ALL: (SINGING) Hail to thee, our alma mater, hail, oh hail Cornell. Far above the busy humming of the bustling town, reared against the arch of heaven, looks she proudly down. Lift the chorus, speed it onward, loud her praises tell. Hail to thee, our alma mater, hail, all hail Cornell.
SPEAKER: Ladies and gentlemen-- ladies and gentlemen, please turn off your cell phones and pagers. Flash photography is not allowed. Thank you.
PRESENTER: Welcome to the Beacon Theater. This is not the Allman Brothers concert. That was last month. And it's not the Linda Ronstadt concert. That's June. This is an academic lecture by a professor of diplomatic history. And I think it's pretty incredible to have this audience for an academic lecture by a professor of diplomatic history. But of course, it's not just any lecturer on diplomatic history.
It's Walter LaFeber, who is a Legend in his own time. And we could not be more delighted that we have an opportunity to hear Walt's last lecture this evening in New York City. I am delighted to tell you that Walt's wife, Sandy, is here in the audience, his daughter, Suzanne. Please stand.
His daughter, Suzanne, her husband, Tom, their two kids, as well as son, Scott, and his fiancee, Laura [INAUDIBLE]. It's wonderful to have the LaFebers here.
We wanted to hold this event initially in the theater of the Museum of Natural History, but then the RSVPs started coming in and coming in and coming in. We're at 3,000 people now, and there are many who were disappointed not to be able to enter this hall this evening. It is because we have a wonderful scholar, teacher to present to you this, evening and scholarship and teaching are what Cornell is about. It is rare, indeed, to find them together in a single individual of such distinction.
All of us know many fine teachers at the undergraduate level. We know many great scholars. It's rare to have them combined. And Walt combines them in a truly remarkable way, and he also cares tremendously about the business of teaching undergraduate students. And that's why so many of his students are here this evening.
It is important to recognize as well that Andrew and James Tisch decided in the year 2002 that for Cornell, there should also be an ability for many of our professors who come towards the end of their careers to have the chance to stay on for an extra period of time to reach Cornell undergraduates, but to enable their departments, nonetheless, to replace them early. And so they established the Andrew H and James H Tisch Distinguished University Professorship. And the first holder of that position is Walt LaFeber. And I'm delighted that Walt could hold this position initially.
This signifies to me a true commitment to undergraduate teaching, so much so that professors towards the end of their career can be recognized and honored on a university-wide basis and continue to teach undergraduates for additional years. It is my pleasure to introduce to you now Andrew Tisch, who will introduce our speaker. Andrew.
ANDREW TISCH: Good evening, and thank you, Hunter. And welcome all to this most special evening. Welcome to Bailey on Broadway.
Four years ago when my brother Jim and I and our families created the Distinguished University Professorship, we did so with Walter LaFeber in mind-- the quintessential teacher, the one who should be encouraged to keep teaching and not retire. We are thrilled that Walter chose to stay in the classroom those extra years and weave his insights into the minds of yet another generation of Cornellians. And we're equally thrilled that Walter agreed to teach all his generations together tonight.
We all had great experiences at Cornell and look back fondly at our days as college students. We were there to learn, to expand our minds, to grow, and to grow up. And we can now appreciate the great teaching that we had at Cornell.
While it's a bit unfair to say that any one professor was better than any other, there is one person who stood out across a broader cross-section of the university as a master teacher. He is a person who motivated and stimulated us. He captivated us not by his dazzling rhetoric or histrionics, but by his insights. We were in awe of his obvious command of his subject. His words flowed as if he was reciting the most eloquent of prose.
In every lecture, he took us to a different time or place and made us feel as if we were part of the deepest, most important discussions in history. He expanded our minds by instilling in us the desire to want to know more. He taught us the truth lie not on a surface, but at the end of a road filled with probing skepticism and questions. He made us all feel smarter for having sat in his presence.
And although he taught hundreds at a time, he always made himself available to each of us as individuals. And he has done this with 47 years worth of Cornell students. He has elevated the title "teacher" to new and uncharted levels. Fellow students, it is my honor to present Professor Walter LaFeber.
[CHEERS AND APPLAUSE]
WALTER LAFEBER: I deeply appreciate that. This is all quite overwhelming. I'm used to 400 to 500, but not this many. I appreciate Andrew's introduction. I appreciate Hunter's introduction. I'll get back to Andrew in a minute. I want to talk a little bit about Sandy's and my honor that you have come out. And we are so fortunate in seeing a number of people we haven't seen for many, many years, and we're going to be able to see them this afternoon.
I will talk a lot in the first person. But when I do, I want you to understand that Sandy shall always be included as the second person. Because without Sandy, I would not have been at Cornell, quite literally. When we were deciding whether to get married, Sandy asked me what I intended to do. And I said, I thought I would probably go back to the family business in a small town in Northern Indiana.
And she said that she had grown up in a small town in Southern Illinois, that she intended to live in the east, and that if I hoped to see her, I would have a long commute.
So I went through what the Cornell Career Center now calls a rapid career re-evaluation and decided that I would go into teaching instead. When I saw Sandy look at this audience this afternoon, a story suddenly returned to my mind that I had forgotten about. It's the story of a politician in Washington-- we'll call him Howard because that was actually his name. I've heard this story secondhand, but it's so good that I'm not sure that I ever want to find out that it's not true.
Howard served with distinction in Washington for 30 years. They had a going away party for him in which a number of the most distinguished people in Washington came to the going away party. His wife had played an extraordinarily important role in his career, extraordinarily. He was quite clear in saying that he would not have been in Washington or as successful as he was if it was not for his wife.
So that evening, after they had a number of very nice toasts, halfway through the evening, his wife got up to speak and said, I always knew that sometime, I would be addressing an audience as distinguished and as accomplished as this. What surprises me is that Howard is here too.
And I think that was what was going through Sandy's mind about an hour ago. I feel very fortunate that Hunter Rollins was here. Sandy and I were counting a while back, and we figured out that we have served under more than half of the Cornell presidents. That says something about Cornell being the youngest Ivy League institution. It also says something about how long we've been at Cornell.
And we've been very, very fortunate. Dale Corson, who cannot not be here this evening-- but I spoke with him before we left Ithaca-- is now 91, very active, is still a fount of wisdom at Cornell about Cornell and about higher education. Dale was the person who put Cornell back together again after the trauma and the crisis of 1969, a remarkable man. The reason why many of us stayed at Cornell in the 1970s is because of Dale Corson, a person who essentially helped develop radar in World War II to win the Battle of Britain, who was at Los Alamos in 1945, who came to Cornell and developed a physics department into one of the great physics department in the world, and who also was the dean of engineering, and then in the 1960s, was provost.
And he happened to be provost at the same time I was chair of the History Department in the late 1960s. And he was very, very kind to the History Department. And I wanted to thank Dale before we came here to New York for this trip for all he had done for the History Department. He essentially-- because of Dale, we doubled the number in the History Department. And some of the most eminent historians in Cornell's history came because Dale supported them.
Dale once heard me tell a story about a British philosopher. I think some of the people in the audience here have heard me tell this too. A man named Samuel Butler was at a dinner party in London in the early 19th century, and a woman asked him, why does God tolerate historians? And Butler thought for a while and said, well, you see, madam, it is because since God himself cannot change the past, he is obliged to tolerate historians who can.
And Dale said to me, you know, that's the best reason-- that's better than any reason you've given me for enlarging the History Department. Dale has been a friend for decades now, a very valued friend. He was followed by Frank Rhodes, who, as everyone here knows, essentially transformed what Cornell was physically and in many ways intellectually.
Sandy and I were very fortunate to be with Frank and Rosa when they went to Asia in the '80s and the '90s and began to re-cement ties between Cornell and Asia. They go way back-- back to Willard Straight, but back even beyond Willard Straight. Hunter Rollins gave a remarkable paper on campus a week ago about Cornell's long ties with Asia, particularly China. And Frank essentially re-established a lot of those relationships, and then Hunter picked those up and redeveloped them in the 1990s.
But what Hunter also did was to transform the face of undergraduate education at Cornell with the North Campus and with the new houses on the West Campus-- the Alice Cook House, the Hans Bethe House, the Carl Becker House. What he also did-- and I want to draw your attention particularly this because I think it is so interesting and important for Cornell and for Cornell's relationships with the world.
What he also did was to listen to a Cornell graduate, class of '75, named Mike Zack. Mike Zack had the idea, after having a number of business ventures in China, that what the United States was going to need in the 21st century were a number of highly trained, professional, knowledgeable people about China and that Cornell, particularly given its history going back to the 19th century, should be the place where this is done.
