FPA Centennial Lecture: 'The Great War, Wilson, and the FPA,' a Talk With Peter Krogh (Video)


Event Details

Tuesday, November 7, 2017
5:30 PM - 8:00 PM 
Century Association
7 West 43rd St.
New York, NY
Event type
Lecture / Panel  

Event Transcripts and Video



Noel Lateef: I'm Noel Lateef, president of the Foreign Policy Association. I'm delighted to welcome you to this centennial lecture this evening. We are very fortunate to have with us as our speaker Peter Krogh, one of this country's foremost authorities in international relations. For a quarter of a century, Peter served as dean of the Edmund Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. He is widely credited with catapulting the school to the first rung of peer institutions. I have seen firsthand the extraordinary respect and affection he commands from his students and his extraordinary commitment to them.
As a matter of fact, I have a flashback of being in Madrid with Peter, and he said, "Let's ... Would you like to join me for this dinner?" I said, "Sure." He said it was going to be with a group of his students. It turned out he had Crown Prince Philippe there, a former student of his, and others, and as they were talking about their days at Georgetown at the School of Foreign Service, they were all ... Their eyes were misting and everyone was getting very emotional, and I thought that really speaks volumes about Peter and the School of Foreign Service.
For two decades, Peter has been the face of the Foreign Policy Association, moderating FPA's Great Decisions television series, the longest-running international affairs series on PBS. Indeed, the series now airs in over 200 markets across the U.S. I commend to you his recently issued trilogy of essays and speeches under the title From the Dean's Desk. These writings sparkle with insight.
It is fitting that his remarks this evening will be reproduced for posterity in a volume to be issued to mark FPA's centenary. It gives me great pleasure to invite Peter Krogh to speak on the First World War, Woodrow Wilson, and the FPA. Peter?
Peter Krogh: Thank you very much, Noel. Several of my former students are in the audience here, Patricia Duff, [Sara Diroga?], and also the longtime chairman of the Board of Visitors of the School of Foreign Service, George Landegger. I'm very glad he's here because it gives me an opportunity to right a long-standing injustice. About 35 years ago, when that picture of me was taken that got you here under false pretenses ... any resemblance is purely accidental by this time ... I gave a lecture in Gaston Hall at Georgetown University on some special occasion.
There were 350 people there, and I spoke extemporaneously from carefully prepared remarks for 45 minutes. There was a standing ovation. George, as chairman of the Board of Visitors, was seated in the front row, and afterwards, I walked off the podium and George came rushing up to me and said, "That really was a great talk, Peter. Well done. You did the school and the chairman of its board proud."
Some older woman who was having a little difficulty seeing, apparently, rushed up to the two of us and looked at George and said, "Dean Krogh, that was really a great lecture, but I didn’t realize how handsome you were." Absolutely crazy. I just want you to know that I'm giving the lecture tonight, not George. He's seated right there with his lovely girlfriend, Isabella, and I'll just let you make your own decision at the end of this lecture who's the better-looking guy. All right? You can just take that into your own hands.
Well, I certainly want to begin by paying respects to Noel Lateef, who is entering his third decade as president of the Foreign Policy Association. The Foreign Policy Association is an educational institution, and all educational institutions are fundamentally acts of faith. In the case of the Foreign Policy Association, it is faith that an informed public will then stand behind and help to generate, in fact, enlightened American foreign policy, and there is no individual who has been so faithful to that act of faith than has Noel Lateef. On the way, I believe he has become the most prominent and the most important person in the private foreign affairs community of this country. I simply want to tip my hat to Noel and to salute him. Thank you, Noel.
When Noel asked me to give this lecture, my inclination was to say, "No." There were two reasons principally. One is I had retired eight years ago from the professoriate, when I figured that I was not quite at the top of my game and that I should just go to Nantucket and go fishing, which I have done. But I was also a bit apprehensive because I recalled the adage that old deans never die; they just lose their faculties. I'm very hopeful, and I'm sure Noel is as well, that at least for, say, the next half hour, those faculties will remain intact. But I said, "Yes." I said, "Yes" to Noel. How could I really say, "No"?
I started to read, and then I started to think. Not easy at my age, but I actually started to think and then I started to write, and that was the most difficult. Here is what Winston Churchill says about that, about ... This is writing a book. He said, "Writing a book is an adventure that starts out as an amusement, even a joy. Then it becomes a mistress and then it becomes a master and then it becomes a tyrant, and just as you have accustomed yourself to the conditions of your servitude, you slay the monster and fling it to the public." A couple of weeks ago, I slayed this monster, and now I'm going to more or less fling it to you.
