President Wilson In France
: Winning A Cause World War Stories
On December 14, 1918, President Wilson arrived in Paris. He had by
leaving North America done something never done before by an American
president; but he was never afraid to establish a new precedent if he
believed his duty called upon him to do so. Very rarely have the
presidents gone in person before Congress to read their messages, but
Woodrow Wilson revived the custom. In leaving the continent, however,
ot reviving an abandoned custom but establishing an entirely
He sailed on one of the huge American transports, the George
Washington, and was wildly welcomed upon his arrival at Brest, the
American base in France.
[Illustration: A photograph of the United States Transport George
Washington taken from an airplane convoying the steamer out to sea.
From the forward mast is flying the President's flag, distinguishable
by the four white stars. At the bow and stern can be seen the naval
guns, used formerly in case of submarine attack.]
In Paris, at a great dinner given in his honor, he was welcomed by
President Poincare in the following words:--
Mr. President: Paris and France awaited you with impatience. They
were eager to acclaim in you the illustrious democrat whose words and
deeds were inspired by exalted thought, the philosopher delighting in
the solution of universal laws from particular events, the eminent
statesman who had found a way to express the highest political and
moral truths in formulas which bear the stamp of immortality.
They had also a passionate desire to offer thanks, in your person, to
the great Republic of which you are the chief for the invaluable
assistance which had been given spontaneously, during this war, to the
defenders of right and liberty.
Even before America had resolved to intervene in the struggle she had
shown to the wounded and to the orphans of France a solicitude and a
generosity the memory of which will always be enshrined in our hearts.
The liberality of your Red Cross, the countless gifts of your
fellow-citizens, the inspiring initiative of American women,
anticipated your military and naval action, and showed the world to
which side your sympathies inclined. And on the day when you flung
yourselves into the battle with what determination your great people
and yourself prepared for united success!
Some months ago you cabled to me that the United States would send
ever-increasing forces, until the day should be reached on which the
Allied armies were able to submerge the enemy under an overwhelming
flow of new divisions; and, in effect, for more than a year a steady
stream of youth and energy has been poured out upon the shores of
No sooner had they landed than your gallant battalions, fired by their
chief, General Pershing, flung themselves into the combat with such a
manly contempt of danger, such a smiling disregard of death, that our
longer experience of this terrible war often moved us to counsel
prudence. They brought with them, in arriving here, the enthusiasm of
Crusaders leaving for the Holy Land.
It is their right today to look with pride upon the work accomplished
and to rest assured that they have powerfully aided by their courage
and their faith.
Eager as they were to meet the enemy, they did not know when they
arrived the enormity of his crimes. That they might know how the
German armies make war it has been necessary that they see towns
systematically burned down, mines flooded, factories reduced to ashes,
orchards devastated, cathedrals shelled and fired--all that deliberate
savagery, aimed to destroy national wealth, nature, and beauty, which
the imagination could not conceive at a distance from the men and
things that have endured it and today bear witness to it.
In your turn, Mr. President, you will be able to measure with your own
eyes the extent of these disasters, and the French Government will make
known to you the authentic documents in which the German General Staff
developed with astounding cynicism its program of pillage and
industrial annihilation. Your noble conscience will pronounce a
verdict on these facts.
Should this guilt remain unpunished, could it be renewed, the most
splendid victories would be in vain.
Mr. President, France has struggled, has endured, and has suffered
during four long years; she has bled at every vein; she has lost the
best of her children; she mourns for her youths. She yearns now, even
as you do, for a peace of justice and security.
It was not that she might be exposed once again to aggression that she
submitted to such sacrifices. Nor was it in order that criminals
should go unpunished, that they might lift their heads again to make
ready for new crimes, that, under your strong leadership, America armed
herself and crossed the ocean.
Faithful to the memory of Lafayette and Rochambeau, she came to the aid
of France, because France herself was faithful to her traditions. Our
common ideal has triumphed. Together we have defended the vital
principles of free nations. Now we must build together such a peace as
will forbid the deliberate and hypocritical renewing of an organism
aiming at conquest and oppression.
Peace must make amends for the misery and sadness of yesterday, and it
must be a guarantee against the dangers of tomorrow. The association
which has been formed for the purpose of war, between the United States
and the Allies, and which contains the seed of the permanent
institutions of which you have spoken so eloquently, will find from
this day forward a clear and profitable employment in the concerted
search for equitable decisions and in the mutual support which we need
if we are to make our rights prevail.
