“The Illusion of Victory” – America & Wilson in World War I

I recently decided to start a journey toward really understanding and learning about the period before World War II. In all of my history studies, this period, which greatly shaped the USA we live in today, was never covered.

When I started my History Major at Tufts University, I had intended on studying American History. But as time passed, I realized I had more European history classes on my transcript than American, so I simply declared a European history concentration. Because of this, as with my high school history courses, I never reached the 20th century in my studies.

With this background, I had been increasingly upset with my lack of historical knowledge of the period from 1880-1940 in my country (and around the world – I never got that far in any history class. we always seemed to run out of time by the mid 19th century). So I decided recently to study this time. On the recommendation of Bill Fleckenstein, I ordered Benjamin Anderson’s Economics and the Public Welfarein order to learn more about the Great Depression and the birth of the Federal Reserve System. I was all set to read this but then noticed Thomas Fleming’s The Illusion of Victory,about Woodrow Wilson’s behavior before, during, and after World War I and its effect on our country, in a used bookstore (Pegasus & Pendragon Books in Rockridge/Oakland, CA).

I had written a 30 page paper on the Battle of Jutland for my senior thesis class at Tufts, but never spent too much time exploring the historical context of World War I. So seeing Fleming’s book priced at $8.50 used was too enticing – and this book delivered great information. I could not stop reading it – even staying up til 3Am three nights ago because I could not put the book down. It is an excellent analysis of the disaster that was our involvement in World War I.

From the promises to stay out of the war, to the economic (and business-influenced) reasons to get in the war, and Wilson’s horrible attack on the first amendment (The Espionage Act – wartime always gives an autocrat a reason to destroy our Constitution), I learned a great deal about how fragile our great country can be. As Fleming says, our country’s citizens enjoyed increasing liberty for years up until World War I.

Seeing the forces that cause the breakdown in society, the infringement on liberties, the frenzy to get into war, I feel fear. And seeing how a later president, Franklin D. Roosevelt, also stomped on liberties and economic self determination in order to satisfy his own needs for power (he spent World War I as Ass’t Secretary of the Navy trying to sabotage his boss in order to get his job). I never had the respect for FDR that most others had, but now I have less and my increasingly lowered impression of Wilson and his ego and weaknesses, makes me all the more leery of an unchecked growth of government power.

I highly recommending reading this book if you like your country at all.  The other book I mentioned above is shaping up great also – I’m looking forward learning some more.