March 14, 1919: Wilson Returns to the Paris Peace Conference

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A century ago President Wilson returned to the Paris Peace Conference from his whirlwind trip back to Washington.  The work of the Paris Peace Conference was to resume in earnest the next day. Winston Churchill in The Aftermath, the final volume of his multi-volume history of World War I, The World Crisis, has a quite acute appraisal of Wilson.  Churchill was the British Secretary of State for War and often spoke with Wislon.  The assessment is neither wholly negative or wholly positive, and it gets to the core of the man.  I have always been struck by this passage:

 

The spacious philanthropy which he exhaled upon Europe stopped quite sharply at the coasts of his own country.…His gaze was fixed with equal earnestness upon the destiny of mankind and the fortunes of his party candidates. Peace and goodwill among all nations abroad, but no truck with the Republican Party at home. That was his ticket and that was his ruin, and the ruin of much else as well. It is difficult for a man to do great things if he tries to combine a lambent charity embracing the whole world with the sharper forms of populist party strife.

One cannot effectively make peace abroad when involved in political turmoil at home.  It was fortunate for Truman at the end of World War II, that the next national election would not be for three years, and that the Republicans viewed him, initially, as an accidental caretaker President.  Of course the men at the helm of the US had lived through the aftermath of World War I, and  the horrors of World War II, and had drawn lessons from the experience.  What Wilson and his colleagues were seeking to accomplish on a global scale had never been done before.  Something to recall when judging the results of their labors.

 

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