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THE LIES AND RACISM OF WOODROW WILSON

The image of President Woodrow Wilson handed down to us through history is of a democratic idealist whose rhetoric outlined the rationale for American involvement in foreign wars in the 20th Century.  From Wilson's presidency onward, the United States would enter world affairs with the intention of making the world "safe for democracy", ensuring freedom of the seas, lowering prohibitive tariff walls, and fostering the right of all peoples to self-determination.  Wilson's rhetoric was later echoed by other presidents, most notably Franklin D. Roosevelt, who argued repeatedly that Americans needed to enter the Second World War to protect freedoms outlined by Wilson three decades earlier.

Fast-forward a century and the rise of neo-conservatism to power in the United States at the dawn of the 21st Century was accompanied by similar rhetoric about the American obligation to spread democracy around the world and open the doors of global trade.  The similarities between Wilsonian and neo-conservative foreign policy are fundamental, not coincidental.  Indeed, Wilsonian values have been cited repeatedly as the reasons why the U.S. launched its invasion of Iraq in 2003.[*]

Few in the Western world would dispute either that democracy is a desirable form of government or that self-determination is a good thing.  However, it is worth comparing the rhetoric to the reality of Woodrow Wilson.  After all, if the man's words are going to be used to justify the massive projection of American force overseas it is worth knowing more about what he actually did while in office and if these actions justify the idealization of him by contemporary American policy-makers.


NOTE:  A BRIEF STATEMENT OF PUBLICATIONS PRINCIPLES

The World Future Fund serves as a source of documentary material, reading lists, and internet links from different points of view that we believe have historical significance.  The publication of this material is in no way whatsoever an endorsement of these viewpoints by the World Future Fund, unless explicitly stated by us.  As our web site makes very clear, we are totally opposed to ideas such as racism, religious intolerance, and communism.  However, in order to combat such evils, it is necessary to understand them by means of the study of key documentary material.  For a more detailed statement of our publications standards click here.


WILSON JUSTIFIES AMERICAN INVOLVEMENT IN WW I THE FOURTEEN POINTS

THE GERMAN ARMISTICE REQUEST WILSON'S BETRAYAL AT VERSAILLES

WILSON'S RACISMWILSON SNUBS HO CHI MINHNOTES


WILSON JUSTIFIES AMERICAN INVOLVEMENT IN WW I

After much deliberation by President Wilson, the United States Congress declared war on the Central Powers, (Imperial Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Turkey) on April 6, 1917.  Wilson had been reluctant to go to war in Europe, but found that the U.S. could not remain neutral in view of the fact that a) German submarines that were regularly sinking American ships and b) Germany was attempting to incite Mexico to go to war with the U.S. (See The Zimmermann Telegram).  But while Wilson claimed that Germany had forced the U.S. to enter the conflict: "The military masters of Germany denied us the right to be neutral," he quickly began to argue after the war declaration that the United States had more at stake than simply responding to German aggression.[1]  Instead, Wilson claimed that the U.S. was entering the war to fight German militarism and to spread freedom and justice in the world.

The following are quotes from speeches President Wilson and his Secretary of State Robert Lansing made in the months following the U.S. declaration of war.  These statements depicted American involvement in the World War I as a moral crusade.

"We believe these fundamental things: First, that every people has a right to choose the sovereignty under which they shall live. Like other nations, we have ourselves no doubt once and again offended against that principle when for a little while controlled by selfish passion, as our franker historians have been honorable enough to admit; but it has become more and more our rule of life and action. Second, that the small states of the world have a right to enjoy the same respect for their sovereignty and for their territorial integrity that great and powerful nations expect and insist upon. And, third, that the world has a right to be free from every disturbance of its peace that has its origin in aggression and disregard of the rights of peoples and nations."[2]

