This primer to American history asks “what-if” of the nation’s entrance into WWI, exploring the options with a well-paced and thoroughly researched narrative.
The entry of the United States into World War I was “one of history’s rare pivot points,” says veteran journalist and former Time magazine editor Burton Yale Pines, who believes US participation in that war was, as the title of his book states, America’s Greatest Blunder. Pines details how the United States went from being neutral—with citizens who were firmly anti-British, he says—to jumping into the war on the Allied side. The result, Pines asserts, was not only victory but also a punitive peace accord that “shaped the fate of most of the rest of the century,” and not in a good way.
This work is a good primer for anyone who seeks to understand how a nation can be dragged into war. It also provides a good overview of the US participation in WWI on the strategic and political level. Pines spends very little time in the trenches or on the battlefield, instead focusing on the often stormy relationships between American commander General John “Black Jack” Pershing and his British and French counterparts. The author also gives a thorough analysis of why and how Germany launched its final, desperate offensives (their “last card” and final “roll of the dice,” as he puts it) and why they failed.
Many other historians have concluded that without the United States, the war-weary and nearly broken western Allies would likely have succumbed to the Kaiser’s forces, newly reinforced by legions freed from the Eastern Front by Russia’s withdrawal from the war. To the contrary, Pines believes the German final offensive was doomed from the start, yet he concedes that a German triumph would have “been ugly for the defeated” and “even more rapacious” than the one the Allies imposed on Germany at Versailles.
Pines’s key point is that without US entry, the two exhausted sides would have eventually come to the conference table to settle things, as was done at the end of the equally devastating Thirty Years War in 1648. The author cites many factors that should have driven them to negotiate; however, he undercuts that thesis when he rightly notes that there were also many reasons that prevented the key actors from doing so, notably their pride and inability to explain accepting something less than victory to their constituents and subjects who had gone through “the greatest slaughter in the history of the world.”
Pines offers a number of “what if” conclusions to a WWI that ends without American participation. While none of them are pretty, he asserts that “it is nearly impossible to imagine a worse, uglier, more self-destructive course than that which the 20th Century took” because of America’s involvement.
AMERICA'S GREATEST BLUNDER is a powerful and well-reasoned book, well worth a read by anyone interested in American and European history.
A disturbing argument that America, by entering World War I, set in motion a train of events that caused much of the death and destruction of the 20th century.
This is a historical look back at the decision by President Woodrow Wilson and the US Congress to enter World War I, suggesting that it was probably the most disastrous decision this country has ever made, leading directly to substantial costs in human lives and human suffering.
Author, Burton Yale Pines takes the reader on a detailed and thoughtful exploration of the war, pointing out the root causes of American disillusionment with Germany and our eventual alignment with Britain and France. He illustrates clearly the choices and context that led up to our involvement in the war, showing the reader why and how American perceptions of the war were distorted by British propaganda and by American leaders’ uneven reactions to violations of American neutrality by each side. He points out how American involvement contributed to the decisive Allied victory, by providing hosts of fresh young men to relieve the exhausted Allies, while Germany received no such respite. Without our involvement, he suggests, both sides would have been equally exhausted, and would probably have negotiated as equals, rather than Germany being humiliated as a beaten scapegoat. He lists several points at which Wilson, or others, might have turned events in a different direction, giving substantial, reasoned arguments as to why those choices might have improved matters. His arguments are sound and convincing, and rest on substantial historical evidence and a great deal of research.
AMERICA’S GREATEST BLUNDER is not a comfortable book to read. Pines deftly, clearly, and vividly illustrates the brutal cruelty of WWI, with its hosts of young men hurled against barbed wire and mowed down by machine guns. There is no sentimental or overblown language here, and no need for it – the bare facts are enough to break hearts, clearly stated as they are. The thoughtful reader might wish for a time machine, and enough time and eloquence to convince the young, pre-Presidential Wilson to read this.
AMERICA’S GREATEST BLUNDER is a powerful and well-reasoned book, well worth a read by anyone interested in American and European history.
Reviewed by Catherine Langrehr for IndieReader
A detailed look at one of history’s greatest turning points: the American decision to intervene in the First World War.
In this painstakingly detailed, thoroughly researched analysis, Pines (Out of Focus, 1994, etc.) examines the circumstances that led to President Woodrow Wilson to take the United States into World War I in April 1917, and that decision’s short- and long-term consequences. Without that intervention, the author writes, there would have been “[n]o punishing Versailles peace treaty, no humiliation of Germany, no German drive for revenge, no Hitler, no World War Two and likely no Cold War.”
These are all familiar hypotheticals, but Pines reinvigorates them with new perspectives and energetic prose. For example, he highlights the British propaganda campaign to sway isolationist America; the departure of staunch neutrality advocate William Jennings Bryan from Wilson’s administration and its effect on American foreign policy; and the March 1917 collapse of Russian czarist rule. He draws attention to the fact that huge portions of America’s manufacturing and agricultural economy were invested in the European war.
