A History of the Great War, 1914-1918

By C. R. M. F. Cruttwell | Go to book overview

XXXV THE NEGOTIATIONS

FOR the first time since the outbreak of war the minds of all the statesmen, soldiers, and peoples were fixed rather on its ending than on its continuance, though with a more agonized intensity in Central Europe than in the West.

It is a melancholy reflection that, while one fevered week sufficed to break the peace, five times that space of time was found necessary to arrange the terms of a suspension of hostilities. Within this period of the interchange of notes at least half a million men must have been killed or wounded;1 for the battle raged continually in the West without ever reaching a decisive victory, and towards the end of October it flared up again in Italy.

The demand for an armistice did not take Wilson by surprise, though it was greeted almost unanimously in the American press as a 'manœuvre' or 'trap'. The President himself never wavered from his original standpoint: 'If the Germans are beaten they will accept any terms, if they are not beaten I do not wish to make terms with them.'2

Consequently, before committing either himself or the Associated Powers, he had to probe very closely into the intentions of Germany. Therefore, in his reply he asked two questions, and laid down one preliminary condition. He must be clear whether the German Government accepted the Fourteen Points, and would discuss only the practical details of their application; secondly, whether the Chancellor was speaking merely for the constituted authorities of the Empire who had so far conducted the

____________________
1
There is no foundation for the statement which has been made that the negotiations were purposely protracted in order to intensify the existing military superiority of the Allies. A study of Col. House's Intimate Papers (edited by C. Seymour, vol. iv, 1926), the most authoritative account, makes this point quite clear.
2
It must be emphasized that the first three Wilson notes (October 8, 14, and 23) were dispatched without any prior consultation with the Associated Powers.

-577-

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