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26 June, 2013
Woodrow Wilson As I Know Him
Chapter XXXIII - Wilson, The Warrior
by Tumulty, Joseph P.


The President had but one object: to throw all the nation's energy into the scale for the defeat of Germany. Because he did not bluster and voice daily hymns of hate against Germany, he was singularly misunderstood by some of his fellow-citizens, who, in their own boiling anger against the enemy, would sometimes peevishly inquire: "Does he really hate Germany?" The President was too much occupied with deeds to waste time in word- vapouring. By every honourable means he had sought to avoid the issue, but a truculent and fatuous foe had made war necessary, and into that war the peace-loving President went with the grim resolution of an iron warrior. In his attitude before and during the war his motto might have been the familiar words of Polonius:
  Beware of entrance to a quarrel; but being in,
  Bear't, that the opposed may beware of thee.
Occasionally, as at Baltimore, on April 6, 1918, the public heard from him brief, ringing speeches of warlike resolution:
Germany has once more said that force and force alone shall decide whether Justice and Peace shall reign in the affairs of men, whether Right as America conceives it or Dominion as she conceives it shall determine the destinies of mankind. There is therefore but one response possible from us. Force, Force to the utmost, Force without stint or limit, the righteous and triumphant Force which shall make Right the law of the world, and cast every selfish Dominion down in the dust.
Months after hostilities had ended, there appeared from time to time in the newspapers, without his or my knowledge of proposed publication, utterances of his to military men during the conflict which showed his warrior heart and his extraordinary ability to grasp a technical military problem such as his dispatch to Admiral Sims, his address to the officers of the Atlantic Fleet, and his interview with Marshal Joffre in the White House. Perhaps it is not generally known that Mr. Wilson, who has constantly read and loved the philosophic poetry of Wordsworth, has also been an intense admirer of Shakespeare's warrior-hero, Henry the Fifth, and has frequently read aloud to friends, with exclamations of admiration, the stirring speeches of Henry in the Shakespearean play.

The cable message to Admiral Sims is as follows:
FROM THE PRESIDENT FOR ADMIRAL SIMS,
American Embassy, London, July 5, 1917.

Strictly confidential.

From the beginning of the war, I have been greatly surprised at the failure of the British Admiralty to use Great Britain's great naval superiority in an effective way. In the presence of the present submarine emergency they are helpless to the point of panic. Every plan we suggest they reject for some reason of prudence. In my view, this is not a time for prudence but for boldness even at the cost of great losses. In most of your dispatches you have quite properly advised us of the sort of aid and cooperation desired from us by the Admiralty. The trouble is that their plans and methods do not seem to us efficacious. I would be very much obliged to you if you would report to me, confidentially, of course, exactly what the Admiralty has been doing, and what they have accomplished, and add to the report your own comments and suggestions, based upon independent thought of the whole situation, without regard to the judgments of any one on that side of the water. The Admiralty was very slow to adopt the protection or convoy and it is not now, I judge [protecting] convoys on adequate scale within the danger zone, seeming to keep small craft with the grand fleet. The absence of craft for convoy is even more apparent on the French coast than on the English coast and in the Channel. I do not see how the necessary military supplies and supplies of food and fuel oil are to be delivered at British ports in any other way within the next few months than under adequate convoy. There will presently not be ships or tankers enough and our shipbuilding plans may not begin to yield important results in less than eighteen months. I believe that you will keep these instructions absolutely and entirely to yourself, and that you will give me such advice as you would give if you were handling and if you were running a navy of your own.

(Signed) WOODROW WILSON.
For sheer audacity, there is not much that can be compared with his address to the officers of the Atlantic Fleet on August 11, 1917:
Now, the point that is constantly in my mind, gentlemen, is this: This is an unprecedented war and, therefore, it is a war in one sense for amateurs. Nobody ever before conducted a war like this and therefore nobody can pretend to be a professional in a war like this. Here are two great navies, not to speak of the others associated with us, our own and the British, outnumbering by a very great margin the navy to which we are opposed and yet casting about for a war in which to use our superiority and our strength, because of the novelty of the instruments used, because of the unprecedented character of the war, because, as I said just now, nobody ever before fought a war like this, in the way that this is being fought at sea, or on land either, for that matter. The experienced soldier--experienced in previous wars--is a back number so far as his experience is concerned; not so far as his intelligence is concerned. His experience does not count, because he never fought a war as this is being fought, and therefore he is an amateur along with the rest of us. Now, somebody has got to think this war out. Somebody has got to think out the way not only to fight the submarine, but to do something different from what we are doing.

