Essay, Research Paper The tragic story of the League of Nations centers around the man who conceived it and offered it to the world, who developed its charter and bore the pains of its formulation at the Peace Conference in France, and who broke down in exhaustion when his own nation, the United States, refused to ratify it in the Senate.
Essay, Research Paper
The tragic story of the League of Nations centers around the man who conceived it and offered it to the world, who developed its charter and bore the pains of its formulation at the Peace Conference in France, and who broke down in exhaustion when his own nation, the United States, refused to ratify it in the Senate. Thomas Woodrow Wilson was born December 28, 1856 in Staunton, Virginia. His father was a Presbyterian minister, and Woodrow was a deeply religious man throughout his life. He was fascinated by politics and longed to be a statesman like England’s Prime Minister Gladstone. He wrote several books on government and taught political economy at Princeton University. As an educational reformer he was unanimously chosen president of Princeton in 1902. Wilson emphasized broad liberal studies more than specialization and mere preparation for a career. In 1910 the Democratic Party nominated him for governor of New Jersey, and his persuasive expression of progressive principles swept him to victory. His liberal reforms were successful, and in 1912 he won the Democratic presidential nomination and then a popular plurality over the divided Republicans and Theodore Roosevelt’s Progressive Party. He offered “New Freedom” and set out to break up the privileges of trusts and tariffs; he championed the worker’s right to overtime pay beyond an eight-hour day. However, his greatest challenges were to be in foreign policy after the outbreak of the World War in 1914.
From the close of the Napoleonic wars and the Congress of Vienna in 1815 some popular support for peace societies which were founded at that time and a concern for international law enabled national leaders to solve many of their differences by means of arbitration. Between 1815 and1900, of the two hundred cases in which States agreed to arbitration, not a single case led to a war. However, the States had not pledged that they would submit to arbitration in every international conflict. In 1890 the United States and ten other American republics signed a Pan American Treaty of Arbitration, but it was not ratified. In 1899 and again in 1907 the Russian Czar Nicholas II called a conference at The Hague to discuss limitation of arms and peaceful methods to settle international disputes. A “Permanent Court of Arbitration” was set up which could be used to resolve differences, and in fact three dangerous conflicts between large powers were settled in this manner. Theodore Roosevelt submitted a dispute with Mexico to arbitration, and in 1903 Britain and France signed a treaty. Roosevelt followed their example and signed arbitration treaties with France, Germany, Portugal, and Switzerland. He was negotiating with Great Britain, Italy, Mexico, Russia, Japan, and others when the Senate led by Henry Cabot Lodge insisted on approving each treaty. T. R. felt this undercut his efforts and therefore abandoned them. Roosevelt supported arbitration and arms limitation at the second Hague Conference. While receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in 1910 he spoke of a League of Peace which the great powers could form “not only to keep the peace among themselves, but to prevent, by force if necessary, its being broken by others.” The problem with The Hague approach, he believed, was that it lacked an effective executive police power. Roosevelt stated concisely, “Each nation must keep well prepared to defend itself until the establishment of some form of international police power, competent and willing to prevent violence as between nations. As things are now, such power to command peace throughout the world could best be assured by some combination between those great nations which sincerely desire peace and have no thought of themselves of committing aggressions.” Roosevelt concluded that the statesman who could bring this about would have the gratitude of all mankind.
In the spring of 1914 President Wilson sent his close friend and advisor, Colonel House, to Europe as an unofficial ambassador for peace. House met with German officials and the Kaiser explaining that with the community of interests between England, Germany, and the United States they could together maintain the peace of the world. However, England was concerned about Germany’s growing navy. House went to Paris and then London where he conferred with Edward Grey about negotiating with Germany. Even after the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand, the event which precipitated the war, House returned to Berlin and appealed to the Kaiser through a letter that England, France, and Germany could settle their differences peacefully. Many years later the Kaiser admitted that the mediation offer by Wilson and House had almost prevented the war. However, the German militarists were intent on fighting, and the war broke out with Austria leading the way. President Wilson on August 19 declared that the United States was neutral, and he requested that the American people be impartial. In January 1915 Wilson again sent House to Europe on a peace mission, hoping to get a parley started to discover possible terms and conditions of peace.
