Yesterday I came across an old book entitled American Revisionists. When I started reading it, I came upon a tired old refrain. The president lied to get us into a war. His lies were meant to make his friends in big business richer. It was none of our business. The people we were fighting for were the real enemies and their freedom was not worth the blood of our soldiers. Our president lied to us and betrayed us to start a war that killed young men for no reason. Try and guess who they were talking about.
It could have been Lyndon B. Johnson. Vietnam was certainly an unpopular war that invigorated the anti-war movement like none we had seen since the 1860s. For that matter it could have been Abraham Lincoln who had to brave angry torrents of public opinion when he revised the meaning of the Civil War to include the freedom for slaves. Joe Kennedy, father of John, Teddy, and Robert, held those same attitudes about Franklin D. Roosevelt his entire life.
The target this time was Woodrow Wilson. He led us into World War I after an escalating series of moves by Germany to threaten the United States and cut off its trade with Europe at a pivotal point of vulnerability for the Allies. Until Germany started sinking our ships and trying to talk Mexico into a war with us, Wilson urged all Americans to keep an open mind. His goal going into the war was a breathtaking crusade to use American power to change the face of Europe and end their seemingly eternal cycle of warfare. The end of fighting saw the British and French ignore Wilson's ideals and impose upon Germany a treaty guaranteed to start another war in two decades.
Intellectuals and left wing editors slammed Wilson after research showed the Allies more guilty than originally thought and Germany to be more foolish than evil. Some of the criticism was valid, but by the 30s it reached a shrill crescendo. Some intellectuals blamed France for the war and Wilson for supporting them. France actually tried to avoid the war and was drawn in when Germany invaded it! Emotion had supplanted reason and it started affecting policy. Trouble in Europe inspired Congress to pass a series of acts to restrain Franklin Roosevelt's hand. Some even proposed that the US never enter a war without a national referendum.
Unfortunately this tied FDR's hands at the very moment that he needed freedom to act against the most deadly enemy we had ever faced. Years in which US action might have cowed Adolf Hitler were spent by FDR patiently undoing the damage caused by hysterical intellectuals and their effect upon the public. The lesson we learned between 1941-45 was that the world is smaller and potentially more dangerous. Our president needs to act to forestall aggression, not wait until it hits our shores.
The legacy of the Bush presidency is still playing out. Certainly he headed off a potentially disastrous problem that Saddam Hussein's psychopathic sons would have presented. At the same time he demonstrated the American will to act that enhanced our credibility among those that hate us. History should reflect that as a positive step in our history.