The world in the year after the great war was like a man who has had some vital surgical operation very roughly performed, and who is not yet sure whether he can now go on living or whether he has not been so profoundly shocked and injured that he will presently fall down and die. It was a world dazed and stunned. German militarist imperialism had been defeated, but at an overwhelming cost. It had come very near to victory. Everything went on, now that the strain of the conflict had ceased, rather laxly, rather weakly, and with a gusty and uncertain temper. There was a universal hunger for peace, a universal desire for the lost safety and liberty and prosperity of pre-war times, without any power of will to achieve and secure these things.
Just as with the Roman Republic under the long strain of the Punic War, so now there had been a great release of violence and cruelty, and a profound deterioration in financial and economic morality. Generous spirits had sacrificed themselves freely to the urgent demands of the war, but the sly and base of the worlds of business and money had watched the convulsive opportunities of the time and secured a firm grip upon the resources and political power of their countries. Everywhere men who would have been regarded as shady adventurers before 1914 had acquired power and influence while better men toiled unprofitably. Such men as Lord Rhondda, the British food controller, killed themselves with hard work, while the war profiteer waxed rich and secured his grip upon press and party organization.
In the course of the war there had been extraordinary experiments in collective management in nearly all the belligerent countries. It was realized that the common expedients of peacetime commerce, the haggling of the market, the holding out for a favorable bargain, were incompatible with the swift needs of warfare. Transport, fuel, food supply, and the distribution of the raw materials not only of clothing, housing, and the like but of everything needed for war munitions, had been brought under public control. No longer had farmers been allowed to under- farm; cattle had been put upon deer parks and grasslands ploughed up, with or without the owner’s approval. Luxury building and speculative company promotion had been restrained. In effect, a sort of emergency socialist state had been established throughout belligerent Europe. It was rough-and-ready and wasteful, but it was more effective than the tangled incessant profit seeking, the cornering and forestalling and incoherent productiveness of «private enterprise».
In the earlier years of the war there was a very widespread feeling of brotherhood and the common interest in all the belligerent states. The common men were everywhere sacrificing life and health for what they believed to be the common good of the state. In return, it was promised, there would be less social injustice after the war, a more universal devotion to the common welfare. In Great Britain, for instance, Mr. Lloyd George was particularly insistent upon his intention to make the after-war Britain «a land fit for heroes». He foreshadowed the continuation of this new war communism into the peace period in discourses of great fire and beauty. In Great Britain, there was created a Ministry of Reconstruction, which was understood to be planning a new and more generous social order, better labour conditions, better housing, extended education, a complete and scientific revision of the economic system. Similar hopes of a better world sustained the common soldiers of France and Germany and Italy. It was premature disillusionment that caused the Russian collapse, So that two mutually dangerous streams of anticipation were running through the minds of men in Western Europe towards the end of the war. The rich and adventurous men, and particularly the new war profiteers, were making their plans to prevent such developments as that air transport should become a state property, and to snatch back manufactures, shipping, land transport, the public services generally, and the trade in staples from the hands of the commonweal into the grip of private profit; they were securing possession of newspapers and busying themselves with party caucuses and the like to that end; while the masses of common men were looking forward naively to a new state, of society planned almost entirely in their interest and according to generous general ideas. The history of 1919 is largely the clash of these two streams of anticipation. There was a, hasty selling off, by the «business» government in control, of every remunerative public enterprise to private speculators. By the middle of 1919 the labour masses throughout the world were manifestly disappointed and in a, thoroughly bad temper. The British «Minister of Reconstruction» and its foreign equivalents were exposed as a soothing sham. The common man felt he had been cheated. There was to be no reconstruction, but only a restoration of the old order-in the harsher form necessitated by the poverty of the new time.
For four years the drama of the war had obscured the social question, which had been developing in the Western civilizations, throughout the nineteenth century. Now that the war was over, this question reappeared gaunt and bare, as it had never been seen before.
