A few weeks ago I mentioned that I have been reading some of the first-hand accounts of the Great War. Last night I began Robert Lee Bullard’s American Soldiers Also Fought. As it title suggests the book is a response to those, especially those Europeans, who downplayed America’s contribution to the war effort. That is a subject I will tackle in future posts. What I am most interested in here is Bullard’s introductory statement. On page one he writes:
We did not go into the war, as has been contended, to support “government of the people, by the people and for the people.” Nor did we go in to support democracy against autocracy: the President of the United States was in that war a greater autocrat than the Kaiser.
Plainly it was because our rights were being violated worse by Germany than by England. If Germany won we’d be “next” on their list.
I find the first paragraph striking on several levels. If I am reading it correctly–and I don’t know that I am–Bullard seems to be taking the Wilson Administration to task for its numerous misdeeds during the war. The zeal with which A. Mitchell Palmer scapegoated German-Americans comes to mind. The Creel Committee did some important work, but it too frequently succumbed to reactionary impulses. Bullard is going deeper though. As he saw it, Wilson’s failures also included the flawed outcome at Versailles and his advocacy for the League of Nations.
What is interesting is that in this small treatise Bullard is looking backward and forward at the same time. In the next line he is warning his readers about the German threat. The timing is important here. Bullard published Americans Soldiers Also Fought in 1936, just over a decade after he retired as commander of the Department of the East on Governors Island. After his retirement Bullard had become head of the National Security League, a preparedness organization begun by Leonard Wood and others just after the outbreak of the Great War. The group was still around decades later, taking on challenges wherever it saw them. By 1936 Hitler was entrenched in power and the Kaiser was still very much alive, living in exile in a manor in Holland. Wilhelm II lived another five years, long enough to see the Germans take Paris in 1940.
(image/The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Photography Collection, The New York Public Library. “Corps Commander Bullard” The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1860 – 1920. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47d9-b337-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99)