When the USA declared war on Germany, President Wilson stated that the Americans were not joining the Allies but were merely associating with them. To some extent this is hair-splitting, but it reflects the reluctance with which the United States was drawn into the war. Wilson sees the United States as fighting not a war of conquest or even one narrowly of self-defence, but a war that will serve to bring a final end to the scourge of warfare that has troubled humanity since the dawn of time.
Now Wilson addresses the United States Congress to articulate what America is fighting for, which he sees as “peace without victory”. He hopes to make the world “safe for every peace-loving nation” and he outlines fourteen war aims to advance this goal:
1. No more secret treaties between nations; no more secret negotiation of treaties
2. Freedom of the seas
3. The removal of barriers to trade between nations
4. The reduction of armaments held by nations to their lowest possible level
5. An impartial adjustment of all colonial claims (with the astonishing provision that attention should be given to the interests of colonised people)
6. The evacuation of Russian territory by other nations’ armies (a promise designed to undercut the Bolsheviks and keep Russia in the war)
7. The restoration of Belgium as a fully independent country
8. The restoration to France of Alsace-Lorraine, lost in the war of 1870
9. Italy’s frontiers to be readjusted along “clearly recognisable lines of nationality”.
10. The peoples of Austria-Hungary to be accorded “the freest opportunity to autonomous development”
11. Romania, Serbia and Montenegro to be restored and Serbia given access to the sea.
12. The non-Turkish parts of the Ottoman Empire to be given an “absolutely unmolested opportunity of autonomous development”, the Dardanelles to be freely accessible to all international shipping and the Turkish part of the Ottoman Empire to remain independent.
13. An independent Polish state to be established, with access to the sea.
14. A “general association of nations” to be established.
He finishes by stating that the United States bears no malice towards Germany and is seeking merely for it to “accept a place of equality among the peoples of the world, the new world in which we now live, instead of a place of mastery”.
Wilson hopes that the achievement of these aims will remodel the world, ending the era of major conflict between nations. Some of the Allies however worry that Wilson has given himself over to lofty but unrealistic idealism. They are more intent on guaranteeing their post-war security by crushing their enemies and eliminating them as future threats.
Wilson addressing Congress (Emerson Kent: the Fourteen Points)