In England a League of Nations Society was founded in May 1915, and the idea of a League was supported publicly by Grey and Asquith. In the United States numerous branches of the League to Enforce Peace sprang up around the country. On May 27, 1916 this group, supported by ex-President William H. Taft, heard speeches by President Wilson and the Republican Senator Henry Cabot Lodge. Lodge was wary of forming entangling alliances, about which Washington had warned America, but this he felt should not preclude joining with other civilized nations to diminish war and encourage peace. In fact the Senator stated strongly, “We must find some way in which the united forces of the nations could be put behind the cause of peace and law.” In his speech Wilson also declared, “The nations of the world must in some way band themselves together to see that that right prevails as against any sort of selfish aggression.” Civilization is not yet firmly established until nations are governed by the same code of conduct that we demand of individuals. He outlined three fundamental principles: first, that every people has the right to choose their sovereignty; second, that small nations as well as large ones ought to have the guarantee of territorial integrity; and third, that the world and the rights of its people and nations ought to be protected from disturbing aggression. He proposed that the United States initiate a movement for peace calling for a “universal association of the nations” to maintain security of the above principles with the help of world opinion.
While speaking to West Point graduates that year Wilson contrasted the spirit of militarism to the citizen spirit, and asserted that in the United States the civilian spirit is intended to dominate the military, which is why the President, a civilian authority, is commander-in-chief of all forces. In September Wilson was renominated by the Democratic Party, and in his acceptance speech he discussed world peace. America must contribute to a just and settled peace, because no longer can any nation remain wholly apart from world turmoil. Again he appealed to world opinion to establish joint guarantees for peace and justice in a spirit of friendship. Wilson’s re-election was promoted under the slogan “He kept us out of war,” and he managed to win a narrow victory.
In January 1917 the Germans decided to pursue unrestricted submarine warfare. Wilson was trying to get the western allies and central powers to negotiate peace with each other, and he was not informed of the Germans’ change in policy when he delivered his great “Peace without Victory” speech on January 22. This was the first time a President had appeared alone before the Senate since George Washington vowed never to return there. Wilson expressed his hope that peace could be negotiated soon, and he was convinced that after the war an international concert of power must prevent war. He offered the United States Government in its tradition of upholding liberty to serve in using its authority and power to guarantee peace and justice throughout the world by means of a League for Peace. The President wanted to indicate the conditions upon which the United States could enter into this process. First the war must be ended, and by a treaty of peace that will be universally approved and guaranteed by a universal covenant, which must include the peoples of the New World. The organized force of mankind protecting the peace must be greater than any nation or probable combination of nations. Wilson did not believe that the war should end in a new balance of power but rather in a just and organized common peace, for no one can guarantee the stability of a balance of power. Neither side really intends to crush the other; therefore it must be a peace without victory so that the victor will not impose intolerable sacrifices which result in resentment and probably future hostilities. Equality of nations is the right attitude for a lasting peace as well as a just settlement regarding territory and national allegiance. Equality of nations means a respect for the rights of small nations based upon the common strength of the concert of nations, not upon individual strength. A deeper principle yet is that “governments derive all their just powers from the consent of the governed, and that no right anywhere exists to hand peoples about from sovereignty to sovereignty as if they were property. That henceforth inviolable security of life, of worship, and of industrial and social development should be guaranteed to all peoples.” Peace can only be stable with justice and freedom; otherwise the spirit rebels. Wilson asserted the importance of freedom of the seas and also the need to limit navies and armies. Wilson felt that he was speaking “for liberals and friends of humanity in every nation . . . for the silent mass of mankind.” He suggested that the American principles of the Monroe Doctrine should be extended throughout the world so that “every people should be left free to determine its own polity, its own way of development, unhindered, unthreatened, unafraid.” These principles of self determination, freedom, and protection from aggression “are the principles of mankind and must prevail.”
