Since smart people I respect seem to think so much of this VDH column, it seems necessary to point out some of the more fantastically crazy things Hanson says in that column:
Few believed that it was a tragedy brought on by an aggressive Germany; fought heroically by amateur French, British, and American soldiers who defeated the professionalism and skill of the German army (the most lethal land force that had yet appeared); and was a result of two different and largely antithetical visions of Europe. No one dared accept that the post-bellum failure to invade Germany, occupy Berlin, and demonstrate the utter lunacy of German militarism had caused World War II; the problem was that the victorious allies had been too mean rather than too fickle.
Yes, few believe these things, because these things are not true. WWI wasn’t principally a tragedy brought on by an aggressive Germany. It was the result of combined Austrian meddling, Russian folly, British hesitation and German diffidence. The problem with Berlin in the July crisis was its passivity in guiding its allies’ policies, not in its aggressiveness. German “aggressiveness” in the Schlieffen Plan was an unavoidable result of being encircled by the Franco-Russian alliance. Blame that on stupid Wilhelmine Weltpolitik and the decision to drop the connection with Russia, which you certainly can do, but spare us the lectures about German aggression. The two antithetical visions of Europe to which Hanson refers were the vision in which the Entente powers continued to dominate most of the world and the vision in which Germany would be permitted to join them as a first-rank power. Scary! It never ceases to amaze me how people can look at the vastly stronger, more powerful alliance in the Entente and see in it some poor victim of overmighty Germany and the allies that it had to carry for the duration.
Hanson’s “On to Berlin!” idea is stunning. To believe that this was even possible, much less desirable, by the time the Ludendorff offensive failed is to be quite wrong. It was possible to occupy Paris because Napoleon had been beaten in the field, but the treatment of the defeated party ensured that it was incorporated into the system of European powers and not treated with the harshness that its aggression might have seemed to merit. Not only does Hanson find the “Carthaginian peace” imposed on Germany lacking as a punishment, but he seems to think that humiliating and grinding the Germans under the boot even more would have stamped out German nationalism. This is shockingly wrong. What was the German response to the Napoleonic invasions and occupations? It was in part the creation and cultivation of German nationalism. Does anyone think, supposing it was actually possible to do (and the American public would never have tolerated prolonging the war to capture Berlin), that occupying Germany in the 1920s would have created a less bitter, less resentful, less nationalistic, less revanchist Germany? Does anyone think that a liberal democratic constitution imposed by the Allied sword directly would have been more acceptable to German nationalists than the one adopted by Germans after the Armistice? This would only have delayed the resumption of hostilities, but it would have ensured that the revenge meted out by the Germans on those who had occupied their country would have been even more severe. This is a perfect example of the problem with Hanson’s whole view: whatever the problem, it could have been solved by the application of even more force.