Saturday, January 25, 2014

Woodrow Wilson in the Great War and the sorry peace that followed it

I'm already losing track of the number of bad 1914 analogies I'm seeing this year. Anne-Marie Slaughter thinks that the South China Sea is shaping up as "Sarajevo, 21st-century version"? Please.

That's what we learn in the opening paragraph of Hans Hoyng's 'We Saved the World': WWI and America's Rise as a Superpower Spiegel International 01/24/2014.

My first rule on 1914 analogies: if it doesn't involve the eurozone, it's almost certainly a bad one.

It's also generally a bad sign if a writer quotes a Kagan in the second paragraph with approval, as Hoyng does, Robert in this case.

Third paragraph: "leaders in Beijing have responded to such attempts to encircle their country with a similar sense of outrage as that displayed by the German Reich." This is truly going to be the Year Of Bad Analogies.

But once the nails-on-the-chalkboard introductory paragraphs are done, Hoyng gives a pretty decent sketch of Woodrow Wilson's foreign policy. Including how the power brokers of Britain and France completely punked him on the Treaty of Versailles that made a new war all but inevitable.

I have a grudging respect for the internationalist and rule-of-law elements in Wilson's foreign policy outlook. Wilson himself I find a really unsympathetic character. That's based in significant part on the book co-authored by Sigmund Freud and the famous and colorful William Bullitt, Thomas Woodrow Wilson: A Psychological Study, first published in 1967. The nature of Freud's co-authorship has been the cause of some consternation. Freud's daughter Anna found it hard to believe that Freud was satisfied with the text that Bullitt presented to him based on their joint work, but assumed he was willing to approve it without further revisions because his priorities were elsewhere at the time. Freud and Bullitt co-signed the chapters of the manuscript, and Freud did his own introduction to it, in which he writes, "For the analytic part we are both equally responsible; it has been written by us working together."

Freud's biographer, the historian Peter Gay, in Freud: A Life for Our Time (1988) calls the Wilson book "an embarrassing production." Gay writes, "Freud had solemnly proclaimed that psychoanalysis, his creation, must not be employed as a weapon of aggression. But at his advanced age, with his infirm health, in his embittered mood, Freud was prepared to make an exception with Woodrow Wilson." And the harshly judgmental tone, unusual for Freud's work, comes across even in the introduction, for which his authorship is uncontroversial. Gay's judgment strikes me as correct when he writes of the supposedly jointly authored text, "Throughout, the tone is scornful, as though Wilson's neuroses were somehow a moral failing." He also notes, the style and tone are notably different in the short introduction, though Freud says there in the opening paragraph that "the figure of the American President, as it rose above the horizon of Europeans, was from the beginning unsympathetic to me, and ... this aversion increased in the course of years the more I learned about him and the more severely we suffered from the consequences of his intrusion into our destiny." Freud proceeds to say, "With increasing acquaintance it was not difficult to find goo reasons to support this antipathy." He suggests that Bullitt could even have made changes to the text after Freud signed off on it.

Freud had patriotic and political motives for his judgments on Wilson's politics. The Austro-Hungarian Empire was a wobbly construction in 1914. In retrospect, even aside from the not inconsiderable possibility of a social revolution, the Empire's increasing involvement in the fanaticism-drenched mire of the Balkans had sealed its doom even before Gavrilo Princip assassinated his target in Sarajevo. By the end of 1916, Austria-Hungary's losses in the war and dire economic straits had made it practically the appendage of Germany. And in the remaining years of the war, Erich Ludendorff's military dictatorship was not primarily interested in preserving the postwar status of the Habsburg Empire.

Germans and Austrians of democratic orientation, of which Freud was one, hoped that the United States would act on Wilson's proclaimed goals of a fair peace, had legitimate reason to be bitterly disappointed in the vultures' peace that Wilson eventually agreed to in the Versailles Treaty. John Maynard Keynes, who had been part of the British delegation to the peace conference, wrote an early warning about the disastrous nature of the peace that was shaping up in his book, The Economic Consequences of the Peace.

John Kenneth Galbraith refers to Keynes' verdict on the Versailles Conference in The Age of Uncertainty (1977):

The mood in Paris in the early months of 1919 was vengeful, myopic, indifferent to economic realities, and it horrified Keynes. So did his fellow civil servants. So did the politicians. In June he resigned and came home, and, in the next two months, he composed the greatest polemical document of modern times. It was against the reparations clauses of the Treaty and, as he saw it, the Carthaginian peace.

