31 August 2015

Wilson Assassinated!

Paris 1919. The victorious Allied leaders met to distribute the booty from the Great War. President Wilson arrived to push the principles of his Fourteen Points. But as the negotiations stretched on he abandoned more and more of his ideals and became obsessed with his idea for a League of Nations.

Wilson, Clemenceau, and Lloyd George had numerous discussions of the fate of the Ottoman Empire. The original ideals of self-determination were tossed aside as France and Britain fought over the new borders to be drawn across Asia Minor and the Middle East. Greek military forces were arriving to seize land for Greece, Italy demanded concessions, and America was offered a mandate over Armenia and Constantinople.

On 18 June 1919 the Allied leaders did something they didn't do for the other Central Power governments, they met with Turkish Prime Minister and his aides. Perhaps it was the general disdain the Allies had for the Ottoman Empire, or perhaps the meeting was just for show. Damad Ferid attempted to make a case for not destroying the Ottoman Empire. While neither Ferid nor his aides heard the discussions of the Allied leaders after they left it was apparent from their demeanor that they felt nothing but contempt for the Prime Minister.

Wilson was quoted as having "never having seen anything more stupid." Clemenceau and George were offended by the appeal.

Güvenҫ Peynírcí was one of the last minute additions to Damat Ferid's group. He had an ulterior motive for going to Paris. Once he realized from the looks his people received from the Allied leaders he knew he much take a more drastic course of action. The next day, 19 June, just before lunch, he managed to get close to President Wilson and fired three shots into the American leader.

Wilson died almost instantly. Peynírcí was captured and would be executed by the end of the year. However his deed was done. Thomas Riley Marshall was now the President of the United States. American outrage at the assassination would lead to a dreadful cycle of violence in the near East and the spread of Bolshevism into Turkey. America accepted the Armenian Mandate as well as governorship of Constantinople.

A Great War sparked by an assassination ended with another.

Some of the background details for this post were inspired by Margaret Macmillan's Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed The World. A brief account of Ferid's meeting with the Allied leaders was given on p.437 of the Random House trade paperback edition of that book.

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