The Politics of War: The Story of Two Wars Which Altered Forever the Political Life of the American Republic By Walter Karp

Americans learned a profoundly embittering lesson: They did not count. Their very lives hung in the balance and still they did not count. That bitter lesson was itself profoundly corrupting, for it transformed citizens into cynics, filled free men with self-loathing, and drove millions into privacy, apathy, and despair. (p. 332)

. . . Plus ça change . . . 384
An eye-opening slice of history that provides a readable background to how the United States became enmeshed in world affairs. 384


The gods of reading must be looking over my shoulder, because this is the eighth book in a row that has had the power to keep me up late. It is a tragedy that this book is not in every American house.

Walter Karp wrote this book in 1978-79, but it contains such powerful insights about American politics from 1890 to 1920 that gradually it will dawn on you that this period is only dully recalled in our school history books. We hear of the Reform Era, of World War 1; but what happened to the Reform Era, and how did we get involved in World War 1? More importantly, why?

Karp's thesis is that the moneyed interests (banks, mega-corporations, trusts, holding companies) have worked in concert with, most notably, Presidents McKinley and Wilson, and that their aim is the emasculation and submissiveness of the American electorate. You might think this is a bit extreme, or a bit hackneyed, even; but when you read the details and documentation in this book, you will never, ever see the United States of America in the same way.

384 Great historical polemic, which might merit half a star off for being a tad one-note about Woodrow Wilson, but the tale he tells of how we lost the Republic 100 years ago, in the Spanish American War and American participation in WWI, both wars of choice, is compelling and told with great passion. I am subsequently reading a biography of Wilson by a more mainstream historian, and the self-serving motivations that Karp describes in his book have some basis in fact. I'll come back here after I finish the other book 384 I never totally bought into the myth that Woodrow Wilson did everything he could to keep us out of war. But, before reading this book, on the recommendation of an Amazon commenter to another review of mine, I didn't realize that, instead, he did everything he could to drag us into that war, and was doing that long before he was successful.

That said, my eyes were actually even more opened as to the Machiavellian character of William McKinley. Far from circumstances forcing us into war with Spain over Cuba, he was pushing that angle as soon as he was inaugurated. AND, already then, looking at the Philippines as well. Karp argues it's precisely that, and related things, that led him to appoint TR as assistant secretary of the navy.

And, since Wilson couldn't have pulled off his degree of international meddling without McKinley doing it before him, McKinley is worse in some ways.

That said, Karp's contrarian take digs deep. He also notes that Wilson was far from being a progressive, including on the allegedly progressive creation of the Federal Reserve.

The one thing I found missing, if you will, is that I would have liked even more background from Karp on his take on the populist movement/People's Party. 384 Interesting revisionist history of the Spanish American war and WW1. Karp's basic thesis is that when faced with growing economic discontent and calls for reform, the two leading parties decided to pursue a global empire to quell popular dissent. However he does not do a great job explaining why exactly war was their go to solution, especially considering Karp depicts he mass of people as being quite isolationist, including the business elites.This incongruity comes from Karp's refusal to assign a direct economic motive for empire building; there is no talk or resources or markets in this book. In fact at one point he scoffs at the idea U.S. got involved in China for economic gain by stating that U.S. did not have major investments in China so that couldn't have been the reason! His refusal to see a direct economic motive where there clearly is comes from his own odd ideology.
Karp is a conservative, but one who takes the thought of the founding fathers seriously. One one hand this gives his book a strong moral perspective whereby U.S. politics in the post Civil war era is a mockery of what the founder's intentions were. On the other, this can make his criticisms of U.S. imperialism seem a little naive, as it could be argued U.S. had engaged in imperialism with the Mexican American war, not to mention westward expansion which saw the theft of Native American lands, all so the nation could stretch from coast to coast.
The writing in the book is good, and Karp's earnest moral disgust at the lies and corruption American politics is frankly exciting. It's nice to read an academic author who is honest and says what these people are doing is wrong, instead of going for some dry fake neutrality. this moralizing is serviced by a good analysis of of how these two parties got us into the Spanish American war and then World War I. Karp does a good job contrasting public statements against private actions. It can be darkly comic seeing the contortions politicians will put themselves into to carry on their war plans. Still, this type thorough analysis is not for everybody. There are probably 100 pages in this book devoted to the question of can neutral civilians sail on armed belligerent merchant ships in a hostile zone (the answer was no by the way). The book was overall very interesting and and little sad since there are many parallels between the gilded age and now.

384 The first half, a study of McKinley's papers which document his orchestration of military action against Spain, reads like a script to our current screening of war set in the middle east. The second half does likewise with Wilson's handling of World War I. 384

Politics of War describes the emergence of the United States as a world power between the years 1890 and 1920-our contrivance of the Spanish-American War and our gratuitous entrance into World War I-and by filling in the back story of an era in which mendacious oligarchy organized the country's politics in a manner convenient to its own indolence and greed, Karp offers a clearer understanding of our current political circumstance. The Politics of War: The Story of Two Wars Which Altered Forever the Political Life of the American Republic

CHARACTERS The Politics of War: The Story of Two Wars Which Altered Forever the Political Life of the American Republic