How did World War One change the way America looked at the world?
Many Americans saw US involvement in WWI as a waste of time. From
the very beginning it was not particularly popular. When the war
ended many Americans saw a Europe that had changed little. Men had
died, sacrifices made…and for what. America had walked into the
ring of international diplomacy and affairs and received a bloody
nose for our efforts. The result was a disillusionment with world
affairs. The result of this disillusionment was a fundamental shift
in American policy from internationalism to relative isolationism.
Everywhere one found a strong impulse to return to old
isolationist ways. Wilson’s inspiring leadership had keyed the
American people to a spirit of self sacrifice that had even resulted
in the prohibition of alcoholic beverages. But this was all changing.
Victory had brought an emotional letdown – “the slump of idealism.”
It had also brought a profound disillusionment with the imperialistic
and bickering Allies. The war to make the world safe for democracy
[also known as the war to end all wars] had not made the world safe
for democracy, nor had it ended wars. Some twenty conflicts of
varying dimensions were being waged in various parts of the world.
About all that America had seemingly derived (gotten) from the war
was debt, inflation, prohibition, influenza, and ingratitude from
Allies whom she had strained herself to help – while of course,
helping to defeat a common enemy.
I. The U.S. Turns Away From The World
A. What were Wilson’s arguments in favor of
ratification of the Treaty of Versailles?
1. The future of world peace is at stake.
2. The League of Nations is the future of solving world problems.
3. Failure to be involved places us and the world in danger. The
US must have a place at the table to take a leadership role.
B. What were the arguments given against ratification and in favor
1. League of nations would create new contacts.
2. Contacts breed involvement.
3. Involvement meant war.
4. League of Nations might be able to control US military
C. What happened?
1. The Treaty as you can imagine received enormous
opposition. Henry Cabot Lodge and Alfred Beveridge strongly denounced
the treaty, especially Article Ten which called upon the US to
support League actions. Wilson campaigned vigorously and gave 37
speeches in 29 cities in a span of only three weeks. He declared that
US soldiers should not have died in vain. After a dramatic speech in
Colorado Wilson collapsed. His health had been poor for sic months
and the strain of the trip was too much. He was rushed back to
Washington and a few days later had a massive stroke. For the next
year and a half he was incapable of running the government but was
protected by his wife and closest advisors.
1. In March 1920 the US Senate finally killed the treaty. The
United States did not ratify the Treaty of Versailles and we did not
join the League of Nations. Wilson considered this a great failure
and it plagued him until his death.
Disgust was deepening. Hundreds of thousands of American boys were
returning from Europe, irritated by cheating French shopkeepers, and
most favorably impressed by the blonde German girls. American’s
everywhere were saying that Europe could jolly well “stew in its own
juice.” In the face of such wide spread disillusionment Wilson would
have troubles in arousing people again.
I want to remind you how the permanency of peace is at the heart
of this treaty. This is not merely a treaty of peace with Germany…
it is nothing less than world settlement, and at the center of that
stands the covenant for the future we call the Covenant of the League
of Nations. Without it the treaty can not be worked and without it it
is a mere temporary arrangement with Germany. The covenant of the
League of Nations is the instrumentality (means) for the maintenance
If the treaty is not ratified by the Senate, the war will have
been fought in vain, and the world will be thrown into chaos. I
promised our soldiers, when I asked them to take up arms, that it was
a war to end wars…
-Pres. Woodrow Wilson
The question before us is whether the League that has been drafted
by the Commission of the Peace Conference and laid before us is will
it secure the peace of the world as it stands, and whether it is just
and fair to the United States of America. That is the question and I
want to bring it to the test.
Wars between nations come form contacts. A nation with which we
have no contact is a nation with which we should never fight… In
this scheme for a League now before us we create a number of new
contact, a number of new relations, which we have not undertaken
before to create.
-Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, Massachusetts
We are told that this treaty means peace. Even so, I would not pay
the price. Would you purchase peace at the cost of you independence?
-Senator William E. Borah, Idaho
The League of Nations is the work “amiable old male grannies who,
over their afternoon tea, are planning to denationalize America and
denationalize the nations manhood.”
-Senator Albert Beveridge, Indiana