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Herbert Hoover Describes The Ordeal Of Woodrow Wilson
The great tragedy of the twenty-eighth President as witnessed by his loyal lieutenant, the thirty-first
June 1958 | Volume 9, Issue 4
If Mr. Wilson had been either simply an idealist or a caucus politician, he might have succeeded. His attempt to run the two in double harness was the cause of his undoing. The spacious philanthropy which he exhaled upon Europe stopped quite sharply at the coasts of his own country.
He did not wish to come to speedy terms with the European Allies; he did not wish to meet their leading men around a table; he saw himself for a prolonged period at the summit of the world, chastening the Allies, chastising the Germans and generally giving laws to mankind. He believed himself capable of appealing to peoples and parliaments over the heads of their own governments. … In the Peace Conference—to European eyes—President Wilson sought to play a part out of all proportion to any stake which his country had contributed or intended to contribute to European affairs. … He sought to bend the world—no doubt for its own good—to his personal views. … If President Wilson had set himself from the beginning to make common cause with Lloyd George and Clemenceau, the whole force of these three great men, the heads of the dominant nations, might have played with plenary and beneficent power over the wide scene of European tragedy. He consumed his own strength and theirs in conflicts in which he was always worsted.
Clemenceau in his book, Grandeur and Misery of Victory , makes a variety of disparaging statements: Doubtless he [President Wilson] had too much confidence in all the talky-talk and super talky-talk of his “League of Nations.” England in various guises has gone back to her old policy of strife on the Continent, and America, prodigiously enriched by the war [Clemenceau’s italics], is presenting us with a tradesman’s account that does more honour to her greed than to her self-respect.
President Wilson, the inspired prophet of a whole ideological venture … had insufficient knowledge of … Europe. … It became incumbent on him to settle the destiny of nations by mixtures of empiricism and idealism. … He acted to the very best of his abilities in circumstances the origins of which had escaped him and whose ulterior developments lay beyond his ken. …
On the other hand, the President on his return to the United States was most generous about his colleagues at Paris. He may have been under illusions about the feelings of some of them toward him.
Vance McCormick, in his Diary under date of July 5, 1919, says: The President sent for Lamont, Davis, Baruch and me with Dr. Taussig to come to his room [on the George Washington returning to America] … to read us his message to Congress to get our suggestions and criticisms.
We had few changes to suggest as it was an excellent general statement of the situation at Paris and the problems that confronted him. We raised the question as to the praise given his colleagues and developed from him a real feeling of friendship for his colleagues whom he said privately were in accord with the principles we were fighting for but were hampered and restricted by their own political conditions at home, due to the temper of their people. He said he was surprised to find they had accepted the Fourteen Points not for expediency only but because they believed in them.
He had probably mistaken politeness for friendship or failed to realize that “Truth is the first fatality of war.”
President Wilson finally left France for the United States on June 28, 1919, and arrived in New York on July 8. I bade him good-by at the station in Paris and had no opportunity to talk with him again at any length for over two years.
We wound up our official Relief and Reconstruction organization in Europe early in September and installed in its place the American Relief Administration based upon charity.
I called on Premier Clemenceau on September 3 to express my appreciation for his undeviating support of my work. In another memoir, I have recalled: … He was in a gloomy mood, saying, “There will be another world war in your time and you will be needed back in Europe.” We would not have agreed on the methods of preventing it, so I did not pursue the subject. But to lighten the parting, I said, “Do you remember Captain Gregory’s report on the decline and fall of the Hapsburgs?” He laughed, pulled out a drawer in his desk and produced the original telegram, saying, “I keep it close by, for that episode was one of the few flashes of humor that came into our attempts to make over the world.” He was still chuckling when we parted.
The Premier was fairly accurate on both predictions. The Second World War began twenty-one years after the end of the first one. I was back in Europe in 1946 to co-ordinate world food supplies to meet the second terrible famine, which was inevitable from that war.
Upon the President’s return home, he launched his crusade for Senate ratification of the Treaty. With an accompanying statement of great eloquence, he submitted the Treaty to the Senate on July 10 and the French-British-American military alliance on July 29. On August 19 he conferred with the members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. By this time, Senators were in sharp debate over the Treaty. …
With the opposition the President had to meet in the Senate and from racial groups of enemy-state origin, he could not admit to his enemies that there was anything very seriously wrong with the Treaty or the Covenant if he were to secure ratification.