Monday, April 03, 2017

Today -100: April 3, 1917: The world must be made safe for democracy

Woodrow Wilson addresses Congress.

He twice calls them “gentlemen of the Congress.” Dude, Representative Rankin is sitting right there.

The bulk of his justification for going to war is based on submarine warfare. The Zimmermann telegram gets a single sentence, and of course there’s the “make the world safe for democracy” thing, but mostly it’s about making war to vindicate the United States’s god-given right to sell stuff, including munitions, to one side in a war. “The present German submarine warfare against commerce is a warfare against mankind.” Interestingly, he doesn’t mention the Lusitania.

He expresses surprise that Germany actually meant to implement unrestricted submarine warfare when it said it was going to implement unrestricted submarine warfare: “I was for a little while unable to believe that such things would in fact be done by any government that had hitherto subscribed to the humane practices of civilized nations.” He explains how his previous idea for responding to this, putting guns and Navy gunners on commercial ships, proved insufficient:
But armed neutrality, it now appears, is impracticable. Because submarines are in effect outlaws when used as the German submarines have been used against merchant shipping, it is impossible to defend ships against their attacks as the law of nations has assumed that merchantmen would defend themselves against privateers or cruisers, visible craft giving chase upon the open sea. It is common prudence in such circumstances, grim necessity indeed, to endeavor to destroy them before they have shown their own intention. They must be dealt with upon sight, if dealt with at all.
That’s Woodrow Wilson for you: trying to make entering a brutal war sound like an exercise in logic. Indeed, “We must put excited feeling away. Our motive will not be revenge or the victorious assertion of the physical might of the nation, but only the vindication of right, of human right, of which we are only a single champion.” So with that said,
With a profound sense of the solemn and even tragical character of the step I am taking and of the grave responsibilities which it involves, but in unhesitating obedience to what I deem my constitutional duty, I advise that the Congress declare the recent course of the Imperial German Government to be in fact nothing less than war against the government and people of the United States; that it formally accept the status of belligerent which has thus been thrust upon it
It’s not clear how far he intends to go in “accepting the status of belligerent.” He talks about sending massive quantities of resources to the Entente and cooperating with them in unspecified ways. Also, “the organization and mobilization of all the material resources of the country”, and increasing the military immediately to 500,000 men by conscription. But is he sending them to the trenches of Western Europe? Unclear at this point.

But there’s good news for Germans: “We have no quarrel with the German people. We have no feeling towards them but one of sympathy and friendship. It was not upon their impulse that their government acted in entering this war.” But we will have to kill quite a few of them. #SorryNotSorry.

There’s a sentence in the address I can’t for the life of me figure out: “Self-governed nations do not fill their neighbor states with spies or set the course of intrigue to bring about some critical posture of affairs which will give them an opportunity to strike and make conquest.”

He explains why Germany must be violently democratized: “A steadfast concert for peace can never be maintained except by a partnership of democratic nations. No autocratic government could be trusted to keep faith within it or observe its covenants. It must be a league of honor, a partnership of opinion. ... Only free peoples can hold their purpose and their honor steady to a common end and prefer the interests of mankind to any narrow interest of their own.” [the copy of the speech I linked to says “Only free peonies...” Which is a very different sort of war.]

He asks, “Does not every American feel that assurance has been added to our hope for the future peace of the world by the wonderful and heartening things that have been happening within the last few weeks in Russia?”

Saint Woodrow calls for a gentle, humanitarian bloodbath: “The world must be made safe for democracy. Its peace must be planted upon the tested foundations of political liberty. We have no selfish ends to serve. We desire no conquest, no dominion. We seek no indemnities for ourselves, no material compensation for the sacrifices we shall freely make. We are but one of the champions of the rights of mankind.”

He says Austria, while adhering to Germany’s u-boat policy, “has not actually engaged in warfare against citizens of the United States on the seas,” so he won’t be asking for a declaration of war on them at this time (that will come in December).

“It is a fearful thing to lead this great peaceful people into war, into the most terrible and disastrous of all wars, civilization itself seeming to be in the balance.”

And as if having war declared on them isn’t enough:

Speaking of armed neutrality, a u-boat sinks the armed US steamship Aztec off the French coast.

Since Congress is back in special session, the suffragettes of the Congressional Union resume their picketing of the White House. “The women want to take their part in the responsibilities of government,” Alice Paul says.

Headline of the Day -100: 

Lenin arrives at the Finland (railroad) Station in Petrograd.

Don't see comments? Click on the post title to view or post comments.


  1. Actually, Lenin arrives on the 16th, it was April 3 by the Julian calendar then in use in Russia. (I get those mixed up sometimes, too)

  2. Oh bloody hell, I thought I was being careful about the calendar thing.