President Wilson's Review Of The War
( Originally Published 1918 )
ON December 2, 1918, just prior to sailing for Europe to take part in the Peace Conference, President Wilson addressed Congress, reviewing the work of the American people, soldiers, sailors and civilians, in the World War which had been brought to a sueeessful conclusion on November 11th. His speech, in part, follows:
"The year that has elapsed since I last stood before you to fulfil my constitutional duty to give to the Congress from time to time information on the state of the Union has been so crowded with great events, great processes and great results that I cannot hope to give you an adequate picture of its transactions or of the 'far-reaching changes which have been wrought in the life of our Nation and of the world. You have yourselves witnessed these things, as I have. It is too soon to assess them; and we who stand in the midst of them and are part of them are less qualified than men of another generation will be to say what they mean or even what they have been. But some great outstanding facts are unmistakable and constitute in a sense part of the public business with which it is our duty to deal. To state them is to set the stage for the legislative and, executive action which must grow out of them and which we have yet to shape and determine.
"A year ago we had sent 145,918 men over-seas. Since then we have sent 1,950,513, an average of 162,542 each month, the number in fact rising in May last to 245,951, in June to 278,760, in July to 307,182 and continuing to reach similar figures in August and September in August 289,570 and in September 257,438. No such movement of troops ever took place before, across 3,000 miles of sea, followed by adequate equipment and supplies, and carried safely through extraordinary dangers of attack, dangers which were alike strange and infinitely difficult to guard against. In all this movement only 758 men were lost by enemy attacks, 630 of whom were upon a single English transport which was sunk near the Orkney Islands.
"I need not tell you what lay back of this great movement of men and material. It is not invidious to say that back of it lay a sup-porting organization of the industries of the country and of all its productive activities more complete, more thorough in method and effective in results, more spirited and unanimous in purpose and effort than any other belligerent had ever been able to effect. We profited greatly by the experience of the nations which had already been engaged for nearly three years in the exigent and exacting business, their every resource and every proficiency taxed to the utmost. We were the pupils. But we learned quickly and acted with a promptness and a readiness of co-operation that justify our great pride that we were able to serve the world with unparalleled energy and quick accomplishment.
"But it is not the physical scale and executive efficiency of preparation, supply, equipment and dispatch that I would dwell upon, but the mettle and quality of. the officers and men we sent over and of the sailors who kept the seas, and the spirit of the Nation that stood behind them. No soldiers, or sailors, ever proved themselves more quickly ready for the test of battle or acquitted themselves with more splendid courage and achievement when put to the test. Those of us who played some part in directing the great processes by which the war was pushed irresistibly forward to the final triumph may now forget all that and delight our thoughts with the story of what our men did. Their officers understood the grim and exacting task they had undertaken and performed with audacity, efficiency and unhesitating courage that touch the story of convoy and battle with imperishable distinction at every turn, whether the enterprise were great or small—from their chiefs, Pershing and Sims, down to the youngest lieutenant; and their men were worthy of them—such men as hardly need to be ` commanded, and go to their terrible adventure blithely and with the quick intelligence of those who know just what it is they would accomplish. I am proud to be the fellow-countryman of men of such stuff and valor. Those of us who stayed at home did our duty; the war could not have been won or the gallant men who fought it given their opportunity to win it otherwise; but for many a long day we shall think ourselves `accursed we were not there, and hold our manhoods cheap while any speaks that fought' with these at St. Mihiel or Thierry. The memory of those days of triumphant battle will, go with these fortunate men to their graves; and each will have his favorite memory. `Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot, but he'll remember with ad-vantages what feats he did that day!'
"What we all thank God for with deepest gratitude is that our men went in force into the line of battle just at the critical moment, when the whole fate of the world seemed to hang in the balance, and threw their fresh strength into the ranks of freedom in time to turn the whole tide and sweep of the fateful struggle—turn it once for all, so that hence-forth it was back, back, back for their enemies, always back, never again forward! After that it was only a scant four months before the commanders of the central empires knew them-selves beaten, and now their very empires are in liquidation!
