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Image of Woodrow Wilson Riding in Car with a woman possibly his wife
Woodrow Wilson, January 1, 1923

Remembering Armistice Day with a Speech from Woodrow Wilson

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On November 11, 1918, World War I came to a close when the allied powers signed a cease-fire agreement with Germany. A year later Woodrow Wilson proclaimed Armistice Day with these words, “To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations…”

Image of Uncle Sam being held by a bunch of toddlers while he and Lady Liberty watch a ship called them League of Nations sail away
Cover of the Dearborn Independent, November 8, 1919

On November 10, 1923, Woodrow Wilson gave a radio address on the eve of the anniversary of the end of World War I. In this address he lamented the United States’ unwillingness to join the League of Nations. He stated that France and Italy had “made waste paper of the Treaty of Versailles” and the only way the United States could right that wrong was “to put self interest away and once more formulate and act upon the highest ideals and purposes of international policy.”

In 2004 this broadcast was added to the National Recording Registry at the Library of Congress. According to the registry website, it is the earliest surviving sound recording of a regular radio broadcast. It is also believed to be the earliest known example of a recording made by electrical, rather than acoustic, means. A portion of the speech can be heard on the Recording Registry website.

Richard Striner, a professor from Washington College, wrote an essay about Wilson’s address when it was added to the Recording Registry. He discusses Wilson’s work in support of the League of Nations and his frustrations about his inability to get the United States to become a member. Students may read this essay and consider what primary sources may help explain Striner’s conclusions and if Striner provides convincing reasons why Wilson chose to give this speech.

  • Ask students why Wilson choose to give this speech on Armistice Day instead of delivering a speech that focused on honoring those who fought during World War I.
  • Wilson worked hard to get the United States to join the League of Nations. Do students believe that he was foreshadowing the second world war in this speech? Why do you think he believed the United States needed to be involved in international policy?
  • Since this speech the United States has become extremely active in world affairs. Do you believe that the United States is meeting the goals that Wilson set forth in his speech? What could it do to meet Wilson’s goals?

Today Armistice Day is better known as Veterans Day and it allows us to honor all of those who have served in the branches of the armed forces. You can listen to the stories of some of those who fought during World War I on the Veterans History Project website. Want to contribute interviews to the website? Learn more here.

How else do your students honor veterans? Let us know in the comments.

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Veterans History Project Home page


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