Wilson Calls For “Peace Without Victory”

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getty images

Erik Sass is covering the events of the war exactly 100 years after they happened. This is the 264th installment in the series.  

January 22, 1917: Wilson Calls For “Peace Without Victory”

“I would fain believe that I am speaking for the silent mass of mankind everywhere,” President Woodrow Wilson told the U.S. Senate in a landmark speech delivered on January 22, 1917, outlining his plan for a negotiated peace in Europe – and sketching out an almost messianic role for himself in the process. The coming years would see Wilson’s self-image as spokesman for humanity and standard-bearer of universal values endorsed by millions of admirers around the world, even acclaiming him “The Prince of Peace.” But sadly his lofty ideals never overcame the base realities of war and politics; and the meager fruits of this first famous address, with its quixotic call for “peace without victory,” foreshadowed all the disappointments to come.

A Final Bid For Peace

Like the majority of Americans, Wilson reacted to the slaughter in Europe with understandable horror, and initially charted a course of strict neutrality intended to spare the United States this tragedy. However global ties of trade and finance meant there was no way for the U.S. to avoid indirect involvement, leading to repeated confrontations with Germany over unrestricted U-boat warfare and Britain over its naval blockade, which hurt some American businesses. As the war ground on, the American economy benefited from the Allies’ voracious demand for munitions, food, and other supplies, increasingly paid for with loans organized by American bankers, led by J.P. Morgan & Co. Meanwhile American public opinion was outraged by a campaign of industrial sabotage carried out by agents of the Central Powers against munitions factories and mines across the country. 

In November 1916 Wilson won reelection with the slogan “He Kept Us Out of War,” but it was already becoming clear to the president and Secretary of State Robert Lansing that they might not be able to keep this implied promise much longer. The resumption of unrestricted U-boat warfare by Germany, plus the prospect of an Allied defeat, which would wipe out billions of dollars of American loans, both threatened to force their hand (for his part Lansing already believed U.S. entry into the war on the side of the Allies was inevitable, and accordingly opposed Wilson’s attempts to mediate in private).  

The looming threat prompted Wilson to make one last attempt to keep America out of the war in January 1917 – by ending the war itself. About to embark on his second term, Wilson believed he could leverage the power and prestige of the United States, the world’s biggest neutral nation, to persuade the opposing sides of the European war to sit down at the negotiating table, perhaps with the U.S. presiding as an impartial arbiter. 

Wilson was convinced that the U.S. could help bring about peace because of its special democratic character, as well as his closely related belief that democracies were inherently peaceful. On that note he also believed that a lasting peace would only be possible with the spread of democracy to the rest of the world, especially Germany, long subject to an authoritarian government with some superficial democratic trappings. Wilson and Lansing believed German militarism was rooted in the country’s authoritarian government, dominated by Prussian aristocrats, requiring a democratic revolution there if peace were to endure.

Wilson and Lansing emphasized principles including democracy and self-determination as the basis for peace, but the president – unlike his skeptical Secretary of State – also called for the creation of a new international organization to keep the peace, laying the groundwork for the League of Nations. In his speech on January 22, 1917 Wilson confidently predicted:

We are that much nearer a definite discussion of the peace which shall end the present war… In every discussion of peace that must end this war, it is taken for granted that the peace must be followed by some definite concert of power which will make it virtually impossible that any such catastrophe should ever overwhelm us again.  Every lover of mankind, every sane and thoughtful man must take that for granted.

The United States would be indispensable to the formation and operation of this new concert of nations, just as it must participate in the peace negotiations that would give rise to it, in order to ensure that it enshrined the principles of democracy and self-determination: “No covenant of cooperative peace that does not include the peoples of the New World can suffice to keep the future safe against war; and yet there is only one sort of peace that the peoples of America could join in guaranteeing.”

In this democratic spirit, peace should serve the interests of ordinary people, and not the elites who had caused the war: “No peace can last, or ought to last, which does not recognize and accept the principle that governments derive all their just powers from the consent of the governed, and that no right anywhere exists to hand peoples about from sovereignty to sovereignty as if they were property.” This included recognizing the right of oppressed nationalities to self-government, which Wilson illustrated with a specific call for the creation of a “united, independent, and autonomous Poland.” 

Above all Wilson believed that to forge an enduring peace, neither side could be humiliated or destroyed, since this would only lead to fresh conflict: “The present war must first be ended; but… it makes a great deal of difference in what way and upon what terms it is ended.” Therefore, he asserted “it must be a peace without victory.”

Peacemaker Without Partners

Unfortunately Wilson’s refined vision hardly aligned with the mood in Europe. While there was indeed growing opposition to the war, broadly speaking it was still outweighed by fear and anger, as ordinary people and elites alike were deeply embittered by over two years of bloodshed and destruction. 

As the death toll passed five million men, families all across Europe had lost loved ones in the cause of abstract but powerful ideals like patriotism and justice, and many (though not all) of the survivors felt than anything less than total victory and the vanquishing of an “evil” enemy would dishonor their memory. These sentiments were reinforced by government propaganda highlighting enemy “atrocities,” real or imagined, and warning of dire consequences in case of defeat. The same sentiments were shared by European elites, who felt an additional responsibility to see the costly war effort through to victory – and worried about losing their own social status if they failed, with the possibility of violent revolution never far from their minds.

Unsurprisingly, as the pro-Allied Lansing had warned Wilson, the general European reaction to his idealistic peace plan ranged from bemusement to furious indignation (above, a British cartoon mocking his call for “peace without victory”). True, the governments of the Allied and Central Powers played along – chiefly by sending messages outlining their “war aims” as a supposed preamble to negotiations – but in fact both sides were really just playing for time. 