Along the way, I changed the title. The original title was The Great War, Woodrow Wilson, and the Foreign Policy Association. The title now, brace yourself, folks, is The Great War, Woodrow Wilson, Donald Trump, and the Foreign Policy Association, so you're going to have to kind of buckle up here. Right? Now these are interrelated topics, of course. Each one deserves a lecture on its own, and The Great War multiple lectures and Woodrow Wilson multiple lectures and the history of the FPA several lectures, and maybe Donald Trump a shorter lecture, but they're all interrelated, and you'll see how they relate to one another as I go along.
Now with respect to The Great War, it is a century since we entered The Great War, and we're at the Century Club and we're celebrating the century of the Foreign Policy Association, so the stars are kind of aligned here. The Great War in the United States is called World War I, and it is basically here in this country the forgotten war, disappearing somewhere in the historical void between the Civil War and The Good War, World War II.
This is enormously unfortunate because The Great War was so cataclysmic and so consequential. It has been called various things. It has been called the greatest error in history by the very prominent historian Niall Ferguson. It has been called by George Kennan the seminal catastrophic event of the 20th century. It has been called by various authors as a catastrophe, as a cataclysm, as undoing the world, and it's all of these things, so it's extraordinarily consequential, and not just because of the carnage of the war itself, which is very substantial, but its consequences.
Now the carnage was really, really horrific, in a way because it was so concentrated. There were 10 million soldiers were killed over a four and a quarter-year period. That’s roughly 6,600 soldiers killed per day. Twenty million were wounded, eight million of whom were permanently disabled. There were 20 million civilian casualties. Something like 6,000 miles of trenches were dug, from which, in the words of one historian, the unseen killed the unknown, including eight million horses. In a single day in the first Battle of the Somme, 100,000 soldiers were killed. There were 7,000 corpses per square mile that day. This is the way the war rolled on.
Let me reach for a moment for a quote that will underline how ghastly this was. I'm sure I tucked this in here someplace. Yes. It's kind of a gruesome bit of research someone did, but it tells the story, "If you figure that the average length of a corpse at that time was 67 inches and you lined the corpses up, stretched out single file in a row, the fallen French corpses would have measured 1,666 miles, the fallen English 961 miles, and the fallen Germans 1,870 miles."
This carnage was facilitated by the introduction of new weapons, heavier artillery, machine guns, and poisonous gas, and after all of this pain over four and a quarter years, there was absolutely no gain. It was worse than that. Countries were deeply wounded. France alone lost a quarter of its male population between the ages of 18 and 31. The decimation of the elite in the belligerent countries, Germany and Austria, France, and Great Britain, was proportionately even worse because they were the ones leading the charges. They were the first ones to be mowed down on the battlefield by the new weapons.
The economies of all of the combatants were basically destroyed, except for that of the United States, who entered the war so late. Empires, vast empires imploded, leaving their bits and pieces around to somehow be reassembled in some sort of organized fashion. All kinds of centrifugal forces were unleashed, which brought to us communism, fascism, Nazism, and below those ideologies lots of violence, lots of civil conflict found along ethnic and socioeconomic lines. The remains of the Ottoman Empire in what is now the Middle East were constructed by Sykes and Picot and also by the Balfour Declaration along lines that have bred continuing conflict and whose artificial boundaries are being breached right and left as we speak.
Then, of course, marching forward, a Second World War unfolds, which, after all, Woodrow Wilson predicted would be the case. Now one kind of searches in vain for points of light in the misery of all of this, in the convulsions, in the catastrophe, and the chaos, and I have identified very briefly three possible points of light, which then kind of serve as a kind of an outline for the balance of this lecture.
The first point of light is if you study the origins of World War I, you might be able to reach some conclusions about how wars start. When Woodrow Wilson was asked what started the First World War, he responded, "Everything in general and nothing in particular." What he was referring to by everything in general was the operating system in Europe prior to World War I that featured balance of power arrangements, alliances, secret treaties, militarism, and autocracy. His thought was if you could get rid of all of that, you could have a new world order, but that’s getting ahead of it a bit, but that’s what he was referring to.
Of course, there were particulars, and everyone has their favorite particular. There's a recent book out by Graham Allison from Harvard entitled Destined for War: Can China and America Escape the Thucydides Trap? He describes the Thucydides trap as an analogy to the Peloponnesian War between Sparta and Athens when a rising Athens challenged the established position of Sparta and the frictions that developed led to the Peloponnesian War.