"And throughout it all how fine the spirit of the Nation was; what unity of purpose, what untiring zeal ! What elevation of purpose ran through all its splendid display of strength, its untiring accomplishment. I have said that those of us who stayed at home to do the work of organization and supply will always wish that we had been with the men whom we sustained by our labor; but we can never be ashamed. It has been an inspiring thing to be here in the midst of fine men who had turned aside from every private interest of their own and devoted the whole of their trained capacity to the tasks that supplied the sinews of the whole great undertaking! The patriotism, the unselfishness, the thoroughgoing devotion and distinguished capacity that marked their toil-some labors, day after day, month after month, have made them fit mates and comrades of the men in the trenches and on the sea. And not the men here in Washington only. They have but directed the vast achievement. Through-out innumerable factories, upon innumerable farms, in the depths of coal mines and iron mines and copper mines, wherever the stuffs of industry were to be obtained and prepared, in the shipyards, on the railways, at the docks, on the sea, in every labor that was needed to sustain the battle lines men have vied with each other to do their part and do it well. They can look any man-at-arms in the face, and say,, we also strove to win and gave the best that was in us to make our fleets and armies sure of their triumph !
"And what shall we say of the women—of their instant intelligence, quickening every task that they touched; their capacity for organization and co-operation, which gave their action discipline and enhanced the effectiveness of everything they attempted; their aptitude at tasks to which they had never before set their hands; their utter self-sacrificing alike in what they did and in what they gave? Their contribution to the great result is beyond appraisal.. They have added a new luster to the annals of American womanhood.
"The least tribute we can pay to them is to make them the equals of men in political rights. as they have proved themselves their equals in every field of practical work they have entered, whether for themselves or for their country. These great days of completed achievement would be sadly marred were we to, omit that act of justice. Besides the immense-practical services they have rendered, the women of the country have been the moving spirits, in the systematic economies by which our people have voluntarily assisted to supply the suffering peoples of the world and the armies upon every front with food and everything else that, we had that might serve the common cause. The details of such a story can never be fully written, but we carry them at our hearts and thank God that we can say we are the kinsmen of such.
"And now we are sure of the great triumph for which every sacrifice was made. It has come, come in its completeness, and with the pride and inspiration of these days of achievement quick within us we turn to the tasks of peace again—a peace secure against the Violence of irresponsible monarchs and ambitious military coteries and made ready for a new or-der, for new foundations of justice and fair dealing.
"We are about to give order and organization to this peace, not only for ourselves, but for the other peoples of the world as well, so far as they will suffer us to serve them. It is international justice that we seek, not domestic safety merely.
"So far as our domestic affairs are concerned the problem of our return to peace is a problem of economic and industrial readjustment. That problem is less serious for us than it may turn out to be for the nations which have suffered the disarrangements and the losses of war longer than we. Our people, moreover, do not wait to be coached and led. They know their own business, are quick and resourceful at every readjustment, definite in purpose and self-reliant in action. Any leading strings we might seek to put them in would speedily be-come hopelessly tangled because they would pay no attention to them and go their own way. All that we can do as their legislative and executive servants is to mediate the process of change here, there and elsewhere as we may. I have heard much counsel as to the plans that should be formed and personally conducted to a happy consummation, but from no quarter have I seen any general scheme of `reconstruction' emerge which I thought it likely we could force our spirited businessmen and self-reliant laborers to accept with due pliancy and obedience.
"While the war lasted we set up many agencies by which to direct the industries of the country in the services it was necessary for them to render, by which to make sure of an abundant supply of the materials needed, by which to check undertakings that could for the time be dispensed with and stimulate those that were most serviceable in war, by which to gain for the purchasing departments of the government a certain control over the prices of essential articles and materials, by which to re-strain trade with alien enemies, make the most of the available shipping and systematize financial transactions, both public and private, so that there would be no unnecessary conflict or confusion—by which, in short, to put every material energy of the country in harness to draw the common load and make of us one team in accomplishment of a great task.
