America’s Greatest Blunder: The Fateful Decision to Enter World War One
When I was in high school, the main narrative we learned concerning World War I was that Europe was falling apart fighting itself until America stepped in and saved the day. Our textbooks told us that America was compelled to enter the war because the Germans sank the Lusitania and offered to help Mexico in a war against us. America’s Greatest Blunder turns that version of story on its head.
Burton Yale Pines argues that America’s neutrality at the war’s outset was not really neutral at all; Washington heavily favored the Allies early on. He claims that America’s reasons for entering the war had very little to do with the safety of the nation and very much to do with increased ties to England and France. Most significantly, he argues that, had America not entered the war, the combatants would have been stalemated and forced to compromise. This would have ended the war on a more evenhanded note, and Germany would not have been forced to pay such astronomical war reparations, meaning that the Nazis might not have had the opportunity to rise to power. Without the Nazi party controlling Germany, there may not have been a World War II, and, without a World War II, there may not have been the Cold War. While this is all speculative, it is fascinating to think how many lives might have been saved if America had made one decision differently.
Pines lays out these ideas very meticulously, completely explaining each step in both actual history and potential history. His work is very well researched, with extensive notes and a bibliography that stretches across thirty-nine pages. It is also very easy to read. He does an excellent job of bringing the conditions and decisions of the war to life and of explaining the history in very clear terms. The primary focus of this book is the myriad tiny steps that led to the fateful outcome of the war, and Pines does a wonderful job of describing each tiny step and its importance while never veering into tediousness. America’s Greatest Blunder is a fascinating book, and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in World War I, American History, European History, politics, or warfare.