Determining the Peace of World War I
The Fourteen Points
Before the war had ended, Woodrow Wilson and his advisers had laid out an impressive plan for maintaining world peace. Wilson’s plan, called the Fourteen Points, was first disclosed to Congress in a speech in January. Here is an excerpt:
What we demand in this war, therefore, 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 dealing by the other peoples of the world as against force and selfish aggression.
Wilson then laid out the “Fourteen Points” of his program for peace. The first five points were general; they described how international relations should be conducted in the future. These points included an argument for free trade and free access to the seas for all nations. The next eight points dealt specifically with how the map of Europe should appear at the end of the war, the insistence that all armies of occupation must return home, that national frontiers should be drawn along appropriate ethnic borders, and that no nation would maintain dominion over another that wished to be independent.
The League of Nations
The final point stated that an international organization must be formed, one that would protect the interests of large and small nations on an equal basis. Representatives of member nations would work together to maintain world peace and to attempt to settle international disputes across a table before resorting to the battlefield. The American people responded positively to Wilson’s idea for a League of Nations, and Wilson insisted that a clause agreeing to the creation of the league be included in the Treaty of Versailles.
The Treaty of Versailles
The peace conference convened in January 1919 at Versailles, the palace that King Louis XIV’s architects had built for him in the countryside near Paris. The selection of this impressive symbol of French power as the place to sign the treaty was a deliberate attempt to intimidate the Germans. The conference itself had also been carefully arranged to humiliate the German representatives. They were forced to travel to Versailles by a local train through many of the major battlefields, and to view the destruction for which the treaty would demand that they take sole blame.
For the first time in history, a non-European nation would play a major role in the peace settlements. U.S. troops had been a decisive factor in the last year of the fighting, and the United States had a level of industrial and economic might that dwarfed those of the European nations; additionally, the United States had lost comparatively few troops during the war.
The leaders of the great powers were divided in their goals. U.S. President Woodrow Wilson wanted to establish a lasting peace in Europe. Premier Georges Clemenceau of France wanted to humiliate Germany. Prime Minister David Lloyd George of Britain wanted to achieve a new balance of power, rather than weakening Germany so much that France would take its place as the sole great power on the European continent. Italian Prime Minister Vittorio Orlando wanted to recover certain Italian territory from Austria.
Despite having fought on the winning side, Russia—soon to become the Soviet Union—took no part in the negotiations at Versailles. Far too much mutual distrust existed between Russia and the Western Europeans on both political and economic grounds. The Russians resented the lack of European support for their new government, while the Europeans considered that the Russians had sold them out by withdrawing from the war and making a separate peace with Germany. Economically, the forces of communism and capital- ism were inherent enemies.
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