Woodrow Wilson, His Fourteen Points, The League of Nations and World Peace

Woodrow Wilson, His Fourteen Points, The League of Nations and World Peace

Bahram Nadimi

On a cold and dreary Armistice Day, November 11, 1923, in front of his S-Street house, an ailing Woodrow Wilson stood unassisted, in noticeable physical pain and under great strain to speak. He paused for a perceptible time before delivering his remarks, his body bent with years of illness, his face twitching as he raised his eyes to the disabled soldiers gathered before him. He declared that he “was not one of those who have the least anxiety about the triumph of the principles” he had stood for.

He continued:

“I have seen fools resist providence before and I have seen their destruction, as will come upon these again-utter destruction and contempt.  That we shall prevail is as sure as that God reigns.”[1]

These were defiant words, coming from a person who, in the eyes of his generation, was broken and defeated.

A few months later when he was told that the end was near, he said “I am a broken piece of machinery…” The faint voice trailed off, then he murmured “I am ready.”  On February 3, 1924, Woodrow Wilson died.

I don’t wish to dwell on the depressing period of Wilson’s twilight years, but to celebrate his life and glorious legacy.

It should be noted that a lot has been written about his life and legacy. Even Sigmund Freud wrote a book about him, analyzing his motives; this book was published after his wife’s death. Here, however, I am hoping to shed light on his life’s work and his place in history. In my opinion, Woodrow Wilson stood on a very high pedestal and was  the greatest US president of the twentieth century.

Woodrow Wilson, the Person

Woodrow Wilson

I have been curious about what Woodrow Wilson was really like. It is, of course, impossible to encapsulate his personality in a few short sentences, but I will try to share what I have discovered.

He was special—bright, a deep thinker and sensitive. He was America’s first and only president to have obtained a PhD and was considered to be a great scholar, and one of the most intelligent men to have occupied the White House. Outwardly he was a stoic and serious man, and did not display emotion. Once in a while he would be so moved by an incident that he would deviate from his usual cool persona.  One such incident is when he met with a Russian woman

“…who had a piteous tale to tell of the privations of her countrymen. Russia was torn by revolution. People were hungry. They needed his help. As Mme. Botchkarova made her stirring plea, tears streamed down the president’s face. This incident illustrates the depth and quality of Wilson’s identification with humanities suffering.” [6]

Though he was a very passionate man in many aspects of his life, he was by no means perfect—his views on race would be completely unacceptable today. His qualities did, however, endow him with a noble vision for a world exorcized of the evils of war. He resisted America’s entry into WWI, and was called a coward and traitor by some. One perspective of his motives behind his delay of America’s entry into the Great War is summarized here:

“One of the considerations that long held back President Woodrow Wilson from proposing to the United States Congress the declaration of war that had by then become virtually inescapable was his awareness of the moral damage that would ensue. Not the least of the distinctions that characterized this extraordinary man …was his understanding of the brutalization of human nature that would be the worst legacy of the tragedy that was by then engulfing Europe, a legacy beyond human capacity to reverse”.[7]

Wilson’s motives were altruistic and he was keenly aware of the unique position afforded to him by Providence to shape the future of the modern world.  His subsequent constant struggle to control his ego, in my opinion, led to the untimely stroke that took away his ability to promote the League  of Nations in the US, at a most crucial time.

Woodrow Wilson and his “Fourteen Points” of Light: His Vision of a Postwar World

14 Point Speech

Wilson delivered the “fourteen points” speech to a joint session of Congress on January 8th, 1918—about 10 months before the Armistice. This speech was in essence a peace programme “closely associating for the first time that Republic with the fortunes of the Old World” [2].  In the speech, Wilson described the spirit of the Fourteen Points: “What we seek is the reign of law, based upon the consent of the governed and sustained by the organized opinion of mankind.”

The first five points were broad in scope, dealing with freedom of the seas, free trade and reduction in armaments, which was followed by formulas for redressing the wrongs inflicted on specific countries and regions. The fourteenth point led to the establishment of League of Nations [3].

This remarkable speech had such moral authority in the minds of ordinary Europeans, that it could not be ignored even by the most uncooperative leaders of Allied powers [4]; Even Lenin hailed it as a landmark of enlightenment in international relations. [5]

The formulation of the Fourteen Points was in large part due to  Wilson’s keen understanding that the world was rapidly becoming a single organism; and hence the advantage and well being of the part is always best served by promoting the advantage of the whole.  Here is a quote of him:

“The world is linked together in a common life and interest such as humanity never saw before, and the starting of wars can never again be a private and individual matter for the nations. What disturbs the life of the whole world is the concern of the whole world. And it is our duty to lend the full force of this nation–moral and physical–to a league of nations.”

