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tv   The Presidency  CSPAN  March 15, 2015 9:00pm-10:31pm EDT

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as a security measure, civilians are assembled for questioning. but they are few compared to the mounting toll of captured german soldiers. as the american troops approached the rhine, a brief thousands of russian and -- they freed thousands of russian and polish prisoners. and and to captivity and new allied friends.
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this concentration camp gives new testimony to the horror the ones reigned here. the nazis capable of this are also hittable of a desperate last-ditch fight to save their own -- capable of a desperate let this -- last-ditch fight to save their own skin, but their defeat is inevitable. ♪ >> next on the presidency, author and oxford university history professor margaret macmillan talks about president woodrow wilson's second term from 1917 to 1921. once the u.s. entered the first world war in 1917 the majority of his efforts focus on foreign affairs and diplomacy.
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professor mcmillan discusses wilson's involvement in the great war and his attempt at a lasting peace through the 1919 paris peace conference and the league of nations. the university of virginia's miller center hosted this 90 minute program. >> hello, everybody. it's a pleasure to see all of you here. january is a time of new beginnings. we make resolutions. we professors resolve that we are going to do a better job this term that we did last term. this year there's a new beginning because we have a new director here of the miller center, and i know we are all feeling incredibly fortunate to have somebody with his experience, ambition, and vision. we are all very much looking forward to working with him.
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it's a new beginning as well because we are starting a new presidential history lecture series. gary gallagher ran a terrifically successful one. many of you came to the lectures last year on the 19th century. as bill said, we put together a group of terrific people two and talk about 20th century presidential leadership in times of crisis. we are going to have george nash , in a few weeks or i should say, really on march 3, and he's going to talk about herbert hoover's dealings with the great depression. mark stiller is one of the great -- stoler is one of the great military historians of the 20th century. he will talk about roosevelt's ealing's with world war ii.
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david kennedy will talk about franklin roosevelt and the great depression. david kennedy is a polluter prizewinner. -- pulitzer prize winner. lbj and the agony of the vietnam war. fred vogel won a prize for his book on vietnam. tom blanton will finish the series next december. tom blanton is ahead of the national security archive. he's going to talk about ronald reagan and the end of the cold war. today we're going to begin the whole series where it should begin in terms of the 20th century, on woodrow wilson in war and peace. as many of you know, we are commemorating this year the
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100th anniversary of the onset of world war i 1914. the great war is linked to the presidency of woodrow wilson. wilson's presidency was infused with ironing and contradiction. many of you may know that when he assumed office in 1913, his primary focus was intentionally going to be on domestic priorities. he wound up spending most of the next eight years dealing with one foreign crisis after another , most particularly world war i. world war i erupted. wilson wanted to stay aloof keep the united states neutral but he wound up embarking on a
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great crusade abroad to make the world safe for democracy. wilson was the first president during his tenure in office to actually go abroad. he went to paris at the end of 1918 to engage in the negotiations of the paris peace conference. when he went abroad, he was heralded as a great savior in december of 1918. the crowds in paris and london and rome, all the great cities of europe that he visited right before the peace conference, people came out in the hundreds of thousands to greet wilson. he was a real hero. by the time he wound up leaving paris in june of 1919 permanently, he was being scorned and ridiculed. he could not wait to leave. when he returned home, the
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league and the treaty seem to have the majority support of the american people, at least judged by newspaper editorials and magazine editorials. but his foes in the u.s. senate assailed wilson's handiwork, the treaty of versailles and the league of nations, and they impelled him to geoeye nationwide tour to drum up support for the league of nations and the treaty, during which he was stricken with a terrible stroke and incapacitated for the rest of his presidency. even in his personal life wilson was a very contradictory figure. too many -- if you see pictures of him, you think of him as a prudish and austere person. privately, wilson was charming and witty and very passionate. he was grief stricken when his
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first wife died in 1914, but very quickly he struck up a romantic relationship with a washington socialite named edith olinger. the joke around washington went like this. quote, what did the new mrs. wilson do when the president proposed? the answer? she fell out of bed with surprise. [laughter] i listed that anecdote from argument really does -- from margaret macmillan's incredible book. we are incredibly lucky to have margaret macmillan with us today. she's truly one of the outstanding, one of the most distinguished historians of international relations in the world. she's a professor of history at oxford and the head of saint
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anthony's college at oxford for those of you who have been at oxford i was privileged enough to spend a year there about a decade ago. saint anthony's is one of perhaps arguably the best place in the world to study international relations. professor mcmillan has written many books. she has written on british women in india on nixon's opening of relations with china. she has written on the uses and abuses of history. most of all she's known for her two wonderful volumes on world war i. the first that she wrote about a dozen years ago was on peacemaking in 1919. the other just appeared last year and is about the origins of world war i, the war that ended peace.
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that's the name of the book. the former book, the one that in some ways will be the framework for today's lecture, i suspect one a half dozen of the english-speaking world's most prestigious prizes for the best book on international relations. i'm incredibly happy to have margaret macmillan here with us. she's going to talk for 40 or 45 minutes about wilson in war and peace, then i will engage her in a conversation for 10 or 15 minutes, and then i will open it up for questions. thank you. [applause] margaret: i would like to thank you for that kind introduction. i should warn you about that joke about mrs. wilson.
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[indiscernible] i would like to think the miller center for inviting me. it's a great pleasure to be here. i'm ashamed to say it is my first visit to the university of virginia in charlottesville. aren't you lucky to live in such a wonderful place. i'm going to talk today about woodrow wilson in war and peace. in 1913, at the beginning of his first administration, he said to a friend, it would be an irony of date if my administration had to focus on foreign policy. it was not his interest. it was not something he particularly wanted to have to do. that was something that he ended up doing. we look at him because he presides over the united states at a time of great crisis in world history, the great war first world war, one of the great crises of modern history. it shattered much of the old european order.
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it had consequences which lasted for decades, perhaps into the 21st century. it is also a very important moment in american history and world history. at the time when the united states is in the process of transforming its already great economic strengths, its greatest strengths as a nation, which is finally coming together after the scars and trauma of the civil war, when the united states begins transforming the strength into military strength. when the war began, the united states was not a military power in any sense of the word. it had a small navy, although it was beginning to build up its naval strength. it had a small army. it counted in military terms much less than a smaller countries such as italy. what we see as a consequence of the first world war is the beginnings of the united states becoming a truly global power. those beginnings were there before 1914. the period between 1914 and 1918 is a very important period in
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the history of the united states and the history of the world. it is important to look both at what was happening in the world what was happening in the united states, and at the personality of woodrow wilson himself. as president, he not only express the feelings and aspirations of a great many americans, he came to power on the great surge of progressive sentiment that was hoping to remake american society. but he also came to express something of american views of himself and what they might be doing in the world. i do think we have to pay attention to wilson the man. we have to put him very firmly in the context of his times. his personality and character and his many foibles would not have mattered if it were not that he was in charge of an important nation at a pivotal time in history.
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like a lot of human beings, he's very contradictory. he was a great idea list -- id ealist. if you crossed him, he tended to assume that you were his enemy. he was not good at accepting the people could have different points of view from him. his life is marked by a series of rejecting those who contradicted him stood against them, disagreed with him. he could be extraordinarily rigid trade he was a great orator. but he also in private told some of the worst jokes i've ever seen. when he was in paris, he was surrounded by a group of people who were working for him and admiring him. they used to write down his conversations in the evening. they wrote down his jokes. there's a huge collection of his papers. if you want to find some really bad shaggy dog stories, i would go to the wilson papers.
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some jokes that go on for 20 minutes with an irishman, a scotsman, southerner northerner. he was an intellectual in office but a very good practical politician. anyone who had been governor of new jersey knew something about the practicalities of politics. he was someone who like engaging in ideas, discussing ideas, but he could be very rigid once he made his mind up. those who knew him well would say he would talk about policy until he made his mind up, then there would be no further discussion. he also had the confidence that he understood better than many other elected leaders what the people wanted. he never really defined what the people was, but it seemed to be those who agreed with him. the people spoke to him. this is where he ran into trouble. he said, to the elected leaders of france, britain and italy
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your people have spoken to me. i know what the people of the world want. the french ambassador in washington said of him that he was a man who had he lived a couple centuries ago would have been the greatest tyrant in the world because he does not seem to have the slightest conception that he can never be wrong. i think this is something that marks wilson. a very intelligent man, but a man who could also be immovable and rigid. when he came to office, like many americans he had a strong sense of what the united states could do in the world. part of his understanding and views of what united states could do in the world came from his own background. he was a devout presbyterian. he remained a believer all his life. he believed in the role of good works, that it was the responsibility of people put on those to carry out good works. he believed the united states had a role and obligation to do
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good works in the world. he believed the united states could and should be a force for good. the united states should be an example to the world as he said when he was campaigning in new jersey in 1912, america is an idea, america is an ideal, america is a vision. that is something that helps to shape his attitude towards american neighbors those he has to deal with, and towards america's enemies. he supported the spanish-american war, although he initially opposed it trade he convinced himself the united states was bringing the benefits of civilization to the territories which it took over from the spanish. he supported the intervention of the united states in the affairs of latin american countries because he felt the united states was a force for good in those countries. when he became president, in the first term of his presidency he intervened quite forcefully in mexican affairs. often on rather shaky grounds
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but he felt he was doing the right thing. he said to a british diplomat, i'm going to teach the south american republics to elect good men. he said of mexico when the u.s. sent troops into mexico, we have gone to mexico to serve mankind if we can find a way. we do not want to fight the mexicans. if you were mexican, you might see this differently. this is the man who is president of the united states win the war breaks out, someone prepared to use american power or he sees it is necessary to do good, and it must be admitted, to defend american interests. he certainly felt in dealing with the caribbean basin and mexico, the united states had every right to defend the interests of american missionaries or business or american strategic interests. he did not in 1914 see the united states playing a larger role in the world.
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he was focused on domestic reforms and was carrying out an ambitious program of domestic reforms. when the war broke out, he was horrified, distracted by the fact that his wife was dying in those first days of august, but he took himself away from her deathbed and sent her a note, which unfortunately was not paid attention to to to the different size -- sides. there were those on the other side who said the united states should not get involved under any circumstances. there is considerable debate about if united states were to get involved, on which side should get involved.
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there were large sections in the united states to had no particular love for britain. a large irish population, which was not prepared to support the united states going in on the british side. there were all those who had fled czarist autocracy, who had fled russia for very good reasons, and moved to the united states and saw no reason to support and autocracy. a lot of democrats, whether they had families who would come from russia did not feel comfortable with the united states supporting a country that was known for being thoroughly undemocratic and autocratic. there was also a large population of german descent in the united states, many of whom if they were not prepared to advocate that united states joined on the german side, were not willing to see the united states fight a country for which they still had a good deal of
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affection. as the war broke out, there was division in public opinion. fair to say that probably the majority of americans hoped the united states could stay out of the war. they looked at what was happening in europe with horror, particularly as the were developed. it seemed what had been promised to be a short war was going to turn into this hideous war of attrition that was going to drag on and on and on. a lot of americans look to europe and thought, why are they doing it, with a sense of bewilderment and shock and horror that the europeans seemed intent on destroying their own civilization. at least in the first year of the war, if you can gauge american public opinion, i think the feeling was the united states should stay out. but a number of factors, some of them outside wilson's control began to push the united states
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gradually towards the allied side. wilson himself was probably more sympathetic to the allies then he was to the central powers of germany and austria-hungary and their other allies, the ottoman empire, bulgaria, and so on. yet not visited europe much, but he had spent time in britain. had studied british history. he was a great admirer of the development of constitutionalism in britain and the development of liberal thinking in prison. it felt on balance, the allied side with the better side. from the beginning, when there was a question of doing something that might favor the allied side or might favor the central powers, wilson tended to come down on the allied side. for example, on the issue of loans to belligerents -- this was a thorny issue. should those fighting be able to borrow money in the u.s.? william jennings bryan was initially for ban on both sides, which he argued with some
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justification was true neutrality. if you're going to be neutral you should not lend to either side. there was pressure from business, from banks which did want to lend, and the people they probably were going to lend to were the allies. the state department was also in favor of making loans to the allies. by the late fall of 1914, wilson had ordered the state department and brian to make it possible for the allies to borrow in the u.s.. this was tilting towards the allies. the loans to the allies were going to increase steadily to the point that by 1917, united states mostly private interests had lent $7 billion to the allies. wilson facilitated it.
