April 6, 1917: America declares war against Germany by a large majority in the Congress.
Why America Should
Have Stayed Out
There is no doubt that Winston Churchill (1874-
Churchill (PICTURE LEFT) wrote: "Suddenly a nation of one hundred and twenty millions unfurls her standard on what is already the stronger side; suddenly the most numerous democracy in the world, long posing as a judge1), is hurled, nay, hurls itself into the conflict."
He was not alone. His political opponent James Ramsay MacDonald, one of the leaders of the British Labour Party, expressed similar thoughts. MacDonald, who had been trying to get England out of the war since the beginning, expressed concern that America's appearance on the battlefield would frustate ongoing peace attempts. In England and in France talking about peace became little less than high treason. Who wanted peace now? With America on her side the allies were sure of the final humiliation of the enemy.
Years later, in August 1936, Churchill, then an ordinary Conservative member of the British parliament, gave an interview on this matter to mr. William Griffin, editor of the New York Enquirer2), who stayed in London at that time. "America should have minded her own business and stayed out of the World War", Churchill was quoted.
In the interview Churchill explained that the fighting parties at that time - Spring 1917 - were ready for peace. The 1916 disasters of Jutland, Verdun and Somme had taken most, if not all, of the fighting spirit out of Germany, Britain and France. There had been already several peace-
Churchill: "Peace at that moment would have saved over one million British, French, American, and other lives."
But because the United States suddenly wanted their share of the war all peace-talk became useless.
There is an ongoing dispute whether Churchill really spoke these words. When Churchill later denied having said that the US should have minded her own business, William Griffin, publisher of the New York Enquirer, testified in Congress that it was indeed Sir Winston Churchill who made this comment in an interview with him in London in August 1936 (sworn statement, Congressional Record, October 21, 1939, vol. 84. p. 686.).
Griffin also brought a $1,000,000 libel suit against Churchill.
The libel case was not called until October 1942, in the midst of the Second World War. Churchill was now prime minister in Great-Britain. Griffin and his lawyers failed to appear in court. At that time the journalist was under indictment in Washington, D.C., on charges of conspiring to lower the morale of the armed forces of the United States of America3). Because Griffin did not show up, the charges against Churchill were dismissed. In a conversation with the The New York Times Churchill admitted having the 1936 interview, but disavowed the disputed statement (The New York Times, October 22, 1942, p. 13).
It is a pity that most attention went (and still goes) to the question whether Churchill did, or did not utter these words. The opinion itself deserves more consideration. In 1936 the doom of new armed conflict was already hanging over Europe. As we can see now, afterwards, the arguments in the statement were pointing directly to the origins of the Second World War.
If only for the sake of discussion4), here follows what Winston Churchill - according to the New York Enquirer - in 1936 has said literally :
"America should have minded her own business and stayed out of the World War. If you hadn't entered the war the Allies would have made peace with Germany in the Spring of 1917. Had we made peace then there would have been no collapse in Russia followed by Communism, no breakdown in Italy followed by Fascism, and Germany would not have signed the Versailles Treaty, which has enthroned Nazism in Germany. If America had stayed out of the war, all these 'isms' wouldn't today be sweeping the continent of Europe and breaking down parliamentary government - and if England had made peace early in 1917, it would have saved over one million British, French, American, and other lives."
In the USA there was also support for this opinion. In 1939 the American historian professor Harry Elmer Barnes bluntly stated: "Not only was our entry into the World War a calamity of the first magnitude for Europe and contemporary civilization, it was also a serious disaster for the United States".5)
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1) - England and France were not always happy about the way America conducted 'neutralism' in the time before the United States declared war on Germany. Click here to read what the English author Edward Wright wrote about this subject.
2) - The New York Enquirer was a Sunday afternoon paper William Griffin started in 1926 to fill the gap between Sunday morning and Monday morning, and to give William Randolph Hearst a paper on which to try out experimental ideas. After Griffin's death in 1952, the newspaper was sold to Generoso Pope, who turned it into the National Enquirer.
3) - The proceedings against Griffin were quashed after a hearing in federal court on January 26, 1944.
4) - Since The Heritage of the Great War in 1998 published the text of the alleged Churchill interview for the first time on the Internet, this website has been under constant attack by (mainly American) readers who 1. did not believe that The New York Enquirer ever existed, 2. doubted whether editor William Griffin was a real person, 3. doubted that Churchill had ever given him an interview, 4. were certain that the words were spoken by a nephew of Winston Churchill, 5. were convinced that The Heritage of the Great War had made the whole story up. There were also serious reactions.
5) - Click here to read Harry Elmer Barnes' full explanation of his argument, written down in 1939. Similar statements are still being made, e.g. by historian Thomas Fleming in his recent (2003) book The Illusion of Victory: America in World War I.
Sources for this article.
To the frontpage of The Heritage of the Great War.