Wes Vernon
Book review: '1917: Lenin, Wilson, and the Birth of the New World Disorder,' by Arthur Herman
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By Wes Vernon
April 24, 2018

Today in the early 21st century, we have for the past four years been living in a period marked by a full 100 years since the starting point of then unprecedented and recurring killing beyond what could have been imagined in previous eras.

Not that merciless bloodshed had never before been known. But this modern scale of killing was different, a real dividing line in history. The "Great War," since etched in history as World War I, was the starting point that triggered a series of disastrous events that in retrospect have made the era before that war seem "strange." That conclusion is drawn by noted historian Arthur Herman, as recorded in his volume 1917: Lenin, Wilson, and the Birth of the New World Disorder.

Differences, but.....

To clarify, the author takes pains to distinguish between – on the one hand – Vladimir Lenin, the angry, merciless murderer who led the Russian Revolution that exacerbated the already growing life-snuffing chaos that characterized the war; and on the other hand, Woodrow Wilson, U.S. President whose messianic "visions," quick temper, and inability to tolerate differing views from his own knew few if any bounds.

The similarities

Both Lenin and Wilson conceived of a new international order that transcended the boundaries of traditional politics and history. Wilson widened the purpose of the war from a conflict between the Great European powers into an international crusade for freedom and justice for the proletariat. "Lenin," however – concludes Hudson Institute historian Arthur Herman – "enslaved everyone else and enslaved the proletariat as well."

In his professorial naiveté, Wilson, president of the "Land of the Free," blamed capitalism for the Russian revolution, believing that capitalism, as "unleashed in [Czarist] Russia," caused the Russians "to see red." Perhaps the president had a memory lapse. The focus of rising popular distrust of the Czars was less attributable (if at all) to "capitalism" than to the Czarist regime's intrusive dictatorial ways, which even went so far as to send government agents into private homes, expecting to be addressed as "Your Honor," as they inquired as to (often minor) infractions, normally without the type of legal recourse expected in a free society. Apparently, anyone who could explain to President Wilson such differences could expect to be waved away. The more Mr. Wilson became wrapped up in his certainty that he knew how to lead to the perfect world, with peace and love ever after, the more he would display anger at anyone who cited tripwires along that path.

Again, as for Lenin

Arthur Herman's analysis of Vladimir Lenin informs his readers, "The civil war [the bloodiest part of his revolution] that Lenin had invited left more than one million dead, at least half a million from the Red Terror alone." Social order? Forget it. Famine was rampant. With an up-and-coming cut-throat named Joseph Stalin as his second in command, Lenin "turned his utopian dream of a new Communist global order into a living nightmare." Take for instance Lenin's chosen prison official Martin Latsis of the dreaded Cheka "concentration camp," who stated "with arrogant bluntness" the following: "We are exterminating the bourgeoisie as a class. We are not looking for evidence or witnesses to reveal deeds or words against the Soviet power. The first question we ask is – to what class does he belong?, what are his origins, upbringing, education or profession? These questions define the fate of the accused. This is the essence of the Red Terror." That last description, the reader may note, is usually used by critics of the Red Terror. This time, the culprits advertised it.

Preparing for even worse

When the United States entered the Great War almost three years after it had begun, it was no surprise that President Woodrow Wilson's "grand illusions," as the author of 1917 calls them, were greeted with caution by the European allies who had been fighting the bloody battles as the U.S. president was assuring his countrymen that he deserved to be re-elected to a second term as U.S. President because he had "kept us out of war."

Now here was this latecomer to the fight not only telling the Europeans how to fight their battles, but also stretching the very purpose of the war far beyond its former boundaries to "make the world safe for democracy," and he would instruct them how it should be accomplished.

President Wilson apparently had no meaningful association with humility. Nonetheless, his ideals of the perfect world would be promoted with his 14 points and his envisioned League of Nations. The blueprint for that short-lived world body materialized into reality, but without U.S. membership. That was due in part to a Republican Congress that showed little acceptance of Wilson's refusal to discuss the sovereignty issues. He was confident he knew best, with no need for further discussion. Britain and France worked with Wilson – or tried to; they needed whatever help they could get. They were glad America had joined the fight.

Why the plunge

The main trigger for U.S. entry into the war was the sinking of the Lusitania, a British ship the Germans suspected was carrying arms to Britain to be used in the latter's war against Germany. 128 Americans who went down with that vessel. Down it went, and with it President Wilson's vow in his re-election bid (which he had won by a sliver) to avoid U.S. involvement in the Great War. Germany had also reportedly started making overtures to Mexico that perhaps there could be some collaboration to assist the latter in recovering western land it had lost to the the U.S. during the 19th Century.

