** World War I -- World War I peace feelers

World War I: Peace Feelers

Figure 1.--.

American President Woodrow Wilson from he beginning of the war saw himself as the only potential mediator who could end the War. He was probably correct. Early on he attempted to get the Germans and the British to discuss peace terms. His approach was to settle the War on the basis of a status quo ante bellum and a post-war disarmament. There were various peace feelers, but none of any real imprtance. Ameriva did not have a sucbstantial armnt, but it was the already the greatest industrial power with immense financial and economic resources. On two occasions (early-1915 and again in early-1916), he dispatched his principal foreign policy advisor, Colonel Edward M. House (1858-1938) to Europe to meet face to face with British, German, and French leaders. His goal was to find an avenue for wider talks or some aceptance of the idea of an American demand that hostilities cease. Col. Houses incomptence was a major factor in Wilson's failure, described by one author as the greatest failure of American diplomacy. The American Secretary of State after William Jennings Bryan resigned in protest over Wilson's firm stand on the Lusitania was Robert Lamsing. Wilson largely ignored him, seeing him as essentially a clerk. And Lansing favored America entry in the War on the side of the Allies. Althogh intil recently, historians have


Germany and the United States were the chief actors in trying to get some kind of peace talks going. In Germany's case, its chief efforts were initially directed at France and especially Russia. Driven by their failure to achieve a decisive military victory in the first few weeks of the war and their concern that they could not win a long war against a united Allied coalition, German officials made contact with various French dissident figures from late 1914 through 1916, suggesting that France could have peace in exchange for giving Germany a war indemnity and perhaps colonial concessions. They especially focused on politicians close to ex-Minister President Joseph Caillaux (1863-1944), who they thought opposed the war and the existing French political system. The initiative for a separate peace with Russia likewise began in late 1914 and continued into 1915, peaking in late June and July. German leaders sent out peace offers to Nicholas II, Emperor of Russia (1868-1918) through Hans Niels Andersen (1852-1937), a shipping magnate and confidant of Christian X, King of Denmark (1870-1947), as well as to Russian ex-Premier Count Sergei Witte (1849-1915), who was rumored to be pro-German. Germany�s Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg (1856-1921) assured the Russians that Germany wanted �only small concessions in order to protect our eastern border, as well as financial and commercial treaties.�[1] Germany pursued still other contacts through family connections of the Tsar, stating that the Central Powers would allow Russia free passage of the Straits in exchange for peace.[2]



Wilson publicly supportd U.S. participation in a post-War international security organization. He thought this might interest the belligerents into welcoming or at leaat accepting U.S. mediation (May 1916). After the horrifying fighting in the first year of the War, the combatant powers in 1916 began to think about a negotiated peace. The scale of the War and casualties were far beyond what anyone had anticipated. It had been so long since a major war had been fought and the new weapomry was of inprecedented letality. Germany had failed to achieve the quick victory anticipated in the Schliffen Plan. German peace feelers went out soon after the failure to achieve victory in the West They focused on France and Russia. They contacted French disidents, but the offers were what one might expect from a victor. They contacted the Russians through Denmark and ex-premoer Counte Witte who they believed to be pro-German. The offers to Russia were more conciltory than to the French. As food and raw material shortages began affecting both morale and the war economy, the Germans becme more concilatory. The Kaiser incouraged Chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg to put out feelers. Bethmann-Hollweg was a tpical non-entity with which the Kaiser peeffered to surrond himself. Bethmann-Hollweg dispatched a short note to the Allies offering to discuss terms in a neutral country (December 12, 1916). At the time he was still hopeful that American President Woodrow Wilson could mediate an end to the War. Field Marshall Hindenberg, Chief of the General Staff, who was informed of the exercise, understanding the military situation, did not object to the exerccise. Gen. Ludendorff, his close and influntial associate did. Buoyed by success in oil-rich Romania, Ludendorff issued a public order to the Army, "Soldiers, in the conciousness of victory which you have won, the rulers of the Allied states have made an offer of peace." Newly appointed British Foreign Minister, LLoyd George, may have spurned the German peace feeler anyway, but upon learning of the Lundorff order remarked, "To enter into a conference on the invitation of Germany proclaining herself victorious, without any knowledge of the proposals she has to make, is to put our heas in a noose." The Allies proceeded to reject the German iniative. Austria-Hungary suffering severe food shortages a terrible losses to the Russians became intent on exiting the war by the time America was preparing to enter the War. Emperor Franz Josef died (Novermber 1916). The new emperor, Karl I saw clearly that the Empire was disolving before is eyes. Thus the Austrians began sending out peace feelers. Karl had oppsed the War from the beginning. He wrote to the Kaiser in 1917, "We are fighting against an enemy which is more dangerous than the Entente [Allies] --against international revolution which finds its strongest ally in general starvation." The Kaiser and Hindenberg had already set the revolution in motion by dispatching Bolshevik revolutionary to Russia with auitcase full of funds. The Germans upon learming of the Austrian peace feelers put them to a quick stop, essentially seizing control of the Austro-Hungarian Government.

American Presidential Election (November 1916)

President Wilson ran for reelection. The camoaign slogan ecame 'He kept us out of war." That was not Wilson's idea. In fact he thoiugh ill-advised, but that is whgat the Demicratuc oparty proimoted and Wilson won, despite the fact that the electorate gave the Reopubkicans an advantahe.

Final Effort (November 1916 - March 1917)

After wunning reelectioin President Wilson set out on a vigorisus effort to stop the War. He had no intentiion of getting involved in the War. He formally called for the belligerents to state their war objectives (December 1916). The Allies immediately did so. They demanded the disolution of the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman Empires and the return of Alsace-Loraine. This was a nonstarter with the Central Powers. Wilson then made an impassioned plea that the war end with a 'peace without victory' and the establishment of a 'League of Peace' (Janury 1917). [Kennedy, pp. 68f, 71-74, 86-89. 94-98.] After the War, Lord Grey, former Foreign Secretary who made the famous comment about the 'lights going out all over Europe' in his memoirs wrote that if Germany had accepted the idea of peace without vitory, that the allies would have had no choice, but to also agree.

German Response

At this point Ludendorf settled the issue. He began pressing the Kaiser and Hindenburg with Russia tottering for an expanded U-boat campaign with unrestructed attacks on all ships, including neutral shipping, sailing toward Allied ports.


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Created: 11:16 AM 4/3/2021
Last updated: 8:22 PM 4/3/2021