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.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Note to Self

Note, part 1.  Next time you think about committing yourself in public to do a year-long blogging project on a near daily basis... stop!  Drink some tea!  Calm down!  Ask hard questions of yourself.  Let's think about this for a while...

Note, part 2.  If I am finding it hard, some days, to get up enthusiasm to deal with the Peace Conference, what must those folks in Paris in 1919 have felt like?  I can empathize!

Friday, March 20, 2009

A Primer in Austrian and Habsburg History

We need to talk about Austria-Hungary.  
The Dual Monarchy, as Austria-Hungary was sometimes called, was the most recent constitutional shape of the Habsburg Empire, based on what was for the house of Austria the tumultuous changes of 1866/67.  

Actually, the Habsburg Empire was intimately connected with the history of Central Europe and Europe as a whole for hundreds of years.  The Habsburg family, with its seat in Vienna, ruled the Holy Roman Empire for its last centuries, until Napoleon ended the HRE in 1806.  From the confederal, decentralized nature of the Holy Roman Empire, and from the policies of the Habsburg family, the dynamic of Habsburg rule tended to be the soft touch, negotiation instead of coercion, local autonomy instead of centralized control, marriage instead of war.   
Indeed, we have to make a distinction here.  The Holy Roman Empire included almost everything that is today Germany, Austria, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Luxembourg.  It also included some territories now in Italy, France, Switzerland, Poland, Russia, and Croatia. (Have I missed anything?)  The Holy Roman Empire was held together as a confederation of independent entities that lay along a huge continuum, from small knightly holdings and medium-sized walled towns to big, important states that could boast armies 30,000 strong.  
The Habsburg family held this position for several hundred years--held it very adroitly, one must say.  It certainly wasn't easy.  But a note here:  the Habsburg Emperors were at the same time heads of the family's "crown lands," territories which they held individually and under various titles:  "Archduke of Styria," for example, or "King of Hungary."  In fact, acquiring much eastern real estate in the long struggle with the Ottoman Empire, the Habsburg Empire was in part outside of (mostly to the east of) the Holy Roman Empire, which they also controlled.  (And yes, a branch of the family was also in power in Spain from early sixteenth century until the early eighteenth.)
Back to the Holy Roman Empire as a whole, it will perhaps be a surprise to find out that there were well over a thousand independent "countries" or states in this confederation, and even if some of the marginally independent categories are excluded, there were still nearly 350 independent states.   The role of the Emperor was to keep an eye on the whole thing, but no one ever imagined that all of the Empire "belonged"  to the Emperor.  Each unit guarded its autonomy fiercely. 
But there is more.  The Emperor's position was not hereditary, but elective.  Yes, you heard that right.  Elective.   Now, the electorate was pretty small:  seven (later eight).  Originally the heads of tribes in the tenth century, by the thirteenth century, the Electors were the heads of some of the leading states of the Holy Roman Empire--well, sort of, since for good measure one of the electoral princes was the King of Bohemia, whose involvement was real but limited in some ways.  The other electoral states were The Prince-Bishopric of Mainz, the Prince-Bishopric of Trier, the Prince Bishopric of Cologne, the County Palatine, the Duchy of Saxony, and the Margavate of Brandenburg.  Bavaria would be added later, and some of these would drop out, but the important thing is that these rich, powerful, influential heads of states (some of them in holy orders) voted on the new Emperor at the end of each reign. 
This process meant, of course, that any ruling Emperor hoping for his son (or in one case, his daughter) to become Emperor would have to play nice with the Electoral states:  giving them subsidies, granting various favors, marrying off children to their royal houses, etc.  
On the other hand, within the multifaceted "constitution" of the Empire, one of the Emperor's other important roles was to help the smaller units of the Empire defend themselves from the aggression of the more powerful units.  The Emperor did this partly through the Reichstag, a tripartite council representing elites throughout Central Europe whose legislation was theoretically binding even on the Emperor.   Similarly, the Reich Court of Chamber exercised wide-ranging jurisdiction to assist the king when injustices among the states occurred.   The Emperor could even use these institutions to help him place  a "ban" on offending individuals or states, placing them outside the law and making them free game for anyone to kill or expropriate.   In these ways, the Emperor used his position to coordinate the military forces of the hundreds of less powerful states so that, collectively, they could confront any of the powerful German states.   
But all this began to crumble with important changes in 1648.  And by the time Napoleon put paid to this Empire by defeating the Austrians and Prussians and reorganizing Central Europe in 1805/6, many of these habits of decentralization and localism had gone into decline.  Indeed, many of the smallest states simply disappeared, folded into neighboring countries:  from over three hundred states to thirty-eight or thirty-nine.  All of these trends continued during the period of the "Germanic Confederation," which lasted from 1814 to 1867. 
Two important trends marked this period for the Habsburg Empire.   Indeed, during this period, the old rivalry between the Habsburgs in Vienna and the Hohenzollerns in Berlin (Prussia/Brandenburg) reached a zenith in the light of nineteenth-century nationalism.  In the 1860s, Otto von Bismarck engineered three wars which effected the final split of "Germany" from the influence of the Habsburgs.  The new "German Empire" was founded in 1871.  But defeated by the Prussians in the Austro-Prussian War of 1866, the Austrian lands had been reorganized to reflect the decline of Vienna within its lands.  Henceforth, from 1867, the Habsburg "crown lands" and their appendages were organized into two parts of the Empire:  the Hungarian part with a seat at Budapest and the Austrian part with a seat at Vienna.  The Habsburgs were heads of both, it is true, but the governments were more or less independent (with a couple of exceptions, the army being one).  So the Emperor of Austria (well, this is a sort of nickname) was also the King of Hungary.  Hence, the K.- und K.  Army (the kaiserliche und k├Ânigliche Armee--the Imperial and Royal Army).  
Well, I know that we haven't gotten to the Great War yet, but this is enough for now.  Some deep history is necessary.  I think we can learn from it some of the dynamics of the German world that it might have helped the peacemakers of 1919 to know.  More on the same topic--coming up.

