The World Remade
America in World War I
G. J. Meyer
Bantam Books, New York, 2017, 672 pages
Book Review published on: June 23, 2017
This year marks the one hundredth anniversary of America’s entry into World War I. New York Times best-selling author, G. J. Meyer provides an in-depth examination of America’s involvement in answering five questions: Why did the United States go to war in 1917, should it have gone to war, was the decision necessary, was it justified by the outcome, and how much responsibility does the United States bear for the disasters that followed?
Central to Meyer’s examination are President Woodrow Wilson and the role played by Wilson’s advisor, “Colonel” Edward House. Meyer’s assessment of Wilson is largely critical in describing the president as aloof, rigid, vindictive, and self-righteous. Meyer attributes these characteristics to Wilson’s Presbyterian beliefs, his relationship with his father, and his need for approval. Wilson served as a professor and scholar at several educational institutions before being selected as the president of Princeton University. He is elected in 1911 as the governor of New Jersey where he develops an intimate relationship with his advisor, House. Meyer informs us that moniker “colonel” is an honorary one given to him by Texas Governor James Hogg, when House served as Hogg’s political advisor. He describes the extremes House went to in manipulating Wilson to declare American neutrality while supporting Britain, France, and their allies. The administration’s hypocrisy was not lost on the Germans, who made numerous attempts to accede to Wilson’s demands while pointing out Britain’s violations of international laws.
Meyer counters Wilson’s label as a progressive with his administration’s attack on the Bill of Rights through the Espionage Act of 1917 and Sedition Act of 1918. The Espionage Act made unlawful to interfere with the war effort, interfere with recruiting, or attempt to aid an enemy. The Act also provided unprecedented powers to Postmaster General Albert Burleson in denying the mailing of publications deemed unlawful. The Sedition Act of 1918 amended the Espionage Act in making unlawful any comments deemed negative about the U.S. government or the war.
The Wilson administration assault on the Bill of Rights continue as Department of Justice executed a series of “slacker raids” to round up suspected draft evaders based on nothing more than unverified suspicions, prejudices, and stereotypes. Meyer recounts a particularly large Labor Day weekend 1918 raid consisting of two thousand armed soldiers and sailors, and an assortment of federal agents, local police, and American Protective League volunteers scouring New York City and New Jersey, accosting any male who appeared of military age. More than fifty thousand were taken into custody upon being unable to present draft cards. A thousand of them were immediately inducted into the army, and fifteen thousand were reported to their draft board for irregularities of various kinds. Others were eventually set free after a fair amount of public outcry had been provoked.
Meyer’s recounts an event that provides an interesting look at Gen. John Pershing. On 25 October, the American and Allied commanders met to consider a German proposal for a thirty-day cessation of hostilities. British and French demands were modest: a German withdrawal from Belgium and Alsace-Lorraine for the British while the French demanded a German withdrawal across the Rhine River. Pershing proposed terms so hard as to be barely distinguishable from unconditional surrender and an invasion of Germany if those terms were refused. There is no clear answer why Pershing was so willing to continue the fighting. His decision missed an opportunity to end the war early thus preventing the approximately 117,000 U.S. First Army casualties experienced in the last weeks of the war.
The strength of The World Remade is Meyer’s exhaustive research, which gives us a thoughtful perspective on American’s involvement both domestically and internationally. Meyer makes compelling arguments challenging America’s neutrality, the missed opportunities by the Wilson administration to prevent or shorten World War I, and the responsibility America bears for establishing the conditions that resulted in World War II. Meyer’s capture of key characters coupled with an exceptionally writing style breathes life into events that occurred over a century ago. This book is for military professionals and historians, and it would be a great addition to any professional leadership reading list.
Book Review written by: Jesse McIntyre III, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas