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US: Wilson and the League of Nations

Responding to my praise of Woodrow Wilson, and my lamentation that the Republicans blocked the admission of the US into his League of Nations, Philip Terzian says: "This is the standard Democratic mythology on the subject, taught to all schoolboys of my generation. In truth, of course, Lodge favored American entry into the League, as did most prominent Republicans of the time (Root, Taft, Stimson, Wood, Hughes, etc.) concerned with international affairs. Lodge and his colleagues in the Senate offered a handful of mild reservations to the League bill which Wilson, in his standard fashion, refused even to discuss. Wilson's fellow Democrats in the Senate pleaded with him to compromise, or even talk to the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee (Lodge) -- to no avail. This effectively delivered the issue into the hands of those Republicans (Borah, Johnson, Brandegee, etc.) and Democrats who really did oppose the League in principle. It was Wilson's intransigence, and not Lodge's opposition, which killed the League of Nations in the Senate. For a fair description of Wilson's fatal obtuseness see Breaking the Heart of the World by John Milton Cooper (2001) of the University of Wisconsin, and a Wilson admirer.

RH: What Philip says is quite true, but we should remember two things. Firstly, Wilson was utterly exhausted by his campaign to promote the League of Nations, and he was by nature somewhat intransigeant. Secondly, it is not sure that, had Wilson agreed to the reservations, the Republican Party as a body would have gone along with him. It is unfair to damn Wilson the ideaņist. For a fair account, see The Ordeal of Woodrow Wilson by Republican icon Herbert Hoover.

Ronald Hilton - 1/11/03