America as Economic Super Power
Unlike most histories of World War I and the early inter-war years which have a European focus, Yale professor Adam Tooze trains his keen eye on the growing ability of America’s economic power to reshape the world in its own image. To him Wilson’s liberal internationalism is a cloak to extend the power of the United States. He views America’s role in the world as that of “privileged detachment” that began in with Wilson’s formulation of “peace without victory” in early 1917 and ends with Hoover’s reparations moratorium which was designed to bailout Wall Street’s loans to Germany.
He believes that it was Wilson’s goal to make America the arbiter of the world which Wilson and his Republican successors largely succeed at. The only difference between the Wilsonians and their Republican critics was that Wilson wanted to do that from within the League of Nations and the critics from without. Nevertheless the goal was the same.
Tooze chooses 1916 as the start date because it was in that year the Entente power were being bled dry in France in both a physical and economic sense. It was also in that year where the economic output of the United States for the first time exceeded that of the British Empire. The Entente had nowhere else to turn and from then on America became the banker to the world. And it was this financial power that forced all of the major powers to take into account the role of the United States. After the war German statesman Gustav Stresemann realized that the road to German recovery ran through Wall Street and it was Wall Street credits that triggered Germany’s rebound in the mid-1920s.
Tooze also notes that the U.S. was far from being isolationist in the 1920s; isolationism was more a creature of the 1930s. There was the Washington naval arms limitation conference in 1921-22, the Dawes Plan in 1924 and the Kellogg-Briand Pact of 1928.
Tooze’s book covers far more that Europe as he pans the world to include the Russian Revolution and its aftermath, upheaval in China, Britain’s struggle to hold on to India and the shifting coalitions of Japanese politics. My one criticism of the book is that it promises too much. There is far more discussion of the 1916-21 time period than that of the balance of the 1920s. It is far different from, say, Zara Steiner’s “The Lights that Failed” which is very Eurocentric, but that work covers far better the roles of the Locarno Treaty and the League of Nations in Geneva. Nevertheless, “The Deluge…” is a very worthy history of the time when America interposed itself on to the world scene.
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