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Site last updated
26 June, 2013
Woodrow Wilson As I Know Him
Chapter XXXI - The Pen Is Mightier Than The Sword
by Tumulty, Joseph P.


During this time the President was constantly on guard at the Executive offices, never for a moment out of touch with the situation. He was the intimate associate of the men who were his co-labourers on the various boards that had been set up to prosecute the work of the war. He seemed to know what was going on in every phase. His evenings were given to examination of the long dispatches that came from diplomatic and consular representatives of America at the various capitals of Europe, apprising him of the developments of the great war.

One of the most effective measures for weakening the enemy was the method of attacking the Central Powers from within by propaganda designed to incite the masses to rebellion and to drive wedges between Germany and Austria. As George Creel says, "The projectile force of the President's idealism, its full military value may be measured by the fact that between April 6 and December 8, 1917, sixteen States, great and small, declared war against Germany, or severed diplomatic relations with her. From the very first the Allies accepted the President as their spokesman." It was under the influence of Woodrow Wilson's clear vision and magic power of statement that the true significance of the war became clear. At first it had seemed a war of nations, and the belligerents had eagerly published official documents, Red Books, White Books, Yellow Books, and so forth, through all the colours of the spectrum, to show who had "started the war." The question of who began it became after a while quite secondary to the question of the fundamental principles at stake in the contest which was no longer a national conflict, but a world war, waged to the death between two irreconcilable views of the relationship of government to individuals, the autocratic view on the one hand, on the other the democratic. It was one man who brought the fundamental principle of the division into the clear light. A contemporary writer has said that the magical effect of Woodrow Wilson's utterances on all the Allies was due, not to his rhetoric but to his sublime gift of seeing and stating a profound truth after which others had been only groping. That is the prophet's power, to voice the latent, inarticulate aspirations of the multitude. Proof of the value of the President's method of attacking the Central Powers from within by propaganda was disclosed in General Ludendorff's and Von Tirpitz's revelations. In Ludendorff's opinion, the President's note to Germany had forced the Central Empires to yield to the President. Ludendorff says:
In his answer to our second note, Wilson gave us nothing; he did not even tell us whether the Entente took its stand on the Fourteen Points. He demanded, however, the suspension of the submarine campaign, stigmatized our conduct of the war in the west as a violation of international law, and once again sought to meddle with intimate questions of our domestic politics.
Speaking again of the answer to one of the Wilson notes, Ludendorff says:
The answer to Wilson was dispatched on the 20th of October. The submarine campaign was abandoned. This concession to Wilson was the deepest blow to the army, and especially to the navy. The injury to the morale of the fleet must have been immeasurable. The Cabinet had thrown up the sponge.
On October 23rd, President Wilson sent the following peremptory message to the Germans:
It is evident that the German people have no means of commanding the acquiescence of the military authorities of the Empire in the popular will; that the purpose of the King of Prussia to control the policy of the Empire is still unimpaired. If the United States must deal with the military masters and monarchical authorities now, or if it is likely to have to deal with them later in regard to international obligations of the German Empire, it must demand not peace negotiations but surrender. Nothing can be gained by leaving this essential thing unsaid.
In discussing this and the other Wilson notes, Ludendorff says that they had dealt a vital blow at the heart of militaristic Germans and finally loosed the grip they held on the German people. This entire situation is best expressed in Ludendorff's own words:
On October 23rd or 24th Wilson's answer arrived. It was a strong answer to our cowardly note. This time he had made it quite clear that the armistice conditions must be such as to make it impossible for Germany to resume hostilities, and to give the powers allied against her unlimited power to settle themselves the details of the peace accepted by Germany. In my view, there could no longer be doubt in any mind that we must continue the fight. I felt quite confident that the people were still to be won over to this course.

