Wilson and the Peacemakers: Combining Woodrow Wilson and the Lost Peace and Woodrow Wilson and the Great Betrayal

By Thomas A. Bailey | Go to book overview

CHAPTER TWO

THE PEN IS MIGHTER

"The phrase [self-determination] is simply loaded with dynamite. It will raise hopes which can never be realized. . . . What a calamity that the phrase was ever uttered! What misery it will cause!" ROBERT LANSING, December 30, 1918.


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AN INCREASING number of writers, especially in recent years, are disposed to censure Wilson-for what they consider a lamentable oversight. Why, they Ask, did he not drive a bargain with the Allies as to the specific terms of the peace at the time we entered the conflict?

The argument is that the Allies were in such critical need of our financial and naval assistance early in 1917 that they could have been forced to make definite pledges in line with our desires for a non-imperialistic peace. If such promises had been extorted -- and kept -- the tragedy of the peace table might have been avoided.

On the surface, this argument appears plausible. Certainly the time to drive a hard bargain with one's future associates in a war is when they are in desperate need of your help. When the common enemy is crushed, they are much less likely to respect your ideas about the writing of the peace.

Yet there are sound reasons why we should not censure Wilson for having failed to exact his pound of flesh before clasping hands with the Allies. First and foremost, we did not enter the conflict primarily because we desired to, or because we wanted to help the Allies, but because Germany had picked a fight with us. Our quarrel was with the Imperial German government, not with the Allies over the prospective spoils.

We should also note that Wilson did not have his long-range war aims clearly thought out at the time we were pushed into

-18-

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