The Creation of the League of Nations

The months after WWI, tedious negotiations between Wilson and the Allied powers were carried out that eventually led to the treaty of Versailles. This treaty incorporated an attenuated form of his proposed League of Nations.

This version of League of Nations, while incorporating a legislature, a judiciary, an executive, could only take decisions when unanimous, thus making it ineffective. To make matters worse, the US senate did not ratify the treaty or join the League. Thus the League of Nations did not—or could not—stop the next even fiercer conflict, and eventually became a footnote of history.  It would be hard to overestimate the damage done  by the senate, led by Henry Cabot Lodge in not ratifying the treaty.  Partisan politics as well as Wilson’s stubbornness played an important role.

The Dawn of World Citizenship

Wilson also understood that one main obstacle and prerequisite to world order was that  world consciousness had not fully taken hold in the world.  This is a quote from him:

“We are citizens of the world.The tragedy is that we do not know this [13].”

It is safe to say that by the end of the twentieth century, because of advances in technology, we saw the full emergence of world consciousness that will eventually lead to world solidarity.  This intangible yet important development will in the future validate and accelerate any attempt at  creating world order.

Woodrow Wilson, the League of Nations and the Baha’i Faith

For me, as a Bahá’í, it would be impossible not to mention the high praise given by the central figures of the Faith to Woodrow Wilson for the formulation of the fourteen points and the creation of League of Nations. To Bahá’ís, it is clear that he was influenced by the spirit of the age, and many of his “fourteen points” seem to be very similar to the provisions of collective security elucidated by the Founder and heads of the Bahá’í Faith decades earlier, as well as echoes from German philosophers from a few centuries ago. While William Jennings Bryan—Wilson’s eventual Secretary of State—knew of the Faith, and his wife and daughter were visited by Abdu’l-Bahá (son of Bahá’u’lláh, Prophet Founder of the Bahá’í Faith) during Abdu’l-Bahá’s visit to the US in 1912, there is no conclusive evidence that Wilson, himself, knew of the Faith or had read Bahá’í books, in the formulation of his peace programme.  Also The rumors of Wilson’s daughters connection to the Baha’i faith were…most certainly without any basis whatsoever.

Nevertheless Abdu’l-Bahá and later his grandson, Shoghi Effendi, praised Wilson. Shoghi Effendi wrote:

“To [America’s] President, the immortal Woodrow Wilson, must be ascribed the unique honor, among the statesmen of any nation, whether of the East or of the West, of having voiced sentiments so akin to the principles animating the Cause of Bahá’u’lláh, and of having more than any other world leader, contributed to the creation of the League of Nations—achievements which the pen of the Center of God’s Covenant acclaimed as signalizing the dawn of the Most Great Peace…” [8]

This is a stunning statement that not only immortalizes Wilson, but also identifies the creation of the League of Nations as the start of a process that will eventually lead to Kingdom of God on earth.

Many believe that the concept of collective security is a western construct, however as noted before,  in late 19th century and early 20th century,  Bahá’u’lláh, the Prophet founder of the Baha’i Faith or His son Abdu’l-Baha on many occasions, talked about the key elements of collective security.  Also many “progressive internationalists” during the presidency of Wilson met with Abdu’l-Baha during His travels to the United States in 1912[12].

Here is an excerpt of a Tablet  Bahá’u’lláh wrote to Queen Victoria:

“Be reconciled among yourselves, that ye may need no more armaments save in a measure to safeguard your territories and dominions… Be united, O kings of the earth, for thereby will the tempest of discord be stilled amongst you, and your peoples find rest, if ye be of them that comprehend. Should any one among you take up arms against another, rise ye all against him, for this is naught but manifest justice[11].”

This is eerie similiar to the 4th point of Wilosn’s fourteen points[3].

For more insights on the Baha’i Faith views on achieving world peace, refer to The Promise of World Peace document:

http://info.bahai.org/article-1-7-2-1.html

or, a blog I wrote:

http://www.commongroundgroup.net/2011/07/29/world-peace-a-bahai-perspective/

The Legacy of Wilson’s efforts: Ushering in the Dawn of Peace

To the casual observer, Wilson’s presidency might be considered a failure, notwithstanding his being awarded with the noble peace prize in 1920. After all, the League failed and a new world war, fiercer than the last, erupted.  The issue of the New York Times that quoted his Armistice speech on the front page also carried an ominous and portentous headline “Hitler forces also rallying in Munich” [1].

