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Bill Thayer

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Chapter 26

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
The Life of Woodrow Wilson

Josephus Daniels

in the
Greenwood Press edition,
New York, 1971

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Chapter 28
This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

 p290  Chapter XXVII
Peaceful Penetration

Moral offensives undertaken — The Fourteen Points accepted — The armistice signed — Race between Wilson and Hindenburg — German opinion as to Wilson's demand — It meant unconditional surrender — Foch said the Armistice obtained the remedy for which the war was waged

"We cannot be separated in interest or divided in purpose." — Wilson

Wilson had other weapons which he brought into play to win the war. While never letting up in the least upon the use of "force without stint or limit" he forged effective weapons in the form of moral offensives. He always separated the people of Germany from the Imperial German Government. There was criticism at home for this differentiation. In the Central Empire it was recognized as an effort to show the rank and file that America had no hate and no desire to crush the German people. Wilson believed that if the mass of fighters and civilian population could be made to see that we were not waging war for their destruction, but truly to relieve them from autocratic sway while securing the rights of all nations, they would demand a cessation of war. He, therefore, undertook a series of moral offensives.

Our "war aims," stated in terms so plain and so just that they were approved by the people of all nations, were the weapons of peaceful penetration. The neutral countries were won to friendship by Wilson's broad and humane declarations; the allied forces saw in them a  p291 new era. Sent by cable and wireless and translated into every tongue, they became hope to those who sat in darkness. More than that: translated into the German language, they were broadcasted all over the German empire. As the people read Wilson's program of peace, his freedom from passion, his pleas for world fellow­ship, many hearts turned toward his ideals. His "Fourteen Points" set forth in his message to Congress, January 8, 1918, was like a ray of light in a world of gloom. Followed by his Mount Vernon Fourth of July speech and his New York address of September 27 — these all together made Wilson's Magna Charta of World Peace. Read in great and humble homes of Europe, they heartened despairing peoples.

The "Fourteen Points" were as follows:

I.— Open covenants of peace, openly arrived at, after which there shall be no private international understandings of any kind, but diplomacy shall proceed always frankly and in the public view.

II.— Absolute freedom of navigation upon the seas, outside territorial waters, alike in peace and in war, except as the seas may be closed in whole or in part by international action for the enforcement of international covenants.

III.— The removal, so far as possible, of all economic barriers and the establishment of an equality of trade conditions among all the nations consenting to the peace and associating themselves for its maintenance.

IV.— Adequate guarantees given and taken that national armaments will be reduced to the lowest points consistent with domestic safety.

V.— Free, open-minded, and absolutely impartial adjustment of all colonial claims, based upon a strict  p292 observance of the principle that in determining all such questions of sovereignty the interests of the population concerned must have equal weight with the equitable claims of the Government whose title is to be determined.

VI.— The evacuation of all Russian territory and such a settlement of all questions affecting Russia as will secure the best and freest co‑operation of the other nations of the world in obtaining for her an unhampered and unembarrassed opportunity for the independent determination of her own political development and national policy, and assure her of a sincere welcome into the society of free nations under institutions of her own choosing; and, more than a welcome, assistance also of every kind that she may need and may herself desire. The treatment accorded Russia by her sister nations in the months to come will be the acid test of their good-will, of their comprehension of her needs as distinguished from their own interests, and of their intelligent and unselfish sympathy.

VII.— Belgium, the whole world will agree, must be evacuated and restored, without any attempt to limit the sovereignty which she enjoys in common with all other free nations. No other single act will serve as this will serve to restore confidence among the nations in the laws which they have themselves set and determined for the government of their relations with one another. Without this healing act the whole structure and validity of international law is forever impaired.

VIII.— All French territory should be freed and the invaded portions restored, and the wrong done to France by Prussia in 1871 in the matter of Alsace-Lorraine, which has unsettled the peace of the world for nearly fifty years,​a should be righted, in order that peace may once more be made secure in the interest of all.

 p293  IX.— A readjustment of the frontiers of Italy should be effected along clearly recognizable lines of nationality.

