The War to End All War. Introduction .
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Destiny was cruel with Woodrow Wilson. He loved peace and now he was going to be forced to lead the nation into war. As the last day of 1916 came, Wilson made one last attempt to mediate between the embattled nations. On January 22, 1917 he delivered a speech and declared America’s commitment to neutral rights and declaring that only negotiated peace without victory would prove durable.
Germany responded and waged a war on unrestricted submarine warfare, sinking all ships, including Americans in the war zone.
War with America was the last thing Germany wanted but after 3 years in the trenched, Germany’s leaders decided the distinction between combatants and noncombatants were a luxury that they couldn’t afford.
To defend American interests short of war, the president asked Congress for authority to arm American merchant ships. Meanwhile, the Zimmermann note was intercepted and published March 1, 1917, which made a lot of Americans very angry.
German foreign secretary Arthur Zimmermann had secretly proposed a German-Mexican alliance, tempting them with veiled promises of recovering Texas, New Mexico and Arizona.
Wilson at last stood before Congress on the evening of April 2, 1917 and asked for a declaration of war. The simple truth was that the British harassment of American commerce had been galling but endurable; Germany had resorted to the mass killing of civilians. America’s declaration of war of April 6, 1917 was now an unmistakable trademark: “Made in Germany”.
It’s a fearful thing to lead this great peaceful people into war, Wilson said in his war message. It was fearful indeed, not least because it was a challenge it posed to Wilson’s leadership skills. He thought that he was shattering one of America’s traditions by getting America in a distant European war.
Now it was Wilson’s job to get America involved in war. For more than a century, they had prided themselves on their isolationism from military outburst that afflicted the Old World. But only 6 senators voted against the war, and Wilson could whip up not enthusiasm especially in the Midwest, by calling on the nation to fight to make the world safe from the submarine.
To bring together the company, Wilson used the fervor of the Presbyterian ancestors, he declared to make the world safe for democracy. Wilson hypnotized the nation with his ideals, and he hit America with and allies and enemies alike of America’s altruism. Wilson preached that he didn’t want to fight for riches; he wanted to fight for international order in which democracy could flourish.
Wilson was the perfect president and his appeal worked perfectly. Some of Wilson’s quotes were Force, Force to the utmost, force without stint or limit; another one was “Hang the Kaiser”.
Wilson came to be recognized as the moral leader of the Allied cause. He scaled a summit were he introduced in 1918 the Fourteen Points Address to his Congress. Wilson’s vision inspired all of the Allies to make greater efforts at demoralizing the enemy.
The first of the five are: 1- a proposals to abolish secret treaties with liberals of all countries, 2- Freedom of the seas appealed to the Germans, as well as to Americans’ who distrusted British power. 3- A removal of economic barriers among nations had long been the goal of liberal internationalists everywhere. 4- A reduction of burdens was gratifying to taxpayers in all countries. 5- An adjustment of colonial claims in the interests of both natives and colonizers was reassuring to anti-imperialists.
Wilson earnestly hoped that this new plan would effectively guarantee the political independence and territorial integrity of all countries, whether large or small. Wilson’s fourteen points was not applauded everywhere. Many Allied nations were less than enthusiastic, and at home they mocked them and called them the fourteen commandments.
German Americans numbered 8 million out of a population of 100 million. On the whole they proved to be dependable, but then rumors were circulating that there were some who were spying and sabotage. A few German Americans were tarred, feathered, and beaten; in one extreme case a German Socialist in Illinois was lynched by a drunken mob.
As emotion mounted, hatred for German and German things swept the nation. No German music, books, and classes were canceled in high schools and colleges. Sauerkraut became liberty cabbage, hamburger became liberty steak.
Both the Espionage Act of 1917 and the Sedition Act of 1918 reflected current fears about Germans and anti-war Americans.
Victory was not a foregone conclusion and Wilson only backed some mild measures to prepare for war. He had launched a shipbuilding program and endorsed a modest beefing up the army. It would take a huge effort to organize and throw them into war and help the Allies.
Obstacles stood in the way and the biggest one was sheer ignorance. No one knew how much steel or explosive powder the country was capable of producing.
Late in the war, and after some political battles, Wilson succeeded in imposing some order on this economic confusion. In 1918, he appointed Bernard Baruch to head the War Industries Board. This set a precedent for the federal government to take a central role in this crisis. It was disbanded just days after the armistice, but in the midst of the Great Depression of the 1930’s, policy makers will look back at the agency as a model.