Europe would only punish itself by exacting, or seeking to exact, more from the Germans than they had the practical capacity to pay. Restraint by the
victors was not a matter of compassion but of elementary self-interest. The case was documented with figures and written with passion. In memorable
passages Keynes gave his impressions of the men who were writing the peace. Woodrow Wilson he called " this blind and deaf Don Quixote." Of [French President] Clemenceau he said: "He had one illusion - France; and one disillusion, mankind ... " On [British Prime Minister] Lloyd George he was rather severe:

How can I convey to the reader, who does not know him, any just impression of this extraordinary figure of our time, this syren, this goat-footed bard, this half-human visitor to our age from the hag-ridden magic and enchanted woods of Celtic antiquity.
Alas, no man is of perfect courage. Keynes deleted this passage on Lloyd George at the last moment.
Galbraith relates that Keynes' basically accurate but highly unwelcome view of the Versailles Treaty earned him the defensive scorn of the British Establishment. Galbraith judges that this rejection was valuable to Keynes intellectual development:

It was not that the great men of the Treaty and the Establishment were suffering under the onslaught [of Keynes' criticism], although that, of course, was the real point. Rather, the criticism was [said by them to be] causing rejoicing to the nation's enemies. It's a device to which highly respectable men regularly resort. "Even if you are right, it is only the Communists who will be pleased."
Those familiar with Galbraith's own career will recognize that he spoke from experience and undoubtedly identified with Keynes position in that regard.

And it is when they are wrong that great men most resent the breaking of ranks. So they greatly resented Keynes. For the next twenty years he headed an insurance company and speculated in shares, commodities and foreign exchange, sometimes losing, more often winning. He also taught economics, wrote extensively and applied himself to the arts, old books and his Bloomsbury friends. But on public matters he was kept outside. He had broken the rules. We saw earlier that, as often as not, the intelligent man is not sought out. Rather, he is excluded as a threat.
This is the phenomenon that Paul Krugman calls that of the Very Serious People. It is far more acceptable in the view of the VSPs to be conventionally wrong than to be unconventionally right. What Jesus told Judas in the Bible about the poor is apparently also true of the VSPs: we seem to have them with us always, as well. (I know I used a similar reference in the previous post. So I like the Biblical references, so what?)

"Keynes's exclusion," writes Galbraith, "was his good fortune. The curse of the public man is that he first accommodates his tongue and. eventually his thoughts to his public position. Presently saying nothing but saying it nicely becomes a habit. On the outside one can at least have the pleasure of inflicting the truth." Freud's friend and presumed co-author Bullitt was also known for ruffling the feathers of the VSPs of the day over his public criticism of the Versailles Treaty.

Freud, of course, also had his lifelong experience of exclusion, even as he became one of the most celebrated scientists of his day. And he could see some of the same sense of unjust exclusion in that fate of Austria after the Versailles Conference. Though Vienna still conveys a sense of the onetime glory of the great Habsburg Empire, postwar Austria was a tiny rump remnant of what the Empire was in 1914 when Archduke Franz Ferdinand made his ill-fated visit to Sarajevo. One of Wilson's perhaps less idealistic premises that was incorporated into the peace was the notion that major ethnic groups should have their own nations, an embrace of the European ethnic concept of nationalism whose application after the First World War had decidedly ambiguous results. And, as Gay writes, Wilson's own "conduct during the tortuous peace negotiations was erratic and counterproductive."

Austria in the ethnic scheme was predominantly German in language and culture. And, not inconsequentially, in the view and aspirations of the majority of Austrians, including the Social Democrats who headed the postwar government. Austria's official name in the postwar constitution was "German Austria," and they wanted to merge with Germany. But the Allies did not considered it advantageous to allow ethnic unity to prevail in the case of Austria and Germany, and under the terms of the peace treaty, such a merger could not take place without Allied permission, which was never forthcoming. For those who know of Austrian merger with Germany in the context of the forcible Anschluss (annexation) of 1938, this can appear to be a strange concept that Austrians aspired to merge with Germany.