On the evening of the 24th, shortly after leaving Spa for Berlin, there was brought to me the following proclamation already signed by the Field Marshal, which expressed the views prevailing at G. H. Q. on the third Wilson note. It appeared essential that G. H. Q. in its dealings with Berlin should take up a definite stand to the note in order to eliminate its ill effects on the army. The telegram to the Army ran thus:
"For the information of all troops: Wilson says in his answer that he is ready to propose to his allies that they should enter into armistice negotiations; but that the armistice must render Germany so defenseless that she cannot take up arms again. He will only negotiate with Germany for peace if she concedes all the demands of America's associates as to the internal constitutional arrangements of Germany; otherwise, there is no choice but unconditional surrender.

"Wilson's answer is a demand for unconditional surrender. It is thus unacceptable to us soldiers. It proves that our enemies' desire for our destruction, which let loose the war in 1914, still exists undiminished. It proves, further, that our enemies use the phrase 'peace of justice' merely to deceive us and break our resistance. Wilson's answer can thus be nothing for us soldiers but a challenge to continue our resistance with all our strength.

"When our enemies know that no sacrifices will achieve the rupture of the German front, then they will be ready for a peace which will make the future of our country safe for the broad masses of our people.

"At the front, October 24th, 10 P.M."
This proclamation which was signed by Field Marshal Von Hindenburg was later signed by Ludendorff. It resulted in the Kaiser's immediate orders for a special conference at which both of these officials were dismissed from the Imperial German army.

Von Tirpitz in his Memoirs laid stress on the effect of the Wilson submarine notes. Ludendorff declares in his book that the "Wilson propaganda" that found root in Berlin and finally grew there eventually convinced the German people that it was not they themselves, but the Government and militarism that the United States was warring against. This was the seed of dissension that ruined German morale at home.

Tirpitz declared that the beginning of the end came when in answer to the President's Sussex note, "We showed the world that we were going down before America."

Probably the most enlightening chapter of either book is that containing Tirpitz's contention that the influence of the Wilson submarine notes resulted in Japan's stronger and more active alliance with the Allies. In this connection Von Tirpitz says:
Only the transmitting to Germany of the threatening notes of President Wilson, when he inveighed against my submarine campaign during the latter stages of the war, prevented Japan from coming to us in a great Germano-Japanese alliance, which would have ended the war at once.
The overtures of the Pope, in August, 1917, were rejected and again the attention of the world was arrested by the masterly leadership of the American President. On August 16, 1917, I addressed the following letter to the President with reference to the offers of peace made by His Holiness Pope Benedict XV:
The White House, Washington,
16 August, 1917.

DEAR GOVERNOR:

I do not believe that the proposals the Pope has submitted should lead us into a statement as to the terms of peace beyond that which the President has already given expression to in his address in the Senate and in his Russian note. In these two documents are discussed the fundamentals of international peace. Some of these fundamentals the Pope recognizes in his statement to the belligerents. To go beyond a discussion of these now might lead to a conflict of opinion even among our own allies (for instance, France hopes for the return of Alsace Lorraine; Russia, for Constantinople, etc.).

When the President said in his address of April second, last, that we were not making war on the German people, I believe he set the stage for the abdication of the Kaiser. And I think our whole note in reply to the Pope should be so framed that this idea would always be kept in the forefront of our discussion so as to bring home to the people of Germany the distrust and utter contempt in which the ruling powers of Germany are held by the peoples of the world.

Our note in reply to the Pope should, I believe, embody the following ideas:

"First--More important now than the terms of peace are the spirit and character of the nations who wish to end the war.

"Second--How can any international agreement to bring an end to the conflict be discussed until those who brought it about can be made to realize the inviolability of treaty obligations?

"Third--Attack the good faith of the ruling powers of Germany, calling attention to the fact that Germany brought on the war; that Germany invaded Belgium; that Germany ravished France, sank the Lusitania, ravished the women and children of the conquered territories; that Germany decreed submarine warfare, and 'erected barbarism into a religion.

"Fourth--And the democratic nations of the world are asked to confide their future and the future of the world to a nation that believes that force of arms should be substituted for the moral force of right. In other words, the ruling powers of Germany must purge themselves of contempt before they shall be given the hearing that the Pope feels they are entitled to."