Pines also looks at the most-discussed factor in American intervention: the German sinking of the Lusitania in 1915 which killed 128 Americans. For Pines, however, the bulk of the blame falls on Wilson himself, whose 1916 re-election slogan (“He keptus out of war!”) belied his interventionist leanings.
The book balances expertly narrated accounts of WWI battles with vigorous extrapolations of what might have happened if those battles hadn’t been fought. American doughboys weren’t needed to save the Allies from defeat, Pines contends—“they were needed only to hand them victory,” and at an enormous cost. While some of this book’s theories may seem a bit complacent (German militarism, for instance, was a cultural fact regardless of the Treaty of Versailles), its main arguments are immensely insightful.
A carefully and winningly argued case against military adventurism.
America's Greatest Blunder: The Fateful Decision to Enter World War One maintains what should be obvious: that America had no business entering the local, years-long conflict to create a world war, and that by intervening and tipping the local balance of power, the U.S. in fact created the roots of World War II's even greater atrocities. Compromise would have come more quickly without American intervention, bitter resentments wouldn't have created a German national pride vulnerable to the likes of a madman like Hitler, and the entire situation would have likely resulted in a lasting peace, not the uncertain and volatile, simmering resentment that was to fuel World War II.
Now, many titles have already made this point. What's new here is an attention to documenting the political and social milieu that led up to America's decision to enter World War I, how an attitude of neutrality changed to one that saw military intervention as the best option, and how the famous and celebrated doughboys in fact introduced a new level of violence onto the battlefield which was to have lasting ramifications for all involved.
Much historical research and analysis has gone into America's Greatest Blunder: a fact reflected in chapters that provide plenty of background and insights to trace exactly how these decisions evolved. From how this country observed the war's progress to how it made the decision to become involved, how it entered the war, and how the doughboys broke a battlefield stalemate that allowed France and Britain to in effect punish Germany and crush its national pride, chapters trace the legacy of a reluctant peace and its long-range effects at home and abroad.
It's all about deadlocks, the specific actions and events that led to the rise of Nazism, and how America's entry into the fray changed the face of the world forever. But most of all, this focus how America changed the Western Front's battlefield dynamics which struck the most punishing blow to relationships on all sides makes for a close inspection of a military approach that won a war but set the tone for festering psychological conflict requiring a second world war to achieve any semblance of resolution.
What would have happened if the U.S. had stayed out of World War I? Burton Yale Pines maintains that peace would have been established and would have proved less unstable, that German national pride and identity wouldn't have suffered a crippling psychological blow, and that different surrender terms could have been crafted that might have avoided the rise of Nazism.
Had this country remained neutral (and military intervention been avoided), than human relationships in today's world might be very different. In this case, yes: the U.S. won that particular war. But the lasting impact of its decisions resonate even today in a world which cannot definitively be deemed 'better' for America's decision.
As this country continues along a path that involves military interactions with other nations, it could use the lessons of World War I as a cautionary tale of the long-term effects of interventions. And while readers could say that the projections of different scenarios had America not entered the fray are subjective ones, nobody can argue about the fact that World War I ultimately caused more problems than it purported to solve.
Plenty of well-researched evidence support Burton Yale Pines' contentions here, providing logical lessons of cause and effect documenting the fallacies and dangers of military responses by this country as well as other nations.
Political science (and especially military history) readers should consider America's Greatest Blunder a foundation work suitable for debate and reflection on the lasting impact of military intervention, no matter what the arena of battle.
Review by D. Donovan, Senior eBook Reviewer, Midwest Book Review
America’s Greatest Blunder by Burton Yale Pines is a sweeping historical look at World War One and America’s involvement in it. Pines argues that by entering the war, America set in motion events that would later lead to the total devastation of World War Two. By flouting our own policies of neutrality, surreptitiously supporting the Allies before entering the war, and creating the opportunity for an all-out Allied victory, America helped set the stage for the punitive peace that came after the war.
Pines is meticulous as he sets about describing the war and all of its key players. While walking his readers through history, he lays out a rich woven tapestry, explaining different aspects of the war. Included in this tapestry is a look into American political climate and lack of military preparedness, trench warfare and Germany’s situation. Pines includes an examination of the way Britain was able to influence and even manipulate America to the point that not only were we willing to go to war for her but we were willing to make her enemies our own. To make his argument complete, Pines also gives readers a good look at how the armistice and the Treaty of Versailles were crafted and their dangerous and lasting results.
This book is a great read for any history buff, readers who are fascinated by the Great War and anyone interested in American foreign policy. Pines is careful to toe the line of history. When he is speculating he calls it speculation. When there is a point that could be argued from different directions, he is careful to give each point of view fair credit. Pines’ meticulousness can get the better of him as he sometimes belabors his points and carries on well after he has articulated the facts. But this is an easily overlooked fault. The book offers such an interesting wealth of information.
