The biggest idiot of the 20th century

Bill Bonner explains how US president Woodrow Wilson's vanity prolonged the First World War.

Among all the discussion, on this 100th anniversary year of WWI, appeared a new booklet by Phillippe Simonnot, entitled No, Germany was not guilty.

In the first instance, the book reveals that the war guilt, forced onto Germany like a noose at a lynching, was a bum rap. Germany did not want war. Nor did she start it.

At the beginning of the war, it was widely reported that German soldiers in Belgium were acting like monsters bayonetting babies, cutting off thousands of hands, raping nuns. These reports were so unsettling that several teams from the US left for Belgium to verify them. They failed completely. No ravished nuns. No cut-off hands. No impaled babies.

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This should have alerted Americans that they were being conned. But no one wanted to hear it, especially not America's president. Mr WoodrowWilson saw glory coming; he wanted in. He could win the war and preside over the peace. He would not just be another American president, but like Charlemagne, Joan of Arc, or Jesus of Nazareth, one of civilisation's great saviors.

Instead, he set it on the road to Hell. The exhausted combatants were ready to settle their affairs in 1916. Wilson sent fresh troops, fresh materiel, and fresh money enough to keep the war going for two more bloody years.

US soldiers arrived in 1917, on the most fantastic premise that it would make the world safe for democracy'. Even on its face, this was absurd. The Germans had a functioning parliamentary democracy, while France and Britain systematically denied the vote to hundreds of millions of people in India and Africa.

By the end of 1918, the garden of European civilisation had been abused and neglected for four years; dangerous weeds were taking root. In Russia, the Bolsheviks were already in full flower and the first shoots of National Socialism appeared in Germany only a few years later.

Saving democracy had nothing to do with WWI; and prolonging the war, and the Treaty of Versailles that ended it turned the 20th century into the ghastliest bloodbath in history. That was Wilson's fault, more than any other's.

But Wilson didn't start the war. Who gets the blame for that?

Simonnot believes the real culprits were Russia and France.

First, they had the motive. Germany didn't want war; it had nothing to gain from it. Russia, on the other hand, thought war was almost essential. Its economy was developing fast and might have rivalled the US if it had continued.

But there was a very weak link in its development chain. Its only access to the Mediterranean and to world markets was through the straits of the Bosporus. And it had seen what happened when the straits were closed. In 1912, during the Turks' war with Italy, the passage was cut off.

Russia believed that having control over Constantinople was a vital national interest. It looked for a short European war that would provide cover for it to seize the straits.

For its part, France was still smarting from the humiliation of losing Alsace and Lorraine after the last time it declared war on Germany. In the 40 years following Prussia's victory at Sedan, the French had developed an aggressive revanchist military culture, which was championed by Henri Poincare.

It wanted war with Germany. And it made common cause with Russia so that Germany's worst nightmare would be fulfilled a two-front war. With Germany preoccupied on both sides, neither France nor Russia figured it could lose.

Second, France and Russia had the opportunity. The French were heavily investing in Russia's railroads. It was not lost on the Germans or the French that the railroads' strategic purpose was to shuttle soldiers to the Eastern Front. The Tsar could call up some 2.5 million troops. The train system increased the threat of a quick, decisive blow.

At the end of WWI, many of France's most important documents were removed and never seen again. The Allies had beaten Germany on the field of battle. Now, they were going to lynch her, as the one responsible for the war. They didn't want any contrary evidence coming to light. But they missed some things.

Simonnot:"In a memorandum dated the 2nd of September, 1912 two years before the war began addressed to Poincare, a certain colonel Vignal, from the second office of the military general staff, predicted that a war begun in the Balkans would put France and Russia in good position to beat Germany."

Other documents, many from Russia, show that the assassin of the Archduke Ferdinand and his wife, Gravilo Principe, and his group of conspirators, the 'Black Hand', were paid by the Russian military attach in Belgrade, and that the government of Serbia (allied with Russia) was aware of the plot.

As early as January 1914, the French journal, Le Matin, had reported "an extraordinary concentration of [Tsarist] forces at the Prussian border."

Poincare went to Moscow on the 23 and 24 July, a month after the assassination. We don't know what was discussed; the records have never been found. But we know the Germans were not the first to mobilise their troops after war had been declared.The Russians set their war machine in motion a week after Poincare's visit.

The Germans got news almost immediately that Russia had mobilised 13 corps for war. The Kaiser mobilised a day later. This fact, too, was later falsified in order to make it look as though Germany had struck first.

No, Germany was not guilty. More likely, France and Russia were responsible for starting the war. Woodrow Wilson was guilty of turning it into a historic calamity.