The Yanks are Coming Over There: Anglo-Saxonism and American Involvement in the First World War by Dino Buenviaje

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World War I was a global cataclysm that toppled centuries-old dynasties and launched “the American century.” Yet at the outset few Americans saw any reason to get involved in yet another conflict among the crowned heads of Europe. Despite its declared neutrality, the U.S. government gradually became more sympathetic with the Allies, until President Woodrow Wilson asked Congress to declare war on Germany to “make the world safe for democracy.”
Key to this shift in policy and public opinion was the belief that the English-speaking peoples were inherently superior and fit for world leadership. Just before the war, British and American elites set aside former disputes and recognized their potential for dominating the international stage. By casting Germans as “barbarians” and spreading stories of atrocities, the Wilson administration persuaded the public—including millions of German Americans—that siding with the Allies was a just cause.
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“Brilliant Analysis!”

Five Star Review on Amazon By Dino Buenviaje

From a Ph.D. in history from the University of California Riverside, the book published by Dino E. Buenviaje at McFarland Publishing is a beautiful demonstration of cultural history which, hopefully, will inspire some vocations in Brittany, and more generally in Europe 1 . The author intends in fact to give in 180 pages a new set of explanations concerning the entry into the war of the United States alongside the Allies during the First World War based on a concept that is unfortunately almost impossible. to translate into English, Anglo-Saxon, in original version Anglo-Saxonism. But from this idea to that of Celticism or interceltism, there is a notion whose exploration would obviously benefit the understanding of the history of Brittany, especially with regard to the two World Wars.

An astonishing paradox

Starting from the analysis of Dino E. Buenviaje, there is one observation which, to be obvious, is never put forward while underlining an astonishing paradox: United States and Germany are two countries that belong to what is usually called “Anglo-Saxon world”. Of course, the idea of ​​Anglo-Saxonity is a pure intellectual construction, no longer based on any historical reality, let alone biological, whatever this grid of reading is at the origin of many racist speeches. It is a mythical story (p.8), a belief in common origins that would have their roots in the British Isles (p.2) but also in the ancient Teutonic kingdoms. In this perspective, New England would be a direct extension of the old (p.Special Relationship uniting London and Washington (p.28).

The interest of the initiative initiated by Dino E. Buenviaje is that it aims at an eminently subjective but fluctuating discourse, in particular according to the nature of the economic and commercial relations between Berlin and Washington. Liberty was very early established as a fundamental American value and, by extension, a constituent element of Anglo-Saxonity (p.17). The Civil War was thus, in 1875, understood by lawyer Dexter Hawkins as the last great battle for Anglo-Saxon freedom, the one that eliminated slavery, a practice he likens to barbarism (” Hawkins considered the American Civil War to be the last battle for Anglo-Saxon liberty, which eliminated slavery, something remnant of barbarity “, P. 20). Of course, we immediately perceive what may be paradoxical such an assertion because it is precisely in the name of Anglo-Saxon, against a backdrop of Darwinian evolutionism (p.24, 34), that is justified – still today of the rest … – the supposed superiority of the white man. However, despite its flagrant contradictions, such a speech is interesting in that it carries in itself the seeds of what can be read in column length in the American dailies from 1917.

We can see how these stories fluctuate according to the circumstances and constitute real political tools. Far from the communion of origins, Anglo-Saxonity is defined by the culture of war as the incarnation of civilization and democracy, values ​​carried by the Allies against a Germany which, it figures, militarism and savagery ( ” Civil service and democracy in the form of the Allies, versus the militarism and savageryrepresented by Germany “, p. 5). And Dino E. Buenviaje reminds us that Anglo-Saxonity is in fact a grid of interpretation by which is interpreted the history of the United States (“Anglo-Saxonism became a lens through which to interpret the historical development of the United States “(P.27), a statement that is not without reminiscence of the way in which Horne and Kramer define the culture of war, namely the reading grid of the current reality,” c “. that is to say, a concept giving it meaning ” 2 .

From one war to another

The American Civil War is, from this point of view, an essential moment since it is the prism of the latter that the United States analyzes the Bismarckian era … and takes up the cause of German unity (p.47). France does not do very well in this respect: not only is the Second Empire perceived as a despotic regime, a thousand leagues from the liberal government promoted by the founding fathers, but the Mexican expedition of the 1860s is considered a flagrant violation of the Monroe Doctrine (p 48). We must insist on this point because it says not only the speed with which the speeches change but, above all, it allows to understand why the staging of the Franco-American friendship from April 1917 can not be based on anything else only on the proclamation of it,3 .

If the weight of German immigration in the United States is regularly put forward by historiography to explain the reluctance of Washington to engage in the conflict in August 1914, and thus to import the crisis inside its borders, few authors insist on the extent of the ties that unite the two countries before 1914. Moreover, far from the militarist unanimity very often described, Germany is very often perceived as a progressive nation, especially on the social plan (p.53). Theodore Roosevelt himself does not hide his sympathy for William II and has the opportunity to thank him publicly for his mediation in the negotiations ending the Russo-Japanese War of 1905 (p.59). In 1909, the two men declared themselves even publicly friends (p.68). Since then,

Berlin and Washington share the same anxieties (common anxieties, p.53), that of confinement within their national borders and a real appetite for colonial adventure. And it is precisely this thirst for territories that is the source of the break between these two countries. Despite his fervent Anglo-Saxonism, Theodore Roosevelet is quick to see Germany as a rival, particularly because of his claims, real or imagined, in Latin America and the Pacific (page 60). The development of American navalism, under the influence of Admiral Mahan, plays a leading role here, and invites us to consider the Asia-Pacific zone, that is to say, as a field of confrontation. between American and German colonial ambitions. So many arguments that, ultimately,4 .

The whole point of Dino E. Buenviaje’s investigation is to add a long time in the history of the entry into the First World War, an entry generally attributed to purely cyclical factors. inserting in a relatively short chronology: torpedoing of the Lusitania and excessive submarine warfare, Zimmermann telegram, commercial and financial interests. The convolutions of the discourse on the Anglo-saxonnité show the growing rivalry during the XIX thcentury, between the United States and Germany (page 38) despite the strong links that exist between the two countries, particularly because of immigration. But for that, it is necessary to decenter the eye, leave Europe and go to the Pacific Ocean, the Philippines and Guam in particular (page 92).

The author’s analysis is fine and never falls into the trap of a too long period that would ignore the conjunctures. The Boer War marks a real moment of tension that shows the opposition between ideology and pragmatic interests. It is ultimately these that prevail, since American interests in South Africa are clearly on the side of a British victory (p.113). Anglo-Saxonity reveals itself in all its subtleties and reconversions, since this discourse is above all a perpetual reinterpretation of origins to fit the political needs of the moment (p.118). And one begins to hope in the coming months a study that would take, in the wake of Dino E. Buenviaje, for object the idea of ​​interceltism.

About the Author

Dino E. Buenviaje teaches history at Riverside City College and other campuses in Southern California.

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