I don’t really go there. His perspective was that Germany was rising. Great Britain was challenged by that, and we had the First World War. I rather look to the scene and spot a weakness in the arrangements prior to World War I, namely, and you'll forgive me, George, if I go there because I know that you have Austrian connections, but it was really the weakness of the Austro-Hungarian Empire that was in many ways a very admirable empire embracing 16 nationalities, speaking 12 different languages. Not a mean feat, but it was coming apart at the seams, and Austria-Hungary was a declining great power, but it didn’t want to be a declining great power. It still wanted to play in the great power game.
In order to do that, some of its leadership, particularly its military leadership, felt that it needed to flex its muscles. When a Serbian was held responsible for the assassination of the Archduke, Austria was determined to hold Serbia to account and to thrash the Serbs. The Germans actually advised, "Well, why don’t you just go to Belgrade? Just occupy Belgrade for a while and tidy this thing up and then come back home," but, no, the Austrians were determined. This, I think, was the first domino to fall.
What is instructive about that is if you look around the world today, you find that there is a weakened great power trying to reassert itself in Russia. It wants to remain a great power, and it is going to take measures to demonstrate that it still is. It has used the Syrian stage to demonstrate that will, also reclaiming Crimea, aggressively protecting its long-term and long-standing economic interests in Eastern Ukraine and its neuralgic reaction to NATO mission creep. This is something to keep an eye on in connection with the origins of this Great War.
Now the second point of light is that along the way of this protracted horrific conflict, the populations of the combatant countries that were first very eager to get into this war, they had parades and marches and was lots of jubilation on both sides thinking it was going to be a quick war and scores would be settled and they would be victorious. But as this conflict wore on and their young men were dying in large numbers and their economies were being bankrupt, the war weariness grew, and along with that, movements to democratize the conduct of foreign policy so that people would be in on the takeoffs and not just the crash landings of foreign policy.
This first rose to the fore in Great Britain, where a Union for Democratic Control was established. Then it was picked up in the United States by the precursors of the Foreign Policy Association, first, the Union Against Militarism and then the League of Nations Association, aiming at the democratization of foreign policy. Of course, this is a rallying cry that Woodrow Wilson also issued, and in which he firmly believed, so this was a positive development, that we could have an FPA, which was basically born in the crucible of World War I.
Then the third point of light is the clarion call issued by Woodrow Wilson for a new world order, the famous Fourteen Points, freedom of the seas, freer trade, disarmament, political liberalization, and, of course, the establishment of a league to enforce peace, which brings us to Woodrow Wilson. See, I'm moving through this. Things are falling into place here. Here's where you really have to buckle up, because I'm going to compare Woodrow Wilson to Donald Trump.
I'm going to begin by saying that Woodrow Wilson in many ways was a great man. He was worshiped in my household. He was a prophet. He was a visionary. He was an initiator of collective security, which may be the greatest geopolitical invention of the 20th century. He was in many ways a great man, but he was also a strange and problematical person.
Now here we go. Wilson, like Trump, was an outsider. He was an austere academic who had become president of Princeton University and was about to be fired from that position when he was picked up by the political bosses in New Jersey, one of salvaged democratic fortunes for the gubernatorial race in 1910. He was an amateur. He even said that he left politics at Princeton to enter public service, and we all know how intense academic politics can be. Henry Kissinger said, "They're so intense because the stakes are so low." That’s what he said. He escaped these politics before being fired, became governor of New Jersey, and he was in public office for 658 days when he was elected by a minority of the popular vote to be President of the United States. He was an outsider.
Woodrow Wilson by testimony of those close to him and by biographers was vainglorious, egotistical, and stubborn. Does that sound like anyone you have been listening to lately? He was thin-skinned, quick to take offense. Found criticism, even disagreement to be personally hostile, and he would be vindictive and readily impugn the motives of those who criticized him. With one major exception, he really didn’t have any friends, and frankly, I don’t think Donald Trump has a lot of friends either.
I don’t see that friends are a big part of his life, and they certainly weren't a part of Woodrow Wilson's, which in the end, frankly, impaired his presidency. You have to have friends. Here's what this man said about that later in his life, and it's very sad, "Plenty of people offer me their friendship, but partly because I am reserved and shy and partly because I am fastidious and have a narrow, uncatholic taste in friends, I reject the offer in almost every case and then am dismayed to look about and see how few persons in the world stand near me and know me as I am." That’s really very sad.
