5-12: Woodrow Wilson, 14 Points Ignored

It is pretty well agreed upon by historians that the Treaty of Versailles, which basically presented the document created to exact punishment on Germany for WWI, helped lead to the onset of WWII. Before being coerced into signing the document, the German delegation protested its harshness, if not its very existence. They also referred to President Woodrow Wilson’s 14 points that relate to the search for world peace.

They are presented below verbatim (and can be accessed from any of many sites). Highlighting and parenthetical remarks are mine. See if you find anything appropriate for today’s America and today’s world. Again, remember that Germany made reference to Wilson’s argument; the victorious allies, including America, ignored their plea.

8 January, 1918:
President Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points

It will be our wish and purpose that the processes of peace, when they are begun, shall be absolutely open and that they shall involve and permit henceforth no secret understandings of any kind. The day of conquest and aggrandizement is gone by; so is also the day of secret covenants entered into in the interest of particular governments and likely at some unlooked-for moment to upset the peace of the world. It is this happy fact, now clear to the view of every public man whose thoughts do not still linger in an age that is dead and gone, which makes it possible for every nation whose purposes are consistent with justice and the peace of the world to avow nor or at any other time the objects it has in view.

We entered this war because violations of right had occurred which touched us to the quick and made the life of our own people impossible unless they were corrected and the world secure once for all against their recurrence. 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 dealing 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. The programme of the world’s peace, therefore, is our programme; and that programme, the only possible programme, as we see it, is this:

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. (Diplomacy enacted by the Department of State is seen by war hawks today as at best ineffectual and at worst cowardly. Consider the negotiations with Iran regarding nuclear energy.)

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. Do embargoes count? E.g., Cuba.)

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. (Economic sanctions didn’t work with Cuba.)

IV. Adequate guarantees given and taken that national armaments will be reduced to the lowest point consistent with domestic safety. (… and then we had the “arms race” with Russia.)

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. (There should be no “colonial claims” to begin with.)

VI. The evacuation of all Russian territory and such a settlement of all questions affecting Russia as will secure the best and freest cooperation 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. (And the Cold War began immediately after WWII. So much for independent determination …)

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. (All nations should be subject to international courts based on agreed to laws. They exist. America’s participation would go a long way toward convincing the world that we want to be part of it not the head of it. A good start would be putting Cheney away for life.)

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. (Quit fighting old wars.)

IX. A readjustment of the frontiers of Italy should be effected along clearly recognizable lines of nationality. (What constitutes nationhood, when victors in wars create countries like Pakistan, Bangladesh, et al.? Hasn’t the West gerrymandered national borders in the Middle East not because of recognizable lines of nationality but of existence of oil? And hasn’t that led to war not peace?)

X. The peoples of Austria-Hungary, whose place among the nations we wish to see safeguarded and assured, should be accorded the freest opportunity to autonomous development. (… as long as it leads to American-style democracy.)

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. (… and then we had ethnic cleansing.)

XII. The Turkish portion 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. (“Empire” was still an acceptable entity.)

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. (… until Hitler invaded. So much for Germany wanting to invoke Wilson’s 14 points, especially this one.)

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. (There was the League of Nations and now there is the United Nations. The rubric is there. Why can’t we all just get along?)

In regard to these essential rectifications of wrong and assertions of right we feel ourselves to be intimate partners of all the governments and peoples associated together against the Imperialists. We cannot be separated in interest or divided in purpose. We stand together until the end. (… until we don’t.)

For such arrangements and covenants we are willing to fight and to continue to fight until they are achieved; but only because we wish the right to prevail and desire a just and stable peace such as can be secured only by removing the chief provocations to war, which this programme does remove. We have no jealousy of German greatness, and there is nothing in this programme that impairs it. We grudge her no achievement or distinction of learning or of pacific enterprise such as have made her record very bright and very enviable. We do not wish to injure her or to block in any way her legitimate influence or power. We do not wish to fight her either with arms or with hostile arrangements of trade if she is willing to associate herself with us and the other peace- loving nations of the world in covenants of justice and law and fair dealing. We wish her only to accept a place of equality among the peoples of the world, — the new world in which we now live, — instead of a place of mastery.

(Oh, that the United States of America herself in 2016 wished to accept a place of equality among the peoples of the world, instead of a place of mastery.

Prior to going to Vietnam, from my home in New Jersey I had never traveled farther north than New York, father south and west than Pennsylvania, and farther east than the Jersey shore. Politically naïve before, I started to see the world much differently after my return. In Vietnam I had seen families working together harvesting rice from their paddies. I had seen children herding water buffalo as though they were sheep. In Hong Kong I dined in a restaurant where customers were seated at tables with strangers, happy people who struck up conversations with each other and made me and my buddy feel welcome. My buddy happened to be Black. When I returned home, there were full blown race riots in the streets of American cities. My buddy would not have been welcome in any restaurant as he/we was/were welcome any place we went in Hong Kong. I began early to seriously doubt the tenets of democracy we allegedly were fighting for. I doubt them still.)

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