A Bad Guess, H. L. Mencken
From the Baltimore Evening Sun, Nov. 11, 1932.
Nations, like men, seldom learn by experience. England made the same mistake again on September 3, 1939, and the United States followed docilely two years later. The consequences are now spread before a candid world MOST of England's appalling troubles today are due to a bad guess: she went into the war on the wrong side in 1914- The theory of her statesmen, in those days, was that, by joining France and Russia, she would give a death-blow to a dangerous rival, Germany, and so be free to run the world. But the scheme failed to work; moreover, it had unexpected and almost fatal results. Not only did Germany come out of the mess a dangerous rival still; France also became a rival, and a very formidable one. Worse, the United States was pumped up to immense propor- tions, and began to challenge England's control of the world's markets. The results are now visible: England has three competitors instead of one, and is steadily going downhill. If she had gone into the war on the German side she'd be in a much better situation today. The Germans would be grateful for the help, and willing to pay for it (while the French are not); the French would be down and out, and hence unable to menace the peace of Europe; Germany would have Russia in Europe and there would be no Bolshevik nuisance; England would have all of Siberia and Central Asia, and there would be no Japanese threat and no Indian revolt; and the United States would still be a docile British colony, as it was in 1914. English foreign policy, once so simple and direct, is now confused and irresolute. It confronts three huge problems, all of them probably insoluble - to hamstring and dephlogisticate both France and Germany, to bamboozle the United States (e.g., in the matter of naval "disarmament"), and to keep the colonies and dominions from flying off into space. Yet the English put up monuments to the statesmen" who got them into this mess. And even taller monuments to King Edward VII, who prepared the way for it by preferring the patchouli of Paris to the malt liquor of Berlin.
The United States made a similar mistake in 1-917- Our real interests at the time were on the side of the Germans, whose general attitude of mind is far more American than that of any other people. If we had gone in on their side, England would be moribund today, and the dreadful job of pulling her down, which will now take us forty or fifty years, would be over. We'd have a free hand in the Pacific, and Germany would be running the whole Continent like a house of correction. In return for our connivance there she'd be glad to give us whatever we wanted elsewhere. There would be no Bolshevism in Russia and no Fascism in Italy. Our debtors would all be able to pay us. The Japs would be docile, and we'd be reorganizing Canada and probably also Australia. But we succumbed to a college professor who read Matthew Arnold, just as the English succumbed to a gay old dog who couldn't bear to think of Prussian M.P.'s shutting down the Paris night-clubs.
As for the mistake that the Russians made, I leave it to history.