X.— The peoples of Austria-Hungary, whose place among the nations we wish to see safeguarded and assured, should be accorded the freest opportunity of autonomous development.

XI.— Rumania, Serbia, and Montenegro should be evacuated; occupied territories restored; Serbia accorded free and secure access to the sea;​b and the relations of the several Balkan States to one another determined by friendly counsel along historically established lines of allegiance and nationality; and international guarantees of the political and economic independence and territorial integrity of the several Balkan States should be entered into.

XII.— The Turkish portions of the present Ottoman Empire should be assured a secure sovereignty, but the other nationalities which are now under Turkish rule should be assured an undoubted security of life and an absolutely unmolested opportunity of autonomous development, and the Dardanelles should be permanently opened as a free passage to the ships and commerce of all nations under international guarantees.

XIII.— An independent Polish State should be erected which should include the territories inhabited by indisputably Polish populations, which should be assured a free and secure access to the sea, and whose political and economic independence and territorial integrity should be guaranteed by international covenant.

XIV.— A general association of nations must be formed under specific covenants for the purpose of affording mutual guarantees of political independence and territorial integrity to great and small States alike.

 p294  Within a week after his New York address, in which he had outlined the principles of what he specifically called a 'League of Nations," the Germans made overtures for an armistice. The peaceful penetration of Wilson's idealism and the vigorous penetration of the allied armies were doing their perfect work. The Austro-Hungarian Government a week later made the same request. Answering the German note, the President asked if he was to understand that the German Government accepted the terms laid down in the "Fourteen Points" and his later addresses, and "if its object in entering into discussion would be only to agree upon practical details of their application." He added that he could consider nothing that did not carry with it immediate evacuation" of invaded territory. October 12 the German Government gave an affirmative answer. October 14 Wilson wrote that the conditions of an armistice must be arranged by the military advisers of the Allied Nations, and added that no arrangement could be accepted that did not provide "absolutely satisfactory safeguards and guarantees of the maintenance of the present military supremacy of the armies of the United States and the Allies in the field"; that no armistice could be considered until all U‑boat warfare ceased; and that guarantees of a new and representative character of the German Government must be given. There must be no misunderstanding, no easy peace. Germany on October 20 accepted in toto all the requirements laid down by Mr. Wilson. On October 23 the President replied that he had communicated the correspondence to the Allied Powers, with the suggestion that, if they were disposed to effect the peace upon the terms and principles indicated, they would ask their military  p295 advisers to draw up armistice terms of such a character as to "insure to the associated governments the unrestricted power to safeguard and enforce the details of the peace to which the German Government has agreed." The Allied Governments agreed with certain qualifications. The German Government accepted the Wilson plan with a few additions suggested by the Allies on October 27.

The Terms of the Armistice were drawn up by the military advisers, submitted to Germany November 8, and signed by the German Government to become effective 11 A.M., November 11, 1918. The war was therefore concluded upon the terms Wilson had presented time and again during the conflict and had formally made in specific points in his addresses on January 8 and subsequently. It was the first time in history when what had been derided as the ideals of a civilian ruler had been accepted as the terms of surrender by the military chieftains. Wilson had made no easy peace and the Allies had not subscribed to a program that was less than a complete victory. But Wilson's terms carried no revenge or woe to the vanquished. They pointed the road to honorable rehabilitation, and, later, association with all the countries of the world in a League of Nations for peace, justice, equality, and an end of wars. They had much to do with the German collapse.

Was the Armistice a virtual surrender?

The refusal of the Senate of the United States to approve the Covenant and enter the League of Nations was followed in Europe by drift and debacle. That condition has caused critics to cry out that Wilson's policy was wrong and that the Army should have gone  p296 on to Berlin and made Germany taste something of the destruction it had carried into France. That is not an indictment of Wilson any more than of Lloyd George, Clemenceau, Orlando, the King of Belgium and all the Allied leaders, civil and military. As complete answer to such criticism, let the statement of Foch, the commander-in‑chief of the Allied forces, be quoted. Asked, after the terms of peace had been drawn up, whether he would rather the Germans would reject or accept it, the great French General said: "The only aim of war is to obtain results. If the Germans sign an armistice on the general lines we have just determined, we shall have obtained the result we seek. Our aims being accomplished, no one has the right to shed another drop of blood."

