Woodrow Wilson and the Reimagining of Eastern Europe
Published by: Stanford University Press
304 pages, 152.00 x 229.00 mm
- ISBN: 9781503611191
- Published: January 2020
At the 1919 Paris Peace Conference, where the victorious Allied powers met to reenvision the map of Europe in the aftermath of World War I, President Woodrow Wilson's influence on the remapping of borders was profound. But it was his impact on the modern political structuring of Eastern Europe that would be perhaps his most enduring international legacy: neither Czechoslovakia nor Yugoslavia exist today, but their geopolitical presence persisted across the twentieth century from the end of World War I to the end of the Cold War. They were created in large part thanks to Wilson's advocacy, and in particular, his Fourteen Points speech of January 1918, which hinged in large part on the concept of national self-determination.
But despite his deep involvement in the region's geopolitical transformation, President Wilson never set eyes on Eastern Europe, and never traveled to a single one of the eastern lands whose political destiny he so decisively influenced. Eastern Europe, invented in the age of Enlightenment by the travelers and philosophies of Western Europe, was reinvented on the map of the early twentieth century with the crucial intervention of an American president who deeply invested his political and emotional energies in lands that he would never visit.
This book traces how Wilson's emerging definition of national self-determination and his practical application of the principle changed over time as negotiations at the Paris Peace Conference unfolded. Larry Wolff exposes the contradictions between Wilson's principles and their implementation in the peace settlement for Eastern Europe, and sheds light on how his decisions were influenced by both personal relationships and his growing awareness of the history of the Ottoman and Habsburg empires.
This introduction lays out the problem of mental mapping in relation to Wilson's principles of international relations and the settlement achieved at the Paris Peace Conference with regard to Eastern Europe. It reviews some of the recent literature on Wilson and the peace conference. Vaslav Nijinsky's perspective on Wilson is cited.
This chapter argues that Wilson's earliest interest in Eastern Europe dated back to his student years in the 1870s and the moment of the Eastern Crisis, when Gladstone denounced the Ottoman empire for the Bulgarian massacres. Wilson's strong identification with Gladstonian moralism in international affairs and strong antipathy to the Ottomans preceded, and eventually conditioned, his evolving hostility to the Habsburg monarchy during World War One. Ottoman subjects, allegedly suffering "indescribable agonies" under Turkish government, partly inspired the Wilsonian war on behalf of oppressed peoples, and the Fourteen Points speech proposed "autonomous development" for the Ottoman nationalities. He learned more about Ottoman affairs through the work of Colonel House's Inquiry team. At the peace conference he actually contemplated the hypothetical possibility of American mandates for Armenia and for Constantinople.
This chapter traces the gradual evolution of Wilson's perspective on the Habsburg monarchy over the course of the war, from his early attempts as peace broker seeking a separate peace with Emperor Karl in Vienna, to his Fourteen Points speech proposing "the freest opportunity to autonomous development" for the Habsburg nationalities, to his eventual commitment to the abolition and displacement of the empire. He came to understand his own position in relation to Lincoln's Civil War: Wilson was fighting a war of "emancipation" on behalf of "enslaved" peoples, who included, above all, the subject nationalities of the Habsburg monarchy. His evolving hostility to the Habsburgs was shaped by leaders of the national movements like Masaryk, by American correspondents like the American clergyman George Herron, and by Inquiry experts like Walter Lippmann and Archibald Cary Coolidge.
This chapter considers how Wilson's mental map of Eastern Europe was shaped by personal and sentimental ties to political figures from the region, including Ignacy Paderewski and Tomáš Masaryk, and how these ties were articulated as Wilsonian friendships for entire nations. His mental map was marked as much by the emotional dynamics of friendship and "sympathy" as by any of his vaunted international principles. At the same time Wilson was preoccupied with the postwar political vacuum, puzzling over how those empires could be replaced at Versailles by a functionally interlocking set of national states, as in the creation of Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, and Poland. He sought a reconciliation of the tensions between Italy and the new Yugoslav state, while fearing the formation of a "Slavic bloc" influenced by Russian Bolshevism and hostile to Western Europe.
This chapter discusses how Wilson came to appreciate that self-determined national majorities were inevitably accompanied by defensive national minorities. Thus minority rights emerged as the complementary principle to national self-determination. American Jewish leaders lobbied Wilson on behalf of the Jewish minority within the new Polish state, while the Polish-Ukrainian struggle in eastern Galicia and the Polish-Soviet war posed the question of Ukrainian minorities in Poland. A folkloric delegation of Tatra Mountain goatherds in Paris drew Wilson's attention to the problem of a Polish minority within the Czechoslovak borders. Wilson was initially enthusiastic about using plebiscites to adjudicate sovereignty in territories with mixed populations, and to minimize minority populations, but came to appreciate the mechanism's potential weaknesses, considering the case of Silesia. Archibald Cary Coolidge, assisted by his protégés Robert Kerner and Robert Howard Lord kept Wilson and the peace conference informed about circumstances in Eastern Europe.
This conclusions analyzes the dynamics and consequences of Wilsonian mental mapping in shaping the president's perspective and the proceedings of the peace conference. Freud's perspective on Wilson is cited. The epilogue considers Wilson's post-Paris relations with, and perspectives on, Eastern Europe, especially Poland and Czechoslovakia, continuing into the post-presidential years of the early 1920s.
"A significant contribution to the historical scholarship on Woodrow Wilson and his role in peacemaking after World War I. Larry Wolff recognizes both the confusion and the clarity in Wilson's endeavor to implement the principle of national self-determination." ~Lloyd Ambrosius, author of Woodrow Wilson and American Internationalism