"The facts are patent to all the world, and nowhere are they more plainly seen than in the United States, where we are accustomed to deal with facts and not with sophistries; and the great fact that stands out above all the rest is that this is a People's War, a war for freedom and justice and self-government amongst all the nations of the world, a war to make the world safe for the peoples who live upon it and have made it their own, the German people themselves included; and that with us rests the choice to break through all these hypocrisies and patent cheats and masks of brute force and help set the world free, or else stand aside and let it be dominated a long age through by sheer weight of arms and the arbitrary choices of self-constituted masters, by the nation which can maintain the biggest armies and the most irresistible armaments, a power to which the world has afforded no parallel and in the face of which political freedom must wither and perish."[3]

"The object of this war is to deliver the free peoples of the world from the menace and the actual power of a vast military establishment controlled by an irresponsible government which, having secretly planned to dominate the world, proceeded to carry the plan out without regard either to the sacred obligations of treaty or the long-established practices and long-cherished principles of international action and honor; which chose its own time for the war; delivered its blow fiercely and suddenly; stopped at no barrier either of law or of mercy; swept a whole continent within the tide of blood--not the blood of soldiers only, but the blood of innocent women and children also, and of the helpless poor; and now stands balked, but not defeated, the enemy of four-fifths of the world. This power is not the German people. It is the ruthless master of the German people. It is no business of ours how that great people came under its control or submitted with temporary zest to the domination of its purpose; but it is our business to see to it that the history of the rest of the world is no longer left to its handling.

Responsible statesmen must now everywhere see, if they never saw before, that no peace can rest securely upon political or economic restrictions meant to benefit some nations and cripple or embarrass others, upon vindictive action of any sort or any kind of revenge or deliberate injury. The test, therefore, of every plan of peace is this: Is it based upon the faith of all the peoples involved, or merely upon the word of an ambitious and intriguing government, on the one hand, and of a group of free peoples, on the other? This is a test which goes to the root of the matter; and it is the test which must be applied. ... An enduring peace ... must be based upon justice and fairness and the common rights of mankind."[4]


THE FOURTEEN POINTS

On January 8, 1918, well after the United States had declared war on Germany, President Wilson presented to the Congress his program for establishing peace in Europe.  This program consisted of fourteen sections and it has become known as Wilson's Fourteen Points.  Wilson began his comments by stating

"What we demand in this war, therefore, is nothing peculiar to ourselves. It is that the world be made fit and safe to live in; and particularly that it be made safe for every peace-loving nation which, like our own, wishes to live its own life, determine its own institutions, be assured of justice and fair dealings by the other peoples of the world, as against force and selfish aggression. All the peoples of the world are in effect partners in this interest, and for our own part we see very clearly that unless justice be done to others it will not be done to us."[5]

The specific 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 point consistent with domestic safety.

V. A free, open-minded, and absolutely impartial adjustment of all colonial claims, based upon a strict observance of the principle that in determining all such questions of sovereignty the interests of the populations 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.

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.

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, should be righted, in order that peace may once more be made secure in the interest of all.

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; 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 would include the territories inhabited by indisputably Polish populations, which would 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.

Source: Wilson and the League of Nations


THE GERMAN ARMISTICE REQUEST

Roughly nine months after Wilson had announced his peace program, the war-weary German government cabled Washington to ask if Wilson would broker an armistice in Europe.  Germany specifically requested that the armistice be concluded on the understanding that an eventual peace settlement be based on the Fourteen Points.  When the armistice was finally concluded on November 11, 1918, the German government signed the agreement with the expectation that the Fourteen Points were the basis for it.

First German armistice request was sent on October 6, 1918:

"The German government requests of the President of the United States of America to take steps for the restoration of peace, to notify all belligerents of this request, and to invite them to delegate plenipotentiaries for the purpose of taking up negotiations.  The German Government accepts, as a basis for the peace negotiations, the program laid down by the President of the United States in his message to Congress of January 8, 1918, and in his address of September 27, 1918.  In order to avoid further bloodshed the German Government requests to bring about the immediate conclusion of a general armistice on land, water, and in the air."[6]


WILSON'S BETRAYAL AT VERSAILLES

Rhetoric vs. Reality

When comparing the Versailles Treaty to Wilson's Fourteen Points, the points upon which the German government had signed its armistice and which the German people had placed their hopes for an equitable peace, it quickly becomes apparent that the two are unrecognizable.  In the final analysis Wilson ended up signing a treaty (later he stumped heavily for it to be ratified by the U.S.) that not only heavily punished Germany, it betrayed the promises that Wilson had made the Germans.

