"Fourteen Points" Speech

by Woodrow Wilson

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How successful were Woodrow Wilson's Fourteen Points?

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President Woodrow Wilson made his Fourteen Points with the goal of preventing future wars. Clearly, when viewed in this light, they were a complete failure. Some of them were successful in the short term since they did lead to the creation of certain nation-states, the reduction of the size of certain militaries, as well as the short-lived League of Nations. Needless to say, the ramp-up of militarism in Europe and Asia in the 1930s and World War II meant that Wilson's goals ultimately failed.

When President Wilson first brought the US into World War I, he did so with the lofty ideal of making the world forever safe for democracy. This is reflected in his idealistic Fourteen Points. He hoped that peace and victory would usher in a new age of diplomacy and multi-national cooperation. That is what his Fourteen Points were the blueprint for. However, the European powers and the United States Senate did not share this lofty sense of idealism. They wanted to take punitive actions against Germany. The US Senate, in particular, wanted nothing to do with "entangling alliances" like the one offered by the League of Nations.

In the end, while certain parts of Wilson's Fourteen Points were adopted in Europe, there was never much enthusiasm to uphold them. The rise of fascism in Germany and Italy meant that nationalistic militarism increased and the open diplomacy that Wilson hoped for was sidelined.

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Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points outline a plan for peace after World War I ended. The leaders of the Allies felt that most of the ideas contained in the Fourteen Points were very idealistic. They felt that Woodrow Wilson was somewhat naïve since the United States didn’t have to deal directly with the threat posed by Germany the Central Powers on a daily basis. These leaders wanted to severely punish Germany to prevent the occurrance of another world war.

The most important point was the Fourteenth Point. This called for the creation of the League of Nations, which would be a worldwide organization designed to prevent future wars by having countries take their disputes to the League of Nations. Though the League of Nations was created, it ultimately failed because the United States never joined it. Concerns existed in the United States that it would drag the country into wars that it had no interest in fighting. Thus, the key aspect of Wilson’s plan was not successful.

There were other aspects of his plan that were implemented, but they didn’t sustain any long-term success. For example, there was a plan to reduce weapons, which did occur in the 1920s. However, in the 1930s, Germany, Italy, and Japan were increasing the size of their military, and the number of weapons these countries possessed increased. The concept of "freedom of the seas" was proposed, which was honored for a while, but largely disappeared by the end of the 1930s. Some countries were created after World War I based on the concept of self-determination, but before World War II started, the soon-to-be Axis Powers invaded some of those countries. The desire to end secret treaties was noble, but it wasn’t sustained over the long run.

As a result, overall, many of the ideas contained in the Fourteen Points were not successful.

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Some of Woodrow Wilson’s 14 Points were successful in that they were largely implemented after WWI.  They did not really succeed, though, because they did not prevent WWII from occurring.  

The first four of Wilson’s 14 Points were not really successful at all.  Countries did not all stop making secret agreements between themselves.  An example of this is the fact that the Nazi-Soviet Nonagression Pact included secret protocols dividing up parts of Eastern Europe between the two countries.  As we can see from the time between 1939 and December of 1941, freedom of the seas in times of war was not guaranteed.  Free trade was most certainly not established between all countries.  The colonies of the European countries were not allowed self-determination.  This means that the first four of the 14 Points did not succeed at all.

The other ten points did succeed at least to some degree.  Points V through XIII all have to do with restoring the national sovereignty of various peoples in Europe.  All of these things were actually done.  Of course, we can also argue that they did not succeed because they did not prevent conflict over such things as the status of Germans in parts of Czechoslovakia.  As for the last of the 14 Points, the League of Nations was created so we can say that point was a success.  However, the League of Nations was notable for its failure to carry out its mission.  It was never a very strong organization and it completely failed to prevent aggression such as the Italian invasion of Ethiopia or the Japanese invasion of China. 

In these ways, we can say that some of the 14 Points were successful in that they were actually carried out.  However, we can also say they were not at all successful because they did not prevent another major war from breaking out less than 25 years after the end of WWI.

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