Monday, March 16, 2009

How Time Flies!

Well, it does.  

I have been away from the blog, traveling to and attending a conference, working on a couple of papers, and just generally taking some time off from the grind of the Paris 1919.  

But the guys couldn't do that ninety years ago.  Well, Wilson seemed to.  He jumped on board the USS George Washington (the 1919 version of Air Force One) and steamed to the United States in mid-February.  But kicking back was not his idea.  (Indeed, the concept of Wilson kicking back is ... well, just crazy...)  He went home to make sure he had support from Congress for his plans.  

Indeed, broadly put, Wilson had experienced the utter elation of cheering crowds when he got to Europe, the heady days of seeming to be in control of the Conference, the quick end of the honeymoon with David Lloyd George and Georges Clemenceau (as Keynes quite brilliantly described them, "subtle and dangerous spellbinders whom a tremendous clash of forces and personalities had brought to the top as triumphant masters in the swift game of give and take"), extreme feelings of the unsettling discovery that no one at home was really willing to rally round, and, finally, the betrayal of all his closest allies.

Well, let me rephrase that last one:  Wilson imagined that he had been betrayed by his allies.  Actually, he was in a sense betrayed by Colonel House.  As we have seen, that effete, smug puppet master of politics from Houston disapproved of the pacing of the Conference, mostly the result of Wilson's need to have everyone agree with him.  So House used his authority as Wilson's unofficial placeholder to hurry things along with little compromises.  

Was this so very wrong of House?  From his point of view, many of Wilson's famed ideas were of his own seeding anyway.  Why not operate directly for once, instead of through a middleman. Note, also, that House was in charge because Wilson had progressively thrown over or distanced himself from just about every advisor he had, including his Secretary of State.  

We will discuss the Wilson-House spat later:  for now, let us register it.  And let us also register the fact that from this point on, ninety years ago, the personality of the Conference began to change, and the personality of Woodrow Wilson began to change.  Some advisors recorded noticing a facial tic.  Robert Lansing described an increasingly obstrusive laugh or giggle.  As we shall see, both Clemenceau and Lloyd George began ramping up about the time that Woodrow Wilson began to come apart.  

So, about this time, things began to move rapidly on many fronts.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Who's in Charge Over There?

Back to Paris to meet Col House the only man the Pres ever listened too,....
Will Rogers

As Woodrow Wilson steams back toward Europe, we should think briefly about his intentions as to what should happen in Paris while he was gone, at least his intentions as to leadership in peace matters.

Lloyd George had gone home for a short stay about the time that Wilson departed, but he was soon back, and he and Clemenceau resumed discussions in both the Four and the Ten. But now with Wilson's chosen emissary, Edward M. House.

Who was this guy? For a full profile of the enigmatic Houstonian, see the excellent piece on Wilson's alter ego by Robert Higgs. In fact, it might help to read this before going on.

