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100 Years of Wilsonian Wars for "Democracy"

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Tags War and Foreign Policy

11/27/2018

In 1917 President Woodrow Wilson addressed Congress calling for a declaration of war against Imperial Germany and delivered his famous line “the world must be made safe for democracy.” Wilson was convinced that democratizing foreign nations, by force if necessary, would lead to the “elevation of the spirit of the human race.”

Wilson was wrong, and his strategy failed, with disastrous results.

[RELATED: "Democracy Has Been Weaponized" by Ralph Raico]

In spite of his failure, Wilson's vision continues to infect American foreign policy to this day. From the war with Imperial Germany to Saddam’s Iraq, America’s foreign policy maintains an enduring Wilsonian influence. Within mainstream political opinion, democracy is considered an unquestionable and universal good that should be forcibly spread to foreign countries for their benefit and ours. In international relations theory this strategy of democratizing nations is known as liberal hegemony. Unfortunately, as John Mearsheimer explains in his book The Great Delusion, although packaged as a pro-peace ideology, the desire to spread democracy to all peoples really serves as a mandate for eternal conflict.

Wilson's Failure

Historically, President Woodrow Wilson is often viewed as a man of peace tragically forced into declaring war, but this ignores Wilson’s ideological intentions of and the Entente propaganda that deceived the American public into supporting the war. (Historian Hunt Tooley has articles detailing this here.) The American public initially did not want to intervene in European affairs but opinion changed after news of German war atrocities and the killing of American citizens by German U-boats was sensationalized by the press. The so called atrocities of barbaric Hunnic German soldiers butchering and eating Belgium children were entirely fabricated by the Entente powers to influence the American public. The infamous sinking of the RMS Lusitania by a U-boat, killing over a hundred American citizens was propagated by the press not mentioning the ammunitions stored on board or that the ship had deliberately sailed into a declared war zone. The final straw that would sway American opinion was the Zimmerman Telegraph where Germany offered a conditional alliance with Mexico if the United States entered the war. The telegraph was viewed by the public as an underhanded tactic despite the fact that the United States had already threatened war with Germany.

With the masses roused into supporting the allied powers, Wilson would finally have his war to spread democracy. The United States would officially enter World War I in 1917 changing this conflict of states into an ideological war between democracy and the monarchies of the Central Powers. It should be noted, of course, that Imperial Germany wasn’t any less democratic than the British Empire. But the British had the good fortune of a "special relationship” with the US, so they were spared Wilson’s democratic zeal.

Political theorist Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn in his work "Monarchy and War," explains the disastrous effects of Wilson’s intervention. America’s entrance into the war caused a severe imbalance of power between the Allied and Central Powers, eliminating any chance of a negotiated peace. The Allies, having the upper hand, lost any incentive to negotiate a simple ceasefire but would instead purse the absolute surrender of the Central Powers.

The monarchal Houses of Hohenzollern in Germany and Hapsburg in Austria proposed an armistice which could have saved the lives of thousands, but Wilson rejected the proposal. For peace was not Wilson’s primary objective, but the forced democratization of Europe. The unnecessary prolonging of the conflict caused the monarchies who had ruled Europe for centuries to collapse. The “spirit” of the German people was elevated through the formation of the democratic Weimar Republic which amounted into an utterly dysfunctional government. Without the ideological tradition of monarchy and the harsh economic conditions laid by the treaty, the conditions were fertile for the growth of extreme ideologies (National Socialism and communism). In the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the fall of the monarchy and advent of democracy split the once strong European power into a multitude of weak ethnically based democracies.

Making Europe a Powder Keg

The results of World War I did not make the world safe as Wilson intended but instead turned it into a powder keg. Once the Nazis and their collaborators had won 51% of seats in the Reichstag, the democratic process was complete and Hitler was free to enact totalitarian policies by popular mandate. The power vacuum left by Austro-Hungarian Empire which traditionally had curb Germany from dominating Central Europe was filled by Nazi Germany. The newly formed ethically German Austrian Republic was easily annexed by Nazi Germany, thanks to the fall of the Hapsburgs. Wilson’s crusade had inadvertently set the geo-political stage for Hitler’s conquest leading Kuehnelt-Leddihn to write “If Hitler had had any sense of humor, he would have erected a colossal monument to Woodrow Wilson.”

To this day, Wilson’s ghost continues to haunt US foreign policy, pursing the false-utopia of liberal hegemony over our own strategic interest. The overthrowing of Saddam Hussein in Iraq did not make the world safer, but may have in fact endangered it further, and only destabilized the region. Many with even a passings knowledge of Middle Eastern geo-politics could have foreseen this, but America’s democratic fervor takes precedent over realism.

Indeed, if the call to democratization doesn’t convince the public to support a war, then the intelligence community and media conglomerates will accuse the soon-to-be-forcibly-enlightened nation of possessing weapons of mass destruction or committing war crimes. During the Gulf War, a predecessor to the conflict to eventually dispose Saddam, the now disproven Nayirah testimony was heavily promulgated by the media claiming that Iraqi soldiers were deliberately removing babies from incubators to kill them.

All these stories hark back to how our nation was first propagandized into war against the “barbaric” Germans eating Belgium children.

Opposition to this sort of thing has shown some signs of life, as President Trump, in his campaign rhetoric of "America First," presented a foreign policy distinctly lacking the enthusiasm of the Wilsonian regime-change supporters. Nevertheless, the monolithic legacy media continues to rally public support for war just has been done many time before, as the ideology of liberal hegemony is entrenched within Washington’s elite. However, since the days of Wilson, repeated attempts at making the world safe for democracy have failed to deliver again and again. 

Note: The views expressed on Mises.org are not necessarily those of the Mises Institute.
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