A History of Violence: Woodrow Wilson

It seems the United States is always at war. It has become the favorite pastime of politicians. Woodrow Wilson was no different. In spite of his 1916 campaign slogan of “He has kept us out of war”, Wilson was in fact one of the greatest warmongers. Oddly enough, this information is absent from most history books. Here is a sample of Wilson’s military exploits, which deflates Wilson as a statesman of peace.

The Banana Wars

“I am going to teach the South American republics to elect good men!” – W. Wilson

The Banana Wars is a label adopted by historians, marking U.S. intervention in Central America and the Caribbean, ranging from 1898-1934. Wilson didn’t start all of them, but he certainly extended U.S. “foreign policy”, which is another term for sovereignty intrusion into other counties.

Wilson maintained and extended military occupation of Nicaragua, which began under Teddy Roosevelt in 1909. His purpose of course was to help them elect good men for democracy, by force. He tried to influence power into the hands of preferential candidates friendly to democracy and the U.S. In reality, Wilson was trying to maintain canal-building privilege through Nicaragua. The culmination of his efforts was the Bryan-Chamorro Treaty of 1916, in which the U.S. paid Nicaragua $3 million for signing the treaty and bending to American influence.

Corps_de_Charlemagne_PéralteWilson sent the USS Connecticut to Haiti in 1915, after Haiti’s president Vilbrun Guillaume Sam was killed. U.S. forces landed on July 28, 1915, and began an occupation that lasted until 1934. Leader of the Haitian resistance to American forces was Charlemagne Péralte. American forces eventually killed him, photographed his dead body tied to a door (right), and then distributed the photographs to discourage resistance. American forces killed over 2,000 Haitians over this time in order to exert American influence. Just ask FDR, then Assistant Secretary of the Navy, and later campaigning as vice-president in 1920:

“I wrote Haiti’s Constitution myself, and if I do say it, it was a pretty good little Constitution”

Of course, 1928 FDR later criticized 1920 FDR, admonishing “gunboat diplomacy”.

Wilson sent the USS Prairie to the Dominican Republic, landing on May 5, 1916 to protect economic interests (aka debts owed to the U.S.) and control customs revenue due to an increasingly unstable political climate. More U.S. forces arrived and quickly took control of the country. Dominicans elected Francisco Henriquez to be their president, but he opposed American influence so U.S. forces simply removed him. U.S. forces then implemented a military government, the Dominican National Guard, led by Americans, to exert American influence. The occupation ended in 1924, and a new government was elected.

Wilson sent forces to protect U.S. interests in the Panama Canal, dating back to Teddy Roosevelt in 1903, which had cost American taxpayers $375 million dollars (in 1914). Wilson continued U.S. intervention in Panama, when American forces were sent in 1918 for “police duty” to deal with election disturbances. Wilson sent U.S. forces to protect American interests in Cuba in 1917, leading to a military occupation until 1919.

Once upon a time in Mexico

Though part of the Banana Wars, this topic deserves special attention. The infamous dictator Porfiro Díaz, whose regime was run by fear and riddled with corruption, ruled Mexico, but he had many dissidents. The greatest was Francisco Madero, who organized other rebels, such as Venustiano Carranza, Pancho Villa, and Emiliano Zapata. They eventually overthrew Díaz in 1911, but they in turn were overthrown in 1913 in a military coup led by former Díaz general Victoriano Huerta. Madero and his vice-president were promptly executed.

Although Huerta was the major contender for political power in Mexico, several others had their own independent armies, including Villa and Carranza. Wilson, upset that Huerta had ousted Madero and his “democratic” government, contemplated sending soldiers to fix the problem.

Wilson got his first chance on April 9, 1914, when the USS Dolphin stopped for port at Tampico, Mexico to refuel. A Mexican colonel, upset Americans were stopping at his country, had the crew of the USS Dolphin arrested. Huerta quickly heard the news and the crew was promptly released and Huerta expressed his apologies. But the admiral of the ship, Henry Thomas Mayo, also demanded a 21-gun salute with the apology. Huerta refused to honor this request, feeling an apology was enough. Wilson, angry that Huerta would not comply, ordered the U.S. Atlantic Fleet to Tampico on April 14, 1914.

This led to American warships intercepting a German freighter carrying military supplies to Veracruz, Mexico. The occupation of Mexico began on April 21 in Veracruz, where American forces met resistance from Mexican general Gustavo Haas. Wilson responded by escalating the situation, ordering 5,200 soldiers to Veracruz. All competing military leaders rebuffed him, including Huerta and Carranza, for his interference.

Diplomatic relations were then broken off between Wilson and Mexico. Furthermore, there were anti-American protests in Mexico, Chile, Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Uruguay due to U.S. intervention. Wilson of course responded to Mexican protests by dispatching the USS Cheyenne to Baja California. Attempts at a peace treaty were brokered by representatives from Argentina, Brazil, and Chile to end this military escalation, but to no avail; Wilson would not accept anything unless it resulted in Huerta’s departure.

Carranza’s forces eventually seized power from Huerta by July 8, 1914. But then this set off another power struggle with a coalition of forces from Zapata and Villa. Wilson, undeterred by his previous failures in Mexico, became more determined to “decide what means should be employed by the United States in order to help Mexico save herself and serve her people”. Wilson declared an arms embargo on all of Mexico except for arms being sent to the forces of Carranza.