To make up for a lack of friends, he hung out with his family members. Right? This is getting close. He hung out with his family members. He had them in the White House and hung out with them, his daughters, his sons-in-law, his cousins, and the whole crowd would ... When word came in that Archduke Franz Ferdinand had been killed, he was having kind of a light lunch in the White House with his daughter and his son-in-law. That’s right. There are these similarities. This is not the first time we've had in the White House a person who, yeah, is difficult, is difficult. There is a really great article by Robert Tucker on him, very prominent historian who is now deceased, entitled An Inner Circle of One. That’s the way he ran things, as an inner circle of one.
Now, to some differences. I'm glad you'll be relieved to hear about them. Trump would not want to challenge Woodrow Wilson to an IQ test. He just wouldn’t want to do that, because Woodrow Wilson was a towering intellectual with one of the largest vocabularies commanded by anyone who occupied the Oval Office. He was probably the best public speaker of any of our presidents. Let me see if I can find something on this so you will know the power of that. This is a quote from when he was on his crusade. He was on many crusades. This one was to sell the League of Nations to the American public, because it was not making its way through the Senate.
He went on this train trip on the Mayflower, a train called the Mayflower, out to the Midwest and the Western states, which were the most isolationist, to sell the League of Nations. He gave 37 hour-long speeches in 22 days. Had no benefit of a microphone, and these were all extemporaneous speeches. Of course, that basically killed him, because two-thirds of the way through that trip his already-frail cardiovascular system gave way and he was stricken, massive stroke.
Here he's talking about the League, and there was a question about whether Article X, which required us to join other countries in protecting the political and territorial integrity of all the other members of the League. The question was, was that a legal obligation, and he said, "When I speak of a legal obligation, I mean one that specifically binds you to do a particular thing under certain sanctions. Now a moral obligation is, of course ..." Oh, no, this isn't the one I want to read. Maybe here. I'm sorry, I've got a different one. Here we are.
Now he's on the road, "You are betrayed." The Senators don’t like to hear that back in Washington. He's really saying, "You are being betrayed by your elected representatives. You are betrayed. You fought for something that you did not get, and the glory of the armies and the navies of the United States is gone like a dream in the night, and there ensues upon it in the suitable darkness of the night the nightmare of dread which lay upon the nations before this war came, and there will come sometime in the vengeful providence of God another war in which not a few hundred thousand men from America will have to die, but as many millions as are necessary to accomplish the final freedom of the peoples of the world."
Now this is very moving. He's an extraordinarily passionate and effective public speaker. There is this great difference between the two. Also, there is a difference in racism. Trump is accused of being a racist from time to time. I don’t see any real evidence that he is, but he is, nevertheless, accused of being a racist. Now Woodrow Wilson was a racist. Theodore Roosevelt had made some progress in desegregating office buildings in the government in Washington. Wilson came to town and he undid that, re-segregated. During his presidency, there were an average of 50 lynchings a year, to which he basically turned a blind eye.
Now on the positive side, Woodrow Wilson read books. He did not learn to read until he was 12 years old because he had what was called developmental dyslexia, but once he learned to read, he read quite a lot. He also wrote books, real books, but it doesn’t seem, at least from the reports, that books have really intruded on the life of the Donald. Now on the flag, Donald Trump goes on Twitter storms against those who disrespect the flag and is pretty persistent, but under Woodrow Wilson in the First World War, if you disrespected the flag, you were in jail. That’s where you ended up. You were in jail.
Now there's another difference and that is golf. Woodrow Wilson loved to play golf. He took it up late in life, and he was probably handicapped in playing because he had already suffered a minor stroke that left his left arm a little bit unusable, but he loved to play golf and he even played golf when it had snowed. The Secret Service painted the balls red so he could see them in the snow. Sometimes he played every day, every day. Now the Donald plays on occasional weekends, and he knows how to play golf. Woodrow Wilson was not a good golfer.
There are two final differences here to underline. One is that Woodrow Wilson was ... As an amateur politician he was a great ... He worked very effectively with Congress and in his first term had a brilliant legislative record. He established the Federal Reserve System. He had established the Federal Trade Commission. He had enacted a graduated income tax, and he lowered tariffs, all of them requiring heavy lifting on Capitol Hill, and he got all of this done.
Then, of course, the major difference, which is of concern to the Foreign Policy Association and to all of us in this room, is a difference in their foreign policies. Now Woodrow Wilson came into office with no foreign policy experience. He also entered office with some trepidation, as he put it, that it would be an irony of fate if he had to be preoccupied with foreign affairs during his Administration. He also had a premonition that he might die in office, which he very nearly did. He had only traveled abroad twice, and this to the Lake Districts of England, so he was new to the world when he entered the office.
