Statesmen of the War in Retrospect
IS THERE ANY WORK OF MAN TO BE COMPARED, IN RESPECT to its difficulties and its magnitude, with that which consists in the creating of a nation? If we say that this has been the task successfully fulfilled by President Masaryk and Dr. Bénès, we do not mean to insinuate that their work has been artificial and without historic basis. The nation which they have brought into being had a previous existence, down to 1526. But in those days it had neither the same name nor the same frontiers. Its continuity had been broken since then by nearly four centuries of servitude. Its national consciousness has experienced a long eclipse. In the year before the War no one dreamt of the resurrection of the Bohemia of old or of the creation of a new state with an unknown name.
It is no service to a statesman to attribute to him a kind of prescience which could not possibly have been his. When Dr. Bénès, at Dijon before the War, expounded his thesis, "Le problème autrichien et la question tchèque," he had no thought of a separatist solution of the problem and of the constitution of a national state. Even during the War, both Dr. Masaryk and Dr. Bénès believed at certain junctures that they could come to terms with Austria. Circumstances and the obstinacy of the Austrian government in some sort constrained them to take in hand a task which at first they had not contemplated.
But once the necessity of a radical solution appeared, Masaryk and Bénès had no hesitation about devoting themselves entirely to this work. Isolated from a people which could do nothing to help them, they took on themselves terrible responsibilities---and it is only right, now that they have succeeded, to give them the credit and glory of their achievements.
What has characterized the action of President Masaryk has been at once his moral elevation and his acute feeling for the practical. This very rare combination in him of idealism and realism has given to his personality a power and authority seldom met with in the same degree.
President Masaryk is a self-made man. He comes of a very humble stock and began life as apprentice to a lockmaker. It was through unremitting industry that, by giving lessons himself, he managed to pay the cost of his philosophical studies. Appointed at first a privat-docent at the University of Vienna, he was called in 1882 as Professor to the Czech University at Prague, the ancient mediæval Charles University which the Austrian government had revived.
Almost immediately, he acquired a unique position there. The Bohemians, so long deprived of a national center of higher education, had some difficulty in getting together a professional corps of a high standing of culture. Most of the professors were of a provincial type. Masaryk, on the contrary, showed himself at once to be a man of outstanding gifts; he fought unceasingly against all tendencies to put up with the second-class and the mediocre and against all forms of narrowness of mind. He opposed everything calculated to isolate Czech culture from Western culture. He was, in a word, against all the movements---Provincialism, Nationalism, Panslavism---then in favor with the students.
His unpopularity was at times extreme. For months together it prevented him from delivering his lectures. It reached its maximum on the occasion of the so-called "Königinhof manuscripts." What was in question was a cycle of songs and legends, akin to the Nibelungen Lied, the existence of which proved that the literary culture of the Czech people was more ancient than that of the Germans. Theories were built up on this basis, national pride was excited, it looked as though the whole country would identify itself with the case for the genuineness of these manuscripts. Masaryk, standing quite alone, declared that they were false and that he could prove it.
A Protestant, firm in his creed, President Masaryk maintained that it was not permissible to sacrifice truth and moral right to the supposed interests of the nation. When, in this case, he felt he must take up his stand in opposition to the general feeling of his compatriots, he did so without hesitation, just as he did again in the case of a young Jew accused wrongly of a ritual crime. And this characteristic of his imparted great force to all his interventions when these were on behalf of his own people as, for instance, in the Friedjung case, when he denounced the fraudulent charges brought against the Croats by the Austrian government.
The moral considerations which President Masaryk brought into politics were of a nature to enhance his authority and his reputation but not his popularity. The masses like to be flattered. When Masaryk founded a party, to which he characteristically gave the name "The Realist Party," he was followed by some intellectuals, but the mass of the people held aloof from him. He was able to get into Parliament thanks to his personal prestige, but he never succeeded in getting any other deputy elected.
Masaryk was then a federalist and a sincere one. He believed in the possibility of changing Austria from within, by democratic means. He was a radical and fought against militarism and clericalism,* not to destroy the State but to save it. That is what distinguished him from his adversary, M. Kramarcz, who also preached federalism but with the idea of destroying the monarchy.
When war broke out, Masaryk, whose age, sixty-four years, excluded him from military service, went to Switzerland and Italy to learn what was going on and to make himself acquainted with European tendencies in general. He was about to return home in December, 1914, when one of his former pupils, Edward Bénès, with whom he had not previously had occasion to establish any close relationship, learned that on his return he (Masaryk) would be arrested. Young Bénès went at once to Zürich to warn him. Masaryk remained in Switzerland and Bénès kept coming and going between Prague and Geneva throughout the year 1915, acting as intermediary between Masaryk and his friends. In September, 1915, these comings and goings had awakened the suspicions of the Austrian police, who decided to arrest Bénès. But there were Czechs in all the government offices. Bénès, warned half an hour before his intended arrest, managed once again to cross the German frontier, on foot, and, after passing through Bavaria, to penetrate into Switzerland.
It was now in Geneva that the meeting took place between Masaryk, Bénès and Stefanik in the course of which was decided the formation of the National Czecho-Slovak Committee, this hyphenated name appeared then officially for the first time. It was decided that Bénès should install himself in Paris, to organize a Czecho-Slovak corps among the prisoners of war in alliance with the French and Italian armies, and that Masaryk should go to London. When the Russian Revolution broke out, he left England for Russia, where he organized a corps of Czecho-Slovak volunteers on the eastern front. Finally, driven from Russia by the Bolshevist Revolution, he went to America.
It was a country which he knew well, for he had married an American. Now he contrived to get into personal touch with Colonel House and President Wilson and he induced them to give recognition to the Czecho-Slovak National Committee. This prepared the way for the recognition of the future state which was officially founded at Geneva, a week before the fall of the Hapsburg monarchy.
It would be difficult to exaggerate the difficulty of the work achieved in the course of the War by the Czecho-Slovak National Committee that is to say, by the Masaryk-Bénès-Stefanik triumvirate---or to exaggerate its importance.
The governments were then distrustful. It was necessary for Austrian subjects to make themselves acceptable first of all before being allowed to come to the Allied countries. In 1915 the French military authorities wanted to put Dr. Bénès into a concentration camp. He had to force them to recognize the existence of a Czech nation and to satisfy them that the Czechs did not really cherish the feeling of loyalty to the Hapsburg dynasty which they were obliged publicly to profess. It was necessary to make this clear to both the governments and the public opinion of the Allied countries and to convince them that the three men, isolated, without mandates, without personal authority, ought to be recognized as the government of a country which did not yet exist and that they should be treated with on a basis of equality as an ally.
All this would, doubtless, have been impracticable if the Czecho-Slovak National Committee had not been in a position to render the Allies certain services of great value. We are not now speaking of the Czecho-Slovak army, which Bénès organized upon several fronts among the prisoners of war belonging to his nation at the risk of provoking terrible reprisals in Austria. The chief purpose of the army was to demonstrate the existence of the Czech people, to make this people tangible in the eyes of those who had never heard of it before. The army could not in itself play a very great rôle in the War.
Far more important, for the conduct of operations, was the mutiny of a Czech regiment at the very beginning of the War at Rava-Ruska; it enabled the Russians to pierce the Austrian front and forced the Germans to run to the support of their allies---a circumstance that had very momentous political consequences.
But it was in another field that the Czecho-Slovak National Committee was able to give its most valuable aid to the Allies. Thanks to it, owing to the presence of Czechs in all the Austro-Hungarian governments, the headquarters staffs of the Allies were kept constantly informed regarding everything that happened in the Dual Monarchy, even the most secret things. The Emperor and Marshal Conrad never held a conversation but the substance of it was known in Paris by the end of a week. It was the Czechs who revealed all the German intrigues in the United States; the governess to Count Bernstorff's children was a Czech and knew everything that went on in his household. On the other hand, all the declarations of the Czech deputies in the Austrian parliament had been submitted in advance to the Allied governments. Some days later they would appear in the Austrian papers. It was the Allies who at the last moment prevented the revolution in Bohemia. In August, 1918, Bénès said: "I can't hold them back any longer."
"You must continue to hold them back a while," he was told in Paris.
"Well, it won't be possible after November!"
All this underground work might easily have called forth mistrust. Its strength lay in the confidence which Masaryk and Bénès had been able to inspire. Thus it was that all their actions in this decisive period of history, their influence and their authority, were the outcome of their high moral character. Their reward was to be able to get Czecho-Slovakia recognized at the Peace Conference---although it did not exist and although it remained a part of Austria right to the end---as an Allied state. In October the Czech soldiers were still fighting in the ranks of the Austrian Army; in November the Czech delegates had their places at the Conference table among the victors. We do not believe that any other man of our generation has achieved a more remarkable tour de force.
It was a just recompense for Dr. Masaryk that he should have been unanimously elected President of the new republic. And it was quite natural that his entry into the Hradsin, into that old palace at Prague which comprises and symbolizes the entire history of the Czech people, should have been a triumph. But the work was not yet finished. This country had as yet no frontiers. What remained to be done was not the easiest thing---and it was done by Edward Bénès in person at the Peace Conference.
Rarely have two men complemented each other so admirably as President Masaryk and Dr. Bénès; and rarely have two men been more necessary the one to the other. Without Masaryk's prestige, Bénès, who was a man of little account when he quitted his country and who exerted there no personal authority, would have been able to do nothing. But without Bénès and his knowledge of Europe and his political instincts and skill, Masaryk would have been paralyzed and impotent.
Dr. Bénès, like President Masaryk, is of modest origin. His parents were peasants and he was the youngest of a large family. It was thanks to the savings of brothers much older than himself that he was able to pursue his studies and become a professor of sociology and political economy in a school of commerce. Such was his status when he left Prague clandestinely in the autumn of 1915. He was to return thither as Minister of Foreign Affairs and one of the most notable men in Europe.
