have seen a number of references lately to the UU World article, The liberal saints . "In 1956 Andrene Kauffman, a Third Unitarian member who was a muralist and longtime instructor at the Art Institute of Chicago, was inspired by a sermon to create the portraits. The sermon, by the Rev. E.T. Buehrer, minister at Third Unitarian from 1941 to 1969, was entitled “The Saints of Liberalism.” The sermon led Kauffman to paint twenty-four figures, many of them mentioned in the sermon. She finished the first one, of U.S. President Woodrow Wilson, in 1956." I know Kauffman's high opinion of Wilson is universal amongst liberals; he is often rated in the top five US Presidents... something that is incomprehensible to me. Most particularly, I cannot comprehend UUs considering him a saint.
Liberals usually give two reasons for considering Wilson a saint- primarily for his League Of Nations, and secondarily for establishing the first federal income tax. How can I possibly dislike the man who showed such idealism in foreign policy, and gave us the mechanism to do a little social engineering and soak the evil rich? Easily... let's start with the fact that he was a virulent white supremacist that destroyed what progress we had made so far in race relations since the Civil War. Here is a quote of his that appeared in the movie, "Birth of a Nation". While president of Princeton University, Wilson discouraged blacks from even applying for admission, the first black student not being admitted until 1945. He reversed what integregation had been accomplished in the armed forces, re-segregating them. For the first time since 1863, he segregated civilian federal employees. He signed a law making racial intermarriage a felony in the District of Columbia. He aided and encouraged the creation of "Jim Crow" laws.
In view of his racial attitudes, it is no surprise that he was also a proponent of eugenics, and signed forced sterilization into law. 60,000 American citizens were subjected to involuntary sterilization- some by full castration- before the laws were overturned. He encouraged marriage laws that excluded not only mixed race marriages, but marriages to people with any of a long list of disabilities, or a family history of "criminal tendencies".
But then, respect for civil rights in general wasn't one of his long suits. He created the draft, despite the fact that there was no shortage of volunteers for military service. Then there were the Espionage, Sabotage, and Sedition acts that made it illegal to oppose WWI or the government's prosecution of it. Vigilante groups, with the approval of the Justice Dept., trashed publishers and newspapers who wrote against the war, and informed on their friends and neighbors for speaking out. Socialist Presidential candidate Eugene V. Debs was imprisoned for asking why should workers from various countries fight against each other for the interests of the wealthy and powerful. (I guess that Debs had noticed that while the war did result in full employment, CEOs did better than workers; 42,000 millionaires were created during the war, while workers actually lost ground- wages increased by only 20%, while inflation went up 37% )
Of course, the war that Debs was imprisoned for speaking against, WWI, was a war of choice. While declaring the US officially neutral, (he even ran on "He kept us out of the war"), he violated all international laws of neutrality. He participated in the embargo against Germany, halting even shipments of food and medicine, causing starvation amongst German civilians, while simultaneously not only selling weapons to England and France, but arranging sweetheart loans from American banks... and shipping those weapons on civilian ships. I'm sure you've heard of the sinking of the Lusitania- but did you know it was carrying 4.2 million rounds of ammunition? His own Secretary of State resigned over this issue, and the starvation the blockade caused- it continued even after the cessation of hostilities- was a contributing factor to the resentment that resulted in the rise of the Nazi party. In "Before the Deluge: A Portrait of Berlin in the 1920s", John Maynard Keynes cited the testimony of an observer who accompanied Herbert Hoover's mission to help the starving:
You think [this] is a kindergarten for the little ones. No, these are children of seven and eight years. Tiny faces, with large, dull eyes, overshadowed by huge puffed, rickety foreheads, their small arms just skin and bones, and above the crooked legs with their dislocated joints the swollen, pointed stomachs of the hunger edema... "You see this child here," the physician in charge explained, "it consumed an incredible amount of bread, and yet it did not get any stronger. I found out that it hid all the bread it received underneath its straw mattress. The fear of hunger was so deeply rooted in the child that it collected the stores instead of eating the food: a misguided animal instinct made the dread of hunger worse than the actual pangs."
But these weren't the only resentments Woodrow Wilson's foreign policies created. There were the invasions of Mexico, Haiti, The Dominican Republic, and Nicaragua, for example. Yeah, a lot of Presidents have abused the Monroe doctrine; but he also sent 5,000 soldiers to Russia to take sides in their civil war, tainting relations with the new Soviet union to come, and setting a fine precedent for Vietnam forty years later.
If Woodrow Wilson is a saint, call me an atheist.