Wilson struggled to keep America out of the war, but when the Germans announced submarine warfare even against neutral shipping he immediately broke diplomatic relations with Germany. American intelligence reports indicated that Germany was trying to form an alliance with Mexico against the United States. Wilson had considered entry into the war a crime against civilization, and he loathed the implications. Privately he said, “It would mean that we would lose our heads along with the rest and stop weighing right and wrong. It would mean that a majority of people in this hemisphere would go war mad, quit thinking, and devote their energies to destruction.” However, in March several U.S. ships were attacked, and the President decided to propose a declaration of war to the Congress on April 2. He appealed to international law and the freedom of the seas. Because of the loss of noncombatants’ lives he interpreted the German submarine warfare against commerce as a “warfare against mankind.” He did not recommend revenge or the victorious assertion of physical might as motives for action but rather the vindication of human right and a refusal to submit to wrongs. Therefore since the Imperial German Government was at war with the United States, they must accept the belligerent status thrust upon them. Wilson clearly stated his purpose for America’s role, “Our object is to vindicate the principles of peace and justice in the life of the world as against selfish and autocratic power and to set up amongst the really free and self-governed peoples of the world such a concert of purpose and of action as will henceforth insure the observance of those principles.” He declared that a new age was beginning in which nations and governments must be held to the same standards of conduct and responsibility as the individual citizens of civilized states. He indicated that America had no animosity toward the German people, and he explained that small groups of ambitious men were using those people as pawns under the veil of the private courts of a privileged class. Wilson believed that peace could only be maintained by a partnership of democratic nations; autocratic governments cannot be trusted. Therefore Americans must fight for the liberation of the world’s people, including the German peoples. “The world must be made safe for democracy.” Peace must be founded on political liberty. President Wilson disavowed any desire for conquest or dominion; America was to be merely one of the champions of mankind’s rights. Wilson’s speech was greeted with wildly enthusiastic applause; later he thought how strange it was to hear applause for a message that meant death for many young men.
The United States was involved in the World War, but it would be six months before many soldiers would be fighting in France. That summer President Wilson appointed an Inquiry of several distinguished experts to gather information on Europe’s oppressed peoples, international business, international law, proposals for a peace-keeping organization, and ideas on repairing the war damage in Belgium and France. Wilson prophetically warned, “What we are seeking is a basis that will be fair to all and which will nowhere plant the seeds of such jealousy and discontent and restraint of development as would certainly breed future wars.”
Utilizing this research by experts Wilson formulated the war aims and peace suggestions of the United States and presented them before Congress on January 8, 1918 as his famous Fourteen Points. He reiterated that the United States was seeking only a peaceful world that is safe for self-governing nations. His specific points may be summarized as follows:
1) “open covenants of peace, openly arrived at” – no secret treaties;
2) free navigation of the seas outside territorial waters;
3) equality of trade and removal of economic barriers;
4) “adequate guarantees given and taken that national armaments will be reduced to the lowest point consistent with domestic safety;”
5) impartial adjustment of all colonial claims weighing equally the interests of the populations with the claims of governments;
6) evacuation of Russian territory and the opportunity for Russians to choose their own institutions, and aid according to their needs and desires;
7) evacuation and restoration of Belgium under her own sovereignty;
8) liberation and restoration of invaded French territory and the return of Alsace-Lorraine to France, correcting the wrong of 1871;
9) “a readjustment of the frontiers of Italy should be effected along clearly recognizable lines of nationality;”
10) the peoples of Austria-Hungary should be freely allowed autonomous development;
11) Rumania, Serbia, and Montenegro should be evacuated and restored, and the Balkan states ought to be established along lines of allegiance and nationality with international guarantees of independence and territorial integrity, with access to the sea for Serbia;
12) Turkey itself should have secure sovereignty, but other nationalities should be freed of Turkish rule and be assured of autonomous development, and the Dardanelles should be open to all ships and commerce under international guarantees;
13) an independent Poland should include territories of Polish populations, have access to the sea and guaranteed territorial integrity; and
14) “a general association of nations must be formed under specific covenants for the purpose of affording mutual guarantees of political independence and territorial integrity to great and small states alike.”
The President then declared that the United States was willing to fight for these principles to secure liberty and safety for all peoples under international justice. Germany was to be allowed her fair and equal place among the nations, and Wilson requested negotiation with representatives of the majority of German people rather than the military party and imperialists.
These Fourteen Points were adopted by the Allied statesmen as a basis for the peace. Responses to this speech soon came from representatives of Germany and Austria. These replies by Count von Hertling and Count Czernin were answered by Wilson in a speech on February 11; he was especially critical of the German Chancellor von Hertling. Peace must be established justly in view of world opinion and not involving militarily only the separate states that are most powerful. Wilson also pointed out that there were to be no annexations, no punitive damages, no arbitrary handing of people about by antagonists, but respect for national aspirations and self-determination.