And the irritations find hardships and the general insecurity of the new time were exacerbated by a profound disturbance of currency and credit. Money, a complicated growth of conventions rather than a system of values, had been deprived within the belligerent countries of the support of a gold standard. Gold had been retained only for international trade, and every government had produced excessive quantities of paper money for domestic use. With the breaking down of the wartime barriers the international exchange became a wildly fluctuating confusion, a source of’ distress to everyone except a few gamblers and wily speculators. Prices rose and rose with an infuriating effect upon the wage earner. On the one hand was the employer resisting his demands for more pay; on the other hand, food, houseroom, and clothing were being steadily cornered against him. And, which was the essential danger of the situation, he had lost any confidence he had ever possessed that any patience or industrial willingness he displayed would really alleviate the shortages and inconveniences by which he suffered.
In the speeches of politicians towards the close of 1911 and the spring of 1920, there was manifest an increasing recognition of the fact that what is called the capitalist system-the private ownership system that is, in which private profit is the working incentive-was on its trial. It had to produce general prosperity, they admitted, or it had to be revised. It is interesting to note such a speech as that of Mr. Lloyd George, the British premier, delivered on Saturday, December 6th, 1919. Mr. Lloyd George had had the education and training of a Welsh solicitor; he entered politics early, find in the course of a brilliant parliamentary career be had had few later opportunities for reading and thought. But being a man of great natural shrewdness, he was expressing here very accurately the ideas of the more intelligent of the businessmen and wealthy men and ordinary citizens who supported him.
«There is a new challenge to civilization», he said. «What is it? It is fundamental. It affects the whole fabric of society as we know it; it’s commerce, its trade, its industry, its finance, its social order-all are involved in it. There are those who maintain that the prosperity and strength of the country have been built up by the stimulating and invigorating appeal to individual impulse, to individual action. That is one view. The State must educate; the State must assist where necessary; the State must control where necessary; the State must shield the weak against the arrogance of the strong; but the life springs from individual impulse and energy. (Cheers.) That is one view. What is the other? That private enterprise is a failure, tried, and found wanting-a complete failure, a cruel failure. It must be rooted out, and the community must take charge as a community, to produce, to distribute, as well as to control.
«Those are great challenges for us to decide. We say that the ills of private enterprise can be averted. They say, No, they cannot. No ameliorative, no palliative, no restrictive, no remedial measure will avail. These evils are inherent in the system. They are the fruit of the tree, and you must cut it down.’ That is the challenge we hear ringing through the civilized world today, from ocean to ocean, through valley and plain. You hear it in the whining and maniacal shrieking of the Bolshevists. You hear it in the loud, clear, but more restrained tones of Congresses and Conferences. The Bolshevists would blow up the fabric with high explosive, with horror. Others would pull down with the crowbars and with cranks especially cranks. (Laughter.)
«Unemployment, with its injustice for the man who seeks and thirsts for employment, who begs for labour and cannot get it, and who is punished for failure he is not responsible for by the starvation of his children-that torture is something that private enterprise ought to remedy for its own sake, (Cheers.) Sweating, slums, the sense of semi-slavery in labour, must go. We must cultivate a sense of manhood by treating men as men. If I and I say this deliberately if I had to choose between this fabric I believe in, and allowing millions of men and women and children to rot in its cellars, I would not hesitate one hour. That is not the choice. Thank God it is not the choice. Private enterprise can produce more, so that all men get a fair share of it…»
Here, put into quasi-eloquent phrasing, and with a jest adapted to the mental habits of the audience, we have the common-Sense view of the ordinary prosperous man not only of Great Britain but also of America or France or Italy or Germany.
