WOODROW WILSON, “THE PUEBLO SPEECH” (25 SEPTEMBER 1919)
- Woodrow Wilson’s Pueblo speech ranked 72nd in a survey of the “Top 100 Speeches of the Twentieth Century.” Why do you think the speech is regarded as one of the “top 100” of the century? Do you agree that it should be counted among the “great” speeches in U.S. history? Why or why not?
- How does Wilson describe the opposition to the League of Nations in his Pueblo speech? Do you get a clear sense from the speech of who opposed the treaty and why they opposed it? Do you think Wilson fairly characterized the opposition? Does he respond seriously to their objections to the treaty? Or does he sidestep those issues or try to cut off debate? Compared to today’s politicians, does Wilson engage in a lot of “name-calling” or “mudslinging” in this speech?
- As Hogan noted in his essay on the Pueblo speech, Wilson studied the great orators of British and American history and published a number of works on oratory and debate in American politics. How would you describe the ideal “orator-statesman,” as envisioned by Wilson? What, by Wilson’s own standards, would constitute a “good” or an “eloquent” speech? Do you agree with Hogan thatWilson violated his own ideals in the Pueblo speech? Why or why not?
- In his critical essay, Hogan also criticizes Wilson for “waving the bloody shirt” in his Pueblo speech. What is meant by that phrase, “wave the bloody shirt”? And do you agree that Wilson should be criticized for doing that? Is a speaker ever justified in “waving the bloody shirt”?
- Do you believe that Wilson’s crusade for a League of Nations has been “redeemed” by history? That is, do you think that, despite his defeat, he ultimately proved “right” about the need for collective security and an organization like the League of Nations?
- What do scholars mean when they refer to “Wilsonian internationalism”? How would you characterize the principles or philosophy of Wilsonian internationalism, and how does it differ from the practices and traditions of American foreign policy before Wilson arrived on the scene? Is the influence of Wilsonian internationalism still evident today? Who, among today’s politicians, would you consider a supporter or an opponent of Wilsonian internationalism?
- How did Wilson support his arguments for a League of Nation? That is, what sorts of evidence did he use? Did he invoke any credible sources of testimony? Did he offer any statistics or examples to prove his arguments that the peace settlement was fair or that a League of Nations could help prevent war?
- What do historians mean when they describe the debate over the League of Nations as a battle for “public opinion”? What do you think they mean by “public opinion” in an age before scientific polling? Did “public opinion” mean something different then than it means today? In the absence of polls, how did people assess “public opinion” at that time, and how could we possibly know whether Wilson won or lost the battle for public opinion over the League of Nations?
- In advocating the League of Nations, Woodrow Wilson suggested that World War I had changed the nature of war, and that the next war might well be the “final war,” since modern warfare had become so devastating. Using Internet and library resources, research the military history of WWI and discuss what might have inspired Wilson to say that. Were the military or civilian casualties in World War I really that much higher than the wars that came before it? What sorts of new weaponry or new military tactics made World War I seem unlike previous wars, or especially brutal and devastating?
- Investigate whether your college or community library has any of the local papers from the cities Wilson visited on his Western tour in 1919, perhaps on microfilm. Then compare the coverage of the tour in at least two different cities. How thoroughly did the newspapers cover Wilson’s actual speech? What sorts of editorial commentary did they offer, and how did they assess Wilson’s chances of “winning” the League of Nations debate?
- Steven Vaughn’s Holding Fast the Inner Lines tells the story of America’s official governmental propaganda agency during World War I: the Committee on Public Information (CPI). Using Vaughn’s book and whatever other sources you can find, research the CPI and discuss (1) the techniques and media it used to build public support for Wilson’s war policies, and (2) the ethical implications of those techniques. Do you agree with some critics that the CPI’s techniques were “anti-democratic”? Why or why not?
- Another speech from Wilson’s Western tour, his speech in Des Moines, Iowa on September 6, 1919, also made the list of the “Top 100 Speeches of the Twentieth Century” compiled by scholars of rhetoric. Find a copy of that speech either online or in Vol. 63 of the Papers of Woodrow Wilson, edited by Arthur S. Link et. al. Compare and contrast Wilson’s speeches in Des Moines and Pueblo. What are the major differences that you see between the two speeches? How are they the same? Which do you think is the better speech—and why?
- Media coverage of Wilson’s Western tour was limited to newspaper accounts, but many of the major newspapers provided full texts of Wilson’s speeches on the tour and extensive front-page coverage. How, in your opinion, does that differ from how major presidential addresses are covered by the media today? Identify a major speech on the war in Iraq delivered by President Bush in the last four years, and evaluate the coverage of that speech in one major national newspaper (e.g. the New York Times) and one major Internet news sites (e.g. CNN.com). Do you think that the media today provide better, more complete coverage of major presidential addresses than they did in 1919? What might the media do to improve their coverage of major presidential speeches? Do you think it’s more important for the news media to provide (a) extensive quotation or even the full texts of the presidential speech itself, or (b) extensive analysis of the speech by the journalist and expert commentators?
- Debate continues today over the value and effectiveness of the United Nations, which most people see as the direct descendent of Wilson’s proposed League of Nations. Research the structure and activities of today’s United Nations and discuss whether you think it is essentially the same organization that Wilson proposed in 1919. Then answer this question: Has the United Nations lived up to the promise that Wilson talked about on his Western tour? In other words, has the United Nations worked as Wilson envisioned? Has it provided at least some “insurance” against war?
Last updated June 16, 2016.