We are hunting hornets all over the farm and letting the nest alone. None of us know how to go to the nest and crush it; and yet I despair of hunting for hornets all over the sea when I know where the nest is and know that the nest is breeding hornets as fast as I can find them. I am willing for my part, and I know you are willing because I know the stuff you are made of--I am willing to sacrifice half the navy Great Britain and we together have to crush out that nest, because if we crush it the war is won. I have come here to say that I do not care where it comes from, I do not care whether it comes from the youngest officer or the oldest, but I want the officers of this navy to have the distinction of saying how this war is going to be won. The Secretary of the Navy and I have just been talking over plans for putting the planning machinery of the Navy at the disposal of the brains of the Navy and not stopping to ask what rank those brains have, because, as I have said before and want to repeat, so far as experience in this kind of war is concerned we are all of the same rank. I am not saying that I do not expect the admirals to tell us what to do, but I am saying that I want the youngest and most modest youngster in the service to tell us what we ought to do if he knows what it is. Now I am willing to make any sacrifice for that. I mean any sacrifice of time or anything else. I am ready to put myself at the disposal of any officer in the Navy who thinks he knows how to run this war. I will not undertake to tell you whether he does or not, because I know that I do not, but I will undertake to put him in communication with those who can find out whether his idea will work or not. I have the authority to do that and I will do it with the greatest pleasure.

* * * * *

We have got to throw tradition to the wind. Now, as I have said, gentlemen, I take it for granted that nothing that I say here will be repeated and therefore I am going to say this: Every time we have suggested anything to the British Admiralty the reply has come back that virtually amounted to this, that it had never been done that way, and I felt like saying: "Well, nothing was ever done so systematically as nothing is being done now." Therefore I should like to see something unusual happen, something that was never done before; and inasmuch as the things that are being done to you were never done before, don't you think it is worth while to try something that was never done before against those who are doing them to you. There is no other way to win, and the whole principle of this war is the kind of thing that ought to hearten and stimulate America. America has always boasted that she could find men to do anything. She is the prize amateur nation of the world. Germany is the prize professional nation of the world. Now when it comes to doing new things and doing them well, I will back the amateur against the professional every time, because the professional does it out of the book and the amateur does it with his eyes open upon a new world and with a new set of circumstances. He knows so little about it that he is fool enough to try to do the right thing. The men that do not know the danger are the rashest men, and I have several times ventured to make this suggestion to the men about me in both arms of the service. Please leave out of your vocabulary altogether the word "prudent." Do not stop to think about what is prudent for a moment. Do the thing that is audacious to the utmost point of risk and daring, because that is exactly the thing that the other side does not understand, and you will win by the audacity of method when you cannot win by circumspection and prudence. I think that there are willing ears to hear this in the American Navy and the American Army because that is the kind of folk we are. We get tired of the old ways and covet the new ones.

So, gentlemen, besides coming down here to give you my personal greeting and to say how absolutely I rely on you and believe in you, I have come down here to say also that I depend on you, depend on you for brains as well as training and courage and discipline.
When Marshal Joffre visited the President in the spring of 1917, he was surprised, as he afterward said to Secretary Daniels, "to find that President Wilson had such a perfect mastery of the military situation. He had expected to meet a scholar, a statesman, and an idealist; he had not expected to meet a practical strategist fully conversant with all the military movements.

"In answer to my question as to whether it would be feasible to send in advance of his army the general who was to command American troops in France, the President said at once that it could be arranged."

The President and Marshal Joffre considered together a number of technical military problems. General Joffre gave the President his expert opinion as to what should be done in every instance and was surprised at the promptness with which in each case the President said: "It shall be done."

A little incident at the White House at the luncheon given by the President to the members of the Democratic National Committee throws light upon the fighting qualities of the man. He asked Mr. Angus W. McLean, a warm and devoted friend from North Carolina, who was seated near him at the table, what the Scots down in North Carolina were saying about the war. Mr. McLean replied he could best answer the question by repeating what a friend of the President's father and an ardent admirer of the President had said about the President's attitude a few days previous. "I am afraid our President is not a true Scot, he doesn't show the fighting spirit characteristic of the Scots." The President promptly replied: "You tell our Scotch friend, McLean, that he does not accurately interpret the real Scottish character. If he did, he would understand my attitude. The Scotsman is slow to begin to fight but when once he begins he never knows when to quit."

Two capital policies which contributed enormously to the winning of the war received their impulse from Woodrow Wilson--the unification of command of the Allied armies on the western front and the attack of submarines at their base in the North Sea. On November 18, 1918, Colonel House let it be known in London that he had received a cable from President Wilson stating emphatically that the United States Government considered unity of plan and control between the Allies and the United States to be essential in order to win the war and achieve a just and lasting peace.

