Aftermath of the Great War

By the time the Treaty of Versailles had been signed, sealed and delivered, the old world of the Victorian Era had been shattered. The Bolshevik Revolution, made possible in part by the war itself, had captured Russia and created the Soviet Union. One half of the entire generation of French males between the ages of 20 and 45 had been lost. The German Kaiser was deposed, and a political experiment known as the Weimar Republic was created, only to be torn apart later by the rise of Hitler and the National Socialist German Workers Party, or Nazis.

The British people celebrated the victory over Germany enthusiastically, but the good feelings evaporated quickly. Great Britain had incurred an enormous national debt, and the Liberal Party and was replaced by Labour. Images of soldiers with missing limbs or hideous facial wounds covered by masks were seen everywhere on the streets. Antiwar movements began to appear and grow.

Discontent with Wilson's policies led to one of the largest landslides in American political history in 1920 (the first national election in which women were able to vote), when Governor Warren Harding of Ohio won the White House. The nation's open door policy toward immigration changed radically and immigrants suspected of Anti-American sentiments were deported. The nation turned his back on the past, and the roaring 20s led to massive changes in America's social mores.

Grateful for the assistance of the Americans in bringing the war to a successful conclusion, the French people erected memorials to the American participation in the conflict, as cemeteries were filled with the bodies of American soldiers and decorated. November 11 became a national holiday known as Armistice Day, commemorating the end of the great conflict.

The Aisne-Marne American Cemetery next to Belleau Wood, which was renamed the Woods of the Marine Brigade.

Woodrow Wilson: A Legacy of Hope

Woodrow Wilson's legacy may appear at first glance to be one of failure, frustration, or lost opportunities. Sufficient reasons exist to support such a view, for Wilson left the White House a sick, angry, and embittered man, and seen in the context of their time, his attempts to “make the world safe for democracy” came to naught. Even as he was trying to convince leaders of the Allied powers that that terrible war to end all wars could only lead to better future for humankind if a “peace without victory” could somehow be achieved, the Bolshevik regime was tightening its controls that Russia. And within less than a decade in after the end of the Great War, fascism had been established in Italy, and Hitler and his Nazi party were moving to take control of Germany and eventually the world.

Woodrow WilsonTo add to President Wilson's frustration, the United States never signed the Versailles Treaty, never joined the League of Nations, and made a separate peace with Germany in 1921. The fact that the Versailles Treaty turned out to be a document that help to plant the seeds of future conflict, Wilson still fought for it, believing in that because it included provisions for a League of Nations, it might offer hope of avoiding future war. The time for such farsighted thinking had not yet arrived, however, and although many courageous and statesmanlike leaders—Germany's Gustaf Stresemann, American Secretary of State Charles Evans Hughes, and French Minister Aristide Briand, among others—had attempted to create conditions in which future peace would be more likely, their efforts came to little.

Yet, as Wilson's biographers and other historians have concluded, Wilson's dreams did not die with him. Historian David Fromkin has argued that the generation of future leaders who came of age in the time of Wilson were inspired by their visionary president and internalized his hopes and dreams until the time when they were able to continue laying a groundwork for peace that Wilson could only imagine in his time.

For a detailed discussion of the aftermath of World War I and the Versailles peace settlement see David Fromkin: A Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East

A review from Publishers Weekly reads:

“Inspired by President Woodrow Wilson's idealistic internationalism, three subsequent U.S. presidents—Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower—steered Americans away from isolationism to support an active, major role for the U.S. on the world stage. Under their leadership, America helped defeat Hitler, waged a Cold War against Soviet tyranny and checked Chinese communist aggression in Korea. Fromkin's dramatic, engaging political, military and diplomatic history yokes FDR, Truman and Ike in a group portrait with George Marshall, architect of America's postwar financial program to reconstruct Western Europe, and General Douglas MacArthur, WWII hero and commander of U.S. and U.N. forces in Korea. In a panoramic canvas peopled by George Kennan, Joseph Kennedy, John Foster Dulles, Felix Frankfurter, William Randolph Hearst and many others, Fromkin (A Peace to End All Peace) argues that America, acting with mixed motives but without imperial designs, opposed Europe's imperialisms, whether British, German, French or Soviet, and played a key role in destroying them. Fromkin is a Boston University professor of international relations, history and law.” (Copyright © 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.)

It is perhaps too much of a stretch to say that Wilson was responsible for the founding of the United Nations, but clearly that organization was the realization of Wilson's ideas at a later time. How much the United Nations has contributed to world peace and stability can be debated; one thing is clear, however, and that is that for most of the 60 years since the founding of the United Nations, the threat of a World War III has grown dimmer and dimmer in the minds of most people. The future of world peace remains cloudy, but Wilson's legacy can be judged in his having moved the world, however incrementally, farther from the horror of another world war.

World Power Home | America and World War I | World War I | Updated January 28, 2018