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Woodrow Wilson Wartime Address Highlights: 7 Quotes From Speech

By    |   Thursday, 21 May 2015 04:33 PM

The sinking of the British liner Lusitania in 1915 is marked by history as a proximate cause that propelled the United States into wartime, but it took the United States nearly two years to formally react and enter World War I.

In February 1917, President Woodrow Wilson told Congress relations had been severed with Germany, and soon after he addressed a special session of Congress to ask for a declaration of war.

Upon hearing of Wilson’s intentions, German Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg said, according to the First World War website, “If the American Nation considers this a cause for which to declare war against the German Nation with which it has lived in peace for more than 100 years, if this action warrants an increase of bloodshed, we shall not have to bear the responsibility for it."

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In his speech, as published on the World War I Document Archive, Wilson
touched on the new technology of using submarines to sink civilian ships in sneak attacks, the impossibility of surrender, the necessity of entering war without hatred toward the German people, and even planted the seed for what would be his League of Nations.

Here are seven highlights from the speech:

1. “Warfare against mankind” – “I am not now thinking of the loss of property involved, immense and serious as that is, but only of the wanton and wholesale destruction of the lives of noncombatants, men, women, and children, engaged in pursuits which have always, even in the darkest periods of modern history, been deemed innocent and legitimate. Property can be paid for; the lives of peaceful and innocent people cannot be. The present German submarine warfare against commerce is a warfare against mankind.”

2. Sneak attack – “... armed neutrality, it now appears, is impracticable. Because submarines are in effect outlaws when used as the German submarines have been used against merchant shipping, it is impossible to defend ships against their attacks as the law of nations has assumed that merchantmen would defend themselves against privateers or cruisers, visible craft giving chase upon the open sea. It is common prudence in such circumstances, grim necessity indeed, to endeavour to destroy them before they have shown their own intention.”

3. No quarter given – “There is one choice we cannot make, we are incapable of making: we will not choose the path of submission and suffer the most sacred rights of our nation and our people to be ignored or violated. The wrongs against which we now array ourselves are no common wrongs; they cut to the very roots of human life.”

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4. Fight for the right – “Our object now, as then, is to vindicate the principles of peace and justice in the life of the world as against selfish and autocratic power and to set up amongst the really free and self-governed peoples of the world such a concert of purpose and of action as will henceforth ensure the observance of those principles.”

5. Without hate –
“We have no quarrel with the German people. We have no feeling towards them but one of sympathy and friendship. It was not upon their impulse that their Government acted in entering this war. It was not with their previous knowledge or approval. It was a war determined upon as wars used to be determined upon in the old, unhappy days when peoples were nowhere consulted by their rulers and wars were provoked and waged in the interest of dynasties or of little groups of ambitious men who were accustomed to use their fellow men as pawns and tools.”

6. Free people don’t fight
... – “A steadfast concert for peace can never be maintained except by a partnership of democratic nations. No autocratic government could be trusted to keep faith within it or observe its covenants. It must be a league of honour, a partnership of opinion. ... Only free peoples can hold their purpose and their honour steady to a common end and prefer the interests of mankind to any narrow interest of their own.”

7. Tyrannical governments do – “It will be all the easier for us to conduct ourselves as belligerents in a high spirit of right and fairness because we act without animus, not in enmity towards a people or with the desire to bring any injury or disadvantage upon them, but only in armed opposition to an irresponsible government which has thrown aside all considerations of humanity and of right and is running amuck.”

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The sinking of the British liner Lusitania in 1915 is marked by history as a proximate cause that propelled the United States into wartime, but it took the United States nearly two years to formally react and enter World War I.
woodrow wilson wartime, quotes, speech, highlights
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2015-33-21
Thursday, 21 May 2015 04:33 PM
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