Friday, October 2, 2009

Border Issues and the Paris Peace--Ninety Years Ago

We will be doing quite a bit more of looking into the border changes upon which the Paris Peace decided. Much German territory was given to neighboring states. In several cases, however, the local people were given a hand in the decision--even though these lands represent a small percentage of all the territorial changes on Germany's borders.

Today, I want to get this issue on the board by means of short list, really. We will have to keep this border issue on our radar for some time to come.

The Versailles Treaty provided for many border changes in the case of Germany, all of them detaching regions from Germany and giving these regions to a neighboring country. In five or six cases, depending on how one counts it, the Treaty provided for referenda, border plebiscites, in which voters would vote for Germany or for Denmark, for example. I have already discussed a couple of these earlier this year on the blog, but for today, I just want to do some listing.

The Saarland, a district on the Franco-German border

Eupen-Malmédy, a small district on the Belgian-German border

North Schleswig/South Jutland, a sizeable region on the Danish-German border

Upper Silesia, and large and industrially significant region on the Polish-German border

Allenstein (southern East Prusssia)
a county on Germany's northeast, continguous to Marienwerder

Marienwerder, (eastern West Prusssia)
a county on Germany's northeast, continguous to Allenstein

In each of these cases, the Allies occupied the district for some amount of time and oversaw the "vote." In the Eupen-Malmédy case, the region was actually transferred provisionally to France, and a "consultation of the population"--in the event, not really a vote--took place in the period from January 26, 1920, to July 23, 1920. The vote was not secret, and indeed, represented a kind of individual objection collection: individuals were required to fill out forms with their name on them, often under the threat of expulsion and other disadvantages. Not surprisingly, the "consultation of the population" confirmed the Allied decisions to give the region to Germay.

As everyone knows, the Saarland was also a different sort of case, since the plebiscite was postponed. This sizeable region (a whole German Bundesland today, though a small one) was occupied by the British and actually ruled by the French as a mandate for a stated term of fifteen years. This mini-powerhouse of coal, steel, and ceramics production was obviously quite attractive to the French, but fifteen years of French administration seems to have made few inroads. The referendum was finally held in the Nazi years (1935) but under strict obversation by the Allies. The Saarlanders voted overwhelmingly in favor of Germany (90.3%).

The other four regions were all settled from 1919 to 1922. In these cases, there was a clear Allied occupation, much interaction with the opposite country (Poland or Denmark), and fairly clearcut votes. The two neighboring East and West Prussian districts went in excess of 90% for Germany. In Schleswig and Upper Silesia, the vote was much more even, with results we will looking at carefully.

OK. With that short overview, I will stop. More later.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Diktat III--Imposing the Treaty on the Republic

When I left off speaking of the "Diktat," I mentioned that it took the new republic a few historical moments to absorb what was happening. I would like to expand on that point for a few moments. Let us discuss just was going on politically in the new republic that received the treaty conditions in late spring and was being coerced into signing by mid-summer.

Back to the last weeks of the war. When Ludendorff started sending his hysterical (perhaps, literally hysterical) telegrams to the German cabinet in the late summer of 1918 (under the tremendous stress of the Allied Hundred Days advance) demanding that the government figure out how to surrender to the Allies.

All responsible German statesmen saw that the United States was the key to the problem of how to surrender. The United States was powerful—had not felt the German knife at its throat (with "backs the wall" as Field Marshal Haig had actually put it). The United States was apt to be at least somewhat forgiving, since over a third of its population had some connection to German ethnicity. The United States was headed by Woodrow Wilson, who of all the Allied heads of government was the only one who had produced anything like a peace plan, the famous Fourteen Points, with their various additions and interpretations. Hence, the central role of the United States in German thinking about how to stop the war before the Allies drove German armies back to Germany's own borders.

Wilson's verbiage looked more like a lifeline than a noose to German party leaders, bureaucratic officials, and royal councilors. The President's verbiage therefore carried enormous weight. And what the Germans saw was that he wanted "open governments, openly arrived at," "self-determination," etc. He was a political scientist who had thought a great deal about democracy. And indeed, from the standpoint of Germany's largest party, the Social Democratic Party, Wilson's scholarly comments from years before to the effect that "democracy IS socialism" were crystal clear.

Hence, in Berlin, September produced an intensive discussion of how to create a reformed government with whom Wilson would deal and with which he would sympathize. Certain liberal and democratic elements within the government were quite ready to offer plans. The liberal heir to the throne of the German state of Baden, Prince Max, emerged as a compromise solution—a personality with whom the Allies would work. Max was appointed Chancellor on October 3, 1918. He made his first peace overture to Wilson on October 5.

At the same time, liberal reform ideas from within German political life came to life. There was a great deal of discussion about the form of a new German constitution, much of it aimed at the undemocratic structures of the Federal German bureaucracy and some of it at the state constitutions, especially that of Prussia (a German state which covered three-fifths of the whole territory of Germany). There was also much discussion about the nature of what the coming German democracy would be.