In quality and tone it is a fair sample of British political thought in 1919. The prevailing economic system has made us what we are, is the underlying idea; and we do not want any process of social destruction to precede a renascence of society, we do not want to experiment with the fundamentals of our social order. Let us accept that. Adaptation, Mr. Lloyd George admitted, there had to be. Now this occasion of his speaking was a year and a month after the Armistice, and for all that period private enterprise had been failing to do all that Mr. Lloyd George was so cheerfully promising it would do. The community was in urgent need of houses. Throughout the war there had been a cessation not only of building but also of repairs. The shortage of houses in the last months of 1919 amounted to scores of thousands in Britain alone. Multitudes of people were living in a state of exasperating congestion, and the most shameless profiteering in apartments and houses was going on. It was a difficult, but not an impossible situation. Given the same enthusiasm and energy and self-sacrifice that had tided over the monstrous crisis of 1916, the far easier task of providing a million houses could have been performed in a year or so. But there had been corners in building materials, transport was in a disordered state, and it did not pay private enterprise to build houses at any rents within the means of the people who needed them. Private enterprise, therefore, so far from bothering about the public need of housing, did nothing but corner and speculate in rents and sub-letting. It now demanded grants in aid from the State in order to build at a profit. And there was a great crowding and dislocation of goods at the depots because there was insufficient road transport. There was an urgent want of cheap automobiles to move about goods and workers. But private enterprise in the automobile industry found it far more profitable to produce splendid and costly cars for those whom the war had made rich. The ammunition factories built with public money could have been converted very readily into factories for the mass production of cheap automobiles, but private enterprise had insisted upon these factories being sold by the State, and would neither meet the public need itself nor let the State do so. So, too, with the world in the direst discomfort for need of shipping, private enterprise insisted upon the shutting down of the newly constructed State shipyards.
Currency was dislocated everywhere, but private enterprise was busy buying and selling francs or marks and intensifying the trouble. While Mr. George was making the very characteristic speech we have quoted, the discontent of the common man was gathering everywhere, and little or nothing was being done to satisfy his needs. It was becoming very evident that unless there-was to be some profound change in the spirit of business, under an unrestrained private enterprise system there was little or no hope, in Europe at any rate, of decent housing, clothing, or education for the workers for two or three generations.
These are facts that the historian of mankind is obliged to note with as little comment as possible. Private enterprise in Europe in 1919 and 1920 displayed neither will nor capacity for meeting the crying needs of the time. So soon as it was released from control, it ran naturally into speculation, cornering, and luxury production. It followed the line of maximum profit. It displayed no sense of its own dangers; and it resisted any attempt to restrain and moderate its profits and make itself serviceable, even in its own interest. And this went on in the face of the most striking manifestations of the extreme recalcitrance on the part of the European masses to the prolonged continuance of the privations and inconveniences they suffered. In 1913 these masses were living as they had lived since birth; they were habituated to the life they led. The masses of 1919, on the other hand, had been uprooted, everywhere, to go into the armies, to go into ammunition factories, and so on. They had lost their habits of acquiescence, and they were hardier and more capable of desperate action. Great multitudes of men had gone through such brutalizing training as, for instance, bayonet drill; they had learnt to be ferocious, and to think less either of killing or being killed. Social unrest had become, therefore, much more dangerous. Everything seemed to point to a refusal to tolerate the current state of affairs for many years. Unless the educated and prosperous and comfortable people of Europe could speedily get their private enterprise under sufficient restraint to make it work well and rapidly for the common good, unless they could develop the idea of business as primarily a form of public service and not primarily a method of profit-making, unless they could in their own interest achieve a security of peace that would admit of a cessation not only of war preparation, but of international commercial warfare, strike and insurrection promised to follow strike and insurrection tip to a complete social and political collapse. It was not that the masses had or imagined that they had the plan of a new social, political, and economic system. They had not, and they did not believe they had. The defects we have pointed out in the socialist scheme (Chapter XXXVIII, sec 5) were no secret from them. It was a much more dangerous state of affairs than that. It was that they were becoming so disgusted with the current system, with its silly luxury, its universal waste, and its general misery, that they did not care what happened afterward so long as they could destroy it. It was a return to a state of mind comparable to which had rendered possible the debacle of the Roman Empire.
