THE PEACE CONFERENCE
THE work which awaited the framers of the Peace was as great and as unprecedented as the war which was to be brought to a close.
Great and unprecedented in its scope: for the first time in history entire nations had fought. Seventy million men had been mobilized, thirty million had been wounded and nearly ten million had died. Nothing in the past could compare with it. The dead alone outnumbered all the Armies of Napoleon. Great and unprecedented in its complexity: nation having fought nation, there had been brought into play the sum total of all national forces: agricultural, industrial, commercial and financial. All these potent factors of international life had to be taken into account in making the Treaty. Read over the great peace treaties of the past,---for the most part child's play compared to this! Frontier changes limited to a few fragments of the map of Europe; indemnities of a few millions-- -the five thousand millions exacted in 1871 from France were looked upon at the time as a financial monstrosity and a gross abuse of power; economic clauses in which the victor imposed upon the vanquished the most favoured nation clause! A peace treaty had certain classic outlines which were filled in according to more or less settled traditions.
The map of the world had to be remade, and under what conditions Germany's persistent savagery had left more ruins in the victorious countries than the invasions of the barbarians had ever made in the lands they overran and conquered. The resources of all the belligerents had been equally exhausted by the duration of the struggle, and as the damages rightly demanded by the creditors rose, the capacity for payment of the debtors fell. Mr. Lloyd George had said in 1918, "Germany shall pay for everything." When the Conference met, it was of necessity obliged to ascertain how much and in what manner Germany could pay. And ways had to be devised to extend the time of payment; for it was quite evident a country no matter how rich could not pay hundreds of millions in a few months and no matter how criminal could not have undergone so prolonged a strain without diminishing its resources. The execution of the peace terms thus became not a matter of months but of years. It implied a lasting union of the forces which had won the war. Not the victors alone but the whole world had to be given the certainty that Germany would not repeat her offense. The fundamental aims of Liberty and Justice which for fifty-two months had furnished the moral strength and stimulus of the nations in arms had to be realized. Finally the unity of the Allies which had led to their victory had to be maintained and made closer so that they might be as well prepared for common action in the future as they had been in the past. Failing this, the Peace would be lacking in the essential factor that had won the Victory.
The history of the war foreshadowed the nature of the peace as much by the official acts of Governments as by the spontaneous expression of public opinion. When France knew that she was being attacked by Germany, she proclaimed her war aims with a single voice. They were the defense of her frontiers, the redemption of Alsace-Lorraine and the maintenance of national liberty as opposed to a Policy of aggression and domination. In the Parliament and in the Press there was not a discordant note . France had bought this unanimity, the essential condition of success, with forty-three years of anguish. It was the memory of those dark days which gave substance to France's conception of Peace and War. Attacked once more France was once more going to fight for Right. Such is our entry into the war,---now for the other nations. Serbia, having made every possible concession, cannot tolerate the substitution of another Power for her own on her own soil. Russia refusing to renounce the Slav gospel by abandoning Serbia to Austria's extortion. Belgium spurning the cynical offer to betray her word and her friends. Great Britain too, accepting the challenge to keep faith with a "scrap of paper." Group these facts, link them to the past, compare them with Germany's aggression and her methods, "Necessity knows no law." It is a conflict between two opposing principles. On one side the nations who put their faith in Might, on the other those who believe in Right. On one side the peoples who seek to enslave, on the other the free peoples who, whether they defend themselves against aggression or whether they come to the assistance of those attacked, are ready to sacrifice their lives to remain independent, masters of their own affairs at home and of their destinies abroad.
The war lasted and grew greater. Each passing hour emphasized and confirmed its original character. In 1915 Italy joins the Allies after laying down the conditions on which she leaves the Triple Alliance. Why? Because from Trentino to Trieste she has heard the voices of the irredenti calling. In 1916 Roumania comes in. Why? Because from beyond the plains of Transylvania the lament of Magyarized Roumanians had crossed the Carpathian Mountains. In 1917, Greece comes in. Why? Because on the borders of Macedonia, of Thrace and of Asia Minor she had felt---despite the German leanings of her King---the soul of ancient Hellas stirring. The breath of liberty passes everywhere. For half a century Alsace-Lorraine had been the symbol and the flaming torch of the oppressed. Prom East to West all who believed in the liberation of the oppressed and in the right of peoples to self-determination rallied to the echoes of the Marne and of Verdun. As time passed the circle of our supporters widened. And then came the democracy of the United States. When she entered the struggle, her war aims were indefinite but in a few weeks she too understood and had a clear conception of what she was fighting for. From the Atlantic to the Pacific the word went forth. We are going to fight in Europe. Against what? Against Autocracy and Militarism. For what? For Justice and the Liberty of Nations. Words, mere words, answer the "realists." Yes, mere words, but words for which millions of soldiers stand ready to die. Words which are a living force. Words which from France have spread to the new world and have mobilized the hearts of the people without which there can be no military mobilization in a democracy. We were fighting for our ideal and for our frontier. America had no frontier to defend but she adopted our ideal and made it hers.
That is why---be it pleasing or not, a cause for congratulation or regret---the war of 1914 had a meaning and an aim of its own before any Government had made a declaration. From the first day of the German aggression, it was a war of peoples and of nationalities. A war for popular and national rights. Such it remained to the very end. That was why, in the closing months, Polish, Czecho-Slovakian and Croatian regiments sprang from the soil. That is why millions of men made the last great sacrifice. That is why the Peace was to be the peace of free nations, of nations liberated from the forces of oppression. The peoples had spoken. The Governments in Europe and in America did but register their will. All declarations of "war aims"---invariably and identically---reflected the clear convictions and simple principles which led the Armies into battle.
The first of these declarations dates from the thirtieth of December, 1916. It is handed in the name of all the Allies to the American Ambassador by M. Aristide Briand in reply to a German Note transmitted by the neutrals. What does it contain? First of all the principle that "the Allied Governments are united for the defense of the liberties of peoples." Then the assertion "No peace is possible until, assurances are given that reparations will be made for the rights and liberties that have been violated: that the principles of nationality and of freedom of small states will be recognized and that some settlement definitely eliminating the causes that have so long menaced the nations, establishes the only effective guarantee for the world's safety." The rights of peoples, reparations, League of Nations,---such is the Allies' reply in three lines.
The second declaration was on the tenth of January, 1917. Again it is a Note, handed in the name of all the Allies to the American Ambassador by M. Aristide Briand in reply to a question of President Wilson. The principle is the same, but it is defined in greater detail.
1. Restoration of Belgium, Serbia and Montenegro and of the damages they have sustained.
2. Evacuation of the invaded territory of France, Russia and Roumania with full reparations.
3. Reorganization of Europe, guaranteed by a stable régime, based upon the respect of nationality and the right of all peoples, great and small, to pursue their economic development in full security and upon territorial and international conventions guaranteeing land and sea frontiers against unwarranted aggression.
4. Restitution of provinces or territories previously taken from the Allies by force or against the will of the inhabitants.
5. Liberation of Italians, Slavs, Roumanians and Czecho-Slovaks from foreign domination.
6. Liberation of the population subjected to the bloody tyranny of the Turks; rejection out of Europe of the Ottoman Empire as foreign to western civilization.
7. The intentions of his Majesty the Emperor of Russia towards Poland are clearly indicated in the proclamation which he has just addressed to his Armies.
8. The Allies have never aimed at the extermination of the German peoples or at their disappearance as a political entity.
Bear these eight points in mind. We shall meet them again. Six months later, after a long debate, the French Parliament in turn deems it necessary to declare its war aims in two formal resolutions. On June 5, 1917, the Chamber adopts, by 467 votes to 52, the following:
The Chamber endorsing the unanimous protest made in 1871 to the National Assembly by the representatives of Alsace-Lorraine, torn against her will from France, declares that the war, imposed on Europe by the aggression of German Imperialism, must lead to the liberation of invaded territory, the return of Alsace-Lorraine to the mother country and to just reparation of damages.
Foreign to all thought of conquest or enslavement of foreign people, the Chamber trusts that the efforts of the Army of the Republic and her Allies will permit, after Prussian militarism is overthrown, the securing of lasting guarantees of peace and independence from great and small nations alike by association in a League of Nations, already in preparation.
The following day, June 6, 1917, the Senate unanimously votes a similar resolution:
The Senate convinced that lasting peace can be secured only by the victory of the Allied Armies;
Asserts the will of France, true to her alliances, faithful to her ideal of independence and liberty for all peoples, to pursue the war until Alsace-Lorraine are restored, crimes are punished, damages are repaired and guarantees against further aggression by German militarism are secured.
In England, in Italy, in Belgium, the Parliaments in like terms confirmed the declarations of their Governments and the instinctive desires of their peoples. All the European Allies are thus after three years of war absolutely agreed on two things: the first that no peace is possible until victory has been won; the second, that, victory won, the Allies will demand for themselves and for all nations the right of self-determination for all peoples, reparations, guarantees and a League of Nations. The war aims are clear. They are public. Henceforth all men know what the peace of victory will be. Those, therefore, who are not satisfied with them, can protest. But no protest is raised except by a few Socialists who find these terms too severe.