It was some days before the German government realized that Wilson was really insisting on the abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm II. But when this became clear, many in Max's government were quite willing for Wilhelm to abdicate in favor of his thirty-six year old son, Crown Prince Wilhelm, who had served as a general during the war. The Kaiser resisted abdication, even when his closest advisors came to the conclusion that he must go. And indeed, in the end, he was almost "abdicated for," once the Revolution started.

Yet as things developed, neither Wilson nor the other Allied leaders saw much profit in negotiations on the basis of a new Germany. Naturally, they had little inclination to welcome a new government of the German as liberal co-equals and pass up the distinct advantages they would have if Germany were in fact laid low. Hence, in the Armistice negotiations begun in October at Spa, the Allied representatives were hard, insisting that Germany, in effect, disarm before any peace conference should start.

During the last days of October, however, sailors mutinied at Kiel and other German naval bases, refusing to put to sea for a climactic battle with the British. The mutiny spread to workers in all major German cities, and the streets filled both with militant workers and returning soldiers. Sides formed quickly, and there was widespread street violence. Crowds in Berlin were enormous, demanding radical changes in the government. The Armistice was set for November 11, and the Kaiser left Germany, but on November 9 Prince Max resigned and handed power over to Philipp Scheidemann and Friedrich Ebert, the leaders of the moderate and majority branch of the SPD, the idea being that only these politicians from the left end of the political system and with direct connections to the militant workers in the streets could master the situation.

These two quickly formed a government of socialists, made deals with the military to help restore order, called for a national constituent assembly (an assembly whose purpose would be to write a new constitution) to be elected in January. After clashes with the radical socialists in the cabinet, and more street fighting, the Ebert and Scheidemann kicked out the radical socialists and began making more overtures to the middle class parties. Indeed, the January 1919 nationwide election for the Constituent Assembly returned an array of parliamentarians from the full political spectrum, but really inclined toward the liberal values and democratic processes. The nationalists and the monarchists were marginalized, and the new Communist party the related Independent socialists were likewise in a parliamentary wilderness.

The complexion of the German political system dealing with the Allies was therefore decidedly in the direction of democratic processes. A majority of voters supporting the "Weimar Coalition" parties probably favored some kind of democratic state, many of them some kind of welfare state. The Constitution they hammered together was finished at nearly the same moment as the Treaty. It featured a system of representation which its makers considered "the most democratic system in the world." There was universal suffrage (far ahead of Britain in this regard), proportional representation (much more responsive, one might argue, than the systems of any of the Allies), pure republic status (from Wilson's theory itself, better than Britain), etc. No class system hindered rising in the political system. The first Chancellor of the German republic was the son of a saddle-maker. Some high officials of the Weimar Republic had been in jail for political activity under the Kaiser, many years before.

This is long essay for the existing road conditions of the blog. But it is important. The Allies handed the Treaty to a Germany run by individuals who were on the whole much more "democratic" in every sense than the elites who ran their countries.

My mentor, the fine historian of Europe, Hans A. Schmitt, used to say, "Philipp Scheidemann refused to be a part of the government which gave approval to the Treaty. He said, 'The hand that signs this Treaty will shrivel.' And he was right. The socialists and democrats led the signing of it, and their hand shriveled."

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Where did August go?

OK, here I am, guilty again (but at least not guilty of the war!).

Probably any readers have given up on me, but I have--he said boldly--not given up on myself!

Actually, there is much good historical material pertaining to August 1919. And more about September. So in the days to come, I intend to finish the consideration of War Guilt, talk about the King-Crane Commission a good bit (and hence the Middle East), get back to the prickly issue of the eastern German border (especially Upper Silesia), and more!

For now, I will just include one item from August 1919. It is an important speech signaling the campaign about to be led by Henry Cabot Lodge and others against the American participationthe postwar order, the new "Wilsonian" world. The most important objection is against the project nearest and dearest to Wilson, the League of Nations. It is a speech worth looking at:

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Diktat II

We continue here a consideration of the "dictated" nature of the Versailles Treaty. Many scholars of the issue today, perhaps most, will bridle at descriptions of the Treaty as dictated. Indeed, since the period of historiographical "revisionism" that began even before the Peace was concluded (see the NY Times article of May 10, 1919 on the conference, for example), American and other Western observers have periodically reassessed the Peace, usually to show that the Versailles Treaty was not as harsh as it seems, that the Allies were justified in the one-sided nature of this case of peacemaking, that the Germans really were guilty of the whole war, etc. A number of these reassessments have been associated with the American opposition to Hitler's regime and of course World War II itself. Hitler was after all a "revisionist" of a sort himself, meaning that he wanted to revise the Paris Peace settlement and indeed did so quite spectacularly. At the same time, two World Wars in which the United States and the British Empire fought Germany have left their mark: the wartime expressions of hatred for the Germans by politicians, soldiers, literary figures, clergymen, and many other kinds of people were not simply forgotten when Hitler was gone and West Germany became a close ally in the Cold War. The emerging knowledge of the Holocaust too contributed too to thinking about Germany in the twentieth century. And finally, many historical studies, more or less free of bias, have supported the nature of the Treaty as being a beneficial advance in modern international relations, based on various theories of security, international cooperation, and so forth. Or, they have exposed bad behavior by leaders of the new German republic in 1919 and skullduggery of various kinds. Or even plans by Weimar Germany's leaders to negate or escape various aspects of the Treaty.