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the war had a favorable impact on the united states because the allies were in a great position to order a great amount of war material from the united states. the war also gave the opportunity for american business to begin to move in on markets that had been the preserve of the british or the french. in many ways, the war was an economic benefit to the united states. in 1914, u.s. exports to europe to the sum of $500 million right some of it going to germany, but the bulk of its going to the allied powers. there is a marked increase in the war which entangles the united states more and more economically with the allies.
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united states which pushed towards the allied side -- was pushed towards the allied side. the great british weapon was a naval blockade. the british imposed a naval blockade on germany. they began to disrupt neutral trade, trades being carried in neutral shipping to germany which began to irritate american public opinion this remained a constant irritant in the relationship between the united states and allies, particularly in the united states -- between the united states and britain. germany managed to enrage american public opinion much more than britain did. the germans, increasingly as the war went on, allow their policy to be made by the military. the german military tended to see very much in terms of
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winning the war, and they tended to ignore or downplay political factors. right at the beginning of the war, the germans for military reasons invaded the neutral country of belgium. neutrality had been guaranteed by a number of european states including germany itself. germany is breaking its own guarantee to belgium, invading a small country. the german invasion of belgium was going to help her a significantly to tilt american opinion against germany. it outweighed the irritants of the british blockade, irritating those [indiscernible] begin to see germany is something that had been dominated by militarists which were running out of control, not obeying the laws of civilized warfare. there were going to be several incidents in the invasion of belgium which really shocked american opinion and opinion elsewhere. the germans behaved with increasingly retalix he indulged him -- increasing brutality in belgium.
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they began to round up elgin civilians use them for forced labor in germany, and began as a warning occasionally to shoot a number of belgian civilians, in spite of the fact that this was contrary to the rules of war. it is fairly clear that the germans also burnt a large part of the ancient city in belgium including a very old library which contained a great many treasures of the european past. this really shocked american public opinion. this seemed an act of arbor is him. -- barbarism. one german later on said the two things that really swayed american public opinion against us were the louvain and lusitania. in 1915, when german submarines sank the lusitania, a large number of civilians were drowned, including a number of americans.
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this was a shock to american public opinion. you can see a gradual shift in american opinion, which probably shares towards the allied side. this is a very long way from saying the united states should be involved in the war. wilson's own views was we should not be involved, this is not a war that involves us. on several occasions, he offered his services or the services of the united states as a mediator. while this was happening, there is also debate in the united states about whether the united states should get more prepared for war. should the united states up its military preparations in a world that was increasingly turbulent? this divided american public opinion. united states, he argued could not take the chance and a world that was at war, of not being prepared militarily. he cast this in terms of being prepared against mexico in
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terms of continental defense but that could be stretched to mean preparedness in terms of naval preparedness in the atlantic. there was a fear increasingly in the united states that if germany won in europe, it would make europe inimical hostile to the united states. it would become more vulnerable to threats from europe. on december 15 and december 1915, wilson and his state of the union speech talked. it was focused on military preparedness. he developed a new five-year plan for the navy, which was approved by the senate. in june 1916 after a great deal of debate in congress, a national defense act was approved, which increase the army to 223,000 people. this is a market increase.
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this was cast in terms of defense of the united states not of getting into war. you can see the similarities between the debate it took place in the united states before 1941 -- that took place in the united states before 1941. what you also got was an interesting debate in the united states about what the proper role for the united states should be in the world. it is a debate i think which has occurred throughout the history of united states. i think we see it again today, a debate about whether the united states should be internationalist, whether it should get involved in the world for any number of reasons. these debates go right back to the founding of the public and i think will continue.
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it is in this debate in the first world war that the word isolationist first enters the vocabulary. you probably all know what happened. the war drags on. united states is more and more involved economically. american opinion is debating what the united states should be doing. wilson runs in 1916 on the platform of keeping the united states out of the war. we will be too proud to fight, he said. he kept us out of the war, was what the democrats said when wilson won. this was the platform he ran on. there's a real parallel here with franklinton the -- dylan a roosevelt in 1940, are doing he's the one who would keep united states out of the war. in the end, what brought the united states in was this gradual shift in public opinion. it was what the germans did. the germans behaved in a way
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that i can only describe as folly, extremely shortsighted. the german supreme cap -- command by 1917 was in command of the german state. it had set up something close to a german dictatorship. it had been repressing to renew unrestricted summary and warfare. it stopped in 1915 after an american ship had been sunk. there is huge protest in the u.s. and the german government had recognized that unrestricted submarine warfare with submarines could fire on any shipping approaching british shores, whether neutral british, or not, was not helping germany. the high command had been pressing for the resumption of unrestricted submarine warfare. in january 1917, they got their wish. the sinking sand loss of american lives began to go up. american opinion begins to harden. in 1917, wilson talks to the senate. he's hoping to keep the united
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states out of the war. he's beginning to sketch a world after the war, beginning to take an active role in defining what that role should look like. that's not the same as going into the war. it is indicating that the united states, as far as wilson is concerned, is moving to a position of saying, the world would be a different place and we ought to have a say in it. once you think you ought to have a say in the world, you are more likely to want to get involved. it's in his address to the senate in january 1917 that he talks about piece of that victory. he talks about how the world might develop a community of powers to replace the old balance of power, and begins to sketch out his ideas for a new type of way, a new way of managing international relations. the germans do their best to make up american lines. not only do they resume unrestricted submarine warfare but they sent a telegram to the mexican government after the
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foreign secretary who sends it and what zimmerman sends to the mexican government is a telegram saying, we think you probably -- you would probably like to have back the territory which the united states took from you in the 19th century. we suggest you declare war on the united states. we can probably persuade japan to join in. we will certainly support you. the germans had to send this telegram on british cables because the british had cut all the german telegraph cables to the new world, but it was coded but the british had broken the german code. the british decode this cable the lies they have a really hot potato here, sit on it for the time being if they decide to -- what they will do with it, and in february they take it to woodrow wilson. you can imagine his reaction. this is treachery of the first order, now a menace to the security of united states, right there on the southern border of the united states.
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from that point on, it's pretty much a foregone conclusion that the united states will enter the war on the allied side. what also makes it easier for the united states to contemplate doing this is in february 1917, there's also a revolution in russia. this is not yet the bolshevik revolution, this is the first revolution that overthrows a czarist regime. one of the main objections that used to come from liberals and people who are profoundly democratic to joining on the allied side, that the allies included this autocratic power suddenly is removed. in april to cut a long and complicated story short, wilson goes to congress and asks for a declaration of war. it's one of his best speeches. he does so not in a triumphant way. he does it in a somber way. united states, he says, is entering into a war that is going to cost us. it's going to suffer the loss of life.