Have these war aims solemnly proclaimed to the world been modified since? Judge for yourself.
On January 6, 1918, the President of the United States in an address to the Congress lays down "a programme for world peace," which has since become known as the "fourteen points." Much has been said about them, often by those who neither knew when they were first formulated nor what they meant. It is, therefore, relevant to give their substance here, presenting them in the same order as the eight points of January, 1917.
1. Evacuation and restoration of Belgium without any limitation of her sovereignty.
2. Evacuation of French territory; restoration of the invaded regions; reparations of the wrong done to France in 1871 in the matter of Alsace-Lorraine.
3. Evacuation of Russian territory and a settlement leaving her entirely free to decide her own fate.
4. Readjustment of the Italian frontier in accordance with the principle of nationality.
5. Opportunity of autonomous development for the peoples of Austria-Hungary.
6. Evacuation and restoration of Roumania, Serbia and Montenegro with access to the sea for Serbia.
7. Limitation of Ottoman sovereignty to regions actually Turkish; autonomy for all the other peoples, international guarantees for the freedom of the Dardanelles.
8. An independent Poland with free access to the sea.
9. The creation of a League of Nations giving mutual guarantees of political independence and territorial integrity to great and small states alike.
10. Impartial adjustment of colonial claims.
11. Exchange of guarantees for the reduction of armaments.
12. Elimination as far as possible of economic barriers; commercial equality for all nations.
13. Freedom of the seas.
14. Open diplomacy; no secret international agreements of any kind.
When on January 9 this declaration, identical in meaning---especially as far as France is concerned-with the previous declarations of the Allies, was known in Europe, it met with nothing but approval and support. Parliaments and Press alike interpreted it as a further pledge of America's unity of purpose, which everyone recognized to be essential on the eve of the great battle of the spring. French men saw in it also the first public recognition of their right to Alsace-Lorraine, without a plebiscite. Thus the intervention of the United States, far from modifying the war aims of the European Allies, confirmed and defined them. The divergence which later on it was attempted to establish between the former and the latter, vanishes in presence of a perusal of the documents. The Fourteen Points contain no contradiction of the previous programmes of peace. On the contrary they reiterate them. The United States did not conceive a peace different from that which Europe demanded. She defined in similar terms claims that were identical. No modification of the course followed was caused by her declaration. The only result was greater and more complete unity.
On October 6, 1918, Germany sued for peace. After three weeks of correspondence, made public day by day, President Wilson informed Germany that the Allies were ready to conclude peace on the basis of the terms set out above. Such the clear straight road which led from the formulation of Europe's war aims in 1916 and 1917 and their endorsement by the United States in 1918 to the Armistice in the beginning of November, 1919, and to peace. Never had a policy been clearer, more open, and more coherent. Everybody, before even the negotiations began, knew the objective sought. The peace, with all its principles and all its consequences, appeared clearly before the eyes of the nations, long ere it was drawn up and signed by the negotiators.
In other words, the peace was born of the origin and character of the war itself. It was willed by the peoples before being formulated by the Governments. It was formulated by the Governments as early as the end of 1916 in harmony with the instinct of the peoples and when, at the beginning of 1918, the United States in turn declared its conception of the peace it only emphasized principles which neither America nor anybody else could have varied, for they were of the very nature of things and dictated by circumstances. Such being its source, the peace could not be a peace of conquest and of imperialism. If it was not a peace of conquest, it is not because of the Fourteen Points, nor because Mr. Wilson forced his will upon Europe, nor because the Allied Governments bowed before America through weakness or lack of foresight. It is because Mr. Wilson in his Fourteen Points, his speeches, like the Allies' declarations of 1916 and 1917, like the resolutions of the French Parliament of the same year, had merely obeyed the dictates of history, had merely registered the will of the warring peoples: it is because the Peace of Victory, off spring of the war, had necessarily to confirm and not to repudiate the ideals for which the war was fought.
The peace derives its whole character from this unanimity of purpose. And if in all of its chapters---whether they deal with frontiers or with new States, whether they deal with reparations or the internal affairs of nations---this character reappears, one may regret and disapprove, if one is of a Bismarckian or of an imperialist turn of mind, but nobody has the right to be astonished. For all through the war, all the Allies without exception, obedient to the peoples' will, had constantly proclaimed that, when victory was won, the peace would be made exactly as it was made.
Agreement on the principles of the peace was complete, even before the negotiations began; but to what extent was there agreement upon their application? In other words what had been the technical preparation for the peace?
Here again truth is singularly different from the artificial picture which political passion has conjured up to mislead the people. The peace was prepared as far as it possibly could be during the war. But this possibility had its limitations which cannot be forgotten. In France preliminary studies had been begun by the various departments of the Government dealing with the clauses which interested them particularly. These studies were then coordinated by three special bodies. The first, the Comité d'Etudes, presided over by Ernest Lavisse, the great historian, and composed of university men and scientists, had presented memoranda supported by maps and statistics on all territorial questions relating to Europe and the Near East. The geographical, ethical, historical and political factors of these problems were thus collected and criticized in a manner which does honour to French science. Another committee, presided over by Senator Jean Morel, had drawn up exhaustive notes on the principal economic problems which the Peace Treaty was to solve. Finally, from December, 1918, to the end of January, 1919, I was entrusted by M. Clemenceau with the task of bringing together for the purposes of revision the members of the Comité d'Etudes and the representatives of the various Government departments to formulate definite conclusions which were reduced to writing and served as a basis for the French proposals. Great Britain, which had caused a similar study to be made by the General Staff, the Admiralty and the War Trade Intelligence, was in possession also of abundant material. For the United States, the Inquiry Boards which were under the direction of Mr. House, had undertaken from 1917 on, an examination of the peace problems with the assistance of distinguished professors, financiers and lawyers. Anxious to insure the greatest possible unity between the French and American viewpoints during the Conference, I had from the outset established a daily liaison between the Inquiry Boards and the corresponding services of the French High Commission which were under M. Louis Aubert. In addition, as early as October, 1918, five weeks before the Armistice, I had sent Professor de Martonne, the general secretary of the Comité d'Etudes, to the United States where he had compared our preparatory documents with those of the Inquiry Boards and reached entire agreement on many points.
Could more have been done? To preliminary studies made in common, could common conclusions have been added? Would it not have been the surest way, when the hour of peace struck, to gain time and to hasten the settlement? This has been asserted with that unruffled disregard for past realities which too often marks retrospective .criticism. As long as the war lasted, the Powers, it is true, refrained from settling in detail the clauses of the Peace Treaty. Mere incuriousness? No, but, impossibility. The war almost to the very end was hard to wage and of uncertain issue. In July, 1918, with the enemy on the Marne and Paris under bombardment, was victory really certain? In order to win, the whole effort---and what an effort it was---had to be concentrated on turning the inter-allied machine which it had taken three years to build up and still moved creakily. The public know nothing of these daily difficulties in the application of the principle of united action---so much talked about and so. incompletely realized. But those who lived through them cannot forget. They know too what caution was necessary to solve these difficulties as well as to avert them.
Anyone who took part in the inter-allied discussions of July, 1918, on the Salonica expedition, on the transport of the American troops or on the number of British divisions in France knows full well how risky would have been---how dangerous even to victory---a parallel discussion of Peace terms. It was not easy to get the Allies, even when they were bound by a common danger, to pull together for an immediate purpose. What would it have been, if at the same time one had stirred up and intensified by discussion those divergencies of views which the peace was to bring out? Never was the truth of the old common sense saying that each thing must be done in its turn and that everything cannot be done at once, more clearly demonstrated. By attempting to wage war and make peace at the same time, there was no certainty of achieving the peace, but there was a very great risk of losing the war. It was not attempted, and it is well that it was not. Was it even possible, working as we were in uncertainty and in circumstances which changed daily and whose course was shaped by our pursuit of victory and by that alone? Those who from the serene aloofness of their arm-chairs have answered the question in the affirmative, merely show their ignorance of the real conditions of war. Those on whose shoulders lay---at such a heavy hour---the responsibility of Government know that the attempt, doomed to failure, would have been nothing short of criminal imprudence.
The Conference meets. The men and the materials are gathered. The work awaits. What method shall be followed? In the early part of January, the French delegation had proposed a general plan of procedure which M. Clemenceau had asked me to prepare. This plan was as follows:
PRINCIPLES AND METHODS
The task of the Conference in bringing the war to an end is to prepare the new bases of international relation on the general lines laid down in President Wilson's Message of January 8, 1918, and in his speech of September 27, 1918, as well as in the reply of the Allies of November 5, 1918.