In this essay, I feel no need to deal with each of these favorable assessments of the Treaty. My central theme is the dictated nature of the Versailles Treaty. The simple fact is this: it was dictated. Regardless how one evaluates the points of the Treaty, the Treaty negotiations were dictated.

In brief, here is how. The Allies, as we have seen in this blog many times over, met in Paris beginning in January 1919 to make the Treaty. Official Allied bodies and committees met continuously until the Treaty was signed at the beginning of July 1919, and indeed, beyond that, since they were working on the other treaties too.

Throughout this period of time, Germans were allowed to come to Paris three times, each time for a limited period of a few days. The first time was to receive the Treaty terms. The second time was to hand over a "reply" to the Treaty terms. The third was to sign the Treaty.

Doing research in the Political Archive of the German Foreign Office some years ago, I ran across a document which was quite telling as to extent German isolation from Peace Conference. An influential German private individual had suggested to the Foreign Office that he had contacts which might help the Allied leaders see how much Upper Silesia was really an integral part of Germany, an important part of the existing European network of coal, steel, zinc, etc. The individual wanted to travel to Paris to share his knowledge of the region with his contacts, who might, he thought, have influence in Allied circles. The Foreign Office looked favorably on this proposal, but found almost immediately that France was not issuing visas or any other passes for German nationals. it appears that for the duration, Germans were for the most part kept out of France altogether.

So Germans could not contribute much to the Peace Conference, since they were not allowed in France. Hence, in the period from January to April 1919, there was plenty of negotiation regarding the Versailles Treaty, but Germany was not involved in any of it. All negotiations were in one way or another Interallied negotiations.

There is more to be said about this subject, but to keep these posts manageable, I will end here. Any fair-minded person will admit that if the Germans were not allowed anywhere near the negotiating table until time to "receive" the "conditions," then the peace terms were in fact dictated by the other side. It is hard to conceive how even the blindest Germanophobe would not be able to admit this plain truth. But of course the phrase "dictated peace" is loaded with all kinds of connotations of political and moral import. We will look at some of these aspects in the coming days, ninety years after the new German political system was absorbing the fact that it was saddled with the Kaiser's defeat.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Diktat I

Today ninety years ago, the Versailles Treaty was signed in the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles. Ninety-five years ago today, a Bosnian Serb, Gavrilo Prinzip, assassinated the Archduke Franz Ferdinand to precipitate the crisis that led a few weeks later to the unthinkable war whose settlement was supposed to be provided by the Paris Peace. That was some five years! A half-decade that was itself a kind of microcosm of the twentieth century. So I take today as an auspicious time to start considering the "dictated peace."

The characterization of the Versailles Treaty as a "dictated peace," a Diktat in the German usage, was the object of bitter pronouncement and debate in 1919 and, with crescendos and diminuendos, ever since. Lurking behind any discussion of the issue since the 1930s is enormous role that the "dictated peace" played in Hitler's political and social campaigns of the 1920s and 1930s. In the twenties, of course, he was just one more commentator in a country which almost unanimously rejected the treated as a Diktat—the only real debate being whether Germany should have signed in order to survive, or whether a bitter end resistance against the Allies in 1919 would have provided the kind of mass martyrdom upon which great futures are founded.

Actually, of course, voices in both neutral places and in the Allied countries decried the dictated nature of the Versailles Treaty almost immediately. John Maynard Keynes, later one of the twentieth century's most influential economists, was a delegate from the British Treasury at the Peace Conference, and he argued there against the harsh and non-negotiated nature of the Versailles Treaty. Indeed, with lightning speed, within months he had written a book which would become the first classic writing about the Peace Conference: The Economic Consequences of the Peace (1919). In it, Keynes argued that the Treaty was a "Carthaginian Peace," likening it to the utter destruction visited on Carthage by the Romans after their victory in the Third Punic War. Keynes argued instead that there should be no reparations, or at least very small ones, to set the stage for European recovery.

Of course the whole economic aspect of the reparations loomed large for him, and in some ways in the whole question of the "dictated peace." As we saw in the last blog post, one of the first treaty terms which the Germans—nearly powerless—tried to reject was the famous, or infamous, "war guilt clause," as Article 231 came to be known. The article does not mention "guilt" at all, but it comes close enough:

The Allied and Associated Governments affirm and Germany accepts the responsibility of Germany and her allies for causing all the loss and damage to which the Allied and Associated Governments and their nationals have been subjected as a consequence of the war imposed upon them by the aggression of Germany and her allies.

Now, some explanation is required. Significantly, this is one of clause of fifteen in the "Reparation" section (not "reparations") of the Versailles. The term reparation was specifically used among the Entente peacemakers to avoid the older idea of "indemnity" in a treaty—meaning, more or less, financial punishment for losing. Reparation, as a kind of ethical-sounding noun (like "mandates") fit the preferences of Wilson much more closely. In any case, since the major characteristic of the "new" warfare of weeklong bombardments, million-shell bombardments, and shell "crises" mounted in costs to absolutely unthinkable amounts for all belligerents, war finance had been in the minds of most war leaders the priority issue. Now that the war was done, as British Conservative politicians said, Germany had to be made to pay.

