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As I See It

Hal Sundin

Woodrow Wilson, the 28th president of the United States, was undoubtedly the most scholarly and intellectual of all of our presidents. He graduated from Princeton University in 1879 and studied law at the University of Virginia and political science at Johns Hopkins University, where he received his PhD in 1886. After teaching at Bryn Mawr and Wesleyan, he joined the faculty at Princeton in 1890, where he was professor of jurisprudence and political economics. In 1902 he became president of Princeton until 1910, when he was elected governor of New Jersey. Two years later he was elected president of the United States.

His first term was marked by the passage of a number of far-reaching political and economic reform measures, including the l9th Amendment giving women the right to vote, anti-trust legislation, establishment of the Federal Reserve Banking System, and workmen’s compensation and child labor laws. He also created the National Park Service to manage the country’s national parks.

He was re-elected in 1916 largely on his determination to keep the country out of World War I. But in response to the provocation of unrestricted German submarine warfare on U.S. shipping in direct violation of assurances to the contrary, he asked Congress for a declaration of war in April 1917.

From the outset of our involvement in World War I, Wilson started developing a plan for bringing about a peaceful conclusion of hostilities, based on his ideals for a new international system to assure a lasting peace after the war. In a speech on January 8, 1918, he presented a list of 14 points to be included in a treaty of peace to end the war. The war dragged on for another ten months before Germany finally agreed to an armistice built around Wilson’s 14 points, which included the following.

The first four points dealt with prohibition of secret international agreements, freedom of the seas, freedom of trade, and reduction of armaments. The fifth point called for the adjustment of colonial claims and recognition of the interests of native peoples. Points 6 and 7 were the evacuation of Belgium and returning Russian territory to Russia, and Point 8 required the return and restoration of French territory. Point 9 readjusted the borders of Italy, and Point 13 established an independent Polish Nation. Points 10-12 guaranteed the autonomy of the peoples of Austria-Hungary including the Balkans, and of the Turkish portion of the Ottoman Empire. The final point called for the formation of a League of Nations.

Nearly all of Wilson’s 14 points were adopted and implemented in the years following the war. Two of Wilson’s 14 Points, however, ran into some difficulties. These were Point 8, having to do with the restoration of French territory which had been destroyed by five years of incessant warfare, and Point 14, the League of Nations.

At the Paris Peace Conference in 1919, Wilson had to contend with French Premier Georges Clemenceau’s burning desire for total retribution against Germany, which was supported by British Prime Minister David Lloyd-George. Clemenceau’s demands virtually insured the bankruptcy and destruction of the German economy. Wilson’s warning that this policy would result in the rise of an embittered Germany and another war within 20 years went unheeded. How prophetic – he predicted the start of World War II to the year.

Wilson’s other disappointment was his failure to gain Senate approval for the United States’ participation in the League of Nations, which Wilson saw as essential to keeping peace among nations. In his attempt to overcome the opposition of Senate Republicans, he took his cause to the people in a nationwide speaking tour. The stress of this effort destroyed his health, and ended any chance for approval by the Senate of United States participation in the League of Nations.

How much wiser we were after World War II. The United States adopted the Marshall Plan to put the German and Japanese economies back on their feet, and supported by its allies, created the United Nations. Woodrow Wilson would be proud of his country.

Yet there are some among us who would like to see the United States secede from the United Nations. They go about spawning myths that the United Nations is out to take over the United States and even has secret marks on road signs to aid that takeover by United Nations forces. How absurd. The only real power and forces the U.N. have are supplied by the United States. So what are we going to do – take over ourselves? But there will always be some who would rather repeat the mistakes of the past than heed the wisdom of leaders like Woodrow Wilson.

Glenwood Springs resident Hal Sundin’s column runs every other Thursday in the Post Independent.


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