Hoyng is more generous to Wilson on this score than I'm inclined to be:

Wilson vehemently advocated the creation of the League of Nations. He noted with irritation that the British and the French were more intent on what they could demand from Germany. Wilson would even have been prepared to postpone the negotiations over new borders and reparations -- but not the talks on the League of Nations -- by a year until emotions had cooled down. "Our greatest error would be to give (Germany) powerful reasons for one day wishing to take revenge," Wilson warned. But he was unable to prevail, and the Germans soon felt betrayed by Wilson.
But he also notes, "Wilson signed the Treaty of Versailles, despite his own reservations and external warnings that the pact contained the germ of the next war."

It's one of the great mistakes of postwar Allied foreign policy that they did not allow the merger of Germany and Austria. The Weimar Republic was considered the model democracy in Central and Eastern Europe in the 1920s, and a merger into it would have both placed Austrian democracy on a more solid basis and removed a major nationalist grievance from the German rightwing parties. It would be too much of a stretch to say that it would have prevented the Nazis' rise to power. Hitler was very much an Austrian, after all, and his National Socialist ideology came out of the dysfunctional brand of multiculturalism he experienced in Vienna and the toxic soup of political anti-Semitism in which he immersed himself there prior to the First World War. On the other hand, it's hard to see how an annexation of Austria to Germany circa 1920 could have made Weimar democracy less stable and durable, and the opposite is more likely the case.

Freud may have identified with Moses. But he was also suspicious and skeptical about people with messianic pretensions. As Gay puts it, Freud "saw in Wilson a melodramatic specimen of" the particular type of "infliction on humanity" that Freud saw embodied in "prophets and religious fanatics." Freud, in Gay's formulation, "encountered in Wilson what the American historian Richard Hofstadter has felicitously called 'the ruthlessness of the pure in heart.' Worse: Wilson's vain attempt to make the map of Europe conform to his exalted ideals, and to purify European politics, proved his ruthlessness to be empty bluster - the most hateful of combinations."

God was on Woodrow Wilson's side in the First World, because God always supports America. He also sided with Kaiser Bill:

God also included Austro-Hungarian Franz Joseph (r) in his support (Kaiser Bill on the left), though I'm not sure this "God is with us" postcard was entirely meant to celebrate that joint blessing:

Freud found Wilson to suffer from the kind of rejection of reality that we see today in the American Christian Right:

Wilson ... repeatedly declared that mere facts had no significance for him, that he esteemed highly nothing but human motives and opinions. As a result of this attitude it was natural for him in his thinking to ignore the facts of the real outer world, even to deny they existed if they conflicted with his hopes and wishes. He, therefore, lacked motive to reduce his ignorance by learning facts. Nothing mattered except noble intentions. As a result, when he crossed the ocean to bring to war-torn Europe a just and lasting peace, he put himself in the deplorable position of the benefactor who wishes to restore the eyesight of a patient but does not know the construction of the eye and has neglected to learn the necessary methods of operation.

This same habit of thought is probably responsible for the insincerity, unreliability and tendency to deny the truth which appear in Wilson's contacts with other men and are always so shocking in an idealist. The compulsion to speak the truth must indeed be solidified by ethics but it is founded upon respect for fact.

I must also express the belief that there was an intimate connection between Wilson's alienation from the world of reality and his religious convictions. Many bits of his public activity almost produce the impression of the method of Christian Science applied to politics. God is good, illness is evil. Illness contradicts the nature of God. Therefore, since God exists, illness does not exist. There is no illness. Who would expect a healer of this school to take an interest in symptomatology and diagnosis? [my emphasis]
Freud, himself a non-believer - who nevertheless took religion as a social and psychological phenomenon very seriously and was well-versed in the Hebrew and Christian Bibles - was struck by how God managed to back different sides in the same war, not unlike the divisions in the Court of Olympus during the Trojan War or the catholic willingness of arms manufacturers to sell their wares to different sides in the same conflict:

It was reported that Wilson, as President-elect, shook off one of the politicians who called attention to his services during the presidential campaign with the words: "God ordained that I should be the next President of the United States. Neither you nor any other mortal or mortals could have prevented it." The politician was William F. McCombs, Chairman of the Democratic National Committee. I do not know how to avoid the conclusion that a man who is capable of taking the illusions of religion so literally and is so sure of a special personal intimacy with the Almighty is unfitted for relations with ordinary children of men. As everyone knows, the hostile camp during the war also sheltered a chosen darling of Providence: the German Kaiser. It was most regrettable that later on the other side a second appeared. No one gained thereby: respect for God was not increased. [my emphasis]
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