Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Woodrow Wilson -- Flag Day Address

"What great nation in such circumstances would not have taken up arms? Much as we had desired peace, it was denied us, and not of our own choice. This flag under which we serve would have been dishonored had we withheld our hand." --Woodrow Wilson, Flag Day Address; June 14th, 1917.

President Woodrow Wilson delivered his "Flag Day Address" in June of 1917, just twelve days before the first American troops would land on European soil, officially entering the U.S. into World War I. It was a strong and heavily patriotic speech, which sought to explain to an unsettled and undecided American public that the United States was essentially forced into the war by the Germans, and that to sit passively by would not only be dangerous, it would be very un-American. The Germans, Wilson says, have left us no choice through their insults, aggression and espionage. He also points out that Germany tried to incite Mexico into starting a war with us, and attempted to recruit Japan as their ally.

But President Wilson explains to the people that the offenses committed against America are not the only reason why our men are being sent overseas. President Wilson acknowledges that the German people themselves did not want this war machine, but was subject to it nonetheless. President Wilson details Germany's plot:

"Their plan was to throw a broad belt of German military power and political control across the very center of Europe and beyond the Mediterranean into the heart of Asia; and Austria-Hungary was to be as much their tool and pawn as Servia or Bulgaria or Turkey or the ponderous states of the East."
Germany was attempting to control the whole of Europe, and then Asia, through force, political and economical control. President Wilson reminds the people that the Germans have control over many countries in Europe and the Ottoman empire, and has partial control of France and Belgium. President Wilson stresses that it is simply not enough to stop the Germans with what they currently have, they must be defeated fully.

According to President Wilson, this serves two purposes: the Germans will have to relinquish rightful control of the territories and will be punished for their aggressiveness. By allowing the Germans to retain control over countries they overtook with force, it would reinforce and justify their methods of taking real estate by force. Secondly, when they are defeated, the Government will forced to relinquish power, thus paving the way for a democratic government to come into power:
"If they can secure peace now with the immense advantages still in their hand which they have up to this point apparently gained, they will have justified themselves before the German people: they will have gained by force what they promised to gain by it: an immense expansion of German power, an immense enlargement of German Industrial and Commercial opportunities. Their prestige will be secure, and with their prestige their political power. If they fail, their people will thrust them aside; a government accountable to the people themselves will be set up in Germany as it has been in England, in the United States, in France, and in all the great countries of the modern time except Germany."
President Wilson then waxes philosophical about protecting the liberties, rights and freedoms of the people of Europe and explains to his audience that we, as Americans, must be there to help "set the world free." If we do not, President Wilson assures, freedom and democracy will be pushed aside and crushed by the great armies of our enemies.

President Wilson is careful not to mention too bluntly some of his forthcoming intentions in this speech. He cloaks them in a shroud of strong patriotism, noble causes and threating enemies. He attempts to provoke strong feelings in the audience, in hopes that they will act on impulse and not try to dig too deep as to what other motives there may be (as many leaders have done throughout history and continue to do) for sending millions of American troops across the Atlantic.

That is not to say that WWI wasn't justified--it absolutely was. However, there were ulterior motives behind the fully noble and charitable causes the President told the nation that we were fighting for. Our own Economic interests played a large part in the war. All of our economic partners in Europe were coming under fire from Germany. Our ability to further own our economic interests would be greatly diminished if the Germans controlled the majority of the Ottoman empire and Europe.

If the Spanish-American war was our introduction as a "Superpower" and "World Police," then World War I was our prime-time slot. President Wilson wanted to ensure that when those countries that had been under German control were eventually freed, and the map of Europe and the Middle East were re-drawn, the United States would be right there to divvy up the spoils and assert our power and interests. We were not going to miss out on this momentous re-distribution of power.

1 comment:

A. Mattson said...

A great post and a fine analysis of the speech. nice picture.

Wilson presents the reasons for going to war the he hopes will convince the American people that this is a necessary war. His arguments are a convincing mix of patriotic appeal and pragmatic internationalism. I think that your analysis is quite astute.