So the Reparation section of the treaty outlined this process. Actually, no one thought that Germany could pay for all the damages caused by the war, all the pensions of soldiers, etc. But an American with the peace commission at Paris (John Foster Dulles, later American Secretary of State under Eisenhower) suggested the structure of the "Reparation" section: first, in Article 231, make the Germans financially responsible for everything. Then limit this a bit in the following articles. In fact, this was the way it laid out. Except that the bill is left unspecified, the whole thing is tagged to international loans taken out by the Allies, and other problems we will examine later.

So one point to make here is that the "war guilt" clause was actually a financial clause. In fact, "responsibility" is not necessarily "guilt." But on the other hand, one has to ask: how could the Allies have thought that it would be acceptable to lay all the financial burden of the war on the Germans? Were the Germans the only sinners? Was autocratic Russia, with its outrageous official brutality as official policy right up the war and its highly questionable "partial mobilization" in 1914 guiltless? Or should we say "not responsible." Indeed, every thinking person in a leadership position in Europe understood that every power was responsible in some part for the coming of the war. The person who started the ball rolling was a Bosnian terrorist in the pay of Serbian intelligence, and yet Serbia turned out to be one of the biggest winners at the Peace Conference. Was none of these countries in the least "responsible"?

But in a larger sense, the Allies had to figure out quickly that the clause would become known to history as the "war guilt" clause because the Germans protested it almost immediately as such. It was simply unacceptable to a mass public.

Moreover, the new German government which was coming into being at Weimar was the most democratic in the world. It was the enemies of the Kaiser who now ran Germany. So why were they being punished? What allowed this situation to arise?

Well, in effect, it was the dicated nature of the peace. So since I have come full circle, I will end this post in mid-air.

Was the Peace a Diktat? In the second part, I will finish answering that question with some specific points of evidence.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Framework of Events: May/June at the Paris Peace Conference

OK, so I have bitten off more than I can chew! But that doesn't mean that we can't continue exploring important aspects of the "peace" year and even beyond. To those who are still reading, many thanks for your patience in waiting for the recent posts. In the coming days, we will be dealing with the German territorial issues, especially North Schleswig, and Upper Silesia, as they were embodied in the Draft Treaty of May 1919 and the Final Draft of June. And I want to come to grips in the next couple of posts with the issue of the "dictated peace."

For now, I want to get another framework of events up front, so that the various issues to come make more sense. First, a simple chronology.

April 25—First German Delegates arrive in Paris.

April 28—The Covenant of the League of Nations (worked out by Jan Smuts) was presented in final form, to be integral to the coming treaties and agreements.

April 29—The German Foreign Minister, Ulrich von Brockdorff-Rantzau arrives in Paris.

May 5—The Italian delegation returns to Paris, after having left abruptly eleven days previously.

(as the Draft Treaty for the Germans was hammered together during April, the French were increasingly adamant that the German treaty must include Germany's cession of all territories west of the Rhine, to make the Rhine the Franco-German border, for security reasons. )

May 7—The Draft Treaty was submitted to the German Delegation in the Seventh Plenary Session of the Peace Conference, held at the Trianon Palace at Versailles. The Germans were given fifteen days to "reply" to the terms of the Treaty in writing (in the French language). (Nine additional days were added a few weeks later.)

May 8—The Germans protested a number of specific terms, while the Foreign Office and ot

her German government branches began compiling materials for the Reply.

May 12—The Allied Economic Council decided to continue wartime Blockade against Germany if the Germans refused to sign the Treaty. (Although the Blockade on foodstuffs was still in effect, the Allies had allowed some limited deliveries since March 25.)

May 13—Brockdorff-Rantzau sends Note to Clemenceau refusing the Treaty clause in which Germany is to accept sole responsibility for the war.

June 2—Austrian Draft Treaty handed to Austrian Delegation.

June 3—Germany protests French support for an independent Rhine Republic.

June 12—Turkish delegation arrives at Paris.

June 16—Final Allied reply to a list of German objections to the Treaty. The Allies give the Germans five days to sign.

June 20—Centrist German cabinet (SPD, DDP, Center), led by Philipp Scheidemann, resigns after emotional meetings about the Treaty, Scheidemann saying "The hand which signs this Treaty will wither." All political elements in Germany oppose the Treaty, and the Foreign Minister, Brockdorff-Rantzau, is opposed to signing.

Same day, the Allied Supreme Council orders Marshal Foch to prepare to advance from occupied to unoccupied Germany if the Germans have not signed the Treaty by seven o'clock PM on June 23.

June 21—The German fleet, commanded by Rear Admiral Ludwig von Reuter and interned by the Allies in Gutter Sound at Scapa Flow, is scuttled by its crews, an open act of defiance: sunk were dozens of vessels, including fifteen capital ships. In trying to prevent the scuttling, British ships opened fire, killing nine Germans and wounding six.