"But the moment we knew the armistice to have been signed we took the harness off. Raw materials upon which the government had kept its hand for fear there should not be enough for the industries that supplied the armies have been released, and put into the general market again. Great industrial plants whose whole output and machinery had been taken over for the uses of the government have been set free to return to the uses to which they were put before the war. It has not been possible to remove so readily or so quickly the control of foodstuffs and of shipping, because the world has still to be fed from our granaries and the ships are still needed to send supplies to our men oversea and to bring the men back as fast as the disturbed conditions on the other side of the water permit; but even there restraints are being relaxed as much as possible, and more and more as the weeks go by.
"Never before have there been agencies in existence in this country which knew so much of the field of supply of labor, and of industry as the War Industries Board, the War Trade Board, the Labor Department, the Food Administration and the Fuel Administration have known since their labors became thoroughly systematized and they have not been isolated agencies; they have been directed by men which rep-resented the permanent departments of the government and so have been the centers of unified and cooperative action. It has been the policy of the Executive, therefore, since the armistice was assured (which is in effect a complete submission of the enemy) to put the knowledge of these bodies at the disposal of the businessmen of the country and to offer their intelligent mediation at every point and in every matter where it was desired. It is surprising how fast the process of return to a peace footing has moved in the three weeks since the fighting stopped. It promises to outrun any inquiry that may be instituted and any aid that may be offered. It will not be easy to direct it any better than it will direct itself. The American business man is of quick initiative.
"I welcome this occasion to announce to the Congress my purpose to join in Paris the representatives of the governments with which we have been associated in the war against the Central Empires for the purpose of discussing with them the main features of the treaty of peace. I realize the great inconveniences that will attend my leaving the country, particularly at this time, but the conclusion that it was my paramount duty to go has been forced upon me by considerations which I hope will seem as conclusive to you as they have seemed to me.
"The Allied governments have accepted the bases of peace which I outlined to the Congress on the 8th of January last, as the Central Empires also have, and very reasonably desire my personal counsel in their interpretation and application, and it is highly desirable that I should give it, in order that the sincere desire of our government to contribute without selfish purpose of any kind to settlements that will be of common benefit to all the nations concerned may be made fully manifest. The peace settlements which are now to be agreed upon are of transcendent importance both to us and to the rest of the world, and I know of no business or interest which should take precedence of them. The gallant men of our armed forces on land and sea have consciously fought for the ideals which they knew to be the ideals of their country; I have sought to express those ideals; they have accepted my statements of them as the substance of their own thought and purpose, as the associated governments have accepted them ; I owe it to them to see to it, so far as in me lies, that no false or mistaken interpretation is put upon them, and no possible effort omitted to realize them. It is now my duty to play my full part in making good what they offered their life's blood to obtain. I can think of no call to service which could transcend this.
"May I not hope, gentlemen of the Congress, that in the delicate tasks I shall have to perform on the other side of the sea in my efforts truly and faithfully to interpret the principles and purposes of the country we love, I may have the encouragement and the added strength of your united support? I realize the magnitude and difficulty of the duty I am undertaking. I am poignantly aware of its grave responsibilities. I am the servant of the Nation. I can have no private thought or purpose of my own in performing such an errand. I go to give the best that is in me to the common settlements which I must now assist in arriving at in conference with the other working heads of the associated governments. I shall count upon your friendly countenance and encouragement. I shall not be inaccessible. The cables and the wireless will render me available for any counsel or service you may desire of me, and I shall be happy in the thought that I am constantly in touch with the weighty matters of domestic policy with which we shall have to deal. I shall make my absence as brief as possible and shall hope to return with the happy assurance that it has been possible to translate into action the great ideals for which America has striven."
Speaking at the opening session of the peace conference in Paris on January 18, 1919, when he nominated Georges Clemenceau as permanent chairman, President Wilson paid this fine tribute to the war premier:
"Mr. Chairman: It gives me great pleasure to propose as permanent chairman of the conference, Mr. Clemenceau, the president of the Council.
"I would do this as a matter of custom. I would do this as a tribute to the French republic. But I wish to do it as something more than that. I wish to do it as a tribute to the man.
"France deserves the precedence not only because we are meeting at her capital and because she has undergone some of the most tragical suffering of the war, but also because her capital, her ancient and beautiful capital, has so often been the center of conferences of this sort, on which the fortunes of large parts of the world turned.
