How American Pacifism Led To World War I and Now May Lead To World War III

Published: 12 April 2024

By PolisPandit
via the PolisPandit website


Isn’t it ironic that pacifism can lead to war? But if you look back at the events leading up to World War I, that’s exactly what happened. America was indifferent when war broke out in Europe. Instead of acting boldly and swiftly to tame an aggressive Germany, America sat back until Britain and France were on the verge of defeat.

The parallels to Ukraine today are unmistakable. Apart from (largely ineffective) Russian sanctions and a slow trickle of military support, America has sat back to the point where a stalemate might be the best-case scenario for Ukraine. The far (MAGA) right in America has pounded the drumbeats of “America First” as justification for withholding any further Ukrainian support.

On the eve of America entering WWI, after unrestricted German submarine warfare had taken far too many innocent civilian lives, President Woodrow Wilson reversed course. He had made countless assurances as war raged in Europe, much as it does in Ukraine today, that European wars were a matter of indifference to Americans.

By 1917, almost two years after a German U-Boat sank the Lusitania passenger liner, President Wilson finally recognized that the world was on fire with tinder everywhere. He argued that Americans deluded themselves if they imagined that the United States could remain untouched by that fire’s sparks and embers.

It did not have to reach that point. There had been plenty of opportunities to be forceful – without the use of violence – with an aggressive Germany. The American public, however, was indifferent. American pacifism had taken hold, much in the way MAGA today has forced a pacifist and isolationist foreign policy on America by not even bringing support for Ukraine up for a vote (despite the U.S. House likely having enough votes to pass it).

History cautions against the dangers of American pacifism, and the potential consequences it may have for global security and democracy.

How American Pacifism Led to World War I

Before WWI, the United States adhered to a largely isolationist foreign policy, with widespread public sentiment for neutrality. America actively sought to avoid entanglement in European conflicts.

Neutrality was so obvious for America that President Wilson drafted a proclamation of neutrality the moment WWI was declared. This stance was driven, in part, by the country’s diverse population, with significant German, Irish, and other ethnic groups harboring different allegiances and sympathies.

There were significant economic implications for America too. Europe was a large buyer of American products, such as cotton. As Robert Kagan describes in his book, The Ghost at the Feast, the Kansas farmers’ motto was “I don’t care a dern what happens so long as it doesn’t happen to me.

Outside the big East Coast cities of America, few cared who was to blame for the war in Europe. Many Americans simply wanted no part of it.

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