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himself has a heavy heart. what he hopes is that the war will end in producing a better world. what he hoped privately and said to many, he hoped it would bring the american people together educate them about international issues, and the responsibility towards the war. i think he understood very clearly what needed to be done and more. he understood the importance of mobilizing the nation for war. the day after he signed a declaration of war, he made a list which he called his program. he said, we need to up the measures for war. we need to increase the size of the army and navy. we need to pass on the just set -- necessary legislation to put the country in a throw statement preparation and defense for actions. -- thorough state of operation and defense for actions. we need to make sure we do not have spies and we do not suffer espionage at home.
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this is one of the areas which is very contentious about those days of the presidency. there is a real curtailment of civil liberties and a good deal of spying on american citizens. i think woodrow wilson himself did not do enough to defend very basic civil liberties. he allowed furthermore attacks on ethnic and. he allowed attacks on unions. he allowed increasingly and often rigid segregation in the armed forces. as a war leader, he did a lot to bring the united states together. you can also look at areas where he didn't. the also recognize the war was going to have to be financed. baruch and others tried to don conduct american industrial output. unlike some of his predecessors
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he was not himself interested in things military. he did not on the whole intervene in either making strategy. he allowed strategy for winning the war to be made by the allies, who now had a coherent commander, supreme commander. but he was prepared to support general pershing when pershing insisted the united states play an independent role and american forces play an independent role. wilson's attitude seems to be that he would allow pershing once appointed to do what he thought best. you get very little interference by wilson. he does not play the role the churchill will play in england or roosevelt. what he does in the course of the war is continue to scratch out -- sketch out american warrings. after his address in which he talks about these without victory, january 8 1918 he unveils the 14 points. these -- this is a more
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comprehensive statement of the type of world he wants. he doesn't use self-determination in that speech although that term is associated with him. it had been used a few days previously by the british prime minister, who had made a similar speech. it was suspected, and the white house, to preempt what wilson and still some -- publicity -- steal publicity from him. although the term is now forever associated with wilson of self-determination, it comes to be something he uses later on. in the 14 points he talks about the liberal world order he wants, a world in which there is open diplomacy. he talks about open company's openly arrived at. a lot of americans and others blamed the war on europe in secret diplomacy. the idea the relations between nations will now become transparent -- that does not last. it turns out to be something that is very difficult to do.
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he talks about a community of nations, collective security. this is the forerunner of the league of nations. he talks not about self-determination, but autonomy for the different parts of the oster-hungarian umpire. he talks about helping russia to find its way. it talks about disarmament lowering trade areas. this is a very liberal international order that if we can have collective security disarmament, if we can link the world together through trade increasingly, we will have a world that will be safer, and a world safe for democracy. he continues to elaborate on his views of the postwar world in the last months and year of the war. increasingly too he tends to blame what he calls german militarism or a lot of the war. he doesn't lay in germany itself although it is certainly
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close to that, but he is increasingly vehement against what he calls impression on german militarism, the rampant ascendancy of the military, as senate see of military values. these, he says must be removed from germany before germany can be rehabilitated and reintegrated into the community of nations. in spite of what later historians have said, he was not prepared to be socked with germany. he was prepared to chastise germany. then and only then would germany be fit to be admitted into the community of nations. the war ended very quickly. the germans made one last great push in the summer of 1918, but they had by this point run out of steam. the fact that there were now a million americans in europe and more in training camps, 2 million more in training camps in the united states, that tremendous american support of material, manpower, fresh approach to the war, was now
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counting against germany. the germans simply crumbled. they were no longer capable of sustaining the war. the german homefront was collapsing. by autumn of 1918, german allies were beginning to fall away. the german high command is continue to assure the civilian government that everything is going well. suddenly, panic. we have to have an armistice. the german government, hoping they might get gentler treatment from the united states because of the sorts of speech is the woodrow wilson has in making, which had been well reported in germany, sent an open note to woodrow wilson, asking him to broker an armistice. wilson, much to the fury of his european partners that she will never call them allies. yahweh says the united states is an associate power. -- he says the united states is an associate power.
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this is not something the british and french particularly approve of. they find themselves preempted by what the germans in the first phase have done and by what wilson does. the armistice is made in spite of what the british and french want. on the british and french side there is sentiment it is probably better to go on, and germany needs to be thoroughly defeated. there are certainly those in the united states arguing this as well. teddy roosevelt is saying, and so is henry cabot lodge, that unless germany is utterly defeated, unless germany knows it has been defeated, there will only be the seeds of trouble for the future. sometimes i think they were right. it's a difficult debate. in the second world war roosevelt and churchill decided on unconditional surrender as their policy. they were not going to have conditional surrender as her was in the first world war. the armistice was made. it was made in such a way that germany continued as a state.
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it accepted that germany will continue to be a state, although there had been talk of breaking it up into its component parts. germany on the whole did not come badly out of that armistice. the government had by this point been replaced by a more or less democratic government. german soil was not occupied except for a small bit on the west bank of the rhine. perhaps lead to trouble in the future. i would argue that it did treat most germans never really felt they had been defeated. they never saw the consequences of defeat. the high command, who had so rapidly and in such a panic stricken fashion demanded the government -- they panicked, we didn't. they began very city leslie with the support of the writing in germany to promote this pernicious myth that germany had been stabbed in the back, it had never been defeated on the
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battlefield, it had been stabbed in the back by traders -- traitors at home. they included liberals, communists, and unfortunately jews. it grew in power rather than lessening in the 1920's and 1930's. . the question now is what sort of peace will be made. as a professor mentioned wilson broke the president by coming himself to the peace conference that was going to take place in paris. he was heavily criticized for it at the time. he was right to go, because this was an important conference. the world had quite literally been turned upside down by the war, and europe and much of the rest of the world was in turmoil. four empires had disappeared or were in the process of disappearing. germany was falling to pieces, losing territories it had conquered a century earlier losing its polish territories, its colonies. the ottoman empire was going to
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disappear shortly after november 11, 1918. the austro-hungarian empire had already disappeared. it was falling into its different component pieces. you nations were struggling to be born in the wreckage. russia had an internal revolution and was using -- losing an empire. the states on the periphery of russia were declaring their independence. states such as latvia, lithuania, ukraine tried and succeeded briefly. georgia, azerbaijan, russia was both an empire and regime. both were splintering in the aftermath of the great war. there were huge questions the world had to settle. what was the shape of europe going to be like? what was the shape of the middle east going to be like? suddenly all the arab territories of the ottoman empire were now up for grabs of some sort. they were colonies -- there were colonies to be disposed of in africa and south pacific.