"It is a very delightful thought that the history of the world which has so often centered here, will now be crowned by the achievements of this conference—because there is a sense in which this is the supreme conference of the history of mankind.
"More nations are represented here than were ever represented in such a conference be-fore. The fortunes of all peoples are involved. A great war is ended which seemed about to bring a universal cataclysm. The danger is passed. A victory has been won for mankind, and it is delightful that we should be able to, record these great results in this place.
"But it is more delightful to honor France because we can honor her in the person of so distinguished a servant. We have all felt in our participation in the struggles of this war the fine steadfastness which characterized the leadership of the French in the hands of Mr. Clemenceau. We have learned to admire him, and those of us who have been associated with him have acquired a genuine affection for him.
"Moreover those of us who have been in these recent days in constant consultation with him know how warmly his purpose is set towards the goal of achievement to which all our faces are turned. He feels as we feel, I have no doubt everybody in this room feels, that we are trusted to do a great thing, to do it in the highest spirit of friendship and accommodation, and to do it as promptly as possible in order that the hearts of men may have fear lifted from them and that they may return to those purposes of life which will bring them happiness and contentment and prosperity.
"Knowing his brotherhood of heart in these great matters, it affords me a personal pleasure to propose that Mr. Clemenceau shall be the permanent chairman of this conference."
No record of the Great War would be complete without the inclusion of the splendid summing-up speech delivered by President Poincare of the French Republic at the opening of the peace conference in January, 1919. It follows :
"Gentlemen : France greets and thanks you for having chosen as the seat of your labors the city which for more than four years the enemy has made his principal military objective and which the valor of the Allied armies has victoriously defended against unceasingly renewed offensives.
"Permit me to see in your decision the homage of all the nations that you represent toward a country which more than any other has endured the sufferings of war, of which entire provinces have been transformed into a vast battlefield, and have been systematically laid waste by the invader, and which has paid the human tribute in death.
"France has borne these enormous sacrifices although she had not the slightest responsibility for the frightful catastrophe which has overwhelmed the universe. And at the moment when the cycle of horror is ending, all the powers whose delegates are assembled here may acquit themselves of any share in the crime which has resulted in so unprecedented a disaster. What gives you the authority to establish a peace of justice is the fact that none of the peoples of whom you are the delegates has had any part in the injustice. Humanity can place confidence in you because you are not among those who have outraged the rights of humanity.
"There is no need of further information or for special inquiries into the origin of the drama which has just shaken the world. The truth, bathed in blood, has already escaped from the imperial archives. The premeditated character of the trap is today clearly proved.
"In the hope of conquering first the hegemony of Europe and next the mastery of the world, the central empires, bound together by a secret plot, found the most abominable of pretexts for trying to crush Serbia and force their way to the east. At the same time they disowned the most solemn undertakings in order to crush Belgium and force their way into the heart of France.
"These are the two unforgettable outrages which opened the way to aggression. The combined efforts of Great Britain, France and Russia were exerted against that man-made arrogance.
"If after long vicissitudes those who wished to reign by the sword have perished by the sword, they have only themselves to blame. They have been destroyed by their own blindness.
"What could be more significant than the shameful bargains they attempted to offer to Great Britain and France at the end of July, 1914, when to Great Britain they suggested: `Allow us to attack France on land and we will not enter the Channel,' and when they instructed their Ambassador to say to France: `We will only accept a declaration of neutrality on your part if you surrender to us Briey, Toul and Verdun.' It is in the light of these things, gentlemen, that all the conclusions you will have to draw from the war will take shape.
"Your nations entered the war successively, but came one and all to the help of threatened right. Like Germany, Great Britain had guaranteed the independence of Belgium. Germany sought to crush Belgium, Great Britain and France both swore to save her.
"Thus, from the very beginning of hostilities there came into conflict the two ideas which for fifty months were to struggle for the dominion of the world-the idea of sovereign force, which accepts neither control nor check, and the idea of justice, which depends on the sword only to prevent or repress the abuse of strength.
"Faithfully supported by her dominions and her colonies, Great Britain decided that she could not remain aloof from a struggle in which the fate of every country was involved. She has made, and her dominions and colonies have made with her, prodigious efforts to prevent the war from ending in the triumph of the spirit of conquest and the destruction of right.
