Wilson and His Peacemakers: American Diplomacy at the Paris Peace Conference, 1919

By Arthur Walworth | Go to book overview

PART TWO

The Prophet on the Summit

WHEN Woodrow Wilson left Paris on February 14, his star was at a zenith. True to the concept of leadership that guided him as president of Princeton, governor of New Jersey, and president of the United States, he had pledged himself to further the common interest of his constituency. He now conceived his constituency to be all humanity. He was responding to the elemental desire that was more universal than the aspirations of any race, religion, or nation: mankind's yearning for lasting peace.

He had made his purposes clear in public utterances of prophetic tenor; and for a month he had entered with vigor and dignity into the deliberations of statesmen of the Old World. Supported by European liberal opinion, he had insisted on a covenant to control sudden aggressions and other causes of war. He had set scholars of good conscience to work in cooperation with those of the Allies to provide facts that bore upon critical issues. And all the while he had shown a canny regard for certain special interests of his own nation: quick demobilization; the financial obligations of European governments to the Treasury of the United States; protection from the menace of Japanese expansion in the islands of the Pacific; prestige in Latin America; and beyond these immediate considerations, the immense stature to which the United States might grow as leader of the world in a league of nations.

Little progress had been made in the first month of the Peace Conference, however, toward defining the precise terms of the treaty to be offered to the defeated enemy. Dealings with the spokesmen for the new rulers of Germany were in the hands of military men who were intent on curbing the enemy's power. No policy had been established that would bring reliable Germans into the discussions of the conditions of peace.

Meanwhile, as the horrors of war receded in men's memories, the mystic halo with which the war-weary masses had glorified the prophet of peace and justice was beginning to lose its radiance. Workers in Europe were disappointed in their hope of using this foreign voice to further their interests. Wilson had taken no part in their effort to make common cause at Bern. He was proving unable to help the masses of Russia to attain political tranquillity. His colleagues in the Supreme Council of Ten were disappointed by his inability—restricted as he was by the power of the American Congress—to give specific pledges of an assumption of responsibility by his nation for the execution of arrangements that he advocated. The Europeans had accepted the part of Wilson's program that seemed relatively harmless. Their pride

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