Woodrow Wilson * 14 points 100 years January 8 2018
”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 population concerned must have equal weight with the equitable claims of the government whose title is to be determined.”
Woodrow Wilson’s speech to the US Congress on January 8, 1918, Point 5
January 8, 1918, US President Woodrow Wilson held a speech to the US Congress that should be known worldwide. There is every reason to remember the 100th anniversary. It is quoted widely; in some contexts, it is impossible to circumvent.
The speech became a milestone, which announced the establishment of permanent international bodies: the League of Nations and it’s successor of United Nations. This was an absolutely crucial breach of the past tradition, for multilateral negotiations so far had exclusively been concluded with wars. The speech was held for the overall congress. 2
This article focuses on the 5th point. With this, Woodrow Wilson introduced the political consequence of the simple view of fellow human beings that when writing in liberty and independence declarations that all human beings are born equal it applies regardless of skin color, place of the globe, language, or religion. What we probably see as a matter of course was not so at all at that time.
Kipling (1): “The White Man’s Burden” (1899)
The speech was held only 18 ½ years after Rudyard Kipling’s famous poem “The White Man’s Burden” was published. Here, the human mind of proud colonialism appeared to be full-blown:
”Take up the White Man’s burden
Send forth the best ye breed
Go bind your sons to exile
To serve your captives’ need;
To wait in heavy harness,
On fluttered folk and wild
Your new-caught, sullen peoples,
Half-devil and half-child.”
Rudyard Kipling, 1899, 1st strophe
The Wilsonian approach was the perception characterized by the view that other humans from other countries are not wild but just other members of homo sapiens like the white Europeans or Americans.
Until then, the view of being colonial had mostly been carried by the moral and the nose-grained self-assessment that justified the extensive violence and the attacks people and countries of European origin had committed worldwide: in Africa, Asia, Americas.
Montesqieu, who grabbed his castle, had previously justified slavery against Africans (probably in the time of royal rule in France ) because they were not at all humans in his opinion. He spent most of his time at his castle La Brède near Bordeaux, whose large-scale baroque buildings formed the framework for the trade of sugar, rum and slaves.
As the way from principles to their compliance in history has been long and twisted, we recall through Wilson’s speech. In between was the openness by some of our predecessors to rethink with their open minds. So, they also found the way to us.
Colonialism – the change of value from positive into the negative
Until the First World War, there were only international joint assemblies in connection with peaceings after wars with representants from many participant countries. Wilson’s speech invariably used the use of permanent international bodies. Let us recall the international court in The Hague, which in 1933, in a case concerning the colonial situation of northeastern Greenland, stated that Greenland was then “a single Danish colony”.
Wilson calls with the phrase “free and openminded” to think out of the box when considering human relations. The principles of the speech were expanded by later talks in 1918 and 1919. Getting rid of custom thinking sounds simple, but experience is a rather difficult matter. Nevertheless, this call on the liberal mind is often useful, not as much as a means of changing immediate political practice and thought, but as a tribute to the rest of freedom of will, most of us also in 2018 believe in the existence of.
Then, perhaps, the distorted expression is “impartial“. By doing so, Wilson forces not only his contemporaries but also us in our time to move towards almost seeing the native of the former colonies not just as fellow human beings, but also as equals. Indirectly, he asks the good question: Who are we who have allowed us to set through by colonialism with all its ignorance and violence?
This is further clarified by establishing a principle of equality between the colonial empire and the colonized population. In today’s light, it may not be epoch-making; at the very least, it has not yet been added to actual decolonialization. However, where the colonialization of early capitalism focused on possession of territories and goods with the exception of slavery, the urban population, either as a cost or as a kind of servant, Wilson relocates this focus directly to the locality’s population. Not only does he demand equality. He refocuses.
Thank you, Woodrow Wilson. Perhaps afterlife has not judged you after profit. The milestones like your points, including the fifth, have been on track. Maybe not enough in history. So at least in the minds of open people.
Kipling : https://www.britannica.com/biography/Rudyard-Kipling