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The Study of Man: Woodrow Wilson: Tragic Hero

- Abstract

IT IS a sign of Woodrow Wilson’s greatness that he has remained, since his death in 1924, both a living issue in American politics and a living figure in the American consciousness. We can almost define American foreign policy between the two world wars as a reaction against and a qualified return to Wilsonian idealism. After the relapse into isolationism, we were slowly forced back to the realization that as Wilson had warned, we could stay out of European affairs only at our peril. And when we did enter World War II, it was again in order to “end war” and “make the world safe for democracy.”

By the time of World War II just about every one-most Republicans at home and most of democratic opinion abroad-had been converted to Wilson’s program. Roosevelt did not, like Wilson, have to fight the Republicans for the Atlantic Charter or the San Francisco Peace Treaty. Nor did he, like Wilson, have to persuade the British and French not to use the victory for colonial or economic aggrandizement. Even reparations-the issue on which Wilson had been routed by the other Allies- were managed this time with such care that Germany, Italy, and Japan have come out of World War II more prosperous than when they went into it. If we leave out of account the Soviet side of the peace settlement, we can say that we have had this time something like a Wilsonian “peace without victory.”

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