"Japan, in her turn, only decided to take up arms out of loyalty to Great Britain, her great ally, and from the consciousness of the danger in which both Asia and Europe would have stood of the hegemony of which the Germanic empires dreamed.
"Italy, who from the first had refused to lend a helping hand to German ambition, arose against an age long foe only to answer the call of oppressed populations and to destroy at the cost of her blood the artificial political combination which took no account of human liberty.
"Rumania resolved to fight only to realize that national unity which was opposed by the same powers of arbitrary force. Abandoned, betrayed and strangled, she had to submit to an abominable treaty, the revision of which you will exact.
"Greece, whom the enemy for many months tried to turn from her traditions and destinies, raised an army only to escape attempts at domination of which she felt the growing threat.
"Portugal, China and Siam abandoned neutrality only to escape the strangling pressure of the Central Powers.
"Thus, it was the extent of German ambitions that brought so many peoples, great and small, to align themselves against the same adversary. And what shall I say of the solemn resolutions taken by the United States in the spring of 1917, under the auspices of its illustrious President, Mr, Wilson, whom I am happy to greet here in the name of grateful France and, if you will allow me to say so, gentlemen, in the name of all the nations represented in this room.
"What shall I say of the many other American powers which either declared themselves against Germany—Brazil, Cuba, Panama, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Haiti, Honduras—or at least broke off diplomatic relations—Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Uruguay. From the north to the south the New World arose with indignation when it saw the empires of Central Europe, after having let loose the war without provocation and without excuse, carry it on with fire, pillage and the massacre of inoffensive beings.
"The intervention of the United States was something more, something greater than a great political and military event. It was a supreme judgment passed at the bar of history by the lofty conscience of a free people and their chief magistrate on the enormous responsibilities incurred in the frightful conflict which was lacerating humanity.
"It was not only to protect itself from the audacious aims of German megalomania that the United States equipped fleets and created immense armies, but also, and above all, to de-fend an ideal of liberty over which it saw the huge shadow of the imperial eagle encroaching further every day. America, the daughter of Europe, crossed the ocean to rescue her mother from the humiliation of thraldom and to save civilization.
"The American people wished to put an end to the greatest scandal that has ever sullied the annals of mankind. Autocratic governments, having prepared in the secrecy of the chancelleries and the general staffs a mad programme of universal dominion, let loose their packs at the time fixed by their genius for intrigue and sounded the horns for the chase, ordering science (at the very time it was beginning to abolish distances, to bring men closer ;together and make life sweeter) to leave the bright sky toward which it was soaring and to place itself submissively at the service of violence, debasing the religious idea to the extent of making God the complacent auxiliary of their passions and the accomplice of their crimes—in short, counting as naught the traditions and wills of peoples, the lives of citizens, the honor of women and all those principles of public and private morality which we for our part have endeavored to keep unaltered throughout the war and which neither nations nor individuals can repudiate or disregard with impunity.
"While the conflict was gradually extending over the entire surface of the earth, the clanking of chains was heard here and there and captive nationalities from the depths of their age long jails cried out to us for help. Yes, more, they escaped to come to our aid.
"Poland came to life again and sent i troops. The Czecho-Slovaks won their right to independence in Siberia, in France and in Malay. The Jugo-Slays, the Armenians, the Syrians and Levantines, the Arabs, all the victims, long helpless or resigned, of the historic deeds of injustice; all the martyrs of the past; all the outraged in conscience, all the strangled in liberty, viewed the clash of arms and turned to us as their natural defenders.
"The war gradually attained the fulness of its first significance and became in the full sense of the term a crusade of humanity for right, and if anything can console us, in part at least, for the losses we have suffered, it is assuredly the thought that our victory also is the victory of right. This victory is complete, for the enemy only asked for the armistice to escape from an irretrievable military disaster.
"In the interest of justice and peace, it now rests with you to reap from this victory its full fruits. In order to carry out this immense task you have decided to admit at first only the Allied or associated Powers and insofar as their interests are involved in the debates, the nations which remained neutral. You have thought that terms of peace ought to be settled among ourselves before they are communicated to those against whom we have fought the good fight. The solidarity which has united us during the war and has enabled us to win military success ought to remain unimpaired during the negotiations for and after the- signing of the treaty.
