Woodrow Wilson addresses Congress seeking entry into the first world war, April 2, 1917Woodrow Wilson addresses Congress seeking entry into the first world war, April 2, 1917

Again, Russia is at the Center of an American-Backed War for Democracy 

By James D. Robenalt
via the History News Network web site 

The idea of America making the world safe for democracy is now just over a hundred years old. Then as now, Russia is at the heart of the controversy.

The United States joined the Great War in April 1917, after a long struggle by President Woodrow Wilson to keep the nation “neutral in thought as well as deed.” Wilson in fact ran for and won reelection in 1916 on the slogan “He kept us out of war!” But just months later, when Germany declared the resumption of its brutal and unrestricted submarine warfare, the pressure for America to take sides became insurmountable.

Yet there was one event, not well understood, that finally allowed the idealistic president to call Congress to a special session to ask for a declaration of war against Germany, and that event took place in Russia. On March 15, 1917, Tsar Nicholas II abdicated in the face of military defections and army mutinies, political unrest, bread riots, and labor strikes mainly in the Russian capital of Petrograd (today St. Petersburg), brought on by the privations and losses of a war that Russia helped to trigger in August 1914.

President Wilson’s low-key Secretary of State, Robert Lansing, had been pressing Wilson for months to react to Germany’s war on the seas by supporting the Allies, which included Great Britain, France, and Russia. And that was the problem—Wilson’s high-minded idea to make the war about something other than commercial disputes or territorial gains persistently ran into a conundrum. How could the Americans transform the war into one about making the world safe for democracy when one of the Allies included the autocratic Russia?

For over three-hundred years, the Romanov Tsars had ruled Russia, greatly expanding the empire. But as with any roll of the hereditary dice, the family had become increasingly weakened and corrupt. After early successes in the war, the Russian war machine faltered, and the nation’s backward economy began to collapse. During the truly pitiless winter of 1916-17, the Russian people wanted bread and peace—and revolution.

Secretary of State Lansing saw his opening to convince a vacillating Wilson that the sudden demise of the Russian ruler and his replacement with a provisional government that looked like a democracy, led by a nobleman and social reformer, Prince Georgy Lvoff, as its premier, was the opening for the U. S. to enter the war. Lansing spoke out on March 20, 1917, five days after the Tsar stepped down.

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