I have referenced Wilson’s Fourteen Points previously. With this post, I would like to explore an alternative history: what if Wilson acted as if he actually meant the words he stated in his speech?
I will not go through all fourteen, nor apply these to all combatants. As I am exploring the book by Gerd Schultze-Rhonhof, “1939 – The War That Had Many Fathers,” I will explore a few portions of the speech that pertain directly on the situation of the Sudeten Germans in Czechia.
What was this Fourteen Points speech?
The "Fourteen Points" was a statement by United States President Woodrow Wilson that the Great War was being fought for a moral cause and for postwar peace in Europe…. The speech made by Wilson on January 8, 1918 laid out a policy (free trade, open agreements, democracy and self-determination). The Fourteen Points speech was the only explicit statement of war aims by any of the nations fighting in World War I.
The speech emphasized democracy and self-determination (within the context, to mean the will of a given group of people as determined by popular vote). For example, from the speech:
[Regarding settlement talks then underway between Germany and Russia] For whom are the representatives of the Central Empires speaking? Are they speaking for the majorities of their respective parliaments or for the minority parties, that military and imperialistic minority which has so far dominated their whole policy and controlled the affairs of Turkey and of the Balkan states which have felt obliged to become their associates in this war?
The Russian representatives have insisted, very justly, very wisely, and in the true spirit of modern democracy, that the conferences they have been holding with the Teutonic and Turkish statesmen should be held within open, not closed, doors, and all the world has been audience, as was desired.
Point 10 was specific to the Sudeten Germans, as, until the conclusion of the war they had been under Austrian rule:
X. The peoples of Austria-Hungary, whose place among the nations we wish to see safeguarded and assured, should be accorded the freest opportunity to autonomous development.
Finally, a statement that would lead one to believe that an acceptance and demonstration of democratic principles by the Central Powers would result in respectful treatment by the Allies:
We have no jealousy of German greatness, and there is nothing in this program that impairs it. We grudge her no achievement or distinction of learning or of pacific enterprise such as have made her record very bright and very enviable. We do not wish to injure her or to block in any way her legitimate influence or power. We do not wish to fight her either with arms or with hostile arrangements of trade if she is willing to associate herself with us and the other peace- loving nations of the world in covenants of justice and law and fair dealing. We wish her only to accept a place of equality among the peoples of the world, -- the new world in which we now live, -- instead of a place of mastery.
Wilson’s Allies, while on the one hand joked about Wilson’s idealism and naivety, on the other used the Fourteen Points speech for convenience as propaganda toward the Central Powers. Again, from Wikipedia:
The speech was made without prior coordination or consultation with Wilson's counterparts in Europe. Clemenceau, upon hearing of the Fourteen points, was said to have sarcastically claimed The good Lord only had ten! (Le bon Dieu n'avait que dix!).
The speech was widely disseminated as an instrument of allied propaganda. Copies were also dropped behind German lines, to encourage the Central Powers to surrender in the expectation of a just settlement. Indeed, a note sent to Wilson by Prince Maximilian of Baden, the German imperial chancellor, in October 1918 requested an immediate armistice and peace negotiations on the basis of the Fourteen Points.
The Central Powers – Germany and Austria – believed, under their surrender, that they would be treated according to these principles. Needless to say, this didn’t happen:
President Wilson became physically ill at the beginning of the Paris Peace Conference, giving way to French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau to advance demands substantially different from Wilson's Fourteen Points.
As previously mentioned, while the deviations from the Fourteen Points to the Paris treaties were significant, these deviations were greatly exaggerated in the political climate of Germany in the coming decade.
With the stage set, I will consider an alternate history: what if Wilson and the Allies made statements and otherwise acted toward more than 3 million Germans in Czechia during the peace conference as if his Fourteen Points speech mattered?
To answer this first requires an understanding of the history of these people, and their desires at the conclusion of the Great War:
The name of the Sudeten Germans derives from their homeland, from the region of the Sudetes, as the mountain ranges around Bohemia and Moravia are called until 1945. (Page 171)
From 1204 on, several generations of Bohemian kings summon German farmers, craftsmen, and merchants to settle in and help develop their country. (Page 172)
I have written about the migration of Germans into these (and other European) regions before, in the context of the skills developed in mining during the Middle Ages. These German communities remain in these regions for 700 years – the last four hundred under Habsburg rule.
Officials of the voting district in the decisively German-settled areas of Bohemia, Moravia, and North Austrian-Silesia proclaim on 29 October 1918 [these areas to be] the “German-Bohemian Province” and inform the Vienna National Assembly that the province ought to be part of German-Austria. On 21 November they deliver to the American government through Swedish intermediaries a note in which they request also for themselves the peoples’ right to self-determination proclaimed by President Wilson. (Page 172-173)
Despite these clear voices, in the end the Sudeten Germans ended up as part of the newly created Czechoslovakia. This without a single voice being heard in Paris from either the German or Austrian side before the peace terms were delivered.
