World War I was a war of especially great destruction and carnage. The United States entered it in 1917. Along with much of the rest of the world, President Woodrow Wilson and the country was horrified by the slaughter that took place. Over 16 million individuals died and 20 million were wounded.
Even before World War I ended, there were groups in the United States and Great Britain calling for the creation of a world body that could prevent another horrific world war. In the United States, Wilson was strongly in favor of such an organization.
Treaty of Versailles
After the end of World War I, the Allied victors met at the Paris Peace Conference in January 1919 at Versailles. The purpose was to establish terms for peace. Diplomats from 32 countries and nationalities developed a series of treaties known as the Paris Peace Treaties for the benefit of nations. The treaties reshaped Europe, establishing new borders and countries, and imposed harsh penalties on Germany.
The four 'Great Powers' at the conference-the United States, Great Britain, France and Italy-dominated the proceedings, which led to the Treaty of Versailles. This treaty articulated the agreements reached at the peace conference. One of the treaty's stipulations was the formation of the League of Nations. It has the distinction of being the first international organization created to promote world peace.
The League of Nations
Not all parties were happy with the terms of the Treaty of Versailles. But by the time Wilson returned to the United States in the summer of 1919, he was convinced that the American public was in favor of the ratification of the treaty, including the establishment of the League of Nations.
The League of Nations started meeting in 1920. It was headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland. The league was supposed to serve as an international forum and provide a collective security arrangement.
Wins and losses
The League of Nations did experience some political successes. These included mediating disputes between various countries over the Aland Islands, Upper Silesia, the Lithuanian port of Memel, the former Ottoman province of Mosul, and the border between Greece and Bulgaria. The League also brought relief to war victims and stabilized shaky economies. It helped suppress slavery and illegal narcotics trade, helped improve working conditions and found refuges for political and religious refugees.
Ironically, the league was weakened because of fierce opposition to the United States joining in the Senate, especially over concerns that the League of Nations would have the power to make war without a vote in the U.S. Congress. The United States never became a member.
The League of Nations experienced failure on several fronts in the early 1920s. It lacked an armed force of its own and depended on the Great Powers to enforce its resolutions, which they weren't willing to do.
While it was successful initially in arbitrating political disputes, in later years the League of Nations suffered a series of defeats. In defiance of the league, Japan attacked Manchuria and China, Germany took over Austria and Czechoslovakia, and Italy took Albania and Ethiopia. The League of Nations was unable to defuse the hostilities that led to World War II.