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there was a real danger that many felt at the time, the europe and the world were going to plunge into even more revolution. the second revolution in russia, of november 1917, had seen a small and fanatical splinter group in the bolsheviks takeover. there was a communist revolution in bavaria. it only lasted for a week come up but it was enough to worry a people. there were militant strikes in britain, canada. there were troubles around the world. there was a real fear that 1918 was not the end of something, it was the beginning of another, even more dreadful period in human history. wilson was right to go to paris. where he made a mistake was in the way he chose his delegation. he did not include any republicans. he included one nominal republican who he paid no attention to. this was wrong.
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it also fought the 1918 congressional action as a vote of confidence and himself. he made the making of peace a partisan affair. and criticize him for that. i think it's striking that fdr in 1945 mixer and international conferences he went to before he died in 1945 were bipartisan. i think wilson was right to go to paris. there are many views of wilson in paris. was wilson the messiah who came from the united states with the gift of peace and international fellowship and was greeted by lighthearted, cynical people in europe who took his gift and destroyed it? that was promulgated that wilson was too good for the europeans. the europeans did not understand what it was that he was offering. my own view is that is wrong. many europeans supported what wilson was trying to do.
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they had seen firsthand, and many of them had survived what the war had done to their society. for a lot of europeans, wilson offered thomas, offered hope. many of the ideas he was bringing with him were ideas that had been in europe for a long time. these were not just ideas he had come up with. these were ideas that you should have collective security, ideas that had been talked about throughout the 19th century in europe. ideas of international arbitrations to settle disputes among nations. these were things that had been talked about and had been tried. international free trade, these are ideas that had been talked about. the idea certainly were there. i think the view that wilson was too good for europe is wrong. the view -- the view that wilson was in a competent at paris was wrong. this idea was promulgated by the
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young reddish economist who was critical of everyone in paris. -- british economist who was critical of everyone in paris. the french prime minister he describes as a giant chimpanzee in human form who sits there with hooded eyes, thinking only of revenge on germany, which is not true. whatever he thought he knew of the germans, that france would have to work with them at some point. he portrays the british prime minister as half goat, half man, coming out of the welsh mists who weaves spells around wilson. he portrays wilson as someone blindfolded and spun round and round until he doesn't know whether he's coming or going. this is not true. wilson made mistakes. they all did. i think he believed he could do too much. whenever a question came up he said, as long as we get the league up and running, the league will be able to deal with it. i think he had too much optimism, but he was bringing something very important trade
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he was bringing to the forefront of public opinion another way of looking at the world, another way of trying to run the world. this was enormously important, particularly when you can see what had happened. i think there was real support in europe for wilson station. he was trying to do something that was rabidly impossible. i take a view of the paris peace conference that it made mistakes, it did not create a stable world, but that it probably couldn't have done much better. the conditions for a lasting peace were simply not there. it's all very well to say that those people sitting in paris should have sorted the world out. the world was not in a condition to be sorted out. it was very different in 1815 when the powers met at the congress of vienna to sort out the aftermath of the french wars of revolution and the napoleonic wars. by 1815, europe was tired. nobody wanted anymore war.
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in 1918, that wasn't true. there were a whole series of small wars after 1918. winston churchill called them the wars of the pygmies. wars in the southern parts of europe. this is not a peaceful world that was yet ready for peace. it was a world in which revolutionary feelings were running high. the russian revolution had set off revolutionary fervor around europe trade. ethnic nationalism was running high. people who had been within those empires who had increasingly been defining themselves as nations suddenly saw an attempt to establish nations of their own. establishing a nation with national boundaries was not easy. there were no clear markers of where those boundaries should be. the center of europe had a mix
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of peoples. nationalities were so mixed up that you would have a hungarian village next to a german village. how did you draw a reasonable boundary? there is no way of putting all german speakers in a neat little box. nor were there clearly defined historic boundaries. because european history had seen so much, and for so many centuries andries had come and gone, what was the legitimate boundary? they all said, history shows this should be the extent of our nation. human nature being what it is, what they called on was the time their nation had been biggest in the past. the bulgarians looked back to the 14th century, when they had been quite big. they were often claiming the same bits of territory. you can just imagine what the greeks did, or the italians. [laughter] they could go even further back with even more justification. i would argue that it wasn't wilson's fault that a lasting
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peace was not built. the circumstances were not right for it. and they tried. they brought their experts. this is one of the times when people like me, history professors, were invited to go along and give views on how the borders should be drawn. this is the beginning of the use of experts in international diplomacy. the committees worked hard. they had delegations who came in with maps to show that they should have that's -- this piece of territory rather than someone else. the americans, on the whole tried to draw a rational boundaries that would give countries a fighting chance of surviving. they try to make them economically stable. they tried to incorporate railway networks. they tried also to resist the more outlandish claims. the americans on the whole played a reasonable part. they were dealing with something that was not reasonable. ethnic nationalism was not by
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its nature reasonable and it wasn't going to be settled easily. national self-determination, in the end, what did it mean? robert lansing said come and how do you define an ethnic nation? what about the people who don't want to be apart and they have an ethnic nation too? can you keep subdividing it until you get smaller and smaller nations? how can they survive in an independent world? wilson told the senate at the end of 1919 that he had come to regret that he ever uttered the words national self-determination. he said, i did not foresee what trouble it would cause. you look at the paris peace conference. i'm inclined to say that wilson and the rest of them did the best job they could. there are things you can criticize about what wilson and what some of the others did. it was right to insist on negotiating the league covenant first.