Foreign affairs very rapidly intruded, first from south of the border, in the Caribbean and Central America where instability prompted him to occupy, militarily occupy those countries to stabilize them. Then, instability in Mexico, which actually prompted an invasion, and a very unsatisfactory one. When asked why he was doing all of this, he said, "I'm going to teach these republics how to elect good men," going to teach them how to elect good men. This he more or less failed to do.
Then, foreign affairs intruded from the old world, and he was faced with The Great War, which presented him with the greatest challenge. He adopted a policy of neutrality, but it wasn’t exactly an unbiased neutrality. He basically favored Great Britain and France. This is where his value orientation was because Germany was an autocracy. He tilted in that direction, but it was announced that it was a policy of neutrality.
While he was pursuing this policy of neutrality, the British threw up a naval blockade that prevented ships from reaching, to supply Germany. Supplies from abroad by sea were pretty much cut off, and this, of course, interfered with freedom of navigation, America's freedom of navigation, but very little was made of this. It was just the German submarine that neutrality ran up against. The use of the submarine Wilson opposed very vehemently. After the sinking of the Lusitania in 1915 with the loss of 125 American lives, he sent a strong protest note to Germany, coming close to breaking relations.
In 1916, when a passenger ship crossing the English Channel was torpedoed by a German submarine with the injury to five Americans, another even more vigorous protest note was sent, and Germany, fearing that the United States might come into the war if it didn’t restrain itself, then restrained itself. As Great Britain had a chokehold on Germany, its citizens were starving.
The greatest atrocity of World War I might have been the British blockade and what it did to the civilian population of Germany. It really felt it had to break out, and it had to break out before America could mobilize and effectively join the war, so it declared unrestricted submarine warfare in early 1917, and this was too much for Woodrow Wilson. It ran right smack up against what he considered to be America's sacred right of freedom of the seas, and so he went up to Capitol Hill in April of 1917. He had earlier in January of 1917 issued his famous Fourteen Points, which was America's proposal for peace settlement.
He asked Congress to declare war to defend America's right to freedom of the seas, but buried in this address to Congress was what really was on Woodrow Wilson's mind, and that was that The Great War provided an opportunity for him to get on the world stage and place America prominently there as the world's conscience, as the world's moral conscience, which he would be the articulator of. That would take the form of a crusade to make the world safe for democracy, and America went into war under that banner because we couldn’t fight it for some selfish interest like freedom of the seas. It had to be a moral reason for fighting the war and idealism for fighting the war.
We went in and we threw the weight of the armies against the Germans; 10,000 doughboys a day were beginning to arrive on the battlefield. The Germans couldn’t ... There was no way they could make up that difference, so they appealed. In about six months after the U.S. entered the war, they appealed for an armistice based on the Fourteen Points, but that was the last Germany saw of those Fourteen Points. They had a vindictive armistice shoved down their throat, and then they had the Treaty of Versailles, a vindictive treaty, also shoved down their throat.
Woodrow Wilson had initially wanted a peace without victory. He wanted a draw, feeling that if there were a draw, then there would be a negotiation between equals and the crafting of a peace settlement, and it would be acceptable on both sides and there could be a new peace in the world, but in effect, America enabled France and Great Britain to defeat Germany, and then basically Woodrow Wilson's Fourteen Points were really on the cutting room floor. We hadn’t fought long enough. We hadn’t bled enough. They had grudges to settle, and they settled them.
Wilson got his League of Nations, practically the only thing to be salvaged from the Fourteen Points in addition to the independence of Poland, for example, but this was the main feature. He gave a lot away to get it, and then he came back home to get the treaty ratified, and, of course, he failed to do that and died an angry, embittered prophet.
The Republicans won in 1920, Warren Harding running on the following platform. This will sound familiar to you, lower taxes, anti-immigration, and a return to normalcy, by which he meant America's coming home and resuming its traditional policy of standing aloof from the affairs of the old world. Then there was the interregnum of isolationism. One of the historians characterized it as war was such a shock to Americans that it immobilized them and we turned inward, and it was only World War II that moved us outward again.
Every single president since FDR has been, in one way or another, up until now, a Wilsonian. FDR was a big Wilsonian. He admired Wilson greatly. He had worked for him as assistant secretary of the Navy. He had also observed the problems that Woodrow Wilson had encountered in getting his agenda adopted at home, and he knew how to do that and he listened to advisors. He was not an inner circle of one, and so he got the United Nations and then he got the outreach to underpin democracies, the Marshall Plan, out of that.
