getty images
getty images

Wilson Calls For “Peace Without Victory”

getty images
getty images

Erik Sass is covering the events of the war exactly 100 years after they happened. This is the 264th installment in the series.  

January 22, 1917: Wilson Calls For “Peace Without Victory”

“I would fain believe that I am speaking for the silent mass of mankind everywhere,” President Woodrow Wilson told the U.S. Senate in a landmark speech delivered on January 22, 1917, outlining his plan for a negotiated peace in Europe – and sketching out an almost messianic role for himself in the process. The coming years would see Wilson’s self-image as spokesman for humanity and standard-bearer of universal values endorsed by millions of admirers around the world, even acclaiming him “The Prince of Peace.” But sadly his lofty ideals never overcame the base realities of war and politics; and the meager fruits of this first famous address, with its quixotic call for “peace without victory,” foreshadowed all the disappointments to come.

A Final Bid For Peace

Like the majority of Americans, Wilson reacted to the slaughter in Europe with understandable horror, and initially charted a course of strict neutrality intended to spare the United States this tragedy. However global ties of trade and finance meant there was no way for the U.S. to avoid indirect involvement, leading to repeated confrontations with Germany over unrestricted U-boat warfare and Britain over its naval blockade, which hurt some American businesses. As the war ground on, the American economy benefited from the Allies’ voracious demand for munitions, food, and other supplies, increasingly paid for with loans organized by American bankers, led by J.P. Morgan & Co. Meanwhile American public opinion was outraged by a campaign of industrial sabotage carried out by agents of the Central Powers against munitions factories and mines across the country. 

In November 1916 Wilson won reelection with the slogan “He Kept Us Out of War,” but it was already becoming clear to the president and Secretary of State Robert Lansing that they might not be able to keep this implied promise much longer. The resumption of unrestricted U-boat warfare by Germany, plus the prospect of an Allied defeat, which would wipe out billions of dollars of American loans, both threatened to force their hand (for his part Lansing already believed U.S. entry into the war on the side of the Allies was inevitable, and accordingly opposed Wilson’s attempts to mediate in private).  

The looming threat prompted Wilson to make one last attempt to keep America out of the war in January 1917 – by ending the war itself. About to embark on his second term, Wilson believed he could leverage the power and prestige of the United States, the world’s biggest neutral nation, to persuade the opposing sides of the European war to sit down at the negotiating table, perhaps with the U.S. presiding as an impartial arbiter. 

Wilson was convinced that the U.S. could help bring about peace because of its special democratic character, as well as his closely related belief that democracies were inherently peaceful. On that note he also believed that a lasting peace would only be possible with the spread of democracy to the rest of the world, especially Germany, long subject to an authoritarian government with some superficial democratic trappings. Wilson and Lansing believed German militarism was rooted in the country’s authoritarian government, dominated by Prussian aristocrats, requiring a democratic revolution there if peace were to endure.

Wilson and Lansing emphasized principles including democracy and self-determination as the basis for peace, but the president – unlike his skeptical Secretary of State – also called for the creation of a new international organization to keep the peace, laying the groundwork for the League of Nations. In his speech on January 22, 1917 Wilson confidently predicted:

We are that much nearer a definite discussion of the peace which shall end the present war… In every discussion of peace that must end this war, it is taken for granted that the peace must be followed by some definite concert of power which will make it virtually impossible that any such catastrophe should ever overwhelm us again.  Every lover of mankind, every sane and thoughtful man must take that for granted.

The United States would be indispensable to the formation and operation of this new concert of nations, just as it must participate in the peace negotiations that would give rise to it, in order to ensure that it enshrined the principles of democracy and self-determination: “No covenant of cooperative peace that does not include the peoples of the New World can suffice to keep the future safe against war; and yet there is only one sort of peace that the peoples of America could join in guaranteeing.”

In this democratic spirit, peace should serve the interests of ordinary people, and not the elites who had caused the war: “No peace can last, or ought to last, which does not recognize and accept the principle that governments derive all their just powers from the consent of the governed, and that no right anywhere exists to hand peoples about from sovereignty to sovereignty as if they were property.” This included recognizing the right of oppressed nationalities to self-government, which Wilson illustrated with a specific call for the creation of a “united, independent, and autonomous Poland.” 