Whatever safeguards we may erect for the future, no one, alas, can
assert that we shall forever spare to mankind the horrors of new wars.
Five years ago the progress of science and the state of civilization
might have permitted the hope that no Government, however autocratic,
would have succeeded in hurling armed nations upon Belgium and Serbia.
Without lending ourselves to the illusion that posterity will be
forevermore safe from these collective follies, we must introduce into
the peace we are going to build all the conditions of justice and all
the safeguards of civilization that we can embody in it.
To such a vast and magnificent task, Mr. President, you have chosen to
come and apply yourself in concert with France. France offers you her
thanks. She knows the friendship of America. She knows your rectitude
and elevation of spirit. It is in the fullest confidence that she is
ready to work with you.
President Wilson replied:--
Mr. President: I am deeply indebted to you for your gracious
greeting. It is very delightful to find myself in France and to feel
the quick contact of sympathy and unaffected friendship between the
representatives of the United States and the representatives of France.
You have been very generous in what you were pleased to say about
myself, but I feel that what I have said and what I have tried to do
has been said and done only in an attempt to speak the thought of the
people of the United States truly, and to carry that thought out in
From the first, the thought of the people of the United States turned
toward something more than the mere winning of this war. It turned to
the establishment of eternal principles of right and justice. It
realized that merely to win the war was not enough; that it must be won
in such a way and the question raised by it settled in such a way as to
insure the future peace of the world and lay the foundations for the
freedom and happiness of its many peoples and nations.
Never before has war worn so terrible a visage or exhibited more
grossly the debasing influence of illicit ambitions. I am sure that I
shall look upon the ruin wrought by the armies of the Central Empires
with the same repulsion and deep indignation that they stir in the
hearts of the men of France and Belgium, and I appreciate, as you do,
sir, the necessity of such action in the final settlement of the issues
of the war as will not only rebuke such acts of terror and spoliation,
but make men everywhere aware that they cannot be ventured upon without
the certainty of just punishment.
I know with what ardor and enthusiasm the soldiers and sailors of the
United States have given the best that was in them to this war of
redemption. They have expressed the true spirit of America. They
believe their ideals to be acceptable to free peoples everywhere, and
are rejoiced to have played the part they have played in giving reality
to those ideals in cooeperation with the armies of the Allies. We are
proud of the part they have played, and we are happy that they should
have been associated with such comrades in a common cause.
It is with peculiar feeling, Mr. President, that I find myself in
France joining with you in rejoicing over the victory that has been
won. The ties that bind France and the United States are peculiarly
close. I do not know in what other comradeship we could have fought
with more zest or enthusiasm. It will daily be a matter of pleasure
with me to be brought into consultation with the statesmen of France
and her Allies in concerting the measures by which we may secure
permanence for these happy relations of friendship and cooeperation, and
secure for the world at large such safety and freedom in its life as
can be secured only by the constant association and cooeperation of
I greet you not only with deep personal respect, but as the
representative of the great people of France, and beg to bring you the
greetings of another great people to whom the fortunes of France are of
profound and lasting interest.
This meeting of the American and the French presidents at a banquet in
the French capital is a remarkable incident in the history of the
world. The statement of the likelihood of such a meeting would have
been ridiculed before the war.
[Illustration: President Wilson driving from the railroad station in
Paris with President Poincare of France to the home of Prince Murat, a
descendant of Marshal Murat, Napoleon's great cavalry leader.]
As we read the speeches, however, and grasp their full meaning, we
understand that the most remarkable fact about the historic meeting is
that the leaders of two great republics met with minds and hearts set
upon justice. They were determined that the weak who had suffered
unimaginable wrong should not fail to secure justice because they were
weak and they were equally of a mind that the high and mighty who were
responsible for these wrongs should not escape justice because they
were high and mighty.
Many times in the history of the world, meetings of the great have been
remembered because of the show of Might, on every hand. The meeting of
President Wilson and President Poincare in Paris on December 14, 1918,
will never be forgotten because it was the greatest demonstration the
world has ever seen of the power of Right.
Truth forever on the scaffold,
Wrong forever on the throne,--
Yet that scaffold sways the future,
And, behind the dim unknown,
Standeth God within the shadow,
Keeping watch above His own.
JAMES RUSSELL LOWELL.