Friday, January 30, 2009

Borders in the Paris Peace, Primer, Part I

OK, well I accidentally mentioned changes of boundaries and frontiers in the last post. I can't avoid using that as a lead-in to the territorial issues of the Peace. Still, I wouldn't want anyone to get hurt (or worse!) by a long disquisition on border changes--not on my blog watch, by golly!! So, I will try to lay out a few ideas about peacemaking and borders without being too prolix.

Somewhere close to the inner core of every war--in their Clausewitzian heart of causation/aims/goals--is territory. Real estate. Land.

Broad issues of world power, imperial dynamism, even ideology and religion, may shape all kinds of issues in starting and stopping wars. But wars tend to begin and end with territorial changes as both war aim and peace aim. At the end of the wars these changes tend to reflect new power relationships.

Stated baldly, the power of the victors over the vanquished at the end of a war is almost always expressed in changes of boundaries, since the vanquished almost always lose territory to the victors or their clients. Often the war begins over a chunk of territory. Sometimes, the very movements of armies in war creates new territorial claims. Frequently in the history of Europe, territory changes hands (that is, borders are altered) at the end of a war because in classical European statecraft, territory and population meant strength. Hence, after winning a war, in addition to various other claims, you wanted to weaken the enemy by taking away territory and population. By the same token, you wanted to strengthen yourself and your friends by gaining territory and population.

Now, the issues facing the Paris peacemakers were legion, but they fell into three basic categories. The Allies wanted Germany disarmed and disabled from attacking her neighbors again. The Allies wanted to deal with vast financial issues (having to do both with making Germany pay for the war and with a new kind of financial order, based on recent international and domestic financial regimes). And then there was Territory.

So, to end this very Primer, let's just say that the territorial issues of the Paris Peace were huge. They involved the breakup of each of Central Powers' empires (Germany, Austria-Hungary, and the Ottoman Empire) and the breakup of the Russian Empire too, even though Russia had been an Entente partner. Each of these empires fell into pieces. Put another way, large pieces of their territories were up for grabs, often by rival grabbers. The Paris peacemakers desired to regulate all this, but as we shall see, such issues are usually extremely complicated and may usually be viewed from extremely varied perspectives.

All of this was complicated by the nineteenth-century doctrine of "nationalism" and the early twentieth-century version of it dubbed "self-determination" by political scientists and publicists in the years before World War I. But we should save that for Primer, Part II.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Lunch With Toynbee: Harold Nicolson at Work on the Peace

Harold Nicolson, son of a diplomat, born into an upper-class British family in Tehran in 1886, was one of the most interesting and articulate chroniclers of the Paris Peace Conference. Having served as a diplomat himself since 1909, he was part of the British delegation at the conference, and in particular designated as a specialist for issues relating to Southeastern Europe.
Nicolson's educational, social, and vocational background set him up to have dinner or luncheon with just about everyone of any importance during the Conference. On January 29, 1919, the well-connected diplomat had lunch with another member of the British delegation, the well-connected historian Arnold Toynbee, a personage later famous both for his works on world history, as well as for his role in the Royal Institute of International Affairs. Mention of lunch with his friend is brief, but Nicolson's diary entry gives us a kind of microcosm of the Conference:

January 29, Wednesday
To the Quai d'Orsay in the morning. I have been summoned, as the Czechs are to make their statement to the Council of Ten, and I am supposed, for some odd reason, to be a Czech expert. In the ante-room are Kramarsh and Benes sitting on gilt chairs as if awaiting the dentist. Kramarsh large, bluff, hair en brosse, exuberant, has a nice German smell. Benes small, yellow, silly little imperial [beard], intelligent eyes rather like Keynes's, fine forehead. We speak about Teschen, its coal; Oderberg, its railway connections; the Hungarian Ruthenes, the "Carpatho-Russians." In the middle Pichon emerges from his room like a fussy owl. Says we needn't stay. Off we go.

Lunch with Toynbee and meet a Major Johnson, the geographical expert of the American delegation. He is crammed with information and I shall go into things thoroughly with him and look at his maps. Work hard afterwards at the Czecho-Slovak "case" as presented to the Supreme Council. Conclusions: Bohemia and Moravia, historical frontier justified, in spit of fact that many Germans would be included. Teschen, Silesia, Oderberg, justified: Slovakia, Danube frontier not justified to extent claimed; Hungarian Ruthenes justified and desirable; the "Serbs of Lusatia" mere rubbish; the "corridor" to connect with Jugo-Slavia completely unjustified.
The French are beginning to sneer at P.[resident] W.[ilson] and the Americans.
So the real action on this day was a combination of sitting in a waiting room, networking at lunch, and hard study of frontiers and borderlines. No need to understand the details of the "Checho-Slovak case" yet if you don't already. We will get to it in due time.

Nicolson's record of the Conference is one of the gems of diplomatic memoirs. He combined his [no doubt edited] diaries of the time with an appreciation written many years later. The book is: Harold Nicolson, Peacemaking 1919, London, 1933. It can be found here on Google Books, and is still in print and for sale.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

German Revolution--German Politics

Well, the nineteenth of January passed with nary a mention in this blog that the German election took place. This was of course the election for a Constituent (constitution-making) Assembly. From this vantage point, I want to go over some basics.

Please remember that there was a German Revolution that began in November, that the moderate Socialists (the SPD) and the smaller party of leftist Socialists (the USPD) took over the reigns of government.

The two parties were really very different. The mainstream SPD was a socialist party which officially recognized Marxism as its basis, but which had, since the 1890s moved much closer to the mainstream. The leaders of the party, like Friedrich Ebert and Philipp Scheidemann, had the political views of, roughly, an American liberal of the late twentieth century: pro-welfare state, conditionally pro-national defense, against teaching religion much in the schools, devoted to centralized government. Additionally, most of the SPD members were very much opposed to the continued special position of the titled nobility of the German Reich (really a federal league of German states). On the other hand, most of these mainstream socialists were probably more or less willing to allow the monarchy to stay on, much the same way that the British Labour Party has never argued against the British monarchy with much energy.

The Independents, on the other hand, were much more devoted to a strict Marxian analysis. Many of them had been extremely active in international socialism and were well acquainted with Lenin, the Bolsheviks, and other leftist European socialist parties. They were in favor of a Marxist republic. They were not necessarily ready to outlaw all property, but certainly, they wanted all industry and all banks (Lenin's "commanding heights" to be confiscated by the state. Many of the Independents had more than a bit of anarchism in them, however, and this represented an inherent conflict: the anarchists wanted the factories, towns, and communities to be run by local "councils" or some other local organs existing from the people; but other Independents were "democratic centralists" very much in tune with the Bolsheviks.

There was one more party that emerged in mid-November that actually weakened the Independents by drawing off their membership: the Spartacists, or the Spartacus League. Named after the leader of the great Roman slave revolt, the Spartacists were essentially the German socialist party most in tune with Lenin and the Bolsheviks on the issue of revolutionary tactics and the violent overthrow of parliamentary, bourgeois government. It was founded during the war as a radical protest of the war itself. By the middle of December 1918, the party was calling itself the German Communist Party. It was led by Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg. Liebknecht was a firebrand radical socialist attorney. Luxemburg was a 47-year-old professional revolutionary. She was born in Russian Poland to a Jewish family, and she joined the socialist movement from the time it was founded. She was a prolific organizer and writer, and was one of the most prominent supporters of violent, revolutionary Marxism.

In any case, of these gaps within the German socialist movement, the widest gap was between the SPD and the USPD/Spartacist end of the spectrum, and over December, with revolution in the streets, the gap widened. As it did so, the mainstream SPD leaders decided to shake off the USPD and align itself with the forces of order: in particular, the army. Actually, Friedrich Ebert knew Ludendorff's replacement as Quartermaster General, Wilhelm Gröner, and the two spoke almost at the beginning of the Revolution. Gröner agreed to support the new Republic, and Ebert agreed to a very moderate revolution.

Hence, when the Spartacists tried to revolt and overthrow the socialist regime in early January, before the election for the Constituent Assembly, the Ebert/Scheidemann government called for its own volunteers, and the German army raised volunteer groups as well to put down the revolt—with much awful violence all around. Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg were both executed while in "custody" of the volunteer (Freikorps) forces of order on January 15, Luxemburg in an especially brutal way that left her body floating in the Landwehr Canal in Berlin. Hundreds of revolutionaries died, and not a few of those fighting against them. These battles were still raging was the election took place.

No surprise then that the National Constituent Assembly that was elected (by universal adult suffrage) was not exactly a vote of confidence for the Revolution. Here is the result:

USPD (the Independents)—7.6 %


DDP (a moderate liberal party)—18.5%

Zentrum/Center (the Catholic party)—19.7

DVP (a conservative, business-oriented party)—4.4%

DNVP (a right-wing, nationalist party)—10.3%

other parties—1.6%

So the mainstream SPD won big. The Communists refused to participate (they wanted to overthrow the government, not be elected to positions in it), so the radical vote was actually paired down as a result. The radical Independents only won 7.6%. Granted, some kind of socialists won 45.5% of the vote, but still not a majority (and about the same as the same group had been polling before the war).

What is equally important, the percentage of the vote that went to parties officially recognizing and declaring themselves loyal to the Republic (as opposed to some future restoration of monarchy) was really quite strong: calculated cautiously, at least 75%.

The idea was to meet to deliberate in some quiet place (not violent Berlin, for goodness sake—they had all read about the French Revolution!). They chose the old Saxon city of Weimar, a part-day train ride from Berlin. It was after all the center of classical German culture (Bach, Goethe, Schiller, Herder, etc.). It also—as the cabinet officials working on this took into special consideration—also had a large City Theater which could seat the 500 plus delegates. So Weimar prepared for the arrival of the parliament, the Communists and other radical revolutionaries poured on the pressure to disrupt as much as possible before the assembly could gather in Weimar, and a wide variety of German politicians, bureaucrats, and scholars thought long and hard about what kind of constitution to create for the new German republic.

Please remember, with the Allied Blockade still operative, all of this took place against a background of shortages, inflation (not hyper-inflation yet), and above all hunger.

Monday, January 26, 2009

The League of Nations

Yesterday, ninety years ago, a second "plenary" session was held (again, big states and small, but only the victors). This time, there was more than rhetoric, though there was a good deal of that. The Four announced that Woodrow Wilson's League of Nations would be a part of each peace treaty. Further, a number of committees were named to deal with various sets of boundary issues and economic/financial issues. This was on a Saturday, so today ninety years ago, the peacemakers rested.

The League was a part of Wilson's plan for reconstructing Europe, a plan which he had first announced over a year before, in a speech to a joint session of Congress on January 8, 1918. To these he later developed several addenda and corollaries.

Several agendas are reflected in the Points. On the surface is a kind of "openness"—glasnost, we might say. Wilson gave a mood to his plan with the opening point: "I.--Open covenants of peace, openly arrived at, after which there shall be no private international understandings of any kind, but diplomacy shall proceed always frankly and in the public view." Many of the remaining points are quite specific: a revived Poland, the region of Transylvania to be taken from Hungary and given to Romania, and the like. But the final point is both general and specific: "XIV. A general association of nations must be formed under specific covenants for the purpose of affording mutual guarantees of political independence and territorial integrity to great and small states alike."

This was the League of Nations. The idea of some kind of European association is not new at all. Napoleon, Charles V, Charlemagne had all imagined they presided over willing subjects in some kind of near-total European assembly. The Holy Roman Empire, which lasted for nearly a thousand years, actually DID represent a confederal league with interlocking sovereignties, and various kinds of mediating balances designed to cut down on conflict. That confederacy was ended in 1806 by Napoleon. Indeed, in the wake of Napoleon's defeat, the Great Powers of Europe (France included) ushered in a new regime of close consultation, which they quite purposefully called "the Concert of Europe."

So the idea of a European organization was hardly new. And in the immediate sense, it may be that the specific idea came to Wilson and his alter ego House from the British. But in the end, the American President championed the idea and indeed insisted on it. France and Britain both assumed that it would be an instrument they could use when needed. So it was that the first real decision of the Conference was to decide that Europe would be run by a League of Nations.

A few comments follow.

As it would develop, there were problems. The League was envisioned to have real responsibilities, such as enforcing decent treatment to ethnic minorities within the new boundaries the peacemakers would create. Yet it had no real means of enforcement. Hence, Poland or Yugoslavia or Czechoslovakia would find it easy to treat minorities blatantly unfairly (expropriation, legal disadvantages of various kinds, etc.).

At the same time, the League was set up without reference to the losing Powers or to Russia. So, again, the basic problem of a European-wide, in some ways global, peace being laid out by the representatives of only about sixty percent of the whole populations directly involved. True, the governments of the losing powers would be called on "accept" the individual treaties, but only under the extreme duress of looming starvation and renewed hostilities. And there was Russia in any case—on the winning side but wholly left out of the peacemaking by virtue of the Bolshevik Revolution.

One way or the other, the announcement of the League ninety years ago forces us to come to terms with the aggressive personality of Woodrow Wilson, who seemed so peaceful and forgiving to his contemporaries and indeed to many subsequent historians (especially the highly skilled, and extremely sympathetic, fellow scholars who accompanied him to Paris and beatified him later). Yet in the years before the United States had gone to war with Germany, Wilson had authorized American invasions of Nicaragua, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and Mexico. His supporters have argued that that he only engaged in these invasions to "help" the countries involved, but this is precisely the same argument forwarded by every aggressing power in modern times. The fact that Wilson talked of "our nation" "serving" other nations by invading and subsequently organizing them did not make the thousands of "enemy" KIA or the dead civilians of the invaded countries any less dead.

Now in Europe, with the adulation of near-hysterical crowds in Rome and Paris and even London fresh on his mind, Wilson, the zealot of progressive "improvement," the apostle of organization, the Presbyterian minister's son whose immediately response to a problem was to set up a committee—this Woodrow Wilson seems very much like the interesting psychological specimen described by Alexander L. George and Juliette L. George in their psychobiographical studies of Wilson: an angry, controlling man who had an ultimate sense of "saving" others through his own rightness, but for whom flexibility was abhorrent. He was a man, he said on more than one occasion, who carried a "volcano about with me."

More on this later. In any case, ninety years ago, where peacemakers have classically gotten past anguish and disappointment by dealing in incremental points of agreement to balance off necessary disagreements, the Conference carried out its first significant act in the form of the announcement of the odd, stilted, mechanistic League of Nations.

Not very auspicious.

Available on Google Books: Alexander L. George and Juliette L. George, Presidential Personality and Performance (Westview Press, 1998).

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Painting the Paris Peace Conference : William Orpen

Numerous painters chronicled aspects of the Vienna Congress, including the great Sir Thomas Lawrence, who made portraits of many of the principal participants—notably Alexander I (only in the post-Congress Congress of 1818), Castlereagh, and Metternich.

On the other hand, the Paris Peace Conference was in some regards more problematic, since the medium of painting was undergoing such upheaval, and since by 1919, the photographer had overtaken the painter as the "natural" visual chronicler of great events.

Still, there was at least one painter who was commissioned by the British government to record the Conference, William Orpen.

Orpen was an Irish painter born in 1878 who had become one of the official painters commissioned by the British to record the war fronts for the British public. As with many other painters, there was trouble with Orpen. He was fine portrait painter with a non-academic, lightly Modernist style, and he did indeed make portraits of Ferdinand Foch, Douglas Haig, Herbert Plumer, and other important figures, military and political. Yet the more he observed the Western Front in person from about the middle of the war onward, the more he began to slip from the themes dictated by the War Propaganda Bureau for which he worked. His Dead Germans in a Trench, for example, didn't really do much to extol the glory of war. Nor did his scene of a young mother taking a break to nurse her child as she works to tidy up the war grave of her husband.

He then received the commission to attend the Paris Peace Conference and paint the principle scenes and personages. Orpen did paint portraits of many principals, but as we have seen, there were not too many great scenes, only two plenary sessions after all. And Orpen painted both of them, plus many other gatherings (as in the January 18 plenary, in the image above). Of the opening meeting, he wrote in his memoir: "For a seat, I was usually perched upon a window sill. It was amusing to sit there and listen to Clemenceau (Le Tigre) putting the fear of death into the delegates of the smaller nations if they talked too long. President Wilson occasionally arose and spoke of love and forgiveness. Lloyd George just went on working, his secretaries constantly rushing up to him whispering and departing, only to return for more whispers."

When Orpen first dutifully contacted Wilson's staff to arrange for Wilson to sit for the portrait, he was told that the President was "fully occupied with Peace Conference Work." Colonel House, Wilson's "alter ego," did give Orpen a sitting, and House asked the artist if he had painted Wilson. "I replied 'No,' that the President had refused to sit, that he hadn't got time.... 'What damned rot,' said the Colonel. 'He's got a damned sight more time than I have.'" So House arranged for Wilson to sit, which he eventually did.

So he did the conventional paintings commissioned, and most eventually went to the National Portrait Gallery or the Imperial War Museum, but his most interesting painting got him into trouble. On the Western Front, he had begun to identify much more with the men who were dying than with the great figures whose portraits he was painting. Hence, one of his most important paintings of the conference was his To the Unknown British Soldier in France, which featured a flag-draped coffin against the gilt background reminiscent of backdrop for most of the Conference meetings. Originally, ghostly figures of soldiers from the trenches stood guard on either side, but the original painting caused much public criticism and controversy, and Orpen apparently painted out the offending figures in the late twenties--unfortunately robbing his painting of much of its original impact.

In any case, this conventional artist drawn into the war is an interesting study, and his impressions of the Conference, both in words and paintings, are interesting indeed.

See the Wikipedia entry for Orpen, though it is badly in need of revision and fails to mention the Conference at all, among other problems. Further, see the shorter but more informative Spartacus.net entry for Orpen. For a modern, informed appreciation of Orpen as an artist, with many photos and reproduced paintings (including a larger version of the January 18 plenary session at the top of this post), see the interesting blog series on Orpen at the blogsite "Articles and Texticles." For small collection representing a few of Orpens hundreds of paintings, see Wikimedia Commons. See also the interesting 1921 NY Times review of Orpen's memoir of the period.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Top Ten Events in the Tumultuous History of Germany Between October 1918 and February 1919

(In the order in which they happened)

1. With their armies losing, Hindenburg and Ludendorff gave up their military dictatorship and handed control back to the civilians at the end of September 1918. Germany's civilian leadership decided to install a new cabinet headed by the Prince Max of Baden, a south German liberal, who, it was thought, would be politically able to negotiate a truce. Prince Max's government immediately set up processes for dismantling the authoritarian regime.

2. On October 4, 1918, Prince Max, along with the Austrian government, appealed to President Wilson, for an armistice (a truce). Both Germany and Austria explicitly recognized Wilson's Fourteen Points as the basis for future peace. The US government exchanged letters with the two throughout October, calling for a democratic government, the pulling back of German troops, etc. Meanwhile, the Allied forces kept up the military pressure, pushing Germany slowly back on the Western Front.

3. A number of admirals in the German navy, distraught with the idea of giving up, hatched a plan to steam into the North Sea for a Götterdämmerung-type sea battle with the Allies—to go down fighting, literally. When so ordered, the crews of ships in Kiel, the principle naval base, refused and mutinied, setting up Sailors' Councils in each ship and on shore. This sailor's revolution, tinged with much Red sentiment (think of the Red Sailors of Kronstadt only a year before), spread to naval bases in Hamburg, Bremen, Lübeck, Bremerhaven, and the rest of the naval stations, and then to army units, and then to the streets of Berlin and other cities, with workers pouring into the streets with much disorder. Kurt Eisner and supporting radical leftists took over the Bavarian state government in Munich on November 7/8.

4. The Germans sent an Armistice Commission to the Allies, meeting the head of the Allied armies, Marshal Foch, in a railroad car in the Compiegne Forest on November 8. The Commission was led by Matthias Erzberger, the liberal Center (Catholic) Party leader.

5. The Commission found no sympathy from the Allies. Terms were designed to make Germany unable to restart hostilities. The Armistice was to last thirty days, but was renewed every thirty days until the peace process was over. The Commission agreed to hand over most heavy weapons, thousands of military trucks, 150,000 freight cars, 5,000 locomotives, and more. The army was to withdraw from France AND western Germany, from all territory west of the Rhine. The Commission agreed.

6. Kaiser Wilhelm II abdicated (or had it done for him) on November 9. Prince Max, looking at the revolutionary crowds in the streets, handed his office over to the two socialist parties, the moderate SPD and the more radical USPD. The same day, a member of the new socialist government, Philipp Scheidemann, simply stepped onto a Reichstag window ledge and proclaimed "the German Republic."

7. The Armistice took effect on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918.

8. After a tumultuous few days of violence in the streets between revolutionaries and returning soldiers, the moderate socialists excluded the radical USPD members from the government and called on the army to cooperate in putting down a street-level revolution, agreeing essentially not to upend the old order completely.

9. With the help of the army and many "volunteers," government therefore went after the USPD contingents, and the Communist (Spartacist) contingents. Fighting continued through January.

10. The SPD government asked for the support of other moderate parties and put out the call for a nationwide election, universal adult suffrage, which would elect a National Constituent (constitution-making) Assembly. The election was held on January 19. The resulting group, looking for a less tempestuous place to meet than Berlin, assembled in the city of Weimar on February 6.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Meanwhile, Back in Germany...

What, meanwhile, of the Germans? Don't get me started!

Well, maybe I should get started, but I am really just working my way to the blog for Feb. 6, when the German National Constituent Assembly will be meeting (or at least did meet on that day ninety years ago) in the Stadttheater of Weimar. More on that for Feb. 6.

But a quick look at the background is necessary. Germany fought a long, hard war against many enemies, with the added privation of the Allied Blockade, which quite illegally interdicted food supplies from reaching the civilian population. Somewhere between 600,000 and 900,000 German civilians died from the effects of this "hunger blockade."

This is not to say that the Germans didn't commit illegalities and immoralities during the war. They did some bad things in occupied France, Belgium and Russia: forced labor, shooting civilians as spies, enforcing rigorous occupation regimes, etc. (though not the fantasies of the famous Bryce Report). The Germans also carried out a form of submarine warfare that was often illegal and immoral.

But both these terrible sets of things--from the previous two paragraphs--happened. If I point out the sins of one side, I am not thereby denying the sins of the other side, or sides. This is of course a fundamental perceptual problem of the violent century that has followed World War I: We tend to assume that all history consists of good guys on the one hand and bad guys on the other. Unfortunately, the way it has tended to work is that one "side" takes the form of a large, institutional collective entity which does bad things to a lot of individuals. And on the other side, a large collective entity does bad things to a lot of individuals.

True, from time to time neighbors have killed neighbors in this terrible century (see Jan Gross's book, Neighbors, for a horrible example). But mostly, the folks doing the killing, or ethnic cleansing, or whatever, are not wreaking some kind of personal vengeance, but a collectivist response. And vice versa. In fact, the bad guys seem to be pretty much on every side at some point.

Back to the Germans. They came close to winning in 1917. The Americans entered the war, the Bolsheviks took Russia out of the war, and Ludendorff (chief of staff to Hindenburg, the commander, and both of them acting as virtual military dictators of Germany for the last two years of the war) decided to bring back as many troops from the Eastern Front as quickly as possible, train them in the most up-to-date tactics, and then unleash a huge spring offensive in 1918. The offensive began in late March, and it looked like the Allies had had it. The British commander, Haig, issued his famous "backs-to-the-wall" order, which sounded like someone who thought he was not going to win. But at the eleventh hour, the Americans shored up the gaps, halted the German advance, and began forming units to give new life to the Allied line. Indeed, with this new life, Haig counterattacked for the last hundred days of the war, pushing the Germans slowly back from their trench positions. Still, the Allies thought the Germans would hold out, and the Western Front was still, after all, on French and Belgian soil. But Ludendorff lost his nerve, and, practically hysterical, demanded the government to negotiate a cease-fire with the Allies.

So the Germans were defeated in the field. This is important. The German army was giving as good as it got (or better, according to Niall Ferguson) until the American units finally impacted (Remember the Third Division--Rock of the Marne!) the whole front. But in any case, the German army was defeated, not stabbed in the back.

Next--well, as I said, don't get me started. I will stop here. But stay tuned for the "Top Ten Events in the Tumultuous History of Germany Between October 1918 and February 1919."

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Council of Ten, and of Four

The organization of the Conference was really worked out in the days ahead of Saturday, January 18, the first of the "non-official" meetings coming on January 12. In fact, the leading powers made decisions during the week before the opening which very much influenced the course of the peacemaking. Depending on how you count such entities as French North Africa, and on whether you count India separately from the British Empire (like Australia), you can list between two and three dozen belligerents who actually engaged in the war. Some of these didn't do all that much engaging: Japan, for example, mobilized 800,000 men for the Entente, but only sustained 1,344 casualties.

Several Latin American countries declared war. Some, like Brazil and Cuba, declared their intentions to get troops into combat, but were unable to do more than mobilize some naval units (Brazil) and hospital units (the Cubans sent 100 doctors and nurses to the Western Front). Some, like the Dominican Republic, were essentially protectorates of the United States and were simply forced to declare war. Others declared war for their own purposes. Honduras and Brazil, for instance, followed the example of Australia by interning most of their ethnic German populations (settlers from the nineteenth century) and expropriating their land and wealth. In Brazil, some statesman were extremely pro-war, hoping to cement their power by showing their might. Some governments simply wanted to be represented at the peace conference and therefore declared war at a safe date.

Long and short: dozens of states were represented at the Conference, but only five Great Powers: Britain, France, Italy, the United States, and Japan. The agreements cemented during the week before January 18 simply ignored the smaller powers, as already mentioned. Indeed, the official structure that the committees of the conference would work out technical solutions to each issue, to be approved by the Council of Ten, consisting of the head of government and foreign minister of each of these five Great Powers:

France—Georges Clemenceau/Stephen Pichon

Britain—David Lloyd George/Arthur Balfour

Italy—Vittorio Orlando/Sidney Sonnino

United States—Woodrow Wilson/ Robert Lansing

Japan--Saionji Kinmochi/Makino Nobuaki

This top-down structure, already decided by time the Conference opened, was presented by the president of the Conference, Clemenceau, who pushed it through the January 18 plenary with a kind of one-breath parliamentary ploy: "Are there any objections? No? ... Adopted!"

Many decisions emerged from this Council of Ten (or Supreme Council), but since Japan was purely a Pacific power and had played a much smaller part in the war, the other four heads of government took to meeting together to make decisions not related to Japan , so that participants began to speak of the "Council of Four" as well. Very soon, the meetings of the Four became the arena for some of the most important decision-making. Wilson's statement that the peace should consist of "open covenants openly arrived at" held great sway among the delegates. Yet the limitation of the decision-making to the Four or even the Ten represented quite a restriction of the "open covenant" rule. In fact, news reporters from all countries, but especially the Americans, were stunned that almost all committee meetings were secret. Press secretaries gave very limited general information periodically. Clemenceau ran both the "plenary" sessions and the meetings of the Ten with machine-gun strictness. He often cut off speakers, or simply walked out of the room as he as simply told the assembled gentlemen, "That's all."

This top-down structure is one of the keys to understanding the Paris Peace Conference. Woodrow Wilson was well-known as a "progressive," an American brand of positivist liberal. Having taken much from Comtean and even Saint-Simonian ideas of rule by the scientists or rule by the social engineers, the American positivists very much preferred the mode of rule by experts (see Colonel House's odd book, Philip Dru, Administrator). The French government was likewise influenced by Saint-Simon and by Comtean positivism; indeed, France during wartime was famous for the haughty attitudes of bureaucrats and generals--the top henchmen of the state. And Clemenceau—with roots in the nationalistic liberal Radical Party--cherished his own personal brand of irascible arrogance. Britain's ruling group likewise derived from what one might call top-down liberals. Most of the delegations were indeed quite comfortable with social (and international) engineering. Hence, the top-down structure of the Conference led to decisions being made without true negotiation among all the delegates, and obviously without negotiations with the defeated (and certainly without consulting most of the people concerned). I will come back to this aspect more than once.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Dinner with Faysal

On this day ninety years ago, after a Monday of committee work of various kinds, several members of the Wilson's "Inquiry" (consisting of "experts" who were scholars, bankers, or lawyers for the most part) had dinner with Emir Faysal, son of the "King" of Mecca, along with Lieutenant-Colonel T. E. Lawrence. Faysal, of course, had led the "revolt in the desert" with the assistance of T. E. Lawrence ("Lawrence of Arabia"). He is the individual represented in David Lean's gigantic film, Lawrence of Arabia by Sir Alec Guinness. Faysal was at the Conference with some specific goals in mind, apart from simply representing his father, Husayn, the Sharif of Mecca. In a "correspondence" from late 1915 and early 1916, Husayn and the British High Commissioner in Egypt, Sir Henry MacMahon, MacMahon made some promises to Husayn in order to nudge him to greater efforts in revolting against the Ottoman Empire (of which the Hejaz region of western Arabia was a part). MacMahon stated that if the Arabs revolted (and of course assuming that the Allied side won) the British would look favorably on an independent Arab state. Various other promises implied that the Husayn, a descendant of the Prophet, would be the ruler of such a state. The "revolt in the desert" came to pass, and was successful in helping the British Army to drive the Turkish forces from Arabia, Palestine, and Syria. Yet as we'll discuss later, for numerous reasons, Faysal would have great difficult in getting these promises fulfilled.

Yet at the optimistic opening of the conference, the urbane
Faysal was in rare form. James T. Shotwell, one of the American experts (a well-connected Columbia University historian), later described the dinner. In his conference journal, he recorded the following impressions of the great Arab statesman: "His face was one of the most attractive I have ever seen, beautifully shaped, with clear, dark eyes that struck us all as being those of a man who, although he has been facing constant danger for many years, retains an irresistible sense of humor. He carries a golden dagger in his girdle, which is woven of gold thread, and when someone remarked on it said that the Parisians said he was only half civilized because he carried a dagger--but their officers carry swords! This descendant of Mohammed was cracking jokes all evening, even in the midst of his most serious argument for the Arab cause. When he was asked what his right title was, he said that the Western Powers were imagining that they had conferred a favor on his father by calling him king; but his father was only amazed at their impertinence, seeing that a man who was the descendant of the Prophet and Sherif of Mecca bore so proud a title that it could not matter to him whether men called him, in addition, King, Emperor, President, or Donkey. His ancestors had been Sherifs of Mecca for 900 years, and no other title in the world compared in splendor." (See Shotwell, At The Paris Peace Conference)

(In the photo of Faysal and his entourage at the Conference, T. E. Lawrence is seen to the immediate right of Faysal.)

Sunday, January 18, 2009

The Conference Opens

Today, ninety years ago, the Paris Peace Conference held its first official meeting with a sitting of seventy delegates and other dignitaries in the Salle d'Orloge of the French Foreign Ministry. For some days, unofficial diplomatic meetings had met in various venues in Paris, arranging the overall structure of the conference. In particular, the diplomats had already decided on that overarching structure of the four major Allied powers (France, Britain, Italy, and the United States) holding the reins of power, and working out basic structures, calling in the representatives of the smaller governments for consultation when needed. Hence, the "big" four became the heads of governments of the great Allied powers: Georges Clemenceau, David Lloyd George, Vittorio Orlando, and Woodrow Wilson.

In any event, the Big Four, like all the other participants at the inaugural meeting of the conference, drove through a cold January rain from their respective hotel encampments in Paris. The meeting itself seemed to some observers a profound event. Emir Faysal, son of the King of the Hejaz (northwestern Arabia), was there in flowing robes. So were representatives of brand new European countries, premiers of revived Poland, newly independent Czechoslovakia, and others. But much of the "dignity" of the official meeting came from the French side. Georges Clemenceau, the French premier, had been chosen as President of the Conference, and he opened the conference with a speech reaffirming Allied unity of purpose. So did the prime ministers of the other Allied countries. The French President, Raymond Poincaré, also welcomed the delegates. In a high-blown speech condemning German megalomania, Poincaré called for a "peace of justice," made not by diplomats but by whole peoples. The first sitting of the conference duly ended, and the delegates went on their way through the wet streets of Paris.

Now for comment or two. Among those represented at this meeting, three powers which had sustained huge losses of men and material in World War I--actually more than the Big Four Powers in total--were strikingly absent: Germany, Russia, and Austria. Germany and Austria, of course, were losers, and we will examine later the ways in which Germans were kept far from Germanophobe Paris during the Conference. But Russia--the hardest-hit Ally--was also absent . Russia was now a Communist country (since the Bolshevik Revolution of October/November 1917), and the revolutionary regime produced fear among the Allies. But we must also be attuned to other currents which made the absence of the Russians highly pleasing to the peacemakers. In any case, this great gathering to make a peace did not include representatives from a substantial number of those countries which had been at war.

And then there was this. There was much high-blown rhetoric in the first meeting, especially that of the French President Poincaré. Yet Poincaré's "peace of justice" did not necessarily imply what we might assume from our perspective of ninety years. Actually, Poincaré's speech was laced with venom against the Germans, and he was in the midst of a campaign to put large sections of western Germany under French control (and not just the "lost" Alsace-Lorraine). Poincaré was a conservative, hard-nosed French President whose whole view on international affairs started with a hatred of Germany. His rhetoric really implied a kind of punitive justice against the Germans, first and foremost, and then justice for everyone else of course.

Finally, for all the dignity of the opening, this Paris Peace was nothing at all like the ballroom atmosphere of Vienna in 1814, and indeed not much like the opening meeting in the Foreign Ministry. Instead of elegant aristocratic diplomats in elegant sitting rooms, the Paris conference looked more--as one participant noted--like a convention for traveling salesmen. The conference was dominated by the fifty-six committees that made reports. The whole was overlaid with maps, documents, background notes--there was a sea of paper. Each delegation brought with a staff of "filing girls" and other secretarial help. There were parties, but by and large, the conference represented an enormous amount of paper at the bottom and platitudes at the top.

We want to spend a lot of time looking at the points in between.
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