Under these circumstances the order of discussion might be as follows:
I.. Guiding Principles:
a. Open diplomacy.
b. Freedom of the seas.
c. International economic relations.
d. Guarantees against the return of militarism and limitation of armaments.
e. Responsibilities for the war.
f. Restitution and reparations.
g. Solemn repudiation of all violations of international law and of the principles of humanity.
h. The right of nations to self-determination, together with the right of minorities.
i. An international organization for arbitration.
j. Statutes of the League of Nations.
II. Territorial Problems:
Delimitation of frontier between belligerents---new states created and neutral countries in accordance with:
a. The right of self-determination of peoples.
b. The right of nations weak or strong to equality in law.
c. The rights of ethical and religious minorities.
d. The right to guarantees against an offensive return of militarism, adjustment of frontiers, military neutralization of certain zones, internationalization of certain means of communication, liberty of the seas, etc...
III. Financial Problems:
Determination of the financial responsibility of the enemy in accordance with the rights of pillages and devastated regions:
c. Guarantees of Payment endorsed by an international organization.
IV. Economic Problems:
Establishment of a system which shall ensure for the time being to those nations which have suffered most from the aggression of the enemy equitable guarantees to be secured by an international control of
c. Ocean freights
and preparing for the future
a. An economic basis for international relations.
b. Economic penalties to be enforced by the League of Nations for the maintenance of Peace.
V. Promotion of the League of Nations:
Once these three types of problems have been solved in the order and in accordance with the principles stated above the two aims to be achieved will have been attained together.
a. The war will have been put an end to.
b. The principal foundations of the League of Nations will be laid.
It will then remain to:
a. Provide for the League's maintenance.
b. Codify such measures resulting from the guiding principles stated in the first paragraph, which may not have been covered by the treaty clauses dealing with territorial, financial and economic problems (for instance open diplomacy, arbitrary and international organization, etc..
PROPOSED ORDER FOR EXAMINATION OF
TERRITORIAL AND POLITICAL PROBLEMS
Among the territorial and political problems, distinction must be made between:
Those which must be solved first.
Those whose solution is only secondary, because facilitated by rulings made on the first.
Those for the solution of which delay is preferable.
Taking the above into account, the examination might proceed in the following order.
I. Territorial Settlement with Germany.
This is the essential problem dominating all others and its solution will react upon the entire rulings of the Treaty.
The French Government has already drawn up a preliminary proposal on this matter stating the principles, which might serve as a point of departure for the discussions of the powers.
A general clause will contain Germany's preliminary acceptance of rulings to be fixed later by the Allies and all the other states.
II. Organization of Central Europe:
Questions presented by the disappearance of Austria-Hungary and the Constitution of different States resulting from the former double monarchy.
a. Recognized States
b. States in formation
Ill. Oriental Questions:
a. Liberation of nationalities oppressed by the former Ottoman Empire:
Syria and Cicilia
b. The question of Constantinople is a separate matter.
c. Delimitation of the frontiers of the Ottoman State.
The maintenance of a Turkish State is justified by the existence of a population mostly Turkish in the western and central portions of the peninsular of Asia Minor. This population desires to be governed by a national government and the principles of the Allies oblige them to take into account the expressed wish of the people.
IV. Status of the Balkan Peoples:
Frontiers of Bulgaria, Roumania, Greece and Serbia. This is one of the most complicated questions and a subject of the keenest controversy. It would seem preferable to deal with it after the settlement of the great German, Austrian and Oriental problems the settlement of which will clear away some of the difficulties and give the Powers greater freedom of action.
V. Russian Problems:
By dealing with this last, the nationalities will be given time to organize at least partially, to make known their wishes under more normal conditions and to proceed to the necessary agreements between the various ethical groups.
The variety of subjects calling for the attention of the heads of the delegations and the instinctive repugnance of the Anglo-Saxons to the systematized constructions of the Latin mind prevented the adoption of our proposal which only partially served to direct the order of work. The Conference created its various organizations one after the other instead of building them all up beforehand. Perhaps it was a mistake, but in any case France was not to blame. At the end of a very few weeks the whole organization was moving. I simply indicate its main outlines,
I. Executive Bodies:
a. A general Secretariat
b. A supervising Committee of the Powers
c. A drafting Committee
II. Commissions and Committees:
League of Nations
Responsibilities for the war and penalties with three sub-committees
a. Criminal acts
b. Responsibility for the war
c. Responsibility for violations of the rules and customs of war
Reparations for damages with three sub-committees
a. Valuation of damages
b. Capacity and means of payment
c. Measures of security and guarantees
International labour legislation
International regulation of ports, waterways and railways with two sub-committees
a. Transit problems
b. River labours and railway regulations
Financial questions with five sub-committees
a. Immediate requirements
b. Currency questions
c. Enemy debts
d. Inter-allied problems and plans of the financial section of the League of Nations
e. Payment of Austrian-Hungarian coupons
Economic question with nine sub-committees
a. Permanent commercial relations
b. Customs regulations, taxes and restrictions
d. Unfair competition
e. Industrial ownership
f. Pre-war contracts
g. Liquidation of enemy stocks.
h. Foreign (former enemy) nations
i. Abrogation and renewal of treaties.
Aeronautics with three sub-committees
a. Military sub-commission
b. Technical sub-commission
c. Legal commercial and financial sub-commission
Central committee on territorial questions
Committee on Alsace-Lorraine
Committee on the Sarre Basin
Commission of Czecho-Slovakian affairs
Commission of Polish affairs with two sub-committees
a. Inter-allied mission to Poland
b. Commission of Teschen
Commission of Roumanian and Jugo-Slav affairs
Commission of Greek and Albanian affairs
Commission of Belgian and Danish affairs
Commission of Colonial affairs
Commission of sub-marine cable matters Drafting Committee for military, naval and aerial clauses
Inter-Allied Military and Naval Committee
Supreme Economic Council with six sections
c. Raw materials
d. Ocean freights
e. Food supplies
f. Means of communication
These fifty-eight groups included in addition to the plenipotentiaries and the heads of Government departments, men representing every type of human activity, lawyers, financiers, historians, manufacturers, business men, administrators, professors, journalists, soldiers and sailors who brought a wide personal experience to every problem along with the results of the preliminary studies in which nearly all of them had participated. These commissions, albeit organized as occasion demanded from day to day, responded none the less to the requirements of efficient organization. A very large amount of work, in committee meetings and in reports, was furnished by them. On every question a scrupulously fair hearing was given to all interested parties as often as they desired. More than fifteen hundred committee meetings were held, often supplemented by local investigations. It is the conscientious effort of these men that Mr. Keynes has sought to ridicule in his book on the Conference. "The poisonous morass of Paris," to cite but one of the least violent of his epithets , has naught to fear from his invective. Rarely was a political undertaking more honestly and more scrupulously prepared. I may add that despite the heat of certain debates all those who took part in it have retained one for another a great mutual esteem, the esteem of men of good faith and good will who in "a great adventure," as Mr. House used to say, had dedicated their minds and their hearts to the most difficult of tasks.(10)
Complaint has been made, that on some points, and not the least important, the recommendations of the Commissions were not adopted by the heads of Governments. That is true. But could it possibly have been otherwise? Here again I appeal to realities. The peace was a political structure built by political bodies, known as nations. Besides it was the Peace---that is to say a work of harmony following on a period of strife. Two consequences resulted therefrom, consequences too easily forgotten now that the danger is passed. The first was that technical considerations had sometimes to give way, when the time came for decision, to considerations of general policy over which the experts had no control. The second was that to reach decision unanimity was necessary. The Peace Conference was not a deliberative assembly in which a majority could carry disputed points. Its conclusions, whatever they were, called for the agreement of all. This agreement could only be reached by sacrifices freely consented by each. Does anyone realize the immense difficulty of attaining indispensable agreement? In my district just outside Paris there is a bridge built in the days of tolls. To do away with this irksome tithe only the consent of the two communes interested in the traffic is necessary; and yet for twenty years it has been sought in vain. For results to be attained from the work of the Conference it was necessary that on every question the greatest nations of the world should arrive at substantial accord. The mere statement of this condition gives the measure of the difficulty.
These men, whose unanimity was demanded by circumstances, represented nations separated by centuries of history. Great Britain and France, to mention but these, had been at war between 1688 and 1815 for sixty-one years out of a hundred and twenty-seven. All the others had each in its own country and in its own interest lived different lives which had given birth to conflicting interests. Immediate conflicts reduced to figures in economic and financial problems where one could not have more unless the other had less. Other conflicts, less immediate but far deeper, in public morals where the diversity of traditions had given birth to widely divergent conceptions and to irreconcilable contradictions of feeling and of thought. It was the dead of ages speaking and they did not all speak the same language. M. Clemenceau and those who helped him direct the negotiations for France had personal experience of this dangerous divergence of national temperaments. He characterized it in these words, which I reproduce:
The state of mind of our Allies is not necessarily the same as our own, and when we are not in agreement with them, it is unjust to blame those who do not succeed in convincing them or to blame them for evil intentions which are not in their hearts.
