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To offer mediation while the war was still undecided would have been to offend both of these elements, as well as the warring nations themselves, all of which were still confident of victory. Specifically, to offer mediation during the course of the Presidential election would have been to drive over to Hughes all the pro-Ally elements in America, which in the state of mind of 1916 would have seen in such a proposal only a helping hand extended to a Germany whose cause was otherwise hopeless.
So, though during 1916 the President would have welcomed a request for mediation, he did not dare suggest it on his own account. And neither side dared to propose it, for such a request would have been taken as an admission of defeat. Nineteen hundred and sixteen was an indecisive year, but the fortune of war gave now one side and now the other the conviction that a few months more would bring it to complete victory. In such circumstances the losers dared not make a proposal which would hearten their enemies and the victors would not suggest the stopping of the war when they hoped that a few months more would see them in a much more favorable position.
But by December Germany's situation was more fortunate than at any time since the early Summer. Rumania, which had come into the war three months before, had been defeated and overrun in a spectacular campaign which had brought new pres
A Sympathetic Tribute Hamilton Holt, head of a delegation that visited the White House on October 27, 1920, in connection with the campaign advocating our entry into the League of Nations, said in the course of his address to President Wilson:
“It was you who first focused the heterogeneous and often diverse aims of the war on the one ideal of pure Americanism, which is democracy. It was you who suggested the basis on which peace was negotiated. It was you, more than any man, who translated into practical statesmanship the age-old dream of the poets, the prophets and the philosophers by setting up a league of nations to the end that coöperation could be substituted for competition in international affairs.
“These acts of statesmanship were undoubtedly the chief factors which brought about that victorious peace which has · shorn Germany of her power to subdue her neighbors, has compelled her to make restitution for her crimes, has freed oppressed peoples, has restored ravaged territories, has created new democracies in the likeness of the United States, and above all has set up the League of Nations."
tige to the German armies. The triumph was of more value in appearance than in reality, for no decision had been reached on the main fronts and none of the chief belligerents was willing to give up. Germany was under a terrible strain, and the civilian Government concluded that the end of 1916 offered an opportunity to make a peace proposal, without loss of prestige, which might lead to a settlement of the war that would leave Germany substantially the victor. For it was known that unless some such decisive result were soon attained the military party would unloose the submarines in the effort to win a complete victory, and thereby bring about complications too serious for the civilian officials to contemplate with any sense of security.
So on Dec. 12 Bethmann Hollweg proposed a peace conference. He mentioned no terms which Germany would consider; he spoke in the arrogant tones of a victor; and the total effect of his speech was to convince the world that he was trying to influence the pacifist elements in the allied countries rather than to bring about an end of the war. But his step caused profound uneasiness in Washington, for he had anticipated the action which the President had long been considering. If Mr. Wilson could not have offered mediation before the election, he might have tried it in November had not the German deportation of Belgian workingmen just then aroused such a storm of anti-German feeling in America that it would have been unsafe to take a step which public opinion would have generally regarded as favorable to Germany. Now that Bethmann Hollweg had anticipated him, it was evident that any proposal which the President might make would be regarded as a sort of second to the German motion.
Nevertheless, the situation was urgent, and the President seems to have felt that his interposition could perhaps accomplish something which the German initiative could not. Golonel House in the last two years had made a number of trips to Europe as a sort of super-Ambassador to all the powers in the endeavor to find out what their Governments regarded as suitable terms of peace. Mr. Wilson's own interest lay first of all in the establishment of conditions that would reduce-or, as men would have said in 1916, prevent—the possibility of future wars. On May 27, 1916, he had delivered a speech before the League to Enforce Peace in which he favored the formation of an international association for the delay or prevention of wars and the preservation of the freedom of the seas. Later speeches contained doctrines most of which were eventually written into the League covenant, and were based on the central theory that all nations must act together to prevent the next war, as otherwise they would all be drawn into it. On Oct. 26 he had declared that “this is the last war the United States can ever keep out of.”
Yet the President also had ideas on the nature of the peace terms by which the war then going on should be concluded,
· The United States in the War
Theme offense, septem september 15,8?
though he felt that no good could be obtained by the proposal of such terms from a neutral. On Dec. 18, accordingly, he addressed the belligerent Governments with an invitation to state the specific conditions which each of them regarded as essential to a just peace, in the hope that they would find they were nearer agreement than they knew. Unfortunately, the President ade the observation that the objects of the two alliances, “as stated in general terms to their own people and the world,” were “virtually the same.” That was true; each side had said that it was fighting in self-defense in order to preserve international justice, the rights of nationalities, and a number of other worthy interests. But the public, both in America and in the allied countries, saw in this renewed effort at “impartiality of thought as well as of action” an indication that the President saw no moral difference between the two sides. From that moment any good result of the President's suggestion, in America or in the allied countries, was out of the question; and if any hope had remained, the Germans presently destroyed it. They wanted a peace conference with no terms stated beforehand, where they could play on the divergent interests of the allied countries; nor did they want the President to have anything to do with the making of peace, lest, as Bethmann Hollweg expressed it to Bernstorff, the Germans should be “robbed of their gains by neutral pressure.” So the German reply on Dec. 26 politely observed that a direct conference between the belligerents would seem most appropriate, which conference the German Government proposed. For the general idea of a League of Nations the Germans expressed their approval, but they wanted peace of their own kind first.
