A FOREIGN POLICY TAKES SHAPE
As WOODROW WILSON dealt with the diplomatic crises that arose during his first year in office he did not lose sight of a fixed star on which the aspiration of idealists was beginning to center. Save for its brief hostilities with Spain, the United States had been at peace for almost a hundred years with the other great powers of the world: its people had grown physically strong, economically wealthy, and strategically secure against the fears and menaces that were rife on other continents. Out of their fortuitous isolation had grown a conviction that peace was normal and virtuous, war unnecessary and wicked. Failing properly to relate their political felicity to the geographic and economic conditions that made it possible, some Americans felt that they could dispense the blessings of peace to the world, along with democracy and Christianity.
During Wilson's academic years, his nation's desire to propagate peace had worked toward two goals: arbitration and disarmament. Unfortunately, proposals for curtailing the armed forces of the nations had not progressed beyond pious talk. Though the standing armies of the democracies were small, the empires of Central and Eastern Europe commanded vast forces; and moreover, the huge navies of Western Europe were being challenged by the growing fleets of Germany, Japan, and the United States.
Arbitration of disputes, however, was a process long familiar to the people of the United States, where a Supreme Court had acted for more than a century as arbiter of interstate differences. The American nation had applauded Theodore Roosevelt when he had mediated to end the Russo-Japanese War; and Americans had participated willingly in setting up a panel of judges at The Hague to serve nations that wished to submit their differences to law instead of a trial of arms. There was, however, no cosmic force to compel the submission of disputes to this judicial body, nor was there power to enforce its decisions. If peoples were sufficiently scared they would still demand the protection of armament; and if they became mad enough they would fight. In the Old World imperial ambitions and ancient grudges had created national psychoses that were unresponsive to ecumenical considerations.