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he said, we've got to get the covenant first. it was going to be put into all the other treaties as well. there is grounds to criticize. one of the ways -- one of the things i would criticize is the way he handled the japanese request. the japanese wanted to be part of a liberal international order. but what they wanted was to be recognized. they were very sensitive about the fact that their nationals had been denied entry into the united states, canada, australia on racial grounds. what they wanted written into the league covenant was a phrase that came to be known as the racial equality clause which said there should be no discrimination on the basis of religion or nationality. wilson ruled it out on a rather feeble technicality. he was afraid of losing votes from the west coast and felt that if he challenged the fears on the west coast, if he did not
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go along with what the west coast wanted, that is, exclusion of asian immigration, you would have more trouble getting the league, the treaty through congress. i think he was wrong on this because it served to poison relations in the long term with japan. i think he was also wrong, but it was not him alone. when china came to the peace conference, and china and japan were both allies in the first world war. the chinese said, we would like back what had been german concessions in china. the japanese said, we also have a claim on those because we helped to defeat germany. the allies and wilson could have stopped it. they gave german concessions in china to the japanese. it infuriated the chinese. it helped to spur the founding and growth of the chinese communist party and helped to turn china away from a liberal international order. as one young chinese intellectual said, we used to trust people like wilson. now we think we're -- they're great liars.
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you can look at what wilson did and argue that it would have long-term consequences. can you blame him for not foreseeing it? perhaps you can't. in the end he felt the treaty was the best they could have got. it wasn't too harsh on germany. that is perhaps something we can talk about again. i think the final criticism i would make a wilson is that he did not make it possible for the treaty to go through congress. he came back, there was opposition. as far as we know, american public opinion -- literary review did a survey, as it often did. an opinion was over 2 to 1 in favor of the u.s. joining the league. there was an organization to promote american membership of the league, which had far more members than the parallel organization to oppose american
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membership of the league. in the end, why the treaty failed was because wilson was not prepared to compromise. he was not prepared to accept the reservations that came attached to the treaty as it made its way to the senate. he ordered his democrats to vote against the treaty as amended. the treaty and therefore american membership in the league was defeated by a combination of democrat and republican votes. you can argue he was no longer the man he had been. he suffered a stroke in the follows 1919 in the course of the long trip across the country to get support for the league. he had become both isolated and extremely stubborn. on the balance my own view is wilson was not the savior of the world people hoped he would be. but he was not the bamboozled and blindfolded figure spun around that people thought he was. he was a complicated man. he presided over the united
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states a complicated time in a complicated world. 's record is mixed. the given those circumstances -- but given those circumstances, i think anyone's record would have been mixed. [applause] host: that was a wonderful survey of woodrow wilson in war and peace. i neglected to say when i introduced you that you are canadian by birth and you have been in england for many years. most americans think of woodrow wilson as a great idealist. that is often infused with both respect and also with a little bit of contempt, that he was a
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great idealist. do you think wilson was a great idealist? professor macmillan: yes, i think so. you need a great idealist. we need them now. the idea we can let the long each nation in a dog eat dog world i don't think is going to work. the consequences can be so dreadful that we need to think of other ways of thinking. perhaps this is a very canadian view because we are a small power, but we see cooperation with other nations as a way for security and safety in the world. conflicts on the scale of the first world war, much less the second world war and let's hope there will never be that scale again, are so damaging to us all that i think it is not idealistic to build ways of preventing those. it is actually very practical. host: he is often viewed as idealistic because when he comes back to the u.s., he refuses to compromise.
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much of what we think about wilson i think stems from that intransigence about compromising with his thomistic photos -- domestic foes. some people who do not think he was an idealist point to the fact that when he was negotiating in paris as you point out, many times he was a remarkable compromiser. in fact, some of his domestic opponents ridiculed him precisely because he had compromised too much and had betrayed his own principles again and again during the negotiations in paris. was he really a rigid idealist or was he a pragmatic compromiser? professor macmillan: i think he
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became more rigid when he was back in the united states. i think the consequences of the stroke are very important. the fact he was kept in isolation by his wife, that he was not either in a position to compromise or was not getting the right advice or not capable of doing it. he did compromise in paris. i think you have to. the idea you can go in and hold your ideals high and never make a compromise, he was dealing with other powerful nations. there is a tendency for people to read back the great power of the united states, which is certainly had by 1945, back to this period. it was a powerful country but not the dominant power it was going to be my 1944 and 1945. britain still had the biggest empire in the world. france was still a considerable power. wilson could not push them around in a way roosevelt could get churchill to do what he wanted.
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so i think wilson had to recognize other nations had interests here. there was a real problem over germany. wilson wanted a piece about retribution, although he felt strongly germany should be punished in some way. the idea wilson was prepared to be so gentle with germany i think is a wrong one. he thought germany did need to be --to pay a price for what it had done. he shared the view that germany started the war. it was easy for him to say we should not exact to much in the way of reparations from germany because it was not going to hurt the united states. but the french had a real problem and so did the british. the french looked at the north of france where a lot of the war had been fought, something like one quarter of all their industrial plants had been destroyed, minds have been destroyed, their railways have been destroyed. villages and towns have been destroyed. the french lost more men proportionally to the population than anyone else. they looked across the border at
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germany which was relatively and scares -- unscathed and thought why can the germans go on living like this and we have to rebuild? why shouldn't the german state -- germans pay? in democracies, you have to deal with what the public wants. the french public were determined to germany should pay. the probably was not sensible. in the end, it was difficult to get reparations out of germany. public opinion put clemens in a position where he had little choice. the british had not bankrupted themselves. they spend huge amounts in the war and let huge amounts to allies. they said the french and belgians are going to get recompense for the damage done to their land, what about us? the french managed to argue that the pensions being paid to widows should be included in the bill. you could say wilson should not have go against this -- along with this, but it was difficult to go against the allies on this.
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what they were doing was drying up a treaty with germany. if he failed to compromise, it might have broken down because this is something the french in particular were not prepared to compromise on. what the french did do is they backed down on a lot. they backed down on occupying germany. they backed down on long-term proposals to break germany up. compromise was not just on wilson's side. the french compromised, the british compromised. it was a difficult situation. one thing wilson might have contemplated, but he was against it and so were his advisers and it would have been difficult was to cancel our debts to the united states. the allies have borrowed $9 billion from the united states to pay for the war. that was one of the reasons they were so firm on getting reparations, because the british headland -- lent to the french. they both lent to the russians for the russians not
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paying anything. the british and french had huge one step -- war debts they were paying off to united states. that gave added impetus to extract reparations from germany. he said why don't we just cancel the whole lot? britain and france can agree not to get reparations from germany. it probably would have been better but politically impossible. host: inside the united states? professor macmillan: in the second world war, they did provide a lot of the financing for the allied war effort without expecting to be repaid. host: that is a good experience of learning from the past. i tend to agree with you that wilson was an artful compromiser during the paris deliberations. everybody compromised quite a bit.
