tv U.S. Entry Into World War I CSPAN May 7, 2017 12:25pm-1:11pm EDT
national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit ncicap.org] [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2017] traveled totaff california to learn about its history. you can learn more about our cities to her on www.c-span.org. >> congress declared war on germany, entering world war i. a panel of authors and historians looked at what motivated the u.s. to get involved in what was called the great war. that promised mexico territory in the southwest united states. wilson'stalks about decision making progress in asking congress to declare war. his 45 minute event took place
at the national world war i memorial in kansas city missouri. >> i am privileged to be one of the commissioners of the centennial commission. help organize to this symposium. i want to thank all of the participants and all of you in the audience for coming this afternoon. this is being live streamed. myould like to introduce moderator and panels. on the far right is rob. he is a well-known author in military historian specializing in american forces. he has written a couple of books. one is for sale outside. i am going to be a shill and encourage you to buy his book.
this is the distributor for the park service. is also acting secretary of the abm see. is most important to me as our chairman of the world war i centennial commission. i am honest about this. without his support and the c, we would be abm having a tough time right now. [applause] trust me on that. he has been a hero for us. is monique.e
she is a french north african. ancientinterested in carthage. she got a phd from the sorbonne in france. in addition to that, she became interested in world war i, principally focusing on the division. that got are interested in world war i. she is also a commissioner on the world war i centennial commission. we have monique to thank for the outstanding public program we have this morning outside. let's give her a hand. [applause]
monique oversaw every detail of that. we are grateful for such a great success this morning. spectacular. me is johnsest to maxwell hamilton. he gets a gold star for even coming here. a couple of our panelists were unable to come because of weather or illness. cancel oneral planes him from atlanta. he got a planet 2:00 this morning from atlanta and made it here because he wanted to be here with all of you. he is a historian and journalist the affairs program. i should say that he is a very good. geithner. we have hunted ducks in louisiana.
tod: and so i assured him there would be more duck hunts to come because of the heroic efforts he made in getting here this afternoon. jack has had an interesting career. various newspapers, abc radio, npr. i'm sure all of you have heard the marketplace program on npr. jack participated in that and was a participant quite a bit. he was a political appointee at the agency for international development in the state department. he was a staff member of the house foreign relations committee and the foreign affairs committee at the world bank. he has quite a varied career, and is the author of six books. he is working now on a book about wilson's reelection in 1916. he has a particular focus and interest in propaganda. with that, i want to thank all the panelists for appearing
today. thank you. [applause] jack: you would think with all the flight difficulties and all the weather problems and everything going on, we would have a challenge, but you have got the right panel here to talk about america's entry into the war and should we have entered the war. rob: this is a provocative question. our program touched on it today quite a bit. the discussions that occurred on what is america's place in the world, particularly swirling around the election of the second term of wilson. i am going to have our panelists open with a couple of remarks, and then we will ask some questions. i can't myself resist saying that every time i look at that reelection of wilson, it echoes very much with the topics we hear today of domestic agendas should be primary, and america
first, or should we be involved in bettering democracy overseas for a more stable world? these are all topics we will touch on in what will no doubt be a wonderful and spirited conversation. i know we usually do ladies first, but i'm afraid to do that . monique: you have every reason . [laughter] rob: i have spent way too much time with moni, and we have had some great times together. but jack, i will have you start us. jack: thank you very much for inviting me here. i have never been to this museum. it is an extraordinary museum. the centennial, of course, is very important. my hats off to everyone who has worked on this. the entry into the war, even the war itself, is a kind of rorschach test for how people feel about a whole range of issues. it is interesting we are having this panel today at the time that the senate is confirming a new supreme court justice, and
both sides of that argument have long memories, and each one has its grievances that go back decades and decades, slights that they remembered. all that in the same way fuels what happened in world war i. people remembered the recent world history in different ways. i think one of the best books on the entry into the war is "sleepwalkers," which present s the war accurately as just a tragic shakespearean tragedy, of the events of that didn't have to lead to war but did because of a confluence of different issues like diplomats went home during the summer and it was ethical to get everyone's messages. -- difficult to get everyone's messages. i think for the united states, as well, there were lots of reasons posed for why we got into the war. many were suppressed during the war because of the limitations of free speech and the propaganda effort, which is what i am writing about, to make sure that alternative points of view
