The Case Against The Prophet

The Case Against The Prophet:

An Analysis of Woodrow Wilson’s Globalism

 

God ordained that I should be the next President of the United States. Neither you nor any other mortal or mortals could have prevented it.

—Woodrow Wilson

 

American President Thomas Woodrow Wilson was a bloviating crusader. His goal was not the defeat of the Saracens though, but the establishment of a new world order built in his image. After the War to Make the World Safe for Democracy, Wilson at the Paris Peace Conference was in prime position to execute his neo-Genesis. The acme of his vision was the establishment of a League of Nations, an intergovernmental organization dedicated to the preservation of world peace. However, that aim was not its only mandate. The League would also dictate to its member states labor policy, civil rights, trade regulations, and allowed levels of military strength, not to mention the control of vast swaths of certain inhabited lands across the planet. In other words, it was a supra-government—the government of all governments. In modern terms, and for the ease of understanding, this can be called globalism. More specifically, the globalism herein is defined as a focus on the world as more important than the nation-state. Wilson’s personal dogmatism and his globalist leanings were the driving factors behind his approach to the Paris Peace Conference.

To explain the character of Wilson and its relevance to the outcome of the peace talks, it is first necessary to explain the setting. At the close of the Paris Peace conference in 1919, Wilson declared that “at last the world knows America as the savior of the world!”[1] He had reason to be so aggrandizingly ecstatic—the First World War was over and Wilson, in his idealistic way, regarded himself as the prophet who brought peace to the international scene. Herbert Hoover shared this view and later said that the life of Wilson was “the story of the leader of [a] Crusade.”[2] In many ways Wilson and Hoover were right. After all, Wilson did order the American Armed Forces into Europe, and their contribution to the war effort is widely regarded as paramount to the allied victory. Wilson was also the architect of that globalist peace effort, which was hard fought and met with universal acclaim. Such a peace, and a League of Nations to abide by it, was new. Previous European treaties were generally singular, or based on the mutual cooperation between the belligerents in any conflict. This particular peace was different; and in an era of progressivism, where any forward action was seen as important and good, a new world order was celebrated. That particular vein of liberalism had yet to be rebuffed as it was in the 1920 election of Warren G. Harding, who promised an end to the progressive experiment. Alan Dawley, in his 2003 Changing the World: American Progressives in War and Revolution, confirms this era as “an American moment in world affairs”[3] commanded by Wilson, “the first world leader of the twentieth century.”[4] Dawley also writes that Wilson rejected a premature peace and “seemed to echo Bolshevik peace proposals.”[5] That phrasing is this author’s first encounter of Wilson’s peace described as such. But it is apt to compare the two when discussing a globalist agenda, since both Wilson’s aims and the aims of the Bolsheviks were international. It should be noted that Dawley describes Wilson’s ambitions, perhaps coincidentally or in jest, as a “stunning manifesto.”[6] However, it seems inappropriate that Wilson’s name be softly linked with Bolshevism. He was anything but a Red. Actually, one of the driving factors in Wilson’s decision making, as in other leaders at the Paris talks, was anti-communism. This is evidenced by Wilson’s purported goal of national self-determination and the recognition of nationalism, not class. It is more accurate to follow the terminology of the day and use the religious motif when attributing any sort of theme to his approach at world politics.

Wilson was seen as a prophet. In fact, the amount of praise thrown at Wilson is hard to believe. Historians and the public in his day were likewise enthralled by the man. To start, Wilson’s arrival in France at the start of the conference was greeted with cries of “Vive Wilson!”[7] The guns boomed when he came into Paris; the crowds all cheered. Harold Garnet Black, in his 1946 The True Woodrow Wilson: Crusader for Democracy, presents Wilson as a genuine man, with his heart fully committed to what he claimed. Black writes of Wilson as martyr—Wilson’s vision ultimately failed—and says that, like Abraham Lincoln, Wilson deserves “a secure position among the American immortals.”[8] Franklin Delano Roosevelt agreed, adding that Wilson was humble.[9] To avoid deep analysis of Wilson’s praise heaped on him by admirers, a short list is best suited to proving the endless applause: Dwight D. Eisenhower hoped that “[Wilson’s] example [would] continue to guide and inspire our people…to a civilized way of life,”;[10] Pulitzer Prize winner, Virginius Dabney, wrote that “The myths of coldness, hardness, humorlessness and ruthlessness that have grown up around his name should be dispelled,” [11] referring to the myriad of accounts detailing Wilson’s sour nature—he would often erupt in fits of anger during the peace talks; Arthur S. Link also compares Wilson to Lincoln, and calls him a “man of integrity”[12] and a “prophet of the future,”;[13] and Harry Truman likewise said that “In many ways…Wilson was the greatest of the greats.”[14] Thus the setting and world opinion has been described to the standard required to consider Wilson, the man. This should be done based on evidence from Wilson himself and his detractors, rather than, as has now been done, a flow of compliments from others.

