Left to right: Vittorio Orlando (Italy), David Lloyd George (Great Britain), Georges Clemenceau (France), Woodrow Wilson (United States).In a sense one might say that this present global system is Woodrow Wilson’s fault. The Armistice that ended the hostilities of World War I on November 11, 1918, took shape after the German Empire embraced President Wilson’s Fourteen Points as the basis for negotiating peace with the Allies. Wilson had presented the Fourteen Points in a speech to Congress at the beginning of 1918 as his proposal for ending the war and reshaping the world so that such a massive conflict could never happen again. A better world might have been the outcome had his plan been adopted in its entirety, but, sadly, it was not to be. Wilson personally led the American negotiating team to the Paris Peace Conference at Versailles in 1919, but during the lengthy proceedings he became gravely ill. The other Allied leaders took advantage of his illness to turn the peace conference into a revenge conference. Many of Wilson’s principles found their way into the Versailles Treaty and subsequent agreements, but not as he intended. The fruit of Versailles was a vindictive dismemberment of the German, Austro-Hungarian, and Ottoman empires, along with a humiliating disarmament of Germany and assessment of a war reparations debt that the German nation finally finished paying 92 years later. The Versailles Treaty did incorporate Wilson’s vision of a League of Nations, the predecessor to the United Nations, but the President’s own people rejected it. When the US Senate refused to ratify the Treaty of Versailles, the United States turned away from an active role in managing the community of nations, thereby ensuring that the League of Nations would be nothing more than a hollow shell.
It is easy to summarize the Fourteen Points. They call for open negotiations among nations, freedom of the seas, free trade, disarmament to the greatest extent possible, evacuation and restoration of territories occupied during the war; “autonomous development” (a fancy way of saying independence) of peoples under the rule of the world’s great empires, readjustment of borders to reflect lines of nationality, and establishment of the League of Nations to oversee this new international order. The summary, however, does not convey the enormity of the tasks involved in implementing each point. Consider just one point: establishment of an independent Poland. That single act required dismemberment of three empires; creation of a Polish government with power and resources to run the country; international recognition and assistance; and a host of other actions to ensure Poland’s unhindered reentry into the community of nations after nearly 120 years of foreign occupation. It would be foolish to think that Wilson’s Fourteen Points were the only items under consideration in the Allies’ peace deliberations. In truth, they were only the beginning of the process, not the end.
This should remind us of something in Scripture. The analogy dawned immediately on President Georges Clemenceau of France. On hearing of the Fourteen Points, he is reported to have said,
Quatorze? Le bon Dieu n’a que dix. (Fourteen? The Good Lord only has ten.)