When Wilson was finally well enough to re-join the Conference, he scarcely resembled the man who had fought so doggedly for his principles. The flu had weakened both his body and his mind, and Wilson simply didn’t have the strength or the will to stand his ground.
“The impact was pretty dramatic in my view,” says Barry. “Wilson had been adamant, insisting on the ‘14 Points,’ self-determination, and ‘peace without victory.’ Clemenceau had even accused him of being ‘pro-German.’ All of a sudden, Wilson caved in on all 14 points except the League of Nations, and only because Clemenceau threw him a bone.”
For Wilson’s negotiation team in Paris and his supporters back home, the Treaty of Versailles signed in June 1919 was a betrayal of everything Wilson had stood for, and set the stage for more conflict and death on European soil.
William Bullitt, an assistant to the Department of State and a loyal Wilson attaché at the Paris negotiations, immediately proffered his resignation.
“I was one of the millions who trusted confidently and implicitly in your leadership and believed that you would take nothing less than ‘a permanent peace’ based on ‘unselfish and unbiased justice,’” wrote Bullitt. “But our government has consented now to deliver the suffering peoples of the world to new oppressions, subjections, dismemberments—a new century of war.”
READ MORE: Germany's World War I Debt Was So Crushing It Took 92 Years to Pay Off
The young aide’s assessment was tragically prescient. Historians agree that one of the chief causes of the rise of Adolf Hitler’s Nazi party was the humiliation and economic desperation inflicted on the German people by the Treaty of Versailles. Instead of safeguarding the world from future wars, the Treaty of Versailles helped pave the road to World War II.
Did Wilson’s illness play a significant and disruptive role in the Paris peace negotiations? Barry said it certainly had an impact.
“You can’t absolutely prove that he wouldn't have caved in on everything anyway, but if you know anything about Wilson, there’s nothing in his behavior that suggests he was a compromiser on issues like that,” says Barry. “Quite the reverse. He was insistent that it was ‘his way or the highway’ on pretty much everything.”
Returning to the United States, things only got worse for Wilson. First, Congress rejected American participation in the League of Nations, the last surviving remnant of the “14 Points,” and then Wilson suffered a debilitating stroke from which he never fully recovered.
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