Ernest A. McKay. Against Wilson and War, 1914-1917. Florida: Krieger Publishing Company, 1996. vii + 219 pp. $23.75 (paper), ISBN 978-1-57524-000-8; $29.50 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-89464-964-6.
Reviewed by Kendrick A. Clements (University of South Carolina)
Published on H-SHGAPE (April, 1997)
Opponents of American Involvement in World War I
Wilson's biographers and the authors of books about American diplomatic history in the Word War I period recognize that there was substantial domestic opposition to involvement in the war. Contemporaries, including the president, were worried about the loyalty of the millions of new immigrants, commonly referred to as "hyphenates." The passage of the Espionage Act, the Trading-with-the-Enemy Act, and the Sedition Act were proof that the administration feared domestic opposition. George Creel's Committee on Public Information was partly intended to manage the war news and partly designed to arouse support for the war where it might not otherwise exist.
Horace Peterson's and Gilbert Fite's Opponents of War, 1917-1918, published in 1957, has long been the standard account of its subject. It has been supplemented over the years by biographical studies of various opponents of war and by accounts of such topics as socialist opposition and the peace movement. Still lacking, as far as I am aware, is a comprehensive study of ethnic reactions to the war.
Ernest McKay's small book is a modestly useful addition to the literature on the opposition to the war. The main body of the book is a series of chapter-length biographies, concentrating upon the war period, of leading opponents of the war. Those profiled are William Jennings Bryan, Senator William J. Stone, William Randolph Hearst, Representative Isaac Sherwood, Jane Addams and the other women who went with her to The Hague to promote "continuous mediation," Henry Ford, Representative Claude Kitchin, Norman Thomas, Representative Meyer London, and Senator Robert La Follette. With the exception of Sherwood, all of these people have been the subject of biographical studies. McKay has drawn upon both published sources and the Addams, Bryan, Ford, Kitchin, La Follette, London, Stone, Thomas, and Lillian Wald papers, as well as the Congressional Record and various newspapers. Readers familiar with these people are not likely to learn much new about their careers or opinions, but McKay explains their ideas lucidly and treats them with respect.
What ties all of this together, insofar as it is tied together, is McKay's passionate conviction that the opponents of the war were right. "Their most obvious and often repeated insight," he writes, "was that war leads to war, not peace ... Yet the adage that war is for the sake of peace is commonplace today and widely accepted" (p. 178). A "new order" of democracy, he concludes, could not be produced by war; it "needed a long process of development uncomplicated by war and its disastrous ramifications" (p. 182). Obviously distressed by American intervention in Iraq and Haiti, he asks, "Will we ever learn?" (p. 183).
Considering the large amount of work that has been published in recent years on the war, on various leaders, and on American foreign policy in the World War I period, a broad new study of the opponents of the war would be welcome. Perhaps McKay's book will stimulate someone to undertake the task.
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Kendrick A. Clements. Review of McKay, Ernest A., Against Wilson and War, 1914-1917.
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