Cover image for Breaking the heart of the world : Woodrow Wilson and the fight for the League of Nations
Breaking the heart of the world : Woodrow Wilson and the fight for the League of Nations
Cooper, John Milton.
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Publication Information:
Cambridge ; New York : Cambridge University Press, 2001.
Physical Description:
ix, 454 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
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E768 .C66 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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The fight over the League of Nations at the end of World War I was one of the great political debates of the American twentieth century. President Woodrow Wilson, himself a key architect of the League, was uncompromising in his belief that the United States would rise to a position of leadership in the peaceful union of states that he had envisaged. A masterful politician and distinguished theorist, Wilson was unprepared for the persuasiveness of his opponents and the potency of their argument. Though he struggled tirelessly in the summer of 1919 to drum popular and political support for the League, he could not keep pace: he suffered a disabling stroke in July. The United States Senate ultimately rejected membership in the League, and the League failed to realize its diplomatic potential. In this engaging narrative, John Cooper relates the story of Wilson's battle for the League with sympathy, accuracy, and a deep understanding of the times. John Milton Cooper, Jr., is E. Gordon Fox Professor of American Institutions at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. He has held Guggenheim and National Endowment for the Humanities fellowships and served as a Fulbright Professor at Moscow University. His previous books inlcude The Warrior and the Priest (Harvard University Press, 1985) and Pivotal Decades (Norton, 1992). Cooper is Chief Historian of the forthcoming biography of Woodrow Wilson on American Experience, which will be broadcast by PBS in 2002.

Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

The tragic story of the League of Nations centers on the idealistic Woodrow Wilson, who conceived the League and offered it to the world, who developed its charter and bore the pains of its formulation at the Versailles Peace Conference that ended WWI, and who broke down in exhaustion when his own nation refused to grant ratification in the Senate. University of Wisconsin professor Cooper (The Warrior and the Priest: Woodrow Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt) does a splendid job of revealing what has come to be called "the League fight." As Cooper shows, Wilson faced an awesome challenge at Versailles among the European old-school diplomats who were determined to gain all they could for their own national interests. In the end, Wilson walked away without a generous peace agreement for the vanquished and instead pinned his hopes on what he saw as the one positive result of Versailles: the League. Cooper is especially strong in depicting senators Henry Cabot Lodge, William Borah and other conservative Republican isolationists who torpedoed ratification of the League in the U.S. with the help of many German-American voters unhappy with the draconian terms of peace forced on Germany by other aspects of the Treaty of Versailles. In the end, Cooper supplies a profoundly sad story of Wilson the man, his hopes for the world shattered just as much as his frail body was, rendered helpless by a stroke in the midst of his greatest political defeat. B&w photos. (Oct. 4) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

The 1919-20 Senate debate over ratification of the Versailles Treaty and the League of Nations remains one of the most intense foreign policy debates in U.S. history. The idea of an international organization to repel aggression had been popular for most of the 1910s. Cooper (Univ. of Wisconsin, Madison), who did extensive research in the archival papers of key players in the debate, here provides a new interpretation differing from that of standard works such as Thomas Bailey's Woodrow Wilson and the Great Betrayal (1945) and Ralph Stone's Irreconcilables (1970). He attributes the defeat of the treaty to President Wilson's failure to court senators' support of the agreement and his failure to compromise at all with Senate opponents. At several critical junctures, the author claims, the President could have changed enough votes to ratify the agreement had he been willing to deal. The secrecy surrounding the President's stroke made his supporters unwilling to strike their own deal without approval. This fresh and well-documented assessment belongs in most academic libraries. Marcia L. Sprules, Council on Foreign Relations Lib., New York (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Did it make much difference that the Senate in November 1919 rejected US membership in the League of Nations? In an elegant analysis of the role played by President Wilson and others in this event, Cooper (Univ. of Wisconsin) argues that it mattered a great deal. Historical scholarship clearly benefits from this outstanding work, as do politics and foreign policy, which often need a lift. Wilson's stroke, Cooper contends, decisively rendered the president incapable of compromising and forging alliances that might have saved the treaty. The League's opponents were not so "irreconcilable" as has been claimed; the American public may well have been ready to assume internationalist commitments that might have helped avert global carnage in the 1930s and 1940s. Wilson's praiseworthy aim of employing public debate to educate the citizenry, while endangered by overheated nationalism, is an ideal model from which Americans could have benefited after WW II. Sadly, Wilson himself coined the phrase, made into the book's title, that Cooper is convinced characterized the outcome of American inability to grasp in a timely fashion the reality of its vision and power. Upper-division undergraduates and above. R. N. Seidel emeritus, SUNY Empire State College