in American society.

  • Andrew Bacevich argues that World War I changed the ways that western powers justified imperialist foreign policy. Prior to the war, imperial powers offered a frankly white supremacist rationale for their actions, but that rationale rang hollow when Europe lay in ruins. Later empires would need other justifications, including the ideological ones offered by systems as divergent as Marxism-Leninism and liberal market democracy. Yet these ideological empires have proven unstable, and our uncertain future may only be settled by whatever it is that replaces them.

  • Saladin Ambar describes early progressives’ infatuation with war as “a Faustian bargain” that they eventually repudiated, driven substantially by the example of World War I. Not only did the war not bring economic empowerment, it also dashed the hopes of many who looked for it to bring racial justice. The state that the war created was simply not what progressives wanted it to be, whether before the war—or especially after.