Already in 1919 the world had seen one great community go that way, the Russian people. The Russians overturned the old order and submitted to the autocratic rule of a small group of doctrinaire Bolshevik socialists, because these men seemed to have something new to try. They wrecked the old system, and at any cost they would not have it back. The information available from Russia at the time of writing this summary is still too conflicting and too obviously tainted by propagandist aims for us to form any judgment upon the proceedings and methods of the Soviet Government, but it is very plain that from November, 1917, Russia has not only endured that government and its mainly socialistic methods, but has fought for it successfully against anything that seemed to threaten a return to the old régime.
We have already (sec5) pointed out the very broad differences between the Russian and the Western communities, and the strong reasons there are for doubting that they will move upon parallel lines and act in similar ways. The Russian peasants were cut off by want of education and sympathy from the small civilized community of prosperous and educated people, which lived upon them. These latter were a little separate nation. The peasants below, under the really quite alien incitement of the Bolshevik socialists, have thrown that separate nation off and destroyed it. In the towns, and in the towns alone, communism rules (1920); the rest of Russia is now no more than a wilderness of barbaric peasantry, but there is much more unity of thought and feeling between class and class in the west than in Russia, and particularly in the Atlantic communities. Even if they wrangle, classes can talk together and understand each other. There is no unbroken stratum, of illiterates. The groups of rich and speculative men, the «bad men» in business and affairs, whose freedoms are making the very name of «private enterprise» stink in the nostrils of the ordinary man, are only the more active section of very much larger classes, guilty perhaps of indolence and self-indulgence, but capable of being roused to a sense not merely of the wickedness but of the danger of systematic self-seeking in a strained, impoverished, and sorely tried world.
In one way or another it seems inevitable now that the new standard of well being which the mechanical revolution of the last century has rendered possible, should become the general standard of life. Revolution is conditional upon public discomfort. Social peace is impossible without a rapid amelioration of the needless discomforts of the present time. A rapid resort to willing service and social reconstruction on the part of those who own and rule, or else a world-wide social revolution leading towards an equalization of conditions and an attempt to secure comfort on new and untried lines, seem now to be the only alternatives before mankind. The choice which route shall be taken lies, we believe, in Western Europe, and still more so in America, with the educated, possessing, and influential classes. The former route demands much sacrifice, for prosperous people in particular, a voluntary assumption of public duties and a voluntary acceptance of class discipline and self-denial; the latter may take an indefinite time to traverse, it will certainly be a very destructive and bloody process, and whether it will lead to a new and better state of affairs at last is questionable. A social revolution, if ultimately the Western European States blunder into it, may prove to be a process extending over centuries; it may involve a social breakdown as complete as that of the Roman Empire, and it may necessitate as slow recuperation.
We have dealt with the social and economic disorder of the European communities, and the rapid return of the «class-war» to the foreground of attention, before giving any account of the work of world settlement that centered on the Peace Conference at Paris, because the worried and preoccupied state of everyone concerned with private problems of income, prices, employment, and the like goes far to explain the jaded atmosphere in which -that Conference addressed itself to the vast task before it.
The story of the Conference turns very largely upon the adventure of one particular man, one of those men whom accident or personal quality picks, out as a type to lighten the task of the historian. We have in the course of this history found it very helpful at times to focus our attention upon some individual, Buddha, Alexander the Great, Yuan Chwang, the Emperor Frederick II and Charles V and Napoleon I for example, and to let him by reflection illuminate the period in which he lived. The conclusion of the Great War can be seen most easily as the rise of the American President, President Wilson, to predominant importance in the world’s hopes and attention, and his failure to justify that predominance.
President Wilson (born 1856) had previously been a prominent student and teacher of history, constitutional law, and the political sciences generally. He had held various professorial chairs, and had been President of Princeton University (New Jersey). There is a long list of books to his credit, and they show a mind rather exclusively directed to American history and American politics. He was mentally the new thing in history, negligent of and rather ignorant of the older things out of which his new world had arisen. He retired from academic life, and was elected Democratic Governor of New Jersey in 1910. In 1913 he became the Democratic presidential candidate, and as a consequence of a violent quarrel between ex-President Roosevelt and President Taft, which split the dominant Republican party he became President of the United States.
