Peace without Victory

By | January 22, 2019

[January 22, 2019]  Leadership often means breaking new ground, going places no one has gone before, and dealing with complex and difficult problems that would overwhelm most people.  In 1914 a great war began that was to ravage much of Europe and test the values of the United States.  U.S. President Woodrow Wilson concluded that it was in the best interests of his nation that he would stay neutral and be a peace broker; he called it peace without victory.

 “Victory would mean peace forced upon a loser, a victor’s terms imposed upon the vanquished.”

Standing before a joint session of the U.S. Congress, on January 22, 1917, President Wilson laid out a vision for a just and peaceful world; a future that included free seas and an agreement to avoid a military arms race.  Europe, on the other hand, was going in a different direction.  The 19th Century had brought with it great national economies, nationalism, and the glimpse of vast political power.

European imperialism had been a source of the greatest boost in the standards of living ever in the history of humankind.  Several nations in Europe were early in this adventure (e.g., England and France) while others lagged behind (e.g., Germany and Italy).  With the growth of the advantages of imperialism (to the conquering nations) and the subsequent growing of military power, there was to be an inevitable clash.

Citizens of the U.S. were able to read about the savagery of World War I in newspapers that give riveting accounts of the war and its unimaginable destruction.  They were appalled.  Given the imperialism of European nations, President Wilson believed the end of this war would mean terrible things for the loser and seeds for another.

“It would be accepted in humiliation, under duress, at an intolerable sacrifice, and would leave a sting, a resentment, a bitter memory upon which terms of peace would rest, not permanently, but only as upon quicksand.”

President Wilson firmly believed no peace could last if it favored a victor.  But he also believed that a peace without victory was indispensable for driving home the lesson to all of the “uselessness of the utter sacrifices made.”  However, Wilson’s idealist leadership and the crusading anti-war parties in the U.S. couldn’t prevent the U.S. form being sucked into the conflict.1


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Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article everyday on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

22 thoughts on “Peace without Victory

  1. Mr. T.J. Asper

    Besides being a High School football coach, I also teach history. Pres Wilson and his time is one of those eras that I focus in on. The reason is simple, we can learn from it but more importantly I can teach it in an interesting way that HS students pay attention to.

    1. Greg Heyman

      Thanks for teaching our young people some of the more important aspects of American history rather than the PC junk usually taught by leftist teachers.

  2. Albert Ayer

    Having failed in his effort to force an end to the war from without, Wilson was determined to shape the order of a new world from within — and a peace without victory remained his goal.

    1. Eric Coda

      This is, perhaps, the very reason that US President Wilson has gone down in history as a ‘weak’ president. Otherwise, he did well in all his policies and administering over the country as it became an industrial powerhouse.

    2. Eddie Ray Anderson, Jr.

      Great comment, Albert. Wilson never really changed. The politics of war and economics forced his hand (a mistake that he regretted). We can all learn from his leadership; both the good and the bad.

  3. Lynn Pitts

    For Wilson, the end of the war should bring about nothing less than the end of European Imperialism. Taking sides would be a “crime against civilization,” because it would perpetuate Europe’s cycle of violence.

    1. Bryan Lee

      … but he took sides with England, France, etc against Germany and their allies. Wilson was an isolationist in the good sense of the term.

  4. Jerry C. Jones

    An interesting note and possibly one of the reasons Pres Wilson was such an idealist. It’s easy to forget that Wilson, born in 1856, witnessed the Civil War firsthand. He watched General Robert E. Lee pass through his hometown of Staunton, Virginia, under Union guard after the surrender at Appomattox, and later saw the devastation of Reconstruction in the South.

  5. Forrest Gump

    In The Deluge: The Great War, America and the Remaking of the Global Order, 1916–1931, Yale historian Adam Tooze argues that upon the outbreak of war in 1914, Wilson, far from being progressive in his view of international affairs, clung to a conservatism that looked back to the relative peace and stability of the late 19th century. 🙂

  6. Dennis Mathes

    In a sense, we are all Wilsonians now. Although Wilson gets credit for imagining what would later become the United Nations and the present-day international system, he is also blamed for injecting ill-defined, contradictory principles into the political chaos of postwar Europe, failing to secure Senate approval of the Treaty of Versailles, and clinging to a view of international affairs that was at best idealized and at worst dangerously naive.!

  7. Willie Shrumburger

    At the time, Wilson’s notions about American power and international security were novel, but they would become the foundation of the modern international system.

  8. Nick Lighthouse

    Some really good comments so far in Gen. Satterfield’s leadership blog. Thanks all.

  9. Janna Faulkner

    The first world war began in August 1914. It was directly triggered by the assassination of the Austrian archduke, Franz Ferdinand and his wife, on 28th June 1914 by Bosnian revolutionary, Gavrilo Princip. This event was, however, simply the trigger that set off declarations of war. The actual causes of the war are more complicated and are still debated by historians today.

    1. Max Foster

      Yes, the reasons for the war were complex and thus be understood within the conditions at the time. Alliances were prolific, imperialism was on the rise (and beneficial), militarism and nationalism was growing, and there were a number of independence movements within the various European empires.

    2. Anita

      Janna and Max. Thank you for the spot-on and educational comments.

  10. Gil Johnson

    Great wars require the complacency of great political leaders. The problem is obvious from the standpoint of the average citizen.

  11. Army Captain

    The “war to end all wars” didn’t. It was the impetus that leads to WW2. While this is an obvious oversimplification, I believe it right to say that US Pres Wilson was correct in at least one point. A lasting peace was not possible if the victors imposed harsh terms upon the vanquished.

    1. Darryl Sitterly

      Well argued. Thank you Army Captain for your service and for your comments in Gen. Satterfield’s blog.

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