Villa became enraged that Wilson was helping Carranza. This led him to carry violent attacks along the U.S.-Mexico border. In response, Wilson in March, 1916 expressed his intent to capture Villa. This gave rise to what is now known as the “Punitive Expedition”, which was a force, eventually topping 100,000 men, led by John J. Pershing, to capture Pancho Villa. In spite of the protests of Carranza, Pershing pressed on for 7 months in Mexico trying to capture Villa, to no avail. American forces never found Villa, and all the time, money, and resources were spent in vain.

Let it be remembered that this whole foray into Mexico began because Wilson was denied a 21-gun salute.

RMS Lusitania

Wilson presented himself as the candidate of peace. After all, his 1916 re-election slogan was “he has kept us out of war”. In spite of Wilson’s pretended neutrality, he was very much in favor of the British. During the war, the British held a blockade on the English Channel, in order to prevent goods from reaching Germany. To counter this blockade, Germany declared that after March 1915 it would start sinking armed merchant ships in the English Channel on sight.

Wilson was not a defender of democracy and “self-determination” (as later pointed out by his 14 Points) by sympathizing with the Triple Entente (Great Britain, France, and Russia). The British and the French were countries notorious for their colonial exploits in Africa and Asia, (and the Middle East for the British). Russia was under Tsarist rule; not a democracy. The countries of the Triple Alliance (Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Italy) were not innocent either, as they did wish to expand their empires. The Entente was trying to maintain their imperial authority; the Alliance was trying to begin their imperial conquest. Why would Wilson side with either one?

The British declared the entire North Sea a war zone in November 1914, restricting the passage of neutral ships, and those that traveled into the war zone did so at their own risk. The RMS Lusitania was a large commercial liner that carried included in its cargo small arms munitions departing from New York and set to arrive in Liverpool. The German embassy even issued a warning to American passengers traveling into the war zone:


TRAVELLERS intending to embark on the Atlantic voyage are reminded that a state of war exists between Germany and her allies and Great Britain and her allies; that the zone of war includes the waters adjacent to the British Isles; that, in accordance with formal notice given by the Imperial German Government, vessels flying the flag of Great Britain, or any of her allies, are liable to destruction in those waters and that travellers sailing in the war zone on the ships of Great Britain or her allies do so at their own risk.


Washington, D.C. 22 April 1915

The Lusitania was sunk in May 7, 1915, and resulted in the deaths of 128 Americans on board. Both the British and Germany recognized the war zone and informed all civilian travelers that they cannot ensure their safety while in said zone. Wilson’s response? The sinking of the Lusitania was a “violation of American rights on the high seas”. Yep. Any American at any time has the right to travel in any war zone, anywhere in the world. Not to mention the Lusitania was carrying weapons intended for war purposes by Great Britain. So in other words, Great Britain can blockade the entire English Channel to prevent munitions from reaching Germany without criticism from Wilson but Germany cannot sink ships carrying munitions in a war zone en route to Great Britain; that is a violation of American rights.

Wilson ordered his Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan to send his response note to the German government. It stated that the sinking was illegal and that Germany cease its unrestricted submarine warfare on unarmed merchants. Bryan, rather than delivering this message, believing it to be a precursor to a declaration of war, resigned. The sinking of the Lusitania was argued as one of the primary reasons America should go to war.

From Russia with love

Turning to Russia, Wilson’s “neutrality” narrative completely falls apart. Germany was facing war on 2 fronts: Western Europe with France and Great Britain, and Eastern Europe with Russia. The former pushed hard for the latter to stay in the war because keeping Germany occupied on 2 separate fronts meant Germany would have to divide its forces.

Russia experienced the February Revolution in 1917, in which Tsar Nicholas II abdicated the throne, leaving a provisional government led by George Lvov, who was replaced 4 months later by Alexander Kerensky. Given a change in government, this would be a great opportunity for Wilson to broker peace between Russia and Germany. But Wilson didn’t want peace; he wanted victory for the Entente, which meant getting involved in the war.

Rather than peace, Wilson offered Russia’s provisional government $325 million on April 3, 1917, to stay in the war. This is 3 days before the U.S. formally declared war on Germany on April 6. Russia, its government and especially its citizens, did not want to continue the war. The provisional government eventually accepted because it was completely broke. It ended up receiving $187 million of these credits before the October Revolution, in which Lenin replaced Kerensky. So much for peace.

In a touch of irony, it was Vladimir Lenin that withdrew Russia from WWI with the signing of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk on March 3, 1918. Lenin, a brutal dictator, wanted peace. Wilson, the leader of “democracy”, wanted war. Remember that.

Wilson, the war president

Woodrow Wilson is often portrayed as the model statesman, uniting countries in pleas for peace. After all, he created the League of Nations, and fought in a noble war alongside the Triple Entente. This is what we are led to believe in Social Studies class in government indoctrination centers (schools). Given his intervention in the Banana wars and WWI, he was nothing of the sort. Woodrow Wilson was a meddlesome, arrogant, and stubborn leader, using military force to get his way, often encroaching on the sovereignties of others.

Woodrow Wilson should have taken his own advice:

“No nation is fit to sit in judgment upon any other nation” – W. Wilson



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