On his way to Paris and the Versailles Peace Conference, Wilson visited some of the capitol cities of the major belligerent nations.  During these stops Wilson made public speeches in which he continued to call for a just and moral peace.  His speech in Rome, Italy on January 3, 1919 exemplifies the kinds of statements Wilson made at the time: "Our task at Paris is to organize the friendship of the world, to see to it that all the moral forces that make for right and justice and liberty are united and are given a vital organization to which the peoples of the world will readily and gladly respond."[7]

Public statements like these continued to raise hopes in Europe, and especially in Germany, about the establishment of a just peace after such a horrendous war.  The reality, however, would be something entirely different.  The peace settlement reached at Versailles would be neither just nor moral.  Rather, it would be punitive and harsh.  In Germany in particular the Versailles Peace Treaty would be derisively referred to as "The Dictate"; a list of demands and orders from the Allies that were neither fair nor just.  Germans on all sides of the political spectrum would feel deeply betrayed at Versailles and this would fuel resentment against the Western Powers that radicals like Adolf Hitler would tap into.  It is not a stretch to argue that Hitler and the Nazi Movement were created at Versailles.  For if Germany had not been handled so harshly at the peace conference a considerable amount of popular resentment in Germany would not have been common.  Furthermore, in accepting the Versailles Treaty, the democratically elected Weimar government would be accused of betraying Germany.  This would in turn lead to a deep distrust of democracy in Germany, including a subsequent turn toward authoritarianism, and eventually the Nazi dictatorship.

For his part, Woodrow Wilson returned to the United States with the Versailles Treaty in hand, calling it a victory.  Claiming that Congress needed to ratify the treaty, Wilson campaigned across the nation extolling its value.  The unfortunate truth is, however, that the treaty Wilson considered a triumph was a complete betrayal of the values that he had extolled in the weeks and months prior to the Versailles Conference.  Worse yet, it was a betrayal of the hopes that millions of Germans had placed in Wilson and his Fourteen Points.  The consequences for the world of this betrayal would be bloodshed and destruction on a level never before seen.

Most importantly, Wilson had promised the Germans an equitable peace based on his Fourteen Points.  In the end, Germany was humiliated by having to sign a treaty that blamed Germany alone for causing the war and which imposed huge reparations costs on her.

According to Article 231 of the treaty, "The Allied and Associated Governments affirm, and Germany accepts, the responsibility of Germany and her allies for causing all the loss and damage to which the Allied and Associated Governments and their nationals have been subjected as a consequence of the war imposed upon them by the aggression of Germany and her allies."[8]

Furthermore, Germany was required to pay the Allies for the staggering cost of the war, a total that amounted to more than $32,000,000,000.[9]

These penalties did not amount to Wilson's claim to want "Peace without victory".  This is probably not surprising given that Wilson eventually became as adamant as the British and French that the German people too were responsible for the war:

"A people are responsible for the acts of their Government.  If their Government purposes things that are wrong, they ought to take measures to see to it that that purpose is not executed."[10]

Comparing the Fourteen Points and the Treaty of Versailles

A comparison of the Fourteen Points with the clauses in the Treaty of Versailles quickly illustrates the depth of Wilson's betrayal of his own ideals.

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.

  • The Versailles talks themselves, probably the most important diplomatic conference of the 20th Century, remained closed to the public.  At the end of every day a brief, carefully-worded summary was released to the press.  Typically in this summary any important information had been completely censored.  This certainly was not open diplomacy as preached by Wilson.  Furthermore, the Versailles Treaty itself never

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.