Hunter picked this idea up, and then Jeff Lehman when he was president carried this on and negotiated a number of the arrangements in Peking. And at one point, I might add, when it looked as though the program might be coming to a dead stop, Jeff kept it going. And then this past fall, Hunter went over and negotiated the final agreements with Beijing University.
And now Cornell will, starting next year, begin to turn out essentially 20 people every year who have had between four and six years of Chinese, depending on how much they've taken the FALCON program, how much they've had in high school. They will have had specialized training in China. They will have worked Cornell in Washington, which was one of the pioneering programs in Washington, of course, as many of you know.
They will then spend time in Beijing working in Chinese affairs and in American-Chinese affairs. And when they graduate, they will be in a position where they can go into government service. They will go into business. They will go into NGOs. We believe this is one of the most exciting programs in Cornell's history thanks to the alum, thanks to Hunter, thanks to Jeff. And it is a program, I think, that's going to be emulated and copied by many other universities in the United States. At least I very much hope so.
Cornell, in that sense, has been very well served by its president, and all of us now are looking to serve under David Skorton. In 1969-1970, as I said, Dale essentially came in and helped put the university back together. But what I also remember from 1969-1970 was something that I never understood about Cornell until that point, and it came home very clearly and very directly to me.
And it came home one afternoon when I was in the History Department office, and a man named Jack Clark walked into the office to talk about what was going on on campus during the crisis of the spring of 1969. I had never laid eyes on Jack Clark before. I knew Jack Clark because he was a distinguished graduate of the Engineering School at Cornell. He was of the Kimberly Clark family. He had been the person who had pioneered the development of industrial film at Eastman Kodak.
And he had given a prize for teaching at Cornell several years before. Jack Clark came on campus-- I thought this was very interesting-- and he began to ask questions about what had happened, what he could do to make sure that Cornell through this all right. Jack was the first of a number of Cornell alums who came through that particular spring.
I never understood the role of Cornell alumni at Cornell until the spring of 1969. And I must say, I was dazzled by it and incredibly impressed by the people and by the stature of the people who took time to come to Cornell and help Cornell through that particular crisis-- Arthur Dean, Bob Purcell, a number of other people who were essentially lifesavers for Cornell and for Dale Corson at the time.
Two years later after this, Andrew Tisch graduated from Cornell. And four years after that, Jim Tisch graduated. And it is one of the great honors of Sandy's and my life that we have come to know Merryl and Jim and Anne and Andrew Tisch and their mother, Billy Tisch, who is here, I'm very, very pleased to say. They are a great family, and they have done great work.
When Larry Tish died a year and a half, two years ago, Andrew was asked about the Tisch family being successful. And Andrew said something that I found quite remarkable. He said, the idea of success is not to think of it as an ending point. The idea of success is to think of it as a transition, as a passage to something else. And when I read that, I understood what the Tisch family was really all about.
The Tisch family has certainly been successful, but what they have also done, particularly in their relationship with Larry Tish's alma mater, NYU, what they have done for Columbia, what they have done for Harvard, what they have done for Cornell, is quite extraordinary. And it has done a great honor to be associated with the Tish name at Cornell. All of us at Cornell are indebted to Merryl, to Jim, and to Andrew and all of the Tisch family has not only for Cornell, but for higher education in general.
The role of the alumni is something that all of us at Cornell, although we don't talk about it much-- faculty talk about other things-- nevertheless fully appreciate and understand. Jack Clark started the Teaching program at Cornell, the Teaching Awards program at Cornell. There are others-- the Appels. The award is given in honor of the Russels.
And there is one person here today who has played a particularly important role, and that's Steve Weiss, the former chair of the Board of Trustees. Steve, who has done many things for Cornell, including bringing Hunter Rollins to Cornell-- in 1995, he was instrumental in bringing Hunter to Ithaca. In the early 1990s, the usual ideas were going around Ithaca, around Cornell, about how to award teaching, how to pay attention to teaching. Jim Moss, Walter Lynn in Engineering, a number of people had ideas. It was Steve Weiss, essentially, who said, I'll support that. And I want to make a contribution in shaping it.
And what came out of it was the Weiss Presidential Teaching Fellows, an award program that not only recognizes teachers, but because of Steve's imagination and generosity, also gives those teachers a chance to do experimental work and gives them funds to do different kinds of teaching. And several weeks ago, Steve came back to Ithaca, convened the Weiss Presidential teachers, and essentially asked for their suggestions and asked what we could do in order to strengthen teaching at Cornell.