Wilson again summarized the great ideals America was fighting for in a 4th of July speech at Mount Vernon. Over a million American men had already been shipped to France. The four goals he stated were:
1) destruction of every arbitrary power that disturbs the world’s peace;
2) settlement of political and economic questions with the consent of those involved, not according to the material interests of other nations;
3) consent of all nations to live under common law and mutual respect for justice; and
4) establishment of a peace organization of the free nations’ combined power to check violations of peace and justice according to the tribunal of international opinion to which all must submit.
By the end of summer 1918 the Central Powers were breaking up, and on September 27 Wilson appealed to the peoples of those countries by suggesting more specific peace proposals. Once more he emphasized that right must be made superior to might. The idea of a League of Nations was beginning to take a more definite shape. Each government must be willing to pay the price necessary to achieve impartial justice, to be made effective by the instrumentality of a League of Nations. The constitution of the League of Nations must be a part of the peace settlement, for if it preceded peace it would be confined to the nations allied against a common enemy, and if it followed the peace settlement it could not guarantee the peace terms. Wilson then outlined five particulars:
1) impartial justice means no discrimination or favoritism between peoples;
2) no special interest of a single nation should infringe upon the common interest of all;
3) “there can be no leagues or alliances or special covenants and understandings within the general and common family of the League of Nations;”
4) there can be no selfish economic combinations or boycotts except as “may be vested in the League of Nations itself as a means of discipline and control;” and
5)”all international agreements and treaties of every kind must be made known in their entirety to the rest of the world.”
On October 6 the German government requested an armistice; President Wilson sent a reply declaring that the armies of the Central Powers must withdraw immediately from all invaded territory. A German response dodged the issue of evacuation, and therefore another message clarifying the military situation was sent through the Secretary of State. On October 25 Wilson made perhaps one of his worst political mistakes when he requested the election of a Democratic majority in Congress in order to indicate to the world American support of the President’s leadership. This intrusion of party politics into non partisan foreign affairs was deeply resented by Republicans and in fact backfired against Wilson, as the Republicans won both houses. Meanwhile the Germans had agreed to disarm and relinquish the monarchical military leadership and wanted a peace according to the points made in Wilson’s speeches. Austria-Hungary also accepted the President’s declarations and recognized the rights of the Czecho-Slovaks and the Jugo-Slavs. The Allied Governments agreed to accept the Fourteen Points and the subsequent addresses with one reservation by Great Britain on freedom of the seas. Poland and Germany each announced themselves as republics. Finally on November 11 German representatives signed the Armistice Agreement at Marshall Foch’s headquarters. The Germans had agreed to an almost total surrender and to the payment of reparations. On the same day, President Wilson read the Armistice Agreement to Congress and promised food and relief to a suffering Europe. He pointed out the disorder in Russia and the folly of attempting conquest by the force of arms, and he asserted, “The nations that have learned the discipline of freedom and that have settled with self-possession to its ordered practice are now about to make conquest of the world by the sheer power of example of friendly helpfulness.” America must hold the light for the peoples who were just then coming into their freedom. A peace must be established that will define their places among the nations and protect their security.
Wilson decided to attend the Peace Conference in France with a select group of experts, such as geographers, ethnologists, and economists, whom he told, “Tell me what is right, and I’ll fight for it.” Unfortunately he did not invite anyone from the Senate to attend, which later was to cause irreconcilable problems. In Europe Wilson was enthusiastically greeted by thousands of cheering people almost as a messiah. In London on December 30 he observed, “Never before in the history of the world, I believe, has there been such a keen international consciousness as there is now.” On the same day in Manchester he spoke of America’s desire for peace in the world, not merely a balance of power or peace in Europe. At Rome on January 3, 1919 President Wilson explained how military force is unable to hold people together, that only friendship and good will can bind nations together. “Therefore, our task at Paris is to organize the friendship of the world, to see to it that all the moral forces that make for right and justice and liberty are united and are given a vital organization to which the peoples of the world will readily and gladly respond.”
The idealistic American President who wanted only permanent peace under universal justice with no special rewards for his country faced an awesome challenge among the European old-school diplomats who were determined to gain all they could for their own national interests. Lloyd George had just been re elected British Prime Minister under the slogan “Be tough on Germany,” and Clemenceau of France was even more adamant about making Germany pay all she could and leaving her as weak as possible. The Italians and Japanese wanted control of specific territories, and secret treaties made between the Allies during the war were to emerge and confound several of Wilson’s points. Against Wilson’s protests the conference news was censored, and what did leak out to the press tended to be through the French newspapers controlled by their government.