What was the German opinion? Ludendorff writes in his memoirs: "On October 22 or 23 Wilson's answer arrived. It was a strong answer to our cowardly note. His terms he madeº quite clear that the armistice conditions must be such as to make it impossible for Germany to resume hostilities," and he added "In my view, there could no longer be doubt in my mind that we must continue the fight." Hindenburg signed an order October 24, "for the information of all troops," containing these words: "Wilson will negotiate with Germany for peace only if she concedes all the demands of America's allies as to the internal constitutional arrangements of Germany. . . . Wilson's answer is a demand for unconditional surrender. It is unacceptable to our soldiers. Continue resistance with all our strength." But the German civilian population had read and approved Wilson's just program of peace. The war lords were overruled. Peaceful penetration in Wilson's "offensive by reason," had broken the civilian resistance  p297 and the Allied and Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Pershing's armies had won successes, presaging complete victory.

In the spring of 1918, when the issue hung in the balances,º Lloyd George had said

"It is a race between Wilson and Hindenburg."

Wilson had won.

November 11, 1918, took its place in the American calendar alongside of Independence Day and Thanksgiving. In the ecstasy of joy with which it was hailed both seemed rolled into one.

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U. S. Official Photograph
© Committee on Public Information

Announcing the terms of the armistice which ended the World War

President Wilson revived an old custom by his practice of appearing before the assembled Senate and House of Representatives to read his great State Papers. He is here shown reading the terms of the agreement which ended the greatest war in history

"And thus the war comes to an end," said the master leader, who had lifted it out of a combat for power or defense into a struggle for world deliverance from imperialism and greed and war.

Could "the world be made safe for democracy"?

The words of Wilson's first inaugural come back:

"Men's hearts wait upon us; men's lives hang in the balance; men's hopes call upon us to say what we will do.

"Who dares to fail to try? I summon all honest men, all patriotic, all forward-looking men, to my side. God helping me, I will not fail them, if they will but counsel and sustain me."

That was a consecration before the crucial days of war. It seemed to have been uttered for the days that followed the armistice.

He did not "fail them."

Thayer's Notes:

a The preponderance of wrongs in the Lotharingian marches between France and Germany — marking the ancient confines between Roman civilization and the barbarians — has been, if anything, on the French side, and extended much further back than a mere fifty years. Germany's 1871 occupation of Alsace and Lorraine was payback for a long record of French conquests and destabilization: not two generations before, the Napoleonic wars; but also a tradition of French aggression thruout the 18c and the 17c, kicked off by a masterly, if poisonous, French diplomatic success in the Treaty of Westphalia (1648) that made those aggressions possible: for several centuries, the Rhineland was to diplomacy something like the Near East in our own times. After the Treaty of Versailles — equally poisonous if not intentionally so, and very much despite Wilson — and World War II that was its direct result, the French and the Germans finally buried the hatchet in the accord between De Gaulle and Adenauer, substituting for their desires of sole hegemony over Europe a desire to work together for joint hegemony. It has been a partial success: the European Union is at peace — yet, happily, not altogether the servant of its founders.

[decorative delimiter]

b A problem still unsolved: as of writing (2008), Serbia is landlocked. The perennial Balkan problem — the ultimate causes of which also date back to Antiquity with the rivalry between the two halves of the Roman Empire, then the weakness of Byzantine rule that led to conquests (first by Asian hordes in the early Middle Ages, then by Moslems) and consequently to regional instability and an incredible patchwork of unreconciled nationalities — is still with us: tossing all the "South Slavs" into one pot worked only as long as Russian communism was there to keep the lid clamped down; the ethnic wars of the late 20c, culminating so far in the Bosnian and Kosovo wars, show that this is still an earthquake zone, as it were. Naturally, it's to be hoped that a satisfactory solution can be found, but I'm none too sanguine about it.

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