But again, those issues just added fuel to Wilson's fire in expanding the war into a grandiose plan to create a perfect world where everyone would behave, and thus there would be no conflict, no war, total democracy all the time and everywhere."A war to end all wars," he would call it. (Years later, after the inevitable World War II had ended, some vowed now we could then have peace ever-after. At the time, I would hear a Swedish immigrant sadly lament the improbability of such good fortune: "You can't change the nature of the human race," he intoned.)

The seeds of the next war

So when the "Great War" finally ended, then what? Arthur Herman's 1917 reminds us that America's allies were broke."Britain's debt (and France's) only continued to mount out of sight. So did America's financial leverage once the war concluded.

The U.S. President, according to this highly informative account, showed every sign of being ill or otherwise not at full strength on the day he most needed to be. Managing any war was tough; in this case accomplishing the peace process with success seemed considerably tougher. At the infamous Versailles peace conference, "deals" – some of them forced "solutions" that left behind many highly dissatisfied nations – "reconciled" issues that would later develop into disasters. There was much dissension. The Italian delegation walked out, for example. But Wilson didn't worry too much, apparently believing this would all be ironed out by his envisioned League of Nations, another of the many "unhatched chickens" counted on by the president.

Crowning blow to lasting peace?

Few of those seeds of World War II were planted more securely than what happened after the arrival at the conference of the German delegation. That nation, along with the Austro-Hungarian empire, had constituted the adversary to the allies. Germany had been ruled by Kaiser Wilhelm since 1888. Principal U.S. allies were Britain, France, Italy, and originally Russia (until close to the time Lenin and his gang used the chaos of the war as the opportunity to stage their bloody merciless revolution, and then signed a separate peace pact with the Germans). It was in the war's final year and a half that the United States entered the Great War.

At the Versailles "peace" conference, the German delegation arrived in early May of 1918, "expecting to be treated, especially by Wilson, as a fellow democratic nation.. Instead they – who were German Social Democratic politicians (the Kaiser had been exiled to Holland) were treated like a beaten adversary. They were escorted to the Hall of Mirrors at the Palace of Mirrors and presented with a peace treaty to sign. The additional humiliation was that the Hall of Mirrors was where the German Empire had been proclaimed following Germany's victory in 1871 following the Franco-Prussian War. Germany was stripped of its colonies; Alsace and Lorraine had been returned to France. For all of its offenses, noted in this book as well as above, Germany was incorrectly blamed as the sole instigator of World War I. In fact, origins of the somewhat messy and confused war had come from many directions.

Permanent victory – Really?

Acts of vengeance only tend to lead to more acts of vengeance. Undoubtedly, a young World War I corporal named Adolf Hitler was seething at all this. As History would later record, the failed Versailles conference handed a future thoroughly villainous Fuhrer his talking points as Nazi Germany arose to wreak mayhem around the world, initially in collaboration with Joseph Stalin, previously number two man to Vladimir Lenin. Stalin then used Lenin's revolution to build what a future U.S. President would label "The Evil Empire," which lasted most of the 20th century, and whose minions of new generations are doing their best to destroy every nation they can infiltrate or bully. Their empire is gone – for now – but those who have been influenced by the ideology that Lenin and Stalin left behind are still with us to this day.

It is important to note that the author is no isolationist, nor were Wilson's primary critics. The book observes that "If Wilson had entered [the war] right after the sinking of the Lusitania in 1915 [as Theodore Roosevelt and Henry Cabot Lodge had wanted] instead of in 1917, the war might have ended much earlier and many more millions might not have died." Dr. Herman's desire to steer as clear of raw politics as possible no doubt accounts for his not mentioning the significance of those dates. 1915: Down goes the Lusitania. 1916: Wilson was re-elected on the slogan "He kept us out of war." 1917: The Lusitania becomes the rallying cry for war.

It would be impossible to do justice to Arthur Herman's 1917 in this one review. You need to buy the book if you are searching for information as to how the world got into today's awful mess. During the anniversary of the Great War, this writer has been searching for up-to-date accounts of the influences of World War I, and by extension a better understanding of many terrible things going on in the world now. Some other writings on that war are all good, but many are outdated or otherwise incomplete. 1917; Lenin, Wilson, and the Birth of the New Disorder connects the 100-year dots right to this era. It is super relevant today.

© Wes Vernon

 

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