Thomas Fleming, an author of both historical fiction and well researched historical tomes published this book in 2004 making it in all probability one begun in the 1990s. It is a revised look at the 1917- 1920 period in U.S. history; the period of our involvement in the First World War, the war to end all wars. He presents a portrait of Woodrow Wilson the U.S. president during that period and rakes him over the coals in no uncertain terms. Wilson won the presidential election of 1916 based on a campaign slogan of “He kept us out of war.”
A side bar to this election was the campaign of former president Teddy Roosevelt at first looking to run on the Republican ticket. At some point Roosevelt got disillusioned with the GOP and decided to run as an independent. The Republican vote than became divided between the GOP candidate and TR which threw the election to Wilson.
Seven months after his reelection Wilson went before Congress asking for a declaration of war against Germany. What happened is well documented by Fleming. Wilson was courted by both sides of the combatants both promising that as a reward for entering the war with them the US would be rewarded by having a hand in the realignment of territory sure to come with victory. It is made clear that there was really no strong reason for the Americans to enter the conflict. The US was in no danger of being attacked directly by either side. Groups in America allied with both sides pressured the government; i.e. Wilson to enter the war allied with the countries they favored. Both England and Germany set up propaganda machines to concentrate on America to get them to enter the war on their side. No real reason to go to war.
One of the factors influencing Wilson was the place of an unofficial advisor: Edward M House who gave himself the title of Colonel House in spite of the fact that he had never been in the military. He had an almost hypnotic hold on Wilson who seemed to make no move without him. House had published a book called Philip Dru: Administrator, which had to do with a fictitious war between the East and West of the United States. Dru was put into power and promoted a program somewhat similar to Machiavelli’s The Prince in controlling the people. Fleming implies that House kept the character Dru in mind in his advice to Wilson.
When the US went to war on the side of England and France it was with the promise that in all likelihood American troops would not have to be sent to France to fight. Obviously not so. A more direct picture of the U.S unreadiness to fight a war was that not one single American made plane or tank entered combat.
A final note on this segment was apparently a stroke or other incapacitating physical attack that sidelined Wilson for seventeen months and allowed his second wife Edith and his personal physician to actually act as president using illegal authority. Fleming alleges that this alone allowed the victorious combatants in Europe to enact a peace treaty that placed all blame for the war on Germany and set reparations on her that crippled that country totally and led to the Weimar Republic and the rise of Adolf Hitler and the Second World War.
Why the reading of Fleming’s book at this time will probably become apparent to the reader who should come to the realization that truly history repeats itself. Going over the contents and just changing names of the participants will bring out a picture of what could and probably is happening again. The style of writing is in no way dry and does allow the reader to enjoy only the book itself without fitting in the pieces into today’s world. Very timely again after 10 plus years since publication.
8/15 Paul Lane
THE ILLUSION OF VICTORY by Thomas Fleming. Basic Books (May 26, 2004). ISBN: 978-0465024698. 576p.