Sunday, August 13, 2017

Will Englund's March 1917

Will Englund's March 1917 covers the events of that month that culminated with Woodrow Wilson asking Congress to declare war and enter World War I. He's a good writer and especially in the second half he narrates the tension that led up to Wilson's speech (which actually was not in March).

The disparate figures in the book, from Wilson to musician James Europe, first female member of Congress Jeanette Rankin, journalist H.L. Mencken, and a number of others, don't always add up to any particular whole. People were doing stuff, even interesting stuff, as the country lurched toward war. Some were influential, some were not. So I think the book is trying to get at mood more than anything else.

One element of the book that is worth pondering is how World War I gave Americans more of a sense than ever that they were messianic saviors of the world. The messianic part had always been there*, but the war made it truly global. We've suffered a lot as a country as a result because it is applied so broadly.

* On this point, read Brian Loveman's No Higher Law.


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