Wilson’s Contribution to the Cold War

“To love truth for truth’s sake is the principal part of human perfection in this world, and the

John Locke published in Popular Science Monthly Volume 66 1904 or 1905

John Locke published in Popular Science Monthly Volume 66 1904 or 1905

seed-plot of all other virtues.” — John Locke

Oft quoted in my youth, I lost contact with John Locke’s advice over the years.  Ricochet’s Daily Shot and a strong ‘cuppa’ re-awakened Locke’s view of truth in an explosive burst of energy that rocked my head and dragged me to the dreaded keyboard.  Loving truth and finding it in the labyrinth of life are two entirely separate actions tangled together in a Gordian knot suspended above each individual’s ‘La Vida Loca’.  President Woodrow Wilson’s contribution to a future, unforeseen Cold War is a leading example of my search for truth in the political rabbit warrens of war and peace.  Actions, ego, and being “the smartest guy in the room” have consequences—good and bad.

Was there a line of people eagerly awaiting support and ‘lessons learned’ about ditching colonial yokes, freedom, self-determination, and the rights of individuals from the United States? Although difficult to say with any certainty, the U.S. was, at that time, admired for its triumph following a bitter fight with its colonial master, England.  We know that the U.S. commitment to trade rather than conquest as a prime directive was a new, novel, and successful model.  We also know that the WWI Paris Peace talks in 1919 attracted

Council of Four at the WWI Paris peace conference, May 27, 1919 (candid photo) (L - R) Prime Minister David Lloyd George (Great Britian) Premier Vittorio Orlando, Italy, French Premier Georges Clemenceau, President Woodrow Wilson Edward N. Jackson (US Army Signal Corps) - U.S. Signal Corps photo

Council of Four at the WWI Paris peace conference, May 27, 1919 (candid photo) (L – R) Prime Minister David Lloyd George (Great Britian) Premier Vittorio Orlando, Italy, French Premier Georges Clemenceau, President Woodrow Wilson
Edward N. Jackson (US Army Signal Corps) – U.S. Signal Corps photo

slightly fewer than twelve present and future leaders from various colonies testing independence and sloughing their colonial bonds. Some, including Nguyễn Sinh Cung (Hồ Chí Minh) from Vietnam, attempted to meet with Wilson.[1]   It had, after all, been a mere 136 years since representatives from the rebellious colonies in North America and England gathered in Paris to sign the 1783 treaty with England to end the American Revolutionary War.  The United States had been tested by a great Civil War and found wanting.  It’s model, however, provided for growth and society to take cyclical steps toward a more perfect union. The new model was battle tested and  tough.  How quickly we forgot.

In 1917, President Wilson rode to his second term in the White House on the anti-war

inking of the Lusitania. Engraving by Norman Wilkinson, The Illustrated London News, May 15, 1915. P. 631. It was decades before people knew that the Lusitania also carried munitions and that the secondary explosion, which sunk her so quickly, was due to her war cargo.

Sinking of the Lusitania. Engraving by Norman Wilkinson, The Illustrated London News, May 15, 1915. P. 631. It was decades before people knew that the Lusitania also carried munitions and that the secondary explosion, which sunk her so quickly, was due to her war cargo.

sentiment in the United States.  He won the White House by the thinnest of margins. Wilson’s progressive platform portended a much larger, stronger, and more intrusive central government mandated by future needs of continuing neutrality concurrent with maintaining a prepared military, building a world association of nations to maintain peace after the war in Europe had ended, building Pan-American unity, banning child labor, women’s suffrage, and prison reform.[2]  Wilson’s second term officially began with the administration of the oath of office on March 5, 1917.  America sent him to the White House with the hope his campaign slogan, “He Kept Us Out of War”, was a promise. Less than a month later Wilson stood before Congress waving the tragic 1915 sinking of the Lusitania (which he neglected to mention carried armaments to the allies) and making the case for joining the war in Europe.