The events of August 1914, seem to have taken President Wilson, like the rest of his fellow-countrymen, by surprise. We find him cabling an offer of his services as a mediator on August 3rd. Then, for a time, he and America watched the conflict, at first neither the American people nor their President seem to have had a very clear or profound understanding of that long-gathered catastrophe. Their tradition for a century had been to disregard the problems of the Old World, and it was not to be lightly changed. The imperialistic arrogance of the German Court and the stupid inclination of the German military authorities towards melodramatic «frightfulness», their invasion of Belgium, their cruelties there, their use of poison gas, and the nuisance of their submarine campaign, created a deepening hostility to Germany in the United States as the war proceeded; but the tradition of political abstinence and the deep-rooted persuasion that America possessed a political morality altogether superior to European conflicts, restrained the President from active intervention. He adopted a lofty tone. He professed to be unable to judge the causes and justice of the Great War. It was largely his high pacific attitude that secured his re-election as President for a second term. But the world is not to be mended by merely regarding evildoers with an expression of rather undiscriminating disapproval. By the end of 1916 the Germans had been encouraged to ’believe that under no circumstances whatever would the United States fight, and in 1917 they began their unrestricted submarine warfare and the sinking of American ships without notice. President Wilson and the American people were dragged into the war by this, supreme folly. And also they were dragged into a reluctant attempt to define their relations to Old World politics in some other terms than those of mere aloofness. Their thoughts and temper changed very rapidly. They came into the war side by side with the Allies, but not in any pact with the Allies. They came into the war, in the name of their own modern civilization, to punish and end an intolerable political and military situation.
Slow and belated judgments are sometimes the best judgments. In a series of «notes», too long and various for detailed treatment in this Outline, thinking aloud, as it were, in the hearing of all mankind, President Wilson sought to state the essential differences of the American State from the Great Powers of the Old World. We have been at some pains in this history to make plain the development of these differences. He unfolded a conception of international relationships that came like a gospel, like the hope of a better world, to the whole eastern hemisphere. Secret agreements were to cease, «nations» were to determine their own destinies, and militarist aggression was to cease the seaways were to be free to all mankind. These commonplaces of American thought, these secret desires of every sane man, came like a great light upon the darkness of anger and conflict in Europe. At last, men felt, the ranks of diplomacy were broken the veils of Great Power «policy» were rent in twain. Here with authority, with the strength of a powerful new nation behind it, was the desire of the common man throughout the world, plainly said.
Manifestly there was needed some over-riding instrument of government to establish world law and maintain these broad and liberal generalizations upon human intercourse. A number of schemes had floated in men’s minds for the attainment of that end. In particular there was a movement for some sort of world league, a «League of Nations». The American President adopted this phrase and sought to realize it. An essential condition of the peace he sought through the overthrow of German imperialism was, he declared, to be this federal organ. This League of Nations was to be the final court of appeal in international affairs. It was to be the substantial realization of the peace. Here again he awakened a tremendous echo.
President Wilson was the spokesman of a new age. Throughout the war, and for some little time after it had ended, he held, so far as the Old World was concerned, that exalted position. But in America, where they knew him better there were doubts and writing as we do now with the wisdom of subsequent events, we can understand these doubts. America, throughout a century and more of detachment and security, had developed new ideals and formula of political thought, without realizing with any intensity that, under conditions of stress and danger, these ideals and formula, might have to be passionately sustained. To her community many things were platitudes that had to the Old World communities, entangled still in ancient political complications, the quality of a saving gospel. President Wilson was responding to the thought and conditions of his own people and his own country, based on a liberal tradition that had first found its full expression in English speech; but to Europe and Asia he seemed to be thinking and saying, for the first time in history, things hitherto undeveloped and altogether secret. And that misconception he may have shared.