"It is not only the governments but free peoples who are represented here. To the test of danger they have learned to know and help one another. They want their intimacy of yesterday to assure the peace of tomorrow.
"Vainly would our enemies seek to divide us. If they have not yet renounced their customary maneuvers, they will soon find that they are meeting today, as during the hostilities, a homogeneous block which nothing will be able to disintegrate. Even before the armistice you reached that necessary unity under the aid of the lofty moral and political truths of which President Wilson has nobly made himself the interpreter, and in the light of these truths you intend to accomplish your mission.
"You will, therefore, seek nothing but justice, justice that has no favorites, justice in territorial problems, justice in financial problems, justice in economic problems. But justice is not inert, it does not submit to injustice. What it demands first when it has been violated, are restitution and reparation, for the peoples and individuals who have been de-spoiled or maltreated. In formulating this lawful claim it obeys neither hatred nor an instinctive or thoughtless desire for reprisals. It pursues a two-fold object—to render to each his due and not to encourage crime through leaving it unpunished.
"What justice also demands, inspired by the same feeling, is the punishment of the guilty and effective guarantees against an active re-turn of the spirit by which they are prompted, and it is logical to demand that these guarantees should be given, above all, to the nations that have been and might again be most exposed to aggression or threat, to those who have many times stood in danger of being submerged by the periodic tide of the same invasion.
"What justice banishes is the dream of con-quest and imperialism, contempt for national will, the arbitrary exchange of provinces between states, as though peoples were but articles of furniture or pawns in a game. The time is no more when diplomatists could meet to redraw with authority the map of the empires on the corner of a table. If you are to remake the map of the world it is in the name of the peoples, and one condition is that you shall faithfully interpret their thoughts and respect the right of nations, small and great, to dispose of themselves and to reconcile with this the equally sacred right of ethnical and religious minorities—a formidable task which science and history, your two advisers, will con-tribute to assist and facilitate.
"You will naturally strive to secure the material and moral means of subsistence for all those people who are constituted or reconstituted into States, for those who wish to unite themselves to their neighbors, for those who divide themselves into separate units, for those who reorganized themselves, for those who divide themselves according to their regained traditions and, lastly, for all those whose freedom you have already sanctioned or are about to sanction. You will not call them into existence only to sentence them to death immediately because you would like your work in this, as in all other matters, to be fruitful and lasting.
"While introducing into the world as much harmony as possible you will, in conformity with the fourteenth of the propositions unanimously adopted by the great Allied Powers, establish a general League of Nations which will be the supreme guarantee against any fresh assault upon the right of peoples.
"You do not intend this international association to be directed against anybody in the future. It will not, of a set purpose, shut out anybody, but having been organized by the nations that have sacrificed themselves in the defense of right, it will receive from them its statutes and fundamental rules.
"It will lay down conditions concerning present or future adherence, and, as it is to have for its essential aim the prevention as far as possible of the renewals of wars, it will, above all, seek to gain respect for the peace which you will have established and will find it the less difficult to maintain in proportion as this peace will in itself imply the greater realities of justice and safer guarantees of stability.
"By establishing this new order of things you will meet the aspirations of humanity, which, after the frightful convulsions of the blood-stained years, ardently wishes to feel itself protected by a union of free people against the every possible revival of primitive savagery. An immortal glory will attach to the names of the nations and the men who have desired to co-operate in this grand work in faith and brotherhood and who have taken the pains to eliminate from the future peace causes of disturbance and instability.
"This very day forty-eight years ago—on the 18th of January, 1871—the German Empire was proclaimed by an army of invasion in the chateau at Versailles. It was consecrated by the theft of two French provinces. It was thus a violation from its origin, and, by the fault of its founders, it was born in in justice. It has ended in oblivion.
"You are assembled in order to repair the evil that has been done and to prevent a recurrence of it. You hold in your hands the future , of the world. I leave you, gentlemen, to your grave deliberations and declare the conference of Paris open."