June 22—In a Sunday session, and after much discussion, votes 237-138 to sign the Treaty, with reservations on the "war guilt" clause. The same day, the Supreme Council refused to recognize any signing with reservations.

June 23—The Germans seek a delay, which is refused. At 6:35 in the evening, twenty-five minutes before the deadline, German officials announce that Germany will sign the treaty without reservations, but under protest. The German National Assembly sends a telegram acceding, but calling the whole process "injustice without example."

June 28—At the Ninth Plenary Session of the Peace Conference, in the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles, the official signing of the Treaty took place. Signing for the Germans was Foreign Minister Hermann Müller (SPD) and Colonial Minister Johannes Bell (Center Party).

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Self-Determination: A Deeper Look

Self-determination, as we have seen, became a primary theme of the Paris Peace Conference. I would like to examine this conception here in a bit more depth.

Even before American entry into the war, Woodrow Wilson had introduced into the public discourse on the territorial aspects of the war the expression "self-determination," not a new phrase in itself, but an old expression with a new meaning. Where "self-determination" seemed to be related to the individual will and freedom of action, Wilson and his Progressive friends applied the term to groups or peoples, meaning that each people should decide for itself how it should be governed. This expression, indeed, seemed tailor-made for peacemaking, since the staggering number of territorial changes to be overseen and codified by the Conference called for some overriding rhyme and reason. Indeed, Wilson proposed precisely this: that the changes made in European areas in particular - and to a lesser extent in non-European areas - be in accordance both with a "new diplomacy" of "open covenants openly arrived at" and confirmed by Self-determination.

Now in most minds, insofar as self-determination takes on a collective or group meaning, it goes back to the earlier content of mid-nineteenth-century nationalism. The great "nationalisms" of the nineteenth century eventually resolved themselves into a simple program: to make one's ethnic "nation" coterminus with one's country. Indeed, triumphant nineteenth-century liberalism gave rise to the national idea as a peaceful way to end the dynastic rivalries of Europe: if kings were always after territory, a state that ended at its natural ethnic or linguistic boundary had no right or indeed no reason to invade its neighbor. Nationalists before the 1860s or so were frequently influenced by universalist liberalism. Within the liberal national states, the nation was, as Ernest Renan called it in the 1880s, a "daily plebiscite," the result of individual choice and shared memories. The central proposition of Renan's famous essay is that individual choice is at the heart of the nation, and that the aggregation of individual choices "creates an ethical conscience, which is called a nation."

Clearly, the warm tones of this earlier sense of the word self-determination echoed in the rhetoric of the 1919 peacemakers. The problem was that the peacemakers most devoted to this proposition, above all the crusading Americans under Wilson, proposed to confer from Paris this self-determination on the peoples in question. Where the origin of the term was indeed associated with self-directed movements for true local control of governments, the peacemakers came to the board as social engineers who not only "imposed" self-determination from above, but also decided which groups were worthy of self-determination.

In this sense, self-determination as wielded in the rather Aesopian jargon of 1919 represented the opposite of secession. Where secession means the departure of a region from one state form in order to exist outside that state form, self-determination in 1919 meant that ethnic groups, at least certain ethnic groups chosen by the victorious powers, should possess a state which corresponded territorially to the land occupied by the ethnic group, meaning land where members of the language group lived. Further, the planners at Paris generally held that all members of an ethnic group would by definition choose to live in a state encompassing their group and only their group.

Here we see self-determination not in the sense of the "plebiscite every day," but in the sense of positivist "social science" and technocracy. "Tell me what is right," Wilson told his experts en route to the Peace Conference, "And I will fight for it."

Wilson recognized that not every individual decision was dictated by one's physiological heritage, but on the whole, the Paris peacemakers seemed to take a reductionist view of ethnicity, often practically equating ethnic or linguistic connections with political aspirations. The Council of Four was, for Wilson certainly and to a lesser extent for the other Allied leaders, a sort of Saint Simonian meeting of Presbyterian technocrats disposing over the peoples of Europe.

The upshot of this was that the various "deals" made by the Allies during the war, the various aims for territory involving power and empire, and other secret plans for territorial disposition nurtured by the victorious Allies at the Conference were often covered over with the sanctimonious phrase of "self-determination." We will see this phrase "in action" over the newt few days.

Here We Go Again

Apologies to any who might be following my attempt to keep up with the Paris Peace Conference. I am losing ground! But I had to undertake a very specific research trip at this very specific time, and what with the end of the semester, my travel, etc., I have been remiss in keeping up. Well, no use crying over blog entries unwritten. Indeed, my research pertained to several topics of interest here, so perhaps the future entries, especially those on the formation of the modern Middle East, will be richer.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Finals, Flu, and Some Developments on Schleswig

OK, so I have missed some of my anniversaries. Unfortunately, working with about two dozen term papers and then being overwhelmed with finals, an especially sick group of test-takers (no swine flu that I know of, but several hospitalized with lung infections, etc.), and some severe cases of senioritis has taken its toll.