We are dealing here with an able and successful professor of political science, who did not fully realize what he owed to his contemporaries and the literary and political atmosphere he had breathed throughout his life; and who passed very rapidly, after his re-election as President, from the mental attitudes of a, political leader to those of a Messiah. His «notes» are a series of explorations of the elements of the world situation. When at last in his address to Congress of January 8th, 1918, he produced his Fourteen Points as a definite statement of the American peace intentions, they were, as a statement, far better in their spirit than in their arrangement and matter. This document demanded open agreements between nations and an end to secret diplomacy, free navigation of the high seas, free commerce, disarmament, and a number of political readjustment’s upon the lines of national independence. Finally in the Fourteenth Point it required «a general association of nations» to guarantee the peace of the world.
These Fourteen Points had an immense reception throughout the world here at last seemed a peace for reasonable men everywhere, as good and acceptable to honest and decent Germans and Russians, as to honest and decent Frenchmen and Englishmen and Belgians; and for some Months the whole world was lit by faith in Wilson. Could they have been made the basis of a world settlement in 1919, they would forthwith have opened a new and more hopeful era in human affairs.
But, as we must tell, they did not do that. There was about President Wilson a certain egotism; there was in the generation of people in the United States to whom this great occasion came, a generation born in security, reared in plenty and, so far as history goes, in ignorance, a generation remote from the tragic issues that had made Europe grave, a certain superficiality and lightness of mind. It was not that the American people were superficial by nature and necessity, but that they had never been deeply, stirred by the idea of a human community larger than their, own. It was an intellectual but not a moral conviction with them. One had on the one hand these new people of the new world, with their new ideas, their finer and better ideas, of peace and world righteousness and on the other the old, bitter, deeply entangled peoples of the Great Power system; and the former were crude and rather childish in their immense inexperience, and the latter were seasoned and bitter and intricate. The theme of this clash of the raw idealist youthfulness of a new age with the experienced ripeness of the old, was treated years ago by that great novelist, Henry James, in a very typical story called Daisy Miller. It is the pathetic story of a frank, trustful, high-minded, but rather simple-minded American girl, with a real disposition towards righteousness and a great desire for a «good time», and how she came to Europe and was swiftly entangled and put in the wrong, and at last driven to welcome death by the complex tortuousness and obstinate limitations of the older world. There have been a thousand variants of that theme in real life, a thousand such trans-Atlantic tragedies, and the story of President Wilson is one of them. But it is not to be supposed, because the new thing succumbs to the old infections, that is the final condemnation of the new thing.
Probably no fallible human being manifestly trying to do his best amidst overwhelming circumstances has been subjected to such minute, searching, and pitiless criticism as President Wilson. He is blamed and it would seem that he is rightly blamed, for conducting the war and the ensuing peace negotiations on strictly party lines. He remained the President representing the American Democratic Party, when circumstances conspired to make him the representative of the general interests of mankind. He made no attempt to forget party issues for a time, and to incorporate with himself such great American leader as ex-President, Roosevelt, ex-President Taft, and the like. He did not draw fully upon the moral and intellectual resources of the States; he made the whole issue too personal, and he surrounded himself with merely personal adherents. And a still graver error was his decision to come to the Peace Conference himself. Nearly every experienced critic seems to be of opinion that be should have remained in America, in the role of America, speaking occasionally as if a nation spoke. Throughout the concluding years of the war he had by that method achieved an unexampled position in the world.
Says Dr. Dillon «Europe, when the President touched its shores, was as clay ready for the creative potter.