What are you going to do about it? Each of us lives encased in his own past. Auguste Comte said that we live dead men's lives and it is true.
We are encased by the past which holds us in its grip, and spurs us forward to new efforts. Neither an Englishman, nor I, nor anyone will cast off his historical way of seeing things and of thinking because he has contracted a temporary alliance with a foreign country.
... I had to do with these difficulties during the war. Take unity of command. Unity of command was achieved by several stages. Everybody did his bit. But the difficulty of bringing unity of command into being was much less than the difficulty of making it work, and that because of the different states of mind I have just mentioned.
The Peace Conference has only inherited states of mind from the various conferences of Versailles and from the meetings which preceded it.
How can a man be expected to renounce his past when he is sacrificing the blood of his countrymen to uphold it?
Men retain their virtues and their faults together. You must take them as they are. They are what they are. They have a past as we have a past. As far as I am concerned, merely because they differ from me even on very serious questions, I do not feel called upon to break with them as has been suggested.
There is the master difficulty. One could not break off... or only in such a manner that public opinion would immediately. and unanimously lay the blame on those who broke off...
... It is said that when one is French, the right thing is to say, "I demand," and if the others refuse, to break; it was also said, The right thing is to go before Parliament. "
A fine reception I should have had, and how right Parliament would have been to receive me ill.
There should be no surprise at the resistance we have encountered. The one said or thought, "I am English."; the other thought, "I am American." Each had as much right to say so as we had to say we are French. Sometimes it is true, they made me suffer cruelly. But such discussions must be entered into not with the idea of breaking off, or smashing the serving tables and the china as was Napoleon's wont, but with the idea of making one's self understood.
That is why those who had the responsibility, and therefore the authority, gradually made such concessions as were necessary to final agreement. That is why the recommendations of commissions---some of which besides had not succeeded in. reaching unanimity---were sometimes brushed aside. France, I have the right to recall it, almost always supported the opinions of the experts. At the same time no country did more than France to pave the way for the necessary agreements. Technical preparations, political unanimity, these were the two poles between which the Conference revolved. There were deviations from one to the other. The straight line was not always followed. Let him who could have done better, cast the first stone! The truth is that on the one hand the essential factors were studied with a care not to be found in any of the great Congresses of history; and on the other that the decisions based thereon, when debated, were dominated by a spirit of harmony inherited by peace from war---that the sacrifices made were honourable concessions to the common purpose. On the one hand the commissions' laborious workshops where the materials were produced and stored; on the other, the "Big Four"---a mysterious Power used to scare popular credulity and who only exercised however the legal authority with which the nations had invested them. There is the Conference of Paris.
For the convenience of controversy, the story was widely circulated of the most formidable Treaty in history hurriedly improvised and thrown together by four fallible and ill-informed men, closeted in a dark room, imposing upon the world their whim as law. The time has come to meet this fable with the facts. The Treaty was studied, prepared and discussed for six long months by fifty-eight technical commissions on which sat the foremost specialists of each country which held 1,646 meetings. The conclusions of these commissions, verified by twenty-six local investigations, were discussed from January 10 to June 28 by three bodies: the Council of Ministers of Foreign Affairs which held thirty-nine meetings; the Council of Ten which held seventy-two meetings and the Council of Four which held one hundred and forty-five meetings. These three councils also gave hearings to the chairmen of the technical commissions, and all the representatives of Allied or neutral countries interested. Finally when at the beginning of
May, the texts were settled upon, the cabinets of the various Powers were called into consultation.
Such were the general conditions of the work of the Conference. I come now to the conditions in which its decisions were arrived at; that is to say to the very origin of this unprecedented Treaty which, after fifty-two mouths of war, restored peace to the world.
I have just mentioned the various groups who made these decisions: Council of Foreign Ministers, Council of Ten, Council of Four. Why so many? Why so interlocking? The former a question of procedure, the latter a question of principle. Both need answer.
And first of all why did not all the Powers summoned to Paris take part in the elaboration of the Peace? There were twenty-seven Allied Powers and four Enemy Powers. The admission of the latter to the preparatory discussions was not even suggested. There remained the Allies. Could they all be asked to sit? Evidently not. First because it would have been a regular parliament, the debates of which would have been interminable; then also because the positions of the various countries were not equal. The Big Nations have been accused of thrusting the smaller ones aside. But not to mention those who, without any act of war, had merely broken off diplomatic relations with Germany, nor those who, having declared war, had furnished no military effort, could it be maintained that, in the difficult work of giving expression to victory, the right of initiative should not be in some measure dependent upon the sacrifices made? Among the victors some had given everything, their soil, their blood, their treasure, not only to defend their own liberties but to win liberty for others. These latter on the contrary, despite the endurance of long sufferings, owed their resurrection entirely to the former. A classification was thus essential, and how can one challenge the justice of the distinction made, by a protocol pregnant with reality, between the Powers of general and those of restricted interest? It enhanced the clearness and moderation of the debates. Moreover it was only just. Those who had borne the fearful burden of war were entitled to the privilege of determining, in accordance with the war aims accepted by all and in the interest of all, the, general lines of the peace. M. Clemenceau at the second plenary sitting of the Conference, January 25, 1919, dealt with the question frankly on the occasion of a discussion on the composition of the commissions.
"Sir Robert Borden," he said, "head of the Canadian delegation, has in very friendly manner reproached the Great Powers with having made the decision. Yes, we decided in the matter of the commissions; as we decided to call the present Conference; and as we decided to invite the representatives of interested nations.
"I make no secret of it. A Conference of the Great Powers is being held in an adjoining room. The Five Great Powers whose action it is desired should be justified before you to-day, are in a position to furnish that justification.
"A few moments ago, the Prime Minister of Great Britain reminded me that the day the war came to a close, the principal Allies had twelve million soldiers fighting on the fields of battle. That is a title.
"We have lost, killed and wounded, by millions, and if we had not had present to our minds the great question of the League of Nations, we might have been selfishly led to consult ourselves alone. Who can say that we should not have been justified?
"Such was not our wish. We called together the entire assembly of the interested nations. We called them together not to impose our will upon them, not to make them do that which they do not want, but to ask their cooperation. That is why we invited them here. Yet we must ascertain how this cooperation is to be organized.
"Experience has taught me that the more numerous committees are, the less chance there is of getting things done. Now, behind us stands a very great, very august, and at times very imperious force called public opinion, It will not ask us if such or such a state was represented on such or such a commission. That is of no interest to anybody. Public opinion will ask us what we have done. It is my duty to direct our work so that we may get things done."
Thus ordered, the Conference deprived no one of the right of being heard. All the countries represented, no matter how small, participated in the labours of the commissions, either as members or as witnesses. All were heard by the Great Powers, and the number of these hearings exceeds three hundred. But the direction of the work remained in the hands of those who had won the war. It was thus that on January 12, 1919, the body known as the Council of Ten met; it was composed of the heads of Governments and Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the United States, the British Empire, France, Italy and Japan. This Council sat twice daily from January 12 to March 24, dealing both with the peace and with such urgent problems of world politics as could not be left unsolved: application and renewals of the Armistice, food supplies for Europe; Russian affairs. The Council listened to the claims of the small nations. It settled the clauses of the disarmament of Germany. That having been done, it suddenly realized that six weeks had passed, that the end was not yet in sight and that with its ten members assisted by several dozen experts no headway was being made. Little by little everybody had got into the habit of making speeches. Matters were constantly being adjourned. That perfect frankness essential to obtain results was difficult in the presence of so large an audience. When anything leaked out, each delegation blamed the other for it. These were the reasons---and there was none other---why it was decided to narrow the circle. Thus the Council of Four, increased to five when the Japanese delegate was present, was formed and it was assisted in some of the less important matters by the Council of Five made up of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs. To what obscure manoeuvres has the formation of these two committees not been attributed? I have given the real reasons. They are self-sufficient.