The picture of Wilson deepens and darkens when discussion of him sourced from acolytes moves to that from critics. To set that scene, consider the peace talks, where, in Wilson’s brave new world, “Conspicuously absent was any reference to self-determination for colonial peoples.”[15] His views on race are well known, but should nevertheless be stated as they play a vital role in the story. It must be conceded, however, that to view Wilson through a modern lens in regard to racism is unproductive when judging him. If such a standard were retroactively applied, the entirety of the past would be condemned. Still, his racism—actual racism, not merely offensive or unpopular statements—is one of those guiding factors that shaped his globalist creed and it can be used to understand, rather than doom. For example, Wilson was known to put on a sort of Ebonics-dialect and pretend to be black to get a few laughs;[16] he is the first President to screen a film at the White House, that film being Birth of a Nation, which he praised—however there is some historical debate over the veracity of this instance; Wilson seemed to have been obsessed with racial classification when it came to the potential consequences of a war, as noted in Richard Striner’s 2014 Woodrow Wilson and World War I: A Burden Too Great to Bear, which quoted Wilson as wondering “Would the yellow races take advantage of [America’s entry into the war] and attempt to subjugate the white race?”;[17] and in perhaps one of the most stunning displays of this type, Wilson “was appalled that the French army allowed blacks to serve next to whites, and he worried about Communism creeping into the US among black veterans returning from World War I.”[18] It has even been argued that Wilson was at first reluctant to enter the war in 1917 because of the possibility of too many whites dying.[19] It should be taken into consideration that Wilson argued for the rights of different minorities within Europe while at the conference, in respect to borders being drawn. But that could be explained by them falling, in his mind, under a different category than races from places outside of Europe. Naturally, it is not a black and white issue. Japanese racial equality was also a mandate of which Wilson had been in favor.[20] Wilson is not alone in holding paradoxical thoughts, so it is natural that not all of his views might be consistent, but even so they should then be open to change. It is one thing to be self-contradictory, it is another to be inflexible. Wilson was the toxic combination of both. His obstinacy has been noted ad nauseam. Margaret Macmillan’s 2001 work, Paris 1919, quoted the French Ambassador in Washington, who said of Wilson that “had he lived a couple of centuries ago, [Wilson] would have been the greatest tyrant in the world, because he does not seem to have the slightest conception that he can ever be wrong.”[21] Macmillan described this flaw of Wilson’s as “a dangerous egotism.”[22]

As for the issue of self-determination in how Wilson applied it, there is a paradox. It can very well be argued that Wilson was a globalist who conformed to the aforementioned definition. However, there are two other persuasive arguments that can be made. The first is that Wilson was not a globalist, but a Western-ist. That is, the great powers of western civilization—the United States, Britain, France, and others—should be the masters of Earth. This is parallel to neo-conservatism. Because of Wilson’s treatment of the colonial possessions, and their relative unimportance to the new world order, Europe and America would dictate their fate. As already mentioned, Wilson was satisfied with the League of Nations owning lands that, in today’s terms, were not theirs. The same went for the great powers being allowed to keep their colonial possessions—a prime concern for the United Kingdom. It should be remembered that Wilson supported intervention in the Americas if he felt that the countries there were not acting in accordance with how he wished. He even allowed for the invasion of several different countries in a move that might be called neoconservative today. It would seem, then, that national self-determination, a thought that people should be able to choose their governments[23], was something of an insincere slogan, and one that masked Wilson’s paternalistic bigotry. The second argument is that Wilson was a combination of these two paradigms. He both valued white superiority and wanted an international community. In a way, this can also be called globalism, and fits more in with how certain populist elements of today define the term. In any case, Wilson fits the role of elitist, regardless of how that elite is made up—international or western. In further research that thought might lead to a discussion of class irrespective of nationality.