Still, Shoghi Effendi wrote of him:

“The ideals that fired the imagination of America’s tragically unappreciated President, whose high endeavors, however much nullified by a visionless generation…, though now lying in the dust, bitterly reproach a heedless generation for having so cruelly abandoned them”[9]

Those who have meditated on the modern-day forces and processes rather than events shaping our history, find that his efforts were more than a shooting star or a short burst of light in this dark world; it was the first true attempt and highly significant step in promoting the principles of a future world without war and conflict. He started the process of lasting peace between nations.  The League of Nations will be considered to be the harbinger of an international Tribunal that the leaders will one day establish. Indeed, the United Nations is built upon the foundation laid and the knowledge gained from the stillborn League.

Wilson’s fourteen points will, I believe, be considered a precursor of the time when the leaders of the world will in the near future, as a result of pain and heartache, come up with similar covenants and agreements.

And we have the irony of Henry Cabot Lodge Jr.—grandson of Henry Cabot Lodge the principal  opponent of the league— being  appointed the ambassador to the United Nations in 1953.

To quote Ibn Khaldun, 14th century Muslim polymath and philosopher:

“He who finds a new path is a pathfinder, even if the trail has to be found again by others; and he who walks far ahead of his contemporaries is a leader, even though centuries pass before he is recognized as such.”

Wilson strove day and night, gave his life and every ounce of energy to promote the cause of peace.  It would serve us well to emulate him.

=========================== References ==============================
[1] The New York Times, November 12, 1923
[2] Citadel of Faith  -Shoghi Effendi, , p. 32
[3] http://history.howstuffworks.com/world-war-i/fourteen-points.htm
[4] Century of light, commissioned by the Universal House of Justice-2001- p. 34
[5] http://future.state.gov/when/timeline/1914_timeline/wilson_14_pts.html
[6]Woodrow Wilson and Colonel House, by Alexander and Juliette George- p.195
[7] Century of Light , Commissioned by The Universal House of Justice, p. 31
[8] Citadel of Faith  -Shoghi Effendi, , p. 36
[9] The Advent of Divine Justice- Shoghi Effendi – P 88

[10] Semi-Centennial address at Omaha, Nebraska: October 6, 1916

[11] Tablet to Queen Victoria, http://bahai-library.com/bahaullah_lawh_malikih

[12] http://waisworld.org/go.jsp?id=02a3&objectType=post&o=68106&objectTypeId=62356&topicId=106

[13] http://www.nobelpeacelaureates.org/w_wilson.html

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15 thoughts on “Woodrow Wilson, His Fourteen Points, The League of Nations and World Peace

  1. thanks, yes it was in 1918.

    The speech, at the beginning of the post I referred to was on the anniversary of armistice day, 5 years later to be exact.

  2. بهرام خان عزیز
    بسیار ممنون از مقاله مفیدتان
    آیا ممکن است به من ایمیل بزنید ؟
    من نیز مایلم در باره بهره مند بودن ویلسون از آثار بهائی مطالبی با شما رد و بدل کنم.
    با سپاس .
    آدرس خود را برای ارسال پیام در جایگاه مخصوص قرار دادم
    با ارادت مهران

