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Address in San Diego, California

September 19, 1919

Mr. Mayor, ladies, and gentlemen, it is very agreeable to have been indirectly introduced by my friend Mr. Gage, for whom I have so affectionate a regard. I know he will not mind my saying that I first met him when we were both "lame ducks." I had just come out of the hospital after an operation and he had one arm out of commission from neuritis, and we met sitting, rather helplessly and perhaps hopelessly, on one of the broad piazzas of one of the hotels at Palm Beach. Being fellow sufferers and comrades in misery, we were drawn toward each other and drawn into confidences which I greatly enjoyed, and which I now recall with peculiar pleasure in seeing Mr. Gage without his hand bound up and in the sort of health I would wish to see him in. What he has said has reminded me of one of the thoughts which has been prominent in my mind of late. He has spoken of our dealings with the Philippine Islands. One of the perplexities under which we have suffered is that, although we are leading the Philippine Islands toward independence, we were in doubt of what would happen to them when they obtained their independence. Before this conference at Paris, the only thing that could be suggested was that we should get a common guaranty from all the nations of the world that the Philippines should be regarded as neutral, just as Belgium was once regarded as neutral, and that they should guarantee her inviolability, because it was certainly to be expected that she would not be powerful enough to take care of herself against those who might wish to commit aggression against her. That serves as a very useful illustration of one of the purposes for which the league of nations has been established, for do you not observe that the moment we are ready to give independence to the Philippines her independence is already guaranteed, because all the great nations of the world are under engagement of the most solemn sort to respect and preserve her territorial integrity and her existing political independence as against external aggression? Those words "external aggression" are sometimes left out of the exposition of article 10. There was not a member of that peace conference with whom I conferred who did not hold the same opinion that I hold as to the sacred right of self-determination and did not hold the principle which all Americans hold, that it was not the right of any nation to dictate to another nation what sort of government it should have or under what sort of sovereignty it would live.

For us the problem of the future of the Philippines is solved by the league of nations. It is, the first time that the world has come to this mind about matters of that sort, and what brought it to that mind? The breakdown of the neutrality of Belgium. You know you can not establish civil society if anybody is going to be a neutral with regard to the maintenance of the law. We are all bound in conscience, and all public officers are bound in oath, not to remain neutral with regard to the maintenance of the law and the vindication of the right, and one of the things that occurred in this conference, as a sort of practical joke on myself, was this: One of the principles that I went to Paris most insisting on was the freedom of the seas. Now, the freedom of the seas means the definition of the right of neutrals to use the seas when other nations are at war, but under the league of nations there are no neutrals, and, therefore, what I have called the practical joke on myself was that by the very thing that I was advocating it became unnecessary to define the freedom of the seas. All nations are engaged to maintain the right, and in that sense no nation can be neutral when the right is invaded, and, all being comrades and partners in a common cause, we all have an equal right to use the seas. To my mind it is a much better solution than had occurred to me, or than had occurred to anyone else with regard to that single definition of right.

We have no choice, my fellow citizens, in this matter except be* tween these alternatives: We must go forward with this concert of nations or we must go back to the old arrangement, because the guaranties of peace will not be sufficient without the United States, and those who oppose this covenant are driven to the necessity of advocating the old order of balances of power. If you do not have this universal concert, you have what we have always avoided, necessary alignment of this or that nation with one other nation or with some other group of nations. What is disturbing me most about the present debate—not because I doubt its issue, but because I regret its length—is that it is heartening the representatives of Germany to believe that at last they are going to do in this way what they were not able to do by arms, separate us in interest and purpose from our associates in the war. I am not suggesting, I have no right to suggest, that the men who are opposing this covenant have any thought of assisting Germany in their minds, but my point is that by doing what they are doing they are assisting Germany, whether they want to do so or not. And it is not without significance, my fellow countrymen, that coincidentally with this debate there has been a revival of the pro-German propaganda all over the United States, for this is Germany's calculation that, inasmuch as she is obliged to stand apart and be for the time suspected and have other nations come slowly to accommodation with her, if we hold off other nations will be similarly alienated from us, as they will be, and that there will be, whether we design it or not, a community of interest between the two isolated nations. It is an inevitable psychological result. We must join this arrangement to complete the psychology of this war.

The psychology of this war is this, that any nation that attempts to do what Germany did will certainly have the world combined against it. Germany not only did not know she would have the world combined against her, but she never dreamed she would. Germany confidently expected that Great Britain would not go into the war; she never dreamed that America would go into the war, and in order not absolutely to dishearten her people she had continuously to lie to them and tell them that the submarine warfare was so effective that American troops could not be sent to Europe. Friends of mine who, before we went into the war, conversed with Germans on the other side and told them that they had come over since the submarine warfare began were not believed. The Germans said, "Why, you can not cross the sea." The body of the German people actually thought that the sea was closed, and that we could send 2,000,000 men over there without losing any of them, except on a single transport, was incredible to them. If they had ever dreamed that that would happen they never would have ventured upon so foolish an attack upon the liberties of mankind.