Then every single president, even Richard Nixon, moved Woodrow Wilson's desk into the Oval Office. This has been an altar upon which subsequent American presidents kind of worshiped. It was an American foreign policy, because it appealed to American idealism. It also, frankly, appealed to America's sense of exceptionalism, that we didn't carry around a load of original sin. We were composed of the nations of the world, so we knew them. As Madeleine Albright unfortunately said, "We see farther because we stand taller." This is appealing to the vanity of the American people, basically a foreign policy that appeals to the vanity of the American people.
But this is over, folks, at least for now. We've now come to the Trumpster. I don’t know how many of you have consulted his speech at the United Nations. Many people kind of lost sight of it because he began by calling out the rocket man and that the rocket man's country was going to be wiped off the face of the earth or something like that. Well, that got a lot of attention, and then people kind of forgot about what he was really saying in the aftermath of that.
Let me quote from his speech, "We do not expect diverse countries to share the same cultures, traditions, or even systems of government. Strong sovereign nations let diverse countries with different values, different cultures, and different dreams not just coexist but work side by side on the basis of mutual respect. In America, we do not seek to impose our way of life on anyone, but rather, to let it shine as an example for others."
Now to put arms and legs on this ... Oh, "We Americans have created something unique in history, but we do not assert that we should serve as a model for mankind." Now to put arms and legs on this, Tillerson has instructed the Department of State to revise its mission statement. The current mission statement reads, "The Department's mission is to shape and sustain a peaceful, prosperous, just, and democratic world." Tillerson has instructed the Department to rewrite its mission statement and drop the bit about making the world democratic.
This is, at least for now, the end of Wilsonianism, or Wilsonism, however you prefer to call it, accompanied by what seems to be a kind of recessional from the world. Woodrow Wilson wanted to make America great by taking it out into the world and having it achieve a position of preeminence on the world stage. Donald Trump wants to bring that far-flung, forward position back and concentrate on making America great within.
This situation makes the mission of the Foreign Policy Association even more important. The pursuit of the act of faith, carrying the torch of internationalism, which the FPA has done from its beginning, that an informed citizenry will generate and support enlightened foreign policy's pursuit of that act of faith is now more important than ever.
Many people when they finish talking in this country say God bless the USA, but I want to say God bless the FPA and its distinguished president, Noel Lateef. Thank you very much. [Inaudible 00:55:34].
Noel Lateef: Peter, thank you for a very thought-provoking set of remarks, and thank you for graciously accepting to take some questions. Who would like to start? I think we should start with the former Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Jerry Hultin.
Jerry Hultin: You alluded to this some about FDR's watching in Paris in World War I. I've thought about that often, that he clearly learned a lot. He could still walk then. Some say that he just sort of was there for a social visit and that he intended to party a lot, but by the time World War II happens, it's clear he learned a lot. Could you say a little more about what you think went on, or do you know more about what went on with FDR in Paris?
Peter Krogh: No, I don’t know what went on with FDR in Paris, but Wilson wasn’t seeking consultation over there. He kind of locked himself in the Creil and sat down at his typewriter and he started drafting elements of the treaty and elements of the League. He would visit with Colonel House from time to time, but I don’t think he even made much use of the Committee of Inquiry that he had set up, that had very prominent, distinguished experts on it, including Walter Lippmann and others who had made a very serious study of the way things should be worked out in the aftermath of World War I. They were there in Paris, but he didn’t seem to pay much attention to them or look to them for guidance.
I think that FDR had plenty of time to party, and good for him for taking advantage of that because his counsel, I'm quite sure, was not sought, but he admired Woodrow Wilson and he admired his liberal internationalism. He would have been among the first to want to vindicate this prophet. He had worked for him as your peer as assistant secretary of the Navy quite effectively. When he had a chance to be in the White House and create a new world order, he had just learned how to avoid Wilson's mistakes.
FDR had lots of friends. He had lots of counselors. He worked with Congress. He had Dean Acheson on his team, who I think was the most prominent person in getting the passage of the UN Charter in Congress. He was then assistant secretary of state for congressional relations. No one else wanted that post. Dean Acheson took it, and it made his career.
FDR was inspired by Wilson. I mentioned earlier that I grew up also admiring Woodrow Wilson. In my household, he was a hero. My dad, who was devoted to the United Nations, for him Wilson was the man, the idealist, and also FDR greatly admired him. If you could fix his flaws, as FDR was able to do, then you could achieve something. Yes?
