Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Woodrow’s Nobel Peace Prize

After Teddy Roosevelt, the next US President to win a Nobel Peace Prize was Woodrow Wilson in 1919. Wilson received his Nobel Peace Prize for his work ending the First World War and creating the League of Nations:
On this day in 1920, the Nobel Prize for Peace is awarded to U.S. President Woodrow Wilson for his work in ending the First World War and creating the League of Nations. Although Wilson could not attend the award ceremony in Oslo, Norway, the U.S. Ambassador to Norway, Albert Schmedeman, delivered a telegram from Wilson to the Nobel Committee.

Wilson’s involvement in devising a plan to prevent future international conflict began in January 1918 when he laid out his "Fourteen Points." The plan addressed specific territorial issues in Europe, equal trade conditions, arms reduction and national sovereignty for former colonies of Europe’s weakening empires, but the primary thrust of his policy was to create an international organization that would arbitrate peaceful solutions to conflicts between nations. Wilson’s Fourteen Points not only laid the foundation for the peace agreement signed by France, Britain and Germany at the end of World War I, but also formed the basis for American foreign policy in the 20th and early 21st centuries. Although the League of Nations never materialized, largely due to the fact that it was never ratified by the U.S. Congress, it formed the blueprint for the United Nations, which was established after the Second World War.

When Wilson learned of his win, he was a lame-duck president battling the residual effects of a paralyzing stroke he suffered in October 1919; he was therefore unable to accept his award in person. (The stroke occurred in the midst of an arduous cross-country tour to ask the American electorate to pressure a reluctant Congress to ratify the Versailles peace treaty and the League of Nations.) In his telegram to the Nobel Committee, Wilson said he was grateful and "moved" by the recognition of his work for the cause of peace but emphasized the need for further efforts to "rid [mankind] of the unspeakable horror of war." Wilson did not live to see the United Nations take shape in place of his League of Nations. He died at age 68 in February 1924.

Wilson was not able to go to Norway to accept the award as by that time he had already suffered his debilitating stroke so the US Ambassador to Norway, Albert Schmedeman, accepted it for him and read his written message at the ceremony:
Mr. President, I have the honor to inform you that I am the bearer of a telegram from Woodrow Wilson, President of the United States, in which he requests me to express his thanks and appreciation for the honor which has been conferred upon him by the Nobel Peace Committee of the Storting in awarding him the prize for the year 1919. Therefore, I have the honor, Mr. President, to request that permission will be granted me to read the message and make a few remarks to the honorable body.

I have been instructed by President Wilson to convey the following message of appreciation to President [Chairman] Løvland and the members of the Nobel Peace Committee of the Storting:

"In accepting the honor of your award I am moved not only by a profound gratitude for the recognition of my [sincere and] earnest efforts in the cause of peace, but also by a very poignant humility before the vastness of the work still called for by this cause.

May I not take this occasion to express my respect for the far-sighted wisdom of the founder in arranging for a continuing system of awards? If there were but one such prize, or if this were to be the last, I could not of course accept it. For mankind has not yet been rid of the unspeakable horror of war. I am convinced that our generation has, despite its wounds, made notable progress. But it is the better part of wisdom to consider our work as one
1 begun. It will be a continuing labor. In the indefinite course of [the] years before us there will be abundant opportunity for others to distinguish themselves in the crusade against hate and fear and war.

There is indeed a peculiar fitness in the grouping of these Nobel rewards. The cause of peace and the cause of truth are of one family. Even as those who love science and devote their lives to physics or chemistry, even as those who would create new and higher ideals for mankind in literature, even so with those who love peace, there is no limit set. Whatever has been accomplished in the past is petty compared to the glory and promise of the future.
Woodrow Wilson"

Since he wasn’t there, Wilson didn’t write a Nobel lecture, he simply had Ambassador Schmedeman read a few short remarks:
I regret that I am unable to address this honorable body in the Norwegian language; even if I were, there are no words which can fully express my appreciation for the high honor conferred upon my country by the award of the Nobel Peace Prize for the year 1919 by the Nobel Committee of the Storting to one of America's greatest statesmen, Woodrow Wilson, President of the United States of America. This honor which has been bestowed on President Wilson is one of significance and of utmost satisfaction to me - an occasion which will always remain in my memory. To have the privilege of accepting, on behalf of the President of the United States, this evidence of appreciation of his efforts to replace discord with harmony by appealing to the highest moral forces of each nation, is an event to be cherished.

It is unnecessary for me to dwell upon any of those achievements of President Wilson which justify the bestowal of this honor upon him; his comprehensive understanding of international affairs and his discerning and convincing methods of procedure in matters affecting the welfare and success of entire peoples, which, due to his earnest and forceful endeavors, resulted in the formation of the League of Nations, are well known to us all. He, perhaps as much as any public man, is conscious of the fact that the time is past when each nation can live only unto itself, and his labors have been inspired with the idea and hope of making peace universal a living reality. It is impossible to make a proper estimate of Woodrow Wilson and his great work for international peace until time has revealed much that must, for the present, be a sealed book.

Let me assure you, members of the Norwegian Storting, that words fail to convey the deep emotion which stirs within me at this time, when it falls within my province to receive this testimonial on behalf of the President of the United States of America. No more fitting word of appreciation could be voiced than that contained in the President's message, in which he acknowledges the great honor that has been conferred upon him by the Nobel Peace Committee of the Storting.

Michael wrote an earlier post on an article that compared President Obama and President Wilson’s Nobel Peace Prizes as both rewarding failure.

An interesting tidbit comparison between Wilson and Roosevelt that I noticed was what they did with the prize money. TR gave his away, but Wilson actually seemed to need it. Phyllis Lee Levin wrote this in her Edith and Woodrow about the prize money:
Unlike Roosevelt, who had a fortune of his own, augmented by income from writings, and unlike Taft, who had regular profitable sources of funds, Wilson was largely dependent on his salary….The accompanying monetary award [from the Nobel] of over 133,000 Swedish crowns, amounting to $40,000, had augmented the president’s savings. (Levin, 459)

Come back to see my post on Jimmy Carter’s Nobel Peace Prize.


David said...

You say that the League of Nations never materialized.
The League of Nations did come into existence, albeit without US involvement.

Jennie W said...

I didn't say that, but you are right one of the sources, I quoted did. I think they were just trying to say that the League never really fulfilled its potential - it was never able to really make any difference in European (let alone world) politics. The fact the US refused to join is usually listed as one of the reasons it was so ineffective and in that Wilson failed to get US approval for the Treaty or the League.

You can always complain to the History Channel that they should reword their page - we always want to see better information on the web!