I can tell you from being at many universities during the course of my career, everybody talks about how important teaching is and how it needs to be strengthened. Cornell is the one place I know, whether in the Ivy League or outside the Ivy League, who has provided this kind of resources and this kind of imagination brought by people like Jack Clark and Steve Weiss to the whole commitment of Cornell to teaching. And for that, we are very, very deeply grateful to the Tisches, to Steve, and to Clarks.
There was another thing that happened in the late 1960s, early '70s, when I go back and think about a carer at Cornell, that was very important. Cornell has had, going back to the early part of the 20th century, a very close commitment to American diplomacy, which happens to be my field. Willard Straight-- many of you know the person after whom the center is named at Willard Straight Hall at Cornell. But Willard Straight was a very important diplomat in China between 1906 and 1911, the climax of the Chinese Revolution.
Starting in the late 1960s into the '70s and the 1980s, Cornell produced a number of leading international officials. Steve Hadley, who is President Bush's national security advisor, was to be here this afternoon. He had to cancel out at the last minute. But we have President Clinton's national security advisor here, Sandy Berger, with Susan Berger.
And coming out of the '60s when Sandy graduated, Susan graduated, and Steve graduated in 1969, a whole series of people came out-- Carol Koontz, who I believe is here, Bob Einhorn, who was absolutely instrumental in 30 years of disarmament negotiation-- he retired several years ago-- is here. Eric Edelman, who is the number three person in the Defense Department now, was the ambassador to Turkey and to Finland, and Dan Fried, who is the number-- well, he's the assistant secretary of state, but he is considerably higher than that in the State Department because of his background in Eastern Europe.
And the person who has probably one of the toughest ambassadorial jobs right now, Bill Brownfield, who's the US ambassador to Venezuela-- they all came out of Cornell. And this is only part of them in the 1960s, '70s, and '80s. And Cornell is very proud of these people. It is a great Cornell tradition, as I say, going back to Willard Straight, that these people have served the United States. And in several instances, particularly Sandy's and Steve Hadley's instance, they served the president of the United States.
So Cornell alumni, in a whole variety of ways, as I discovered in the late 1960s, early 1970s, are truly, truly extraordinary people. And Sandy and I are most indebted to them for what they have meant to us personally, what they have done for the university-- they've done a great deal for the university-- and what they've done for the United States.
When I came to Cornell in 1959, I came with two other people in the History Department-- Don Kagan, who is now a distinguished professor of ancient history, and Brian Tierney, who was about 10 years older than Don and I were. Brian remains, in his middle 80s, one of the great figures in medieval history in the world.
Don and I had been a very good graduate schools. We thought we knew a lot about history. We thought we were really well positioned to teach at Cornell. The one thing they had not explained to us, to Don and to me when we came to Cornell, at least in our graduate school career, was what we were going to be paid.
A person told me several weeks ago, who graduated from Cornell in the late '50s, that he remembers paying something like $200 a semester-- maybe he said a year-- at one of the colleges at Cornell. And I want to tell you, as I told him, that that was fully reflected in the faculty salaries at the time.
Don and I looked at each other, and we found out that we were going to be making a $4,000-a-year salary. We both had families. And we suddenly discovered that we had not learned everything that we should have known about teaching from our graduate school instruction. To find out exactly what this was all about, we had to go to the eminent American philosopher Henny Youngman. And it was Henny Youngman who said that I have all the money I'll ever need provided I die by 4 o'clock this afternoon.
Don and I understood exactly what Henny Youngman was talking about. But then something happened. The next year, the chair of the department told us that we were not going to get any raises, that Cornell had a budgetary crisis, and the faculty were not getting any raises. And Don and I said OK. We were very grateful to be at Cornell. Jobs were scarce in those days. But it would have been nice, since we each had families, if we had a little bit more money.
And several weeks later, we found out that we did. We got something like $500 increases, which were phenomenal. And the reason this happened was because of the dean at the time and the associate deans. And the associate deans happened to find out that Don and I had had some success in the classroom. And as a result, the deans had overruled the department and had essentially given us these $500 raises.