were as limited as possible. when the war was over, these arguments surfaced, oftentimes very energetically. there were arguments about whether or not we went for economic reasons, and there were arguments on whether or not we went because we had been tricked. the kind of argument that often is made when i think we have made a foreign-policy blunder and then decide there were some nefarious underground activity. i don't think any one of those explains it, but the one i am interested in is the propaganda one. i thought as a way to prime the pump i would give an example of how that might work. there were arguments by way of propaganda -- one of the great propagandists was our ambassador to london, who people thought was too much of an anglophile. i think in the end, one of the
most important aspects of the prewar propaganda was the very cunning efforts by the british to find ways to shape american attitudes. it is an iron law of propaganda that everybody who says they don't do it, only the other side does, and if you go to the gardens and look at the british archives, you see all kinds of british memos where they say they are absolutely not doing propaganda and everyone is doing it else but us, but they where actually very good at it. the zimmerman telegram is a very good example of that. we all i think know the rough outlines of it. the german foreign minister comes up with a crazy idea, which he was prone to because he thought he was a real student of the united states, although he had only taken one trip to the united states once by train for a couple of weeks. he thought he would get the mexicans to join with the germans to recover lost territory in the southwest.
he sends a telegram. it has been years of debate about how this telegram actually went, but i think we now know what happened. it actually went through washington. the reason it went through washington was because, although the wilson administration didn't admit it, after the lusitania went down, they determined it was impossible to commit it was -- communicate with washington anymore because they have severed all communication, so it was very difficult for the germans to get in touch with americans and make their points in america, let alone send news to the united states. so they were given a line through washington and that one was made to send messages elsewhere. it was intercepted by the british, unbeknownst to the united states. the british were tapping our lines to find out what was going on. the british did not want to admit that they were tapping our lines and knew the german code,
so they then sent someone to mexico to find the message as it was received in mexico so it would look like they got it in the united states. and they took it to the ambassador in london, and he sent it to the secretary of state, who wanted to go to war much more than president wilson. he then went and gave it to a guy named edwin hood, the dean of the foreign correspondents for the united states. very well-respected guy. he called hood to his house and redacted it and gave him the cable. to make sure nobody knew he got from lansing, they gave it to a different reporter so it did you not look like hood had gotten it, and then it came out in the papers. the next day, lansing lied. as a former journalist, i am always ready for that. but he did admit that it could be true. he was in a box because he didn't want to say that he had gotten it from the british
because that would be a problem. he also didn't want to admit that cable traffic went through washington because nobody knew that they had given germans lines through. he admitted it was true. of course, that didn't cause the war, but it did cause some consternation. the other side of the story is that zimmerman, the next day, had a press conference in berlin. an american reporter, who is very supportive of the germans, thinking this couldn't possibly be true that they would have done anything this stupid, said, of course you didn't do this. he said, we did this. we sent this. it then contributed to this image of the germans having been very artless and the way they did their propaganda. i tell that story because i think it shows how much was going on at the time to try to persuade americans. how much propaganda and intelligence work were co-mingled. the rise of intelligence
services in the united states and abroad and the rise of propaganda were simultaneous and very intertwined. it was a precursor if we are looking at from the united states one of you on how the united states itself went to war within six days and created the first and only ministry of information the united states has ever had, the committee on public information coul. rob: before we get to monique, i have to make a comment that there has been a lot of new scholarship around the zimmerman telegram. one of my young scholars, who recently published a book on that, found that everything that was going on down in the mexican border, the u.s. intelligence services were convinced long before the zimmerman telegram that the germans had a hand in it. it played into some of the racial stereotypes of the era. they felt that the mexicans couldn't pull off a massacre on u.s. territory. that had to be coordinated by
germans. the germans were already advising poncho villa, which we all know they weren't. about how that propaganda played into the story that the intelligence services are pitching that nobody believed. it was kind of a collision of multiple elements where, at some point, they presented the german zimmerman telegram and the intelligence services are all going, see? we told you. and it wasn't that way. it just ended up being that way. i think you make some great points. i knew i would enjoy that. monique? monique: thank you so much. i am in fact replacing dr. john morrow, who was supposed to be on this panel. john morrow is a great historian. he was the dean of the department of history at the
