This Day in History

January 8, 1918
Wilson Issues His “Fourteen Points” for Peace
The following comes from our book, Light to the Nations II: The Making of the Modern WorldFor ordering information on this and our other books, please click here.
Addressing the U.S. Congress on January 8, 1918, President Woodrow Wilson laid out his war aims and what he hoped for Europe following the end of the war. What “we demand in this war . . . is nothing peculiar to ourselves,” said Wilson. “It is that the world be made fit and safer to live in; and particularly that it be made safe for every peace-loving nation, which, like our own, wishes to live its own life, determine its own institutions, be assured of justice and fair dealing by other peoples of the world as against force and selfish aggression.”

President Woodrow Wilson
In this address, Wilson outlined for Congress his “Fourteen Points” for peace. These points were strangely similar to Pope Benedict XV’s Seven Points that, only a few months before, Wilson had said were impractical. In fact, someone who read both Benedict’s Seven Points and Wilson’s Fourteen Points might have thought that the U.S. president had taken his ideas from the pope. Like Benedict, Wilson called for a decrease in armaments, while the pope’s suggestion of an international institution to decide disputes between nations was very like Wilson’s call for “a general association of nations” to assure “political independence and territorial integrity to great and small states alike.” In other instances, Wilson’s points seemed merely to be more detailed versions of Benedict’s points.

Emperor Karl
But in his Seven Points, Benedict did not call for breaking up existing states or forming new states based on national identity. Wilson did. In his tenth point, Wilson said, “The peoples of Austria-Hungary . . . should be accorded the freest opportunity of autonomous development.” In other words, Wilson was calling for the breakup of the Austro-Hungarian Empire into independent states, based on nationality. The U.S. president, who wanted to make “the world safe for democracy,” had no place in his plans for a multinational empire like Austria-Hungary. Austria’s Emperor Karl, who read Wilson’s Fourteen Points, wondered about the president’s intentions. Still hoping to make peace with the Entente, Karl sent a note to Wilson in February 1918, asking for talks between representatives of the two governments. Karl repeated the pledges he had made to the Allies a year before and said he was willing even to relinquish territory to Italy, though he insisted that all of Italy’s territorial demands were not just. Karl asked Wilson to clarify what he meant by “self-determination for the peoples of Austria-Hungary,” but the American president refused to respond to the Austrian emperor’s note.

Count Georg von Hertling
Germany’s chancellor, Count George von Hertling (who had replaced Michaelis in the fall), said that thought the kaiser could accept Wilson’s call for a “general association of nations,” he had difficulties with the president’s other points. The problem, said Hertling, with the Allied peace plans was that they were based on the idea that the Central Powers had been vanquished. This was quite wrong, he said. “Our brilliant military leaders face the future with undiminished confidence in victory,” Hertling wrote. “Unbroken joy of battle inspires the entire army — officers and men… God is with us, and will continue to be with us,” he said. 

Bartok and Mr. Zip-Zip-Zip

The following pieces — an American popular song, “Good Morning, Mr. Zip-Zip-Zip!” and Bela Bartok’s String Quartet No. 2 – illustrate, perhaps, the wide difference between the European and American experience of the “Great War.” Both pieces were completed in 1918.