Above all Wilson believed that to forge an enduring peace, neither side could be humiliated or destroyed, since this would only lead to fresh conflict: “The present war must first be ended; but… it makes a great deal of difference in what way and upon what terms it is ended.” Therefore, he asserted “it must be a peace without victory.”

Peacemaker Without Partners

Unfortunately Wilson’s refined vision hardly aligned with the mood in Europe. While there was indeed growing opposition to the war, broadly speaking it was still outweighed by fear and anger, as ordinary people and elites alike were deeply embittered by over two years of bloodshed and destruction. 

As the death toll passed five million men, families all across Europe had lost loved ones in the cause of abstract but powerful ideals like patriotism and justice, and many (though not all) of the survivors felt than anything less than total victory and the vanquishing of an “evil” enemy would dishonor their memory. These sentiments were reinforced by government propaganda highlighting enemy “atrocities,” real or imagined, and warning of dire consequences in case of defeat. The same sentiments were shared by European elites, who felt an additional responsibility to see the costly war effort through to victory – and worried about losing their own social status if they failed, with the possibility of violent revolution never far from their minds.

Unsurprisingly, as the pro-Allied Lansing had warned Wilson, the general European reaction to his idealistic peace plan ranged from bemusement to furious indignation (above, a British cartoon mocking his call for “peace without victory”). True, the governments of the Allied and Central Powers played along – chiefly by sending messages outlining their “war aims” as a supposed preamble to negotiations – but in fact both sides were really just playing for time. 

On the Central Powers side, the Germans were stringing the president along in order to blunt American reaction to unrestricted U-boat warfare, set to resume on February 1, 1917, in hopes of keeping the U.S. out of the war as long as possible, giving the U-boat campaign time to starve Britain into submission. On the Allied side, the British were also counting on the impending resumption of U-boat warfare to bring the U.S. into the war, and also held a trump card in the form of the Zimmermann Telegram, still unknown to the Americans.

See the previous installment or all entries.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Zach Hyman, HBO
10 Bizarre Sesame Street Fan Theories
Zach Hyman, HBO
Zach Hyman, HBO

Sesame Street has been on the air for almost 50 years, but there’s still so much we don’t know about this beloved children’s show. What kind of bird is Big Bird? What’s the deal with Mr. Noodle? And how do you actually get to Sesame Street? Fans have filled in these gaps with frequently amusing—and sometimes bizarre—theories about how the cheerful neighborhood ticks. Read them at your own risk, because they’ll probably ruin the Count for you.

1. THE THEME SONG CONTAINS SECRET INSTRUCTIONS.

According to a Reddit theory, the Sesame Street theme song isn’t just catchy—it’s code. The lyrics spell out how to get to Sesame Street quite literally, giving listeners clues on how to access this fantasy land. It must be a sunny day (as the repeated line goes), you must bring a broom (“sweeping the clouds away”), and you have to give Oscar the Grouch the password (“everything’s a-ok”) to gain entrance. Make sure to memorize all the steps before you attempt.

2. SESAME STREET IS A REHAB CENTER FOR MONSTERS.

Sesame Street is populated with the stuff of nightmares. There’s a gigantic bird, a mean green guy who hides in the trash, and an actual vampire. These things should be scary, and some fans contend that they used to be. But then the creatures moved to Sesame Street, a rehabilitation area for formerly frightening monsters. In this community, monsters can’t roam outside the perimeters (“neighborhood”) as they recover. They must learn to educate children instead of eating them—and find a more harmless snack to fuel their hunger. Hence Cookie Monster’s fixation with baked goods.

3. BIG BIRD IS AN EXTINCT MOA.

Big Bird is a rare breed. He’s eight feet tall and while he can’t really fly, he can rollerskate. So what kind of bird is he? Big Bird’s species has been a matter of contention since Sesame Street began: Big Bird insists he’s a lark, while Oscar thinks he’s more of a homing pigeon. But there’s convincing evidence that Big Bird is an extinct moa. The moa were 10 species of flightless birds who lived in New Zealand. They had long necks and stout torsos, and reached up to 12 feet in height. Scientists claim they died off hundreds of years ago, but could one be living on Sesame Street? It makes sense, especially considering his best friend looks a lot like a woolly mammoth.

4. OSCAR’S TRASH CAN IS A TARDIS.

Oscar’s home doesn’t seem very big. But as The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland revealed, his trash can holds much more than moldy banana peels. The Grouch has chandeliers and even an interdimensional portal down there! There’s only one logical explanation for this outrageously spacious trash can: It’s a Doctor Who-style TARDIS.