What I learned at that point was that university presidents are certainly very important, but at the dean level, at the middle level, Cornell has been blessed in the last 45 to 50 years with extraordinary people, starting in 1960, as Don and I learned firsthand, but right on through, including the people who have helped organize this-- Jeff and Carol, Carol [INAUDIBLE]. These are extraordinary people. Sue Murphy, who is here tonight, vice president at Cornell, personally I feel particularly strong about because she happened to be an advisee of mine when she has a history major. And it's been a pleasure to watch Susan be dean of admissions and then rise to become vice president and one of the most important people in Cornell in the last generation.
I have learned that Cornell is a great university not only because it has distinguished faculty and because it has had distinguished leadership, but that part of that leadership has come from those middle, upper-middle levels from those people who know what is going on and work extraordinarily hard at helping the university. And I want to express my thanks to those people, both for what they've done tonight and for what several of them did in increasing my salary $500 some 47 years ago.
The late 1960s at Cornell and in the United States are, of course, memorable years. The events at Cornell in 1969 have been written about in a remarkable book that Down Downs, who was a sophomore at the time and is now a distinguished political scientist at the University of Wisconsin-- in the book that Don Downs wrote about. What I especially remember, and I think many of the people in the audience remember-- and I know Sandy Berger remembers-- from Cornell in the late 1960s is George Kahin. George Kahin was the great man in the world in Southeast Asia history and politics. And he turned out a number of people who were essentially intelligence agents who were much better, as it turned out, than some of the US government's intelligence agents in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War at the time.
George gave a speech in the spring of 1969 during the crisis at Cornell which is the most eloquent speech about academic freedom I have ever encountered anywhere up to that time or since that time. George was a remarkable man. And I had the pleasure of going through his papers several years after his death in 2000 and discovered how closely he had worked with Senator William Fulbright, Senator Frank Church, a number of people, essentially educating them about South Asia and Southeast Asia were really all about and what the Vietnam War was really all about.
And one of the things that George pointed out as he talked with the senators and with other people in Washington in the late 1960s-- one of the things that George pointed out was that when the administration talked about the importance of democracy and how the elections in Vietnam represented the beginnings of democracy, how this was not true, that it was very difficult to have real democratic elections as we understood them in the United States or in Great Britain. It was very difficult to have these elections in the middle of what was essentially a civil war and a revolution.
But it was at this time-- and George Kahin picked it out-- that there began to be a new theme in American foreign policy. Shortly after that, Richard Nixon said that the most important president in the 20th century, in Nixon's opinion, was Woodrow Wilson. He thought Wilson was more important than Franklin D Roosevelt. And the reason why was because of Wilson's commitment to democracy.
Jimmy Carter, quite unlike Nixon, who followed Nixon into the White House, said the same thing. And then in the 1980s, Ronald Reagan began to talk about democracy and self-determination, and he used that very effectively as a way of putting pressure on the Soviet Union until, along with our friends who put other kinds of pressure on the Soviet Union, the Soviet Union disappeared in 1991.
Beginning in the late 1960s, early '70s, in other words, we began to talk about the resurgence of Woodrow Wilson and the resurgence of a belief in self-determination and the importance of expanding democracy. This was new in American foreign policy in the late '60s and early '70s. When you go back historically and you look at this, it is notable that in the 1930s, 1940s, 1950s, and early 1960s, presidents did not talk this way. They did not talk like Woodrow Wilson. They did not talk like Ronald Reagan.
They talked about power. They didn't talk about democracy. Franklin D Roosevelt had been assistant secretary of the Navy under Wilson. He had watched Wilson close up between 1918 and 1920-- Wilson fail, have a series of strokes, lose his political control, and essentially end in humiliation in 1920-21. And Franklin D Roosevelt was not going to go back and essentially relive those years and use Wilsonian rhetoric given what had happened to Wilsonian rhetoric in 1919, 1920.
By the 1940s, by the time Harry Truman was president, and Dean Acheson, who many people considered the greatest secretary of state of the 20th century, they were essentially making fun of Wilson by this time and essentially saying that democracy is very good, but it is not the kind of thing that travels well. And they talk more in terms of straight power politics.
George Kennan, the person who was the formulator of the Containment Doctrine-- Kennan also wrote several books in which he put Wilson down and talked about the evils of moralism in American foreign policy which he associated with Woodrow Wilson. And I found this stunning-- that in the '30s, '40s, '50s, '60s, Wilson was essentially a non-person, and all of a sudden, from the late 1960s to the present time, Wilson has become one of the great American iconic figures.