This form of reply will, I am sure, rouse the people of Germany to a realization of the situation which confronts them, for there is abundant evidence that they are gradually arriving at the conclusion that the Kaiser no longer represents them or their ideals.

In other words, what I should like to see the President do is not to discuss in extenso our terms of peace but rather confine himself to a general attack upon the lack of good faith on the part of Germany in all of her dealings with us.

TUMULTY.
On August 27, 1917, the President, through, his Secretary of State, addressed the following reply to the Pope:
TO HIS HOLINESS BENEDICTUS XV, POPE:

In acknowledgment of the communication of Your Holiness to the belligerent peoples, dated August 1, 1917, the President of the United States requests me to transmit the following reply:

Every heart that has not been blinded and hardened by this terrible war must be touched by this moving appeal of His Holiness the Pope, must feel the dignity and force of the humane and generous motives which prompted it, and must fervently wish that we might take the path of peace he so persuasively points out. But it would be folly to take it if it does not in fact lead to the goal he proposes. Our response must be based upon the stern facts and upon nothing else. It is not a mere cessation of arms he desires: it is a stable and enduring peace. This agony must not be gone through with again, and it must be a matter of very sober judgment what will insure us against it.

His Holiness in substance proposes that we return to the status quo ante bellum, and that then there be a general condonation, disarmament, and a concert of nations based upon an acceptance of the principle of arbitration; that by a similar concert freedom of the seas be established; and that the territorial claims of France and Italy, the perplexing problems of the Balkan States, and the restitution of Poland be left to such conciliatory adjustments as may be possible in the new temper of such a peace, due regard being paid to the aspirations of the peoples whose political fortunes and affiliations will be involved.

It is manifest that no part of this programme can be carried out successfully unless the restitution of the status quo ante furnishes a firm and satisfactory basis for it. 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 honour; which chose its own time for the war; delivered its blow fiercely and suddenly; stopped at no barrier either of law or 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.

To deal with such a power by way of peace upon the plan proposed by His Holiness the Pope would, so far as we can see, involve a recuperation of its strength and a renewal of its policy; would make it necessary to create a permanent hostile combination of nations against the German people who are its instruments; and would result in abandoning the newborn Russia to intrigue, the manifold subtle interference, and the certain counter-revolution which would be attempted by all the malign influences to which the German Government has of late accustomed the world. Can peace be based upon a restitution of its power or upon any word of honour it could pledge in a treaty of settlement and accommodation?

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 American people have suffered intolerable wrongs at the hands of the Imperial German Government, but they desire no reprisal upon the German people who have themselves suffered all things in this war which they did not choose. They believe that peace should rest upon the rights of peoples, not the rights of governments --the rights of peoples great or small, weak or powerful--their equal right to freedom and security and self-government and to a participation upon fair terms in the economic opportunities of the world, the German people of course included if they will accept equality and not seek domination.

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.

The purposes of the United States in this war are known to the whole world, to every people to whom the truth has been permitted to come. They do not need to be stated again. We seek no material advantage of any kind. We believe that the intolerable wrongs done in this war by the furious and brutal power of the Imperial German Government ought to be repaired, but not at the expense of the sovereignty of any people--rather a vindication of the sovereignty both of those that are weak and those that are strong. Punitive damages, the dismemberment of empires, the establishment of selfish and exclusive economic leagues, we deem inexpedient and in the end worse than futile, no proper basis for a peace of any kind, least of all for an enduring peace. That must be based upon justice and fairness and the common rights of mankind.

We cannot take the word of the present rulers of Germany as a guaranty of anything that is to endure, unless explicitly supported by such conclusive evidence of the will and purpose of the German people themselves as the other peoples of the world would be justified in accepting. Without such guaranties treaties of settlement, agreements for disarmament, covenants to set up arbitration in the place of force, territorial adjustments, reconstitutions of small nations, if made with the German Government, no man, no nation could now depend on. We must await some new evidence of the purposes of the great peoples of the Central Powers. God grant it may be given soon and in a way to restore the confidence of all peoples everywhere in the faith of nations and the possibility of a covenanted peace.

ROBERT LANSING,
Secretary of State of the United States.


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