It was Woodrow Wilson, a civilian, who advised, urged, and insisted that a mine barrage be laid across the North Sea to check German submarine activities at their source. Naval experts pronounced the plan impossible: it would take too long to lay the barrage, and, when laid, it would not hold. A great storm would sweep it away. But the President insisted that the thing could be done, and that nothing else could check the submarine devastation amounting by July, 1917, to 600,000 tons a month of destroyed shipping. The President's audacity and persistence prevailed, and it is not too much to say that his plan ended the submarine menace.

It will be recalled that European newspapers carried a story of a farewell reception to Mr. Bonar Law, in which he paid his compliments to his chief, Mr. Lloyd George, saying, in substance, that he had seen Lloyd George discouraged only once. It was on the morning when the news came of the great German offensive in March, 1918. Mr. Lloyd George told Mr. Bonar Law that morning that only a vast increase in American reinforcements could save the Allies. A cable was immediately framed, asking Mr. Wilson to send the number of reinforcements necessary. Mr. Bonar Law stated in his speech that an affirmative answer was received from Mr. Wilson the same day.

A prominent Englishman, discussing the President's work in connection with the war, while criticizing what he characterized as the President's ignorance of European conditions, said: "I feel ashamed to be criticizing President Wilson for anything when I remember his practical services in prosecuting the war. No other man in any country gave such firm and instant support to every measure for making operations effective. His decisions were fearless and prompt and he stood by them like a rock. In sending troops promptly and in sending plenty of them, in cooperating in the naval effort, in insisting on the unity of command under Foch, in backing the high command in the field, and in every other practical detail Mr. Wilson had big, clear conceptions and the courage to carry them out."

Those who were critical of the President's conduct of the war forget the ringing statement that came from Lloyd George when the great offensive was on, when he said: "The race is now between Von Hindenburg and Wilson." And Wilson won.

The most important speech made by the President during the war was delivered at the Metropolitan Opera House, New York City, on September 27, 1918, opening the campaign for the Fourth Liberty Loan.

I recall a talk the President had with me on the way to New York on the afternoon of the delivery of this speech when he requested me to read the manuscript. As he gave it to me he said: "They [meaning the Allies] will not like this speech, for there are many things in it which will displease the Imperialists of Great Britain, France, and Italy. The world must be convinced that we are playing no favourites and that America has her own plan for a world settlement, a plan which does not contain the germs of another war. What I greatly fear, now that the end seems inevitable, is that we shall go back to the old days of alliances and competing armaments and land grabbing. We must see to it, therefore, that there is not another Alsace-Lorraine, and that when peace finally comes, it shall be a permanent and a lasting peace. We must now serve notice on everybody that our aims and purposes are not selfish. In order to do this and to make the right impressions, we must be brutally frank with friends and foes alike."

As we discussed the subject matter of this momentous speech, I gathered from the President's statements to me that he clearly foresaw the end of the war and of the possible proposal for a settlement that might be made by the Allies. Therefore, he felt it incumbent upon him frankly to discuss America's view of what a just and lasting settlement should be. As one examines this speech to-day, away from the excitement of that critical hour in which it was delivered, he can easily find in it statements and utterances that must have caused sharp irritation in certain chancelleries of Europe. In nearly every line of it there was a challenge to European Imperialism to come out in the open and avow its purposes as to peace. Many of the Allied leaders had been addressing their people on the matter of peace; now they were being challenged by an American president to place their cards face up on the table. An examination of the speech, in the light of subsequent events, reėmphasizes the President's pre-vision:
At every turn of the war we gain a fresh consciousness of what we mean to accomplish by it. When our hope and expectation are most excited we think more definitely than before of the issues that hang upon it and of the purposes which must be realized by means of it. For it has positive and well-defined purposes which we did not determine and which we cannot alter. No statesman or assembly created them; no statesman or assembly can alter them. They have arisen out of the very nature and circumstances of the war. The most that statesmen or assemblies can do is to carry them out or be false to them. They were perhaps not clear at the outset; but they are clear now. The war has lasted more than four years and the whole world has been drawn into it. The common will of mankind has been substituted for the particular purposes of individual states. Individual statesmen may have started the conflict, but neither they nor their opponents can stop it as they please. It has become a peoples' war, and peoples of all sorts and races, of every degree of power and variety of fortune, are involved in its sweeping processes of change and settlement. We came into it when its character had become fully defined and it was plain that no nation could stand apart or be indifferent to its outcome. Its challenge drove to the heart of everything we cared for and lived for. The voice of the war had become clear and gripped our hearts. Our brothers from many lands, as well as our own murdered dead under the sea, were calling to us, and we responded, fiercely and of course.

The air was clear about us. We saw things in their full, convincing proportions as they were; and we have seen them with steady eyes and unchanging comprehension ever since. We accepted the issues of the war as facts, not as any group of men either here or elsewhere had defined them, and we can accept no outcome which does not squarely meet and settle them. Those issues are these:

Shall the military power of any nation or group of nations be suffered to determine the fortunes of peoples over whom they have no right to rule except the right of force?

