(Yes, this is another post on World War I. This is a short essay [4 pages] I wrote for my World War I class which I thought I'd share on here. While I'm sure this could be improved as I wrote it in a hurry, I think it's pretty decent.)
When the First World War broke out, American president Woodrow Wilson asked the American people to be neutral in both thought and deed. Of course, simple geography would render such a statement impossible to uphold for economic ties between the United States and Britain came much more naturally than with Germany. As a result, this began the process by which the United States was propelled into the war against Germany. Wilson, however, did not wish to justify intervention in the war based on economic reasons alone, as much of a factor as they may have been in aligning the United States with the British and French. Rather, Wilson saw the United States as the beacon of democracy destined to save the Old World from its own dying autocratic institutions, which he believed led directly to the outbreak of the war, and replace them with the New World’s democratic institutions which would bring peace and prosperity. Originally he called for a peace without victory in his speech to Congress on 22 January 1917, where both sides would lay down their arms and come to a peace where neither side gains nor loses more than the other despite the immense and unprecedented bloodshed both sides have suffered up to that point. Through this there would be no resent on either side, thus making long term peace attainable. However, in reaction to Germany’s resumption of unrestricted submarine warfare shortly after his 22 January 1917 speech, Wilson took a sudden change of heart. On his 2 April 1917 speech, Wilson declared Germany to be the more despotic of the warring powers and thus advisable that the United States would intervene in the war against Germany. He suddenly changed the war from a war of the dying institutions of the Old World into a war in the name of democracy from the American point of view. Despite that, he still indicated that the United States had a role in bringing democracy into the Old World and bringing it a long term peace; only this time, Germany’s defeat would be necessary for peace. Thus between the two speeches American president Woodrow Wilson made on 22 January 1917 and 2 April 1917, Wilson’s idea of a postwar world where peace and democratic institutions prevail does not change, however, his stance on the belligerents of the war takes a decided shift against Germany where before he believed Germany was a nation neither better or worse than Britain or France, but now is the enemy of democracy and needs to be defeated for a long term peace to be established.
Wilson sincerely believed that any long term peace would require the people to have a say in their government.
"No peace can last, or ought to last, which does not recognize and accept the principle that governments derive all their powers from the consent of the governed, and no right anywhere exists to hand peoples about from sovereignty to sovereignty as if they were property" (22 January 1917 speech).
Wilson believed that the people of any nation were naturally peaceful and would not wish to bring on war if they could avoid it. As such, he believed that the outbreak of the war was the result of the Old World’s autocratic institutions that had thrust the war upon the people of the belligerent nations. Therefore, he concluded that any meaningful and long term peace would require democracy to prevail, which would do away with these Old World institutions.
Wilson also believed that a peace without victory was essential for any lasting peace.
"Victory would mean peace forced upon the loser, a victor’s terms imposed upon the vanquished. It would be accepted in humiliation, under duress, at an intolerable sacrifice, and would leave a sting, a resentment, a bitter memory upon which terms of peace would rest, not permanently, but only as upon quicksand" (22 January 1917 speech).
Wilson knew that there could not be any resentment or exploitation of whichever belligerents lost the war by the victorious powers. If this were to be the case, he feared that the gains of the war would not serve the people, despite it directly harming the people of the vanquished nations, but rather, serve only the interests of the governments of the victorious nations. As a result, he saw a peace without victory to be required in order for democratic institutions to prevail.
However, on his speech to Congress on 2 April 1917, Wilson had taken a sudden change of heart against Germany as a result of Germany resuming its policy of unrestricted submarine warfare. Instead of a peace without victory, Wilson now saw victory against Germany as essential for democratic institutions to prevail. “The present German submarine warfare against commerce is a warfare against mankind” (2 April 1917 speech). The Old World institutions that Wilson originally believed to be present in all belligerents of the war are now seemingly concentrated in Germany more than any other nation, for Wilson believed that no people of a civilized nation would authorize a policy of unrestricted submarine warfare. “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” (2 April 1917 speech). As a result, Wilson saw Germany as the most despotic of all the belligerents and thus that their defeat would be necessary for democracy to prevail in the Old World.
Despite Wilson’s change of heart against Germany, the goals of the United States in the war would be the same as before. To promote democracy, which he described as a human right, thereby bringing Wilson’s vision of a postwar peace to life, would still be on the forefront of the agenda of the United States. “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” (2 April 1917 speech). The only difference now than before is that since Germany has been declared as the anathema of democracy and must be defeated in order for democracy to prevail, the United States will take a more active role in the war, actively fighting on the side of the British and French against the Germans.
The two speeches Wilson made on 22 January 1917 and 2 April 1917 were at odds with each other only on the position of the United States in regards to the belligerents of the First World War. Both speeches championed the United States as the promoter of democracy in the Old World, destined to do away with the dying Old World institutions which had started the war. Yet for democracy to prevail, Wilson believed on 2 April 1917 that Germany had to be defeated whereas on 22 January 1917, he believed that a peace without victory was necessary. This shift against Germany would prove to eventually create the very peace Wilson had denounced on 22 January 1917. This new peace would create neither long term peace nor democracy in the postwar world, but serve to only lay the groundwork by which the Second World War would be based upon a mere twenty years later. Wilson had seen this coming in his 22 January 1917 speech but would not apply it to the United States and its determination against Germany. As a result, Wilson created an enduring legacy of hypocrisy by which the United States shares the blame in the outcome of the First World War.
Change of plans.
2 years ago