Wilson's Fourteen Points

Speaker: Woodrow Wilson
Delivered On: 1/8/1918
Place: Washington DC
Subject: Addressing Congress, Peace agreements.
Audio/Video Available:

Description: Wilson’s Fourteen Points included war aims as well as post-war guidelines, which stated that the Great War was fought for moral reasons, and that there must be peace in Europe after the war. Although the general public in Europe embraced Wilson’s plans, Europe’s leaders questioned Wilson’s idealism. His points aimed to guarantee that all nations, big and small, maintain political independence. His points became the basis for the agreement that ended World War I with Germany’s surrender. Here, we’re presenting an audio version of these influential Fourteen Points.

Narrator: Rather than have their country invaded, German military leaders seek an armistice, an immediate ceasefire that would give the warring parties time to sit down and talk. Almost a year earlier, Wilson had presented his plan for just peace.

Robert Schultzinger: When Wilson described why the United States was fighting, one of the slogans he developed was that the United States was fighting this war to end all wars. He said the United States was fighting to make the world safe for democracy.

Female Speaker: When Lenin takes over, he makes public secret treaties, and that basically shows that while the Allies claimed they were fighting a war for right and democracy and human freedom, that behind closed doors, they had negotiated these territorial exchanges of what they were going to gain when they won. This just seemed like they were just fighting a war of conquest, just like Germany is, so what's the difference? Lenin challenges the world to make its war aims clear, and Wilson steps up with the Fourteen Points.

Robert Schultzinger: Fourteen different headings of how the world should be reordered after the war to create what he called "a peace without victory", and what he meant by that, was that the world after the war would differ from the world before by ending these secret alliances, these secret treaties. He thought that the war had been so devastating to the participants in Europe, that now they would be willing to end this kind of greed that had led to the war.

Thomas Zeiler: History since then has been a contest over who's vision would win out: a realist view that nations are basically bad and that they will fight each other and just going to build up your strength as much as you can, and deal with others that way from a position of strength, or that nations are capable of cooperating.

Robert Schultzinger: That is everyone looking out for everyone else's interests, through a general international organization, an organization that came to be called the League of Nations. That was the centerpiece of Wilson's program.

Thomas Zeiler: That's Wilsonianism, or liberal internationalism. Based on an arbiter, an organization that could lift itself outside the realm of nations and alliances, and make policy decisions, or at least assess and judge and hand down decisions on which nation is right or wrong in a conflict.

Narrator: Even when the Fourteen Points were first issued, Britain and France would not support it.

Female Speaker: They're not fighting for just high principles. They are fighting to defeat Germany, and they want a piece of vengeance against Germany, and they are fighting for territory. They expect German colonies to be transferred to them when the war is over, and they expect Germany to pay. Wilson issues the Fourteen Points. Clemenceau doesn't even read them until Germany sues for an armistice based on them, and so, right there, we're seeing the foundation for problems that will become clearer when the peace is actually being negotiated.

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