5. IT’S ALL A RIFF ON PLATO.

Dust off your copy of The Republic, because this is about to get philosophical. Plato has a famous allegory about a cave, one that explains enlightenment through actual sunlight. He describes a prisoner who steps out of the cave and into the sun, realizing his entire understanding of the world is wrong. When he returns to the cave to educate his fellow prisoners, they don’t believe him, because the information is too overwhelming and contradictory to what they know. The lesson is that education is a gradual learning process, one where pupils must move through the cave themselves, putting pieces together along the way. And what better guide is there than a merry kids’ show?

According to one Reddit theory, Sesame Street builds on Plato’s teachings by presenting a utopia where all kinds of creatures live together in harmony. There’s no racism or suffocating gender roles, just another sunny (see what they did there?) day in the neighborhood. Sesame Street shows the audience what an enlightened society looks like through simple songs and silly jokes, spoon-feeding Plato’s “cave dwellers” knowledge at an early age.

6. MR. NOODLE IS IN HELL.

Can a grown man really enjoy taking orders from a squeaky red puppet? And why does Mr. Noodle live outside a window in Elmo’s house anyway? According to this hilariously bleak theory, no, Mr. Noodle does not like dancing for Elmo, but he has to, because he’s in hell. Think about it: He’s seemingly trapped in a surreal place where he can’t talk, but he has to do whatever a fuzzy monster named Elmo says. Definitely sounds like hell.

7. ELMO IS ANIMAL’S SON.

Okay, so remember when Animal chases a shrieking woman out of the college auditorium in The Muppets Take Manhattan? (If you don't, see above.) One fan thinks Animal had a fling with this lady, which produced Elmo. While the two might have similar coloring, this theory completely ignores Elmo’s dad Louie, who appears in many Sesame Street episodes. But maybe Animal is a distant cousin.

8. COOKIE MONSTER HAS AN EATING DISORDER.

Cookie Monster loves to cram chocolate chip treats into his mouth. But as eagle-eyed viewers have observed, he doesn’t really eat the cookies so much as chew them into messy crumbs that fly in every direction. This could indicate Cookie Monster has a chewing and spitting eating disorder, meaning he doesn’t actually consume food—he just chews and spits it out. There’s a more detailed (and dark) diagnosis of Cookie Monster’s symptoms here.

9. THE COUNT EATS CHILDREN.

Can a vampire really get his kicks from counting to five? One of the craziest Sesame Street fan theories posits that the Count lures kids to their death with his number games. That’s why the cast of children on Sesame Street changes so frequently—the Count eats them all after teaching them to add. The adult cast, meanwhile, stays pretty much the same, implying the grown-ups are either under a vampiric spell or looking the other way as the Count does his thing.

10. THE COUNT IS ALSO A PIMP.

Alright, this is just a Dave Chappelle joke. But the Count does have a cape.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
HighSpeedInternet.com
The Most Popular Netflix Show in Every Country
HighSpeedInternet.com
HighSpeedInternet.com
most popular Netflix show in each country map
HighSpeedInternet.com
most popular Netflix show in each country map key
HighSpeedInternet.com

If you're bored with everything in your Netflix queue, why not look to the top shows around the world for a recommendation?

HighSpeedInternet.com recently used Google Trends data to create a map of the most popular show streaming on Netflix in every country in 2018. The best-loved show in the world is the dystopian thriller 3%, claiming the number one spot in eight nations. The show is the first Netflix original made in Portuguese, so it's no surprise that Portugal and Brazil are among the eight countries that helped put it at the top of the list.

Coming in second place is South Korea's My Love from the Star, which seven countries deemed their favorite show. The romantic drama revolves around an alien who lands on Earth and falls in love with a mortal. The English-language show with the most clout is 13 Reasons Why, coming in at number three around the world—which might be proof that getting addicted to soapy teen dramas is a universal experience.

Pot comedy Disjointed is Canada's favorite show, which probably isn't all that surprising given the nation's recent ruling to legalize marijuana. Perhaps coming as even less of a shock is the phenomenon of Stranger Things taking the top spot in the U.S. Favorites like Black Mirror, Sherlock, and The Walking Dead also secured the love of at least one country.

Out of the hundreds of shows on the streaming platform, only 47 are a favorite in at least one country in 2018. So no hard feelings, Gypsy.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios