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.

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Design of a Violent Century by Hunt Tooley is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.