This was the heroic period of the Conference; by reason both of the importance of the problems under discussion and of the extraordinary intensity of the effort put forth. From March 24 to May 7, the whole Treaty was put into shape: territorial, financial, economic and colonial clauses alike. Every morning and every afternoon, the four men met together, usually on the ground floor of the Hotel Bischoffsheim. In the garden an American "doughboy" stood sentry, wearing the insignia of the Conference, white scales on a blue ground. At other times the meetings wore held at the Ministry of War in M. Clemenceau's dark and comfortless office. Habit had created its own laws. In the afternoon each man took the same seat he had occupied in the morning. Sir Maurice Hankey, Secretary of the British War Cabinet, and Professor Mantoux, head interpreter of the French delegation, were the only others present. The plenipotentiaries and the experts came only from time to time. The tone was conversational. Neither pomp nor pose. Signor Orlando spoke 'but little, Italy's interest in the Conference was far too much confined to the question of Fiume, and her share in the debates was too limited as a result. It resolved itself into a three-cornered conversation between Wilson, Clemenceau and Lloyd George---an amazing contrast of the three most widely different natures that it is possible to conceive. Always sincere and straightforward, these interviews were at times almost tragic in their solemn simplicity and would then relax into something approaching gaiety when agreement was in sight. History will record with approval that even in the most difficult hours the "Four" always spoke the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
I shared their life too closely to be able to judge them. Who better than I knows their shortcomings? I have no taste to blame them; for I saw them give the very best of their great minds to their task, and what more can one ask? I have no right to praise them. I shall but try to redress, in as few words as may be, the wrong done by the outrageous pen of a subordinate and disgruntled employee. I shall brush aside the legend that one of these three men hoodwinked the others. In France it has been said that Clemenceau was the dupe of Wilson and of Lloyd George; in the United States that Wilson was the plaything of Lloyd George, and in England Mr. Keynes has written that M. Clemenceau turned the trick alone. This childish and contradictory explanation, convenient to politicians, must be abandoned. The exaggerated honour or the insult which it implies to the three leaders must be repudiated. The truth is that from the first day to the last, with a deep desire to reach agreement, the discussion proceeded foot by foot. I have already explained why.
The discussion between men whose national and individual temperaments were utterly opposed was naturally exceedingly keen. President Wilson discussed like a college professor criticizing a thesis, sitting bolt upright in his. armchair, inclining his head at times towards his advisers, developing his views with the abundant clearness of a didactic logician. Mr. Lloyd George argued like a sharp-shooter, with sudden bursts of cordial approval and equally frequent gusts of anger, with a wealth of brilliant imagination and copious historical reminiscences; clasping his knee in his hands, he sat near the fireplace, wrapped in the utmost indifference to technical arguments, irresistibly attracted to unlooked-for solutions, but dazzling with eloquence and wit, moved only by higher appeals to permanent bonds of friendship, and ever fearful of parliamentary consequences. As for M. Clemenceau, his part in the discussion was thoroughly typical and in very many instances his views prevailed. His arguments instead of being presented by deductive reasoning like those of Mr. Wilson or of exploding incidentally like those of Mr. Lloyd George---proceeded by assertions weighty, rough-hewn and insistent, but clothed with gentle words that did him credit and refulgent with emotion which at times was overpowering. Mr. Keynes has had the face to find fault with him for seeking first of all to place France beyond the reach of German aggression.. It is the criticism of a man who has understood nothing of the history of Europe during the past fifty years and whose insular egoism cannot grasp what invasion means.
This period of history is closed. Most of the men who dominated it are retired. This gives me the greater freedom to say that the lesson of the war was not lost upon them, that despite their deep differences of opinion they were animated by an all-powerful unity of purpose, by a spirit of real understanding. "We entered here united," M. Clemenceau used to say, "we must leave here brothers." France and her spokesman did all they could to bring this about. They had a hard time of it. To give effect by common agreement to the essential bases of peace---restitution, reparation and guarantees---what toil and labour therein lay! Complete harmony crowned their work with success. It is easy to pretend that the policy of France was a "punic" policy: the mark of the beast is upon our devastated region and tells on which side were the Carthaginians. It is easy to taunt President Wilson with having adapted his principles to the pressing demands of reality, although as a matter of fact they were not his principles alone but the principles of all of us and not one of them was violated: this brand of sarcasm comes from those who in the solitary seclusion of their firesides build in their own minds an imaginary world from which living, suffering and achieving humanity is arbitrarily banished. It is easy to make capital out of Mr. Lloyd George's contradictions: no one has suffered more from them than France. But in justice it must be added that in the most serious times those who knew how to talk to the British Prime Minister could always bring him back to fundamental principles. The infinite sensitiveness of his mind, his passionate love of success, led him to improvise arguments which did not always bear examination or were too exclusively pro-British.
But when a man who enjoyed his respect answered the bold suggestions of his quick brain with those permanent truths which he had momentarily deserted, he came back to them when the time arrived for final decision. These three men, for whom needless to say I have not the same personal feeling, forced upon me the same conviction about them all; the conviction that in their unheard-of task they managed to maintain and make even closer the bonds that bind our three countries, the breaking of which would spell disaster to civilization. They only did so with great difficulty. In their search for essential unanimity, they sometimes discovered that they neither knew one another well nor understood one another fully. Nevertheless they reached agreement, and reached it by open, straight and honest paths. This I assert, and I assert it because I was there and others who have said the contrary were not.
And then there were minor criticisms. Fault was found that the Council of Four had no official secretariat. In the first place, all its decisions were minutely recorded. In the second, bureaucratic paper-mongers nearly cost us the war. Later on, in 1920, they nearly compassed the "sabotage" of the Peace. Thanks are due to those who discussed things freely without thought of protecting themselves by and with a set of minutes! Fault has been found with the time spent in discussion. The Conference of Paris began on January 12, 1919. The Treaty was in the hands of the Germans on the seventh of May. It was signed on June 28. There is no instance in history of a work of this magnitude accomplished so rapidly. The Congress of Vienna lasted fifteen months; the Congress of Westphalia five years, and in each case the task was less. If my personal experience of the negotiations has left any regret in my mind, it is that at times things were done too quickly. Fault has been found that, contrary to diplomatic tradition, the Treaty of Peace was built without the classic propylaeum of a preliminary treaty. Perhaps it would have been better if a summary treaty had followed close upon the Armistice. This is what the French delegates had at first proposed. Circumstances made it impossible. These preliminaries could have been signed neither before the fifteenth of February when Mr. Wilson left for Washington and Mr. Lloyd George for London, nor during the absence of M. Clemenceau who was wounded by an assassin on the twenty-first. When everybody met again on March 15, the progress made by the commissions justified the hope that the work would soon be finished, as it was in fact six weeks later when the Treaty was ready, and the idea of preliminaries was abandoned. It was also abandoned for two other reasons. The first was that a preliminary, that is to say a provisional and incomplete Peace would have encouraged the already active campaign for immediate demobilization which everybody realized was both necessary and dangerous.. The second was that President Wilson, anxious to have only one draft and not two to submit to the U. S. Senate and desiring also not to dissociate the ratification of the Peace from the ratification of the League of Nations, insistently urged the abandonment of preliminaries and the immediate preparation of the final Treaty of Peace. The ratification of the Treaty by the U. S. Senate was a matter of so many and such keen apprehensions to the European Powers, that they did not even think of disregarding on a question of procedure the formal desire of the President of the United States. That is why the preliminaries were abandoned and the final treaty prepared.
Fault has also been found with the four heads of Governments who have been accused of assuming a task which was not theirs, and having thus delayed the settlement. "The Armistice was signed on November 11," say these critics, "and the Conference did not begin until January 12, two months later. If delegates had been chosen who were neither heads of States nor Prime Ministers, if it had not been necessary to wait first for Mr. Wilson who was obliged to prepare for his departure and then for Mr. Lloyd George who was held up by his elections, two months would have been gained. "Does anyone really believe that the private conversations of the month of December were not of importance?(11) Does anyone really believe that without them certain of the French claims which were opposed by the British delegation would have found that moral support in American quarters which ensured their ultimate success? But above all does anyone really believe that it would have been possible to do the work that had to be done except by those who had full responsibility and sovereign power of decision? Would the ablest and most distinguished of officials been equal to it? This question can be answered by experience. Half of the commissions when they really got to the heart of the problems they were asked to solve, hesitated to make decisions of principle which it was perfectly evident could only be taken by the heads of Governments.
Beyond doubt---and fault was found with them for this also---the fact that they were the heads of Government obliged the men who made the peace to give part of their time to the current affairs of Europe and of the world. There was nothing to do about it; and besides does anyone really believe that these current affairs, all closely linked with the peace itself, did not gain from being administered by the men who were working on the peace! Europe kept on living. Her life was hard indeed, beset with material and moral difficulties. These difficulties could not wait. The food supply of Europe had to be provided for without delay; political and national conflicts had to be settled forthwith; special bodies to deal with these matters-like the Armistice Commission at Spa, and the Supreme Economic Council,---had to be created and directed and supervised. No one but the heads of Governments could do all this. It took time but it saved time also. What would have happened if they had not done it? What would have happened if famine had been allowed to decimate Germany and Poland? What would have happened if revolution in Hungary, in Bavaria and elsewhere had been allowed to run its course unheeded! So really there was no alternative. Had these realities been laid aside for the exclusive preparation of the Treaty, the peace would have been delayed and compromised. Theorists may deplore the "super-government" set up in Paris in 1919 to their hearts' content. It was a necessity.
Such the work of the Four. France may well be proud of the part she played, ever firm and friendly. No one has ever stated that the methods adopted were all perfect. But that they were adequate to a tremendous task, is proved by the results. It was cheap and easy to caricature this immense undertaking to suit one's own purposes. The truth stands by itself. I am trying to tell it here.
I have perhaps waited too long to tell it. It would have been better to have spoken earlier. Another of the faults found with the Conference of Paris was that it surrounded itself with mystery. I am inclined to the belief that, in this respect, a mistake was really made. I hold that the Conference was weakened by its aloofness. Here again I feel impelled, even though I might prefer otherwise, to relate exactly how this came about.
The representatives of the Powers, great and small, arrived in Paris in December, 1919. An impressive array of journalists accompanied them; more than three hundred from the United States alone. The Press, thus mobilized, had tremendous expectations. Were not the events of yesterday and of to-morrow of unprecedented importance; had not the fullest publicity been promised? Did not the first of the Fourteen Points explicitly accepted by all the Powers as the basis of the peace, read: "Open covenants of peace, openly arrived at, after which there shall be no private international understandings of any kind but diplomacy shall proceed always frankly and in the public view." Before negotiations even began, the Conference backed water. The President of the United States---he said it himself---had never intended open negotiations but only open debates upon all decisions arrived at before the latter became final. There was no question of full publicity of the negotiations. The first care of the Conference in organizing its relations with the Press was to strike an even balance between the need for silence and the need for news.
At once---as early as January 12---M. Clemenceau who had supported the creation of the Press Club of the Champs-Elysées to facilitate the work of the newspaper men took his stand.
"There is a general expectation and wish by the public that all the subjects of our discussion shall be published. We have the greatest interest in showing the public the results of our work."
Right then and before agreement had even been reached on an official text, the difficulties began which for six months grew and multiplied as one incident followed another. The Conference was held in Paris. If it had not been, the French Government would have been accused of not properly defending our rights. Because it was held in Paris, the position of France was singularly delicate. A distinguished member of the Allied Press said to me one day:
"We are your guests. Whenever the Press is not satisfied, it will put the blame on you."
This was true of the Press. It was also true of all the men who were making the Peace. They felt that the hospitality extended to them by France entitled them to special protection. A hundred times prior to the signature of Peace from the greatest to the last, they showed this spirit. The Censorship made things worse. M. Clemenceau on assuming office in November, 1917, had said: "No censorship of articles; they may attack me as much as they like"---a right of which full advantage was taken---"but suppression of news dangerous to the interior and exterior security of France." Our Allies never understood this distinction. Need I add that, if they were usually indifferent to false news, items against which we could take action, they were unduly sensitive to criticisms and malicious attacks against which we were powerless.
On January 15 the first friction arises. Mr. Lloyd George complains of insinuations published in certain French newspapers. President Wilson goes even further and although representing a country in which censorship had been abolished immediately following the Armistice, asks that the French censorship should be exercised not only over the French newspapers but also over despatches sent to foreign papers. M. Clemenceau opposes a friendly refusal and the next day, as a hint for forbearance , lays upon the table an extract from the New York Tribune even more lacking in exactness and courtesy. Such incidents reappeared frequently. Towards the end of March, following the publication of articles in I'Echo de Paris, le Journal and le Temps, Mr. Lloyd George indignantly denounced these "leaks" and demanded condign punishment. He added:
"If this kind of thing is to go on, I shall cease to take part in the work of the Conference."
M. Clemenceau, it may be contended, had but to take him at his word. But what would have been said if, with Germany looking on, the head of the French Government had failed to smooth over incidents of this kind, or had displayed that "impulsiveness" for which he was always being criticized when he was not being accused of "weakness"?
The reasons which led to the strict limitation of news given to the Press during the discussions of January, 1919, deserve to be known. The French Government---which suffered most from an ill-informed Press which honestly gave currency to the criminal statements of a dishonest Press---was the last to underrate the importance of these reasons. In the first place the members of the Conference had to accomplish their unprecedented task under the very eyes of the enemy---for an armistice is not peace. The elaboration of a treaty after a war which had brought seventy million men to grips and cost twelve hundred thousand millions, the elaboration of a treaty between twenty-seven nations on one side and four on the other was not so simple as it is the fashion to pretend now that the work is done. Any false step might have led to disaster, might have increased the difficulties between the Allies and Germany. Any indiscretion might have been made capital of in Berlin as in Paris, might have prolonged a task which all were ready to criticize as too slow, might have jeopardized, if not the result, at least the speed of its accomplishment. Besides---and Mr. Lloyd George's remarks on this subject were irrefutable---the aim of the negotiations was agreement between the Allies. How many historical differences ---as M. Clemenceau so clearly explained to the French Parliament---made this agreement difficult; not as far as principles were concerned but in matters of interpretation and application.
"If the Press," said Mr. Lloyd George, "intervenes in the early stages of the negotiations, it will crystallize opinions and agreement will be made more difficult."
This agreement, I repeat, could not be reached by a vote of the majority,---unanimity was necessary; as it had been in the inter-allied councils of war where final decisions were reached by gradual adjustment and would have been impossible if the exchange of views had been paralyzed by publication from time to time. Unanimity was necessary so that to the very last moment everyone might remain free to modify or develop his thought without closing the door to mutual concessions from which only agreement could come. Finally to admit the Press to the development of the negotiations would have been to admit politics; it would have been to furnish, week by week, materials for parliamentary questions on the formative stages of the work of the Conference; it would have been to add the fuel of parliamentary controversy to the flame of Conference discussions. Mr. Lloyd George, although his majority in December had been overwhelming, first called attention to this danger. M. Clemenceau, although he had received many votes of confidence, knew to what extent national problems would be used by some for political ends. Mr. Wilson, since the fifth of November, had been in a minority in his own Congress. Here again the highest interests of the negotiations counselled prudence. This view was adopted by the heads of Governments.
After a few meetings, a line of action was settled upon. On January 16, it was decided to consult the newspapermen themselves who very naturally asked to be admitted everywhere. But on the seventeenth, it was decided to admit them only to the plenary sittings, it being understood that the discussions between the Great Powers were merely conversations and that the sittings in which the smaller Powers took part were private. The same day, an appeal was made to the patience of the Press in an eloquent statement which forcefully epitomized the above arguments. On the other hand the members of the delegations were requested not to furnish newspapermen with any information. The communiqué issued by the Secretariat would alone be official. The die was cast. ...The Conference was to continue its weighty task surrounded by the indifference or the hostility of the Press. Mr. Balfour, Mr. Pichon and I tried to mitigate the impression caused by receiving newspaper men at stated hours. When in March the discussions were begun in earnest and attention became concentrated on points of capital importance, the Supreme Council asked us to abandon these receptions. When one realizes to what extent some of our statements had been misinterpreted, and how delicate the negotiations had become, this request is easily understood. However that may be, the weeks from March 15 to April 30 were singularly agitated in Press circles. Mr. Lloyd George tried giving out interviews but without avail, for on fundamental matters everyone's lips were sealed by fear of making agreement more difficult. The newspapers were discontented and made up for the inadequacy of their information by the prodigality of their criticism. The public, ill-informed and distrusted, lost interest and became suspicious. This continued till the end of the Conference.
In April the question arises whether the conditions of peace shall be published before being handed to the Germans or simultaneously. M. Clemenceau insists upon their publication.
"It is inadmissible," he said, "that our countrymen should be obliged to read the Treaty in the Berliner Tageblatt."
Alone of this opinion, M. Clemenceau is obliged to give way to the majority and only a resumé is published. In May and June, the same question arises. The United States Senate first received and then a French newspaper published the full text of the Treaty. Nevertheless it is decided to await the signature. In July, the parliamentary debate begins. M. Clemenceau asks for authority to communicate to the Commission presided over by M. Viviani the minutes of the Committee of the League of Nations. Again unanimous refusal. Treaties are public property, but the preparation of treaties must remain secret. This will be known to history as the doctrine of the Conference of Paris.
I have stated the facts. What conclusions or lessons can be drawn from them? It is necessary first to clear away the objection so frequently put forth that "If the public had been informed, France would not have been obliged always to give way to her Allies." It must be cleared away, because it is false that France always gave way; on the contrary her views generally prevailed. But on the other hand it is certain that silence did great harm to the Treaty in the public mind. It harmed it more in France than anywhere, although in the United States the damages were at least as apparent. Parliamentary debates were in adequate to enlighten the people. Who reads the Journal Officiel or Hansard or the Congressional Record? Besides a few speeches were not sufficient to explain in detail the continuous effort of six months. Constant publicity would have been necessary. Thus the door was opened wide to misstatement and to falsehood. The paramount necessity ---vital to all the Allies but especially vital to France---of maintaining in peace the bonds of friendship forged in war, the long and laborious efforts to this end, the sacrifices made to it by all without exception, were not understood. Political campaigns took advantage of this ignorance.
