Scholarly series: World War I and the United States
The United States wasn’t always the interventionist country it is today, and on Sunday, March 20, Central Connecticut State University history professor and author Matthew Warshauer will discuss how that came to be during the fourth installment of this year’s scholarly series at the Wilton Historical Society.
During his Future of America: From Isolation to World Policeman and the Foundations of 9/11 lecture, Warshauer will discuss the impact of World War I, the United States’ perception of its role in the world, and how its foreign policy changed over the course of the 20th Century.
According to Warshauer, the United States initially didn’t want to get involved in World War I.
“America viewed World War I as yet another massive European war,” he said. “America viewed itself as separate and distinct from Europe, but when we ultimately did get involved for a variety of reasons — partially because of our ties with England, but certainly because of economic ties and investments that we had made in Europe — we change the course of the war.”
During his lecture, Warshauer will discuss post-World War I factors that led to World War II, including America’s isolationist mind-set and refusal to ratify the Treaty of Versailles and join the League of Nations.
“Immediately after World War I, America turned its back completely on Europe and engaged in isolationism. We were not there to play a mediating role to help to solve world problems,” said Warshauer.
“The United States’ noninvolvement in the League of Nations really caused it to not function terribly well. A lot of the issues that caused World War I were not entirely settled and the Treaty of Versailles was very punitive toward Germany. It was a recipe for the problems that came 20 years later.”
Post-World War I economic collapse and political instability led to World War II, after which America adopted a more interventionist role and expanded its political and economic footprint throughout the globe.
“After World War II, the United States decided to be heavily involved in the world and became the ‘policeman of the world,’” said Warshauer.
The United States’ “policeman of the world” role and foreign policy led to problems faced today in the Middle East, said Warshauer.
“Looking at what has happened over the last 60 to 70 years and how much of it led to 9/11 and why 9/11 happened is tremendously important for people to understand,” said Warshauer.
“I don’t think America has completely come to grips with why 9/11 occurred, and certainly, a lot of rhetoric that came in the immediate aftermath of it — that they hate our freedom and they want to destroy our freedom — is simplistic.”
Warshauer said it’s “much more complicated than that.”
“We live in a complicated world and history is complicated, but it is our duty to try and understand these things and try to make sense of them,” he said.
“The ultimate answer to ‘Why study history?’ is to avoid the mistakes of the past that will come in the future, and I don’t think we’ve done a very good job of that.”
Warshauer said “the key to studying history” is “to look at the long-term of things” rather than through a “narrow lens.”
Warshauer has led a number of history talks in Wilton, which he said is “a dynamite community” when it comes to history and runs “one of best lecture series is the state.”
“I’m passionate for history, I love history, and I absolutely love coming to Wilton,” said Warshauer, who has a bachelor’s degree in history from Central Connecticut State University and a master’s degree and doctorate in American studies from St. Louis University.
Warshauer said he is looking forward to his upcoming scholarly series lecture and “would love for people to come.”
“This is a particularly important anniversary -— the centennial of World War I, and with things that are going on in the world right now, there’s never been a more important time to think about and try to understand our history and where America is nationally and internationally,” he said.
“We’ve got to start really giving some consideration to discussing these things.”
The scholarly series is an annual collaboration between Wilton Library and the Wilton Historical Society. This year’s series — From the Guns of August to the Gathering Storm 1914-1939 — focuses on World War I and its aftermath.
All scholarly series lectures run from 4 to 5:30 and are free of charge, although donations are welcome.
The last lecture in this year’s series will be Folk Music and Social Consciousness in the Interwar Years with Stephen Armstrong at Wilton Library on April 3.