In this extraordinary success the rôle played by chance was very slight indeed; almost everything was due to talent. This little man, who looks so unimportant, who speaks foreign languages with difficulty, whose pronunciation is uneven and whose vowel sounds are indistinct, has not impressed people through any physical quality or outward grace. He has done so by the lucidity of his mind, the breadth of his horizon, his keen appreciation of contingencies and possibilities, the honesty of his spoken word, the veracity of his statements. In other words, he impressed Europe by the same intellectual and moral qualities which explain the authority of President Masaryk---faith in their ideal combined with a sense of realities.
If diplomacy were merely a matter of bargaining, as it is so often conceived to be, Dr. Bénès would not have been able to play any role at the Peace Conference, for he had nothing to offer any one---he had no assets to exploit. But he realized that bargaining of the do ut des order is often corrected by the intervention of spiritual forces. These forces played in favor of Czecho-Slovakia and Dr. Bénès made every possible use of them. The right of peoples to self-determination, the Fourteen Points of President Wilson, and the League of Nations---these were his arms and his dogmas. Through them alone had he any standing; by reason of them he felt in a strong position.
I remember hearing Dr. Bénès expound his views at the beginning of the Conference. We were in that little office of his in the Rue Bonaparte in Paris which for three years was the seat of government of a nation not yet in being. "We shall be uncompromising," he said to me, "on all that constitutes for us vital necessities and only on them. We shall view matters consistently from the standpoint of general interest."
Such was the secret of his influence at the Conference. He was able to make people feel that he was viewing matters from the standpoint of general interest. On occasion he bad the wisdom to sacrifice the personal interest of his country to a more collective interest. His objectivity in debate enabled him to recognize the force of his opponents' arguments---sometimes even to supply them.
This was no mere matter of attitude or tactics. It was the outcome of his conviction that Czecho-Slovakia could not exist and survive except in a pacified and prosperous Europe. In concerning himself with the interests of all, he had the conviction that he was working in the true interest of his country. This power of distinguishing the permanent from the ephemeral, and this innate feeling for international solidarity, won for him from the very first day a place apart among the statesmen of Europe, many of whom had grown old under the influence of superannuated formulas. His power lay in his freshness of mind and, if one may say so, in his inexperience.
Dr. Bénès had not much to contend with in Paris. Once the principle of the Czecho-Slovak state was accepted---and it had been accepted in advance---no one thought of refusing it the extent of territory to which it was entitled. Dr. Bénès' talent lay in the way in which he convinced his hearers from the outset that he was asking for no more. And he succeeded so well that every one vied with him in zeal on behalf of his demands and that eventually he was given more than he claimed. He was even given Ruthenia into the bargain, solely because no one knew what else to do with it!
It was not in Paris that he encountered his difficulties---it was among his compatriots. For even in his delegation he had Nationalists, such as Kramarcz, who kept asking too much and whose following at home was stronger than his. Their demands threatened to compromise the position which he took up, and in which lay his strength. "I am startled," Dr. Bénès said at the time to one of his friends, "I am startled at the way in which they give me everything I ask. It is too much. I can't decline to pass on my countrymen's claims and I am never refused anything. I ask myself how far this can go!"
This objectivity of mind, this feeling for the general interest and for the solidarity of the nations, has continued since then to inspire the policy of Dr. Bénès and has not ceased to enhance his authority.
One day he was explaining to me why in a treaty of disarmament it was necessary to take account of the industrial capacity of states. "If one did not do so," he said, "a country like mine, endowed with great industrial capacity, would be in too favorable a situation compared with an agricultural country like Hungary." On another occasion, some one had drawn attention to the fact that the Czecho-Slovakian member of a technical committee of the League of Nations was pursuing an ardently Protectionist policy and placing difficulties in the way of a settlement. "That is intolerable!" Bénès exclaimed. "Show him up! Make him ashamed of himself. Our industrialists must learn to think like Europeans."
The example set by Dr. Bénès is beneficent in a high degree, for it proves that one succeeds better in the world and even in politics by good faith and disinterestedness than by duplicity and Machiavellianism.
We must, however, agree as to the meaning of the word "disinterestedness." Dr. Bénès is not disinterested in respect to his country. An ardent patriot, he has only one thought and one duty: to serve Czecho-Slovakia. It is on this basis only that he can command the necessary authority to conduct a European policy. If he were preoccupied only with the general interest, he would not be long in succumbing at home. Even the services which he has rendered to his people and his unquestioned patriotism would not suffice to protect him from attacks if he did not always allow himself to be guided first and foremost by the interest of his country.
But he is convinced that on the essential point, the maintenance of peace, this interest coincides with that of the whole world. Dr. Bénès said to me once: "A state is not built up in a day. My country, in order to achieve its economic and moral unity, has need of twenty years of peace." Dr. Bénès has no other aim in life than that of ensuring Czecho-Slovakia the twenty years of peace which she needs.
It is this that makes him the most European statesman in Europe. While most of his colleagues pursue the policy of peace only with reservations, and within certain limits, he alone does so with his whole heart and without an arrière-pensée. But he adopts different and appropriate methods, according to circumstances. Immediately after the rejection of the Treaty of Versailles by the American Senate, not knowing what would now happen to the League of Nations, he concluded the Little Entente, which is an alliance of the old type. When he perceived that the League of Nations was functioning and acquiring strength, he took part in its labors and came to acquire in it an authority without parallel. He was one of the authors of the Geneva protocol. At Locarno, he played the rôle of mediator between Poland and Germany.
Convinced that Czecho-Slovakia has the same interests that France has, to maintain the treaties of peace which created her, he is equally convinced that she must keep up good relations with her neighbor, Germany, across whose territory pass all the lines of communication which connect her with the sea. He has, therefore, made himself an active equal in the work of Franco-German rapprochement and of European pacification. In relation to Austria he has pursued a changing policy but one always of an amicable kind, while calculated to strengthen Czecho-Slovakia's independence.
In all circumstances, he has been willing to work for the fairest and the most international solutions. Wherever there has been question of the conciliation of conflicting interests, of settling disputes, of soothing suspicions, of overcoming antagonisms, you will find Dr. Bénès busy. But he is no Utopian and does not lose sight of the political realities of the moment.
That is what makes his conversation so interesting. Dr. Bénès is not what one would call a brilliant talker, for he is only a mediocre linguist, and his utterance, very difficult to follow in public, is not agreeable even on intimate terms. It is an individual trait in the man---and a thing remarkable in our times---that he should have been able to achieve such a career without being in the least an orator.
But if Dr. Bénès does not captivate his hearers by the charm of his speech, he keeps their interest by the clearness and cogency of his reasoning. He possesses that rarest of qualities, common sense. His thought always, in all circumstances, rings true. And as he combines a great freedom of expression with abundant knowledge, and as he assumes in his listeners the same good faith as his own, his conversation is extraordinarily instructive.
It might be supposed that with all these qualities of heart and mind, Dr. Bénès must have a standing without equal in his own country. That is so in a sense. He has been Minister of Foreign Affairs for ten years and no one has sought to interrupt his activities. For every one realizes at Prague that his retirement would be for Czecho-Slovakia the equivalent of a defeat.
But his authority is much greater outside the frontiers of his country than inside. Dr. Bénès is not a party man and consequently has not many faithful supporters in Parliament. Besides, it was inevitable in a land which has never before had self-government and which has, always been animated by a spirit of opposition that political passions should be more bitter, more negative and at the same time pettier than elsewhere. The breadth of view which characterizes Dr. Bénès, far from standing him in good stead in this milieu, could not but tell against him. So also with his regard for morality, and the energy he has shown in denouncing certain scandals, holding aloof from certain cliques, and refusing the appeals of certain place-hunters. It is easy to make enemies in a new country in which all the official posts have to be filled and in which every one feels qualified for anything.
The only period---a brief enough period---during which he was Premier brought him more attacks than successes. His main strength in his own country lies in his being the friend of President Masaryk.
But this friendship has its reverse side. The President has a prestige and an authority which place him above attacks. The people see in him the Liberator, and he has won their gratitude.
They see in him the indispensable man, who insures the unity of the state and the continuity of his policy. They recognize, moreover, in the great veteran of seventy-eight a personality of high moral distinction, whose rectitude of conscience enforces respect.
No one in Czecho-Slovakia would stand up openly as anopponent of the President. But Dr. Masaryk remains a man of combative spirit; he is still as uncompromising in respect to what he regards as the truth as he was in his younger days. If his person inspires the respect of all, his policies are not unanimously approved.
President Masaryk's most recent act---an act by which he has given his measure as a statesman---has been to include representatives of the German minority in the government. This act within the field of home politics was in keeping with the policy of rapprochement and good relations which Dr. Bénès has pursued in the field of international politics. The purpose in both cases is to destroy irredentism and separatism. For Czecho-Slovakia is not a homogeneous state from a racial standpoint, any more than Austria-Hungary was, and if she were to commit the same faults as the Hapsburgs, her fate one day or another would be the same.
Dr. Masaryk and Dr. Bénès realize this, but the Czech Nationalists have not realized it. On this occasion, as in many others, Dr. Bénès has served as a buckler for his master, the President of the Republic. It is against him that the opponents of the Presidential policy direct their attacks. And while the President renders Dr. Bénès the service of covering him with his authority, Dr. Bénès in return covers the President with his body!
Among all the states newly created or enlarged by the War, Czecho-Slovakia alone has had the privilege of possessing two statesmen really worthy of the name. It is to this privilege, that is to say, to these men, that she owes her present prosperity and the unique place which she occupies in the world.
THE RECONSTRUCTION OF POLAND WAS NOT THE WORK OF one man but rather the achievement of a nation. It was brought about, in the first place, by the people themselves, by their unshaken faith in their country, their sufferings and their resistance to their oppressors.
When the War broke out in 1914, the Poles at once realized that they must seize this opportunity of achieving independence or give up all hope of it. If Poland was not now restored, could it be expected that another such catastrophe would ever bring her freedom? If however a war between Russia and Germany were to meet Poland's two great demands for independence and unity, both adversaries must suffer defeat. It is difficult to believe in the miraculous, and the miracle that took place seemed an impossibility.