Review by Nicole McGillagreen
Pines provides an epic exercise in historical speculation in this detailed and thought-provoking review of the United States entry into WWI. His daring thesis, buttressed by a sweeping review of sentiment at the time, is that U.S. intervention into a war in which American interests were not threatened laid the basis for the disastrous peace agreement, a vengeful postwar spirit, and ultimately WWII and the Cold War. Contending that the Allies and Central Powers were too exhausted to continue the fight, Pines maintains that, had the U.S. troops not entered the conflict, a negotiated peace would have ensued. The surrender terms imposed on Germany, he argues, led to a legacy of bitterness that helped foster subsequent Nazi rule.
Pines’s re-examination of the atmosphere of these times is fascinating food for thought as we approach 2014, 100 years after the start of “The War to End All Wars.”
This is an excellent overview of WWI. Well written, well researched, informational and compelling. I thoroughly enjoyed the book.
America's Greatest Blunder by Burton Yale Pines is a fascinating story of America's involvement in World War I. The author takes the reader through a detailed account of the war in a well-referenced documentary with a very descriptive narrative. Consider it a compilation of every history book written about the war. The author's descriptions throughout the book are well-written. "Germany’s grand, carefully studied, meticulously tweaked and extensively rehearsed Schlieffen Plan for a swift victory over France had crumbled," is one of the many excellent sentences from the book.
The author's description of the Western Front brings a feeling of being there and most certainly allows the reader to feel the power and horror of war. We are taken through the Wilson administration and his failure as a peace broker. The United States entered World War I on April 6, 1917, following a Declaration of War on Imperial Germany by Congress. In June 1917 the first American troops arrived in France. The American soldiers became known as "doughboys" and the author does an excellent job of taking us on the journey of war.
I highly recommend this book for history buffs and those who would like to learn more about WWI, but don't want to read 30 or 40 books on the subject. This book will give an accurate overview. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Reviewed by Carol Thompson for Readers' Favorite
Grab your note pad, because when you start reading this refreshing treatment of World War One History, you'll want to be able to reference it again and again. America's Greatest Blunder is a thoroughly researched work presenting a critical analysis that is easy to read and digest.
I've always been fascinated with the complexities of history that resulted in the human tragedy that took place in the trenches during those years. I thought I'd read most of the authoritative works on the subject, of which most were sited in the author's bold and speculative analysis of the period. America's Greatest Blunder should be required reading at the National Defense University, the Service War Colleges, and U.S. State Department Foreign Service Institute.
From the outset Pines admits that the premise of this latest work is speculative. He boldly states that had America not blundered into declaring war against Germany on 6 April 1917, the outcomes of the 20th Century would have been different and possibly less traumatic for humanity on the whole. Pines presents a chronology of events from the very beginning when Arch Duke Ferdinand was assassinated in Sarajevo, all the way through to the end when President Wilson was unable to get the United States Congress to ratify the Treaty of Versailles.
Throughout the presentation of this work, Pines supports his theory with solid evidence and a thoroughly researched rationale. Unlike many historical works, Pines explains the "why" and "how" behind the key events that shaped the twentieth century. Age-old lessons of history come through loud and clear. For example, the single issue President Wilson offered congress in seeking a vote to declare war against Germany was the belligerent's use of "unrestricted submarine warfare" against American shipping. Pines reminds us that The United States had no Vital National Interests at stake and that the country was under no direct threat.
At the conclusion, it may seem that the author was pretty rough on President Woodrow Wilson's execution of foreign policy. However, the points made on the heels of such a well-supported work are, in retrospect, thought provoking. The argument being that Wilson's primary reason for caving in and abandoning his neutrality stance was to gain a position of influence while negotiating the terms of peace. In Wilson's case he wanted "peace without victory." The irony was that he mortgaged those principles for his agenda of establishing a "League of Nations." In the end, history continues to bare out that what occurred was just the opposite, a "victory without peace."
I highly recommend America's Greatest Blunder as a "must read" not only for students of foreign policy and academicians of history, but for the casual reader as well. This work has an extensive bibliography and the evidence the author uses to support each of his points is thoroughly sited. However, the author's writing style is smooth and easy to follow making the reading experience refreshing and enjoyable.
Reviewed by Greg Lamb
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.
Review by Audrey Curtis
By mid-year 2014, America's Greatest Blunder: The Fateful Decision to Enter World War One has received eleven awards in heavy competitions. The awards are:
USA Best Books Awards. Winner – Military History
International Book Awards. Winner – Military History
eLit Awards. Gold Medal – Current Events
Readers’ Favorite Annual Book Award. Silver Medal
eLit Awards. Silver Medal – History
Independent Publisher – IPPY -- Book Awards. Silver Medal – U.S. History
Paris Book Festival. General Non-Fiction Runner-Up
New York Book Festival. General Non-Fiction Honorable Mention.
Foreword Reviews Book of the Year Awards. History – Finalist
Foreword Reviews Book of the Year Awards. Military – Finalist
National Indie Excellence Awards.. U.S. History – Finalist