Speaker 4: Yeah. With the backdrop of Wilson's Fourteen Points and ... Oh, thank you [inaudible 00:59:30]. With the backdrop of Wilson's Fourteen Points, his view of the world as an internationalist and his view of America as having the potential to be transformative in the post-World War I era, there's a famous photograph in Versailles of the leaders with Ho Chi Minh standing at Wilson's side. The story goes that he pleaded with Wilson that the Fourteen Points should apply to not just white European powers-
Peter Krogh: Yeah, right.
Speaker 4: ... but should apply to mankind.
Peter Krogh: Yes.
Speaker 4: Could you comment on Wilson's views and resistance to that? Was it because of he preferred the Colonial status quo or he was a racist or he just thought it was too big a hill to climb? What would your comments be on that [crosstalk 01:00:26] reason?
Peter Krogh: Right. Well, in that one, he would have had to take on Clemenceau. Right? He would have had to take on the French because this was French Indochina. The French weren't giving up their colonies; they were acquiring more. In the aftermath of World War I, they acquired jurisdiction, what, over Lebanon and Syria. They added more square miles and more people to grow their imperial holdings, so Clemenceau wasn’t about to give on that one.
Also, I don’t think Woodrow Wilson would have pressed him very hard because he certainly wasn’t going to admit that Ho Chi Minh was racially equal to him or to Clemenceau or to Lloyd George. It was the Japanese who came, as you may recall, wanting to get a racial equality clause into the treaty, and these folks weren't about to do that and Wilson wasn’t about to do that. He had talked about self-determination. There wasn’t self-determination in the United States. The South hadn’t been ... wasn’t allowed to self-determine. There wasn’t democracy in the United States. Blacks and women didn’t vote. He was, in some ways, sitting on a house of cards himself, and the Japanese were very resentful.
I think you could trace some of the origins of World War II to that refusal to bring them into equality, the family of nations, by having a racial equality clause in the treaty. Ho Chi Minh obviously felt the sting of that, too, and rightly so. This led to the tearing up of that treaty. The Japanese went off on a rampage in China. Obviously, the Germans felt humiliated and robbed of their national honor and 13% of their territory and eight million Germans and stripped of their own forces and occupied by France. No, there was just so much tinder around after this. This racial equality thing was just badly handled, but there was no interest among the great three in this. Yes?
Speaker 5: [inaudible 01:03:17] Of those who've taken a deep dive in more recent years, there's a thesis that it's really quite simple what happened in World War I, and that is that the German generals were not fools and that they had looked at the correlation of forces. Germany had been through an era of very great industrial expansion and was at a zenith of power and that they felt that the power was going to, in relative terms, wane, and, therefore, this was the time to strike while the metal was hot, so to speak, and that was really the very simple cause of their determination and convincing the emperor that he had to go along with that thesis.
The question is your comment on that and how that interplays, assuming that’s accurate, with your conclusions about how the First World War intersected with the subsequent events.
Peter Krogh: Is that the end of the question?
Speaker 5: [Inaudible 01:04:26].
Peter Krogh: Well, obviously, there were other factors. You can go any which way on this. By the way, I didn’t want to scare you off at the outset of this lecture, but I brought a reading list for all of you. It's rather substantial, and I urge you to dig into it. These books that have been written on World War I are really terrific. Now one of them entitled Sleepwalkers, the argument is that these heads of state just kind of sleepwalked their way into this.
Others argue no, there were very decisive determining elements here, including what you have described. Russia is rearming rapidly. The French were loaning them a lot of money. They're building their railroads, they're getting stronger. Bismarck had been able to work out some kind of modus vivendi with the Russians so that Germany would not be encircled, but that broke down when he left. The Germans were there with their only ally being Austria-Hungary. Not long after the war started, I don’t know whether it was Ludendorff or somebody commented that having Austria as an ally was like being shackled to a corpse.
This was not a strong power. Great Britain was strong, France was quite strong, Russia was getting stronger, and Germany was hemmed in. If it waited much longer, it would never be able to break out, so it had to act and it had to act fast. That was surely a contributing factor. Then the timing of mobilizations, who mobilized first, and then what the other did to counter the mobilization. There's just so many moving parts. I happen to think that if the Austrian-Hungarian Empire had been strong, it could have slapped Serbia on the wrist and that would have been that, but it wanted to demonstrate that it could man up, which is what it proceeded to do.