  3. منتخباتی از مکاتیب ج1، ص302
    حضرت مستر ويلسن رئيس چهارده مبادی

    انتشار دادند که اکثر آن در تعاليم بهآء اللّه موجود لهذا اميدوارم

    که موفّق و مؤيّد گردند حال بدايت طلوع صبح صلح عموميست اميدوارم

    که آفتابش بتمامه بتابد و ظلمات حرب و ضرب و جدال را از بين بشر

    بنور الفت و وداد و اتّحاد مبدّل نمايد …
    Lights of Guidance
    1477. President Wilson and Dr. Jordan
    “With regard to Ex-President Wilson and Dr. Jordan, it seems fairly clear that both of these men were considerably influenced by the Bahá’í Teachings; but at the same time it is well to avoid making dogmatic statements that they got all there principles from Bahá’u’lláh, or the like as we are not in a position to prove such statements, and to make claims which we cannot prove weakens instead of strengthening our position.
    (From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, March 16, 1925) (Compilations, Lights of Guidance, p. 452)
    ————–
    To her President, the immortal Woodrow Wilson, must be ascribed the unique honor, among the statesmen of any nation, whether of the East or of the West, of having voiced sentiments so akin to the principles animating the Cause of Bahá’u’lláh, and of having more than any other world leader, contributed to the creation of the League of Nations — achievements which the pen of the Center of God’s Covenant acclaimed as signalizing the dawn of the Most Great Peace, whose sun, according to that same pen, must needs arise as the direct consequence of the enforcement of the laws of the Dispensation of Bahá’u’lláh.
    (Shoghi Effendi, Citadel of Faith, p. 36)
    ————-
    Legends aside, we know that President Wilson was influenced by the Bahá’í Teachings in formulating his Fourteen Points, although it is not true that Khan ‘rode up and down on the Mayflower teaching the Faith to the President’. We are indebted to the researches of Paul Pearsall for the information that at least three Bahá’í volumes were known to be in the White House. Pearsall also tells us that Margaret Wilson introduced Bahá’í literature into her father’s reading, between 1913 and 1918. The Hidden Words ‘appears on a 1921 listing of Wilson’s private library’. Also, a compilation on peace given the President by a delegation of Washington Bahá’ís ‘turned up in general reference at the Library of Congress marked “transfer from the White House”‘. And ‘Abdu’l-Bahá on Divine Philosophy (Boston, 1918) is said to have much influenced his thinking.
    Around 1913-14 would have been the time when Florence was most in contact with Margaret Wilson and very probably spoke to her of the Faith. Margaret, later on, retired to a religious community in India and died there.
    (Marzieh Gail, Arches of the Years, p. 148)

  4. Thanks ‘M’

    As you see in my article, I said that there is no evidence that WW got his ideas from the Baha’i writings or even if he knew of the faith and, and the rumors that one of his daughter was a Baha’i is untrue. A few of his 14 points seem to come from the writings of Emmanuel Kant, German philosopher of two (? not sure exactly) centuries ago; and most seem to have been influenced by the spirit of the age, and progressive dialogue prevalent at the time of his presidency .

    What i emphasized was the actual writings of the faith praising his efforts.

  5. Hi ‘M’

    BTW I could not read your Persian text, the fonts are too small and my Persian is not as good as it should be

  6. Although the world gives much-deserved recognition to Wilson’s fourteen points, I beleive we should also recognise the efforts of women who in 1915 attended a peace congress at the Hague and worked out a similar set of proposals.

    “Their resolutions, announced at the close of the congress on May 1, endorsed measures designed for international cooperation, including an international court and a so-called Society of Nations, general disarmament and national self-determination. The delegates included a specific call for women to be given the vote: Since the combined influence of the women of all countries is one of the strongest forces for the prevention of war, and since women can only have full responsibility and effective influence when they have equal political rights with men, this International Congress of Women demands their political enfranchisement.

    “The congress founded the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), an organization that still exists today. The first president of the WILPF was Jane Addams, the leader of the American delegation to the congress and the co-founder of the Chicago social service organization Hull House. Addams and other delegates met with U.S. President Woodrow Wilson during the summer of 1915, knowing that the success of their plan depended to a great extent on the president’s agreement to initiate and lead mediation between the hostile nations of Europe. Though Wilson was sympathetic to the proposals of the congress, he eventually moved away from the principles of mediation and towards military preparedness (and eventual U.S. entrance into the war in April 1917).”

    http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/international-congress-of-women-adopts-resolutions

  7. Hello David

    Thanks for your comments, funny I was driving from work I was thinking the same thing that for lasting peace women need to pay a critical part and am longing for the time when we will have a female president.

    This article is not about everything that needs to transpire for peace but rather a specific piece about Woodrow Wilson.

    I respectfully disagree that Wilson moved away from principles he believed in, for the eventual entrance of US into WWI. It seems to me that Wilson understood the interdependence of nations, that strife at one part of the world will eventually affect the rest of the world, hence realized that he had no choice to enter the war in order to preserve freedom. He was hoping for WWI to end all wars.

  8. Interesting topic dear Bahram…
    You highlighted what we should know about him and sure learn from him too…

    1. Thanks Randa. In the future his legacy will be taught positively in every history book around the world

    1. Of course you can! You can copy the whole article and post it, might be better. perfectly OK

      I was in correspondence with Paul Pearsall a couple of times before he passed on. He gave me permission to use the article you referenced, Did not have a chance to do anything, glad you posted it

      As his article says there are anecdotal but no conclusive evidence that he directly used the Baha’i writings to formulate his 14 points.

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