university of georgia in athens and happens to be a very good friend of mine. he was stuck until midnight at the airport in atlanta and didn't have the patience. he went back home. this morning the flights were canceled. so i was just asked on the spot more or less to come here, but john did send me some remarks he wanted to share with you. so i wanted to read you his remarks. you have on this program john's bio. john is an amazing man. he grew up partly in europe because his father was the first african-american to be appointed as an ambassador. he lived in francophone africa as a child. he lived in paris. he speaks perfect french and very good german, and has specialized in world war i and world war ii history.
in african-american history and -- inwar ii one african-american history in world war i and he wrote, among other things, a book in collaboration with jeffrey simmons. he also is on the advisory board of the world war ii museum in new orleans because he is also a specialist of aviation and world war ii. if you allow me, instead of looking at you, i will read you the two or three pages of remarks from john, because they are absolutely well thought. then i would love to come back to your comments to give my own perspective, speaking of propaganda, because being born a french citizen and knowing the role the american volunteers played in france before 1917, i
have to say also that put aside all the nefarious ideas of people plotting to get americans into the war, the stories sent back home by those american volunteers, those american nurses that started working with the french and british army already in the fall of 1914, of all of those men like alan siegel, who died fighting in the french army, their stories played a major role in the entry of the united states in world war i. but that is my own personal opinion. now let me read to you john's comment. "by the beginning of 1917, after nearly 30 months of relentless slaughter, the global conflict showed no signs of abating. the united states was reaping
the benefits of remaining neutral. immense profits and low credits -- loan credits from supplying the french and british war machines disguised the degradation of german submarines in the atlantic. a growing movement indicated that many americans believed that the time for intervention had arrived. yet, the policy of neutrality best suited the united states. it's european immigrant population divided among themselves. many southerners and westerners firmly believed that they had little or nothing to gain, and lives to lose in a conflict that would benefit primarily northeastern industrialists. then why did woodrow wilson, after promising for so long to
keep the u.s. out of war, changes mind? first, the germans insisted on victorious peace, which convinces wilson that he cannot reg we negotiate peace without victory he said. then the germans after backing away from unrestricted submarine warfare after sinking the lusitania in 1915, declared unrestricted submarine warfare again on january 31, 1917. in a desperate effort to drive britain from the war, the u.s. government responded by severing diplomatic relationship with germany on february 3. on march 1, wilson made public the zimmerman telegram, which the german foreign secretary proposed a german alliance with mexico, which would reward the mexican government with the
return of territories lost in the mexican-american war of 1846 to 1848. on april 2, 1917, woodrow wilson declared war on germany. in a crusade to make the world safe for democracy, congress ratified the declaration april 6, despite small but significant minorities in opposition. the proclamation notwithstanding, wilson was operating on hard, cold reality. he planned to exploit the anglo-french dependence on american loans to place a predominant role in the war efforts. by controlling the distribution of american money and resources, the united states was woefully unprepared to fight a land war in 1917. the belief that the war would
continue to be increasing exhaustion on both sides convinced wilson and north americans that we would have the time to create an army of young, fighting men, thereby enabling the united states to play a major role in winning the war so that wilson could dictate the peace. points thatt and the league of nations would ensure world twos. points thatught in the league of nations would insure world peace. the war would last into 1919 and 1920. in any case, the world was aflame, and if the united states presumed to be a great power, it would have to get its hands burned. we consider the second world war a necessary war, one we had to fight. we should consider the first
world war just as necessary because we could not have taken the chance that an autocratic german empire might dominate the europeans. furthermore, with peace negotiations, we would not have experienced the success we did during and after world war ii. it took two world wars for the united states to come of age as a great power in an age of instability in an unstable world. those were lessons hard won with to paraphrase winston churchill and tearslood, sweat, of two world wars." and now, speaking of myself, tod mentioned i got involved in
