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INTERESTS OF THE UNITED STATES “In the measures to be taken to secure the future peace of the world the people and Government of the United States are as vitally and as directly interested as the governments now at war. Their interest, moreover, in the means to be adopted to relieve the smaller and weaker peoples of the world of the peril of wrong and violence, is as quick and ardent as that of any other people or government. They stand ready, and even eager, to co-operate in the accomplishment of these ends, when the war is over, with every influence and resource at their command. But the war must first be concluded. The terms upon which it is to be concluded they are not at liberty to suggest; but the President does feel that it is his right and his duty to point out their intimate interest in its conclusions, lest it should presently be too late to accomplish the greater things which lie beyond its conclusion, lest the situation of neutral nations, now exceedingly hard to endure, be rendered altogether intolerable, and lest, more than all, an injury be done civilization itself which can never be atoned for or repaired.
“The President therefore feels altogether justified in suggesting an immediate opportunity for a comparison of views as to the terms which must precede those ultimate arrangements for the peace of the world, which all desire and in which the neutral nations as well as those at war are ready to play their full responsible part.
DEFINITE TERMS SOUGHT “The leaders of the several belligerents have, as has been said, stated those objects in general terms. But, stated in general terms, they seem the same on both sides. Never yet have the authoritative spokesmen of either side avowed the precise objects which would, if attained, satisfy them and their people that the war had been fought out. The world has been left to conjecture what definitive results, what actual exchange of guaranties, what political or territorial changes or readjustments, what stage of military success, even, would bring the war to an end.
PIOUS ASPIRATIONS “It may be that peace is nearer than we know; that the terms which the belligerents on the one side and on the other would deem it necessary to insist upon are not so irreconcilable as some have feared; that an interchange of views would clear the way at least for conference and make the permanent concord of the nations a hope of the immediate future, a concert of nations immediately practicable.
"The President is not proposing peace; he is not even offering mediation. He is merely proposing that soundings be taken in order that we may learn, the neutral nations with the belligerent, how near the haven of peace may be for which all mankind longs with an intense and increasing longing. He believes that the spirit in which he speaks and the objects which he seeks will be understood by all concerned, and he confidently hopes for a response which will bring a new light into the affairs of the world.”
GERMANY'S EQUIVOCAL ACCEPTANCE Germany and her allies promptly replied to the President's note with an apparent acceptance, so framed as to make it tantamount to a confirmation of the German proposals of December 12th. They made it clear that they would enter into the conference only on the basis which they had themselves already prescribed, and that they would not consider in the peace negotiations any measures for the prevention of further wars of the same kind. The German note ran thus:
“The high-minded suggestion made by the President of the United States of America in order to create a basis for the establishment of a lasting peace has been received and considered by the Imperial Government in the friendly spirit which was expressed in the President's communication.
“The President points out that which he has at heart and leaves open the choice of road. To the Imperial Government an immediate exchange of views seems to be the most appropriate road in order to reach the desired result. It begs, therefore, in the sense of the declaration made on December 12th, which offered a hand for peace negotiations, to propose an immediate meeting of delegates of the belligerent states at a neutral place.
“The Imperial Government is also of the opinion that the great work of preventing future wars can be begun only after the end of the present struggle of the nations. It will, when this moment shall have come, be ready with pleasure to collaborate entirely with the United States in this exalted task.”
AN UNEQUIVOCAL REFUSAL The reply of the Allies was made on January 10th, and was much more elaborate and detailed than that of Germany. It expressed cordial appreciation of and sympathy with the benevolent motives of the American Government, but protested strongly against the assimilation established in the American note between the two groups of belligerents. It referred to the note of the Allies in response to the German peace note as a response also to
the President's inquiry concerning the terms of peace which would be satisfactory, and then continued:
"President Wilson desires . . . that the belligerent powers openly affirm the objects which they seek by continuing the war; the Allies experience no difficulty in replying to this request. Their objects in the war are well known; they have been formulated on many occasions by the chiefs of their divers governments. Their objects in the war will not be made known in detail with all the equitable compensations and indemnities for damages suffered until the hour of negotiations. But the civilized world knows that they imply in all necessity and in the first instance the restoration of Belgium, of Serbia, and of Montenegro and the indemnities which are due them; the evacuation of the invaded territories of France, of Russia and of Roumania with just reparation; the reorganization of Europe guaranteed by a stable regime and founded as much upon respect of nationalities and full security and liberty of economic development, which all nations, great or small, possess, as upon territorial conventions and international agreements suitable to guarantee territorial and maritime frontiers against unjustified attacks; the restitution of provinces or territories wrested in the past from the Allies by force or against the will of their populations; the liberation of Italians, of Slavs, of Roumanians and of Tcheco Slovaques from foreign domination; the enfranchisement of populations subject to the bloody tyranny of the Turks; the expulsion from Europe of the Ottoman Empire. The intentions of His Majesty the Emperor of Russia regarding Poland have been clearly indicated in the proclamation which he has just addressed to his armies. It goes without saying that if the Allies wish to liberate Europe from the brutal covetousness of Prussian militarism, it never has been their design, as has been alleged, to encompass the extermination of the German peoples and their political disappearance. That which they desire above all is to insure a peace upon the principles of liberty and justice, upon the inviolable fidelity to international obligation with which the Government of the United States has never ceased to be inspired.
“United in the pursuits of this supreme obiect the Allies are determined, individually and collectively, to act with all their power and to consent to all sacrifices to bring to a victorious close a conflict upon which they are convinced not only their own safety and prosperity depends but also the future of civilization itself.”
THE PRESIDENT'S PEACE MESSAGE Following this, on January 22, 1917, President Wilson addressed the United States Senate on the subject, not with a request for action but in explanation of his policy, and thus ended the discussion of peace, which was already obviously futile. In his address he reviewed the notes of the belligerents, insisted that when peace was finally made the United States must have a part in the work, and indicated what must be the general tenor of the peace terms to be satisfactory to this country; saying in conclusion:
"In holding out the expectation that the people and the Government of the United States will join the other civilized nations of the world in guaranteeing the permanence of peace upon such terms as I have named, I speak with the greater boldness and confidence because it is clear to every man who can think that there is in this promise no breach in either our traditions or our policy as a nation, but a fulfillment rather of all that we have professed or striven for.