By the way, my college, Austin College, is in Texas, though nowhere close to the border, but the authorities were on swine flu alert. As readers of this blog will have perceived, there were loads of references to the 1918/1919 flu in the discussion of this swine flu (and, because of this one, the discussion of the 1976 "failed" epidemic). In both cases, scientists were thinking about the second round of the flu pandemic. It was the beginning of this one which killed several peacemakers in Paris in the early months of 1919.

Well, finals are done: the strong have overcome, the graduators have graduated. So I continue!
Let turn back to the issue of Schleswig-Holstein.

You may remember from my February 22 post that there was a long history to the northern border of the German world. It was a border that was, like most European borders, not especially clear. That is, there was a continuum from one hundred percent Danish speaking, southward, to some point at which Danish-speakers and German-speakers were about fifty-fifty, to some point farther south at which everyone spoke German. This zone (say from one hundred to one hundred percent) started in the middle of the Jutland Peninsula and ended just south of its base—perhaps a hundred and twenty miles north and south. And the Peninsula here averages maybe forty miles wide. (Quote me if you like, but the glib summary I have just made constitutes pretty rough justice. The demographics of the region were hotly disputed by, basically, German scholars on the one hand, and Danish scholars on the other, for fifty years.)

In any case, with the wars of German Unification, the region ended up not as a proud, independent German state of the new federal Germany, but as a somewhat unwilling province of Prussia, the largest German state, the one to rule them all, so to speak.

If we scroll forward to the Peace Conference, we have Woodrow Wilson insisting on "self-determination" and meaning ethnic togetherness. We have the whole French diplomatic establishment insisting on the old truism (outworn even in 1919) that cutting down the size and population of a state would cut down on its power, and of course on the application of that rule in cutting as much territory away from Germany as possible.

Clearly, Alsace-Lorraine would go back to France. Clearly, Wilson's concern with Poland would place many parts of Germany in Polish hands. And some German territory could be handed over in one way or another to Belgium and Lithuania.

But Denmark? Denmark had been neutral in the War. Yet the Entente diplomats found a way. German states, especially Prussia, had "unjustly" taken too much territory in the Danish War of 1864. This incorporation of territory had trapped many ethnic Danes south of the border. Hence, both on grounds of general "justice" (remember Wilson's unctuous commandment to his researchers: "Tell me what is right, and I will fight for it") and on grounds of ethnic self-determination, the Entente began to work (as early as March 1919) on a plan to give Schleswig, or some part of it, to Denmark.

OK. Now we are caught up, at least on this issue, and I promise to add the next installment in a reasonable day or two.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Yeats, Violence, and "The Second Coming"

Yeats was not at Paris, but maybe this would be a good time not only for me to get back on the line, but also to introduce the theme of a broader cultural critique of the age of the "The Peace."

As we have seen in the last post (pun accidental, but there it is, at least for all who are familiar with the famous British bugle call), the violence of the war had lessened in its horrifying intensity with the Armistice, but much, much more violence was in store. The very period of the Peace that we are looking at was a time in which our modern "left" and "right" were being more highly defined, and in which the murderous aspects of modern national identity began to take on more definition as well. The Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega y Gasset was already writing the material that in the late twenties became The Revolt of the Masses, in which the liberal philosopher decried the rise of barbarism associated with "mass man." His idea was not that social inferiors were taking over the system, but rather that the modern high-tech, crude demagogue represented a great danger for civilization. Ortega y Gasset was thinking of what the nineteenth-century art historian Jacob Burckhardt called the "simplificateurs terribles" (terrible simplifiers), men who would use the technology of modern life to power over the masses, whose faith was their driving force.

If we consider that the period between 1917 and 1919 saw the foundation of the Bolshevik regime, the formation of the Fascist party in Italy, and Hitler's conversion of a tiny crackpot political grouping Munich to the NSDAP, the National Socialist Party--well, we have the true generation of the whole "totalitarian" triumvirate so to speak, and precisely during the later phases of the war and the time of the peace conference.

To make a long story short, much that was happening seemed to thinking contemporaries a kind of retrograde motion in terms of civilization. British war poet Wilfred Owen sensed this in his grim vision "Strange Meeting," in which he describes a "trek from progress." A trek not toward progress, but from it. Other poets, philosophers such as Ortega y Gasset, and cultural observers of all kinds could see aspects of the same trend.

Among them was the great Irish mystic, the poet William Butler Yeats (1865-1939). Already in January 1919--as the Paris Peace Conference was opening, a telling conjunction indeed--Yeats was writing one of the great poems of the twentieth century and a powerful critique of times out of joint in "The Second Coming." (For a very fine short analysis of the poem, see this essay.)

In the poem, printed just below, the poet becomes the prophet. It is well worth reading. It certainly discerns a design for a violent century.

The Second Coming

by William Butler Yeats

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Peace.... Isn't It Wonderful!: Violent Europe, Spring 1919

Let me just list a few events outside Paris in these busy peacemaking days.

March 3—Freikorps units continue their pacification of "leftists" and resume "force and awe"-type tactics in Berlin. Twenty-four "radicals" are killed in Berlin in early March with more to come.

In Latvia, other "volunteer" fighters under German General von der Goltz began an advance on Riga, which had been captured by Bolsheviks.