Unexpected vistas had suddenly opened before her and opinions varied. Some people attached the greater importance to national unity, that could come only through the victory of Russia; others thought that the main problem was to insure the existence of an independent Poland and that the reconstitution of her unity would be the work of the future. Some counted upon a Russian victory and believed the manifestos of the Grand Duke Nicolas and Russia's promises, confirmed by the Western powers. Others accepted Austria's word; she had always treated them well and Poles had considerable influence in her government.
Far from harming the country, this diversity of opinion was to her advantage. The belligerents vied with each other, in words if not in deeds, to prevent the Polish people from coming under the influence of their enemies.
But circumstances alone cannot prevail; man must interpret them. In her hour of need, Poland was able to produce three men, of different origin, training, and temperament, but of equal patriotism, all three of whom played an important part in her renaissance: a soldier, Pilsudski; an artist, Paderewski; a politician, Dmowski.
There is a slight exaggeration in referring to Marshal Pilsudski as a soldier, for in the beginning he was only incidentally a soldier.
By profession Pilsudski is a revolutionary. During his youth he prepared the revolution and at a riper age he carried it out. While still at school, he and some friends founded a secret center for national studies. As a medical student he took part in some demonstrations organized by his friends and was expelled from the University. He was then sentenced to five years exile in Siberia for being concerned in a plot against the life of the Tsar. In 1892 he set up a clandestine printing press and from 1894 on published a paper. He married but the Russian police were continually on his heels, and the married couple were unable to live together. He was ultimately arrested and on May 13th, 1901, managed to escape from prison in Warsaw.
He went to live in London and then in Cracow. But he often crossed the frontier under false names and in various disguises and kept in close contact with the Polish Socialist party in Russia. In spite of his noble origin, Pilsudski was always convinced that the working classes alone were sufficiently fired by revolutionary zeal to rise one day against the oppressor. There had never been for Pilsudski before the War any enemy but Russia, or any weapon but armed revolution.
His people did not understand him. They had paid too dearly in the disastrous experiences of 1830 and 1867; there had been too much bloodshed; they would not face a repetition. How look to arms to free the country in a Europe of apparently fixed frontiers and against the three most powerful empires on the continent!
Pilsudski held fast to his idea. During the Russo-Japanese War, he organized the riots in Warsaw to hinder recruiting. He then went to Japan and proposed that she should arm the Polish people and attack Russia on her western frontiers. At Tokio, he came into conflict with Roman Dmowski, who from that moment became his most bitter enemy. Dmowski, skilled as he was in diplomatic methods, did not believe in revolution, and, in view of these two contrary opinions, the Japanese government hesitated and the idea was dropped.
After this failure, Pilsudski returned to Europe and it was only then, at the age of forty-one, that he discovered his military gifts. His great achievement was to foresee the War and to prepare for it. In 1908 he founded an organization, in Austria, whose aim was to attract young Poles from Russia and give them military training. In 1910, these organizations were made public and received support in Austro-Hungarian military circles. In 1912, Pilsudski founded a war treasury to cover the expenses of a national army, should occasion arise.
The War broke out too soon for Pilsudski. His organizations were still in the initial stages; enthusiasm was great but there was a lack of money, arms, munitions and of a list of officers. He had to negotiate with the leaders of the Austro-Hungarian army, who were mistrustful. The Poles in Russia were unfavorable, trusting rather in a Russian victory.
Pilsudski, with his indomitable will, overcame all these obstacles, organized two Polish legions and fought as a colonel on the side of Austria-Hungary. He took part in numerous battles; although he had, till then, never had the right to an official uniform, he proved himself to be a brilliant soldier, and in 1916 covered the Austro-Hungarian retreat before the victorious offensive of General Broussilof.
Suddenly at this decisive moment, in his own life and that of the Polish nation, the strength of will and political genius of the leader of the legions became apparent. The Germans had taken Warsaw, the Russian army was in retreat, and any other man would have thought that this was the moment to make terms with the conqueror. To Pilsudski these events suggested the contrary; since Russia was no longer to be feared, Germany must be opposed. Then for the first time there dawned for the Polish nation the possibility that her great hope, the simultaneous defeat of the three empires, might be realized.
Pilsudski had succeeded, as time went on, in transforming the Polish legions into a first class military weapon but had no hesitation in breaking this weapon in his hand. Germany had proclaimed Polish independence and had constituted a Polish government. She required only in return that she might raise troops in Poland and that the Polish army should take an oath declaring brotherhood in arms with the German and Austrian armies. Pilsudski and five thousand legionaries with him, refused to take this oath. He was arrested and imprisoned in Magdeburg.
He had now proven his patriotism and his courage. Should Germany be beaten, he would automatically become the leader of the country, the only man capable of controlling its many parties and divisions.
So it was. The revolution in Germany threw open the doors of the Magdeburg prison. Pilsudski returned immediately to Warsaw, where on November 10th, l918, the Regency Council, set up by the Germans, placed the power in his hands.
Thus Pilsudski found himself master and sovereign of a restored Poland, more than that, dictator, and still more, the idol of his people. But there was nothing to support him, neither government, staff, money nor army. The people were starving, the country was in a state of devastation, overrun by the Germans, who were retreating in disorder, in fear of the Bolshevists, perhaps in greater fear of the prisoners of war who were set free, destitute, on the frontier. Pilsudski now took a bold line of action. He was everywhere. He forced the Germans to evacuate Warsaw, by leading them to believe that he had an army. He organized one almost from nothing, created a government, and, in January, 1919, instituted universal suffrage and summoned the electors---this in a country that was despoiled of everything and that had not been free for one hundred and thirty years. The state came into being.
But notwithstanding his authority and prestige, Pilsudski would have been unable to carry out this gigantic task alone. One essential condition was lacking, credit with the Allies who in Paris were to settle the frontiers of restored Poland.
At this moment he had the good fortune to meet a man, Paderewski, with a world-wide reputation, who was on intimate terms with several of the leading European and American statesmen. In spite of widely divergent opinions and methods, Pilsudski understood him and made him President of the Council and Polish representative in Paris.
Paderewski was not destined for politics: Providence had intended him to be an artist and a poet.
In common with Pilsudski and Dmowski, Paderewski was one of the 1860 generation. He was born at the time of the last great Polish rising, had grown up in the memory of that tragedy, his whole youth colored by its consequences.
He was brought up in the country by his mother, who had musical tastes, and his genius soon showed itself. Misfortune developed his gifts; his mother's death and the imprisonment of his father, who had taken part in the great revolt of 1863, left him to his artistic pursuits. At the age of five he began to show evidence of astonishing gifts and, entering the Warsaw conservatory when very young, amazed his teachers by his ability.
Most artists believe in themselves; one day, at the age of seventeen, without telling any one, he left Warsaw with a friend to give concerts in Russia. He had many disappointments and few successes and returned, at the end of a year, a wiser man. He then resumed his studies and completed them in Vienna, where in 1887 he had his first great success, at the age of twenty-seven. In one night, Paderewski became a European celebrity. He went to America where he achieved untold success. He traveled all over the world and was fêted everywhere. He had only to win the appreciation of his own countrymen, but he hesitated a long time. He made the attempt in 1899 and was received by his native town with wild ovations.
From that moment he reëstablished close relations with his people. His opera, "Manrou," given at Lwow in 1901, is of a particularly national character and his symphony in A minor, first given in Boston in 1908, was regarded as the musical expression of the Polish spirit at the time of the 1905 revolt.
Until then Paderewski had taken no part in politics. An ardent patriot, in common with every one of his nation, he had nevertheless not been involved in any manifestation. Circumstances and not his own tastes made him a kind of national hero.
A subdued country, such as Poland then was, and, moreover, divided among several powers, naturally turns to what will unite and glorify it and give evidence of its vitality and civilization. Paderewski did all this, and thus had the whole of Poland at his feet. Already in his lifetime he became the symbol of national greatness.
In 1910, upon the occasion of the fifth centenary of the Battle of Grunwald, in which the Poles were victorious over the Knights of the Teutonic Order, Paderewski offered the town of Cracow a monument of Ladislas Jagellon; he then made his first and last political speech before the War.
1914 found Paderewski in Switzerland, where together with the great author, Henry Sienkiewiecz, he founded the "Polish War Victims Committee." In 1916 he was present at the meeting of the Polish National Committee and his political career dates from this moment.
The Polish National Committee had been founded at Warsaw by Roman Dmowski immediately after war was declared. "When attacked by two robbers," said Dmowski, "one deals with the more dangerous first." To him this meant Germany, and he believed that Russia would restore the unity of Poland.
He soon found that his confidence was misplaced. The Russian government had no serious intention of keeping the generous promises made by the Grand Duke Nicholas. Dmowski and his friends decided to approach the Western powers behind the back of the Russian government. Thus in 1916, the National Committee created diplomatic posts in the various countries and asked Paderewski to represent Poland in the United States.
Paderewski had great influence in the United States, on account of his reputation, his genius and his charm. He gave a triumphal series of concerts in aid of Polish war work, and his negotiations with the President and Colonel House in Washington were decisive. The Colonel and Paderewski understood each other so well that the latter once wrote to House saying, "It has always been the ambition of my life to find the one man my country needs. My ambition has been realized."
Poland demanded three things: recognition of the international importance of the Polish question, independence and unity. Russia was only explicit with regard to the third, she was absolutely negative with regard to the first and vague concerning the second. In order to avoid offending the Russian government, her allies were obliged, until the Revolution, to maintain a noncommittal attitude to the Polish question. In their reply to President Wilson, at the beginning of 1917, they still appeared to regard the matter as a purely Russian question. Paderewski succeeded in convincing the President that this was not the case, and President Wilson's declaration of January 23rd, 1917, was the first international act to give complete satisfaction to the Polish people. It aroused sympathy in the whole of Poland, and the entry of the United States into the War was celebrated in Warsaw, under the eyes of the Germans, as a national fête.
After the intervention of the United States and the Russian Revolution, the Allies felt themselves freer with regard to Poland. Dmowski then obtained a promise from Balfour that the Allies would not settle any question concerning Poland in the absence of her representatives. On March 3rd, 1918, in the fourth year of the War and long after President Wilson's famous message, the Allies declared "that a united and free Poland with access to the sea is essential to the lasting peace of Europe."
Immediately the Armistice was declared, Paderewski returned. He landed at Danzig and went straight to Posen. He was received in triumph. The town rose at his bidding, together with all German Poland. From there he went to Warsaw, where he arrived during the last days of 1918, in the double glory of artist and deliverer. On January 16th, 1919, the head of the state, Pilsudski, put him into power, as being the one man who could gain the sympathy and confidence of the Allies for restored Poland.
It was fortunate for Poland that besides Dmowski, who was fiercely passionate, Paderewski should have been present at the Peace Conference; with his charm and moderation he was able to exert a soothing influence and remove many difficulties.
Dmowski had rendered great service to Poland during the War. At a time when the Allies might have been inclined to confuse Poland with the central empires, he made himself responsible for her attitude. At home, he prevented any unanimity for an understanding with Germany. Abroad, as an unofficial ambassador, he successfully demonstrated the absence of any such unanimity. While certain Polish troops were fighting in the Austrian ranks, Dmowski, in the face of countless difficulties, organized a Polish army on the western front.
It is impossible to overestimate the service he thus rendered his country. It is no exaggeration to say that he saved her; for had the Allies been able to believe, even wrongly, that Poland identified herself with the Austro-Germans, there would have been, after the victory, no traditions, reasons or principles strong enough to save her from oblivion and ruin.
But Dmowski, the patriot, was also a party leader, and this caused him to make serious mistakes with regard to his country's interests. He thought that in order to maintain his position in the party, he must return to Warsaw with "his hands full." This explains his line of action at the Peace Conference, where he continually urged Poland's maximum claims. His fundamental mistake lay in paying insufficient attention to principles, justice, the people's right of determination, caution and the future. That was all nonsense! His idea was European equilibrium; since Russia had disappeared, Poland should take her place as France's ally in order to counterbalance Germany.
If she was to play such a part, Poland must be strong, that is to say, great. He thought in terms of soldiers. It was useless to explain to him that size and strength are not synonymous but frequently contradictory, and that as Poland increased in size her strength would diminish, for she would then find herself surrounded by enemies and troubled by racial differences and irredentism. Dmowski was never able to understand this point of view and did not hesitate to burden his country with the terrible weight of a five-fold, Russian, Ukrainian, Lithuanian, German and Czech, irredentism.
His ideas pleased France, for they suited her purpose at the moment. But they offended England; Dmowski and Lloyd George disliked each other, and the latter's sudden change of front, in the spring of 1919, which cost Poland Danzig and part of Upper Silesia, was doubtless not unconnected with a letter written by Dmowski concerning the English Prime Minister, the contents of which were public knowledge at the Conference.
Paderewski's chief task at the Conference, in virtue of his great authority and his friendship with Wilson, Clémenceau, Lloyd George, Poincaré, and Venezelos, was to smooth out these differences. More moderate in his claims than Dmowski, more amenable in his negotiations, and more influential in Warsaw, he facilitated the work of the Conference and profoundly influenced the final reconstitution of his country's frontiers.
Hardly reconstituted, Poland was faced with Bolshevism. Moscow realized that Poland formed the keystone of new Europe and an out-post for the West. Therefore the Bolshevists attacked the new state before she had had time to consolidate. Pilsudski, perhaps rashly, followed them into their own country. But armies are lost in Russian plains, as is well known since the time of Napoleon. The Bolshevists resumed the offensive and appeared outside Warsaw. Upon the point of taking the town, they suddenly withdrew. Who performed this second miracle of the Marne, on the Vistula? The French, who were on a military mission there, thought that it was they, but the Poles thought that it was the head of the state, the man they had named "The Marshal"; and this fresh victory further increased his popularity, prestige and authority.
Pilsudski came of a line of princes but his life had been that of a revolutionary; in the organization of the state he showed himself to be both shrewd and calculating. He can be cold, even icy, and there are classic examples of his pride, but he can be charming when he chooses and can use his charm to advantage. He is a true leader by reason of the fascination he exerts over all those who come into touch with him.
A soldier is rarely a politician, but Pilsudski is perhaps a greater politician than soldier. His views on the frontier question were more moderate and reasonable than those of the majority of his compatriots, and had they prevailed in Paris, eastern Europe would have been assured of a well-founded and lasting peace.
After his triumph, Pilsudski could have made of Poland what he chose; she was at his feet. He quietly retired. For four years he left the country to itself, a prey to parliamentarism and fierce party warfare.
But in May, 1926, with his customary energy, he suddenly returned. Supported by the army who adored him, he again took power. It might be supposed that, this time at least, he would play the part of dictator. On the contrary, be refused all offers of office and took his place---in fact the first---in the ranks.
What an enigmatic figure the man presents!---a socialist and a militarist, democratic and imperious, continually seeking power and refusing to exercise it, governing against his will, a man whose actions can never be foretold and who has already been justified by history on two or three occasions contrary to the best reasoned forecasts.
IN NO COUNTRY BUT ENGLAND WOULD MR. LLOYD GEORGE have been any phenomenon at all. The extraordinary thing is that, with all his qualities and all his faults, he should have succeeded in winning over the very nation which was least calculated to appreciate either.
One of the doctrines which the Englishman holds most tenaciously is that character counts for more than brains. So much is this an article of the nation's faith that it instinctively looks with suspicion upon any man who is too clever. Clever men, apparently, can never be entirely honest, and the Englishman prefers men he can trust to those whom he can merely admire.
Nevertheless, once or twice in a hundred years, the English fall under the spell of an adventurer. When that happens they cast to the wind their caution and their prejudices, and hand over their destinies to men whose origin, outlook, and character would at any other time count against them.
In the nineteenth century there was Disraeli, the young Jew who, after a chequered career, finished up as a Conservative statesman and became the confidential adviser of Queen Victoria. It is easy to find among their many points of difference a certain resemblance between Disraeli---that "incredible creature," to use the words of Mr. Asquith---and Lloyd George. By origin both were strangers to the true British tradition: they both established their power by their eloquence; and the means by which each of them at once disquieted and beguiled his contemporaries were exactly the same.
An Englishman once said: "If you were to ask me who is the greatest living Englishman, I should have to admit that it is probably a Scotchman who was born in Ireland."
This paradox applies in a sense to Mr. Lloyd George who, although born in Manchester, is pure Welsh. He was brought up in Wales by an uncle who combined village cobbling with Baptist preaching. His mother tongue is not English but Welsh: his religion is not that of the established Church but of a nonconformist denomination---the Disciples of Christ. At bottom he is a stranger to the deep-rooted traditions of England, and this explains his revolutionary attitude to them in his youth.
Mr. Lloyd George has advanced to fame by several stages, and each stage has been a conflict with established authority. First of all he acquired a certain local notoriety by defending the small tenants against the great landowners; then he had the whole of Wales at his feet when he preached the disestablishment of the Church of England, and put his perfervid eloquence at the service of a cause which was near the hearts of all his co-religionists. His next step was to leave his little country for England and there, in Birmingham, the stronghold of Joe Chamberlain, to denounce the Boer War. Finally, he made a really national reputation by his Radical Budget in 1909, by his new taxation and his campaign against the landlords.
Mr. Lloyd George is a small town man, almost a village man, and the wrongs of the agricultural laborer have always made a stronger appeal to him than those of the industrial worker. His campaigns against the great landed proprietors were the most sincere of his whole career, and it was the same enemy that he was attacking in his denunciation of the House of Lords.
He made his name, therefore, by the radicalism of his religious, pacifist, and social policy.
When the War broke out, there was nothing in Mr. Lloyd George's past to indicate that he was destined to play a predominant rôle. It was even a matter of conjecture which side his temperament would lead him to take. Would his mysticism and his inherent pacifism get the upper hand! Apparently he was subjected to some heart searching towards the end of July, 1914, for, after having first of all advocated immediate intervention on the side of France, he was soon as Chancellor of the Exchequer hard pressed by the great City financiers.
It was his influence over the Cabinet that delayed the supreme decision for a day or two. He was on the point of resigning with his colleagues Lord Morley and John Burns, and it was only after the German invasion of Belgium and the patriotic exhortations of Mr. Asquith that he succeeded eventually in overcoming his moral and financial scruples.
But once the Rubicon was crossed the one-time pacifist showed that he had in him all the essential qualities of a great war minister and, in particular, vision and driving force.
A nation that goes to war must be prepared for innovations. It must create, improvize, face unexpected situations, calculate what the enemy will do. A stiff test for the English this, for in general they are not blessed with over-much imagination, and the foundation of their politics is respect for tradition, that is, for what has been done and demonstrated already.
Mr. Lloyd George is a Welshman, that is to say, a Celt, and a man of imagination. He has never had any respect for tradition, still less for routine. His marvelously adaptable mind enables him to cope with any new situation; he is never nonplussed by a sudden turn of events.
In time of war imagination is useless without decision, and decisiveness is a quality that Mr. Lloyd George possesses in a considerable and often alarming degree.
There is no question on which he cannot give a definite decision in ten minutes.
Indecision is often the result of a philosophical training. The habit of weighing the pros and cons of everything, the type of mind that tries to see the good in the bad, the advantages in the disadvantages---these are apt to paralyze the will. Mr. Lloyd George is completely devoid of any such training and even, if report can be believed, of any intellectual training at all, and that is what enables him to find an immediate solution for the most difficult problems, without having an inkling of their theoretical difficulty.
It was these qualities and these defects which at the beginning of the War made Mr. Lloyd George an excellent Minister of Munitions and later a great War Minister---after a German mine had delivered him from his rival for popular favor, Lord Kitchener. His work in these highly technical departments earned the respect and admiration of all who knew it.