Presidents ever since that time have been called Wilsonian. And in many respects, they are Wilson. There was a story in The Washington Post several weeks ago written by a distinguished columnist. And she said in this column that for 200 years, the United States has been expanding democracy. That's not quite right. That generalization does not work.
The generation in the United States who knew the most about democracy and about how well it traveled was actually the founders of this country in the 1780s and 1790s. This is the one generation, the one generation in our history, where the intellectuals and the politicians were the same people. It's the--
That is, incidentally, my verdict on the intellectuals, not the politicians. The person who had thought very deeply about this, of course, was Thomas Jefferson, who had written about it rather eloquently in 1776. But Jefferson made a historic statement about how he thought democracy traveled in 1803 when he more than doubled the size of the United States by purchasing Louisiana. And when he had to deal with New Orleans, which was at the center of that empire, what he did was essentially set up an authoritarian military government under a close young friend of his who was a US Army general.
And Jefferson and his Secretary of State, James Madison, who rightly is called the father of the American Constitution, who knew more about American democracy than anybody else in that generation, said very clearly they were not going to allow people in New Orleans to essentially elect representatives. They were not going to give them the power of democracy. In other words, what Jefferson had called certain inalienable rights in 1776 were not going to be given to the people in New Orleans in 1803, 1804.
And the reason for that, Jefferson said, was because these people were in no shape or form ready to handle the responsibilities of democracy. They were people who were refugees from Mexico. They were criminals from New York City, including the famous Livingston family, some of whom got in trouble in New York City and moved down to New Orleans. There were people in Jefferson did not trust.
And as a result, he said, we will not give them democracy until a number of other Americans-- that is, people from the American states-- move into New Orleans, and they can then institute a Republican-Democratic government. That's exactly what happened in New Orleans. And about the time this happened, about the time that New Orleans in lower Louisiana became a territory, John Quincy Adams had to face the same kind of question-- whether or not he would recognize the possibility that Latin Americans would be democratic and whether the United States could help Latin Americans to be Democratic.
John Quincy Adams is considered by historians and political scientists as the greatest secretary of state in American history. And I would agree with that assessment. But when Adams had to decide whether or not the United States should be involved in the expansion of democracy in Latin America, he said absolutely not, that the people in Latin America came from a much different background, had a much different political context, had a much different religious belief. And he did not believe that American democracy traveled to Latin America.
Now, I point these out not only to say that the Washington Post story of several weeks ago is questionable, but to note that throughout the 18th and 19th century when American government was run by people who have thought very deeply about these issues of expanding democracy, it essentially came to the conclusion that they were not sure that it traveled very well, that the form of government that the United States had was very well adapted to the United States. Whether it would be adapted even to people as close as Latin America was something they either were not sure about or they believed could not happen.
And then everything changed, and it changed with-- as Richard Nixon and Jimmy Cartier said, it changed with Woodrow Wilson. When Wilson became president in 1913, he came to office-- he had a very interesting comment when he came to office. He said, it would be a great irony of my presidency if I had to concern myself heavily with foreign policy. He had been an American political scientist, but he had not known much about American international relations.
In fact, when you go back and read what he says about American international relations when he is a lecturer in the 1890s or before he becomes president of Princeton, it's rather embarrassing because he didn't know a lot about them, and it seems as though he didn't care a lot about them. He had not traveled much beyond the Caribbean. And he was not interested in them.
He was interested in being a strong president, but mostly in carrying out progressive reforms at home. But of course, the irony struck. And the first thing that Wilson had to deal with was the Mexican Revolution, one of the first great 20th-century revolutions to be followed almost immediately by the Russian and the Chinese revolution during Wilson's presidency. When Wilson began to deal with Mexico in 1913-1914 as Mexico moved towards chaos, what Wilson said was that what Mexico should do is to conduct elections.
In Wilson's famous phrase, "I am going to teach South Americans to elect good men." And he set out to do that in Mexico. He did not have much success. And indeed, by 1914, he used an episode off Veracruz, essentially, to land US troops in Mexico to try to put pressure on the Mexican government. That didn't work.
In 1916, he sent General Pershing in with 6,000 troops, in part because Mexicans had attacked across the New Mexico border. But this was also another form of pressure which Wilson was putting on Mexico. And the end result of Wilson trying to teach Mexico how to elect good men, as he put it in his famous phrase, essentially was a Mexican revolution that moved very rapidly to the left. And then by 1917, indeed, the Carranza government in Mexico had began to formulate a new constitution which did something that the British and the American governments hoped would never happen.