  • Freedom of navigation of the seas was never accomplished at Versailles.  Great Britain continued to be the world's dominant sea-power and it would not relinquish its significant naval advantage over all other European powers combined.  Germany, on the other hand, possessor of the second largest fleet of warships in the world, was stripped of her naval strength and forced to adhere to stringent guidelines for warship tonnage and number.  Specifically,

    "Six battleships of the Deutschland or Lothringen type, 6 light cruisers, 12 destroyers, 12 torpedo boats, or an equal number of ships constructed to replace them as provided in Article l90. No submarines are to be included.

    Germany is forbidden to construct or acquire any warships other than those intended to replace the units in commission provided for in Article l81 of the present Treaty.

    The warships intended for replacement purposes as above shall not exceed the following displacement: Armoured ships 10,000 tons, Light cruisers 6,000 tons, Destroyers 800 tons, Torpedo boats 200 tons

    Except where a ship has been lost, units of the different classes shall only be replaced at the end of a period of twenty years in the case of battleships and cruisers, and fifteen years in the case of destroyers and torpedo boats, counting from the launching of the ship."[11]

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.

  • Open and equal trade was never achieved after the end of WW I.  In fact, the United States itself erected high-tariff walls in the 1920s that protected American industries, like big steel.  These walls helped foster American economic dominance.  Great Britain as well remained snug behind the tariff walls of her empire, upon which she relied even more economically after the end of the war.

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

  • Wilson had argued that all of the belligerents in the war should reduce the size of their military establishments.  However, the only nation disarmed as a result of Versailles was Germany.  According to Article 160:

    "
    By a date which must not be later than March 31, 1920, the German Army must not comprise more than seven divisions of infantry and three divisions of cavalry. After that date the total number of effectives in the Army of the States constituting Germany must not exceed one hundred thousand men, including officers and establishments of depots. The Army shall be devoted exclusively to the maintenance of order within the territory and to the control of the frontiers. The total effective strength of officers, including the personnel of staffs, whatever their composition, must not exceed four thousand."[12]

    The embittering effect of this clause in Germany cannot be underestimated.  Apart from the fact that Germany had lost millions of its men in the war, the empire had a proud military tradition.  In addition, Germany itself had not been touched during the war.  The fact that the German people had not directly felt the effects of the war in their homeland gave rise to the belief that the German Army had not been defeated on the battlefield.  Therefore, to have one of the nation's most esteemed institutions emasculated by diplomatic decree had a shocking effect on many in the German public.  Disarmament would prove to be a vexing problem for the entire interwar period, until Hitler rearmed Germany in the 1930s.

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

  • Wilson himself never approached the subject of German colonies with an impartial or open mind.  For example, on July 10, 1919, he stated "The German colonies were to be disposed of.  They had not been governed; they had been exploited merely, without thought of the interest or even the ordinary human rights of their inhabitants."[13]  That anyone could say differently of colonies possessed by the other European powers is arguable, particularly in the case of the Belgian Congo, whose inhabitants had been massacred under King Leopold II's caring rule.

    In short, Germany was the only colonial power stripped of her colonial possessions.  This was authorized according to Article 119 of the Versailles Treaty, which stated: "Germany renounces in favour of the Principal Allied and Associated Powers all her rights and titles over her oversea possessions."[14]  All of Germany's former colonial territories were divided up between the Allied powers, including Japan, which acquired the Shantung Peninsula in China.  None of the Allied Powers were required to relinquish their colonies, as Wilson had argued in Point V of his peace program.

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.

  • Ironically, Wilson posited this point of his program at the same time that 5,000 American troops were in Arkhangelsk, Russia fighting the Bolsheviks.[15]  Wilson had ordered those troops to Russia and hundreds were killed in the fighting that took place.

    As far as events at Versailles were concerned, however, this clause was directed at Germany, which had conquered vast territories in western Russia and had knocked the Russian Army out of the war.  According to Part III, Section XIV, Article 116:

    "Germany acknowledges and agrees to respect as permanent and inalienable the independence of all the territories which were part of the former Russian Empire on August 1, 1914.

    In accordance with the provisions of Article 259 of Part IX (Financial Clauses) and Article 292 of Part X (Economic Clauses) Germany accepts definitely the abrogation of the Brest-Litovsk Treaties and of all other treaties, conventions, and agreements entered into by her with the Maximalist Government in Russia.