world war i through memorializing the rainbow division with a memorial in france. i was also made -- speaking of propaganda that macarthur when the war was declared, was appointed in the office of the secretary of war as director of public relationship and censorship. i absolutely like putting together public relations and censorship. [laughter] it's sort of speaks millions for it. he was definitely a very good propagandist. censorship is also something i find very relevant when we speak about world war i because i think that one of the reasons -- and i will be interested in the opinions of you both -- that the
united states has forgotten much about what happened in world war from all the letters the soldiers, except the marines and under the navy, were censored. soldiers were not allowed to write back home about where they were, what they had done, what they were going to do. so there is no literature, no letters home telling what the american army was doing during world war i, except for the marines, which partly explains why their victory is so well-known. rob: anyone who knows me, i can't let you say belleau wood without making a comment.
anyone who knows me knows that belleau wood is a hot button for me. oddly enough i am engaged in my position as secretary at abmc in marking the battlefield and actually providing a coherent, interpretive plan for that battlefield. i'm happy to say to marine brethren out there that we are doing a terrific job. however, having said that, i will tell you that i personally believe that the battle of the lowood -- belleau woods setback joint operations in the u.s. armed forces 100 years. purging was so furious that the marines got credit for that and not the american expeditionary forces rick large -- writ large that he summarily removed marine officers who were in command of army units. he had originally done that because he didn't trust national guard officers. he picked -- he said, if you can pick a regular marine over a national guardsman, we might use them as a regimental commander.
that stops after belleau wood. i'm kind of hard over on belleau wood. but back to our topic at hand, you hit on a couple of points i would like to ask you to about. there is this balance of the america first piece. it is interesting because that america first piece of not entering the war and saving blood and treasure too, there is some good argument to that. the other side of this equation is the wilson side that, if you reluctantly enter the war, you can shape the peace. so maybe the investment in american blood is worth it. i have often -- you always hear it -- it's almost an old saw and world war i. if we stay out, we stay out because it is good for america. if we go in, we go in and lose our sons and daughters, but we make the northeast rich.
the industrials in the northeast. the northeastern industrials are getting plenty rich while we are neutral. there is a reason the german u-boat's are hunting the north atlantic trade routes. it is not because nobody is there. it is because supplies are going to england, one of their biggest -- we are their biggest supplier by 1617. what are your thoughts on that, jack? it is an interesting dichotomy. make the rich at the cost of our american daughters and sons. jack: let's see. this is a difficult question because there are so many ways to look at it, which is why so many historians are busy on one side of the equation or the other. i thought this was a very eloquent argument for why we should have gotten in. it is the opposite of what i believe we should have done, so
i appreciated having somebody say it so well. first of all, if you're looking at america -- just to take his argument as a starting point -- the coming -- becoming important on the world stage, that really happened with the spanish-american war. we had a large standing army, but that was our seminal moment and we really established that we had international aspirations. it was our one big moment of imperialism where we acquired all kinds of territories that belonged to someone else outside the continental united states. second, i don't think -- my portrayal of this would be that we got into world war i because it was a tragic mistake, and that world war i itself led to an even worse war that wouldn't have occurred if it hadn't been for world war i. that we could very well have avoided that problem if the two armies had actually slugged it out, i don't figure was probable the germans would have prevailed. i think they would have come to a negotiated peace, which would
have been a better outcome, i think. as far as woodrow wilson being able to shape the peace, did he? there were brief periods of peace afterwards, but there was world war ii. look at how well he did with selling his peace program to congress. i see that as just part of the larger tragedy of having gone into the war itself. there is the economic part of this. it is true the allies would have had a great deal of difficulty continuing to fight without american help. they needed money, munitions, supplies. they were on a short rather by -- they were on a really short tether by the time the united states decided to go in. it is never conceivable that the united states would enter the war on the side of the central powers. that was never going to happen. there were only two choices. they wer what enter on the side
of the allies or become neutral. but they had already been helping the allies a great deal by pretending, setting up this conceit that we were neutral. neutrality was of much greater advantage to the allies than it was to the germans. i think we probably could have constructed their way to continue to be supportive without going in and fighting. monique: i would say i have to strongly disagree with you. the reason being -- i know we chose for this panel american specialists and people thinking as americans. i represent the 20% of american foreign-born soldiers who fought. so i realize that i came to this country to embrace its ideals.
