Wednesday, March 27, 2013


 A review of Thomas J. Knock’s To End All Wars: Woodrow Wilson and the Quest for a New World Order (1992)

(Rating 4 of 5)

Thomas Knock’s book To End All Wars is a study of President Wilson’s foreign policy.  There is a bit of a mini-biography in the beginning the traces President Wilson’s intellectual development and rise to the presidency.  Everything else focuses on the President’s work abroad. In his first term the book's focus is on United States’ relationship with other nations in the Americas.  The Knock's focus on second term is partly on World War I but more so the battle to create the League of Nations.  

One of the ironies the Knock points out is: with all the major foreign policy issues that would arise with President Wilson’s time in office, the 1912 election had almost nothing to do with foreign policy.  Knock however is quick to defend Wilson’s own remark about how it would be ironic if foreign policy were to cover his Administration.  Knock argues that Wilson’s comment was based on the content of the election campaign not on his personal study of the issues. 
            “The election of 1912, like almost all the others of the preceding century, did not hinge on foreign policy.  President Taft now and then reflected upon his futile exertions for reciprocal trade with Canada and arbitration treaties with the European powers.  Debs viewed foreign policy as irrelevant to working-class interests, just as he had done during the debate over imperialism in 1900.  The Progressive platform advocated free passage through the Panama Canal for American coastwise shippers and recommended the construction of two battleships per year, while the Democratic platform called for independence for the Philippines.  But none of the candidates said much about even these rather innocuous issues.” (pg. 19)

Wilson was an idealist but Wilson was not alone in his idealism.  There were many people and movements on both sides of the political spectrum who wanted to change from the theories that used balance of power and national interest in guiding foreign policy, and to replace it with a new internationalism that would embrace the rule of law over nations. 
            “Jane Addams played a key a pivotal in this wing of the internationalist movement; indeed, she personified its purposes and values perhaps better than anyone else.  Dismayed by the failure of the established peace societies to show any muscle, Addams, with the help of Paul Kellogg and Lillian Wald, organized the Woman’s Peace party in January 1915.  The Woman’s Peace party distinguished itself as the first organization of its kind--unlike the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace or the World Peace Foundation--to engage in direct political action (and on a variety of fronts) in order to achieve its goals.” (pg.50-1)
There is very little in this book about World War I as a conflict.  It discusses how Wilson had America enter as an associate belligerent power rather than an ally.  Wilson was disgusted with the allies and their plans to divide up the spoils after the war.  Wilson wished for a new way of doing things and the actions of the allies, to him, represented what was wrong with the world. 

            “In addition to arbitration, Wilson concentrated on disarmament.  Sounding much like a card-carrying member of the American Union Against Militarism, he posed to alternatives to his audiences--disarmament through the League or the eventuality of a national security state.  Should it stand apart, he argued, the United States would have to be ‘physically ready for whatever comes.’” (p.261)
Wilson’s view of what America might become has become reality.  I am not sure his ideas for change were a realistic alternative.  The League was not worth much and even the U.N. that replaced it has some terrible flaws.  It is ironic that the ship Wilson used to go France in was the called the George Washington.  I can think of no president whose views on foreign policy were closer to the exact opposite of Wilson than Washington.  I am not talking about entangled alliances either.  Washington was a realist who felt that nations would only go along with whatever aligned with their interests.  Wilson talked of ‘equity of nations’.  Why would a great power like Great Britain want to be on an equal footing with Luxemburg?  Wilson’s goals were admirable and maybe one day be attainable, but his methods were questionable at best.   

{Video was posted on YouTube by historycomestolife}

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