- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 23, 2001

President George W. Bush's call before a joint session of Congress for action against terrorism is reminiscent of the dilemma and rhetoric of another chief executive, Woodrow Wilson, who led the United States into World War I in 1917.
To be sure, the differences between the two eras and men are obvious: The United States was not attacked in World War I, and Woodrow Wilson, a Princeton University professor, had little in common with the business background of George W. Bush.
Yet both men had come to the White House from governorships New Jersey for Wilson, Texas for Mr. Bush. Both men had little experience in foreign policy before becoming president. Indeed, Wilson campaigned for his second term in office in 1916 on the slogan "He kept us out of war." And Mr. Bush's initial months in office were conspicuous for not keeping a constant, hands-on concern about foreign affairs, preferring instead that parties in conflict attempt to resolve their own differences.
For both men, a form of terrorism was the impetus for war. For Wilson, the terrorism was new military technology, the German U-boat (Unterseeboot), or submarine, that violated international law by being submerged and using torpedos to sink merchant ships without warning.
On Jan. 31, 1917, the German high command announced unrestricted submarine warfare on all shipping neutral or belligerent, military or commercial. Although the United States broke off diplomatic relations with Germany, a declaration of war did not immediately follow.
However, American ships were sunk by German submarines in February and March 1917. Wilson made his call for a declaration of war before a joint session of Congress, stressing the horror of the unrestricted submarine warfare: "Vessels of every kind, whatever their flag, their character, their cargo, their destination, their errand, have been ruthlessly sent to the bottom without warning and without thought of help or mercy for those on board. … I was for a little while unable to believe that such things would in fact be done by any government that had hitherto subscribed to the humane practices of civilized nations."
And Wilson would make it clear, as has President Bush in his war against terrorism that preyed on innocent civilians, that "the present German submarine warfare against commerce is a war against mankind. It is a war against all nations."
Unlike Mr. Bush, Wilson did not attempt to use his call for a declaration of war against Germany to forge a diplomatic and military consensus against the terrorism of the submarine: "American ships have been sunk, American lives taken, in ways which has stirred us very deeply to learn of, but the ships and people of other neutral and friendly nations have been sunk and overwhelmed in the waters in the same way. There has been no discrimination. The challenge is to all mankind. Each nation will decide for itself how it will meet it."
However, Wilson emphasized that American ends and means of warfare would be prudent: "We must put excited feeling away. Our motive will not be revenge or the victorious assertion of the physical might of the nation, but only the vindication of right, of human right, of which we are only a single champion."
Perhaps the clearest difference between Wilson and Mr. Bush is in the time frame that the two men set for the duration of the war against their specific terrorist country or group. For Mr. Bush, the scenario is a "lengthy campaign unlike any other we have ever seen," requiring "patience in what will be a long struggle." For Wilson it was much shorter: Eighteen months after Americans entered it, World War I came to an end.

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