    The Allied and Associated Powers formally reserve the rights of Russia to obtain from Germany restitution and reparation based on the principles of the present Treaty.[16]

    Germany was therefore required to give up the areas that it had conquered at the cost of hundreds of thousands dead and untold sums of money spent.  This was an extremely bitter pill for Germans to swallow and lingering resentment over it played into Hitler's hands when he promised to restore to Germany lands in Russia that she had lost at Versailles.

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.

  • Germany had occupied Belgium since 1914.  This was yet another territory that she lost diplomatically, but had not lost militarily.

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, should be righted, in order that peace may once more be made secure in the interest of all.

  • This was a highly contentious subject as the Alsace-Lorraine region was inhabited by a mixed German-French population.  That the region was summarily returned to France was certainly not the wish of Germans who lived there, thus violating Wilson's principle of self-determination.

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

  • This demand by Wilson proved to be a terrific problem.  Italy had joined the Allied war against the Central Powers precisely to conquer territory along its northern frontier with Austria (the Tyrol region).  After four years of war, Italy had suffered horrendous casualties and was extremely bitter about not being able to claim territories to which it felt entitled.  Worse still, Italy did not even receive the port city of Fiume on the Adriatic seacoast.  Overall, Italy, despite having lost 600,000 lives, was treated like a second-class state by Britain, France, and the United States.  The resulting embitterment of the Italians played a critical role in the rise of Fascism in Italy.  After Vittorio Orlando returned from Versailles empty-handed, he quickly left office and was replaced by Benito Mussolini, whose new government was stridently anti-western and anti-democratic.

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.

  • In place of the Austro-Hungarian Empire a series of so-called "successor states" were created in Central Europe.  These included Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia.  Here Wilson's principle of the self-determination of peoples proved to be maddeningly contradictory.  Poland in particular held a large number of ethnic Germans who had no desire to live in a Polish state.  Czechoslovakia had a similar German minority problem in the Sudetenland, where a majority of ethnic Germans, former citizens of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, voted in a plebiscite to join Germany, not to stay in a Czech state.  The problems proved to be a real benefit to Adolf Hitler in the 1930s, as he turned Wilson's words against the successor states and argued that ethnic German minorities and their lands should be incorporated into the Greater German Reich.  Eventually, friction over this issue helped fuel the outbreak of war between Germany and Poland in 1939.

XI. Rumania, Serbia, and Montenegro should be evacuated; occupied territories restored; Serbia accorded free and secure access to the sea; 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.

  • This is the clause that led to the creation of Yugoslavia, a highly-unstable state that no minority wished to be a part of.  This state disintegrated in 1941 and again in the 1990s.

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.

  • This point was never achieved.  The Ottoman Empire was indeed broken up, but the beneficiaries were France and Great Britain, which took over significant portions of formerly Turkish territories as League of Nations Mandates under Article 22 of the Treaty of Versailles.  Article 22 stipulated that "Certain communities formerly belonging to the Turkish empire have reached a stage of development where their existence as independent nations can be provisionally recognized subject to the rendering of administrative advice and assistance by a Mandatory until such time as they are able to stand alone."  No provision was made, however, for determining when such nations would be able to "stand alone".  The mandate system therefore proved to be a thinly-veiled version of European colonial rule, which caused tremendous problems in the Middle East, including armed revolts in Iraq and Palestine.  Once again, the self-determination of peoples was never taken into consideration.

XIII. An independent Polish State should be erected which would include the territories inhabited by indisputably Polish populations, which would 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.

