11/2/1918 Wilson’s Four Principles #1918Live

President Wilson has already outlined the Fourteen Points that he sees the United States as having entered the war to achieve. Now in another speech to Congress he clarifies them by the addition of four principles that must govern any peace settlement. They are firstly that each part of a final settlement must be based justice, secondly that people and provinces are not to be transferred between states in pursuit of great power interests, thirdly that territorial adjustments must be made in the interests of the people of those territories and finally that national aspirations must be “accorded the utmost satisfaction that can be accorded them without introducing new or perpetuating old elements of discord and antagonism”.

Wilson is effectively saying that the principle of national self-determination must be paramount in any future peace settlement. This is bad news for multi-national empires like Turkey and Austria-Hungary, though it may also cause some disquiet to France and Britain, with their vast overseas empires. For now though Wilson’s principles are expected only to apply to the Central Powers.

In a time of realpolitik, Wilson’s aspirations may seem hopelessly naive, and certainly this is how some of his allies see them. However the US President is convinced that only a settlement on these lines will lay the basis for a permanent peace that will prevent the world from facing another catastrophic war.

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Woodrow Wilson (Wikipedia)

8/1/1918 Wilson’s Fourteen Points #1918Live

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.

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Wilson addressing Congress (Emerson Kent: the Fourteen Points)

3/8/1917 The Green Corn Rebellion: Oklahoma rises up against the war #1917Live

Since the USA declared war on Germany it has been struggling to build a large army that can take on the Germans in France. Conscription has been introduced, so now men are being compelled to take part in the war whether they want to or not. This is not a development greeted with universal enthusiasm.

While some go on the run to avoid the draft, a group of farmers and rural folk in Oklahoma go considerably further. Motivated by anti-war sentiment and fear of the effects of conscription on their families’ livelihoods, several hundred (perhaps a thousand) of these anti-conscription activists come together and resolve to bring an end to the war. They stage a rebellion, planning a march on Washington where, joined by similar groups from across the country, they will overthrow Wilson and take America out of the war. On the way they will live off the land, roasting green corn, thereby giving their rebellion its name.

The Green Corn Rebellion proves to be short-lived. More law-abiding elements in Oklahoma quickly form a militia and face down the rebels. After a few shots are fired (killing three) the rebellion breaks. The authorities carry out mass arrests and prepare to send the rebels for trial. They also prepare to crack down on the various socialist and anarchist groups seen as being behind the unrest.

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Anti-war poster (Jane Little Bodkin: Frank Little and the IWW)

Newspaper cartoon accusing the anarchist IWW of being in league with Germany (Wikipedia)

18/5/1917 America introduces conscription

US warships have arrived in Europe to join patrols against the U-boat menace. President Wilson knows however that if the war is to be brought to an end it will be done so on land. Here the USA is at a considerable disadvantage. The country’s army amounts to just 145,000, insignificantly small compared to the great armies of Europe.

In order to make a difference in Europe, the American army will have to be expanded. Today the President signs into a law the Selective Service Act, which allows for conscription. Even so, it will be some time before the army will have been built up to a level that can take on the Germans. Given the task facing the Americans, that of building a large modern army almost from scratch, some wonder whether the USA will be able to deploy troops to Europe in strength before 1919.

In keeping with the traditions of the United States, draftees will be segregated by colour.

image source (Wikipedia)

10/4/1917 The Eddystone explosion: an unsolved mystery

Outside Chester in Pennsylvania the Eddystone Ammunition Corporation has a factory making artillery shells for export to the Russian army. Today tragedy strikes as an explosion rips through a building where young women workers are loading shells with black powder. A chain reaction of detonations occurs, creating a blast that is felt miles away from the plant.

Somewhere between 100 and 150 people, mostly women and girls, are killed in the explosion with many more injured, some horrifically so. Of the dead, several dozen are unidentifiable; they will be buried in a mass grave.

The USA is now at war with Germany. As with previous explosions in munitions plants, suspicions fall on German saboteurs. If German agents were responsible then the Eddystone explosion victims are the first US casualties of the war. But investigators can find no definitive evidence pointing to the explosion having been started deliberately. There were also reports of faulty electrical wiring in the plant in the weeks before the blast, so it is possible that the explosion was a tragic accident.

image source (World War One in Delco)

6/4/1917 America declares war on Germany

A few days ago President Wilson addressed a joint session of Congress, calling for war against Germany. Now the two houses provide him with a declaration of war. Support for the war in the Senate and House of Representatives is overwhelming but not unanimous. Outside Congress many progressives and socialists are opposed to the war, but as in Europe in 1914 they are overwhelmed by the pro-war tide.

It will be some time before the United States is able to play an active part in the conflict. At 145,000 men, its army is relatively small. Having struggled to deal with bandits and revolutionaries in a recent invasion of Mexico the US army is currently in no state to take on the Kaiser’s army. There are plans to greatly expand its numbers but it will be next year before the Americans will have formations ready to deploy in Europe. The Germans know this; their expectation is that the U-boats will have won the war by then.

Nevertheless, there is one area in which the United States is ready for early participation in the conflict. Preparations are underway for the imminent despatch of warships to European waters, where they will take part in patrols against the U-boat menace.

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Reporting for Duty (World War I Live (@roadtowar1914 on Twitter))

2/4/1917 Wilson addresses Congress, seeking a declaration of war against Germany

President Wilson was re-elected last November on the slogan “He kept us out of the war”. Now he addresses a joint sitting of both houses of Congress, seeking a declaration of war against Germany. The German U-boat campaign has inflamed opinion in the United States. The interception of the Zimmermann Telegram (and the revelation that Germany was seeking an alliance with Mexico) has further poisoned relations between the two powers.

Wilson broke off diplomatic relations with Berlin last month. Since then Germany’s submarines have continued to attack ships without warning. So it is that Wilson now appears before Congress to ask it to back war against the Kaiser. Wilson asserts that the USA will not be joining the war for conquest or selfish advantage. Rather this will be a war to defend civilisation. Furthermore, Wilson argues that this will be a war to reorder the world so as to make future wars impossible. “The world must be made safe for democracy,” he says. “Its peace must be planted upon the tested foundations of political liberty.”

The Senate and House of Representatives will vote on the President’s request for war over the next few days. Support for war is not unanimous, but in the current climate it is highly unlikely that the supporters of neutrality will prevail.

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Wilson addresses Congress

Read the text of Wilson’s speech here.