Wilson at Versailles - Politics Forum.org | PoFo

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The First World War (1914-1918).
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By Clausewitz
#998052
We all know the story about Wilson and Versailles, that he came there an idealist championing self-determination and a "soft" peace on Germany, while Clemenceau, Lloyd George, and Orlando wanted to carve up the Central Powers. Many people would also criticize him for being a bit quixotic, since the peace that came out of 1919 "satisfied no one," and laid the foundations for World War II.

But just for a moment, let's say that Wilson is a little bit smarter than we take him for. Let's say, also, that Wilson was a Teddy Roosevelt in sheep's clothing.

Let's see if that helps explain things. It doesn't make sense for America to waste resources crusading into Europe in 1914, '15, or '16, like Charles Evans Hughes wanted to, since it would be better to let the Europeans bleed for a little while. If you're interested in strengthening America, then it's probably best to join in when you have hints that Germany is weakened, but not quite so weak that the peace would more or less be a British-French peace.

This also explains why Wilson could so massively flip-flop from "He kept us out of the war" to "a crusade to make the world safe for democracy" in one year; and, not to mention, go through three totally divergent foreign policy approaches in his secretaries of state, William Jennings Bryan, Robert Lansing, and finally, Bainbridge Colby. It's only Colby who can really be called "Wilsonian," as we mean it nowadays.

There's something serendipitous about the time that the Americans showed up in France; we were just late enough in the war that it didn't cost us a whole lot, and just early enough that we were able to really include ourselves in the peacemaking. More than that, we had made the Allies financially dependent on us.

What a perfect situation. Now, naturally, we would like for Europe to continue to be fragmented, so we don't want Germany to become a French puppet. Lo, self-determination looks like a fine excuse. And by presenting the impression of an "Anglo-American" peace to the French, we drive a wedge between London and Paris. And since we didn't allow the French to completely dismember Germany as an industrial power as they wanted to, which might have totally prevented the country from its recovery under Stresemann and later Hitler, we laid the seeds for either a new European balance of power (which was what Stresemann wanted) that worked to America's benefit or the Second World War, which unequivocally ended Britain and France, and Germany as great powers.

The only failure, it seems was allowing the Soviets to spring up. But remember, Wilson was a key mover in sending the expeditionary force to Murmansk. And it was really the Republicans in the 1920s who abandoned the affair, after Wilson was incapacitated.
By ZeusIrae
#998088
I disagree on a minor point,the versailles treaty created a new balance of power but not in favour of the western powers.In the long term germany was still the number one power in europe and perhaps the world number 1(germany fought a war on two front).

For the rest,it's you who decide how you interpret history.
From a cynical POV,it makes sense but perhaps Wilson wasn't that cynical.
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By The Immortal Goon
#998128
It doesn't make sense for America to waste resources crusading into Europe in 1914, '15, or '16, like Charles Evans Hughes wanted to, since it would be better to let the Europeans bleed for a little while. If you're interested in strengthening America, then it's probably best to join in when you have hints that Germany is weakened, but not quite so weak that the peace would more or less be a British-French peace.


Two bits about this. First, it was almost inevitable that the US went to help the UK. The population of the US was overwhelmingly anti-English at the time. Up until war, there were massive rallies where people were burning the Union Jack. This was a result of a mostly German and Irish charactar to the war; Americans being appalled at English treatment of ; resentment for burning down the White House; resentment for not giving more of Canada; resentment for the Revolution; resentment for smashing republics in Europe; resentment for a hundred other things. However, at the top of things, the elite were quite pro-British as they had the money. It was all but a foregon conclusion that the US would throw their weight to England in order to get their investments in the country back. It was simply a matter of finding a way of getting people to agree to it. Wlison himself wrote his thesis about how the English Government was a better system than the American Republic.

Secondly, Germany capitulated largely because of US involvement. They hoped that if they abdicated the Keiser they'd be able to live more or less as they had before the war because of Wilson's 14 Points, many of which would have been rather adventagious to them. They had no hope, however, of getting anything from the English or French and probably would have preferred to fight for longer.

-TIG :rockon:
By Clausewitz
#998166
ZeusIrae wrote:I disagree on a minor point,the versailles treaty created a new balance of power but not in favour of the western powers.In the long term germany was still the number one power in europe and perhaps the world number 1(germany fought a war on two front).


And lost.

ZeusIrae wrote:From a cynical POV,it makes sense but perhaps Wilson wasn't that cynical.


Well, I'm saying that it is difficult to characterize Wilson as an idealist in the context of his massive changes of direction from isolationism to interventionism, and through three distinct doctrines in American foreign policy expressed through secretaries of state. In addition, it seems odd that, if we accept that he was a pragmatist, or at least not ideologically committed, that he wasn't also a cynic, since he had such a bloody successful cynical policy. It's hard to believe that he just accidentally stumbled on a settlement that was an almost unlimited American win?

The Immortal Goon wrote:First, it was almost inevitable that the US went to help the UK. The population of the US was overwhelmingly anti-English at the time. Up until war, there were massive rallies where people were burning the Union Jack. This was a result of a mostly German and Irish charactar to the war; Americans being appalled at English treatment of ; resentment for burning down the White House; resentment for not giving more of Canada; resentment for the Revolution; resentment for smashing republics in Europe; resentment for a hundred other things. However, at the top of things, the elite were quite pro-British as they had the money. It was all but a foregon conclusion that the US would throw their weight to England in order to get their investments in the country back. It was simply a matter of finding a way of getting people to agree to it. Wlison himself wrote his thesis about how the English Government was a better system than the American Republic.


