"Fourteen Points" Speech

by Woodrow Wilson

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Compare and contrast Wilson's Fourteen Points to the Treaty of Versailles.

Wilson's Fourteen Points and the Treaty of Versailles were not very similar. The Treaty of Versailles did not allow nationalities to rule themselves; rather, it was an attempt at creating a new Europe that would not be as threatening to itself. As for Wilson's Fourteen Points, they were applauded by many and became a model for later attempts at peace such as the League of Nations and the Washington Naval Conference.

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The 14 points proposed by President Woodrow Wilson and the Treaty of Versailles both outlined postwar policies for participating nations at the end of World War I. However, the tone and substance of the proposed solutions were profoundly different.

Wilson shared his 14 points during a speech at a Congressional meeting on January 8, 1918. Wilson's tone was optimistic and conciliatory. His intention was to secure international peace after the devastating world war. To this end, he urged magnanimity among the Allied Nations. Instead of punishment, Wilson urged restraint and a united effort aimed toward rebuilding trust, security, and prosperity. For instance, he called for open diplomacy, free navigation of the seas, free trade among nations, and a worldwide reduction in arms. Several of the points had to do with restoring independence and territories to specific nations such as Russia, Belgium, Austria-Hungary, Turkey, Poland, and the Balkans. The final point called for an association of nations that could help ensure world peace through negotiations instead of warfare.

On the other hand, the Treaty of Versailles was drawn up at the Paris Peace Conference, which began on January 18, 1919. Besides Wilson of the United States, the main participants were Georges Clemenceau of France and David Lloyd George of Great Britain. Vittorio Orlando of Italy was also in attendance, but played a lesser role. Russia was not there, having dropped out of the war earlier, and the defeated countries of Germany, Austria-Hungary, Turkey, and Bulgaria also did not attend.

Each nation had its own objectives. Wilson wanted to pursue peace along the lines of his 14 points, but the leaders of the other nations did not agree. France wanted to punish Germany and ensure that Germany could not attack them again. Great Britain wanted to rebuild Germany for the purpose of trade. Italy was mainly concerned with expanding its territory. Ultimately, the Treaty of Versailles drew little from Wilson's idealistic 14 points. It was extremely harsh on Germany, forcing the conquered country to limit its army and navy, eliminate its air force, surrender 10 percent of German territory and all colonies overseas, sign a "war guilt clause" in which it took total responsibility for the war, and pay an overwhelming amount in punitive damages. These terms devastated Germany, and their harshness contributed to the later rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party.

There was one major similarity between Wilson's 14 points and the Treaty of Versailles: the United States Congress rejected both propositions. The United States never ratified the Treaty of Versailles, nor did it join the League of Nations when it was set up at Wilson's suggestion after the war.

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The Fourteen Points were guidelines that Woodrow Wilson wanted to be used for the peace negotiations as World War I was ending. It focused on fourteen different principles that he believed were necessary to build a foundation of global peace. He wanted these ideas to be used when deciding how to end the war and how to treat Germany.

The Treaty of Versailles was the actual treaty that ended...

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Germany's involvement in World War I. Signed in 1918, it has typically been viewed as a poorly handled treaty by many modern historians, as it was unsuccessful in its primary goals of permanently weakening Germany. It required Germany to accept the responsibility of the war and its damages (and therefore required them to pay the cost of all the damage, known as reparations), as well as concede much of their territory and disarm their military. It has been called “too lenient” by some yet “too harsh” by others. Ultimately, it was unsuccessful in its primary goals, and Germany instigated World War II just twenty years later.

The Fourteen Points were a considerable influence on the peace negotiations that led to the Treaty of Versailles. Eight of the Points addressed basic territorial issues (e.g., how the conquered area should be redistributed). These ideas were largely adopted in the Treaty of Versailles. The first five Points were principles of how the international community should act in a postwar world. It advocated free trade, sea travel, and open treaties (secret/private treaties were a big reason that World War I was such a large conflict). These ideas, while not directly articulated in the Treaty of Versailles, were largely adopted by the global community following the war.

It also advocated for reducing national armaments (e.g., disarming Germany), but this was significantly increased in the actual Treaty of Versailles, which put very strict reductions on Germany’s military. One thing in the eventual Treaty that was not included in the Fourteen Points was the institution of reparations, which were extremely punitive and inspired resentment among Germans.

World War I and the ensuing Treaty of Versailles was perhaps the first example of the global community working together (of course, this is a very Western/Euro-centric view of the global community—most countries in the world were not consulted) and signaled the growing globalization that would continue for the next century.

The final principle in the Fourteen Points was a suggestion for the League of Nations, which was the forerunner to the United Nations. While the League of Nations was never successful (and the United States never joined), Wilson's understanding that nations needed to work together as part of a global community to ensure peace was quite prescient and was nonetheless an important aspect of the peace negotiations that led to the Treaty of Versailles.

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How do Woodrow Wilson's fourteen points compare with the Treaty of Versailles?

Wilson's attempt in his Fourteen Points at allowing nationalities to rule themselves fell apart quickly. While the Allies used a team of academic experts in order to redraw the territorial boundaries of Europe, in many cases it was impossible to divide countries by nationality alone. Even many villagers did not claim a nation; rather, they said that they were from that particular village. Because of this, many German-speakers were estranged from Germany when the Allies created Poland. Yugoslavia would also be a mix of the different groups of the region who still did not have self-rule.

Part of Wilson's attempts at peace did stay in the Versailles Treaty and the immediate aftermath. There was some attempt through the Treaty of Versailles at open negotiations through the creation of the League of Nations, but ultimately the organization had little power and would be proven ineffective before WWII. There was some attempt to disarm through the Washington Naval Conference in the early 1920's but this attempt at arms reduction only angered another rising power, Japan. Wilson's Fourteen Points were cheered by many in Europe who were sick of war, but the leaders of Europe were cynical when Wilson wanted peace without vengeance.

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How do Woodrow Wilson's fourteen points compare with the Treaty of Versailles?

Many of the elements of the Fourteen Points, including freedom of the seas, territorial rearrangements based on nationality in Eastern Europe, restoration of Alsace-Lorraine to France, and insistence on open agreements (i.e., no secret alliances) were incorporated into the Treaty of Versailles. But the general spirit of the Fourteen Points, which was that punitive action should not be taken against a defeated Germany, was not observed. Germany was forced to accept blame for the war in the Treaty, and faced major limitations on their armed forces that were not reciprocated by the Allies, particularly France. In addition, the Allies forced Germany to pay billions of dollars in reparations, which contributed to the economic catastrophe in Germany after the war.

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