Wilson and the Decisions
The interval between about May 1, 1916, and February 1, 1917, was perhaps the most fateful turning point of modern history, because the decisions that the leaders of the great powers made during this period determined the future of mankind for generations to come. It began in despair and gloom: The war had become a bloody stalemate in the trenches, and its continuation could mean only the attrition and perhaps the ruin of western civilization. It ended with at least a semblance of hope: In early 1917 statesmen had an opportunity, under Wilson's leadership, to end the war on terms that might have promised a secure and peaceful future. Wilson made the first decision—to press for mediation under the terms of the House-Grey Memorandum. It was a choice almost foreordained by the events narrated in the preceding chapter. Indeed, Wilson proposed implementation of the memorandum during the height of the Sussex crisis. Sir Edward Grey firmly refused, saying that he greatly preferred American entry into the war, and that, in any event, he did not have much hope for Wilson's mediation.
Wilson was undaunted. After all, Colonel House had assured him, and continued to do so, that the British leaders and the usually intransigent French sincerely wanted peace and would cooperate. Wilson returned to the task of getting peace negotiations under way after the Sussex crisis. Surely, now, he thought, the time had come to strike for peace. He also began to prepare American public opinion