WWI Possibilities

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    I was recently in a discussion with a friend and local history professor regarding WWI. His speculation went thus:

    1. Were the United States involved in WWI earlier, U.S. officials would have had a bigger seat at the table during the Treaty of Versailles negotiations and limited harsh German war reparations, thus possibly curtailing one of the contributing factors to post-war inflation in Germany and consequently the rise of Nazism.

    2. Were Theodore Roosevelt to have won the 1912 election, the U.S. would have entered the war sooner, resulting in the above scenario.

    I am primarily interested in opinions regarding point 1 above, as point 2 delves to a level of speculation and conjecture that borders on unproductive fantasizing.

    I maintain that had the U.S. remained “neutral” (at least, abstained from becoming a belligerent) the war may have ended in a truce, and the ensuing detente could have precluded the post-WWI events from unfolding as they did.

    Thank you, Dr. Woods, for providing the link to Dr. Raico’s “Great Wars & Great Leaders”, the first chapter of which I am reading now, per your advice.


    I think that the bits of truth in his conjectures makes them all the more dangerous. I do agree that had the Treaty of Versailles been less punitive, Germany would not have found itself in the throes of hyperinflation (among other things) that led to the rise of Nazism and directly brought on WWII.


    America’s Second Crusade by William Henry Chamberlin (available for free from mises.org), although it focuses primarily on WWII, traces the causes of the second war through the leadup and prosecution of the first. Chamberlin cites excerpts from Wilson’s speech to the U.S. Senate on January 22, 1917:

    Victory would mean peace forced upon the loser, a victor’s terms imposed
    upon the vanquished. It would be accepted in humiliation, under duress,
    at an intolerable sacrifice, and would leave a sting, a resentment, a bitter
    memory upon which terms of peace would rest, not permanently, but only
    as upon quicksand. Only a peace between equals can last, only a peace
    the very principle of which is equality and a common participation in a
    common benefit.

    Later, he privately observed to the editor of the NY World:

    America’s entrance would mean that we would lose our heads along with
    the rest and stop weighing right or wrong. It would mean that the ma-
    jority of the people in this hemisphere would go war-mad, quit thinking
    and devote their energies to destruction. . . . It means an attempt to
    reconstruct a peacetime civilization with war standards, and at the end
    of the war there will be no bystanders with sufficient power to influence
    the terms…. Once lead this people into war and they’ll forget there
    ever was such a thing as tolerance.

    Had the United States not entered WWI, the result would most likely have been a treaty based on the status quo ante bellum – the way things were before the war.

    Another book that has come highly recommended to me (although I have not read it myself) is The Myth of a Guilty Nation by Albert Jay Nock (also available from mises.org).

    The virus that is American Exceptionalism seems to lead those infected to think “If only America had fixed everyone’s problems sooner, this horrible part of history might not have happened.” The truth, sadly, is closer to “If only America had not tried to fix everyone’s problems at all, this horrible part of history might not have happened.”

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