Could more have been done? No, out of regard for our Allies. Neither the conversations exchanged nor the texts discussed by the Conference were the exclusive property of France. To publish, divulge, repeat these things without the consent of all concerned would have been improper and dangerous. No foreign Parliament has advanced any such pretension. The House of Commons asked nothing. The United States Senate, despite the heat of its political struggles, did not take advantage of its right to send a delegation to Paris. And when the French Government suggested, in July, that certain records should be communicated to our Parliamentary Commissions, the Allies were unanimous in their friendly but formal reminder that the common rule must be respected. M. Clemenceau did not feel that he could disregard their wishes in the matter.
This may be regretted. M. Clemenceau told the Chamber that he regretted it. I regret it as much as he does. We are democracies, and democracies must know in order to be able to will. It is certain that our French Democracy, because it did not know enough, was the defenseless victim of those who preached the failure of the peace. It is no less certain that when I go over each item and ask myself, "Could we have spoken?" I am tempted to reply, "No!" The Treaty, had it been more quickly and more thoroughly explained, would have been better understood. But by multiplying the echoes of dissension the danger would have been great that there would be no Treaty at all. That is the whole question.
Thus time passed, from the end of December, 1918, to the beginning of July, 1919. A time of complexities and of difficulties, a time of overwhelming work and responsibility but also of inspiring effort and result; a time often dramatic. I have explained the inner workings of the machine. I shall now attempt to show the extent of its output.
Something of the wild exhilaration of the Armistice which soon sobered down into a tranquil optimism had marked the first meeting of the Conference. Excessive optimism prevailed as to agreement on the application of principles; excessive optimism prevailed as to the power of this imposing group of victors to control the actual course of events. I have told how France proposed a programme of work which had been rejected as too hard-and-fast and systematic. The Anglo-Saxons preferred to deal with the most pressing matters first. So the Russian question was taken up, with what naive hopes later events have shown. Then there was the hopeless failure of Prinkipo, vainly prophesied from the first by M. Clemenceau. Then---all the while attempting to disarm Germany and to draw up the pact of the League of Nations,---we began to hold meetings for information. Interminable statements, many of which revealed an alarming Imperialism on the part of the most recent beneficiaries of victory, were listened to without discussion. About this time the United States and Great Britain both calling for the presence of the heads of their respective Governments, Mr. Wilson and Mr. Lloyd George had to go away. Five days later, M. Clemenceau was struck down by an assassin and had to retire temporarily with a bullet in his lung. It was a fallow and discouraging time, a time of difficulties and of vain disputes over questions of procedure-modified Armistice, preliminary terms of Peace or Treaty. How ever, inside progress was being made. The commissions were filing their reports in quick succession. By the end of March, their work was about completed. It was at this moment that the Council of Four which met for the first time on March 24, took up this material. In six weeks of continuous effort, they were going to clear away the underbrush, lay the foundations and build up the Treaty.
Then discussions began. Calm and unruffled on most points, bitter and stormy on three of the most important to France: the left bank of the Rhine, the Sarre Valley and the question of reparations. These three points took up long sittings and led to fierce debates. Furthermore on certain occasions two tendencies began to appear which foreshadowed future difficulties. France, usually supported by the United States, demanded that the accepted principles of the Peace be unwaveringly applied: restitutions , reparations, guarantees.
"We were attacked," said M. Clemenceau, "we are victorious. We represent right, and might is ours. This might must be used in the service of right."
Mr. Lloyd George did not say no. Indeed, he sometimes urged exemplary severity, as for the punishment of the Kaiser and his accomplices or to force payment of the expenses of the war. But at times also his parliamentary obsession would come over him. Under the influence of some of his assistants----such as General Smuts---or after breakfasting with some Labour Leader, he would arrive at the meeting looking glum, and announce, "They will not sign." That was his great anxiety. It led him to write long Notes in which he laid down for himself and recommended to his allies a policy of extreme moderation.(12)
"We must have," he kept repeating, "a German Government that will sign. The one now in power is but a shadow. If our terms are too severe it will fall. And then look out for Bolshevism."
At the end of March this obsession became so threatening to the most vital clauses of the Treaty(13) that M. Clemenceau felt called upon to meet it with uncompromising directness which Anglo-Saxons accept, because they consider it fair and which impresses them far more than shifting resistance. On his instructions I drew up a Note in which Mr. Lloyd George's point of view was refuted step by step. It read:
The French Government is in complete accord with the general aim of Mr. Lloyd George's Note to make a lasting Peace and for that a just Peace.
It does not believe on the other hand that this principle, which is its own, really leads to the conclusions deduced from it in this Note.
This Note suggests granting moderate territorial conditions to Germany in Europe in order not to leave her after the Peace with feelings of deep resentment.
This method would be of value if the last war had merely been for Germany an European war, but this is not the case.
Germany before the war was a great world power whose "future was on the water." It was in this world power that she took pride. It is this world power that she will not console herself for having lost.
Now we have taken away from her---or we are going to take away from her---without being deterred by the fear of her resentment---all her Colonies, all her Navy, a great part of her merchant Marine (on account of Reparations), her foreign markets in which she was supreme.
Thus we are dealing her the blow which she will feel the worst and it is hoped to soften it by some improvement in territorial terms. This is a pure illusion, the remedy is not adequate to the ill.
If for reasons of general policy, it is desired to give certain satisfactions to Germany, it is not in Europe that they must be sought. This kind of appeasement will be vain so long as Germany is cut off from world politics.
In order to appease Germany (if such is the desire) we must offer her colonial satisfactions, naval satisfactions, satisfactions of commercial expansion. But the Note of March 26 merely contemplates giving her European territorial satisfactions.
Mr. Lloyd George's Note fears that if the territorial conditions imposed on Germany are too severe, it will give an impetus to Bolshevism. Is it not to be feared that this would be precisely the result of the action suggested?
The Conference has decided to call to life a certain number of new States. Can it without committing an injustice sacrifice them out of regard for Germany by imposing upon them inacceptable frontiers? If these peoples---notably Poland and Bohemia---have so far resisted Bolshevism, they have done so by the development of national spirit. If we do violence to this sentiment, they will become the prey of Bolshevism and the only barrier now existing between Russian Bolshevism and German Bolshevism will be broken down.
The result will be either a Confederation of Central and Eastern Europe under the leadership of Bolshevist Germany or the enslavement of this same vast territory by Germany swung back to reaction after a period of general anarchy. In either case, the Allies will have lost the war.
The policy of the French Government is on the contrary to give strong support to these young nations with the help of all that is liberal in Europe and not to seek at their expense to attenuate---which besides would be useless---the colonial, naval and commercial disaster which the Peace inflicts on Germany.
If in order to give to these young nations frontiers which are essential to their national life, it is necessary to transfer to their sovereignty Germans, the sons of those who enslaved them, one may regret having to do this and do it only with measure, but it cannot be avoided.
Moreover, by depriving Germany totally and definitely of her colonies because she has ill-treated the natives, one forfeits the right to refuse to Poland or to Bohemia their natural frontiers on the ground that Germans have occupied their territory as the forerunners of Pan-Germanism.
The Note of March 26 insists-and the French Government is in complete agreement-on the necessity of making a Peace that will appear to Germany to be a just Peace.
But it may be remarked that taking German mentality into consideration, it is not sure that the Germans will have the same idea of what is just as the Allies have.
Finally it must be retained that this impression of justice must be felt not only by the enemy but also, and first of all, by the Allies. The Allies who have fought together must conclude a Peace which will be fair to all of them.
But what would be the result of following the method suggested in the Note of March 26?
A certain number of full and final guarantees would be ensured to the maritime nations which have never been invaded.
Full and final cession of the German colonies.
Full and final surrender of the German Navy.
Full and final surrender of a large part of the German merchant Marine.
Full and lasting, if not final, exclusion of Germany from foreign markets.
To the continental nations, however, that is to say to those who have suffered the most from the war, only partial and deferred solutions are offered.
Partial solutions such as the reduced frontier suggested for Poland and Bohemia.
Deferred solutions such as the defensive undertaking offered to France for the protection of her territory.
Deferred solutions such as the proposed arrangement for the Sarre coal.
There is here an inequality which may well have a disastrous influence on the after-war relations between the Allies, which are more important than the after-war relations between Germany and the Allies.
It has been shown in Paragraph 1 that it would be an illusion to hope to find in territorial satisfactions given to Germany a sufficient compensation for the world-wide disaster she has sustained. May it be permitted to add that it would be an injustice to make the weight of these compensations fall upon those of the Allied nations which have borne the brunt of the war.
These countries cannot bear the costs of the Peace after having borne the cost of the war. It is essential that they too shall have the feeling that the Peace is just and equal for all.
Failing this, it is not only Central Europe in which Bolshevism may be feared, for as events have shown, no atmosphere is more favourable to Bolshevism than that of national disappointment.
The French Government desires to confine itself for the time being to these considerations of general policy.
It pays full homage to the intentions which inspire Mr. Lloyd George's Note, but it believes that the considerations which the present Note deduces from it are in accord with justice and the general interest.