Never before were the nations so eager to follow a Moses who would take them to the long-promised land where wars are prohibited and blockades unknown. And to their thinking he was that great leader. In France men bowed down before him with awe and affection labour leaders in Paris told me that they shed tears of joy in his presence, and that their comrades would go, through fire and water to help him to realize his noble schemes. To the working classes in Italy his name was a heavenly clarion at the sound of which the earth would be renewed. The Germans regarded him and his humane doctrine as their sheet anchor of safety. The fearless Herr Muehlon said: If President Wilson were to address the Germans, and pronounce a severe sentence upon them, they would accept it with resignation and without a murmur and set to work at once. In German-Austria, his fame was that of a savior, and the mere mention of his name brought calm to the suffering and surcease of sorrow to the afflicted…».
Such was the overpowering expectation of the audience to which President Wilson prepared to show himself. He reached France on board the George Washington in December 1918.
He brought his wife with him. That seemed no doubt a perfectly natural and proper thing to an American mind. Quite a number of the American representatives brought their wives. Unhappily a social quality, nay, almost a tourist quality, was introduced into the world settlement by these ladies. Transport facilities were limited, and most of them arrived in Europe with a radiant air of privilege. They came as if they came to a treat. They were it was intimated, seeing Europe under exceptional interesting circumstances. They would visit Chester, or Warwick, or Windsor en route-for they might not have a chance of seeing these celebrated places again. Important interviews would be broken off to get in a visit to some «old historical mansion». This may seem a trivial matter to note in a History of Mankind, but it was such small human things as this that threw a miasma of futility over the Peace Conference of 1919. In a little while one discovered that Wilson, the Hope of Mankind, had vanished, and that all the illustrated fashion papers contained pictures of a delighted tourist and his wife, grouped smilingly with crowned beads and such-like enviable company … It is so easy to be wise after the event, and to perceive that he should not have come over.
The men he had chiefly to deal with, for example M. Clemenceau (France), Mr. Lloyd George and, Mr. Balfour (Britain), Baron Sonnino and Signor Orlando (Italy), were men of widely dissimilar historical traditions. But in one respect they resembled him and appealed to his sympathies. They, too, were party politicians, who had led their country through the war. Like him they had failed to grasp the necessity of entrusting the work of settlement to more specially qualified men. «They were the merest novices in international affairs. Geography, ethnology, psychology, and, political history were sealed books to them. Like the Rector of Louvain University, who told Oliver Goldsmith that, as he had become the bead of that institution without knowing Greek, he failed to see why it should be taught there, the chiefs of State, having obtained the highest position in their respective countries without more than an inkling of international affairs, were unable to realize the importance of mastering them or the impossibility of repairing the omission as they went along …»
«What they lacked, however, might in some perceptible degree have been supplied by enlisting as their helpers men more happily endowed than themselves. But they deliberately chose mediocrities. It is a mark of genial spirits that they are well served, but the plenipotentiaries of the Conference were not characterized by it. Away in the background some of them, had familiars or casual prompters to whose counsels they were wont to listen, but many of the adjoints, who moved in the limelight of the world-stage were gritless and pith less.
«As the heads of the principal Governments implicitly claimed to be the authorized spokesmen of the human race, and endowed with unlimited powers, it is worth noting that this claim was boldly challenged by the people’s organs in the Press. Nearly all the journals read by the masses objected from the first to the dictatorship of the group of Premiers, Mr. Wilson being excepted …»
The restriction upon our space in this Outline will not allow us to tell here how the Peace Conference shrank from a Council of Ten to a Council of Four (Wilson, Clemenceau, Lloyd George, and Orlando), and how it became a conference less and less like a frank and open discussion of the future of mankind, and more and more like some old-fashioned diplomatic conspiracy. Great and wonderful had been the hopes that had gathered to Paris. «The Paris of the Conference», says Dr. Dillon, «ceased to be the capital of France. It became a vast cosmopolitan caravanserai teeming with unwanted aspects of life and turmoil, filled with curious samples of the races, tribes, and tongues of four continents that came to watch and wait for the mysterious tomorrow.
