Summary of Wilson’s Ghost

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Wilson’s Ghost book summary
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Woodrow Wilson may lack the star power of more prominent former US presidents, but you can’t argue with his prescience. In 1919, after the world’s first total war had drawn to its messy conclusion, Wilson predicted a future of bloodshed and chaos. A century and millions of casualties later, his dystopian vision proves all too accurate. Academic James Blight and former US defense secretary Robert McNamara delve into Wilson’s legacy and how it might guide today’s political leaders. They draw the startling conclusion that war will claim some 300 million lives during this century. Policy makers could contain the carnage, Blight and McNamara argue, by embracing Wilson’s moral imperative to limit the loss of life. This 2003 study includes interesting touches, such as McNamara’s brief mea culpa about his moral miscalculations in Vietnam. To their credit, the authors paint Wilson as an imperfect figure. For instance, he couldn’t convince Congress to join the League of Nations and put his cooperative vision into action. The authors embrace the ambiguity that accompanies a world of fractured alliances and mixed motives, and their study usefully recasts a century-old leader for modern times. getAbstract recommends this book to history buffs, policy makers as well as the citizens who elect them. 

About the Authors

Robert McNamara served as US secretary of defense to presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson. Brown University professor of international relations James Blight has written many books on American foreign policy.



The Promise of Morality and Multilateralism

Woodrow Wilson, the 28th US president, viewed the carnage of World War I as a failure. He argued that nations should use force only after exhausting all other alternatives. Trained as a historian and political scientist, Wilson sought to introduce two concepts into international diplomacy. The first was the “moral imperative” – the duty of political leaders not to sacrifice human lives unnecessarily. The second was the “multilateral imperative” – the duty of great powers not to act alone but to seek agreement and compromise among nations.

After World War I, Wilson sought to create the League of Nations, a model of multinationalism that would have required its members to approve the use of military force. Wilson believed if individual nations retained the power to make war, the result would be the continuing prevalence of mistrust, misgivings and mistake-prone decision making. But Wilson couldn’t persuade the US Senate to sign on to his vision of multilateralism, and the United States never joined the League of Nations. Today, everything Wilson feared has come to pass. Punitive and humiliating actions...

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