Allies Restate Their War Aims Upon Invitation of President Wilson
In the closing days of 1916, bedeviled Germany donned the livery of Heaven, and, affecting a "deep moral and religious sense of duty toward humanity," proposed to the Allies to enter into peace negotiations. The German note was one of exultation over the "gigantic advantages Germany and her allies have gained over adversaries superior in number and war material." It carried the warning to the Allies that "Every German heart" will burn in sacred wrath against our enemies if they decline to end the War," and concluding with an appeal to the Almighty to judge between Germany and civilization.
This proposal was made at a supposedly adventitious moment, on December 12, 1916, six days after Romania had been conquered, and when apparently the Germans were proving themselves invincible on land. The astute statesmen and military leaders of Europe, however, were not to be deceived. They knew that Germany had shot her bolt. Although she had overspread Europe and held much of Belgium and France; though her agents had accomplished the betrayal of Russia; though Serbia and Romania had been destroyed—nevertheless, Germany had nearly reached the limit of her manpower and her ultimate defeat was certain.
Europe and America both were convinced that Germany, fearful for the future, was seeking to win by diplomacy what she could not hope to attain by war. Furthermore, it had probably entered the minds of the German statesmen that a peace proposal might dissuade America from throwing her strength into the struggle. Still, it was felt that the German proposal could not be wholly ignored.
President Wilson's First Peace Effort
President Wilson, in his role of mediator, immediately passed on the German peace feelers to the Entente Governments without comment. On December 18, 1916, with the view of testing the principles of the Allied Powers, the President addressed a note to the several Chancellories, frankly asking them to make unequivocal statements of their war aims. When made public on December 20, 1916, President Wilson's note caused much alarm in business circles, being accompanied by a sharp break in the stock market. This excitement was intensified by an explanatory statement given out by Secretary of State Lansing, to this effect: "The sending of this note will indicate the possibility of our being forced into the War. That possibility ought to serve as a restraining and sobering force, safeguarding American rights. It may also serve to force an earlier conclusion of the War. Neither the President nor myself regards this note as a peace note; it is merely an effort to get the belligerents to define the end for which they are fighting." This statement was modified, later in the day, by a supplementary explanation that war was not imminent. Still, the whole effect of the note was depressing.
That part of the President's note, in which he had described as identical the objects sought to be attained both by the Germanic and the Allied Powers, drew forth much criticism. Theodore Roosevelt voiced the thoughts of many citizens when he said: "If the note was designed merely to promote an early conclusion of peace, it was untimely, irritating, and dangerous. If, on the other hand, as Mr. Lansing first interpreted it, it was a threat of war, and foreshadowed the end of American neutrality, it was not only dangerous, but profoundly mischievous, if not profoundly immoral and misleading."
Germany Applauds the Note
In Germany, the President's note was applauded as supporting the German peace proposals, but among the Allied nations it was bitterly criticized. The Allied nations, in their joint reply, refused to accept an exchange of views until Germany should state clearly her war aims. At the same time, the Allied Powers made denial of two statements appearing in the German note; namely, that Germany had not provoked the War and that she was now victorious. On December 26, 1916, Germany and Austria replied to the President's note, again suggesting an exchange of views with the Allies and again neglecting to state their own war aims.
Aims of the Allied Powers
The Allies, finally, stated their war aims. These included "the restoration of Belgium, Serbia, Montenegro and the indemnities due them, the evacuation of the invaded territories of France, of Russia, and of Romania, with just reparation; the reorganization of Europe, guaranteed by a stable regime, and founded as much upon respect of nationalities and full security and liberty of economic development, which all nations great or small possess, as upon territorial conventions and international agreements suitable to guarantee territorial and maritime frontiers against unjustified attacks; the restitution of provinces or territories wrested in the past from the Allies by force or against the will of their populations; the liberations of Italians, of Slavs, of Romanians, and of Czecho-Slovaks from foreign domination; the enfranchisement of populations subject to the bloody tyranny of the Turks; the expulsion from Europe of the Ottoman Empire, decidedly alien to Western civilization." Nevertheless, Germany had gained a certain prestige by this peace maneuver, having convinced the gullible pacifists of all nations that she really desired a just peace and was not the monster which universal imagery had pictured her.
Henry Ford's "Peace Ship" Sails
While the peace parleys were proceeding, Henry Ford, the famous automobile manufacturer, chartered the Scandinavian liner, Oscar II, and with 100 well-assorted "peace pilgrims" as his guests, sailed on December 3d for the port of Christiania, Norway, intending thence to proceed to The Hague and there set up "an unofficial court for peace proposals," composed of delegates from neutral nations. "Out of the trenches by Christmas" was the hopeful slogan of Mr. Ford's peace party. Mr. Ford's quixotic hopes were blasted when the United States Government, mindful of its obligations of neutrality, notified the several European nations that the Ford Expedition did not have the sanction of this nation. The peace party remained abroad for several weeks, an object of ridicule in the eyes of two continents, and then returned home, sadder but wiser mortals.