i still have some -- i react as a european in many ways. and so when you tell me that probably germany would have not won the war, this is absolutely not true at all. once you had russia out of the --, germany had as much france was exhausted. the british were also exhausted. they had lost, by the time the u.s. entered the war, the french had lost 800,000 men. the british had lost 600,000. they would have lost some of by the end of the war, 1.4 million men. the british would have lost nearly one million. germany was using very young people, but they still had a lot of resources. once there was normal war on the
eastern front, you had divisions after divisions arriving on the western front. so i am not sure at all that germany would not have won the war. yes, what we can say is that probably, a monster like hitler would not have come. but it would have also meant that you would have kept an autocratic germany. the austro-hungarian empire would have remained. it probably would have been modeled differently. it is highly fascinating that archduke franz ferdinand had come on a trip to the united states and gone back to his uncle wanting to model the diverse region of the austro-hungarian empire into a
federal empire based on the united states as a model. there would have been another type of evolution of the austro-hungarian empire totally possible, which would have created much more stability than we had afterwards. so i think that the united states first showed, with all the volunteers who went to fight into world war i, its desire to help the old world, which had come, especially france, which had come to help establish its republic. but i think that, more than anything, the spanish-american war -- yes, it was a colonial conflict. it was the first time the united states ventured outside of its
borders and created and took over the philippines. outside of its borders and created and took over the philippines. but again, let me give you a french example. the french ambassador to washington before world war i, who played a major role in convincing the americans to go into the war, had been before at the french delegation in denmark. the role you will never see today, a french ambassador come from denmark to washington. that gives you the difference of weight of where you place the united states as a world power. to become a world war i is really what brought the united states on the world stage without any doubt. it was not before world war i.
rob: you touch on so many things. i do want to say to the audience that the germans definitely do view the spring of 1918 campaign as certainly a year of possibilities for them. when i speak about world war i, we think that after the pushes of 1917, it is over for the germans, but since you are piecemealing those divisions back, the germans do look at
that as a wonderful opportunity to bring the allies to the table in the negotiated peace. that could play into the what you're saying, that if the united states didn't moving as quickly -- let's say we did declare war but to get off the blocks for a year and a half, that our first troops don't arrive in june 1917, but instead in 1918, that cable is worth the
risk. the german high command definitely believes that. they believe the gamble is worth the risk. again, this is why historians argue in both directions. one of which is, we can even declare war, but if we don't get over there fast enough, will it make any difference anyway mark -- anyway? the other side that is a game very much at risk, or if you can get the allies to could be chilly before american -- to capitulate before american forces show up. want to explore your idea of sitting by the wayside. i'm not going to say that wilson had any success in shaping the piece. you are exactly right.