Meanwhile most of Europe was in turmoil, and many military leaders wanted to grab what they could get. For this reason on January 24 Wilson published a statement warning those who would take possession of territory by force that they would be prejudicing their cause, since they were placing in doubt the justice of their claims which the Peace Conference must determine. The next day he addressed the Peace Conference, which he felt had two purposes-not only the settlements required by the war but also the secure establishment of a means for the maintaining of world peace. Wilson believed the League of Nations was necessary for both purposes. “Settlements may be temporary, but the action of the nations in the interest of peace and justice must be permanent. We can set up permanent processes. We may not be able to set up permanent decisions.” Therefore the League of Nations must be made vital and continuous so that it may be ever watchful and effective. The idea for a League as an essential part of the Treaty was adopted unanimously, and a subcommittee for the drafting of a League of Nations Covenant was selected with President Wilson as chairman.
General Jan Christiaan Smuts, the leader from South Africa who had confronted Gandhi, published a pamphlet, The League of Nations: A Practical Suggestion, calling for a strong and active League which would not only prevent wars but also be a living, working organ of peaceful civilization. It must have general control of international affairs involving commerce, communications, and social, industrial, and labor relations. Wilson and Colonel House, the American members of the committee, managed to get together with the British delegates Smuts and Lord Cecil, who also had his own draft, to hammer out what was called Wilson’s second draft, which was revised into an Anglo-American version. Although the French and Italians submitted drafts, this version was accepted as the basis for discussion. Working every night the committee of fourteen members turned out its Draft Agreement after eleven days. Wilson announced that a living thing had been born.
On January 27 Wilson suggested a solution to the problem of what to do about the German colonies. Because he felt world opinion was against annexations, the League of Nations could mandate that districts be administered by a mandatory power “with a view to the betterment of the conditions of the inhabitants” and without discriminatory economic access.
A proud President Wilson presented the League of Nations draft to the Peace Conference with an address on February 14. The League was to consist of a body of delegates, an executive council, and a permanent secretariat. Any issue of international relationship would have free discussion, for “that is the moral force of the public opinion of the world.” Nevertheless if moral force did not suffice, armed force was to be in the background, but only as a last resort. The League was designed to be simple and flexible, yet a definite guarantee of peace, at least in words. Securing peace was not the only purpose of the League; it could be used for cooperation in any international matter, such as ameliorating labor conditions. All international agreements must be registered with the secretary general and openly published. Wilson believed the mandatory policy of aiding development was a great advance over annexation and exploitation. All in all Wilson felt that they had created a document that was both practical and humane, that could serve the conscience of the world. The day after the draft was accepted by the plenary session, the President departed for the United States.
In Washington Wilson met with Congressional representatives to discuss the League. By the time he returned to France in March American public opinion was insisting on four alterations. First, the Monroe Doctrine must be explicitly protected. Second, there must be a way nations could withdraw from the League. Third, domestic disputes must be exempt from League interference, including tariffs and immigration quotas. Fourth, a nation must have the right to refuse a mandate for a territory. Wilson did not feel that these provisions were necessary, but he was willing to get them put into the covenant for the sake of its acceptance. However, he had to compromise in order to do so, and thus his position on other issues was weakened.
Colonel House had been compromising on every side at the Peace talks such that when Wilson returned to Paris, he felt he had to start all over again. This caused an irreparable breach between the President and his close friend and advisor. The Allies were forcing unbearable reparations and indemnities on Germany and the defeated nations. Wilson did not consider it wise for England to retain naval supremacy or for the American and British navies to patrol the world together. Militarism on the sea is the same as on the land. He felt that power must not be vested in a single nation or combination of nations; the sea is a free highway and should be protected by a league of all the nations under international law. To fulfill one of his most important points Wilson developed a comprehensive plan for disarmament. Armaments were only to be used to preserve domestic safety and to maintain international order according to the League. Compulsory military service and the private manufacture of munitions must be abolished. Disarmament policies must be worked out after the peace settlement, be unanimously agreed upon, and have publicity to assure compliance. Although disarmament was temporarily forced upon Germany, these policies were never universally carried out. Wilson persistently argued for a new attitude of mind, for an organization of cooperation for peace which considered moral force above armed force.
