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Wilson Calls For “Peace Without Victory”

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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.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief

Fans of the romantic-comedy Love Actually recently got a bonus reunion in the form of Red Nose Day Actually, a short charity special that gave audiences a peek at where their favorite characters ended up almost 15 years later.

One of the most improbable pairings from the original film was between Jamie (Colin Firth) and Aurelia (Lúcia Moniz), who fell in love despite almost no shared vocabulary. Jamie is English, and Aurelia is Portuguese, and they know just enough of each other’s native tongues for Jamie to propose and Aurelia to accept.

A decade and a half on, they have both improved their knowledge of each other’s languages—if not perfectly, in Jamie’s case. But apparently, their love is much stronger than his grasp on Portuguese grammar, because they’ve got three bilingual kids and another on the way. (And still enjoy having important romantic moments in the car.)

In 2015, Love Actually script editor Emma Freud revealed via Twitter what happened between Karen and Harry (Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, who passed away last year). Most of the other couples get happy endings in the short—even if Hugh Grant's character hasn't gotten any better at dancing.

[h/t TV Guide]

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