With this over three million Sudeten Germans in 1919 became, against their wishes, citizens of Czechoslovakia. The values, democracy and the right to self-determination, for whose sake England, France, and the USA had their men fight before the victory, have lost their normal force after the victory. (Page 173)
What little was granted in the treaties from Paris toward the recognition of minority rights in the new Czechoslovakia was also still-born:
The provisions of the Treaties of Saint-Germain and Trianon which require Czechoslovakia to develop into a state with equal rights for all peoples are never implemented. (Page 176)
Instead, the subject peoples are “czechized” (tschechisiert). German schools are closed, German government officials are removed, place names are changed from German to Czech, etc.
So, what might Wilson have said or done to stand up for the Sudeten Germans in accordance with his Fourteen Points speech, and against the pressure of his Allies, especially the French, in the peace settlement? Let’s pretend:
Two of the states adjacent to Germany’s borders encompass a mass of 10 million Germans [including Austria and Czechia]. Up to 1866 they were united in a federal state with the whole German people…. Against their will through peace treaties they have been prevented from unification with the German people…. Their national and legal separation from Germany cannot lead to a loss of their political rights as a people. That is, the general rights of a people to self-determination, which, incidentally, had been assured to them by my 14 Points as a pre-requisite for the cease-fire, cannot simply be disregarded because here the people at issue are Germans. 
This seems like a reasonable statement Wilson could have made, quite consistent with his Fourteen Points speech.
What about specifics? What might Wilson have said are the specific requirements to rectify the situation in Czechia?
- The full equality of the German ethnic group with the Czech people.
- The recognition of the German ethnic group as people with rights.
- The establishment and recognition of the German settlement area.
- The establishment of German self-government in the German settlement area, so far as are concerned the affairs of the German ethnic group.
- Legal safeguards for the Sudeten Germans who live outside the distinct German settlement areas.
- German public employees in the German regions.
- Full freedom for commitment to German traditions and German ideology. 
There is nothing inconsistent with the Fourteen Points in these.
A man of action, Wilson could have demanded the following in order to rectify the mistaken proposals in Paris:
…the border districts with a predominantly German population be split off from Czechoslovakia without delay and be incorporated into Germany. For other areas where the Sudetens do not form the great majority…a referendum and autonomous status within the remaining Czechoslovakia. 
Wilson could speak out even more forcefully, as he has thus far not made progress with his Allies on this issue:
What the Germans demand is the right to self-determination, which every other nation possesses…. I make the demand that the oppression of the three and a half million Germans in Czechoslovakia stop and that the free right of self-determination replace it. 
Finally, a direct demand on the Czech government to take action:
[Prague] should itself and even on its own initiative, with or without a referendum, transfer to the German Reich the regions with more than 50% Sudeten German population and hand over to an international commission the demarcation of new boundaries. 
Of course, Wilson said none of these things. Had he done so in 1919, subsequent events might have turned out quite differently in Germany, as the pre-history of these events might have precluded such a political backlash.
But these things were all said by others, in 1938, as follows:
 Speech by Adolph Hitler, 20 February 1938 (modified as if the words came from Wilson) (Page 178)
 The “Karlsbad Program” prepared by a Sudeten German congress on 24 April 1938, led by Konrad Henlein (Page 182-183)
 Report of British special envoy Lord Runciman on 21 September 1938, with his recommendations to resolve the deteriorating situation in the Sudeten regions as a result of the Paris treaties. (Page 187)
 Speech by Adolph Hitler in September 1938 to an NSDAP party convention. (Page 188)
 Result of a British and French conference on 18 September 1938 (Page 194)
The treaties of Versailles and Saint-German have rightly taken much abuse as causes for the Second World War. This despite the fact that many of the provisions were never enforced to the fullest extent. The treaties made for good political leverage for someone wanting to consolidate power in a suffering Germany.
The damage caused by the treaties was as much caused by the failures of the Allies to live up to the Fourteen Points – something the French were never going to accept, but were willing to use to get the Germans to surrender.
For centuries, these regions of central Europe lived more or less under a legal code where a man’s word was his oath. Until 1871, central Europe was still governed via a hodge-podge of principalities and duchies. It was under this tradition that the Germans and Austrians believed they were acting when they surrendered to Wilson’s Fourteen Points speech, not knowing that under “democracy” such oaths meant little. Democracy would instead extract revenge.