"America Is The Only Idealistic Nation In The World"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: On January 8, 1918, long before World War I was over, Woodrow Wilson delivered an address in which he presented the "Fourteen Points" under which he hoped a lasting peace could be established. When the Germans proposed an armistice, the Allied Powers named Wilson their common spokesman; he accordingly went to Paris to aid in peace negotiations. The previous Congressional election had resulted in a Republican Congress hostile to Wilson's ideals of peace, and there was other opposition to the Fourteen Points, which would commit all men to open diplomacy, freedom of the seas, self-determination of peoples, free trade, free access to harbors, disarmament, and–most important to Wilson–a League of Nations that would settle disputes and guide the world. In spite of the veneration accorded Wilson abroad, it was soon apparent that his ideals represented more self-sacrifice than any nation cared to undertake. He fought for his Fourteen Points but was forced to make concessions. During a brief trip home, he warned his opposition that the League and the Treaty would be so closely interwoven that either both or none would be the choice. He did succeed in his principal goal at Paris; the League of Nations was made a part of the Treaty of Peace. The concessions he made had weakened his position, however, and when he at length presented a completed Treaty to the Senate on July 10, 1919, he met with violent opposition. He continued to fight for his work and his dreams; he made a speaking tour of the country in order to tell the American public, in person, what he was trying to achieve. The grueling schedule sometimes involved several lengthy addresses in one day, and the result was a collapse from which he never really recovered. The following extract, taken from an address given in the Coliseum at Sioux Falls, illustrates both his idealism and his concept of America:

. . . You cannot establish freedom, my fellow citizens, without force, and the only force you can substitute for an armed mankind is the concerted force of the combined action of mankind through the instrumentality of all the enlightened Governments of the world. . . . Your choice is between the League of Nations and Germanism. I have told you what I mean by Germanism–taking care of yourselves, being armed and ready, having a chip on your shoulder, thinking of nothing but your own rights and never thinking of the rights of anybody else, thinking that you were put into this world to see that American might was asserted and forgetting that American might ought never to be used against the weak, ought never to be used in an unjust cause, ought never to be used for aggression; ought to be used with the heart of humanity beating behind it.
Sometimes people call me an idealist. Well, that is the way I know I am an American. America, my fellow citizens–I do not say it in disparagement of any other great people–America is the only idealistic Nation in the world. When I speak practical judgements about business affairs, I can only guess whether I am speaking the voice of America or not, but when I speak the ideal purposes of history I know that I am speaking the voice of America, because I have saturated myself since I was a boy in the records of that spirit, and everywhere in them there is this authentic tone of the love of justice and the service of humanity. . . .