But what could he do alone against ten men? The other departments had not been brought within his ambit. They continued their daily round as though there were no war. There was no driving force, for Mr. Asquith was too scrupulous and too gentlemanly to be equal to all the tasks that war entails.
Mr. Lloyd George had no use for such inopportune scruples, for he saw that they might well bring disaster on the country. Many a time he threatened to resign in order to carry some point that seemed to him of pressing importance. He never did in fact resign, but the day came in December, 1916, when he put his threat into execution. But it was Mr. Asquith who resigned, and Mr. Lloyd George succeeded him.
Such an act was unparalleled either in personal or national relations. Never before had any British government been overthrown or formed in such a fashion. Never before had one man opposed his will to that of Parliament and the King. It was a veritable revolution.
Mr. Lloyd George owed everything to Mr. Asquith. It was he who had taken the little Welsh politician and made him Chancellor of the Exchequer. It was he who had forced this troublesome agitator on his colleagues and handed over to him the financial destinies of Britain. It was he who in 1909 allowed him to bring in an almost revolutionary Budget and supported him in his crusade against the noble Lords. In 1914 he saved him from the scandal of the Marconi affair, and it was he who made him Minister of Munitions and had put him in the way of acquiring the prestige that he was now employing against his chief.
In a country where fair play is the sign of moral nobility and the hall-mark of a gentleman, such disloyalty is a blot on any man's reputation, and even at the height of his power Mr. Lloyd George never completely wiped it out.
Yet how could he have acted otherwise? Was he to put his personal scruples above the national good? In the life of every politician there are times when he has to face his conscience. To condemn or to absolve Mr. Lloyd George we must penetrate into his innermost heart and see whether the betrayal of his chief caused him pain or merely satisfied his personal ambitions. God alone can judge.
This much is certain, that the advent to power of Mr. Lloyd George marked a turning point in the history of the War and the British Constitution.
The name that was often given to Mr. Lloyd George at the height of his power was "Prime Minister of Europe." Of all the men who wielded an influence over the destinies of the world during the War he was surely the most attractive, the most individual, the most self-willed, the most daring.
In four months he had brought about a two-fold revolution in Britain. His régime, based on the extraordinary powers given him by the Defense of the Realm Act, was in fact that of an absolute dictator. He changed the venerable foundations of British parliamentary life by concentrating all the executive power in the hands of a few and by making the Cabinet in point of fact a mere council of officials. He threw overboard the doctrine of collective ministerial responsibility, for he had eighty-three ministers and confined responsibility to the members of the War Cabinet. Finally he struck a heavy blow at the constitution by bringing about those far-reaching reforms without going to the country.
Mr. Lloyd George went even further. Not only did he change the political basis of the government; he even made changes in the country itself. He invited the Dominion Premiers to collaborate with the British Cabinet and turned Great Britain into a federal state for the purposes of defense. Every change within the empire which has taken place since the settlement of the Irish question, the development of the Egyptian problem, the constitutional evolution of India, the independence of the Dominions as regards foreign policy---all these were latent in his reforms of 1917, which were themselves the logical outcome of the participation of all the British peoples in the War.
Mr. Lloyd George's advent to power made no less an impression in the realm of military operations. The great merit of the British Prime Minister was that he knew when to dispense with the advice of his military advisers. Indeed he had already formed a bad opinion of them. From the very creation of the new army in 1915 its generals had two obsessions, firstly, to take no orders from the French, and, secondly, to win an immediate victory. They all wanted to be Wellingtons, to conquer on the fields of Flanders, and to be beholden to nobody---a laudable ambition if the English generals had had the necessary means of attaining it. Unfortunately they had not. The English military chiefs were opposed to the Salonika front, opposed to the Italian front, opposed to all that was outside their own little war. In that respect they were no different from all the other military chiefs, and the only thing that made for possible agreement and that unity of command which was essential to victory was the imperious intervention of statesmen like Clémenceau and Lloyd George.
The favorable results of the 1916 campaign that culminated in the German retreat robbed this rivalry of its bitterness, for victorious generals are safe from criticism. But the year 1917 had less fortunate results, and opinion in Britain deeply resented the failures at Cambrai and in Flanders. The story goes that when Field-Marshal Sir Douglas Haig said to Mr. Lloyd George, "To-morrow I shall take Passchendaele," the Prime Minister retorted sharply, "You take one village and we lose Serbia. You take another and we lose Rumania. I've had enough of your villages!"
This unspoken rivalry and these defeats coincided with the advent to power in France of M. Clémenceau, who had set his heart on unity of command. Just as Lloyd George had been the only English statesman to comprehend the usefulness of the Salonika expedition and accordingly to give in to M. Briand on this point, so he gradually came to share M. Clémenceau's views on the need for unity of command. It could not be brought about in a day. There was powerful opposition to be overcome in London, but Mr. Lloyd George, when entreated first at Rapallo and then at Versailles to sacrifice some small portion of the autonomy of the British command, took it upon himself to consent. Thus, little by little, he paved the way for the Doullens decision after the great disaster of the spring of 1918 to empower General Foch to "coördinate" the work of the Allied armies.
This decision, to which Marshal Haig himself agreed under pressure of circumstances, marked at once the most tragic hour of the War and the culminating achievement of Mr. Lloyd George's career. For from that moment the tide of war had turned and victory smiled on the Allied armies. Six months later Germany collapsed.
It must be said in justice to Mr. Lloyd George that he had been a great war minister, energetic, intelligent, capable of initiative and decision, forceful and farseeing. But, after bestowing upon him this well-merited praise, we must add that these same qualities were not manifest in his peace policy or at least they were neutralized by defects that had not been brought to light during the War.
His great mistake after the victory was that he was too clever. He was out to consolidate his success immediately. Just a few days after the Armistice he advised the King to dissolve the House of Commons (which had long outlived its constitutional duration) and embarked upon the election campaign which was to crown his triumph.
But it was only an ephemeral and specious victory. Mr. Lloyd George succeeded in crushing his opponents and preventing the reëlection of his former chief, Mr. Asquith. But it was a success which marked a serious defeat, for the majority which had been returned was almost exclusively composed of his former adversaries, and the Liberal Party was decimated. From that moment he found himself in the peculiar position of being the Radical head of a parliamentary majority that was Conservative. The mandate given him by the country was one of reaction at home and uncompromising enmity to Germany. The former pacifist and enemy of the Church of England, the landed proprietors and the Lords, was now head of all that was most feudal, conservative, and nationalist.
Mr. Lloyd George, however, in his heart of hearts had not changed and he found himself involuntarily, perhaps even unconsciously, being put in a false position in regard to Europe, his own country, and his Parliamentary majority. It was then that his gravest defect disclosed itself, his lack of sincerity and loyalty, and his unreliability.
Mr. Lloyd George has the reputation of being a brave man. Certainly he does not lack physical courage. He has faced howling hostile mobs even to the extent of provoking his adversaries. But, contrary to the prevalent impression, physical and moral courage are two quite distinct qualities. Mr. Lloyd George possesses the one but not the other. In his youth it needed no moral courage to preach against the landlords and the Church of England, for that was what his Baptist friends and his Welsh electors desired, but later in his career, when he did need moral courage, he was found wanting. That is why he had been called a mere demagogue. His life is a tale of one change of front after another.
He has thrown over in succession all the ideas and all the causes which he had previously held most dear. During the War he postponed the carrying out of the Welsh disestablishment for which he had struggled so long, he suspended the Land Tax which had been his political platform, and in the end he brought in Protection, which had always previously roused his bitter opposition. As regards Ireland too, he had pursued conflicting policies---he would be for Home Rule, then for federalism, then throw over both, employ both force and generosity in turn. He has made promises to everybody and kept them to none, failed both his adversaries and his friends, every party and every country.
There are many inconsistent people in this world, but there are very few who are so inconsistent as to forget what they have said and then attack and denounce it as absurd and indefensible. Mr. Lloyd George has often been guilty of this and it is doubtless that fact which gives rise to the opinion of those who know him that he lies as easily as he breathes. No doubt that view is too severe. He does not lie, he generally believes what he says, but he quickly forgets what he has said and quite easily believes the opposite. He is sincere by fits and starts. That is the most astounding trait in the character of this man whose Baptist upbringing might have been expected to save him from it.
This lack of principle which Mr. Lloyd George counts as a weapon in his armor proved to be a weakness at the Peace Conference. If he had played his part well he should have dominated the Conference, for he had the advantage over his colleagues of being disinterested. He had been clever enough to obtain in advance all England's war aims---the seizing of the German colonies and the German fleet; he therefore came to the Conference in the favorable position of being able to give everything and ask for nothing.
France expected much from the Peace, Italy even more, and England nothing. Besides, unlike President Wilson, Mr. Lloyd George was committed to no preconceived solution. He was in an ideal position to be the arbiter of his colleagues and the means of making justice triumphant.
He had also the advantage over the other delegates of certain natural gifts. He was younger than M. Clémenceau, more adaptable than President Wilson, and he possessed an extraordinary nimble mind, great ingenuity, an inexhaustible fund of formulæ and extraordinary intuition.
Mr. J. M. Keynes has said of Mr. Lloyd George that he had an "unerring, almost medium-like sensibility to every one immediately around him." He describes him at the Peace Conference "watching the company with six or seven senses not available to ordinary men, judging character, motive and subconscious impulse, perceiving what each was thinking and even what each was going to say next and compounding with telepathic instinct the argument or appeal best suited to the vanity, weakness or self-interest of his immediate auditor . . . " In that respect Mr. Lloyd George is very like M. Briand, to whom he has often been compared. Both of them detest reading and are only receptive to the spoken word. Both have a very highly developed psychological sense and a boundless flair for political opportunism.
How came it then that with gifts so rare and so fitting to the occasion Mr. Lloyd George did not exert at the Peace Conference the decisive influence which might have been expected? There were three explanations: his ignorance, his lack of principle, and his election promises.
