Robert E. Hannigan's The Great War and American Foreign Policy, 1914–24 is one of the best of recent works that seek to explain U.S. diplomacy related to World War I and its aftermath. Hannigan emphasizes patterns and consistencies in U.S. foreign policy and diplomatic thought that shaped the efforts of Woodrow Wilson. The bulk of the book focuses on Wilson and his administration in the periods of neutrality (1914–1917), belligerency (1917–1918), and peacemaking (1918–1921). The book's excellent first chapter, “The United States Steps Out,” lays the groundwork of the transformation of the United States's relations with the world from the 1890s to the onset of World War I. The final two chapters provide fresh global insights by examining the United States's role in China, Latin America, and Europe at the end of the war and into the 1920s. With this geographical sweep, Hannigan moves outside a narrow wartime focus and concern with U.S. diplomatic positions vis-à-vis Europe. Hannigan makes a strong case for wider context. He demonstrates that American leaders saw merits in “essential elements” of the British-centered international system even as the United States hoped to supplant the United Kingdom (p. 4). “Washington's response to the Great War,” Hannigan asserts along these lines, “is fundamentally the story of how the United States sought to protect and then put on more stable foundations an international order to which American leaders, well before 1914, had already become strongly attached” (p. x). Most scholars of World War I, Wilson, and the Progressive Era will welcome Hannigan's contextual and global approach to this subject. Moving the United States's role in World War I beyond “a transatlantic story” is a must, as demonstrated by the best of the recent transnational work on the topic (p. 290). This book also joins recent scholarship that critically examines Wilson's rhetoric and actions regarding “self-determination,” “making the world safe for democracy,” World War I as a “defensive” war, and “peace without victory.” In critical dialogue with historians more favorable to Wilson, one of the best sections of the book investigates Wilson's January 1918 Fourteen Points address. Unlike scholars who emphasize idealism, religion, or altruistic aims, Hannigan centers his analysis of Wilson and the making of the Fourteen Points on the self-interested pragmatic approach of Wilson and advisers such as Col. Edward House. He reveals that they aimed less at reshaping the world and more at keeping Russia in the war, seeing Berlin thwarted, providing a blueprint for the peace, and enhancing Wilson's stature. The portraits of major figures, ideas, and events are comprehensive and vivid. Hannigan at times focuses too much on Wilson and overdraws aspects of his argument regarding the novelty of his approach and the relative constancy in the ideological underpinnings of U.S. foreign policy from the 1890s into the 1920s. But issues of interpretation and overstated argument do not undercut the value of this thought-provoking, well-written, well-researched book that successfully sheds new light on U.S. relations with the world during the “long” World War I era. © The Author 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Organization of American Historians. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Journal of American History – Oxford University Press
Published: Mar 1, 2018
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