03 January 2007

Woodrow Wilson and the American Way of War, Part 3

To resume my Woodrow Wilson series, it's important to note that the position of the United States itself had changed during his lifetime. When he was born in 1856, the United States was a regional power, having defeated its closest rival Mexico in war only eight years before. America in 1856 was much more like the the Protestant, largely British, society of the newly independent colonies than the superpower of 2007, teeming with liberated huddle masses drawn from all over the world and following many different religions. Given its size and population, it had a tiny army and navy, and was regarded as a minor threat by most European powers, and really only had overseas interests in East Asia and the Caribbean basin.

The Civil War changed this. The demands of the Federal war effort led to a massive expansion in the industrial base, funded by government debt, led by a grasping managerial class that seized control of Congress in the late 1860s. The legal and fiscal policies that protected their interests continued for another forty years, maintaining their wealth and power, while the kind of immigration that had provoked the bigoted anti-immigrant Know-Nothing movement in the antebellum years continued. Although America continued to have a tiny army and navy, it's growing wealth was an obvious harbinger of the future. During this time, Wilson resided in the defeated South, failing at a law career, until in 1883 he began studying for a Ph.D. at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. From this point on he would reside in the industrialized northeast.

Spain's troubles in Cuba, in one of America's traditional areas of interest, resulted in one of the most popular foreign wars in American history. Wilson's response to the aftermath of this war has an important bearing not only on his future policies in relation to World War I, but also to his potential electability. In the end he lent his support for the annexation of the Philippines and a more prominent role for America in foreign affairs. These issues were more dear to the Northern victors among whom he dwelled, than the Southern defeated, among whom he ahd been born and raised. More importantly, as the linked article shows, he believed the authority of the president had been substantially increased by the war, and even goes so far as to say, "As long as we have only domestic subjects we have no real leaders."

Wilson had turned his back on the principles of the Founding Fathers, who were suspicious of concentrating power in the hands of an individual, in the course of writing his book Congressional Government in which he wrote: "I
t is, therefore, manifestly a radical defect in our federal system that it parcels out power and confuses responsibility as it does." In this context, how mindful was he likely to be of sage advice from George Washington's Farewell Address? "Sympathy for the favorite nation, facilitating the illusion of an imaginary common interest in cases where no real common interest exists, and infusing into one the enmities of the other, betrays the former into a participation in the quarrels and wars of the latter without adequate inducement or justification."

No comments: