For three and a half years, President Woodrow Wilson had envisioned himself as Europe’s peacemaker. From the earliest days of the conflict, through and even beyond his re-election campaign, Wilson had repeatedly held himself out as a potential mediator. The President had taken a number of steps to try and intervene in Europe’s war, including trying to negotiate aid to starving Polish refugees on the Eastern Front and even drafting a peace memorandum which was delivered to the Entente in February of 1916.
The interest from Europe was not reciprocated. The Germans and Russians had no interest in American aid to Polish citizens and the British and the French believed Wilson’s 1916 memorandum was little more than an election-year stunt. To the rulers of Europe’s warring parties, the American President was either woefully naïve about the nature of the conflict or deeply politically cynical. Wilson’s push for “peace without victory” had no support among the war’s leadership, but Wilson did raise a consequential point for the populaces of Europe – why was the war being fought in the first place? And what did the combatants hope to get out of it?
On January 8th, 1918 before the U.S. Congress, Wilson would provide an American answer to the question of Europe’s conflict – fourteen points upon which peace, and a post-war world, could be built.
By the beginning of 1918, it had become apparent for Europe’s nations that support for the Great War – among civilian and soldier alike – had all but vanished. Revolts, rebellions, mutinies and food riots had increasingly become standard as Europeans were demanding peace, or at least a worthy cause to explain the hardships they had endured. The war’s leaders had no real response. Continue reading