Today a war could have ended.
President Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points speech to Congress in January, 1918, outlined his progressive, internationalist view of a post-WWI world. Central to it was his concept of “peace without victory,” proposing instead that unresolved conflicts between the belligerents over things like war costs and lands conquered or despoiled should be resolved by collaborative negotiation (he’d go on to found the League of Nations a year later). While the Allied leaders and Wilson’s Republican opposition agreed that the terms were far too lenient, it didn’t matter: Germany’s response was to mount its last gasp offensive that spring, led by General Ludendorff across much of the Western Front, in hopes of securing for itself a better deal.
Within a matter of a few months, nearly a million more soldiers had been killed, wounded, or lost, with the bloodletting resulting in a return to the stalemate that had preceded it. By September, Germany’s generals knew the war would be lost and told the Kaiser to take up Wilson on his offer. Feeling usurped, its civilian leadership resigned, and the Kaiser appointed his cousin chancellor. Unfortunately, this guy felt that the war should continue so Germany could capture more land before agreeing to an armistice. So thousands upon thousands more soldiers died every day that passed until the generals could convince him to take the deal, which he offered to do in a cable to President Wilson on this day. Wilson’s response was that there’d be no peace until Germany reinstated a democratic government. Thousands more died. A deal wouldn’t be cut until November 11.
Divergent purposes can transform any conversation into a negotiation.