I made this post in badhistory however I thought I might as well post it here to. Here is the link to the original post: https://www.reddit.com/r/badhistory/comments/azmzaj/alternatehistoryhubs_the_election_that_ruined/
I have always been a fan of the AlternateHistoryHub channal and the entertaining videos that come out of it, however the most recent video:
, is what I believe to be a prime example of bad history. Now I'm certainly not an expert and I have never written in this sub before, but this video has stirred something of a firestorm in my mind due to its wide assumptions on what people should've done and how history would've played out differently had ___________ happened, which was enough to motivate myself to write about it.
Now one thing I have noticed about contemporary discussions on history is that people like to blame our misery on specific people or events from the past, and this video seems to lay the Big Kahuna that was the misery of the 20th century on the shoulder's of Woodrow Wilson; outright stating that he was the worst president ever. How does the video justify this opinion? Mainly with two arguments: Joining WW1 late and Wilson's desire to "Spread Democracy." These are points that deserve much scrutiny so I'll break down both.
Joining WW1 Late.
Out of the two arguments this one atleast has the most merit, but even then it is extremely flawed. While it is obvious that the first world war would've ended sooner had the U.S. joined the war a year or two earlier, that arugment relies heavily on the "had" part of that sentence. The video makes the assumption that if Teddy Roosevelt was elected president in 1912 instead of Woodrow Wilson, the U.S. mighted entered the war in 1915 instead. Now this just seems ridiculous to me, I mean how would the people of the U.S. agree to such a thing? The vast majority of the population was against joining following the first couple of years of the war breaking out, and even then many people in the U.S. that were pro war wanted to join GERMANY'S side and not the entente's. In addition just look at when the European powers decided to intervene: Britain joined only after Germany violated Belgium's neutrality, Italy and Blugraria joined in 1915, Romania and Portugal in 1916, and Greece in 1917. These were all nations that were in the middle of the action and had way more reason to join the conflict but still took their time, yet somehow Roosevelt was going to slap two dicks together and make the U.S. join in 1915? This is a nation that still largely view itself as detached from European affairs and hadn't engaged in major conflicts outside of the Americas. The people weren't about to join the war early due to the sinking of a single cruise liner that just happened to carry Americans. It just seems like a far fetched fantasy, and if it actually occured would've most likely resulted in Teddy getting the boot in the 1916 elections as soon as hundreds of thousands of American coffins started coming back.
Even then, so what if the U.S. had joined the war early? The video implies that if Germany was defeated a year or two earlier (which is optimistic) then there wouldn't have been a rise of facism or a Bolshevik revolution (assuming that the revolution doesn't occur anyways)? Well one can just as easily make the point that had the allies done more to intervene in the Russian civil war the whites could've won preventing the rise of the Soviet Union, or had the allies not been so harsh on Gemany in Versailles and ironically had listened more to Wilson then Hitler wouldn't have risen to power, etc. And even if there is no USSR or Nazi Germany, that doesn't mean that other tradegies wouldn't have followed. One can spend all day imagining different scenarios playing out such as a war between the west and the hegemonic Russian empire or a falling out of relations between Britain and France, etc. The point is that a WW1 that ends sooner does not necessarily bring the world down a more peaceful path.
Wilson's ideas on "Spreading Democracy" and American Interventionism.
Now this argument is just a really bad one. The video seems to make the point that Wilson's biggest mistake was starting the legacy of Wilsonian Intervensionism. America was already an interventionist power well before Wilson, such as establishing trade relations in Asia, expanding imperially in the Phillipines, the Pacific, and Carribeans, and engaging in "local affairs" in Latin America. The main difference with Wilson's ideology was that he wanted to intervene and stay in the name of spreading American democracy around the world and not just for business or territorial gain ( not that this always worked out perfectly ). He argued at Versailles for national determination and was vehemently against strictly punishing Germany for the war, opposing what France wanted. The failure to listen to Wilson created a shitty hybrid compromise where Germany was punshied enough to instill nationalist zeal and hatred but not enough to prevent German rearmament (although granted the unwillingness of the allies to resist Hitler until it was too late also didn't help). That and the eventually republican withdrawal from the league of nations, was very much a significant contributor to the downward spiral that led to the second world war. The video also seems to argue that if we had followed Roosevelt's "big stick diplomacy," or the "get in, get out" approach; the U.S. would've been better off, using the Gulf War as an example. This again doesn't invalidate the Wilsonian approach however. While the "big stick" method works well in a situation like the gulf war where the goal wasn't to spread democracy but to prevent Iraq from threatening it, It would've failed in other conflicts. The Wilsonian approach worked well in Europe and Japan following WW2, as well as Korea, since it was crucial that the U.S. remained in those nations to insure that Democracy would take hold so that they do not succumb to Communist influence and remained allies.
We are very much blinded by our interventionist failures in Vietnam, the Middle East, and Africa to see what good American Intervention has brought to the world. Those failures were not brought on by the Wilsonian apporach, but by the fact that no proper apporach was used at all. Either way for every failure of American intervention, there are at least half a dozen success stories. Today 3/4 of the planet's nations are democracies, compared to less than a quarter at the time of Wilson. Most of these democracies are allied to the U.S., and nowhere in the world are there major conflicts going on because of this. We live in the most peaceful times there have ever been and the average human's level of wealth and freedom is at it's peak. This is undeniably a result of American influence, and a lot of it stems from Wilson and his 14 points, however flawed a man he was.
To conclude, I know this is maybe not the best written essay but I'm not exactly an experienced writer, I'm just trying to convey my thoughts and feelings about AlternateHistoryHub's video. It just seems unfair that Wilson is taking so much shit in the video and is talked about like he's the devil himself. Of course, he was still an extremely flawed figure, and his views on racism are rather disgusting and leave much to be desired. That doesn't mean that he was a horrible person, and it frankly is childish to just blame him for our current problems today. The fact is that with or without him there still would be racism, we still would've had horrible wars, and we still would be stuck in crappy conflicts. Either way one can say he's responsible for much good in the world just as easily as one can blame him for our misery.
History does not revolve around single individuals who are solely responsible for our woes, it is a chaotic mess of randomness that doesn't follow a logical path. Judging people by the events that transpired decades following their decisions is foolish, because people act in the way they think is best at the time of making their decisions and do not have control over random events that might taint their legacy in the future. They do not have the benefit of hindsight like we do. Afterall, when Bush and Obama decided to intervene in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, and Lybia, there weren't thinking "Damn, Woodrow Wilson made me do this," they were acting on their own decisions, and it is up to the people of the present to correct the present's mistakes. Afterall, blaming the problems of today on the people of the past merely gives us a comfortable excuse to not correct the problems ourselves, which only prolongs our misery.
Source: reddit post