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The peace that cannot hold

Back in America, powerful conservative forces had taken over Congress. They refused to ratify the Treaty of Versailles as written, and Wilson refused to accept anything less. The misunderstood final warning from George Washington to "avoid foreign entanglements" hovered over the hall like an outdated ghost.

George Washington had been speaking to a small, weak nation of farmers in a world where crossing the ocean took weeks and America didn't have to trade with anybody. Now the U.S. was the one nation with the strength and moral position to make the League of Nations work, but it wouldn't take the responsibility. Wilson's moral position worked against him — some senators had just had it with the do-gooder.

Wilson's attempt to save the peace

Wilson went on a speaking tour to try to get people to put pressure on Congress to accept the treaty. In Pueblo, Colorado, with tears streaming down his cheeks, he pleaded for the League of Nations as the only way to avoid another war. That night he collapsed. Hit by a stroke, Wilson didn't make public appearances for months afterward. The political strategy he followed from his sick bed was not successful.

Wilson's Democratic Party had lost control of Congress in the 1918 elections. Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, the great Republican enemy of the League of Nations, attached some reservations to the treaty that Wilson didn't like. Wilson ordered all the Democratic senators to vote against the treaty rather than compromise. Having been so successful in the past, Wilson seemed to think he could turn the upcoming presidential election of 1920 into a referendum on the treaty.

Example

Question: How did President Wilson try to convince Congress to vote for the Treaty of Versailles?

Answer: He appealed directly to the people to put pressure on Congress.

The League of Nations falls

The Republicans nominated affable and empty-headed Warren Harding of Ohio for president. He trounced the Democrats who supported the League of Nations by saying he would work for a vague Association of Nations and played to the postwar wish to get back to normal. The Republicans got almost twice as many votes as the too-serious Democrats.

The failure of the United States to join the League of Nations was one of the factors that led to World War II. The United States didn't create Hitler, Mussolini, or the poverty, greed, and hatred that sparked World War II and caused the deaths of at least 72 million people, including 418,000 Americans. But because of outmoded isolationism and an almost-adolescent fight between people who were too righteous to work together, the United States did nothing to stop it. As the saying goes, if you're not part of the solution, maybe you're part of the problem.

 
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