Woodrow Wilson and the Lusitania
December 4, 2006
by William P. Meyers

In Mendocino County and in northern California generally I constantly hear George W. Bush referred to as "the worst President we've ever had." I have typically replied that no, he is a pretty mediocre President, not qualified to be compared to the truly criminal Presidents of American history. The problem with these Bush bashers is that they do not know U.S. history and they have been trained since childhood to interpret it in ways that are contrary to their normal sense of ethics. They are more infected by blind patriotism more than they know.

Last night I started reading the final volume of Universal World History published by Wise & Co in 1941 and learned some things I did not know and was reminded of some things I did know about World War I. The basic story told to children is that Germany violated Belgian neutrality to attack France in 1914. Woodrow Wilson was a man of peace who had been elected President in 1912; he tried to keep the U.S. out of the war. But the Germans used their u-boats (primitive submarines) to sink U.S. ships including the Lusitania. This forced President Wilson to lead the U.S. into the war in 1917. The mighty U.S. turned the tide against Germany; with our allies we won the war in 1918. By the way, did I mention Woodrow Wilson was a Democrat?

But right and wrong are often found in the details of a situation. Woodrow Wilson was a southern Democrat who believed in racial segregation. He could have turned his attention to fixing the very real problems of the U.S., but hey, that would have taken a better understanding of humanity, a moral backbone, and real courage. They don't usually let people with those characteristics become President.

Woodrow Wilson appointed William Jennings Bryan to be his Secretary of State. Yes, that would be the same Bryan who had run for President in the 1880's as a Democrat Populist-lite, famous for his Cross of Gold speech. Later he would appear as the bible thumper in the Scopes Monkey trial. Bryan truly believed in the U.S. staying neutral during World War I; neither side met his moral criteria for military intervention. The British, in addition to being the most brutal imperialist power the world had ever seen, set up an illegal naval blockade of German ports. That meant that U.S. ships carrying U.S. grain to sell to German civilians were stopped at sea, illegally, by the British. We went to war with the British in 1812 ostensibly over that exact issue (really because we thought we could conquer Canada).

Wilson was not truly neutral; he favored Britain, France, and Russia. He ignored the British blockade. But he was really mad at the Germans because they tried (less successfully) to enforce a similar blockade of Britain with their u-boats. Bryan got so mad at Wilson's lack of neutrality that he resigned from his post. The Germans were willing to negotiate an end to their u-boat attacks and negotiate a peace; the British were not.

So of all the ships sunk, why are we supposed to remember the Lusitania? Apparently because a bunch of U.S. citizens were on board, and died, when the Germans sunk it. But again, look at the details. It was a British ship registered with the British navy as a military cruiser. So it was a fair target of war. The civilian passengers had been notified that they were on a ship that would be a target for sinking. When sunk off the coast of Ireland the Lusitania it had six million pounds of ammunition aboard. The loss of civilian life was mainly due to the quickness with which the ship sank, probably due to the presence of ammunition.

The Lusitania was a pretext for war. If you want to know what is really going on, you have to find out the real reasons for things. Pretexts provide cover stories. Usually they are real events, like the apparent Polish attack on Germany that Hitler alleged started World War II. But they are usually meant more to mislead than to inform.

I'll be coming back to evil U.S. presidents, World War I and other wars in future blogs. Plus I'll be comparing and contrasting these historical events to current events.

Meanwhile, for more on evil Presidents from the Democratic Party check out A Brief History of the Democratic Party. For evil Republicans, see A Brief History of the Republican Party.

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