  • The establishment of an independent Poland created a dangerous new dynamic in East-Central Europe between the two World Wars.  To begin with, Poland received large portions of formerly German territory on its western frontier.  This included a swath of land directly through East Prussia/Pomerania called the "Polish Corridor".  The Corridor gave Poland access to the Baltic Sea.  It also shattered the territorial continuity of eastern Germany, leading to a never-ending cry for revision among German politicians, even those on the political left.  Guerrilla warfare between ethnic Germans and Poles continued in the western regions of Poland until 1921.  Meanwhile, the new Polish state carried out an aggressive foreign policy on its eastern border, fighting a costly war with Russia in 1920-1921.  In the years afterward, interwar Poland evolved into a proto-fascist state with more similarities to Nazi Germany than to the democracies that created it.  Polish politics was rife with antisemitism and ethnic minority tensions.  Belorussians, Lithuanians, and Ukrainians, as well as Germans, had been incorporated into the new Polish state against their will.  There was no self-determination for these peoples.  Poland's situation pointed to the dangers of Wilson's vague promises about the self-determination of peoples.  For more on the creation of independent Poland see Point X.

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.

  • This point provided the philosophical basis for the creation of a League of Nations.  The foundation of the League is often considered to be Wilson's greatest achievement.  Never mind that the United States never joined it and that the Leagues proved unable to stop a single armed conflict in the interwar period.  This was one of the Fourteen Points that was fulfilled at Versailles.


WILSON'S RACISM

Wilson and Segregation

A southern-born president, Woodrow Wilson's legacy has been dogged by his outright racism.  In his writings, Wilson eulogized the antebellum South and lamented the period of reconstruction that followed the Civil War.  To quote Wilson himself on this subject, "self-preservation [forced whites] to rid themselves, by fair means or foul, of the intolerable burden of governments sustained by the votes of ignorant negroes."[17Wilson excused the rise of the Ku Klux Klan in similar terms, calling it understandable in view of the "lawless" situation that victimized whites in the South after 1865.[18Wilson carried his racism into the public arena, both as president of Princeton University and as Governor of New Jersey.  While the former, Wilson discouraged black from applying to his university, and as governor, Wilson refused to confirm the hiring of blacks in his administration.[19]

Being a consummate politician, Wilson was not above lying about race when he felt it was necessary.  For example, during the presidential campaign of 1912, Wilson thought it necessary to make a statement on the so-called "negro question".  In late October 1912, Wilson wrote Bishop Alexander Walters of the African Methodist Church to decline Walters' invitation to address a mass meeting of the Church at Carnegie Hall on October 26.  In the letter, Wilson wrote, "I want to assure them (i.e. Black Americans) through you that should I become President of the United States they may count on me for absolute fair dealing and for everything by which I could assist in advancing the interests of their race."[20]

Re-segregating the Federal Government

Once in office, however, Wilson appointed a number of southern Democrats to his Cabinet.  These men proceeded to push for the segregation of black and white employees in their departments.  Wilson did not oppose this practice.  To quote Judson MacLaury, an historian for the U.S. Department of Labor,

"At a Cabinet meeting early in the Administration, Southern members expressed disingenuous concern over alleged friction between Negro and white government employees.  Postmaster General Albert S. Burleson, a Texan, proposed segregating the races to eliminate the supposed problem.  Secretary of the Treasury William Gibbs McAdoo supported him. ... The rest of the Cabinet, along with the President, while not explicitly endorsing segregation, did not oppose it."[21]

Upholding a policy of re-segregating the federal government, which had been gradually de-segregating since the end of the Civil War was entirely consistent with a president who claimed repeatedly that "Segregation is not humiliating but a benefit" and "distinctly to the advantage of the colored people themselves."[22]


WILSON SNUBS HO CHI MINH

Self-Determination for Europeans Only

In 1919, a young Vietnamese nationalist named Ho Chi Minh, appeared at Versailles hoping to present the assembly with an eight-point program that would result in his country's liberation from French colonial rule.  These eight points included a general amnesty for Vietnamese political prisoners, equal rights for French and Vietnamese, the abolition of courts used to persecute Vietnamese patriots, freedom of the press and of thought, freedom of association and of assembly, freedom of movement and of travel abroad, freedom to go to school and to open technical and vocational schools for the Vietnamese, substitution of the system of law for that of decrees, and appointment of a Vietnamese representative in Paris to settle questions concerning Vietnamese people's interests.