Wilson’s inconsistency on this front should be explored further. Take the Middle East, for example. With the death of the Ottoman Empire, the lands it once ruled over were called into question. Here was a portion of the Earth that had known Turkish rule for several centuries. The Great Powers of Europe were very well aware that the issue in the Balkans was partially the result of what is known as the ‘Eastern Question,’ or the loss of power in that area by the Ottomans. It created a vacuum in which nationalism became a driving factor in its politics. This, as the western leaders knew, did not end well. Such power vacuums and chaotic scenarios could occur again, and this was to be avoided. The League of Nations solution was to draw lines to demarcate the borders of several different and newly formed countries there.[24] The mere suggestion that western leaders divided the Middle East into different countries is contradictory to Wilson’s stated purpose. It was not self-determination, it was command. Wilson, as it is now clear he had the habit of doing, denied that this was incongruous. He felt that “the peoples of the proposed mandatory areas should be given an opportunity to decide which European state would assume that responsibility,”[25] meaning they could choose who would be their masters. The wishes of the locals was generally unimportant. The French, not wanted by the local Arabs, took control of Syria. In an effort to give Wilson some leeway in this matter, it needs to be understood that though he was advocating a particular world view, his allies and cohorts at the conference held vastly different beliefs. The French wanted revenge, the Japanese wanted to be a great power, the British wanted to hold onto their empire, and Italy was determined to stay unified and once even walked away from the conference over who would control a city on the Balkan side of the Adriatic Sea. Wilson, even if he was genuine, worked with others not entirely dedicated to his plan. None of this was helped by the fact that Wilson was relatively uninformed of the Middle East, Europe, or the wants of the people in general. He “came to the Presidency no expert in foreign relations.”[26] If one plans on rearranging the world, it might be helpful to know what the world is like, and dangerous to proceed if that knowledge is not possessed. Indeed, it is no obscure thought that much of the world’s present issues can be traced to the consequences of the First World War, and many of them also to Wilson. It might be understatement to say that unpreparedness was a theme that ran through the Wilson administration.

John Maynard Keynes’ 1920 The Economic Consequences of the Peace does not paint a positive picture of Wilson, alluding to him as a puppet, in respect to his being easily influenced by his wife as well as by his closer friends, and argued that though Wilson’s goals may have been generous and good-willed, they were promises lacking all serious detail. Keynes described Wilson’s ideas as “nebulous and incomplete,” and of Wilson he wrote that he was “slow and unadaptable.” Keynes notes, however, that this lack of planning—the façade of seriousness—did not stop the people of Europe and America from believing and trusting him. Perhaps most damning, Keynes said that Wilson “in the last act…stood for stubbornness and a refusal of conciliations.”[27] In that vein, the title of historian David Reynolds’ The Long Shadow refers to the First World War in general, but the shadow would be a better reference to Wilson’s own. His actions have definitively shaped the world in which we live, and will for many years to come. It is tempting to argue against Wilson from a character point of view, as has partially been done here, but it is ultimately futile. What matters were his actions, and how he added to the Paris Peace Conference. It just so happens that it was his character that directly affected his role at the talks, and not in many positive ways. After the sickness he suffered midway through the talks he began to become paranoid, believing that the furniture in his lodging was being stolen by some kind of French spy ring. He also became harder to deal with in certain respects after his sickness, though he was willing to make concessions. At first he did not agree with certain harsh reparations for Germany, but afterwards he become willing to listen to his peers. The Treaty of Versailles did include what placed the blame for the war on Germany—what some today, including this author, might call an unfair act. Wilson also went through several changes in regards to other matters: he soon accepted the importance of woman’s suffrage, he regretted some of the decisions he made while in office such as the Federal Reserve Act, and after the War, he focused on the growing Bolshevism in the country by combatting the potential for general strikes in different cities and across the nation. His character problems in France were vital, but that is not to say that positive things did not come out of the Paris talks. Indeed, it can even be argued that world peace is achievable and worthwhile—just not the peace as envisioned by Wilson. His journey towards getting the United States Congress on board was destroyed by his intense partisanship in the preceding months and years: he had not been very friendly to the Republicans in Washington and as a result was unable to rely on their support for the ratification of the League of Nations. He was, in that way, defeated by his past self. The United States never joined the League and the next Presidential election swung the country in a very different direction. Warren G. Harding, and the nationally celebrated Calvin Coolidge, won the election against James Cox, and his running mate Franklin Roosevelt, by seven million popular votes and the Electoral College with a margin of 277—a landslide.[28] Wilson’s globalism, as the election was seen as a referendum on the League of Nations, was rejected by the American people.[29] Wilson, at best, was a lone warrior fighting for self-determination and a brave new world; and at worst, a delusional, smug, interfering, hypocritical, lying, power-hungry, demagogue fighting for something similar.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bibliography

Alsop, Em Bowles, ed. The Greatness of Woodrow Wilson, 1856-1956. New York: Rinehart,

1956.

Bailey, Thomas Andrew. Woodrow Wilson and the Great Betrayal. Chicago: Quadrangle Books,

1945.

———–. Woodrow Wilson and the Lost Peace. New York: Macmillan, 1944.

Black, Harold Garnet. The True Woodrow Wilson, Crusader for Democracy. New York: Fleming

  1. Revell, 1946.

Buehrig, Edward H. Woodrow Wilson and the Balance of Power. Bloomington: Indiana

University Press, 1955.

Clements, Kendrick A. The Presidency of Woodrow Wilson. Lawrence, Kan.: University Press of

Kansas, 1992.