First, his ignorance. There was a saying which went the rounds of Paris about the British delegation: "Mr. Balfour knows but does not care. Mr. Bonar Law cares but does not know. Mr. Lloyd George neither knows nor cares." And there was another: "Mr. Lloyd George is capable of more than he knows, but unfortunately he knows nothing." That is the one point in which he has respected the old British traditions! A century ago at the Congress of Vienna, Lord Castlereagh asked where Leipzig---the place where the decisive battle in the Napoleonic Wars had been fought the year before--was to be found. In the same way at the Peace Conference, Mr. Lloyd George with a yawn leaned over to M. Bratiano and said: "You were speaking about Transylvania---Show me it on the map." The map was spread out on the floor of President Wilson's study, where the Supreme Council was meeting, and Mr. Lloyd George was soon down on all fours searching for Transylvania with his finger.
What Mr. Lloyd George lacked, throughout his long career, was not the opportunity of learning but the ability to make use of it. His general education was not such that he could retain what he heard and still less what he read. So it was that he arrived at a fairly advanced age utterly ignorant not only of geography but also of many other things that he should have known.
More serious still than absence of knowledge is absence of principles. Mr. Lloyd George is reputed to have said at the Peace Conference: "What am I to do between a man who thinks he is Jesus Christ and another who thinks he is Napoleon!" There was an implied confession in this pleasantry. Between two men with principles, Mr. Lloyd George had none. He believed that the greatest Peace in history could be fashioned with little instruments. He believed that by creating dissension among his colleagues he could achieve his ends. He tried first of all to come to an understanding with President Wilson over the head of M. Clémenceau. At the end of a meeting, when M. Clémenceau was tired, he would bring forward all the proposals he had set his heart on and get them passed. Then when President Wilson was away he tried to reconsider their joint work in secret with his French colleague and confront the President on his return with a fait accompli. The natural outcome of these methods was that every one grew tired of him.
This opportunism was the more serious because of his election promises. During his election campaign, carried away by his own demagogic fervor and his love for oratorical slogans, he had promised England two things---that the Kaiser should be hanged and that Germany would pay the whole cost of the war. The first of these was absurd. The second was not only equally absurd, but contrary to the pledge given to Germany at the Armistice. Lloyd George was therefore forced to argue that the Allies were not bound by these pledges. "I am making war not peace," he had said of his speech of January 5th, 1918, regarding the Allies' conditions of peace. He strayed from the straight path of loyalty to the vanquished and espoused the cause of those who hoped to exploit victory.
So it came about that during the first part of the Peace Conference his constant anxiety was to draw President Wilson from his stand on principles by offering him a formula which respected them in appearance but violated them in fact.
Yet even that did not really satisfy him. He had too keen a sense of realities and of political opportunism not to see the dangers of a peace which humiliated Germany without weakening her.
Further, Mr. Lloyd George, with one eye to his parliamentary majority, had the other on the evolution of his country. He was conscious of growing discontent, and foresaw the time when another election would bring in a Labor majority in the House of Commons. Would he then be able to remain in power? Finally, events in Russia and Germany caused him increasing anxiety. The fear of Bolshevism was at that time the determining motive behind his actions.
During the Conference, Mr. Lloyd George had looked at the chapters of the Peace Treaty separately one by one. When he saw them in their entirety, however, the result appalled him. He had a sudden revulsion of feeling, and in twenty-four hours began to preach with his usual fervor the opposite of the policy he had previously advocated. The result was that the French, the Tories, President Wilson and the Liberals all felt they had been betrayed. He had at last succeeded in making simultaneous enemies of everybody.
He came home from the Peace Conference with a reputation not enhanced but diminished. He might have saved his prestige by immediate resignation but he had acquired a taste for power and therefore wished to continue the Coalition. That was his mistake. What is good in war is not necessarily good in peace. A coalition is repugnant to the political sense of the English because it prevents the normal functioning of its parliamentary system.
Repudiated by his own party, Mr. Lloyd George slipped into a growing dependence on the Conservatives, who formed the greater part of his majority and whose confidence he had not yet won. He was between two stools.
He made many mistakes then, both in home and foreign policy. The greatest of these was the ill-fated Asia Minor expedition in which he engaged the Greeks without exerting himself to help them. The defeat of the Greek army was a serious blow to the prestige of England, and the Dominions in particular never forgot it.
But, as often happens, Mr. Lloyd George owed his fall less to his mistakes than to efforts which were in themselves praiseworthy. At Genoa he attempted to hasten the economic reconstruction of Europe, but failed. The Conservatives reproached him above all with his liberal policy toward Egypt on the one hand and Ireland on the other. At bottom Mr. Lloyd George is profoundly anti-Catholic and has never approved of Irish demands. First and foremost a Welshman, he was a supporter not of Home Rule but of a federation of the British empire. In any case he was not long in seeing that the policy of repression into which his Tory supporters had involved him could come to no good end. It is impossible to destroy national feeling by force. In Egypt, as in Ireland, he saw that the only wise policy for the empire was generosity. His final error was to carry out a liberal policy on a reactionary majority.
His attitude since his fall has not been such as would find him friends. He has attacked the Peace Treaty which was his work and has denounced his own policy when it has been carried out by his successors. But in politics a man can never be said to be finished, and there is nothing to show that Mr. Lloyd George will not return to power one day.
Recently he was talking on the staircase of Buckingham Palace with Lord Birkenhead and Mr. Winston Churchill. The Prime Minister, Mr. Baldwin, happened to pass and as he saw them he turned to his companion and remarked, not without bitterness: "There go the heads of the next Coalition."
THE FUNDAMENTAL CHARACTERISTIC OF M. CLÉMENCEAU is pessimism. He has contempt of mankind ingrained in his heart. His career has consisted in fighting against everything around him, because everything has seemed to him all wrong. His philosophy---for M. Clémenceau is a thinker and a philosopher---is one of deep discouragement. His essential atheism is a form of pessimism. His wit and his witticisms---those hard, caustic, terrible epigrams of his which never make you laugh but which make you rather want to weep---are inspired also by the idea that at bottom men are profoundly bad.
M. Clémenceau knows all this and boasts of it. Ask him why he does not write his memories and he will answer you: "Because I should demolish too many people!" He refuses to attend a sitting of the French Academy of which he is a member, because, he says: "I should be too hard!"
The people have instinctively likened him to a beast of prey---"the Tiger." He tears to pieces and devours. This nickname in some sort became classic when it was cited in connection with the honorary degree of Doctor conferred upon M. Clémenceau by the University of Oxford; the former President of the French Council was alluded to on this occasion as "tigrem gallicum." The phrase will stamp him permanently as a man in whose eyes the world is uniformly wicked.
The career of M. Clémenceau, which has extended over sixty years, has been consecrated to criticism, to negation and to destruction, down to the evening of his days. This has been made a matter of reproach to him, perhaps unjustly. It is not absolutely M. Clémenceau's fault if in the course of forty years of political life no President of the Republic wished to intrust him with power, or if no President of the Council dared to take him into his cabinet. When he was permitted to give the measure of his abilities, the experiment proved a success. But it is an historic fact that M. Clémenceau. during the greater part of his life was a man of the Opposition and only that.
M. Clémenceau scorned all the ministers who succeeded each other in office. He regarded them all as incapable and attributed the worst intentions to all of them. He did not even spare his own ministerial colleagues. Not to speak of M. Pichon, whom he treated always as a faithful dog---to which one is attached but to which one does not spare the whip---he terrorized his other associates. At the Peace Conference, he allowed his ministers and his "experts" to speak but not seldom he threw them over roughly without even troubling to save their face.
At bottom, M. Clémenceau has believed, throughout his entire career, in only one person---himself. This it is that explains the remark, naïve even in a man arrived at the very summit of fame, which he made on the evening of his defeat in the election of the President of the Republic in 1920: "So much the better for my family, so much the worse for my country!"
At the moment of the outbreak of the War, which he had foreseen as he has foreseen everything at all sad and unpleasant in this base world, M. Clémenceau was seventy-three years old and was living almost in retirement. Immediately, his fighting temperament asserted itself. At first he anticipated a catastrophe. The statesmen, like the generals, seemed to him incapable of winning victory. Before every Allied offensive, he predicted failure; before every German offensive, success. At the moment of the Salonika expedition, he declared publicly that it was an abominable act of madness which would end in disaster: he almost wished for a disaster in order to secure a change of government. At the moment of Verdun, he said: "Verdun may fall, provided Chantilly (1) falls with it!" He had his own cabinet ready to step upon the stage. At bottom, M. Clémenceau's attitude towards the army of M. Briand and General Joffre was the same as that of the Republicans of 1870 towards the army of Napoleon III.
He was constrained to accept the evidence. Verdun did not fall. But he was impatient. Things were not going quickly enough. Why could they not win victory at once!
M. Clémenceau continued to believe in the weakness of the ministers, the stupidity of the generals, the muddles and intrigues of every one. He began again to harass the government, he got himself elected president of the two most important commissions in the senate, the army commission and the commission of foreign affairs. He became a power in the state, the guardian of the secrets of national defense. Meanwhile he continued to be a journalist of the Opposition. Every morning he attacked the government in his paper and every evening in the senate.
In 1917, rumors of treason began to spread. M. Clémenceau's opportunity had come. He alone had always been sure of treason, he alone seemed to have the right temperament for its suppression.
M. Clémenceau's pessimism, it is noteworthy, has this peculiarity: it does not encourage him to remain inactive. "We must act!" he wrote once. "Action is the principle, action is the means, action is the end!" His life has been nothing but one long fight, one unceasing battle.
He made his début under the Second Empire by organizing some students' outbreaks in the streets of Paris. Under the Commune, in 1871, he became Mayor of Montmartre, but he was unable to prevent two generals from being murdered by insurgents. When order was reëstablished, he entered the National Assembly and soon became the leader of the most active section of the Extreme Left. It was in this capacity that he fought against all the governments which in succession held office during the next twenty years. In 1879, he turned out M. de Marcère; in 1881, the Ferry Ministry; in 1882, first that of Gambetta, then that of Freycinet; in 1885 he forced M. Ferry to resign in connection with an incident in Tong King, then M. Brisson; in December, 1886, he placed M. de Freycinet in a minority again; in 1887 he demolished M. Goblet. And so on to the end!