Now I should go back on a couple of points which I failed to mention but would be of interest to you, and you can dive onto the reading list and get at this. One is should America have gone into the war? There is a book on the reading list entitled America's Greatest Blunder. It's written by a fellow by the name of, recent book, Burton Pines, and he makes a very compelling argument that the United States should not have gone into the war because it shifted the correlation forces decisively against Germany, and it allowed Britain and France to get their pound of flesh. If we had stood to one side, they would have fought to a draw, which is what Woodrow Wilson wanted in the beginning. There would have been a peace without victory, and then you would have had a whole different setup after the war.
The other question which is interesting to consider is whether Woodrow Wilson should have gone to Paris. He was occupying moral high ground with his Fourteen Points. The rest of the world looked at him as a savior. When he went to Europe, throngs of people ... It was like the second coming of Christ. If he had stayed removed, used his moral power from, say, Mount Olympus instead of getting at the conference table and getting on his hands and knees and redrawing maps and all of that, getting his hands dirty on this, and meanwhile bringing the Congress along on what was unfolding and what we were looking at and talking with them about what are the limits of the possible here and so forth, that things could have worked out better.
He was only the first American president to go abroad if you don’t count Theodore Roosevelt going down to Panama to try to help dig the Panama Canal, so let's take that off the table. He was the first American president to go abroad, but he was also the third American president to win the Nobel Peace Prize. Yeah?
Speaker 6: Thank you very much for the great talk. I'm with the World War I Centennial Commission, and part of our job is to make the forgotten war a remembered war, so thank you to you and FPA for doing that. My question is, in the aftermath, when Wilson went to Congress about the League of Nations, the conventional wisdom is that Wilson was the great internationalist and Lodge was an isolationist. Wasn’t it a lot more complicated than that and that Lodge actually had some reasonable amendments and Wilson was quite arrogant and didn’t even talk to the Republicans and didn’t bring them over to Paris and so forth?
Peter Krogh: Right.
Speaker 6: What is your view about that?
Peter Krogh: Well, all of that is true. When Wilson got back with the treaty, his first stop was in Boston, and he didn’t even invite Cabot Lodge to meet him there. This was Cabot Lodge's state, and he was chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Coming back with a treaty, your first stop is in Boston, "Senator Lodge, could you meet me there, come on board? I want to go over where we are on this," and so forth. No.
He gets down to Washington and he realizes too late that he really has to get the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on board, and he'd only brought one Republican with him to Paris, and that wasn’t even a senator. It was some donor to the Republican Party, and he had kept him pretty much in the dark. When he got there, he invited the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to come over and have dinner with him. Trump does this, too, from time to time, "Come over and have dinner." There wouldn’t have been any alcohol served. I think that Wilson was pretty much a teetotaler.
By the way, I forgot to mention, we would probably not have had Prohibition had it not been for The Great War. Prohibition was enacted in 1919, and the temperance unions, which were run mostly by women who didn’t like their husbands coming home drunk, were making the point that if our doughboys went off inebriated, they would lose the war, so we had to cut off the alcohol spigot here.
Anyway, he tried, he had them, to meet with him, and Lodge came up with some, frankly, reasonable reservations, basically what we have now, that it must be recognized in the Covenant of the League that Congress has the power, exclusive power, to declare war. If Woodrow Wilson had accepted that reservation, he would have had his League of Nations, but they said of him, and it was so true, he could break, but he couldn’t bend.
When he left Paris, Colonel House, his longest-standing friend, whom he described as an alter ego, saw him off, and he advised him to go home in a spirit of compromise. That’s all he said to him, "Mr. President, go home in a spirit of compromise." Wilson never spoke to him again, never saw him again. His widow, who didn’t like Colonel House, did not invite him to be a part of Woodrow Wilson's funeral cortege. He had been his indispensable right arm in the conduct of foreign policy for eight years, and he dropped him absolutely, completely, and coldly simply because he recommended that he go back in the spirit of compromise.
This is all very unfortunate history here. Things could have gone very differently. I will hasten to say, however, that I think the world after World War I was such a bloody mess. As I mentioned, the centrifugal forces were so strong, so broad gauged, so intense that no organization, international organization, could have harnessed them and redirected them.
The United States, for its part, was not prepared to exert itself, to somehow contain these forces. We weren't ready to do that. This had all been too much of a shock to this country. Even the fact the United States joined the League, I don’t think it could have managed these forces.
Noel Lateef: We can grow on that note. I want to thank you very much for gracing our forum. We look forward to a sequel lecture on the Second World War.

Event Speakers

    • Peter Krogh - Speaker
      Professor and Former Dean, Georgetown School of Foreign Service