March 4—In Siberia, Admiral Kolchak's White army begins an offensive against the Reds on a 700-mile front.

March 10—Bitter fighting between White forces (Cossacks in this instance) and Bolshevik Red Army forces on the Dnieper.

March 17—Red forces in Archangel fought Germans, French (!), and British (!) in heaving fighting near Bolshe Ozerki. The offensive of von der Goltz's mostly Latvian and German volunteer forces retake Milau from the Bolsheviks on March 18, finding massacred hostages in the citadel of the town.

March 19—The Supreme War Council in Paris orders a stop to fighting and massacres between Poles and Ruthenians along the Poland/Ukraine border.

March 21—Count Karolyi's government in Hungary falls, its place taken by a Communist/Socialist government which includes Bela Kun as foreign minister. A Hungarian Soviet is declared shortly thereafter, and Hungary declares war on Czechoslovakia (!), with Hungarian "Reds" invading Slovakia in early April.

March 23—Mussolini founds the Fascist movement in Milan, amid street fighting and strikes in Italy.

March 24—100,000 miners Britain strike against new rationing and other grievances.

March 25—Beginning of the end of the "Hunger Blockade" against Germany as the first "food ship" docks at Hamburg to begin offloading 400,000 tons of food.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

A Word On Upper Silesia

I  want to say something now about German perceptions of what was going on in Paris, especially in connection with the coal-producing territory of Upper Silesia.  Remember that no Germans were allowed visas to be in any part of France during the conference, except at the few occasions when the German delegation was invited to come.  At the same time, the Germans were not just sitting on their hands.  Indeed, they were having extensive discussions about what to say to the Allies once they got a chance to talk. 

If the Germans were not allowed to go to France, by the way, at least France could come to Germany.  Considerable German territories were occupied immediately after the war by American, French, and British troops.  But even so, contact in the sense of high diplomacy was extremely limited.   So much of the German discussion was based on guesswork.
But they could easily guess that the Allies were interested in the coal-rich eastern region of Upper Silesia.  This borderland was peopled about equally by ethnic Germans and ethnic Poles.  Yet the value of the coal for the newly set-up state of Poland (darling of the Allies—especially of Wilson) was self-evident. 

There was much talk on parts of the political spectrum of the Allies "spiriting away Upper Silesia from us" to give to Poland, as one leftist politician put it at a political gathering in the early stages of the November Revolution (1918).  Some even suggested that the Allies would hold a border referendum, a plebiscite, in Upper Silesia and other ethnically mixed border regions, and since all Germans "knew" that everyone on the border would vote German, they hoped merely to have Allied troops present to prevent "Polish skullduggery." 

On December 27,  1918, however, the eastern German city and province of Posen (just to the north of Silesia) experienced an uprising that would alter conditions substantially.  German Posen became Polish Poznań.  An uprising in several local places ended in an influx of paramilitary forces from the newly revived Polish state.  Indeed, as the local Polish soldiery and those who had come to their aid made their way into the region, they set up an organization called the  "Central Organization for Cleansing Poznań (city) of Jews and Germans" (Centralna Organizacja dla Oczyszczenia Poznania od Żydów i Niemców). This was one of the earliest known uses of the term "cleansing" in the context of unwanted ethnic groups.

And indeed, the first postwar migrations of any sort in the German-Polish border region resulted from the Poznań uprising of December 1918, supported by the new government of Poland, which led to an exodus of Germans and Jews. The "Posen Pattern"—meaning a violent overthrow of the local authorities sanctioned by the victorious Allies—echoes through much of the German official record about the border in after the war.

Still, German statesman swayed between optimism and pessimism.  Many agreed with General von Seeckt that holding onto the eastern territories would be "child's play."  On the other hand, many Berlin planners continued to wonder how to interpret the strange information they were receiving second-hand from Paris.  As for the borderlanders in Upper Silesia, a startling development occurred:  local people from both the Polish-speaking population and from among the Germans banded together to form the League of Upper Silesians, under the slogan "Upper Silesia to the Upper Silesians!"  These people were hoping for a neutral, independent state, a kind of Luxembourg of the east. One thing that very sizeable group proved was that many of the "Polish" inhabitants of Upper Silesia did not really want to opt for what must have seemed the shaky new Polish state. 

Actually, I will deal with this period of time later in a more general context of the autonomist crisis, since autonomist movements emerged in many regions of the Germany during 1919 and later. 

But the point here is that while the Upper Silesians were attempting to control their future, the Allies were making other plans.  In April, ninety years ago, the Allies began working out the details for border plebiscites to be held in several different German regions. 

This is a story we have to keep tabs on, and indeed a very important one. 

Sunday, April 5, 2009

"No Further Along Than Almost a Month Ago"

Colonel House looked over his previous diary entries on April 2, 1919, perusing them for preparation to be sealed and put in a safe deposit box.  He thought that this piece of his diary of events at Paris would make him seem a "false prophet":  "At the beginning of this last reading, I predicted an earlhy peace, even thought we might be ready as early as March 20 to ask the Germans to Versailles.  It is now April 2 and we are no further along than we were the day this prediction was made, almost a month ago...."

