Study Guide

Fourteen Points Quotes

By Woodrow Wilson

  • Visions of the World

    The day of conquest and aggrandizement is gone by; so is also the day of secret covenants entered into in the interest of particular governments and likely at some unlooked-for moment to upset the peace of the world. (Intro.2)

    This sounds like a parent lecturing his or her kids. Many historians agree with Wilson: secret treaties in 1900s Europe made a war involving lots of countries more likely.

    Absolute freedom of navigation upon the seas, outside territorial waters, alike in peace and in war. (II.1)

    During the war, German submarines hadn't respected any vessels—military or civilian—in the Atlantic. Interestingly, this point admits the possibility of future wars.

    Adequate guarantees given and taken that national armaments will be reduced to the lowest point consistent with domestic safety. (IV.1)

    The world's still working on this one—it's hard to take weapons away from governments. Like taking toys away from toddlers.

    A free, open-minded, and absolutely impartial adjustment of all colonial claims. (V.1)

    That sounds nice. The only question is, your impartial is sometimes different from my impartial. Especially when you just imperialized my country. Even Sauron probably thought he was doing the right thing.

    A general association of nations must be formed under specific covenants for the purpose of affording mutual guarantees of political independence and territorial integrity to great and small states alike. (XIV.1)

    It's a dreamy vision: the big guys sticking up for the little guys as part of a club. Basically, Wilson came up with the idea of a superhero team.

  • Imperialism

    What we demand in this war, therefore, is nothing peculiar to ourselves. It is that the world be made fit and safe to live in; and particularly that it be made safe for every peace-loving nation. (Intro.6)

    Wilson draws a contrast between "peace-loving" nations and imperialists. It's hard to argue that the Allied Powers before 1914 were truly "peace-loving." But the winners are never the bad guys.

    All the peoples of the world are in effect partners in this interest, and for our own part we see very clearly that unless justice be done to others it will not be done to us. (Intro.6)

    Viewing the rest of the world as partners, rather than potential subjects? Priceless.

    A free, open-minded, and absolutely impartial adjustment of all colonial claims, based upon a strict observance of the principle that in determining all such questions of sovereignty the interests of the populations concerned must have equal weight with the equitable claims of the government whose title is to be determined. (V.1)

    This dream of decolonization didn't come to pass immediately. European powers maintained overseas land holdings for years afterwards. Womp womp womp.

    The Turkish portion of the present Ottoman Empire should be assured a secure sovereignty, but the other nationalities which are now under Turkish rule should be assured an undoubted security of life and an absolutely unmolested opportunity of autonomous development. (XII.1)

    A major starting point for the modern Middle East, the Ottomans had once controlled just about everything in between Greece and Iran. (Source)

    In regard to these essential rectifications of wrong and assertions of right we feel ourselves to be intimate partners of all the governments and peoples associated together against the Imperialists. (Conclusion.1)

    By "the Imperialists," he means the Central Powers of Germany, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Ottomans, and their various allies. When you have that many enemies, a little name-calling goes a long way.

  • Freedom and Tyranny

    We entered this war because violations of right had occurred which touched us to the quick and made the life of our own people impossible unless they were corrected and the world secure once for all against their recurrence. (Intro.4)

    You smack me, I smack you back. Americans watched the war from the sidelines for years, until Germany's unrestricted submarine warfare finally went too far.

    A free, open-minded, and absolutely impartial adjustment of all colonial claims, based upon a strict observance of the principle that in determining all such questions of sovereignty the interests of the populations concerned must have equal weight with the equitable claims of the government whose title is to be determined. (V.1)

    Who decides which claims are "equitable" (that is, fair)? Wilson's answer was the League of Nations. The United Nations of today also makes resolutions on the rights of conquered people.

    Belgium, the whole world will agree, must be evacuated and restored, without any attempt to limit the sovereignty which she enjoys in common with all other free nations. (VII.1)

    Belgium suffered massive losses of land, material, and humanity during the German invasion. It was the poster child for conquest.

    The peoples of Austria-Hungary, whose place among the nations we wish to see safeguarded and assured, should be accorded the freest opportunity to autonomous development. (X.1)

    In his war-speech to Congress, Wilson put Austria-Hungary and the other Central Powers on the back burner. His biggest focus was the aggressive Germans; he said everyone else was just following their lead.

    An independent Polish state should be erected which should include the territories inhabited by indisputably Polish populations, which should be assured a free and secure access to the sea, and whose political and economic independence and territorial integrity should be guaranteed by international covenant. (XIII.1)

    Poland continued a tragic historical run when it was re-conquered by Germany during World War II. Nowadays, Wilson's dream of a free and united Poland is a reality.

  • Community

    It is that the world be made fit and safe to live in; and particularly that it be made safe for every peace-loving nation which, like our own, wishes to live its own life, determine its own institutions, be assured of justice and fair dealing by the other peoples of the world as against force and selfish aggression. (Intro.6)

    This is maybe the first instance in which an American spoke about the concept of being a global cop. A cop's job is to protect a community, and America saw its job as to protect the world. (They totally made a movie about this with puppets.)

    The programme of the world's peace, therefore, is our programme. (Intro.8)

    Wilson addressed the Fourteen Points to everyone—Americans, Europeans, and even enemies of the Allies. His continuous use of words like "our" and "we" reinforces the community concept.

    The treatment accorded Russia by her sister nations in the months to come will be the acid test of their good will, of their comprehension of her needs as distinguished from their own interests, and of their intelligent and unselfish sympathy. (VI.2)

    The acid test didn't go so well. Despite Wilson's brotherly promise to Russia, the western world became distrustful of the nation after they went socialist.

    A readjustment of the frontiers of Italy should be effected along clearly recognizable lines of nationality. (IX.1)

    Wilson uses words like "clearly recognizable" to strike a compromising tone; he seems to think that everyone will be able to agree on what land everyone should get. He might have overestimated other peoples' taste for a global community.

    We wish her only to accept a place of equality among the peoples of the world, the new world in which we now live, instead of a place of mastery. (Conclusion.9)

    For centuries, some leaders had dreamt of world domination. Whether it was the German emperors, Napoleon, or British imperialists, the name of the game was mastery. With these words, Wilson wagged his finger not only at Germany, but also at European history itself.