On April 2, 1917, President Woodrow Wilson addressed a joint session of Congress to request a declaration of war against Germany. Germany, Wilson claimed, violated its pledge to suspend unrestricted submarine warfare in the North Atlantic and the Mediterranean, and attempted to seduce Mexico into an alliance against the United States.[3]  Enough, already! On April 4, 1917, the U.S. Senate voted in support of the measure to declare war on Germany. The House concurred two days later. The United States later declared war on Germany’s ally, Austria-Hungary, on December 7, 1917 (karma?).  Wilson finally had what he wanted; a seat at the world table.

Pursuing war in Europe required Wilson to completely ignore George Washington’swashington admonition against foreign entanglements, particularly with Europe.  During his Farewell Speech in 1796, Washington advised a new nation that:

“…The great rule of conduct for us in regard to foreign nations is in extending our commercial relations, to have with them as little political connection as possible. So far as we have already formed engagements, let them be fulfilled with perfect good faith. Here let us stop. Europe has a set of primary interests which to us have none; or a very remote relation. Hence she must be engaged in frequent controversies, the causes of which are essentially foreign to our concerns. Hence, therefore, it must be unwise in us to implicate ourselves by artificial ties in the ordinary vicissitudes of her politics, or the ordinary combinations and collisions of her friendships or enmities.

Our detached and distant situation invites and enables us to pursue a different course. If we remain one people under an efficient government, the period is not far off when we may defy material injury from external annoyance; when we may take such an attitude as will cause the neutrality we may at any time resolve upon to be scrupulously respected; when belligerent nations, under the impossibility of making acquisitions upon us, will not lightly hazard the giving us provocation; when we may choose peace or war, as our interest, guided by justice, shall counsel.

Why forego the advantages of so peculiar a situation? Why quit our own to stand upon foreign ground? Why, by interweaving our destiny with that of any part of Europe, entangle our peace and prosperity in the toils of European ambition, rivalship, interest, humor or caprice?…”  George Washington

Wilson apparently decided he knew better what the world needed and in the subsequent Paris peace process set up WWII and the Cold War.  “Neutrality is a negative word. It does not express what America ought to feel. We are not trying to keep out of trouble; we are trying to preserve the foundations on which peace may be rebuilt.” Woodrow Wilson

Like or not, by 1919, WWI was over and President Wilson’s chair at the treaty table was dusted off and waiting.  And from that chair he posited a “Just Peace”, and a fourteen-point program, for which Wilson had received prior Congressional support. The world was devastated and, for the first time, the war impacts spanned all continents. Around 9.5 million military personnel died in the war and three or four times as many wounded. Many of the wounded would never work again.  Europe was not particularly interested in a Just Peace, Europe wanted payback. (Refer back to George Washington’s Farewell).

“The Allies did support Wilson’s plan for a League of Nations, his fourteenth point, but the American public did not support Wilson. American participation in an international peacekeeping organization would break the American policy of isolationism and push the United States toward interventionism. Congress would not agree to the tenth article of the League of Nations: an attack on any League member is an attack on the entire League and all members must support the attacked League member. The peacemaking aims of Wilson and the United States’ public differed in this regard, and the United States refused to become a League member despite Wilson’s urging.

The League of Nations was created without the United States, and compromises were reached for Wilson’s other Points. Thus the peaceful aims of the United States were somewhat completed, and Wilson represented his country throughout the Conference.”

The colonies who came to the Paris peace table must have seen great hope in Wilson’s fourteen-point program; guarantees for freedom of the seas, open peace treaties, equal trade, sovereignty of various nations, and colonial or territorial adjustments. As this august group was re-drawing lines on a map, perhaps their future would unfold. Unfortunately, the “sovereignty of nations” was restricted to those under the Ottoman Empire and a few others that would be “mentored” by England, France, or Italy until they were “mature” enough to handle self-determination (Iraq, Jordan, Egypt, etc. were affected).  Others, like Korea, a colony of Japan, Vietnam, a French colony, India, a British colony, as well as England’s, France’s and others’ colonial interests in Africa, North, Central, and South America remained untouched and unaided.  ­

What if Wilson had stuck to his stated principle’s and the United States retreated from

This map shows countries (in white) that England has never invaded. There are only 22. (In the WORLD!)

