To Create a New World? American Presidents and the United Nations

By John Allphin Moore Jr.; Jerry Pubantz | Go to book overview
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international relations. Henry Kissinger wrote approvingly of the conference in his well-known Ph.D dissertation. 28

The Twentieth-Century Crisis

Crescendoing crises challenged the Concert of Europe right up to its ultimate collapse in the Great War of 1914-1918. We have reviewed above Wilson's role at the Paris peace conference, where the president joined statesmen more attuned to the older diplomacy to hammer out a new version of international order. Wilson, as we know, brought with him the principled positions he had earlier articulated in his Fourteen Points, plus an outline for a new worldwide organization committed to collective security and to the elimination of war. When the peacemakers arrived in the Paris suburb of Versailles to sign the completed agreement, there were, as we have seen above, several compromises that troubled Wilson's most resolute supporters. But it is safe to say that the Wilsonian principles of "self-determination" and "internationalism," though from a certain perspective ominously antipodal, had been clearly presented to the world's peoples. Yet problems remained. Wilson, who had been welcomed to Europe as a savior, became by the conclusion of the treaty the target of unhappy nationalist frustrations abroad as well as partisan resistance at home. As might have been expected with initial expectations so high, almost no one was exactly sanguine about the new national boundaries; and in the United States, anxiety about Wilson's compromises and the apparent grubby politics of the peace conference joined a weariness against foreign crusades. Although there remained enduring support for the League, by the time the president collapsed with a stroke during a railroad campaign across the United States to promote the new organization, his grand plans were on the brink of defeat in his own country. His illness accompanied his disappointment as the Senate rejected the Versailles Treaty.

The Versailles settlement may have been doomed to failure despite the American snub. The statesmen at Paris had before them a disintegrating world. Most of the major organizing empires of the previous century were gone. The Manchu dynasty in China had collapsed in 1911, replaced by a weak republican government; a confusing and devastating civil war followed which some would say

Henry Kissinger, A World Restored: Europe After Napoleon ( New York: Grosset and Dunlap, 1964).


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