Many Americans were spurred on by slogans such as “Labor will win the war”, and the war departments “Work or Fight”. Another aspect of labor was labor unions. The National War Labor Board was chaired by former President Taft and these particular boards stopped short of letting workers create the right to organize into union.
Samuel Gompers who was the head of the AF of L supported the war through more radical and smaller labor organizations, and the Industrial Workers of the World did not. These people did the most harm when it came to forming unions. Most of these people were involved with the most horrible working conditions in the country. When they protested many were beaten, arrested and were run out of town.
The AF of L had more than doubled its membership to over 3 million, and most of them were coal miners, manufacturers, and transportation workers. A new day seemed to be dawning for the long-struggling union movement.
Some 6000 thousand strikes several stained by blood, broke out in the war years. In 1919, a great steel strike broke out in the steel industry. The steel industries resisted mercilessly. They refused to negotiate with union representatives and brought in 30 thousand African American strikebreakers to keep the mills running.
The black workers who entered the steel mills in 1919 were but a fraction of the tens of thousands of southern blacks drawn to the North. Because of this some of these areas sparked interracial violence. In the windy city black and white gangs roamed Chicago’s streets, eventually killing 15 whites and 23 blacks.
Women also heeded the call of patriotism and opportunity. Thousands of female workers flooded into the factories and fields, taking up the jobs that were once held by men. Large parts of the suffrage movement supported Wilson’s war. Leaders echoed Wilson’s justification for fighting by arguing that women must take part in the war effort to earn a role in shaping peace.
War mobilization gave new momentum to the suffrage fight. President Wilson endorsed women suffrage and in 1917 New York voted for suffrage at the state level. In 1920, more than 70 years after the first calls for suffrage at Seneca Falls, the 19th Amendment was ratified, giving all American women the right to vote.
Feminists continued to flex their political muscle in the postwar decade, pressing for more laws to protect women in the workplace and prohibit child labor.
Most citizens at the outset didn’t dream of sending a mighty force to France. They would from the beginning continue to ship them with loans, which finally totaled nearly 10 billion. Despite what the US was doing, Europeans were still scraping at the bottom of the barrel. A huge American army would have to be raised, trained, and transported, or the whole western front would collapse.
Conscription was the basis for needing that huge army. The purposed draft bill immediately ran into a barrage of criticism in Congress. The draft act required the registration of all bills. Prophets of doom predicted that on draft registration that the street would run red with blood. At length Congress- six weeks after declaring war got around to passing conscription.
The draft act required all males between the ages of 18 to 45 to enter the draft. The draft machinery on the whole worked effectively. Registration day proved to be a day of patriotic places draped with flag all around registration days. Despite precautions some 337,000 slackers escaped the draft and about 4,000 objectors were excused.
Within the next few months, there were about 4 million men and for the first time women were admitted as well. Recruits were to receive 6 months overseas, but some were swept into battle not knowing how to handle a rifle, much less a bayonet.
After Russian and the communists Bolsheviks seizing power late in the 1917 and ultimately withdrawing from the war in 1918 released hundreds of thousands of battle-tested Germans from the eastern front facing Russia for the first time in the war.
Berlin’s calculations as to American tardiness were surprisingly accurate. Germany had counted on knocking out Britain six months after the declaration of unlimited submarine warfare, long before America fighting force reached France until about a year after Congress declared war.
France began gradually to bustle with American doughboys. The first to reach the front were used as replacements in the Allied armies and were generally deployed in the quiet sectors with the British and French.
American’s was not only confined to France but to Belgium, Italy, and Russia. Wilson also sent 10,000 troops to Siberia as part of an Allied expedition, which included more than 70,000 Japanese. Many of those strongholds were to prevent Japan getting Siberia to rescue Czechoslovakians who were under Bolshevik control.
The dreaded German drive on the western front exploded in the spring of 1918. This was spearheaded by about a half of a million of troops. The Allied troops were so dire that for the first time they were brought together under one commander. This commander was a quiet French man named Foch.
Ill-trained Americans were coming and not a moment too soon. Late in May 1918, the Germans were just forty miles outside of France. Newly American troops were thrown into battle at the teeth of the German advance. With their arrival it was clear that a new American giant had arisen in the West to replace the dying Russian titan in the East.
