Dan Arrows does some really interesting stuff about Germany, and fascism, from an actual German perspective. I find his view to be accurate within my existing understanding of history, and his perspective is valuable.

This episode covers the collapse of the Paris peace talks after WWI, because of (my words) cluelessness on the part of the victors, and stubbornness from the defeated. I knew, for example, that Wilson was a bit out of touch – to put it mildly – and Clemenceau was dead set on ruthlessly punishing Germany.

A cartoon entitled ‘Overweighted’, depicting US President Woodrow Wilson (1856 – 1924) handing a heavy olive branch, representing the League of Nations, to a dove of peace, 1919. The text dialogue reads: ‘President Wilson: ‘Here’s your olive branch, now get busy’. Dove of Peace: ‘Of course I want to please everybody, but isn’t this a bit thick?’. Original publication: Punch magazine, pub. 25th March 1919. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

There are loads of fascinating nuggets in here, mostly about the way that the various European powers, used to slicing the planet up like a shawarma, approached Wilson’s idea of “peace with dignity” as an extension of the “Great Game” of imperialism. Then, it turned out that Wilson didn’t really have a clear idea what he was talking about, and the overall vagueness of his ideas collapsed into Clemenceau turning the whole exercise into another episode of crushing the defeated under the heel of the winner. I have some familiarity with “The Downfall” – the Franco-Prussian War – and how traumatic it was for French amour propre. If you want an idea of how the French felt, imagine if Vietnam had followed up by not only driving the US out of South Vietnam, but had invaded and occupied the East Coast, obliterating American military power in a single battle.

Here’s the episode:

I found it interesting how Arrows characterizes Wilson as being remarkably ignorant about Europe. That maps to my understanding, as well, but it almost makes Wilson come off as a trumpian sort of clown. I remember reading another theory that Wilson may have been suffering from the swine flu pandemic, and ‘flu brain’. In retrospect, it seems easier to believe that he was ignorant and fell for his own bullshit.


  1. Pierce R. Butler says

    Wilson, as a lawyer before entering academia, earned his Ph.D. in American constitutional & political history in 1886. Why should he have bothered his well-coiffed head about them foreign places?

  2. says

    Pierce R. Butler@#1:
    Why should he have bothered his well-coiffed head about them foreign places?

    Yeah, really. “Czechoslovakia” may as well be “Zulu” but it’s harder to pronounce.

    It’s easy to forget that in today’s terms, Wilson was a narrow-minded bigoted christian asshole. Not as bad as today’s republicans, but they hadn’t invented that degree of badness, yet.

  3. Pierce R. Butler says

    Marcus Ranum @ # 2: Not as bad as today’s republicans, but they hadn’t invented that degree of badness, yet.

    They had (lots of!) Kluxers back then. Just as vicious, though more honest about it.

    Nothing new under the sun, as some say.

  4. outis says

    I wonder if general ignorance about foreign lands was standard at that time. You had only travel, books and newspress (radio in a limited way) if you wanted to discover such things, and travel was expensive.
    Study of foreign languages was also not so standard, and often limited to the dominant ones (in a big swath of Europe everyone was supposed to study mainly French, German was for scientists/techs, English at most for commerce, the rest was barbarous terra incognita).
    And politicians are supposed to represent their people, innit.
    As an example, here’s a juicy bit from that classic, “Yes, Minister”:
    keep your ears peeled for excuse #4.

  5. says

    I just listened to the whole podcast all at once today while gardening, thanks for the recommendation. Dan Arrows has a good voice for listening and his narration is both rich in information and captivating. I only knew him for his older YouTube videos, I did not know that his podcast is this good.

    The whole story at the end of WW1 shows how vindictiveness and desire to punish instead to rehabilitate ultimately leads to history repeating over and over again. I was hoping the cycle was broken with the fall of the Iron Curtain and the slow growth of the EU, but right now it looks like we are in for another repetition where one power dredges up old grudges and in so doing creates fresh injustices that will only fester for more generations to come – if there will be more generations.

Leave a Reply