To the reproach that he had upset ten ministries M. Clémenceau's reply was: "You are mistaken. I have upset only one. It was always the same!"
He was not altogether wrong. France, under the Third Republic, has been ruled continually by a small number of men in a variety of combinations. But, none the less, M. Clémenceau was an element of disturbance and instability at a period when the Republic was in great need of consolidation.
Just as M. Clémenceau could see in all these successive ministries nothing but their incapacity, their feebleness, their lack of character, and their duplicity, so he has never wished to believe that politics could be an honest game. If he has been mixed in three great scandals of the Republic, Boulangism, the Panama Affair and the Affaire Dreyfus, now on one side, now on the other, that is because it was natural to him to assume venality and duplicity in others.
At the beginning a friend and partisan of General Boulanger, he demolished him brutally when the general seemed to want to free himself from him. Hardly out of that affair, in which he lost some feathers, M. Clémenceau found himself involved up to the neck, by his intimate relations with the Jewish financier Cornelius Herz, in the Affaire Panama. His political career seemed ruined in 1893 when his electors turned him out of his seat. But in France a politician is never dead until he is buried. The Dreyfus Affair, in which M. Clémenceau took, with violence and with talent, the part of right and innocence against the majority, against the people of position, and against the constituted authorities, won for him soon a triumphant return into the world of public affairs.
Old age approached. Although M. Clémenceau's temperament had been softened in no way, the fifteen years which followed were relatively calm. In 1906 he made an effort to emerge from mere negation and he succeeded in governing for a few years. His government was one of combat in the domains of politics, of social administration, and of religion, alike. After three years of contests, strikes and agitations, France wanted rest and it was M. Briand who gave it to her.
We must admit with regard to this pessimist and man of negation that on one point his system of thought has been neither negative nor pessimistic. No one has ever believed more than he in France; no one has been more constantly inspired by one single feeling---patriotism.
M. Clémenceau has remained all his life long the man he was in youth. He has maintained into advanced old age his youthful temperament. Now M. Clémenceau belongs to the generation of 1870, the generation which experienced defeat and which longed for revenge.
At the moment of the declaration of war in 1870, M. Clémenceau was in the United States, where he had gone to seek a refuge from the rigors of the Imperial régime. He returned in hot haste, just soon enough to witness the fall of Napoleon III. Unfortunately the change of régime was not enough, as the Republicans had hoped, to save France. Despite the prospect of irremediable ruin, Clémenceau was for resistance at all costs, for war to the bitter end; and it was this that made him one with the Commune. At the Assembly of Bordeaux he was of those who wished not to acquiesce in the cession of Alsace-Lorraine. Since then his whole life has been directed towards restoring his country's loss.
To political opponents who have accused him of lack of patriotism, M. Clémenceau has replied that he has ever had his eyes directed towards the Rhine. That is the truth. He has been inimical to all colonial adventures. He opposed the acquisition of Tunisia and that of Tong King; of Syria, he has remarked: "It is a land of curés---I don't give a curse for them!" He believed, with Bismarck, that if France acquired colonies, she would let herself be distracted from the Rhine.
He was, moreover, faithful in this respect to his English sympathies.
M. Clémenceau's foreign policy has been absolutely consistent throughout his career. It was directed, out of hate for Germany, on the side of England. M. Clémenceau, who had learned English in America, was in a position to maintain a personal relationship with British circles. At the period when the English friendship and the Russian alliance seemed for France incompatible, he never hesitated. He was the man for England---perhaps because it was not at that time the official policy of France.
This long fidelity stood M. Clémenceau in good stead in London and he benefited by it all through the War: it facilitated for him the settlement of certain questions, such as that of the unity of command. The English never suspected M. Clémenceau of ill-will. He himself liked to say that it was in this domain that he was in a position to render most service to his country. But towards the end of the War, these bonds became relaxed, and Mr. Lloyd George, who had no great liking for M. Clémenceau, ceased to feel in personal contact with him. M. Clémenceau's authority over the English evaporated at the very moment when it would have been most necessary for France. At the Peace Conference almost no trace of it was left.
A patriotism which was accentuated by adversity and by suspicion, the conviction that every man is capable of betraying his country for his own benefit, finally an active and combative disposition---such were the mingled qualities and defects which at the end of the eighteenth century produced the great men of the French Revolution---the Dantons, the Marats, the Robespierres. M. Clémenceau is of that race. A critic who is in no way unfriendly to him has been able to remark that M. Clémenceau's way of thinking belongs to "the philosophy of the demolishers of the eighteenth century." His atheism and his hatred of aristocrats connect him closely with the Jacobins, and it was not by mere chance that his hour arrived when the French nation found itself once again in the condition of mind of his great Revolutionary forerunners.
Under the exciting effects of the War, France experienced once again a revival of what used to be called ideology. She had the conviction that she was fighting for the Right, for Justice, and for Liberty, written in large letters; the immortal principles of 1789, which had been thought of as a little out of date, came back into high esteem. Revolutionary declamations were once again indulged in against tyrants---against those of Germany and Austria, naturally. During those winters, all the revues produced in Paris had their Revolutionary couplets. Revolutionary phraseology resumed its sway over the masses. Besides, this sudden war for which nothing was ready, neither the men, nor the armaments, nor the munitions, nor the money, recalled the campaigns of former days. Was not the fatherland once again in danger? Was not a rising en masse necessary to save her! "The crowd," wrote the State des Débats on July 14th, 1915, "which pressed in upon the progress of the coffin of Rouget de I'Isle (2) was on the same footing as that which acclaimed the volunteers of 1792. It was in unison with the thrilling figures of the Arc de Triomphe."
There are no revolutions without suspects. That is what, with his sure instinct, M. Clémenceau alone discovered. From the very beginning, he accustomed the people, by dint of pitiless criticism of all the authorities and of all their actions, to absorbing every morning a dose of poison. He continued to be at this juncture the man he had always been, the systematic decrier. Throughout three years he criticized everything that was done in France; his attacks were directed as much against positive undertakings as against omissions, and in regard to many things it could be asked whether, as a journalist, he possessed the sense of responsibility necessary to the president of the most important commissions of the Senate. There are useful and fruitful kinds of criticism, but it is difficult to reckon up what M. Clémenceau achieved in the course of those years and what he prevented.
M. Clémenceau has the gambler's temperament. He was a partisan of the offensive with all its risks and without troubling himself as to the means available. It was a blessing for France that he came to power at the moment when, thanks to the American intervention, the offensive had become possible. At an earlier date, it would have resulted in catastrophes.
"We ought to make an immediate offensive!" M. Clémenceau declared in 1915.
"And if it falls?"
"I am still capable of blowing myself up!"
He had no other conception of defeat!
If politics consisted of a distribution of prizes it might be asked whether M. Clémenceau deserved the honor of being called upon to save a situation which he had had a part in creating. But politics consist of the effort to bring about a result and an hour came when he seemed the indispensable man. M. Poincaré required generosity and self-abnegation to call to power the man who had lavished on him insults and attacks. But M. Poincaré understood that victory was perhaps to be won only at that price and he did not hesitate.
M. Clémenceau possesses qualities rare in the French Chamber. He has temperament, will, character. In a milieu in which the appetite for responsibilities is exceptional, he has a passion for them. He has been a man capable of every audacity---not of mere audacities of speech. France was tired of being governed by weak men, tired of seeing essential solutions postponed; she felt ill at ease, confronted with the scepticism of statesmen who were too intelligent to make up their minds and who could see the pro's and con's of every point of view.
It was to this malaise that M. Clémenceau owed his fortune. The country felt a craving for authority. It trusted to the man who had denounced the scandals to put an end to them and to the man who blamed the government for the slowness of the war to speed it up. The people who are apt to gauge the courage of a journalist by the vigor of his language were grateful to him for daring to say what many thought. He was pushed into power by the faults of his predecessors and of his adversaries.
"My formula," he declared, on taking office, "is the same in everything. Home politics? I make war. Foreign politics? I make war. I make war all the time. . . . And I shall continue until the last quarter of an hour, for it is we who shall have the last quarter of an hour!"
Until then, the war governments had maintained l'union sacrée. This phrase awoke no echo in M. Clémenceau, who is all conflict. He cannot govern in conjunction with everybody. He must absolutely be acting against somebody. He now proceeded to govern against the defeatists and the suspects, against all those who were not prepared to go on to the very end; he even tried to govern against the Socialists, but he soon gave up his attempt when he perceived that it endangered the production of war munitions. For if M. Clémenceau is a strong-willed and obstinate man he is not blind to the teaching of hard facts.
His first business now was to impart sanity to public opinion. The offensives of 1917 had been welcomed in France with excessive hopes and had been followed by profound disappointment. The politicians blamed the generals; the generals threw the blame on the politicians. It was then that the vague but dangerous crime of "defeatism" came into existence. It was necessary to make some victims, to reassure the crowd. There were moments when it looked as though the scaffold might once again be raised up on the Place de la Concorde. M. Clémenceau had said, a few days before he became Premier: "I have made mistakes in my life, but I want to end it well. I shall govern and if blood must be shed---very well, shed it shall be!"
He knew how to prove himself the man who is not afraid to punish and who is not to be held back by old relationships. He did not hesitate over the arresting of Malvy and Caillaux; but he knew also how to nip scandals in the bud and by means of certain sensational steps he did away with the mistrust which was beginning to spread and to threaten the nation's will to victory.
On the front, he gave the same free hand to the generals, who until then had too often been prevented by parliamentary interference from repressing breaches of discipline. "I shall support you in every case," he told them.
In a word, he pursued a policy of "public safety," as was done in the days of the Great Revolution.
