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Wilson s 14 points vs the treaty

Print this page The American liberal peace programme The peace settlement was drawn up at the end of a long and gruelling war which cost over eight million lives and, according to one estimate, around 260 billion dollars - or to put it another way, over six times the sum of all the national debt accumulated in the entire world from the end of the 18th century to 1914.

When press reports about Wilson's Fourteen Points first reached Germany, the American peace programme was indignantly dismissed.

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The expectation of both the Allies and the Central Powers was that the costs of the war would largely be recouped from the losers. Furthermore, both sides planned to exploit their victory by inflicting territorial losses and military limitations on the enemy, and confiscating a sizeable chunk of their economic and industrial resources. The Fourteen Pointsdelivered by the President of the United States to the American congress in January 1918, and his subsequent addresses represented an ambitious and idealistic bid by Woodrow Wilson to seize the initiative on behalf of the United States and to offer moral leadership to the world in the ensuing peace negotiations.

When press reports about Wilson's Fourteen Points first reached Germany, the American peace programme was indignantly dismissed by conservatives as being a 'front for imperialistic conquest' and striking a note of victory which was 'hardly appropriate to Germany's unprecedentedly promising military situation' in early 1918.

In stark contrast to Wilson's peace proposals, the Germans concluded an extremely harsh treaty with Russia at Brest Litovsk in March 1918, and turned their attention to a final, all-out push to break the Allied lines on the Western Front. But victory did not materialise.

Instead, by August of 1918 the German High Command were facing defeat.

The Fourteen Points

Now Wilson's peace proposals looked very attractive, compared to the terms likely to be put forward by French or British leaders. The High Command hastily summoned political leaders from the German Reichstag to put their weight behind a new civilian government under Prince Max von Baden, and to agree to pursue peace negotiations with Wilson based on the Fourteen Points.

The cynical calculation was that a new civilian government would secure a more lenient peace than would be offered to German military leaders. Wilson's reluctance at this stage to consult with British and French leaders did not augur well for a peace process which would inevitably involve complex political and territorial negotiations involving many countries. Nor was he willing to compromise with his critics in the United States.

  • British response The British public wanted to punish Germany in a similar fashion to the French for her apparent sole responsibility for the outbreak of the war, and had been promised such a treaty in the 1918 election that Lloyd George had won;
  • The Freedom of the Seas The freedom of the seas allowed for freedom of navigation outside territorial waters at times of war and peace, but also allowed for total and partial blockades "for the enforcement of international covenants.

There were many Republicans and even some prominent Democrats who did not support Wilson's liberal peace programme. There were many Republicans and even some prominent Democrats who did not support Wilson's liberal peace programme, calling instead for a peace of retribution and for an armistice with Germany of 'unconditional surrender'. In the American mid-term elections held in November 1918, the American people voted not for Wilson and his peace programme but for his Republican opponents, resulting in a Republican-dominated Senate and a Republican majority in the House of Representatives.

Thus serious doubts were raised even before the armistice had been signed, and weeks before a peace conference could convene, as to whether any peace settlement based on Wilson's Fourteen Points would be ratified by the American Senate. This serious challenge to Wilson within the United States increased the determination of the British Prime Minister, Lloyd George, and the French Premier, Clemenceau, to push forward the demands of their own electorates.

Lloyd George won a crushing election victory in Britain in December, 1918, under the banner of 'making the Germans pay'. French opinion was even more vociferous in calling for security against future German aggression and for reparations for all the damage caused by the Germans in northern France. The Great War came to an end on 11 November 1918, the date when the Germans signed an armistice and agreed to peace negotiations on the basis of the Fourteen Points.

Their interpretation of these points was extremely broad, encompassing plebiscites in Alsace and Lorraine and on the German-Polish border to reflect Wilson's call for self-determination, and arguing that German Austrians, if they wished, should be allowed to unite with Germany. German officials were not slow to recognise that Wilson's principles and 'new diplomacy' could be turned to Germany's advantage, and used to justify territorial gains in Europe, even in the face of military defeat.

Top Negotiations begin The Big Four, from left: The leaders of 32 countries, representing between them some three-quarters of the world's population, together with large numbers of advisers and scores of journalists descended on the French capital.

Passions ran high and it took time to impose order on the proceedings. Discussions about possible peace terms were repeatedly interrupted by urgent political and military crises revolving around the renewal of the armistice with Germany, the threat of the spread of Bolshevism and continuing fighting in eastern Europe. There was an assassination attempt on the French premier, Clemenceau.

Both Lloyd George and Wilson had to return home part-way through the conference to attend to urgent parliamentary business. Orlando of Italy stormed out in late April. But after weeks of tortuous negotiations, a peace was finally hammered out and presented to the Germans on 7 May. Compared to the treaties which Germany had imposed on defeated Russia and Romania in 1918, the Treaty of Wilson s 14 points vs the treaty was quite moderate.

