History,  Stateside

Alternate history

Would the reelection of President William Howard Taft in 1912 have prevented World War II?

Wade Gilley, who served in the cabinet of a Republican governor of Virginia and held appointments in the administration of President Ronald Reagan, thinks it’s a possibility.

Writing in The Roanoke Times about how a split in the Republican party, and an independent candidacy, could ensure the election of Hillary Clinton as president this year, he recalls:

…Teddy Roosevelt, who had served two terms as president before handing the office over to his vice president, Howard Taft, decided to run for a third term (which was allowed back then). But Roosevelt could not get the Republican Party to disavow Taft, so he created the Bull Moose Party and ran as president on that ticket.

The net result was that Woodrow Wilson, governor of New Jersey and former president of Princeton University, ran on the Democrat Party ticket and won the three-man race with just 41.9 percent of the vote. That split carried the U.S. into World War I, which led to World War II, which might not have happened had Taft been re-elected.

A few problems here. The most glaring is that Taft was not Roosevelt’s vice president but rather his secretary of war.

And did the split between Republicans in 1912 really carry the US into World War I? America’s entry into that war didn’t happen until after Wilson was reelected at the end of 1916. What makes Gilley think a Taft victory four years earlier would have prevented that?

In fact former president Taft fully supported the US declaration of war against Germany in 1917.

Finally, there is a case to be made that the postwar Treaty of Versailles provided Hitler with the fuel he needed to stoke among Germans a feeling of humiliation and thirst for revenge which enabled him to rise to power and provoke another, even more terrible war. But World War I started and raged for about two-and-a-half years without US involvement. It seems Gilley is arguing that the US entry ensured a German defeat, and that defeat led inevitably to another world war 21 years later.

So if the US had stood aside and allowed the Germans to win the First World War (or at least not lose so decisively), the Second would never have happened?

What do our historians (amateur and otherwise) have to say?

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