President Wilson before Congress, announcing the break in official relations with Germany on 3 February 1917. Source:  Wikipedia
President Wilson before Congress, announcing the break in official relations with Germany on 3 February 1917. Source: Wikipedia

Dear Diary,

Among all the discussion, on the 100th anniversary year of World War I, appeared a new booklet by French economist and journalist Philippe Simonnot.

It’s called “No, Germany Was Not Guilty.”

In the first instance, Simonnot reveals that war guilt, forced onto Germany like a noose at a lynching, was a bum rap. Germany did not want war. Nor did she start it.

At the start of the war, it was widely reported that German soldiers in Belgium were acting like monsters – bayonetting babies, cutting off thousands of hands, raping nuns.

These reports were so unsettling that several teams from the US left for Belgium to verify them. They failed completely. No ravished nuns. No cut off hands. No impaled babies.

This should have alerted Americans that they were being conned. But no one wanted to hear it – especially not America’s president.

Saving Democracy

Woodrow Wilson saw glory coming; and he wanted in. He could win the war… and preside over the peace. He would not just be another American president. Like Charlemagne, Joan of Arc or Jesus of Nazareth, he would be one of civilization’s great saviors.

Instead, he set it on the road to Hell.

The exhausted combatants were ready to settle their affairs in 1916. Wilson sent fresh troops, fresh materiel and fresh money – enough to keep the war going for two more bloody years.

US soldiers arrived in 1917 on the most fantastic premise: They would “make the world safe for democracy.”

Even on its face, this was absurd. Although Germany was a federal monarchy, it had universal suffrage… a big step ahead of the tsarist autocracy in Russia. And all the European colonial powers – including France and Britain – denied the vote to hundreds of millions of people in the colonies of Africa and Asia.

By the end of 1918, the garden of European civilization had been abused and neglected for four years; dangerous weeds were taking root. In Russia, the Bolsheviks were already in full flower. And the first shoots of National Socialism appeared in Germany only a few years later.

Saving democracy had nothing to do with World War I; prolonging it turned the 20th century into the ghastliest bloodbath in history.

This was Wilson’s fault, more than any other’s

The Battle for the Bosphorus

But Wilson didn’t start the war. Who should take the blame for that?

Simonnot believes the real culprits were Russia and France.

First, they had the motive. Kaiser Wilhelm II’s Germany had been pursuing an aggressive foreign policy and rearmament plan, but it had little to gain from all-out war.

Tsarist Russia, on the other hand, believed war was almost essential. Its economy was developing fast (and might have rivaled the US had it continued).

But there was a weak link in its development chain: Its only access to the Mediterranean and to world markets was through the straits of the Bosphorus. And it had seen what happened when the straits were closed.

In 1912, during the Ottoman Empire’s war with Italy, the passage was cut off. Russia believed having control over Constantinople was a vital national interest. It looked for a short European war that would provide cover for it to seize the straits.

France, for its part, was still smarting from the humiliation of losing Alsace and Lorraine after the last time it declared war on Germany. In the 40 years following its defeat in the Franco-Prussian War at the Battle of Sedan in 1870, France had developed an aggressive revanchist military culture, which was championed by French statesman Raymond Poincaré.

Poincaré – and France – wanted war with Germany. And it made common cause with Russia so that Germany’s worst nightmare – a two-front war – would be fulfilled. With Germany attacked on both fronts, neither France nor Russia figured it could lose.

France and Russia also had the opportunity. The French were heavily investing in Russia’s railroads.

It was not lost on the French – nor the Germans – that the railroads’ strategic purpose was to shuttle Russian soldiers to the Eastern Front. The tsar could call up some 2.5 million troops. The train system increased the threat of a quick, decisive blow.

The Clean-Up

We’ll never know the full truth. At the end of World War I, many of France’s most important documents were removed from the files and never seen again.

The Allies had beaten Germany on the field of battle. Now, they were going to lynch her, as the one responsible for the war. They didn’t want any contrary evidence coming to light. But they missed some things.

From Simonnot:

In a memorandum dated September 2, 1912 – two years before the war began – addressed to […] Poincaré, a certain colonel Vignal, from the second office of the military general staff, predicted that a war begun in the Balkans would put France and Russia in good position to beat Germany.Other documents, many from Russia, show that the assassin of the Archduke Ferdinand and his wife, Gavrilo Princip, and his group of conspirators, the “Black Hand,” were paid by the Russian military attaché in Belgrade… and that the government of Serbia (allied with Russia) was aware of the plot.

As early as January, 1914, the French journal, Le Matin, had reported “an extraordinary concentration of [Tsarist] forces at the Prussian border.”

Poincaré went to Moscow on July 23, a month after the assassination. We don’t know what was discussed; the records have never been found. But we know the Germans were not the first to mobilize their troops after war had been declared.

The Russians set their war machine in motion a week after Poincaré’s visit. The Germans got news almost immediately that Russia had mobilized 13 corps for war. The Kaiser mobilized a day later. This fact, too, was later falsified in order to make it look as though Germany had struck first.

No, Germany was not guilty. More likely, France and Russia were responsible for starting the war.

Woodrow Wilson was guilty of turning it into an historic calamity.