The British and the American governments depended very heavily on Mexican oil, especially for the new ships that they were beginning to build during World War I. And what the Mexican government did in 1916 and '17 was, for the first time, take over all of the subsoil rights in Mexico. But it got worse.
On the eve of the American entry into World War I, the Zimmerman note was revealed by the British Foreign Office. What the Zimmerman note was was a note sent from Berlin to Mexico City asking the Mexican government to come in the war on the side of Germany against the United States. And if Mexico would do this, Germany would help them after the war to regain what the United States had taken from Mexico in 1848 in the Mexican War-- that is to say, most of Southwestern United States and California.
The Mexican government immediately dismissed this, and the Wilson government said it was never serious. Years later, we found out that the initiative on this was not taken by Zimmerman and the German foreign office. The initiative in that was taken by the Carranza government in Mexico, who in 1916 feared that Wilson was going to invade Mexico and essentially approached Germany for help. By 1917, the crisis had passed, thank God, and a major possible crisis in US-Mexican relations had passed.
But Wilson's first experience in Wilsonianism and the expansion of democracy, as The Washington Post called it several weeks ago, was not only a failure. It was almost a diplomatic and military crisis. But no more had that passed than the United States entered World War I. And Wilson went before the United States Congress and uttered his famous phrase, that "we must make the world safe for democracy." This was the new commitment by the United States. Wilson formulated it. And that is why Wilson has been so important in American foreign policy in the last 40 years-- what he said in 1917 and 1918.
By 1918, his push for democracy took on new sharpness. And the reason for this was the Russian Revolution. The Russian Revolution that erupted in late 1917-- a Russian Revolution erupted just as several of the great empires in the world that had essentially held Europe and parts of the Middle East together for more than a century-- the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Turkish Empire, the German Empire-- these empires began to collapse. So the question was who would reorganize these empires.
Lenin and the Bolshevik Revolution had a response. And the response was essentially revolution, end of private property. Wilson had another response, which was democracy. And on the right, there was a third response offered by the British and the French and, to a certain extent, the Italians, which was a policy of colonialism, a policy of a different empire, a British or a French or an Italian empire.
But it was Wilson who essentially articulated the hopes of millions and millions of people. And he was welcome to Europe after that war in the early part of 1919 as a savior because he had articulated this idea of democracy being the way the world would be put back together. It would not be the right or the left. It would be the American center.
There was one person in the American government who had questions about this, and it happened to be Wilson's secretary of state, a man named Robert Lansing. Lansing was a New York City Wall Street lawyer, a person who was deeply versed in Europe, who knew about European politics, a person who was an uncle of John Foster Dulles, who first made his appearance in American diplomacy at this time in 1918 and 1919.
When Lansing heard Wilson talk about democracy, he wrote a very interesting passage in a letter in which he said, "I do not believe the president understands that this is dynamite. I do not believe he is clear in his own mind about whether he means that this is democracy on a territory, it is a democracy to be determined along racial lines, it is a democracy to be determined by a community. I do not think he has thought any of this out. And as a result," he said, "I think there could be an explosion."
Lansing was right. Wilson had not thought this out. He had been an American political scientist. And in one of his speeches to Congress, he said, "I will enunciate American principles. I can do no other." And self-determination and the tradition of elections in the American sense was what Wilson was talking about.
But by 1918 and 1919 when he began to talk about elections in places like the Austro-Hungarian Empire or the collapsing Turkish Empire-- in the Middle East as we know it right now, this was a very different kind of thing. And Lansing did not believe that Wilson would be able to ever use this particular principle that had begun to unite the world and put Wilson at the center of it, that he'd ever be able to translate that principle into effective diplomacy. And he was not.
When he went to Paris, he was greeted as the savior and very quickly ran into a whole series of difficulties. One of the difficulties involved the region-- what is now Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq. The British and the French, in particular the British, were determined that they were going to have Iraq. And the reason why they were going to have Iraq as a colony, essentially, was because they knew that Iraq had a lot of oil.
They approached Wilson about this. And instead of talking about self-determination, Wilson essentially allowed the British to go ahead, to cut a deal with the French, to take over Iraq, and to draw the boundaries of Iraq pretty closely to where they are right now. Wilson was unable to translate the idea of American democracy in the Middle East, nor was he able to translate it very effectively in parts of even Eastern Europe.