On the Central Powers side, the Germans were stringing the president along in order to blunt American reaction to unrestricted U-boat warfare, set to resume on February 1, 1917, in hopes of keeping the U.S. out of the war as long as possible, giving the U-boat campaign time to starve Britain into submission. On the Allied side, the British were also counting on the impending resumption of U-boat warfare to bring the U.S. into the war, and also held a trump card in the form of the Zimmermann Telegram, still unknown to the Americans.

See the previous installment or all entries.

8 Great Gifts for People Who Work From Home

World Market/Amazon
World Market/Amazon

A growing share of Americans work from home, and while that might seem blissful to some, it's not always easy to live, eat, and work in the same space. So, if you have co-workers and friends who are living the WFH lifestyle, here are some products that will make their life away from their cubicle a little easier.

1. Folding Book Stand; $7

Hatisan / Amazon

Useful for anyone who works with books or documents, this thick wire frame is strong enough for heavier textbooks or tablets. Best of all, it folds down flat, so they can slip it into their backpack or laptop case and take it out at the library or wherever they need it. The stand does double-duty in the kitchen as a cookbook holder, too.

Buy It: Amazon

2. Duraflame Electric Fireplace; $179

Duraflame / Amazon

Nothing says cozy like a fireplace, but not everyone is so blessed—or has the energy to keep a fire going during the work day. This Duraflame electric fireplace can help keep a workspace warm by providing up to 1000 square feet of comfortable heat, and has adjustable brightness and speed settings. They can even operate it without heat if they just crave the ambiance of an old-school gentleman's study (leather-top desk and shelves full of arcane books cost extra).

Buy It: Amazon

3. World Explorer Coffee Sampler; $32

UncommonGoods

Making sure they've got enough coffee to match their workload is a must, and if they're willing to experiment with their java a bit, the World Explorer’s Coffee Sampler allows them to make up to 32 cups using beans from all over the world. Inside the box are four bags with four different flavor profiles, like balanced, a light-medium roast with fruity notes; bold, a medium-dark roast with notes of cocoa; classic, which has notes of nuts; and fruity, coming in with notes of floral.

Buy it: UncommonGoods

4. Lavender and Lemon Beeswax Candle; $20

Amazon

People who work at home all day, especially in a smaller space, often struggle to "turn off" at the end of the day. One way to unwind and signal that work is done is to light a candle. Burning beeswax candles helps clean the air, and essential oils are a better health bet than artificial fragrances. Lavender is especially relaxing. (Just use caution around essential-oil-scented products and pets.)

Buy It: Amazon

5. HÄNS Swipe-Clean; $15

HÄNS / Amazon

If they're carting their laptop and phone from the coffee shop to meetings to the co-working space, the gadgets are going to get gross—fast. HÄNS Swipe is a dual-sided device that cleans on one side and polishes on the other, and it's a great solution for keeping germs at bay. It's also nicely portable, since there's nothing to spill. Plus, it's refillable, and the polishing cloth is washable and re-wrappable, making it a much more sustainable solution than individually wrapped wipes.

Buy It: Amazon

6. Laptop Side Table; $100

World Market

Sometimes they don't want to be stuck at a desk all day long. This industrial-chic side table can act as a laptop table, too, with room for a computer, coffee, notes, and more. It also works as a TV table—not that they would ever watch TV during work hours.

Buy It: World Market

7. Moleskine Classic Notebook; $17

Moleskin / Amazon

Plenty of people who work from home (well, plenty of people in general) find paper journals and planners essential, whether they're used for bullet journaling, time-blocking, or just writing good old-fashioned to-do lists. However they organize their lives, there's a journal out there that's perfect, but for starters it's hard to top a good Moleskin. These are available dotted (the bullet journal fave), plain, ruled, or squared, and in a variety of colors. (They can find other supply ideas for bullet journaling here.)

Buy It: Amazon

8. Nexstand Laptop Stand; $39

Nexstand / Amazon

For the person who works from home and is on the taller side, this portable laptop stand is a back-saver. It folds down flat so it can be tossed into the bag and taken to the coffee shop or co-working spot, where it often generates an admiring comment or three. It works best alongside a portable external keyboard and mouse.

Buy It: Amazon

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The Longest Movie Ever Made Would Take You More Than 35 Days to Watch Straight Through

Nishant Kirar, Unsplash
Nishant Kirar, Unsplash

A typical movie lasts between 90 minutes and two hours, and for some viewers, any film that exceeds that window is "long." But the longest film you've ever seen likely has nothing on Logistics—a record-breaking project released in Sweden in 2012. Clocking in at a total runtime of 35 days and 17 hours, Logistics is by far the longest movie ever made.

Logistics isn't your standard Hollywood epic. Conceived and directed by Swedish filmmakers Erika Magnusson and Daniel Andersson, it's an experimental film that lacks any conventional structure. The concept started with the question: Where do all the gadgets come from? Magnusson and Andersson attempted to answer that question by following the life cycle of a pedometer.

The story begins at a store in Stockholm, where the item is sold, then moves backwards to chronicle its journey to consumers. Logistics takes viewers on a truck, a freight train, a massive container ship, and finally to a factory in China's Bao'an district. The trip unfolds in real time, so audiences get an accurate sense of the time and distance required to deliver gadgets to the people who use them on the other side of the world.

Many people would have trouble sitting through some of the longest conventional films in history. Kenneth Branagh's Hamlet (1996) lasts 242 minutes, and Joseph L. Mankiewicz's Cleopatra (1963) is a whopping 248 minutes long. But sitting down to watch all 857 hours of Logistics straight through is nearly physically impossible.

Fortunately, it's not the only way to enjoy this work of art. On the project's website, Logistics has been broken down into short, two-minute clips—one for each day of the journey. You can watch the abridged version of the epic experiment here.