Returning to the negotiations of the peace settlement Wilson faced intransigent obstacles to his principles. Several territorial arrangements had already been agreed upon by the major powers during the war in such secret agreements as the Sykes-Picot Treaty and the Treaty of London. Wilson spoke up for self determination, and at his suggestion a commission of inquiry was sent to the Middle East to discover what the peoples’ wishes were. The other powers verbally agreed but never did send their representatives. By the time the Americans went and returned with their information, the issues had been settled. The French wanted not only Alsace-Lorraine but the coal mining district of Saar and a buffer state in the Rhineland. Italy wanted not only the opposite coast of the Adriatic including Trieste which had been promised in the Treaty of London, but they also demanded the port of Fiume which represented Yugoslavia’s only hope for a commercial port. England and Japan had divided up the German colonies in the Pacific Ocean, giving Japan those north of the equator and Britain those south of the equator, but Japan also wanted Shantung on the mainland. In early April Wilson became ill. He had reached the limit of his patience and requested that the oceanliner George Washington be prepared to take him home. The President decided to take his stand on the issue of Fiume which for good reason had not been included in the Pact of London, because it naturally belonged to the new Jugo-Slav state. Wilson consequently went to the public with his arguments, and the Italian delegation withdrew from the Conference.
With the Italians already turning their back on the League, the Japanese saw their chance to push for control of the Shantung Province in China. Wilson backed China’s rights and lectured the nations on their duties toward each other. However, he did not want Japan to leave also and perhaps form an alliance with Russia and Germany; neither England nor America was willing to go to war with Japan over Shantung. Therefore it was agreed that Japan would control Shantung temporarily, and Wilson hoped that the League of Nations would later rectify the situation for China. Above all, Wilson struggled to save the League itself. The Italians never did get Fiume, but they did return to sign the final Treaty. By preventing an unjust decision, a war between the Jugo-Slavs and the Italians was made less likely. Wilson also compromised with the French on the Saar and Rhineland districts, and annexations were modified into temporary mandate agreements.
Germany had been suffering greatly; a food blockade by the Allies had been maintained against them for four months after the Armistice. Finally at the instigation of Herbert Hoover, President Wilson convinced the Allied leaders that the blockade must be lifted for humanitarian reasons. The Treaty agreed upon by the Allies and neutral nations was presented to the Germans on May 7. Their response on May 29 repeatedly complained of failures of the Treaty to adhere to the “Fourteen Points and subsequent addresses.” They felt unnecessarily humiliated by the severe provisions the French had demanded. However, with the threat of Marshal Foch moving the French army in on them, the Germans decided to sign the Treaty. On June 2 the Treaty of Versailles was signed by Clemenceau, Lloyd George, Wilson, and other representatives of the nations.
Wilson was greeted by ten thousand people when he returned to New York. However, in the Senate there were strong isolationist sentiments against the Treaty. Presenting it to the Senate on July 10 President Wilson wondered forebodingly, “Dare we reject it and break the heart of the world’?” A few “irreconcilables” were completely against the League. Many senators favored it, but ratification of a treaty required two-thirds of the Senate. A third group led by Senator Lodge demanded reservations, particularly to Article X of the League which read:
The Members of the League undertake to respect and preserve as against external aggression the territorial integrity and existing political independence of all Members of the League. In case of any such aggression or in case of any threat or danger of such aggression the Council shall advise upon the means by which this obligation shall be fulfilled.
For Wilson this was the key article; it was the Monroe Doctrine applied to the world and protected by all. The President explained to the senators that this was a moral obligation but not necessarily a legal obligation. Senator Warren Harding asked what good it would do if it was only a moral obligation which a nation could ignore since it was not legally bound. Wilson pointed out that because it was not legally binding, the nation would have the right to exercise its moral judgment in each case. Lloyd George explained that the covenant did not necessarily imply “military action in support of the imperiled nation” but mainly economic pressure and sanctions against the aggressing nation. Former President Taft agreed that the chance of getting involved in a war was small because of the universal boycott which in most cases would be effective; only a world conspiracy would require the “union of overwhelming forces of the members of the League,” and in that case “the earliest we get into the war the better.” Taft, a Republican, believed the United States could not be forced into a war against its will, and to think so was “a narrow and reactionary viewpoint.”
