The Situation Preceding Germany's
Appeal to Wilson
On October 3, 1918, the German Empire appealed to the President of the United States—and to him alone—to negotiate an armistice which could lead in turn to a peace treaty based on Wilson's Fourteen Points. This German move gave the United States a key position in the diplomacy of the First World War. The empire's request confirmed the American claim to global political responsibility, a claim which Wilson had urged upon his fellow citizens during the final phase of the war. What prompted Germany to make this move? If we are to understand the significance of Germany's request, the motives behind it, and the response which it evoked in the United States, we first must examine the relationship between these two warring nations during the last year of the First World War. Only then will we be able to answer the questions raised by the shift in wartime diplomacy which Germany's appeal of October 3, 1918, initiated.
Was the German gesture, now that military defeat was inevitable, simply that of a drowning man snatching at straws? Were the motives behind the German peace initiative purely military, or did political considerations bear on it as well? Did the German government—and the German Supreme Command—realize what the political consequences might be if it agreed to accept a peace based on Wilson's Fourteen Points? Had Germany's political leadership been sufficiently informed—perhaps through unofficial channels—about American peace objectives that it could accept them in good faith? And from the American point of view, did the Fourteen Points constitute a concrete peace plan which could provide a basis for negotiations? Or were the points devised merely as propaganda? If that was the case, what were the conditions that the President really had in mind for peace negotiations?
The political circumstances which led up to Wilson's famous declaration of the Fourteen Points on January 8, 1918, political circumstances