What is impressed upon my mind by my stay on the other side of the water more than any one thing is that, while old rivalries and old jealousies and many of the intricate threads of history woven in unhappy patterns have made the other nations of the world suspect one another, nobody doubts or suspects America. That is the amazing and delightful discovery that I made on the other side of the water. If there was any place in our discussions where they wanted troops sent, they always begged that American troops might be sent, because they said none of the other associated powers would suspect them of any ulterior designs, and that the people of the country itself would know that they had not gone there to keep anything that they took, that they had not gone there to interfere with their internal affairs; that they had gone not as exploiters but as friends.

That is the reputation of American soldiers throughout Europe, and it is their reputation because it is true. That is the beautiful background of it. That is the temper in which they go; that is the principle upon which they act and upon which the Government back of them acts, and the great people whom that Government represents. There is something more than the choosing between peace and armed isolation, for that is one aspect of the choice. We are choosing between a doubtful peace and an assured peace, guided and led by the United States of America.

I was very much interested to scan the names on a very beautifully engrossed communication that was put in my hands to-day by Mr. Gage, a communication from the representatives of the League to Enforce Peace. I found upon it the names of many of the principal and most representative citizens and professional men of San Diego, and it happened, I believe, unless I am misinformed, that practically all the signers were Republicans. There is one thing against which I wish to enter a protest. I have had, I do not know how many, men come to me and say, "Mr. President, I am a Republican, but I am for the league of nations." Why but? For as a Democrat you will permit me to remind you who are Republicans that you have always boasted that your party was the party of constructive programs. Here is the most constructive, the greatest constructive, program ever proposed. Why should you say but? If I were in your place and had in my heart the pride which you very properly entertain because of the accomplishments of your party, I would say, "I am a Republican, and for that reason I am in favor of the league of nations." But I am not going to say that I am a Democrat, and therefore in favor of the league of nations, because I am not in favor of it because I am a Democrat. I am in favor of it because I am an American and a believer in humanity, and I believe in my heart that if the people of this country, as I am going about now, were to suspect that I had political designs they would give me evident indication that they wanted me to go back to Washington right away. They would not give me the splendid and delightful welcomes they are giving me. Men and women would not come up to me as they are doing now and take my hand in theirs arid say, "Mr. President, God bless you!" I wonder if you realize, as I have tried to realize, what that gracious prayer means. I have had women who had lost their dearest in the war come up to me with tears upon their cheeks and say, "God bless you!" Why did they bless me? I advised the Congress to go into the war and to send their sons to their death. As Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy, I sent their sons to their death, and they died, and their mothers come and say "God bless you!" There can be only one explanation. They are proud of the cause in which their sons died; and, my friends, since we all have to die, the way those fellows died is the best way after all. There was nothing in it for them, no possible personal gain, nothing except the noble performance of a disinterested duty, and that is the highest distinction that any man can achieve.

I remember years ago reading an essay that left a permanent impression on my mind. It was entitled "Christmas: Its Unfinished Business." It was a discourse upon what was then a very common occurrence—the meeting of assemblies to promote peace. You know, we used to be always having conventions to promote peace, and most of the men who sat on the platform were men who were doing everything they could to bring on war by unjustly exploiting other countries and taking advantages that they should not take, that were sure to exasperate the feeling of people elsewhere. But they did not realize that they were really bringing on wars; they, in their minds, were trying to bring on peace, and the writer of the essay called attention to this. His thesis was, "There will be peace when peace is as handsome as war." He hurried to explain that what he meant was this: That leaving aside the men who may have unjustly and iniquitously plotted war—like the general staff in Germany—the men in the ranks gave everything that they had, their lives included, for their country, and that while you would always hang the boy's musket or the boy's sword up over the mantelpiece, you never would hang up his ledger or his yardstick or his spade; not that civil employments meant to support yourself are dishonorable, but that they are centered upon yourself, whereas the sword and the gun mean that you had forgotten yourself and remembered only the call of your country. Therefore, there was a certain sacredness about that implement that could not attach to any implement of civil life. "Now," said my essayist, "when men are devoted to the purposes of peace with the same self-forgetfulness and the same thought for the interest of their country and the cause that they are devoted to that they display under arms in war, then there will be no- more war. When the motives of peace are as disinterested and as handsome as the motives of war for the common soldier, then we will all be soldiers in an army of peace and there will be no more wars." Now, that comes about when there is a common conception of peace, and the heart of this covenant of peace is to bring nations together into consultation so that they will see which of their objects are common, so that they will discuss how they can accommodate their interests, so that their chief objective will be conciliation and not alienation; and when they understand one another, they will cooperate with one another in promoting the general interest and the common peace. It is the parliament of nations at last, where everyone is under covenant himself to do right, to respect and preserve the territorial integrity and existing political independence of the others, and where everyone engages never to go to war without first trying to settle the matter by the slow-cooling, disinterested processes of discussion. It is what we have been striving for for generation after generation, and now some men hesitate to accept it when the golden thing is placed in their hand. It would be incredible to me if I did not understand some of them, but it is not permitted to one occupying my present office to make personal remarks. After all, personal remarks are neither here nor there. What does any one of us matter in so great a thing as this? What difference does it make whether one man rises and another falls, or we all go down or go up together? We have got to serve humanity. We have got to redeem the honor of the United States. We have got to see this thing through to its great end of justice and peace.

APP Notes: The President was introduced by Lyman J. Gage, Secretary of the Treasury under William McKinley.

Woodrow Wilson, Address in San Diego, California Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/318105

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