In any case, this strange Progressive kingmaker, a man who was intimate with kingmakers the world over, was left in charge of the negotiations. And his diaries make it abundantly clear that both he and the his temporary counterparts, Lloyd George and Clemenceau, enjoyed this immensely.
March 6
The most interesting feature of the day was lunch with Lloyd George at his apartment.... I thought that if the British did not consent to the sinking of the German fleet instead of partitioning it, it would lead to a large naval programme in American and that England and the United States would be in the same attitude toward one another in the future as England and Germany had been in the past. He readily recognized this, and asked me to say this at the Quai d'Orsay [the French Foreign Ministry, where the Council of Ten met] when the question came up.... We agreed to send for Orlando immediatley, and that he (Lloyd George), Clemenceau, and Orlando should thresh out everything before the President came and arrive at decisions [sic]. The President could agree or point out wherein his views were not as ours. In this way matters might be greatly expedited....
March 7
We did our work rapidly and both George and Clemenceau felt encouraged that so much could be done so quickly. It was agreed that we should meet again in a day or two to decidce matters before going to the Quai d'Orsay....

And so forth!

Did you get that line "The President could agree or point out wherein his views were not as ours"?

"Our views"? House had spent much of the war period and all the postwar in Europe, speaking to heads of state, representing the United States, working to get the United States into the war on the Entente side. But "our views"? He was still negotiating for the United States after all, right?

I point all this out in part to prepare for the blow-up that "will" occur (well... will occur in the "ninety years later" view) when the President returns.

We have have already worked on the diagnosis of Wilson, but Colonel House gives us a new subject on the couch.

The kingmaker, the "wire puller" as the Germans say, the man behind the curtain, House had exhibited enormous enthusiasm for politics, but only as the manipulator behind the scenes. Clearly, much of the Wilsonian program was his, but his agreement with the two crafty Europeans to arrange everyting in advance of the Council of Ten meetings hardly met with Wilson's "open covenants openly arrived at," a sentiment upon which, for all Wilson's failings, he insisted.

So with this short notice, we begin to Usher in the Fall of House.

(Apologies all around!)

Sunday, March 1, 2009

A Multitude of Problems

So much was happening at once, in these days ninety years ago.

Woodrow Wilson was still in Washington trying to figure out how to get congressional support for his peace plans.  Not much luck.

At the Conference, the hard work of hearing claims and working out positions within committees goes on. 

Subjects discussed from Monday, February 24, the day after Wilson landed in the USA: 

Albanian territorial claims, creation of a neutral zone between Hungary and Rumania, further Greek claims to Turkish territory, Slovak and Croat claims for territory, Czecho-Slovak boundaries (including Czech claims to a piece of Silesia),  Clemenceau's proposal of an independent state on the west bank of the Rhine,  Armenian claims for a homeland, Zionist claims for a homeland, Sinn Fein request to be heard, blockade of food and supplies from Bulgaria ended,  Colonel House's proposal to start the League of  Nations machinery immediately, issues of reparations from German and Austria, conflicts over promises in Palestine, conflicts between what Italians had been promised in the Adriatic and what the committees were allotting to the new "Jugo-Slavia" (Yugoslavia). 

Rapidly developing events which impacted the views of the peacemakers:

In addition, there was widespread violence in Germany; a leftist coup had overthrown the government of Bavaria, and the leftist premier (Kurt Eisner) was assassinated by an angry nobleman, calling up some talk of a soviet republic in Munich; autonomist movements develop in Silesia, East Prussia, Hanover, Schleswig-Holstein, Hesse, Bavaria, and the Rhineland.  In the Russian lands, the civil war had broken out for good and earnest, calling for the Red Army from the Bolsheviks and the formation of White forces elsewhere. German forces are engaging in a war against the Bolsheviks in the Baltic.  Open warfare between Poland the Ukraine was halted temporarily with a truce to last from February 22 to March 3.  Acrimonious debates in the Japanese diet (over peace-related issues and others) led to riots and eventually large-scale violence, including a full-fledged autonomy movement and open revolt in Korea.
There were other significant instabilities, including food riots and martial law in Spain, as well as a strong Catalonian autonomist movement there, generally high prices everywhere as the result of wartime inflationary finance by governments (with the hyperinflations and high inflations yet to come). 

Overall:  Not promising!

And one can't blog about all this and more at once.  But we will arrive there by easy stages.
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Design of a Violent Century by Hunt Tooley is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.