Dawley, Alan. Changing the World: American Progressives in War and Revolution. Princeton,

NJ: Princeton University Press, 2003.

Freud, Sigmund, and William C. Bullitt. Thomas Woodrow Wilson, Twenty-eighth President of

the United States; a Psychological Study. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1967.

George, David Lloyd. Memoirs of the Peace Conference. New Haven: Yale University Press,

1939.

Gotinga, Randy. “5 Surprising Facts about Woodrow Wilson and Racism.” Christian Science

Monitor. December 14, 2014. http://www.csmonitor.com/Books/chapter-and-

verse/2015/1214/5-surprising-facts-about-Woodrow-Wilson-and-racism.

Heater, Derek Benjamin. National Self-determination: Woodrow Wilson and His Legacy. New

York: St. Martin’s Press, 1994.

Herbert Hoover. The Ordeal of Woodrow Wilson (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1958).

House, Edward Mandell, and Charles Seymour. What Really Happened at Paris; the Story of the

Peace Conference, 1918-1919. New York: C. Scribner’s Sons, 1921.

Keynes, John Maynard. The Economic Consequences of the Peace. New York:

Harcourt, Brace and Howe, 1920. Project Gutenberg.

Lentin, A. Lloyd George, Woodrow Wilson and the Guilt of Germany: An Essay in the Pre-

history of Appeasement. Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press, 1984.

Link, Arthur Stanley. Wilson the Diplomatist; a Look at His Major Foreign Policies. Baltimore:

Johns Hopkins Press, 1957.

MacMillan, Margaret. Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World. New York: Random

House, 2002.

Nowak, Karl Friedrich. Versailles. Translated by Norman Thomas and E. W. Dickes. New York:

Payson and Clarke, 1928.

Passos, John Dos. Mr. Wilson’s War. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1962.

Riddell, Lord, C. K. Webster, Arnold J. Toynbee, Denis Saurat, Werner Von Rheinbaben, Forges

Davanzati, M. Tappan Hollond, Norman Angell, and The Marquis of Reading. The

Treaty of Versailles and after. New York: Oxford University Press, 1935.

Rozwenc, Edwin C., and Thomas Lyons. Realism and Idealism in Wilson’s Peace Program.

Boston: D.C. Heath and Company, 1965.

Schwabe, Klaus. Woodrow Wilson, Revolutionary Germany, and Peacemaking, 1918-1919:

Missionary Diplomacy and the Realities of Power. Chapel Hill: University of North

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Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1967.

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Rowman & Littlefield, 2014.

Walworth, Arthur. Wilson and His Peacemakers: American Diplomacy at the Paris Peace

Conference, 1919. New York: W. W. Norton, 1986.

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Edited by August Heckscher. New York: Harper, 1956.

 

Cover Photo courtesy of Star Tribune http://stmedia.startribune.com/images/ows_140331570163633.jpg

 

[1] Stone, Oliver, and Peter Kuznick. “Oliver Stone: The Myth of American Exceptionalism.” USA Today. October 25, 2013.

[2] Herbert Hoover. The Ordeal of Woodrow Wilson (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1958) 272.

[3] Dawley, Alan. Changing the World: American Progressives in War and Revolution. (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2003), 181.

[4] Ibid, 182.

[5] Ibid, 183.

[6] Ibid.

[7] MacMillan, Margaret. Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World. (New York: Random

House, 2002), 15.

[8] Black, Harold Garnet. The True Woodrow Wilson, Crusader for Democracy. (New York: Fleming H. Revell, 1946), 260.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Alsop, Em Bowles, ed. The Greatness of Woodrow Wilson, 1856-1956. (New York: Rinehart, 1956), xv.

[11] Ibid, 34.

[12] Ibid, 139.

[13] Ibid, 150.

[14] Clements, Kendrick A. The Presidency of Woodrow Wilson. (Lawrence, Kan.: University Press of Kansas, 1992), ix.

[15] Dawley, 185.

[16] MacMillan, 7.

[17] Striner, Richard. Woodrow Wilson and World War I: A Burden Too Great to Bear. (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2014), 99.

[18] Gotinga, Randy. “5 Surprising Facts about Woodrow Wilson and Racism.” Christian Science Monitor. December 14, 2014.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Bailey, Thomas Andrew. Woodrow Wilson and the Lost Peace. (New York: Macmillan, 1944), 217.

[21] MacMillan, 5.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Heater, Derek Benjamin. National Self-determination: Woodrow Wilson and His Legacy. (New

York: St. Martin’s Press, 1994), 3.

[24] Ibid, 63.

[25] Ibid.

[26] Alsop, 171.

[27] Keynes, John Maynard. The Economic Consequences of the Peace. (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Howe, 1920). Project Gutenberg.

 

[28] Passos, John Dos. Mr. Wilson’s War. (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1962), 497.

[29] Ibid.