There was an election in a place like Hungary, but Hungary returned a communist candidate. And at that point, Herbert Hoover, a young progressive who was very close to Wilson, went in, and with the control of food which he, Hoover, and the United States had, essentially overthrew the communist candidate and brought in one that was more amenable to the French, the British, and to the United States. In Austria, again, Hoover used food to make sure that the elections in Austria turned out correctly.
And as Lansing looked at this, Lansing essentially said to himself, I told you so, that this is an extremely dangerous idea of expanding democracy. The people who began to be enthusiastic about Wilson in 1916, 1917, 1918 weer young American liberals. One of them was a man named Raymond Robins, who was the head of the American Red Cross in Russia. Robins knew Wilson, and he had been a supporter of Wilson.
But after he watched Wilson in Mexico, and then he watched Wilson in the Middle East, and then he watched Wilson and Hoover in Eastern Europe, Raymond Robins passed judgment on Wilson, which I think is quite accurate. He said that what Wilson never understood was that with luck, you can help people, but Wilson never understood they had to save themselves.
And that seemed to be the situation in 1918-1919. The people who took this hardest were some of the young liberals on the Wilson delegation who went to France with him, a number of rather distinguished historians in later years, including Samuel Eliot Morison, who was a young liberal who went with Wilson to Paris. But this group was led by a mainline Philadelphian, the handsome and quite wealthy William Christian Bullitt.
Bullitt was 28 years old when he came to Washington in 1917 to help Woodrow Wilson and Lansing and others somehow try to liberalize what was left from World War I. Bullitt went to Wilson and tried to convince Wilson that one of the things Wilson should do is to talk to Lenin. Wilson sent a Bullitt to talk to Lenin, and Bullitt came back from the conversations believing that there was a possibility for Wilson and Lenin to sit down and begin to work things out.
Wilson did not agree with this, would not see Bullitt when he came back, and began to make the deals that Bullitt watched in the Middle East with Japan as Japan took over parts of China and parts of the German empire, and Wilson went along with it. And by the early part of June of 1919, Wilson, Samuel Elliot Morrison, and a number of the young, liberal idealists who had gone with Wilson to make the world safe for democracy and to export democracy to the remains of Europe after World War I resigned.
Early June, Bullitt signed out of the [INAUDIBLE] Hotel. And as he walked out the door, some journalists asked him exactly what was going on. And Bullitt said, we resigned. All of the young liberals have resigned and have left Wilson, that Wilson had not made the world safe for democracy. He had not understood how democracy travels or does not travel.
He had not understood how he would have to compromise. He had not understood the difficulties of planning democracy in certain parts of the world. He had not understood how important it was that he not agree to the Japanese taking over parts of China. But he said, we knew he had to do it. Otherwise, Japan would not have joined the League of Nations. But we believe he did the wrong thing. And some of us are going to go back to Washington and oppose what we have tried to create here and we have not created.
Bullitt walked on out the door and got into a cab to go to the train station in Paris. And one reporter asked Bullitt, now, Mr. Bullitt, what are you going to do? And Bullitt said, "I'm going to lie in the sands of the Riviera and watch the world go to hell." He went, and it did. Thank you for the last 46 years. I appreciate you.
[CHEERS AND APPLAUSE]
PRESENTER: Thank you, Walter. All you did was to take the most difficult problem confronting America today and give us a history lesson on it that we'll never forget. A number of you have taken advantage of the website that we offer to send in tributes to Walt and to Sandy. Others of you have submitted anecdotes about your time in the classroom with Professor LaFeber.
I'm pleased to say that we're going to keep that website open for another month for those of you who would now like to contribute who have not done so before. But I have in my hand a book of the tributes that have so far arrived, and it is with great pleasure that I present it to Walt LaFeber for his memories of wonderful, wonderful years at Cornell University.
WALTER LAFEBER: I'll make this very brief. Sandy and I greatly appreciate this. We talk about the wonderful memories at Cornell and the wonderful people and the wonderful friends we've had over the last 47 years. But a historian needs footnotes. I've got the footnotes. Thank you very much.
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Professor Walter LaFeber delivered his last public lecture on April 25, 2006 to an audience of nearly 3,000 Cornell alumni and friends at the Beacon Theatre in New York City.