First, German-Americans tended to be anti-Kaiser; the Germans who came to this country were largely urban liberals disenchanted with Bismarck and the conservative direction that the country was taking after the failed 1848 revolution, and particularly after 1871.

You can measure the depth of anti-British sentiment by looking at the 1916 election, in which Hughes ran almost exclusively on a "Let's fight" platform, and won Massachussetts and New York, where the Irish population was concentrated. Wisconsin, Minnesota, South Dakota, and Pennsylvania - which had large German populations - also went for Hughes. Wilson, then the peace candidate, won the majority Anglo populations in the South and West. Indeed, Wilson won with a plurality, and led Hughes only 49 to 46. That does not reflect deep, widespread anti-British or pro-German sentiment. It reflects an American taste for isolationism.

The Immortal Goon wrote:Secondly, Germany capitulated largely because of US involvement


Before American forces arrived in Europe in force, the Germans decided to launch all out offensives because they recognized that that was their only shadow of a chance. The Germans lost, and not by just a little bit, and never regained the initiative, which is why German resistance virtually evaporated with the Hundred Days' Offensives.

If the U.S. hadn't entered the war in 1917, it would have taken longer but the result would have probably been the same. Unlike 1939, the war was not about strategy but about industry and attrition, and Germany could not indefinitely sustain a conflict under blockade. After Marne and Jutland, the Germans had lost the war, and it was only a matter of time before the country started starving, the army became demoralized, and German forces started dissolving. That was nearly inevitable. If the French and British had been left alone, eventually they would have achieved the breakthroughs that the 1918 counterattacks achieved and the German army would have started to dissolve.
By ZeusIrae
#998197
I wouldn't be so sure,morale play a key role in a total war like WWI.The US intervention was critical in that aspect.

I mentioned that germany fought on to front in WWII to show how powerful germany was.The US alone coudn't possibly hope to win the war without Russia.It's WWII that destroyed the european powers,after WWI there waas still a hope of recovery,and germany was only weakened by an artificial means.Its industrial base and its population were still there and France and England combined were no macth for it.
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By Thunderhawk
#998212
.Its industrial base and its population were still there and France and England combined were no macth for it.


Well, not all the population was there. Germany suffered alot of losses.

However, they were rabbits, and large families to compensate for the losses. France and the UK didnt have a population growth to match Germany's.
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By The Immortal Goon
#998256
Before American forces arrived in Europe in force, the Germans decided to launch all out offensives because they recognized that that was their only shadow of a chance. The Germans lost, and not by just a little bit, and never regained the initiative, which is why German resistance virtually evaporated with the Hundred Days' Offensives.


This is true, as an offensive force they were finished after this. However, they were still rather formidable defensivly. I agree, they WOULD have gone down eventually, but I think that everyone - themselves included - were stunnded at how quickly it fell apart.

Wilson won with a plurality, and led Hughes only 49 to 46. That does not reflect deep, widespread anti-British or pro-German sentiment. It reflects an American taste for isolationism.


You may be right, my studies tend to focus on more radical aspects of this - but I still think it's too much to even imply that there was a pro-British feeling. Up to that point, most interaction with England had been on opposing lines on a battlefield.

-TIG :rockon:
By Monkeydust
#1000142
Interesting thesis. I found it very intruiging, but I'm not 100% sure about it.

To be honest, the best way you could substantiate it would be to uncover some evidence - private documents or whatever - in which Wilson and his colleagues actually admit their intentions to be what you say.

Since you're no Sherlock Holmes, and since no historian as far as I know has yet uncovered this kind of evidence, the only alternative is to believe that what happened was some cover-up on a massive scale; that all pronouncements made by Wilson and those close to him were calculated lies acting as a veil to hide a self-interested reality.

The question is: how likely is this really?

I also have some other problems with your reasoning. You portray the US's decision to go into the war as somehow timed precisely to get the right moment, at which Germany was weak but not so weak that the US could influence the peace terms. I think you're imposing hindsight onto the minds of actors for whom, at the time, this bore no relevance whatever. How did the USA know when Germany was going to collapse when she did? Ostensibly the war was still a stalemate. In fact, in 1918 Germany was closer to Paris than she had ever been.

The view that Wilson had in mind, during negotiations, to perhaps plant the seeds for another European War, seems to me far-fetched.

What does make sense is that, once peace had been achieved, Wilson sought to achieve what was best for the USA as he perceived it. This was, simply, creating a stable Europe, with a prosperous Germany, in order to create a lasting environment in which capitalism and international trade could prosper.
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By Ombrageux
#1000200
What a perfect situation. Now, naturally, we would like for Europe to continue to be fragmented, so we don't want Germany to become a French puppet. Lo, self-determination looks like a fine excuse. And by presenting the impression of an "Anglo-American" peace to the French, we drive a wedge between London and Paris. And since we didn't allow the French to completely dismember Germany as an industrial power as they wanted to, which might have totally prevented the country from its recovery under Stresemann and later Hitler, we laid the seeds for either a new European balance of power (which was what Stresemann wanted) that worked to America's benefit or the Second World War, which unequivocally ended Britain and France, and Germany as great powers.

It would always be a temporary balance. That, unless Wilson took a hard and carved up Germany. Germany was just bigger, period, maybe if Bavaria and the Rhineland became independent/neutral (as well as Austria), they could have been a genuine balance.

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