1917 Poster, U.S. Food Administration, from the <a href="http://docsteach.org/documents/512621/detail?menu=closed&mode=search&sortBy=era&q=world+war+poster&commit=Go&page=1">National Archives</a>.
1917 Poster, U.S. Food Administration, from the National Archives.

Jingo Unchained: What World War I Wrought

Apr 17, 2014

This review essay was originally published in the Los Angeles Review of Books on April 14th, 2014 and is reposted here with kind permission. To read it in full, please visit their website.

There is a venerable tradition in American politics—in many ways, it is one of our oldest inheritances, and an essential part of a real American conservative republicanism—that rejects foreign interventionism. The reasons for this rejection are both pragmatic and moral. Pragmatic, because a steadfastly neutral country can trade with all foreign states without fear of the consequences of an ultimately ruinous alliance system. Moral, because interventionism and the "foreign entanglements" George Washington warned about in his Farewell Address (which he devoted to the dangers of such imbroglios), corrupt the democratic process at home, hollow out a republic's institutions, decimate its coffers, and empower factional interests. Interventionism abroad is the surest path to the dissolution and destruction of what was once known as our "common wealth," the Respublica, the thing that holds us together as citizens in the public sphere. John Quincy Adams was merely restating long-standing principle when he said that, "America goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy."

This tradition went underground in the 20th century, with America's entry into World War I. One hundred years ago, in 1914, the United States began a radical transformation, the effects of which can still be felt today. World War I is still largely viewed through a European lens, and rightly so, since it forever altered the trajectory of the Continent. It is impossible to overstate the horror of the war in Europe, which led to the pointless deaths of at least 16 million human beings. But even though the United States only formally entered the war in April 1917—and was engaged in combat for less than six months—the war, although far removed from American soil, had a decisive effect on our democracy. It changed the presidency, forever; it changed the American military, forever; it changed our views on propaganda, freedom of speech, and surveillance, forever. Most of all, it changed our sense of ourselves.To read this article in full, please click here.

You may also like

From the cover of "The Lost Promise of Patriotism"

MAR 17, 2014 Article

The Lost Promise of Patriotism: Jonathan Hansen on World War I (Part I)

Jonathan Hansen refers to a group of American scholars, public intellectuals, and social reformers—such as W. E. B. Du Bois, Eugene V. Debs, Jane ...

July 1917: U.S. Secretary of War, blindfolded, draws the first number in the draft lottery.

MAR 24, 2014 Article

The Lost Promise of Patriotism: Jonathan Hansen on World War I (Part II)

"What does it mean to be patriotic in a nation founded on a set of putative universal principles and composed primarily of immigrants and their ...

Promise and Peril: America at the Dawn of a Global Age

MAY 22, 2012 Article

What We Talk About When We Talk About Isolationism

Today, American supremacy is assumed rather than argued for: in an age of tremendous political division, it is a bipartisan first principle of foreign policy. ...

From the cover of "To End All Wars"

FEB 27, 2014 Article

To End All Wars: Adam Hochschild on World War I

The consequences of World War I are still with us, says Adam Hochschild. Are we in danger of making the same mistakes again? Why were ...