Nevertheless opposition in the Senate was growing. Therefore President Wilson decided to take his case to the people with a busy speaking tour across the whole country. Young Americans had fought and died in France, and he would not give up the struggle for a world of peace without giving all he could. Wilson argued that the League of Nations was founded according to the American principles of self-government, open discussion and arbitration instead of war, a universal boycott of an offending nation, disarmament, rehabilitation of oppressed peoples, no annexations but trusteeships, abolition of forced labor especially of women and children, rejection of secret treaties, protection of dependent peoples, high standards of labor, the Red Cross, international regulation of drugs and alcohol, and prohibition of arms sales. He warned against violent revolutions such as had occurred in Russia rather than revolution by vote. The United States could be isolated no more, for “we have become a determining factor in the history of mankind” and in the development of civilization. He declared, “The peace of the world cannot be established without America.” Seven and a half million men had been killed in the war; this was more than all the wars from 1793 to 1914. He spoke of the children who would have to die in a worse war if the League of Nations was not established. Wilson pushed himself to the limit, traveling 8,000 miles in twenty-two days and giving thirty-eight speeches. He had increasingly bad headaches which became constant until he finally collapsed in Pueblo, Colorado. The train took him straight back to Washington where he suffered a stroke, leaving the left side of his face and body paralyzed.
His wife coordinated his Presidential responsibilities. The push in the Senate for reservations to the Treaty was strong, but Wilson refused to give in because it would be repudiating what each nation had signed. If the United States demanded changes, then why could not the Germans also? Thus the President asked those who supported the Treaty to vote against ratification with the reservations, and consequently the Treaty was never ratified by the United States. Wilson hoped, perhaps, to be nominated again for President in 1920, but he was a broken man. The Republican Harding declared nebulously that he favored some sort of association of nations, and he was elected for “a return to normalcy.” In Wilson’s last public statement in 1923 he lamented, “I have seen fools resist Providence before.” He still believed that his principles would eventually prevail. He died on February 3, 1924.
On January 16, 1920 President Wilson formally convoked the Council in accordance with the League provision for the summoning of the first Council and Assembly by the President of the United States. It was to be the last official participation by the United States in the entire history of the League of Nations. The League became a dead issue in American politics, and even Herbert Hoover and Franklin Roosevelt, who both had been early League supporters, could not get the United States involved during their Presidencies. The League, which the United States was expected to lead, lost its universal acceptance and credibility without the American power. Although virtually every other nation in the world joined the League, eventually several of the New World countries withdrew-Costa Rica and Brazil in the mid-twenties and Paraguay, Nicaragua, Honduras, Salvador, Chile, Venezuela, and Peru in the middle-to-late thirties.
Germany was admitted to the League in 1926 but withdrew in 1933. The debts and reparations were reduced and made more bearable for the German economy, and in the early thirties Hitler and the Nazi Party, using strong electioneering tactics, rose to power and began to re-arm. A Disarmament Conference was finally held in 1932-1933; but when Hitler and Germany withdrew after speaking sugar-coated words about peace, the disarmament process became futile. Japan’s excursions in Manchuria during this period were tolerated, because the League did not refer to them as war. Japan also withdrew in 1933. Communist Russia was treated like an atheist pariah by League Members until fear of Germany and the diplomacy of Maxim Litvinov led to an invitation for the Soviet Union to join in 1934. The Saar district was returned to Germany when, with Nazi encouragement 90% of the people voted for German rule. Hitler completely repudiated the Versailles Treaty and sent troops to the Rhineland area, and by 193 Germany could simply annex Austria without a complaint from the League. The most disastrous blow was when Italy under the Fascist leadership of Mussolini invaded and took over Ethiopia in 1936. The exiled Emperor of Ethiopia, Haile Selassie, made an eloquent appeal to the League for help against the Italians’ mustard gas bombing of his weak nation. However, the most that the League had been able to do was to boycott Italy and Ethiopia; this hindered Italy little since the United States and others were still trading with them. Neither did the League do anything about the Nazi bombing of Spain during its civil war.
Perhaps the League had helped to prevent small wars and through cooperation brought a little more collective consciousness into international affairs, but its failure became overwhelmingly obvious when the aggressions of Japan, Italy, and Germany brought on a second and greater world war that many had feared.
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