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WASHINGTON, D. C., Jan. 8, 1918 - President Woodrow Wilson today laid before the Congress a peace program, predicated on ultimate victory in this present war, containing fourteen points whose keystone is the proposal that peace see the formation of an association of nations guaranteeing the political and territorial freedom of every country.
This message, delivered in person before an assemblage as respectful as that which heard the Declaration of War last April, but now more confident as the result of the mustering of America's great resources, comes in the middle of a period mingling new threats for prolongation of the war with reasons for confidence in victory.
On the debit side, Russia is negotiating with the Germans for peace, with the prospect of thus freeing great armies for movement into the western theatre where the conclusion of the war ultimately must occur. On the credit side, American troops are now beginning to move in force to Europe, the country is truly united in this war effort, and a combination of vast new supplies and raised morale has stiffened the will and the vigor of Great Britain and France. "There is no confusion of counsel among the adversaries of the Central Powers," President Wilson could state with candor, "no uncertainty of principle, no vagueness of detail."
Our war aims, as he delineated them, are simple: complete and un- restrained freeing of conquered peoples' granting of freedom to heretofore conquered races such as the Poles, and machinery to safeguard this peace. The last point is NO.14 and by far the greatest of all of the "points."
"A general association of nations I must be formed under special cove1nants for the purpose of affording mutual guarantees of political independence and territorial integrity to great and small states alike."
While this statement will be linked for the future to the "Fourteen Points," observers recalled its origin, in expressed thought, long before the United States became a belligerent. It was on May 27, 19 16, at a White House meeting of the now forgotten League to Enforce Peace that the President spoke the same thoughts as he declaimed the organization's proposals, written under the chairman- ship of former President William Howard Taft - "an universal association of the nations to maintain the in- violate security of the highway of the seas for the common and unhindered use of all the nations of the world, and to prevent any war begun either contrary to treaty covenants or without warning and full submission of the causes to the opinion of the world-a virtual guarantee of territorial integrity and political independence."
While today's speech coupled these sentiments with specific war aims, the more important part of the President's message, in the view of many observers, was the spirit of force and power for ideals that the elderly and scholarly war leader wove into his statement.
...It will be our wish and purpose that the processes of peace, when they are begun, shall be absolutely open, and that they shall involve and permit henceforth no secret understandings of any kind. The day of conquest and aggrandizement is gone by; so is also the day of secret covenants entered into in the interest of particular Governments and likely at some unlooked-for moment to upset the peace of the world. It is this happy fact, now clear to the view of every public man whose thoughts do not still linger in an age that is dead and gone, which makes it possible for every nation whose purposes are consistent with justice and the peace of the world to avow now or at any other time the objects it has in view.
We entered this war because violations of right had occurred which touched us to the quick and made the life of our own people impossible unless they were corrected and the world secured once for all against their recurrence. What we demand in this war, therefore, is nothing peculiar to ourselves. It is that the world be made fit and safe to live in; and particularly that it be made safe for every peace-loving nation which, like our own, wishes to live its own life, determine its own institutions, be assured of justice and fair dealings by the other peoples of the world, as against force and selfish aggression. All of the peoples of the world are in effect partners in this interest and for our own part we see very clearly that unless justice be done to others it will not be done to us. ....
In regard to these essential rectifications of wrong and assertions of rights, we feel ourselves to be intimate partners of all the Governments and peoples associated together against the imperialists. We cannot be separated in interest or divided in purpose. We stand together until the end.
For such arrangements and covenants we are willing to fight and to continue to fight until they are achieved; but only because we wish the right to prevail and desire a just and stable peace, such as can be secured only by removing the chief provocations to war, which this program does remove. We have no jealousy of German greatness, and there is nothing in this program that impairs it. We grudge her no achievement or distinction of learning or of pacific enterprise such as have made her record very bright and very enviable. We do not wish to injure her or to block in any way her legitimate influence or power. We do not wish to fight her either with arms or with hostile arrangements of trade, if she is willing to associate herself with us and the other peace-Ioving nations of the world in covenants of justice and law and fair dealing. We wish her only 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.
Neither do we presume to suggest to her any alteration or modification of her institutions. But it is necessary, we must frankly say, and necessary as a preliminary to any intelligent dealings with her on our part, that we should know whom her spokesmen speak for when they speak to us, whether for the Reichstag majority or for the military party and the men whose creed is imperial domination.
We have spoken now, surely, in terms too concrete to admit of any further doubt or question. An evident principle runs through the whole pro- gram I have outlined. It is the principle of justice to all peoples and nationalities, and their right to live on equal terms of liberty and safety with one another, whether they be strong or weak. Unless this principle be made its foundation, no part of the structure of international justice can stand.
The people of the United States could act upon no other principle, and to the vindication of this principle they are willing to devote their lives) their honor and everything that they possess. The moral climax of this) the culminating and final war for human liberty has come, and they are ready to put their own strength, their own integrity and devotion to the test.
~ Postlogue ~
Victory came that year, in November, at a price, which could not be reckoned at the time. There was irony in the fact that two generations later, the Russian nation, whose plight primarily prompted the utterance of this program in January of 1917, would be the pawn of, and supporting force behind, another form of conquest ironically called a "cold war".
But in all wars there come to nations certain high points of inspiration -or at least to their leaders-when the aims of victory seem to give their framers some kinship with the gods.
Wilson felt himself strong enough and clever enough to carry his points to the battles of the conference table, despite openly expressed doubts that came into public debate the instant the shooting stopped in Europe. And this he did.