Woodrow Wilson, Revolutionary Germany, and Peacemaking, 1918-1919: Missionary Diplomacy and the Realities of Power

By Klaus Schwabe; Rita Kimber et al. | Go to book overview

Introduction

This book is a study of the relations between the United States and the first German Republic at the end of the First World War and during the Paris Peace Conference. The relationship between the two nations remains controversial in historiography to this day. On one side, the view persists that Woodrow Wilson "betrayed" his own ideals and, at the same time, the Germans who had entrusted their fate to him. This view first emerged in Germany in early May 1919 when the contents of the peace treaty were made public. 1 It struck a responsive chord in embittered liberals such as Theodor Wolff, in moderate nationalists such as Gustav Stresemann, and in inveterate chauvinists all the way up to Adolf Hitler. But this view also had—and still has—its adherents in the United States, at first among disappointed radical liberals such as Walter Lippmann and William C. Bullitt 2 and, now, among moderate conservatives such as the historian and diplomat George E Kennan and among some of the experts who advised Woodrow Wilson fifty years ago. All these former "Wilsonians" bemoan the lack of understanding which the United States Government showed the founders of the Weimar Republic, and they denounce that lack as "profligate carelessness,"—to them, indeed, a "tragedy," from which, in the long run, only the opponents of democratic government in Germany and the enemies of a liberal world order based on peace could profit. 3

The other major thesis postulates a secret "conspiracy" between the new German government and the western powers, particularly the United States. This conspiracy, formed after the Armistice, supposedly had as its primary goal the containment of Bolshevism. This view can be traced back to Lenin; and, in official orthodox Marxist historiography, it continues to enjoy canonical status. Indeed, in view of the ties between the Federal Republic of Germany and the United States, it is given even more credence today than it previously had. 4 But even outside the Communist sphere of influence a modified form of this argument has its eminent adherents, among them the American historian Arno J. Mayer in his important and broadly conceived study, Politics and Diplomacy of Peacemaking. Mayer places into relief what he sees as a collusion between the Ebert-Scheidemann governments and the United States, a collusion which was not only decisively anti-Bolshevist in its aims but also worked against the non-Communist left (in Germany, the USPD). 5 Herbert Hoover proposed a similar view. Hoover was one of Wilson's key advisers in 1919 and a man to whom it is impossible to attribute any

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