George "Woodrow Wilson" Bush

Mr. Katz has been affiliated with New York University for twenty years and is the author of forty U.S. history books.

As more U.S. soldiers are buried in the shifting political sands of occupied Iraq, President Bush has claimed his invasion and occupation were justified, and that U.S. citizens are now safer. Speaking in front of a “Protect America” sign, he clinged to flawed rationales and failed policies, admited no deceptions nor costly errors, and failed to mention the thousand dead U.S. and coalition troops, the thousands wounded, and the death and suffering inflicted on innocent civilians. His war, he still claimed, promoted democracy, peace and freedom.

President Woodrow Wilson, who led the country into the bloodbath that was World War I, followed a different ideological trajectory. As a noted scholar In 1907, Wilson wrote:

Since trade ignores national boundaries and the manufacturer insists on having the world as a market, the law of his nation must follow him, and the doors of the nations which are closed against him must be battered down. Concessions obtained by financiers must be safeguarded by ministers of state, even if the soverignty of unwilling nations be outraged in the process. Colonies must be obtained or planted, in order that no useful corner of the world may be overlooked or left unused.

When hostilities began in Europe in August, 1914 Wilson announced U.S. neutrality, but his sympathies sprouted quickly (if privately). By the end of the month Colonel House, his leading White House advisor, heard Wilson condemn Germany for the war, and Joseph Timulty, his secretary, heard him say “England is fighting our fight.” In 1915 the president told his cabinet, “the Allies are standing with their backs to the wall fighting wild beasts” and that December he said, “I am heart and soul for the Allies.” In 1916 in the face of a booming peace movement, Wilson’s “He kept us out of war” slogan won him re-election.

In April, 1917, as Wilson guided the U.S. toward intervention in the side of the Allies, he forsaw terrible consequences:

Once lead this people into war and they’ll forget there ever was such a thing as tolerance. To fight you must be brutal and ruthless, and the spirit of ruthless brutality will enter into the very fibre of our national life, infecting Congress, the courts, the policeman on the beat, the man in the street.

Former President Teddy Roosevelt, according to his friend, New York World journalist Frank Cobb, also felt that neither the Constitution nor the Bill of Rights would survive the war.

In his call for a war President Wilson insisted Germany was waging “warfare against mankind” and famously said, “The world must be made safe for democracy.” The U.S. army expanded to four million, more than half were inducted, and 42 Divisions, more than half of U.S. troops, were shipped overseas. It was a totally segregated army, that assiged most black troops menial tasks.

Wilson also authorized a government propaganda offensive that stirred the hatred he had predicted. High schools banned the German language and culture, sauerkrout became “liberty cabbage” and dissidents faced mob violence and government suppression.

In June, 1917 at the urging of the president, who claimed neither censorship nor stifling dissent were intended, Congress passed an Espionage Act and the next year a more severe Sedition Act. These broad laws imposed twenty-year penalties on people who interfered with the draft, urged insubordination, disloyalty or pacifism, or criticized Congress, the president or the military. A California man was sentenced to five years in prison for his heated words about the president, and many women and men were jailed for their anti-war sentiments.

Because he said capitalist profits drove Wilson to intervene in an “imperialist” war, Socialist party leader and presidential candidate Eugene Debs was arrested. After the Armistice Wilson refused to pardon Debs, who in 1920 campaigned from his Atlanta prison cell and received a million votes. President Harding released the ill and aging radical.

In 1919, at the conclusion of the war Wilson campaigned across the country for his League of Nations. When he spoke on September 5th in St. Louis, he offered a new view of the war:

Why, my fellow citizens, is there any man here or any woman, let me say is there any child here, who does not know the seed of war in the modern world is industrial and commercial rivalry? The real reason that the war that we have just finished took place was that Germany was afraid her commercial rivals were going to get the better of her, and the reason why some nations went to war against Germany was that they thought Germany would get the commcercial advantage of them. . . . This war, in its inception, was a commercial and industrial war. It was not a political war.”

President Wilson, tossing among old warnings and distortions, and new misgivings landed close to Debs.

Broken in health, but not in spirit, Debs left jail his anti-war and humanitarian vision in tact. Denied U.S. support for his League of Nations, his hopes for democracy and world peace in tatters, Wilson left the White House broken in health and spirit. U.S. soldiers at a cost of 112,000 deaths and 230,000 wounded had carried the Allies to victory. But the war took tens of millions of European lives, mostly civilians. The peace imposed by the victors created bitterness, fascist dictators and aggression, and World War II. In the United States war hysteria was followed by red hysteria, an era of lynchings and race riots, and a revived and expanded Ku Klux Klan that paraded as “100% Americanism.”

George Bush boasts about not reading the papers, and says he was right in Iraq. If he doesn’t look over Woodrow Wilson’s shoulder, his fellow Americans should.

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More Comments:

Jonathan Dresner - 7/26/2004

Well, since it's actually impossible to bury anyone in 'shifting political sands', I suspect that he was simply refering figuratively to deaths resulting from political as opposed to military tactical decisions. You're being a bit over-literal.

John Stephen Kipper - 7/24/2004

"As more U.S. soldiers are buried in the shifting political sands of occupied Iraq"

The first line of this post is a lie. All American military dead have been returned to the United States. If the author cannot even get this simple truth right, how can anyone believe the rest of his writing. I am well aware that the author was looking for a hook upon which to hang the rest of his piece and that the first line was meant to shock, and thus gain interest.

But shouldn't the shock be at least a little bit factual?
Or is it just shlock value?

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