This map shows countries (in white) that England has never invaded. There are only 22. (In the WORLD!)

intervening everywhere for every reason? Would the colonies have evolved rather than revolted? Might they have adopted the ideas that drove the United States to success; ideas like individual freedom, and commerce rather that conquest? What if the United States had remained a beacon of hope rather than a manipulator of fates? What if the United States had given the colonies a hand-up rather than the hand-outs of today’s foreign aid programs? Over the course of time, the British Empire invaded all but 22 countries on today’s globe, including the United States. What if our loyalties had been to the colonies still under yoke?

Britain’s Welsh-born Prime Minister, David Lloyd George, President Woodrow Wilson, and France’s George Clemenceau were the primary negotiators in the follow-on from Paris, the Versailles peace treaty. “After the war, he (George) played a major role in the Versailles peace treaty. He was the key British negotiator at the Paris Peace Conference, exercising a moderating influence on both the harsh demands of Georges Clemenceau and the idealistic proposals of Woodrow Wilson, and to a large extent shaped the final agreement – although he later concluded that the treaty was a failure, predicting renewed war within 20 years.”[4] After returning from the peace conference, George responded to a question about how he felt he had done. David Lloyd George answered: ‘Not badly, considering I was seated between Jesus Christ and Napoleon’. What David Lloyd George failed to recognize was that the arrogance of Europe and the intellectually conflicted progressive drive of Wilson set a future stage for 70 years of the Cold War.  Millions more would die, and continue to die because the leader of the United States in 1919 knew just what the world needed, a League of Nations, and desired a dip in the geopolitical pool.

Final thoughts: Wilson radically expanded the federal government and centralized its power. This in addition to adding a new role of ‘star or, perhaps, prima donna’ on the world stage.  Never again would the United States confine itself to doing its own business then going home. One excuse after another would be used to meddle in the world soup. The colonies? Well, the U.S. fought Japan, then, in the Cold War the U.S. fought North Korea (part of a Japanese colony), then Vietnam (a former French colony). It overthrew the nationalist regime in Iran, which hasn’t worked out very well. Cold War examples of interference and meddling seem endless; Iraq, Central and South America, the Congo, the Philippines. Most recently Wilson’s colonial bell echoes in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Egypt, Syria, and Crimea.  Wilson founded the League of Nations (which led to the United Nations), the Federal Trade Commission, the Federal Reserve System, the Committee on Public Information (mission objective: to garner support for WWI by whatever means were necessary after the “Law” ran out), the War Industries Board (future military industrial-complex), the National Park Service, the National War Labor Board, Chatham House, a National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, and the Council of National Defense.  Here we are today as engaged as humanly possible in foreign affairs, ever bigger government, lost lives and bearing the taxes to support it all.  Although the United states never conquered, in the sense of permanently occupying or absorbing, any country except Hawaii (and that was McKinley’s issue), it tends to leave its military presence in place just in case.

[1] Kinzer, Stephen. “Unmentionable Happenings.” The Brothers: John Foster Dulles, Allen Dulles, and Their Secret World War. N.p.: St. Martin’s Griffin, October 7, 2014. 29-30. Print.

[2] “Miller Center.” Woodrow Wilson: Campaigns and Elections-. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Sept. 2016.

[3] “Milestones: 1914–1920 – Office of the Historian.” U.S. Department of State. U.S. Department of State, n.d. Web. 04 Sept. 2016.

[4] Crump, Eryl. “World War I: How Lloyd George Rose to Power at the Height of Battle – Daily Post.” Northwales. Daily Post, 17 Feb. 2014. Web. 04 Sept. 2016.

4 thoughts on “Wilson’s Contribution to the Cold War

  1. The First Cold War: The Legacy of Woodrow Wilson in U.S.-Soviet Relations
    Re: http://muse.jhu.edu/article/185112

    President Wilson was “intrigued” by his friend Colonel Edward House’s suggestion to wage a propaganda campaign* in Russia appealing to ideals and speaking directly to the Russian people “while bypassing the Bolsheviks.”

    *“Words were used instead of bullets between Russia and the United States and had been going on for many years.”

    Re: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/09592296.2013.817926?src=recsys&journalCode=fdps20

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