Everett Collection / Shutterstock.com
World War I and the ideology of empire

I am inclined to agree with Professor Moser’s assessment that “World War I was arguably the most important conflict of the twentieth century.” In terms of lasting historical legacy, it may well be the century’s single most important event of any kind.

Where Moser and I differ is on how best to frame the war’s importance. I am disinclined to do so by assessing its impact on the size and reach of the United States government. Indeed, as an episode in the emergence of the American Leviathan, U.S. participation in World War I trails in significance well behind the Great Depression, World War II, the Cold War, and even the post-Cold War era.

Among other things, those later episodes lasted substantially longer than the eighteen months during which the United States was an active belligerent in 1917-1918. And whereas the passing of the “Great War” restored some semblance of prewar “normalcy” to American life, rearming for the next war against Germany ended normalcy for good. Or perhaps more accurately, it gave birth to a new normal in which American political elites came to regard global military dominion as an absolute imperative. Even today, except on the radical Left and the anti-interventionist Right, that radically revised conception of normalcy persists and prevents any serious reconsideration of basic U.S. policy.

Where’s the proof? It’s in the matchless size of the military budget, the vastness of the Pentagon’s network of foreign bases, and the design of U.S. forces as instruments of global power projection, with the actual defense of the United States and of the American people something of an afterthought. None of these can be attributed to events that occurred between April 1917 and November 1918.

Read the full article in Cato Unbound.

More from