The allied reply was delayed until Jan. 11, but at least it met the President's request for details. It laid down the specifications of what the allied powers would regard as a just peace, and the bulk of that program was eventually to be written into the Treaty of Versailles. But at the time, of course, it was evident that the belligerents were further from agreement than they thought, or at any rate than the President thought. Of such terms Germany would hear nothing; nor would her Government give to the President, even in confidence, its own idea of the specifications of a just peace.
So the President, determined to carry out his program in spite of all obstacles, finally went before the Senate on Jan. 22, 1917, and laid down some general considerations of what he thought a just peace should be like. It was the logical next step in his effort to stop the war before America should become involved, but it was taken under conditions which made success impossible. As a matter of fact, the Germans had already decided to resume the unrestricted submarine war; the decision had been taken on Jan. 9, but was not to be announced till Jan. 31. Moreover, in America and the allied countries public sentiment was unprepared for anything like the speech of Jan. 22. Few people in the United States realized the danger. Mr. Lansing had followed upon the December note with a statement to correspondents that if the war were not soon stopped America might be drawn into it. That was the fact, but it depended on information unknown to the public; and though the most natural inference was that a new crisis with Germany was at hand no one knew exactly how to take it-particularly as Lansing, on orders from the White House, hastened to explain that he had been misunderstood.
Moreover, the President was still desperately striving to keep in good understanding with the German Government, and in pursuance of this policy James W. Gerard, the Ambassador to Germany, had declared at a dinner in Berlin on Jan. 6 that the relations between America and Germany had never been better than they were at that moment. This, also, the public in the United States found it hard to understand. If Lansing's reference to the danger of war had meant anything, what did this mean?
So the President's address to the Senate on Jan. 22 did not a nd could not have the reception that he hoped. He set forth his idea of the necessity of a League of Nations, he declared that the peace must be based on democratic principles and on the doctrine that was to become famous before long under the name of self-determination. There must be no more forcible conquests, no more bartering of unwilling populations. The peace that ended this war, he said, must be guaranteed by a League of Nations-of all nations; and if America was to enter that League she must be assured that the peace was a peace worth guaranteeing.
but the President called such a peace a "peace without victory,” and to the supporters of the Allies in America, rendered suspicious by a course whose motives they could not see, that meant a peace without allied victory and consequently an unjust peace. Few of the President's public addresses have been more unfavorably received.
Wilson had stated his peace terms-of course, only in general principles; the Allies had stated theirs in detail. Except for an article in a New York evening newspaper, inspired by Bernstorff but bearing no mark of authority, the German terms had not even been suggested. On the day following his Senate speech, according to Bernstorff, the President volunteered to issue a call for an immediate peace conference if only the Germans would state their terms. But they did not state them until the 29th, when a note for the President's private information detailed a program which was as obviously unacceptable to the allied powers as the Allies' terms were to the Germans. In any case this program had only an academic interest, for along with it came a formal notice that unrestricted submarine war would begin on Feb. I.
The German Government had deliberately broken its promises of Sept. 1, 1915, and May 5, 1916. Moreover, that Government, which for months past had been sending the President private assurances of its hearty approval of his efforts toward peace, had by its intrusion and its refusal to deal openly wrecked those efforts when at last he had brought them to a head. There was only one thing to do, and the President did it. On Feb. 3 he announced to Congress the rupture of diplomatic relations with Germany.
But breaking of relations did not mean war. The President told Congress that if the threat against American lives and property conveyed by the resumption of submarine war were followed by overt acts of actual injury to Americans he would come before Congress once more and ask for authority to take the necessary steps to protect American interests. But for the moment he
seems to have felt that only a warning was necessary; that the to Germans, if convinced that America meant business, would
reconsider their decision. And he added, “I take it for granted that all neutral Governments will take the same course.” Logically they should have done so, since the proclamation of submarine war was virtually a declaration of war on all neutrals; but the European neutrals did not dare to run the risk even if they had been so minded.
The submarines set to work and more ships were sunk, some of them ships with American passengers. The nation began to demand war to end an impossible situation. For the moment the President's aspirations were more moderate, and he asked Congress in the closing days of his first term for authority to arm American merchant ships for defense against submarines. The bill readily passed the House and commanded the support of