Minh went to France from the United States, where he had lived for two years, because he had been inspired by President Wilson's call for the self-determination of peoples.  While in the U.S. Minh had come to admire the American notion of liberty as expressed by men like Thomas Jefferson.  Once he had arrived at Versailles, however, Ho Chi Minh was turned away.  The French of course would not speak to him because of their colonial interests.  But neither would Woodrow Wilson grant Minh a private audience; this despite Point V of Wilson's peace program, in which he had argued that in adjudicating colonial claims "the interests of the populations concerned must have equal weight with the equitable claims of the Government whose title is to be determined."  Soon after Wilson's snub, Minh turned to the Bolshevik Government in Russia for assistance.  It would be the beginning of Minh's lifelong association with Communism.  Wilson's rebuff of Minh had tremendous consequences for the United States in the future as it was Vietnamese forces under Ho Chi Minh that defeated the United States in the Vietnamese War fifty years later.[23]


NOTES

1. Thomas A. Bailey, Wilson and the Peacemakers (NY: Macmillan, 1947), p. 10.

2. President Woodrow Wilson, Speech of May 27, 1917, quoted in Edgar E. Robinson and Victor J. West, The Foreign Policy of Woodrow Wilson, 1913-1917 (NY: Macmillan Company, 1917, p. 328.

3.  President Woodrow Wilson, Flag Day Commemoration Speech, June 14, 1917, quoted in Edgar E. Robinson and Victor J. West, The Foreign Policy of Woodrow Wilson, 1913-1917 (NY: Macmillan Company, 1917, pp. 407-408.

4.  Letter of Secretary of State Robert Lansing to Pope Benedict XV August 27, 1917, quoted in Edgar E. Robinson and Victor J. West, The Foreign Policy of Woodrow Wilson, 1913-1917 (NY: Macmillan Company, 1917, pp. 408-410.

5. The Fourteen Points

6. United States Department of State, Papers relating to the foreign relations of the United States, 1918. Supplement 1, The World War, Volume I (1918), p. 331.

7.  Woodrow Wilson and the League of Nations

8. Article 231 of the Treaty of Versailles

9. World War I Reparations

10.  Woodrow Wilson, Speech in Columbus, Ohio, September 4, 1919, quoted in Thomas Bailey, Wilson and the Peacemakers (NY: Macmillan, 1947), p. 37.

11. The Treaty of Versailles, Clauses 159-213

12. The Treaty of Versailles, Part V, Section 1, Article 159

13.  Bailey, Peacemakers, p. 163.

14. The Treaty of Versailles, Part V, Section I, Article 119

15. For more on this see the Polar Bear Expedition.

16. Treaty of Versailles, Part III, Section XIV, Article 116

17. Woodrow Wilson in Ray Stannard Baker and William E. Dodd (eds.), The Public Papers of Woodrow Wilson ( New York: Harper & Brothers, 1925-27), Vol. II, p. 18.

18. Woodrow Wilson, A History of the American People, Volume V (1931), p. 59.

19. Arthur Link, The Road to the White House (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1947), p. 502.

20. Woodrow Wilson, Presidential Campaign Promise, 1912, in Judson MacLaury, "The Federal Government and Negro Workers Under President Woodrow Wilson"

21. Judson MacLaury, "The Federal Government and Negro Workers Under President Woodrow Wilson"

22.  Josephus Daniels to Franklin D. Roosevelt, June 10, 1933, Official File 237, Franklin D. Roosevelt Library; New York Times, November 13, 1914 and Arthur Walworth, Woodrow Wilson: American Prophet, Vol. I (New York: Longmans, 1958), p. 325.

23. D. R. Sar Desai, Vietnam: The Struggle for National Identity (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1992), p. 50.


WILSON JUSTIFIES AMERICAN INVOLVEMENT IN WW I THE FOURTEEN POINTS

THE GERMAN ARMISTICE REQUEST WILSON'S BETRAYAL AT VERSAILLES

WILSON'S RACISMWILSON SNUBS HO CHI MINHNOTES