Monday, April 6, 2015


In the piece I published a couple of days ago about Erik Larson's Dead Wake, I was guilty of an error that leaves me feeling foolish and abashed.  I wrote it a few pages before reaching the end of the book, confident in my knowledge of European history.  As I discovered in reading to the end of this fine book, that "knowledge" was faulty: I made the mistake that many make, believing that the sinking of the Lusitania led directly to America's entry into World War I...

Well, no.  As Larson makes clear, there were another two years of hesitation and denial on the part of both America and its President Woodrow Wilson before joining the allied effort in 1917.  It took more torpedoes from German U-boats, the sinking of more American vessels and the loss of more American lives.  The incident that finally broke America's resolve to remain neutral was the revelation of a ridiculously miscalculated German outreach for an alliance with our neighbor to the south, in exchange for the proposed return of American lands to Mexico after the war was won.

That did it.  Wilson rallied a now wildly aroused Congress, and America stormed across the Atlantic, as it was to do again in World War II.  The interesting but unanswerable question, also broached by Larson, is whether British authorities stood by and allowed the sinking of the Lusitania and the loss of all those lives, in order to assure the awakening of the sleeping giant on the far side of the ocean.  The same question persists, of course, in relation to Pearl Harbor...

My apologies, anyway, for the mistake.  The lesson is never to respond until you've listened carefully to the whole story.

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