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the notions we often have of wilson the rigid idealist, comes from when he returned home and refuses to compromise with his adversaries. as you say and i think most historians have pointed out in fact the best we can tell, americans supported the league. it was not that americans were isolationist in 1918-1919. they supported america's role in the world. it was a question of how to define that, what that role would be. one of the continuing debates in american foreign relations history is the question of, should wilson have compromised with lodge?
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once he is stricken, obviously that has a real impact on him physically and psychologically. he becomes more intransigent. but even before then, he shows every sign of not wanting to compromise at all. in fact, he shows a lot of contempt for his domestic adversaries. and of course, this increases their contempt for him in turn. how should we explain this and should we be very critical? could we have had a constructive american role in the world if wilson had been willing to make some compromise? professor macmillan: my own view as you could any world would have been a better place for it. wilson did make compromises with
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republicans. this was the sight of his character that said if you disagree with the, there's something morally wrong with you. he hated lodge. he thought lodge was evil. i have looked recently at the criticisms lodge made of the league covenant. these were reasonable. he is saying, should we find ourselves in advance to support action in a conflict which we don't yet know what the conflict is going to be? these were reasonable. it is a debate that goes on. wilson treated lodge as someone beyond the pale, treated him as if he were very foolish. he would not talk to teddy roosevelt. roosevelt wanted to go over to europe leading his own regiment. wilson would not even talk to him about it. he could have said this is wonderful, let's think about it. roosevelt was getting on and not
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that well, but he was not good at dealing with political opponents. he was very skillful maneuvering. he was a very effective president in many ways. you look at what he got through in terms of domestic legislation in his first time, it is extraordinary. host: you can only do that by being a great compromiser and leader. professor macmillan: when it came to making peace, he had a vision and did not think anyone that did not have the vision was worth listening to. this is where f.d.r. was right. he made it bipartisan from the beginning. wilson didn't. when he came back to united states briefly during the peace conference he was out of the united states until he came back on february 14 for a month, he would not see lodge. he went to boston and made a speech about his vision and those who don't agree with him which was stupid and antagonistic. he did silly things. one of his daughters had a grandson.
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the look at this infant and said he is just like a senator with his mouth open the whole time and keeps his eyes shut. this is stupid. host: this is important lessons for americans to think of. we tend to think contemporary partisan acrimony is unique. what we forget is in this critical time just how acrimonious and poisonous politics was in the united states. and also how dismal the consequences were as a result of it because there was possibility for compromise. most americans wanted in some form the united states to participate in the league were in an international organization. it did not come about because of the intransigentce and inflexibility of these people. it is true wilson had utmost contempt for lodge.
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it is also true that contempt was fully reciprocated. [laughter] lodge detested wilson. these were two men who lowest -- loathed one another. i want to check the context of the conversation for a few minutes. in the aftermath of world war ii, the trio versailles was going for world war ii. nowadays, the treaty of versailles not the treaty of versailles, but the peacemakers of 1919 and 1920 are usually criticize for the problems in the middle east and persian gulf today. and that there is a huge amount of literature saying the problems in iraq and in syria today go back to the first world war. would you be kind enough to
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elaborate on that and tell us what you think? professor macmillan: i tend to think events cast a shadow. but you cannot look at the event and track everything that happens in between. to talk about europe for a second, the argument that the treaty of her silent direct we to 1939. my question was, what was everyone doing for 20 years? other things were happening. in the middle east it is true that the settlement made in the middle east enraged a lot of arab opinion, except in egypt where there was a deeply rooted nationalist movement. but otherwise, it was more elite opinion. there was a sense among the errands -- arabs they have been promised independent states and have been betrayed. that fatally gets mixed up with the establishment of a jewish homeland in palestine which is seen as part of the same betrayal. the presence of the jews in palestine comes to be the symbol of the betrayal of the arabs and
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the meddling by outside powers in a way which does not help the jews coming to palestine. i do think what was done in 1919 and subsequent years because the peace settlement in the middle east to go while to work out and the united states was not much involved when wilson became sick, the united states to longer have strong interest there. it was not an ideal settlement. it is difficult. this was a time of empire. people making decisions in the west tended to think they could dispose of peoples around the world the way they wished. it would have taken more enlightened leaders more 20th-century leaders rather than 19th century leaders to recognize you could not go on crossing out people like this. one thing wilson did do which i think had some consequence was he got written into the league of nations the mandates -- and this is something he said in a
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subsequent speeches -- is that you cannot parcel people out and hand them around without thinking of their interests. when the middle east and african colonies were disposed of, they were not given directly to the victors. they were handed over as mandates of the league of nations. britain and france, australia, and south africa were given mandates to run these and had to report to the league of nations. there is a step forward that these territories had to be administered in some form of international system for the benefit of the people living there. a lot of people saw that the cynical western imperialism. i think a lot was. nevertheless, it was an important idea introduced. the problem with the middle east is it was the sort of problem you had in central europe. how could you draw rational boundaries to make rational states? the peoples were mixed. you could not have ethnic states. even drying a kurdish state
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would have been difficult because the peoples were so mixed. in iraq, you have persons, arabs, jews -- kurdish, arabs jews. i think iraq is more defensible than the borders of syria. iraq was geographically defensible. it had been sometimes collectively treated. baghdad was seen as a senior province. geographically, there is a unity. you come down the valleys of the tigris and euphrates. mesopotamia did have some historical presence. there was a possibility and i talk to people who know iraqi history better than i do, there was a possibility iraq could have developed as a reasonable country within those boundaries. but there are accidents in history. the good king died early. his son was a useless playboy who killed himself in a car accident.
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there was a boy who was not a good regent. that was a problem. you got a series of political movements in iraq. then you had a series of military coups. given a different history and different accidents, iraq might have developed in a different way. i always found the argument that if you draw boundaries, you cannot expect a country to grow within it. if you look at the boundaries of canada, they could not be more artificial. it is one straight line from the great lakes to the west coast. but a country has grown within those borders. you look at many african countries, national feeling has developed. whether things could have turned out differently iraq i think was hopeful. syria was cursed from the beginning because the french took a large part of syria and gave it to the syrians. iraq has become a french country. it has problems but geographically made sense. libya never made sense.