American weight in the scales was now being felt on both sides of the conflict. By July 1918 the German drive had spent its force and keyed up American men participated in the counteroffensive. This engagement marked the beginning of the German retreat that was never effectively reversed. In September 1918, 9 American divisions joined 4 French groups to push the Germans out.
The Americans though didn’t want to just bolster the French and the British, they wanted to have an army on their own, and led by John J Pershing. He was finally assigned a front of 85 miles, stretching northwestward from the Swiss border to meet the French lines.
As part of the Allied assault involving several million men, Pershing’s army undertook the Meuse-Argonne offensive, from September 26 to November 11, 1918. Their objective was to cut the German railroad lines feeding the western front. This battle lasted 47 days and involved 1.2 million people. With heavy fighting in the Aragon Forest, the killed and wounded mounted to 120,000 or 10 percent of the Americans involved.
The slowly advancing American armies in France were eating up their supplies so rapidly that they were in grave danger of running short. But the German army was ready to crawl out of the trenches and cry. Their allies were deserting them and the British blockade was causing critical food shortages, and the Allied blows were too much for them to handle.
Berlin was ready to draw a white flag. They were warned of defeat and they turned to Wilson in October 1918 seeking peace based upon the 14 points. In response, Wilson said that he would not call an armistice until the Kaiser would be thrown overboard. The Kaiser was then forced to flee to Holland, where he lived for 23 years, unwept, un-honored, and unhung.
Germans were through; they laid down their arms at 11o clock on the 17th day of the 11th month of 1918. America burst into celebration and the war to end all wars had ended. But the cost exceeded comprehension nearly 9 million soldiers had died, and more than 20 million had suffered grievous wounds. Some 20 million will die of wounds, and 30 million people perished because of influenza pandemic in 1918-1919. Over 350,000 Americans more than casualties die of this outbreak.
Ironically General Pershing in some ways depended more on the Allies than they depended on him. His army purchased more of its supplies in Europe than it shipped from the United States. The United States in short, was no arsenal of democracy in this war; that role awaited it in the next global conflict.
Wilson helped up win the war. What part would he now play in shaping the peace? Expectations ran high and fighting in Europe crashed to a close. Wilson had behind him the prestige of victory and the economic resources of the mightiest nation on earth. But at this fateful moment, his sureness of touch deserted him, and he began to make a series of tragic fumbles.
Hoping to strengthen his hand at the Paris peace table, Wilson broke the truce by personally appealing to the Democratic victory in the congressional elections on November 1918. But the maneuver backfired when voters instead returned a narrow Republican majority to Congress. Wilson went to Paris as a diminished leader. Unlike all the parliamentary statesmen at the table, he did not command a legislative majority at home.
When Wilson went to Paris to help make peace, Republicans were infuriated. Up to this point no president had ever traveled to Europe, and Wilson looked at his critics and grandstanded.
The Paris Conference of great and small nations fell into the hands of an inner circle, known as the Big Four. Wilson representing the richest and freshest great power, more or less occupied the driver’s seat. He was joined by Orlando of Italy, Prime Minister George of Britain, and perhaps the most realistic Clemenceau for France, he was 78 years old.
The conference went by quickly and they had good reasons as to why. The reasons were that Europe seemed to be slipping into anarchy, and communism was coming westward from the Bolshevik Russia. The main goal for Wilson was known as the League of Nations. Syria was awarded to France, and oil-rich Iraq went to Britain. Meanwhile, Wilson had been serving as midwife for the League of Nations, which he envisioned as containing an assembly with seats for all nations and a council to be controlled by the great powers.
In February of 1919, when the great powers agreed to make the League of Nations, and Wilson was the integral part of the final peace treaty. At one point he spoke with such ardor for his plan that even the hard boiled newspaper reporters forgot to take notes.
Domestic duties now required Wilson to make a quick trip to America, where there was a major argument brewing in the Senate. The Senate believed that the league was a sewing circle or an over-potent super state.
39 senators or senators elect enough to defeat the treaty proclaimed that the Senate would not approve the League of Nations in its existing imperfect form. The Allied forces were delighted and now they were in a position to bargain because Wilson would have to beg them for changes in the covenant that would safeguard the Monroe Doctrine and other American interests dear to the senators.
