Woodrow Wilson As I Know Him Chapter XXXI - The Pen Is Mightier Than The Sword byTumulty, 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
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
"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
"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
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.
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
"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
"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.
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
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.
Secretary of State of the United States.