It stripped Germany of just over 13 per cent of its territory, much of which, in the shape of Alsace and Lorraine, was returned to France.

  • The Polish question The establishment of an independent Poland with access to the sea;
  • Indeed, a note sent to Wilson by Prince Maximilian of Baden, the Chancellor of Germany, in October 1918 requested an immediate armistice and peace negotiations on the basis of the Fourteen Points;
  • It also reduced Germany's economic productivity by about 13 per cent and its population by ten per cent.

It also reduced Germany's economic productivity by about 13 per cent and its population by ten per cent. Germany lost all of its colonies and large merchant vessels, 75 per cent of its iron ore deposits and 26 per cent of its coal and potash.

Germany was to pay substantial reparations for 'civilian damage', because it was held responsible, along with its allies, for causing the war with its heavy losses.

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However, a definite sum was not specified in the treaty, but would be decided upon after the conference by a specially-appointed Reparations Commission. Germany's army and navy were drastically cut in size, the army to 100,000 long-serving volunteers, and the country was forbidden to have an air force. Despite these terms, Germany retained a strong economic, industrial and territorial position at the heart of Europe, with a vigorous and expanding population of 66 million.

The peace settlement left it in a potentially dominant position in Europe, wounded but not seriously hurt. This outcome reflected the aim of the United States and wilson s 14 points vs the treaty allied powers at Paris, which was not to crush Germany or to break up the new empire, but rather to contain the country's military power.

Top Germany incensed German cartoon: German leaders attacked the territorial losses to the new Polish state in the shape of the 'Polish corridor' and Upper Silesia, the prohibition on Anschluss or union with Austria, and the incorporation of large numbers of former Habsburg Sudeten Germans into the new state of Czechoslovakia as violations of Wilson's promises.

As a result of their bitter protests, the port of Danzig, with its close-on half a million German inhabitants, was established as a free city under the League of Nations rather than being ceded to Poland.

In addition, the population of Upper Silesia was to be given the chance to vote in a future plebiscite on whether they wished to remain in Germany or become a part of the new Polish state.

Other revisions were also built into the treaty. The Rhineland was to be occupied for 15 years, but troops were to be progressively withdrawn at five-year intervals provided Germany carried out the treaty terms.

The inhabitants of the Saar basin were to be offered a plebiscite after 15 years to establish whether they wished to return to Germany, join France or remain under the supervision of the League of Nations. And in due course it was assumed that Germany would be admitted to the newly created League of Nations. Top A stab in the back German cartoon: The Allies constructed the peace settlement on the assumption that while the Germans would not like many of the terms, they would accept them as the inevitable consequence of defeat.

  • In early January 1918, both British prime minister David Lloyd George and American president Woodrow Wilson issued public explanations of what they hoped to accomplish through a victory over the Central Powers;
  • Without this healing act the whole structure and validity of international law is forever impaired;
  • A free, open-minded, and absolutely impartial adjustment of all colonial claims, based upon a strict observance of the principle that in determining all such questions of sovereignty the interests of the populations concerned must have equal weight with the equitable claims of the government whose title is to be determined;
  • This 'stab in the back' had prevented the gallant soldiers from securing the victory which was almost in their grasp.

But large sections of the population in Germany did not believe that their country had been honourably defeated on the battlefield. They believed in the rumours sweeping across Germany that the push for victory of their valiant troops on the Western Front had been sabotaged by traitors and pacifists at home who had spread disaffection and revolution.

This 'stab in the wilson s 14 points vs the treaty had prevented the gallant soldiers from securing the victory which was almost in their grasp. Thus a treaty which not only confirmed German defeat, but which, in clause 231, justified its demands for punitive war costs by laying the blame for the outbreak of the war firmly on German shoulders, was bound to provoke fury. Germany was a country which saw itself as having been encircled by France, Russia and Britain in 1914 and provoked into war.

In the frenzied post-war atmosphere, politicians from all parties agreed that the treaty, and in particular its despised 'War Guilt' clause, was vindictive, unfair and impossible to execute. They portrayed it as an unjust peace, and appealed to progressive forces across Europe to help them to revise it.

Such tactics were extremely successful in dividing the victorious coalition which had defeated Germany and negotiated the peace.

Obj: To summarize Wilson’s 14 points and the Treaty of Versailles

Within a year, the United States Senate rejected the Treaty of Versailles and signed a separate peace with Germany, leaving Britain and France bitterly opposed over how to proceed. While British leaders now sought further revisions to the treaty in a bid to conciliate Germany, France demanded strict enforcement of the terms.

It was the total failure of the victorious powers to work closely together after 1919 to contain German power, rather than the specific terms of the peace settlement, which was one of the contributing factors to the outbreak of a second world war 20 years later.