M. Clémenceau was never a soldier. But as often happens with civilians he had the military spirit. He made acquaintance with the army late in life and lost his heart to it. It responded to his liking for authority, to his feeling for order, to his own personal bravery and audacity and delight in danger. He never felt so well as among the troops. When he went to the front for the first time, he returned enchanted, declaring it had been the greatest day in his whole life. As he was soon to die, he said, he was sorry he had not met his death "over there!"
During his ministry, accordingly, his visits to the front became more and more frequent. His cane under his arm, his hat at a devil-may-care angle, he went right into the trenches and talked with the poilus in the kind of language to which they were used. One day standing on the parapet of a trench, he shook his fist at the enemy and cried out: "Cochons! salauds! on vous aura à la fin!" (Swine! we'll get you in the end!)
The physical courage of the old man, his good humor, his dash, and the touch of the Paris gamin about him---this mingling of lovable traits, so unlike the stiff formality of the head of the state, M. Poincaré---won him an immense popularity among the soldiers of the line. Clémenceau belonged to that type of man (feminine alone in this) for whom other men are willing to be killed.
M. Clémenceau has been criticized regarding those visits to the front, on the ground that they were useless and unnecessary and often detrimental to the administration of the state. These criticisms have something in them. M. Tardieu has told us that when he wanted to discuss the affairs of his office with the Premier he was obliged to accompany him to the front. But when they got there he could not talk because M. Clémenceau, whose heart is softer than his skin, had tears constantly in his eyes.
There is another trait in M. Clémenceau which is characteristic of soldiers. He may sometimes be brutal but he is never mean. He has never hated anything in the world so much as Germany. Yet one day on leaving the Peace Conference, he was overcome with compassion for Germany's fate and said to the officer who was with him: "This German government! It is sad to have brought a great country to such a pass! For, after all, there was something big about Germany!"
M. Clémenceau needed those visits. They were not made out of a mere desire to win popularity. They were a tonic which kept up his courage. The rear, with its difficulties, its conflicts, its disputes, disgusted him, and he was obliged to go to the front as often as he could to overcome his innate pessimism. This atheist, noting the approach of old age, was haunted by the idea of death. He often said: "Je veux mourir en beauté." (I want to die beautifully.)
He felt at ease moving about among men who were dying as he would have liked to die himself.
But if M. Clémenceau loved the army, the soldiers, the military life, and the unostentatious bravery of the people engaged in the War, this does not mean that he was weak in his dealings with the generals. He never brooked a second government by the side of the civil power and under no ministry were the generals restricted so definitely to their military tasks. Rather it was Clémenceau who sometimes trespassed upon their provinces and it was possible for some one to say just then that the question of the unity of command was a struggle between "two commanders-in-chief; one of them was called Clémenceau and the other Lloyd George!" During the Peace Conference, Marshal Foch was not immune from the hot temper of the French Premier and certain discussions that took place between them were to become famous.
Rough at home with those who opposed his authority or who did not coöperate in the War with all their might, M. Clémenceau was equally rough with the enemies of France. This remark is attributed to him regarding the Germans and the Austrians, and the rumors as to efforts for a separate peace: "Let them go smash together or alone---I don't care which, so long as they go smash!"
M. Clémenceau wished to make no distinction between the different enemies; he had no wish to understand the hidden currents that ran through the central empires or to utilize them. He set out from the matter-of-fact standpoint that the different enemies were working by different means for the benefit of their own countries and that it would be the act of a simple-minded dupe to help them.
But distrust is akin to naïveté: both are characterized by absence of judgment. While M. Clémenceau was combating defeatism in his own country and was alive to its danger he shut his eyes to the defeatism of the enemy and thus deprived himself of a means of hastening on the victory.
Clémenceau came out of the War wearing the halo of the victor. This was only right in a sense, for if France had been vanquished he would have borne the weight of heaviest responsibility. It was only right also because he contributed to the victory by the energy of his domestic policy, the effecting of the unity of command, the solid support he gave to General Foch, the single-minded character which he gave to French policy, the will to victory which he implanted in the people, and the discouragement which spread therefrom among the foe.
But one would be wanting in the historic sense if one did not see that M. Clémenceau benefited while in power from the work of his forerunners whom he criticized so violently. The War was won in a large measure by M. Clémenceau. But it was won also by the Salonika expedition to which he was always opposed, by the intervention of America before he came to power, and by the Wilsonian idealism for which he had no comprehension whatever.
M. Clémenceau often allowed it to be understood that as soon as the War was over he would regard his rôle in life as terminated. But the armistice followed the War, and the Peace Conference followed the armistice in a natural sequence of events. M. Clémenceau allowed himself to be convinced that he must be the first delegate of his country at the Conference and must place at the disposal of France the authority he had won in Inter-Allied Councils.
"The victory," said M. Tardieu, the Premier's right-hand man at the beginning of the Conference, "will remain with those who have the best stomachs. That will be M. Clémenceau, Mr. Lloyd George and myself. The others, from fear of difficulties, will involve us in crises."
There was some truth in this sally. Despite his great age---he was now 78---and his fatigue and the criminal attempt that was made on his life in the middle of the Conference, M. Clémenceau displayed during the long and arduous sittings patience, gayety, and an admirable energy. Seated near the mantelpiece, opposite President Wilson, his hands always in grey gloves, he intervened rarely in the discussions; he kept himself for the big questions and those which directly concerned France. His age did not allow him to devote attention to details; he took general views only, but they were clear views. A daily observer of those discussions was able to say of M. Clémenceau that he surpassed all his colleagues. He sometimes went to sleep, especially towards the evening. But no case was known in which his vigilance proved at fault regarding any great interest of France.
There are people who in order to overwhelm M. Clémenceau make him responsible for everything that was done then. Nothing could be more unjust. The peace was a work of compromise, in which may be found the mark of a number of wills. No one will was predominant.
Nor is it any more the truth that M. Clémenceau stood up against President Wilson as the out and out champion of a peace of violence. That is altogether too simplified a picture of what happened. If it be true that at the start M. Clémenceau addressed some sarcasms to President Wilson, whose character was impenetrable to him, he was none the less affected in the course of the sittings by the loyalty, the good faith and the breadth of view of the President of the United States. Towards the close of the Conference M. Clémenceau was openly reproached in Paris with having become completely Wilsonian!
In point of fact M. Clémenceau was more moderate in his claims than the majority of his collaborators. It was Marshal Foch, supported by M. Poincaré, who demanded the left bank of the Rhine; M. Clémenceau contemplated only a temporary occupation, guaranteed by the Treaty, and he had lively discussions on this point with both the Marshal and the President of the Republic. In the same way, it was not M. Clémenceau, it was M. Klotz, the Minister of Finance, who fixed the total reparations due by Germany at an absurd figure. M. Clémenceau had a scorn for jurists and experts and for his collaborators in general, whom he often treated as though they were valets. Beyond counting were the slights to which he subjected the Minister for Foreign Affairs, whose only virtue in his eyes was his fidelity in good times and in bad!
What prevented M. Clémenceau from being a negotiator of the first order and from exercising a beneficent influence on the peace was the fact that he did not believe in the future which he was constructing. This was the final manifestation of his pessimism, and the worst.
We have all heard the famous remark with which M. Clémenceau interrupted some one who was talking about the League of Nations: "Do you really believe in the League of Nations?" Nor had he any belief in a durable peace, in the ending of wars, in disarmament. In his heart, M. Clémenceau, the radical republican, has never believed in progress. The human heart seems to him bad, irremediably and hopelessly bad. He does not even believe in evolution, although he professes to do so; if he did believe in it, he would have no difficulty in admitting, what he has never admitted, that, facts having changed, political institutions ought to change with them. M. Clémenceau has not believed in Europe. He saw in the peace only an interest purely French, and it was the narrowness of this conception that prevented him from being a really worthy partner of President Wilson, whose ideas, at once realistic and generous, he could never understand. What M. Clémenceau needed, if he was to help towards a durable peace, was to believe in it---even to conceive of such a thing as possible.
A man no longer changes his outlook at the age of seventy-eight. The philosophical work which he has written in retirement, Au soir de la pensée, merely reproduced doctrines which were in favor when he was young. M. Clémenceau is a man of 1848 and of 1870; he has remained so always.
On the evening of November 11 th, 1918, M. Clémenceau, replying to some one who had praised his intelligence, said: "No, no! I am not an intelligent man! If I were, or even if I had any ambition, do you know what I should do? I should die to-night. In this way I should be sure of a fine funeral. Whereas if I wait until even the day after to-morrow . . ."
But human nature is full of inconsistencies!
M. Clémenceau had acquired a taste for power, and after the ratification of the Treaty of Peace, he conceived the singular idea of becoming President of the Republic. Singular in this man who had passed the greater portion of his life and expended treasures of wit in discrediting the position of President.
On every occasion when he had been able to exercise any influence in a presidential election, it had been in favor of the tamest, most harmless, most colorless candidate---of a Sadi Carnot, a Loubet, a Fallières, a Pams. And now, suddenly, he had a craving for this bauble!
M. Clémenceau, who had foreseen the storm, did not feel its approach. Misled by flatterers, he did not realize that the French Chamber had fallen away from him. More docile than the American Senate, the French Chamber had ratified the peace treaty; but it was not less dissatisfied with it, and it was only waiting for the first opportunity to make this clear to the man responsible for it.
A dictator should never demand a plebiscite unless he is sure of a majority. M. Clémenceau was defeated by the man least apt to be compared with him, M. Deschanel. It is said that such ingratitude drew tears from the Tiger.
Over what did he weep! Over the power lost or over the move bungled! If it was nothing more than that he will find ample compensation for it in the esteem of posterity.
M. Clémenceau, despite his mistakes and his weakness, is one of those personalities who strike the imagination of the crowd. He will live in the spirit of the people by the side of Bayard, Joan of Are and Du Guesclin. His death, only, awaits his immortalization in bronze.
1. The Headquarters Staff of the French Army.
2. The author of the Marseillaise.
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