Much had occurred in Paris and everywhere else.  Just to run down a few major events, the Russian Civil War (which had begun in earnest a year before) was intensifying, both in terms of internal opposition to the Bolsheviks and in terms of international assistance to the "White" forces; fighting was taking place in many of the new republics emerging from the western lands of the Russian empire; the revived state of Poland either encouraged or ordered a series of pogroms (attacks against Jews)  beginning in December 1919 in Poznan and other cities and ending with large-scale beatings, murders, and other depredations and killing hundreds of Jews in February, March, and April (see the Morgethau Mission Report);  in March 1919, Bela Kun took control of a socialist/communist government in Hungary, confiscated all property throughout the country; the new German republic fought hard to maintain control, fending off both rightwing and leftwing violence, while the parliamentarians in the city of Weimar created a constitution; the balance of sentiment among American political elites was turning against many of Wilson's plans for the Peace; the Allies at Paris began a very difficult discussion of how to secure France from another attack by Germany in the future; Allied policies in the defeated Ottoman Empire made it possible for the Greeks to prepare an all-out assault on Turkey during April 1919, and they would attack in early May.

As one of Charles Dickens's great characters exclaimed:  "It's all a muddle!"  Things certainly were a muddle ninety years ago.  Still, it is hard to imagine that Colonel House ever thought that a complete overhaul of the modern world could be accomplished in two months.  Perhaps he had not counted on such a many-sided conversation in Paris

Sunday, March 29, 2009

An Afrikaner at Paris: Jan Smuts, part one

Talk about a life trajectory.  From a farm in southern Africa to a statue in Parliament Square in London.

Jan Christiaan Smuts was born in 1870 to a family of sturdy Calvinist Afrikaner farmers in Cape Colony (in the territory of the modern state of South Africa). 

Southern Africa was technically under the control of the British, the British having acquired the coastal area of southern Africa as a colony in the early nineteenth century.  When many—but not all—of the Boers trekked northward to found two independent "Boer Republics," the British bid them a happy goodbye, until gold and diamonds were discovered in the two territories in the late nineteenth century.  

Thereafter, the British carried out many machinations to expand their control of southern Africa to the Boer republics, and they invaded with large-scale military forces twice (the second one being the invasion [1899-1902] that started the conflict we call "the Boer War").

Smuts's early life was a farm life, but within the close community of the mostly Dutch Afrikaner population and the intermingled black Africans who lived on and around his farm and his town.  Smuts did not remain on the farm, however, excelled at his studies in southern African schools, and continued, with a scholarship, to Britain, to study law at Cambridge University, from 1891 to 1893, taking time to pass the bar exam in 1894.  Turning down an offer for a fellowship at Cambridge, the brilliant Smuts—who garnered academic prize after academic prize at Cambridge--returned home to practice law.

Back in the Cape Colony, he practiced law for a short time, but his real interests were history, politics, literature, and journalism.  Indeed, this breadth undoubtedly helped him when he met Cecil Rhodes, the head of de Beers Diamond Company and in many ways the architect of British South Africa.  Rhodes admired the young man and hired Smuts to be his personal legal advisor, in 1895.  Smuts apparently became an enthusiastic believer in the British imperial mission, Rhodes style.  But when Rhodes sponsored a famous filibustering expedition to invade the Boer Republics in late 1895, Smuts quit his job converted from pro-British politics to pro-Afrikaner politics. 

Hence, when British military forces invaded the Boer Republics (Transvaal and the Orange Free State) in 1899, Smuts joined the Boer forces from the outset.  He served at several different levels of command and was involved in a series of momentous military, political, and diplomatic decisions.  Indeed, it was Smuts, who—at the age of thirty-two—negotiated both among the Afrikaner factions and with the British to end the war. 

In spite of British humiliation connected with the protracted, costly conflict, the Afrikaners lost. Yet Smuts joined Afrikaner political forces which eventually gained a great deal of autonomy for the Afrikaners, who formed the majority of the white population.  (The apartheid laws came after the Second World War, in 1948.  Previously, there had been much de facto segregation, as with many colonial societies, but the complexities of the multi-racial country and the double politics of British Empire/South African Union had not produced any social regime as ironclad as apartheid.)

With the establishment of the South African Union,  Smuts served at the cabinet level in several important posts, and when World War I broke out, he formed Defense Forces for the whole of the country, eventually leading two major campaigns against the Germans in Southwest Africa and East Africa.  Indeed, he was called to London to serve on the Imperial War Cabinet in 1917—perhaps the crucial point of time in the war where the British were concerned.

Hence, this multi-talented intellectual and man of action remained in Europe as the war ended and served in many capacities at the Peace Conference.  He was intimately involved with the discussions of the League of Nations.  Smuts's personal philosophy had to do with creating "wholes" out of pieces, and the League appealed to him.  Eventually, he would become the most important architect of the League's structure, even though he was disappointed in the end with the League's weakness. 
But Smuts was also called on for other issues, including a really important interlude having to do with Hungary.  More on this mission in the next installment.
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Design of a Violent Century by Hunt Tooley is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.