When Wilson was back in Paris, Clemenceau pressed for French demands, and they wanted the Rhineland and the Saar Valley. France settled with the Saar basin would remain under the League of Nations for 15 years then a popular vote would determine its fate.
A completed Treaty of Versailles after more weeks of wrangling was handed to the Germans in June 1919-almost literally on the point of bayonet. The treaty shows that only about four points of the 23 Wilsonian points and principles were fully honored.
Vengeance not reconciliation was the treaty’s dominant tone. Loud and bitter cries of betrayal burst from German throats-charges that Hitler would soon reiterate during his meteoric rise to power.
A troubled Wilson was not happy with the results. Greeted a few months earlier with frenzied acclaim in Europe, he was now a fallen idol, condemned alike by disillusioned liberals and frustrated imperialists. He was hoping that the League of Nations- a potent League with America as a leader-would iron out the inequities.
Wilson’s disappointments and his critics to the contrary, the settlement was almost certainly a fairer one because he had gone to Paris.
Despite discontent the president had reason to feel optimistic when he brought home the treaty. A strong majority seemed favorable, Lodge who was the senate leader and had distaste for the President. Lodge was going to do everything in his power to defeat the Treaty of Versailles. Lodge effectively used delay to muddle and divide public opinion. He read the entire 264 page treaty aloud in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and held protracted hearings in which people of various nationalities aired their grievances.
Wilson therefore decided to take his case to the country in a speechmaking tour. He would appeal over the heads of the Senate to the sovereign people-as he often had in the past.
The campaign was undertaken in the face of protests by physicians and friends. His frail body began to sag under the strain of partisan strife, a global war, and a stressful peace conference. He was willing to go anyways.
The tour began in September of 1919 and it got off to a lame start. Wilson often was attacked while giving speeches the crowds would often shout Impeach Him, Impeach Him! But the reception changed in the Rocky Mountains and on the Pacific Coast.
The high point and the breaking point was on the return trip at Pueblo Colorado when that night he collapsed from physical and nervous exhaustion.
Wilson was whisked back in the funeral train to Washington were several days later a stroke paralyzed one side of his body. During the next few weeks he laid in a dark room in the White House. For more than 7 months, he did not meet with his cabinet.
Wilson, hating Lodge saw red at the mere mention of his suggestions. The day had finally come for voting in the Senate, Wilson was still strong enough to obstruct. Loyal democrats in the Senate, on November 19, 1919, blindly did Wilson’s bidding. Mostly Republicans rejected the treaty with the Lodge reservation appended, 55 to 39.
About four fifths of the senators professed to favor the treaty, with or without reservations, yet a simple majority could not agree on a single proposition. The senate was then forced a second time for the treaty to be brought up again.
There was only one way to success, but Wilson still sheltered behind drawn curtains and blind to disagreeable realities, again sent word to all loyal Democrats to vote down the treaty with the reservations. He thus signed the death warrant of the treaty as far as America was concerned. The treaty failed to get the necessary 2/3rds majority by a count of 49 yeas to 35 nays.
Was it Wilson or Lodge that contributed to the confused picture? But Wilson himself must bear a substantial share of the responsibility. He asked for all or nothing, and that he had strangled his own brainchild rather than let the Senate work things out.
Wilson had his own pet solution for the deadlock, and this partly explains why he refused to compromise on Lodge’s terms. He was going to settle the issue in the next presidential election.
In the coming presidential election it was between Warren G. Harding of Ohio, and for his vice presidential candidate was Governor Calvin Coolidge of Massachusetts, who had attracted conservative support by breaking up police strike in Boston.
For the democrats they nominated James Cox of Ohio and Franklin D. Roosevelt. With the amount of women swelling the vote Harding was swept into power by 7 million votes and the electoral count was 404 to 127. The public needed a change and they were eager to get a second rate president and instead they got a third rate one.
When Wilson dies in 1924 admirers knelt in the snow outside his Washington home and his great vision of a league for peace perished long before.
America’s spurning of the League was tragically shortsighted. The Republic had helped to win a costly war, but it foolishly kicked the fruits of victory under the table. Whether a strong organization would have stopped the start of WWII, but there can be no doubt that the League of Nations was undercut at the start.
No less ominous events were setting in motion and France fearing that a new generation of Germans would follow in its footsteps. Germany will begin to rearm illegally and follow the fanatical Hitler.