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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
One of the first signs of resistance to the President’s “Fourteen Points and the subsequent addresses” resulted from the speech he made at Manchester, England, on December 30, 1918, in which he assailed the balance of power and military alliances as roots of evil in the Old World. No echo resounded from the hearts of the Allied statesmen. On the contrary, Prime Minister Clemenceau thought it necessary to make an immediate reply—the same day. In a speech before the Chamber of Deputies, he said: There is an old system of alliances called the “balance of power.” It seems to be condemned nowadays, but if such a balance had preceded the war, if England, the United States, France, and Italy had agreed, say, that whoever attacked one of them attacked the whole world, the war would not have occurred. This system of alliances, which I do not renounce, will be my guiding thought at the Peace Conference if your confidence sends me there.
He received a three-to-one vote of confidence.
In the blood of many of the delegations at Versailles were the genes of a thousand years of hate and distrust, bred of religious and racial persecution and domination by other races. The impelling passion for vengeance of past wrongs rose with every hour of the day. Nor was it the delegates alone who were thus infused. Back home their people were at fever heat, demanding retribution from their enemies. England had just re-elected Lloyd George on a platform of “Hang the Kaiser” and of wringing from the foe fantastic sums in indemnities. Clemenceau had received a vote of confidence from the French Assembly with a program to render Germany innocuous for all time and to collect every centime of every Frenchman’s losses.
All the warring nations of Europe were economically exhausted, desperate, and most of them were hungry. Those twenty-seven nations were less interested in preserving peace for some distant future than in immediately righting their wrongs and insuring their economic recovery. Their representatives in Paris well knew that they would have to go home to their people, still torn by these emotions, to seek approval of the agreements at the Peace Conference. They had to bring back to their people annexations and reparations. Their continuation in power depended upon that.
Such were the destructive forces which sat at the peace table. As a historian, Mr. Wilson was no doubt familiar with their age-old background, but he did not seem to realize their dynamism. He believed that the horrors of war and the prospects of freedom and peace had instilled a new spirit of righteousness and idealism in the leaders of mankind. And his popular reception seemed to have confirmed it.
The Allies regarded the President’s latent power to press the adoption of his ideas upon them with vast suspicion. A leader more versed in the European school of diplomacy might have dictated the peace. He could have demanded his share of territorial spoils and enemy reparations, and could have traded them for concessions to his views. He could have stopped the huge American loans upon which many of these nations depended for their continued existence. He even could have threatened to cut off the daily bread which America alone could supply.
The Allies in their dealings with us concerning the Relief and Reconstruction organization very clearly revealed their fears and suspicions that the President might use these powers and proposed that all resources of the Allied and Associated nations be pooled in a fashion that would prevent such action. The use of such power would not have been in accord with American ideals. The President’s disavowal of its application, in advance, no doubt weakened him in his negotiations. He was too great a man to bargain in that way. American idealism indeed was unfitted to participate in a game played with power as the counters.
The President was to meet many other obstacles in peacemaking aside from the inherent conflict of New and Old World concepts of national life and the forces of emotion or extreme nationalism.
A maze of secret agreements had been entered into by the Allies, before America entered the war, by which they had already allotted the spoils of victory among their four Allied empires. … The carving up of Europe and the Middle East and Far East seemed fairly complete.
In view of subsequent events it is desirable to examine how much the President knew of these treaties and how much weight he gave to them. On that score it can be said at once that if he knew of them, his agreement with the Allies, by which they accepted the “Fourteen Points and the subsequent addresses,” had canceled all of them, for they were in utter conflict with a dozen of the “points.”
In any event, only part of these treaties could possibly have been known to him.
My conviction is that the President attached no great importance to any of the treaties which had been disclosed prior to his arrival in Europe. When the Allies, on November 4, 1918, accepted the “Fourteen Points and the subsequent addresses” as the basis of peace, these treaties were so much in conflict with this agreement that the President would naturally conclude they no longer had any force.
But in the larger sense, the forces which weakened the President’s influence at Paris were far deeper than the intrigues or the secret agreements between Allied statesmen. Here was the collision of civilizations that had grown centuries apart. Here the idealism of the Western World was in clash with the racial mores and the grim determination of many nations at the peace table to have revenge, reparations and territorial spoils.
At the Peace Conference the ordeal of Woodrow Wilson began and the forces inherent in the Old World took over the control of human fate.