Shall strong nations be free to wrong weak nations and make them subject to their purpose and interest?

Shall peoples be ruled and dominated, even in their own internal affairs, by arbitrary and irresponsible force or by their own will and choice?

Shall there be a common standard of right and privilege for all peoples and nations or shall the strong do as they will and the weak suffer without redress?

Shall the assertion of right be haphazard and by casual alliance or shall there be a common concert to oblige the observance of common rights?

No man, no group of men, chose these to be the issues of the struggle. They are issues of it; and they must be settled--by no arrangement or compromise or adjustment of interests, but definitely and once for all and with a full and unequivocal acceptance of the principle that the interest of the weakest is as sacred as the interest of the strongest.

That is what we mean when we speak of a permanent peace, if we speak sincerely, intelligently, and with a real knowledge and comprehension of the matter we deal with.

* * * * *

As I have said, neither I nor any other man in governmental authority created or gave form to the issues of this war. I have simply responded to them with such vision as I could command. But I have responded gladly and with a resolution that has grown warmer and more confident as the issues have grown clearer and clearer. It is now plain that they are issues which no man can pervert unless it be wilfully. I am bound to fight for them, and happy to fight for them as time and circumstance have revealed them to me as to all the world. Our enthusiasm for them grows more and more irresistible as they stand out in more and more vivid and unmistakable outline.

And the forces that fight for them draw into closer and closer array, organize their millions into more and more unconquerable might, as they become more and more distinct to the thought and purposes of the peoples engaged. It is the peculiarity of this great war that while statesmen have seemed to cast about for definitions of their purpose and have sometimes seemed to shift their ground and their point of view, the thought of the mass of men, whom statesmen are supposed to instruct and lead, has grown more and more unclouded, more and more certain of what it is that they are fighting for. National purposes have fallen more and more into the background and the common purpose of enlightened mankind has taken their place. The counsels of plain men have become on all hands more simple and straightforward and more unified than the counsels of sophisticated men of affairs, who still retain the impression that they are playing a game of power and playing for high stakes. That is why I have said that this is a peoples' war, not a statesmen's. Statesmen must follow the clarified common thought or be broken.

I take that to be the significance of the fact that assemblies and associations of many kinds made up of plain workaday people have demanded, almost every time they came together, and are still demanding, that the leaders of their governments declare to them plainly what it is, exactly what it is, that they were seeking in this war, and what they think the items of the final settlement should be. They are not yet satisfied with what they have been told. They still seem to fear that they are getting what they ask for only in statesmen's terms--only in the terms of territorial arrangements and divisions of power, and not in terms of broad-visioned justice and mercy and peace and the satisfaction of those deep-seated longings of oppressed and distracted men and women and enslaved peoples that seem to them the only things worth fighting a war for that engulfs the world. Perhaps statesmen have not always recognized this changed aspect of the whole world of policy and action. Perhaps they have not always spoken in direct reply to the questions asked because they did not know how searching those questions were and what sort of answers they demanded.

But I, for one, am glad to attempt the answer again and again, in the hope that I may make it clearer and clearer that my one thought is to satisfy those who struggle in the ranks and are, perhaps above all others, entitled to a reply whose meaning no one can have any excuse for misunderstanding, if he understands the language in which it is spoken or can get someone to translate it correctly into his own. And I believe that the leaders of the governments with which we are associated will speak, as they have occasion, as plainly as I have tried to speak. I hope that they will feel free to say whether they think I am in any degree mistaken in my interpretation of the issues involved or in my purpose with regard to the means by which a satisfactory settlement of those issues may be obtained. Unity of purpose and of counsel are as imperatively necessary as was unity of command in the battlefield, and with perfect unity of purpose and counsel will come assurance of complete victory. It can be had in no other way. "Peace drives" can be effectively neutralized and silenced only by showing that every victory of the nations associated against Germany brings the nations nearer the sort of peace which will bring security and reassurance to all peoples and make the recurrence of another such struggle of pitiless force and bloodshed for ever impossible, and that nothing else can. Germany is constantly intimating the "terms" she will accept; and always finds that the world does not want terms. It wishes the final triumph of justice and fair dealing.
When I had read the speech, I turned to the President and said: "This speech will bring Germany to terms and will convince her that we play no favourites and will compel the Allies openly to avow the terms upon which they will expect a war settlement to be reached. In my opinion, it means the end of the war." The President was surprised at the emphasis I laid upon the speech, but he was more surprised when I ventured the opinion that he would be in Paris within six months discussing the terms of the treaty. The Washington Post, a critic of the President, characterized this speech, in an editorial on September 29, 1918, as "a marvellous intellectual performance, and a still more marvellous exhibition of moral courage."

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