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Woodrow Wilson was the President of the United States through its involvement in World War I. Because the US did not suffer the horrible destruction comparable to that of the European victors, Wilson was very idealistic in his perspectives and was optimistic concerning the prospect of peace.

Wilson correctly believed that the actions necessary for European peace included helping Germany form a democracy, thereby rebuilding rather than crushing it as the Allies wanted to do. Unfortunately, the fact that the European victors had lost so much gave them more political sway. In the end, Wilsonian idealism caved in to the guilt clause.

Wilson presented his plan for European peace as the Fourteen Points for reconciliation. Instead, the Allies signed an overly harsh treaty at Versailles.

In response to Great_Neb: Great_Neb is right on about Lloyd George. I didn't mean to elaborate on Treaty of Versailles politics hear, but I'll write some on the issues raised by Great_Neb.

The important decisions of the Paris Peace Conference were the work of the Big Three: President Wilson, French Prime Minister Clemenceau, and British Prime Minister Lloyd George. Lloyd George was caught in the middle. He could forsee the dangers of a harsh peace, but he represented an exhausted, bankrupt country, some of whose newspapers had mounted a campaign to "hang the Kaiser." The worst clashes were between Wilson and Clemenceau, who were temperamentally far apart.

Cynical and sarcastic, Clemenceau cared for nothing but his martyred country. France had suffered, he believed, as a result of incurable German aggressiveness; in time the Germans could be expected to attack again, and only force would stop them. In the end, Wilson allowed Clemenceau to impose severe penalties on Germany in exchange for the French agreement to the establishment of the League of Nations (See League of Nations, guilt clause, and Fourteen Points).

It is not completely true that the Britain and France wanted to crush Germany.

The French President, Clemencau, wanted to inflict punishment on Germany for the losses that France had suffered during the war. The French was also affected by a long running rivalry between France and Germany.

The British Prime Minister, Lloyd George, came round to Wilson's way of thinking, however it was too late by then to change the already largely decided treaty.

Although Lloyd George was too slow in changing his mind and his still partly to blame I think that to include him under the sweeping statement

crushing it(Germany) as the Allies wanted to do
is too harsh. In addition the Allies in WWI were Britain, France and America, not just Britain and France.

Also although Wilson put forward the extremely laudable fourteen points he showed little interest in trying to get either Britain or France to accept them. One of Wilson's fourteen points was the founding of "The League of Nations", an organisation to prevent future World Wars and to maintain the peace of Europe. Ironically the American senate voted against America joining this organisation. This was the final blow for any hope of a real instigation of any of Wilson's points. Without America The League of Nations had no Chairman and was used just as a diplomatic tool to "get one up" on other non-members.

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 dealing by the other peoples of the world as against force and selfish aggression. All 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. The program of the world's peace, therefore, is our program.

Woodrow Wilson, 1918

Peace is only in the interest of satisfied powers.

Hans Morgenthau, 1956

Wilsonian idealism is the term of passive rebuke frequently applied to the system of foreign policy of Woodrow Wilson, U.S. president during WWI. Also known as political idealism, this strand of thought has been grossly distorted by overuse over the course of the past 50 years; originally coined as a shot at Wilson for his responsibility in the breakdown of the balance of power that set the stage for WWII, political idealism has since been expounded into a system of thought that provides a polar opposite to political realism (and, with that, a more specific definition of the latter).

Woodrow Wilson believed that war was made inevitable only by the assumption that war was inevitable, that the balance of power was a system of making war rather than averting it. Wilson believed that a program of collective security was the end-all means of achieving peace. He believed that every nation of the world could join together to secure the peace of the world, because war was always in the interest of a minority that could be overcome by the majority of "peace-loving" nations. The balance of power had, afterall, done little more than ensure a perpetual wavering between war and peace, the occasional but certain bloodletting-unto-stalemate from time to time. This seemed to Wilson an imperfect system, which he sought to improve upon at the end of The Great War.

The great imperfection of this nomenclature, on the other hand, is that the "ideal" is by definition unattainable; that is, to call Wilson a "political idealist" is to call him a fool. This term is made all the more tragic and misleading by the fact that Wilson clearly perceived a growing trend of globalization, a strengthening of the interconnectedness of all states; he understood (as our dear political realism failed to understand, and is only now beginning to digest) that no nation really was wholly free to make its own decisions, that no (reasonable) nation really was wholly autonomous, but that it was rather part of a greater system, a system that influenced its decisions and curtailed the freedom of its foreign policy. What Wilson envisioned was nothing more than a sort of supernational society, the individuals dependant upon and loyal to each other; why do we call this impossible, why do we call this idealism when we see it so smoothly practiced every day?

To call Wilson's political mindset "idealism" is to claim, unequivocally, that he was wrong. We do not know this (his plans were never carried out), and for that reason I wince to hear the term. This pill is not made any easier to swallow when I realize that these same people throwing around this ugly term of snide self-assuredness are the same people who are still singing the virtues of "political realism" and the balance of power system, the "right" and "true" branch of political "science", which has quietly retreated into the anonymous background of the world as we know it today.

They say Mr. Wilson got his collective security in the foundation of the League of Nations, and that the second World War was the result of the realization of his failed ideal. But Mr. Wilson disagreed, and died spreading the omenous word of the world to come, a world without the "ideal," in which war was inevitable rather than impossible:

You are betrayed. You fought for something you did not get. And the glories of the armies and the navies of the United States are gone like a dream in the night. And there ensues upon it the nightmare of dread, and it will come some time in the vengeful providence of God another war in which not a few hundred thousand will have to die, but many millions.


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