i don't think he believed that, though. i think he was enough of a non-world player that he thought he could go to versailles -- and i am playing right into her hands because she wants to talk about versailles -- that he could actually be at the table and get his way. of course, i will just stop there. jack: maybe i have something worthwhile to say on that in terms of -- not just his being there and whether he was a very idealistic person -- and one of the reasons that a lot of people who had been pacifists before the war supported him was because they believed in his idea of progressivism. didn't like the idea of giving up all the progressive goals they had in the u.s. is at those were more important, but this was an idea to do it on a global scale. they bought into that, and at the end of the war they were disillusioned because they did see that these things have happened. actually, many of the people -- one of the things about the progressives is they believe very much in publicity as a way to improve government -- and they populated the community -- the committee on public relations. wilson is a very complicated, extremely complicated person. more so -- everybody had some caucasians, but he takes it to a pretty high level. his idea on public opinions were so interesting. the war environment was perfect for him. when the lusitania sunk, he stopped having press
conferences. he was the first president to have regular press conferences, and then stopped having them. he was persuaded to have them again right after the reelection, and had his first one -- he made one of the most bold lies that any president has ever made at a press conference. it infuriated the press. he said, we are not going to try to negotiate peace. and at the very moment he was trying to do that. but it was all off the record anyway was done those days. the press was so compliant that a lot of that didn't really come out. earlier in the year, he added couple of other press conferences, and then never had another one. he set up this committee on public information, which was a buffer between him and the public. he was very good at speeches. he was stirring. he can capture the imagination. he knew he was good at it, and used it very effectively. but it was at a very high level. it wasn't at the retail level. there were a few journalists he talked to because he liked them, but he didn't like the deal and -- the give-and-take of dealing with the press, and that when you don't tell the press what is
going on, they go find out from somebody else and start finding out things that may not be right. they have got to talk to somebody. you may not like the press as you are a leader, but you had better talk to them. once the war was over, it was a different game. censorship was lifted, and wilson continued to take the same attitude about not talking to the press during the peace treaty. he hardly met with the metal. the result -- with them at all. the american press was purveying this. it contributed greatly to the difficulties he had selling the treaty back home because he couldn't -- he wasn't as effective as dealing with public opinion in an open democracy as he was in a war dominated political system. then he came home and thought he could sell it by getting on a
train. instead of doing what he should have done, which is negotiated -- if he had negotiated, he would have gotten what he wanted. but because he was sanctimonious and refused to go back and forth, he failed. there are some historians like john l cooper that say that is unfair because he was ill, but the fact is wilson, even when he was well, had a capacity for rigidity. he had to leave princeton because he didn't compromise when he should have. that was a problem he had. i think in that sense, is a good tool picture of how you deal with public opinion. whether it is a wartime or peacetime situation. rob: i'm going to give you the last word because we just got a few minutes left. monique: i was just thinking that to me, what was really also tragic about president wilson
was that, at the time of the peace negotiation, he wants to be the only american handling the peace negotiation instead of bringing to the table the republicans, who had been the first ones to speak about a league of peace. the notion of the league of peace was really a notion that had come earlier in the united states. had also come even earlier in france. and the united states, theodore roosevelt had received the nobel peace prize for what he did in the russian japanese war. theodore roosevelt was also a proponent of the league of peace.
so not to invite senator lodge and others -- jack: or president taft. monique: right, to come to her side to be in the piece negotiation, was in my view, a complete disaster. you cannot run the war if you don't have bipartisanship. in fact, you cannot not run a country without bipartisanship. rob: of course, we have learned that. [laughter] rob: panelists, thank you so much. [applause] announcer: interested in "american history tv?" visit our west by -- our website
at c-span.org/history. you can view our schedule, preview upcoming programs, and watch lectures, archival films, and more. "american history tv" at c-span.org/history. >> next, a panel discussion on the legacies of world war i with the focus on middle east. along with newly created countries and borders, panelists look at the consequences of those changes and how those continue to impact the region to eventesent day parade took place at the world war i museum in kansas city missouri. >> i want to thank you all for the coffee break.