It is by these considerations that the French Government will be guided in the coming exchange of views during the discussion of the terms suggested by the Prime Minister of Great Britain.
Mr. Lloyd George is ardent; but he has a good heart and a keen sense of justice. After a few hard words-face to face-the distance between the two points of view grew less and that of France made headway. The problem of the Sarre was the first to be solved early in April with the cordial assistance of the British Prime Minister. That of the left bank of the Rhine was solved on April 22, despite his repeated objections. The agreement on reparations was reached at about the same time and on the evening of May 6 the text of the Treaty was delivered by the printers. Thanks to steps taken by France, the name of Italy appeared upon it although news of the return of her plenipotentiaries had been received only the night before. On the seventh afternoon the terms of peace were solemnly handed to Count von Brockdorff-Rantzau. The German made a cold, harsh and insolent speech. As we were leaving Mr. Lloyd George, exasperated, said to me:
"It is hard to have won the war and to have to listen to that."
A few days passed and the German counter-proposals began to come in. The first received were met almost without discussion by negative replies couched in firm and determined language. Already the Austrian Treaty was being taken up. It looked as though everything was settled with Germany once and for all.
As a matter of fact, the second and most serious crisis of the Conference was at hand. It lasted from May 25 to June 16. The British Cabinet held two meetings in the last week of May which renewed and redoubled all the fears which the Prime Minister had felt in March. These fears were not as a matter of fact confined to him alone. Even in France many who have since become uncompromising then favoured concessions. Men repeated "Will they sign?" And some suggested a general back-down in order to induce them to sign. Those were atrocious days. Mr. Lloyd George, thoroughly alarmed by the consequences either of a refusal to sign or of a crisis in Germany, suggested unthinkable concessions on almost every point. He excused himself for doing it so tardily. He spoke of consulting the Commons. The work of two months was threatened with ruin. M. Clemenceau stood firm. If there was to be a break, he would go before the French Chamber and resign.
"We know the Germans better than you," he declared, our concessions will only encourage their resistance while depriving our own peoples of their rights.. We do not have to beg pardon for our victory."
President Wilson did not demand any change in the political clauses of the Peace and did not insist on the changes in the financial clauses which were suggested by his experts. Nevertheless no final decision was taken. Oppressive hours; exhausting sittings from which men emerged broken. On June 10 to force the issue I addressed to Mr. House the following letter which he showed the same evening to President Wilson:
June 10, 1919.
My dear friend,
Very grave mistakes have been made during the past week: there is only just time to repair them.
For more than five months the heads of Governments and their experts have studied the terms of the Peace to be imposed on Germany. They have reached an agreement and they have communicated to the Germans a text which, if it does not yet bind Count Brockdorff---in any case unquestionably binds the Allies.
Could the Allies suppose that this text would be satisfactory to Germany! Of course not. However, they adopted it. Germany protests, as it was certain she would. Immediately a modification of the text is undertaken. I say this is a confession of weakness and a confession of lack of seriousness, for which all the Allied Governments will pay dearly in terms of public opinion! Is it an impossible Treaty? Is it an unjust Treaty? Count Brockdorff believes that it is. If we change it, we admit that we think as he does. What a condemnation of the work we have done during the past sixteen weeks!
Mr. Lloyd George has said, But they will not sign and we shall have a thousand difficulties. It is the argument we heard so often during the war---after the battle of the Marne, after Verdun, after the German offensive in the spring of 1918, people said in all of our countries, "Let us make peace to avoid difficulties." We did not listen to them and we did well. We went on with the war and we won it. Shall we have less heart for peace than we had for war?
I add that these public discussions between Allies over a Treaty drawn up between Allies weaken us more every day in the eyes of an adversary who respects only firmness (see the reports from Versailles which arrived to-day).
Thus on the general principle my opinion is this: a week ago, we ought to have answered the Germans, "We will change nothing." If we had only made this answer, the Treaty would be signed to-day. We did not do it. What ought we to do now?
As regards the special principles about which amendments are being considered, what is the position?
Reparations? The British who made the first suggestion of amendment are with us to-day against any modification and it is your delegation which proposes (along with other changes which France cannot possibly accept), a total figure of 125 thousand million francs which would barely cover as far as France is concerned the two-thirds of the specific damages, reparation for which is imposed on Germany by a text of May 7. We will not accept it.
League of Nations! We have laid down after four months of study the conditions in which Germany may enter the League. Are we going to change them? Are we going to confess that our decision falls before the observations of Count Brockdorff? How after that could we defend the Treaty before our respective Parliaments?
All these vacillations, which were repeated in the matters of the Sarre and of the left bank of the Rhine, were the results of the initial mistake. But let me add another word.
No one has the right to ask France to accept such terms. France has an unique experience of Germany. No one has suffered as she has. It is useless to think of persuading France to accept such close cohabitation with Germany in the near future in violation of the text of the Covenant, first of all because France will not accept it and then because it is not just.
When the question arose of giving a hearing to the Irish, every one gave way to the British objections. When the question arose of Japan's status in the League of Nations, every one gave way to the American objections. When dealing with Germany it is France that must be heard.
But above all I would not have the moral position of the Allies sacrificed to the Brockdorff memorandum. I would not have them subjected to the unjustifiable humiliation of admitting that the peace built up by them after more than four months of incessant labour is, as Germany asserts, an unjust and impossible peace, for this is contrary to the truth.
Signed: André Tardieu.
Towards the end of June the atmosphere began to clear. Reason---represented by France---resumed her rights. The amendments suggested a fortnight before gradually vanished one by one. On the sixteenth the Allied answer to the German Notes was handed to Count Brockdorff. Drawn up by Mr. Lloyd George's own secretary---Mr. Philip Kerr---it was on every essential point the eloquent expression of the ideals which France had upheld for five months. I will cite only its more salient passages:
In the view of the Allied and Associated Powers the war which began on August 1, 1914, was the greatest crime against humanity and the freedom of peoples that any nation calling itself civilized has ever consciously committed...
Germany's responsibility however is not confined to having planned and started the war. She is no less responsible for the savage and inhuman manner in which it was conducted...
The conduct of Germany is almost unexampled in human history. The terrible responsibility which lies at her door can be seen in the fact that no less than seven million dead lie buried in Europe while more than twenty million others carry upon them the evidence of wounds and suffering because Germany saw fit to gratify her lust for tyranny by resort to war.
The Allied and Associated Nations believe that they will be false to those who have given their all to save the freedom of the world if they consent to treat this war on any other basis than as a crime against humanity and right...
Justice, therefore, is the only possible basis for the settlement of the accounts of this terrible war. Justice is what the German delegation asks for and what Germany has been promised. Justice is what Germany shall have. But it must be Justice for all. There must be Justice for the dead and wounded and for those who have been orphaned and bereaved that Europe might be freed from Prussian despotism. There must be Justice for the people who now stagger under war debts which exceed thirty thousand million pounds, that Liberty might be saved. There must be Justice for those millions whose homes and lands, ships and property German savagery has spoliated and destroyed. ..
Not to do justice to all concerned would only leave the world open to fresh calamities. The Treaty is frankly not based upon a general condonation of the events of 1914-1919, it would not be a peace of justice if it were.
As such the Treaty in its present form must be accepted or rejected.
On June 28, at Versailles, in the Hall of Mirrors, on the very spot where Bismarck had proclaimed the German Empire in 1871, MM. Hermann Muller and Bell, replacing Count Brockdorff who had resigned, signed the Treaty identical in all its fundamentals with the text of May 7. The fight was won.
In the succeeding chapters I shall show what these fundamental principles mean to the future of France and of Europe. The foregoing reveals one of the features which characterize its importance. It is that the Treaty born of long and arduous discussion could not bring to all who signed it the realization of all their expectations. The victory had been the work of a coalition. The peace which ended the war was, like the war itself, the work of a coalition, that is to say, a compromise in which all made sacrifices and reduced their demands to a minimum,---a minimum because the capacity for construction is less than the capacity for destruction, a minimum because the very origins of the war and the promises made during the war in view of peace precluded the possibility of certain traditional solutions of annexation and brutality to which the experience of centuries had accustomed warring peoples, a minimum because between so many Allies justly entitled to claim a share in the victory it was inevitable there should be in peace as in war divergent and often contradictory ideas and tendencies, traditions and hopes, sometimes even ambitions.
Thus in the very hour when every national entity wrought up by suffering and by victory aspired to the full satisfaction of their every hope, the Treaty could be but a compromise,---a compromise not only between conflicting claims but a compromise too between principles which are plain and facts which are complex---a compromise between glories and miseries, between memories and hopes, between strength and weakness---an average of security, of justice, and of solidarity which doubtless did not realize and could not realize complete security, full justice nor absolute solidarity but which nevertheless contained enough of security, enough of justice, enough of solidarity to make it the power towards which turn all, in their search for peace, both those who have most severely criticized it and those who have most inadequately enforced it.
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