President Wilson's War Aims, January 1918


President Wilson's War Aims

When the British Premier and the President after months of importuning ↑by Russia,↓ followed by Lord Lansdowne's letter, finally stated their war aims in explicit terms, they set millions of minds thinking on new constructive measures. Had there been an Inter-Allied Conference last summer, it is quite possible, as the President suggests in his speech of Dec. 4, "If allied views had been made plain at the very outset, the sympathy and enthusiasm of the Russian people might have been once for all enlisted on the side of the Allies, suspicion and distrust swept away, and a real and lasting union of purpose effected. He referred to the Russian formula of "no annexations, no contributions, no punitive [indemnities]" as "crude formula expressing the instinctive judgment as to right of plain men everywhere."

Says ↑Norman Angell↓ this "purely political blunder . . . for which the temper of civilian opinion was largely responsible, has resulted in a military loss that must be measured in terms of the destruction of whole armies." Other blunders may be made, he adds, "that may have military consequences not less disastrous". The prime motive in the President's explicit statement doubtless was to save Russia if possible from feeling that she was coldly deserted by the Allies and at the eleventh hour to prevent her falling under German domination and by forcing a new statement to offset the publication of the secret treaties by the Bolsheviki.

The fourteen articles here summarized from the President's statement present what internationalists have said for years, but now they hear shouted in trumpet tones around the globe; and the whole world must ↑now↓ listen to the essentials of a permanent peace. The principles of the Minimum Program, issued by the Central Organization for Durable Peace ↑at The Hague↓, in April, 1915, are nearly all embodied in the President's words which show careful study of the work of the experts from belligerent and neutral nations which drew up the Program. [page 2]

Article I is equivalent to the last one of the Minimum Program: "Secret treaties shall be void."

The recent publication in Russia of the Allies' secret treaties, if they are correctly given, shows to what great length the nations had gone in their willingness to grasp foreign territory, notably that of Italy who was to receive Dalmatia, certain islands and territory in Asia and Africa. France wanted a slice of Germany as a buffer region, which if wrested by conquest would provoke future war.

Article 2. is practically the position held by the United States and Germany at the Second Hague Conference, but which was opposed by Great Britain whose prime principle ↑slogan↓ has been, "[Britannia] rules the seas". The Minimum Program says, "The right of capture shall be abolished and the freedom of the seas assured" which of course means in wartime.

This would abolish Britain's naval supremacy, which on the whole has been no menace to the world, but it would make it needless. It would give the British merchant marine the combined naval force of the world as a protection. That force would be greatly reduced and under international control.

Article 3 is perhaps the most important of all, as the prime ↑chief↓ cause of this war is deep-rooted misconceptions and false practices regarding trade. The Minimum Program says: "The states shall agree to introduce into their colonies protectorates and spheres of influence, liberty of commerce, or at least equal treatment for all nations."

No doubt the end of the war will see immense pressure from "big business" in every country to increase tariff barriers between the great nations. But if, in the great regions of Africa and Asia where trade rivalry of the belligerents has created the most far-reaching disturbance, there can be the open door and equal treatment, one of the chief causes of war will be eliminated.

The three great organizations with headquarters in New York, who contrary to the administration's policy are working desperately to commit us to a permanent system of universal military training, are backed by men whose eagle eyes are on the rich, undeveloped regions of the Earth, and who want force to help back up special privilege. The President has taken their measure, but the innocent public believes that what they want is merely physical training and patriotism.

Article 4 is like the Minimum Program: "The states shall agree to reduce their armaments."

Free trade and disarmament would profoundly affect all the territorial readjustments considered in the remaining articles. They would make boundary lines within a generation almost negligible and national animosities would vanish as ↑the acute↓ ill will between New York and Connecticut when the former relinquished her little navy and state custom house upon the adoption of our Constitution.

article 8 carefully states that the wrong done by the taking of Alsace Lorraine must be righted but by no means [seeks its] return to France

Article 5 would provide proper consideration of the wishes of the illiterate natives of the German colonies and be incidentally a principle that must apply to Filipinos as well. It by no means goes as far as the recent admirable statement of the British Labor Party which is the noblest pronouncement that has come out of Europe from any body of men since the war began. This would put all equatorial Africa under international control and show to all the world that Great Britain, like the United States had no plan to profit from the war. The Independent recently said editorially in italics, "The allies can bring this war to an early and successful close conclusion, if their war aims can be published in reasonable detail [page 3] and can be seen by all the world to have no material gain for any one of them."

Articles 6, 7 and 8 need no comment except as regards Alsace Lorraine which if restored by conquest would perhaps cost as many lives as all its present population. The President does not insist on its transference but says "the wrong should be righted". Said David Starr Jordan, "It is clear that no denial of the right of conquest could be made retroactive". If a plebiscite as one of the official war aims could replace the demand for annexation, "It would be equivalent," declares Dr. Nasmyth, "to the addition of millions of men to the Allied fighting forces and would be an important step tending to shorten the war."

The plebiscite should exclude from vote German immigrants who have come since a certain date, and there should be a preferential vote in which independence with perhaps retention of the advantages of the imperial Zollverein should be offered: likewise autonomy within the German empire like that of Bavaria, or a free republic within the empire, like Hamburg and the free cities: or neutralization under the protection of a League of Nations, with trade outlets guaranteed. At least seven different proposals have been made as possible solutions of this most delicate and crucial question, which perhaps more than any one territorial issue impels Germany to stubbornly ↑to↓ refuse to offer reasonable terms of peace.

The whole question, like the questions of nationality in articles 10-13 would be enormously simplified if three primary principles were first agreed upon as an integral part of the Peace Settlement:

First, what the President calls "The General Association of Nations". This need not embody the principle of enforcement by combined national armies and navies according to the plan of the League to Enforce Peace.

It would of course have force behind it -- economic force, and an international police under international control. The knowledge in advance that shipping and railroad connection would be severed and perhaps telegraphic, and all other connection stopped, would be, after the experience of this war, a powerful agency in compelling the keeping of contracts to avoid such penalty. There would be no neutrals in a world league, and it must be a League including Germany or the old balance of power would survive.

Second, Free Trade. Admiral Chadwick has said, "There can be but one real precedent to universal peace, the demolition of the Custom House, the opening of every waterway of the world to universal traffic, the sweeping away of all spheres of influence, a like treatment of all men in all things, commercial or other."

Third, disarmament, except for a home guard and international police.

To the practical man who knows that world organization is possible and practicable, these are no dull, academic statements to be considered after the war when Germany is defeated. They are the most vital ideas to be studied in every church and club and High school and accepted everywhere at once before commercialism and deadly [skepticism], which dare not yet oppose them openly, shall paralyze the President's superb endeavor to make our country the moral leader of the nations and this, a war that shall end all war forever.

Lucia Ames Mead. [signed]