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was two different provinces of the ottoman empire that was shoved together, never happily so. you can blame a lot on what happened in 1919. but i don't think you can blame everything. the trouble with the middle east is it is at a cost rose -- crossroads. is costly being meddled with by outside powers. the iraq war did not help. host: one thing we admire about your work is you are able to put policymakers in the context of their time and understand the constraints under which they operate in the limits of the options. i think we should take 10 minutes or so to open it up for questions. i know there are some people here. yeah. one second. there is a microphone. introduce yourself. >> what i wanted to ask about is this issue of, and you said a
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lot about it quite -- in quite graphic terms, was wilson ill when he went to the conference? you made a point of the fact he had, although he did not choose a republican to be a member of the delegation, he had some pretty fancy people and minds on board the boat. he did not really meet with them much. when he got to europe, he was caught up in the celebration of the 14 points and the league, that sort of thing. was he somebody who had a heart event or something before it collapsed later in the spring, do you think? professor macmillan: i don't know. there's a lot of speculation about wilson's health. he tended to have moments of total collapse. this was even before he became president. there would be times when he would have terrible trouble of his vision. doctors were not sure what it
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was. i am not a doctor, but whether this was thrombosis, his health was always something of an issue. in paris the work would have done it for most of us because they were at it from morning till night. the pressures on them were huge. there was a real sense of urgency. if we don't get a peace coupled together, the world could go into a worse state. when he came back from paris, he had what was described as flu. that could have covered a number of things. he was very sick. there is some speculation in editing the wilson papers. there is one thing in one of the volumes that said it could have been a stroke. he did begin to behave erratically after that episode. there is one curious episode when he came into the room with
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one of his secretaries and said i don't like the way the chairs are arranged. we should put the red ones they are and put the green ones there, which was kind of. -- odd. the secretary faithfully moved them around. doctors 20 years ago thought it could have been a milder stroke than the one that felt him -- fe lled him in the fall of 1919. very difficult to know. but he was someone prone to sudden attacks which would lay him low. post: i think the general view now as he did have two minor strokes in paris. he had one in 1905 when he was president of princeton as well. other questions, please. barbara? there is a microphone, barbara. introduce yourself quickly. >> i am barbara perry, the
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cochair of the presidential oral history here. we talked about it a little bit last night at dinner. let's say we could resurrect woodrow wilson from his final resting place in the national cathedral in northwest washington and bring him to the miller center, and we would have you on the panel to ask questions. what would be the first question you would ask him? professor macmillan: do you want to go first? >> i would ask our you sorry you did not compromise with the reservationist. professor macmillan: on the reservations that came attached to the treaty, the european leaders later said they could have worked with them. whether they would have is another matter. he said if we had to, we would have accepted them because we wanted the united states in the league. i don't know. i might have liked to have pushed him on why he allowed more segregation rather than less in the federal service. i know he was a seven or.
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this was a man who expressed high moral principles, was a great liberal. why did he allow it? the federal post office, they began to segregate the offices. and this was happening elsewhere in washington. i would like to know his rationale for allowing that to happen. host: along the same lines, i think one would ask, do you think you went too far in terms of your implementation of the alien and sedition laws passed at the time? one of the principal books written about wilson and world war i makes the case that wilson's actions undid wilson's aspirations. the principal one was that he repressed his principal support
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along the progressive, left liberals during 1918 and 1919 and very much alienated them and could no longer rely on them to support afterwards. they felt incredibly alienated by wilson at that time. yes, please. >> thank you. mary j abbott, retired foreign service officer. could you briefly compare and contrast -- is this going out? compare and contrast the league of nations and the united nations? a couple of articles and how one developed from the other if that was the case. professor macmillan: the u.n. certainly developed from the league of nations. the league existed until 1945. initially, there was some talk
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of resurrecting the league and redoing it. they decided it was so much identified with the outbreak of the second world war that it would not be worth doing so they decided to set up a new united nations. many of the legal organizations -- league organizations carried over into the united nations. some of the associated bodies of the united nations have a longer history than the united nation itself and many personnel carried over. i suppose the key difference with united nations is the security council has five permanent members with vetoes. that was to reassure the great powers their interests would always be listened to. the problem is they reflect the wrong people. that was one of the key differences. what happened with the league is there would be four permanent members -- five permanent members and four elected, but they would all have equal votes.
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when the united states did not join, you had fewer permanent members and it was always the danger of deadlock. i think roosevelt was very concerned that the powers should be reassured that their voice will be heard in the united nations, which is why the security council still has so much power. i would say that is the key difference with the league. i think also if you look at the united nations, it was not as ambitious. it has some of the same provisions but is more cautious in its approach to conflict than the league of nations was. therefore, i think the possibility of disappointment is less. in many ways, i think the leak was a useful exercise is the wrong word, but it was a useful forerunner of the united nations and introduced into our understanding and to the public
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the idea we could have international organizations like this, which i think are useful. if we did not have them, we would be wanting to invent them. that is a short answer to a competent question. host: one last question. >> john waterson. do you think it mattered that the united states did not join the league of nations especially considering the pacifism and antiwar sentiment generally and the rejection of american participation in world war i that you see in the 1930's? professor macmillan: it is an interesting question. we will never know.
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i think if the united states had joined the league, it would have been a stronger institution and given an important on european voice to the league. as it was, the united states was so involved in what was going on in europe anyway. when they tried to broker an end to the endless reparation questions, twice they were backed by the united states. at the conferences, the united states was there. the united states was often involved. i think if they had been more formally involved, it would have made the league stronger and served to educate american public opinion. it by the 1930's, the united states was in the league, i wonder if you would have had the same isolationist sentiment. there was a lot of sentiment in europe for peace. a huge piece ballot in britain in the 1930's were happy adult population -- half of the adult population voted in favor of peace.
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that does not necessarily translate into being isolationist. the united states welded it into isolationism in a way that did not happen in europe, that you can want peace but still recognize you have to be engaged in the world. i don't know. it is very difficult. i think historians are now arguing that even in the 1930's, the united states was not as isolationist as we might think. there was a lot of talk, but the united states is still involved, particularly on its own doorstep. the good neighbor policy is a 1930's policy. united states was still very concerned about what was going on in the pacific. was not as if the united states withdraws completely. it is true there was isolationist sentiment. it was fueled by a sense of -- a lot of historians argue that the united states shouldn't have n gotten involved in the war. for


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