«An Arabian Nights’ touch was imparted to the dissolving panorama by strange visitants from Tartary and Kurdistan, Korea and Aderbeijan, Armenia, Persia, and the Hedjazmen with patriarchal beards and scimitar-shaped noses, and others from desert and oasis, from Samarkand and Bokhara. Turbans and fezes, sugar-loaf hats and head-gear resembling episcopal mitres, old military uniforms devised for the embryonic armies of new states on the eve of perpetual peace, snowywhite burnouses, flowing mantles, and graceful garments like the Roman toga, contributed to create an atmosphere of dreamy unreality in the city where the grimmest of realities were being faced and coped with.
«Then came the men of Wealth, of intellect, of industrial enterprise, and the seed-bearers of the ethical new ordering, members of economic committees from the United States, Britain, Italy, Poland, Russia, India, and Japan, representatives of naphtha industries and far-off coal mines, pilgrims, fanatics and charlatans from all climes, priests of all religions, preachers of every doctrine, who mingled with princes, field marshals, statesmen, anarchists, builders-up and pullers-down. All of them burned with desire to be near to the crucible in which the political and social systems of the world were to be melted and recast. Every day, in my walks, in my apartment, or at restaurants, I met emissaries from lands and peoples whose very names had seldom been heard of before in the West. A delegation from the Pont-Euxine Greeks called on me, and discoursed of their ancient cities of Trebizond, Samsoun, Tripoli, Kerassund, in which I resided many years ago, and informed me that they, too, desired to become welded into an independent Greek Republic, and had come to have their claims allowed. The Albanians were represented by my old friend Turkhan Pasha, on the one hand, and by my friend Essad Pasha on the other-the former desirous of Italy’s protection, the latter demanding complete independence. Chinamen, Japanese, Koreans, Hindus, Kirghizes, Lesghieus, Cireassians, Mingrelians, Buryats, Malays, and «Negroes and Negroids from Africa and America were among the tribes and tongues foregathered in Paris to watch the rebuilding of the political world system and to see where they ‘came in’…»
To this thronging, amazing Paris, agape for a new world, came President Wilson, and found its gathering forces dominated by a personality narrower, in every way more limited and beyond comparison more forcible than himself: the French Premier, M. Clemenceau. At the instance of President Wilson, M. Clemenceau was elected President of the Conference. «It was», said President Wilson, «a special tribute to the sufferings and sacrifices of France». And that, unhappily, sounded the keynote of the Conference, whose sole business should have been with the future of mankind.
Georges Benjamin Clemenceau was an old journalist politician, a great denouncer of abuses, a great up setter of governments, a doctor who had, while a municipal councilor, kept a free clinic, and a fierce, experienced duelist. None of his duels ended fatally, but he faced them with great intrepidity. He had passed from the medical school to republican journalism in the days of the Empire. In those days he was an extremist of the left. He was for a time a teacher in America, and he married and divorced an American wife. He was thirty in the eventful year 1871. He returned to France after Sedan, and flung himself into the stormy politics of the defeated nation with great fire and vigor. Thereafter France was his world, the France of vigorous journalism, high-spirited personal quarrels challenges, confrontations, scenes, dramatic effects, and witticisms at any cost. He was what people call «fierce stuff», he was nicknamed the «Tiger», and he seems to have been rather proud of his nickname. Professional patriot rather than statesman and thinker, this was the man whom the war had flung up to misrepresent the fine mind and the generous spirit of France. His limitations had a profound effect upon the conference, which was further colored by the dramatic resort for the purpose of signature to the very Hall of Mirrors at Versailles in which Germany had triumphed and proclaimed her unity. There the Germans were to sign. To M. Clemenceau, and to France, in that atmosphere, the war ceased to seem a world war; it was merely the sequel of the previous conflict of the Terrible Year, the downfall and punishment of offending Germany. «The world had to be made safe for democracy», said President Wilson. That from M. Clemenceau’s expressed point of view was «talking like Jesus Christ». The world had to be made safe for Paris «Talking like Jesus Christ» seemed a very ridiculous thing to many of those brilliant rather than sound diplomatists and politicians who made the year 1919 supreme in the history of human insufficiency.
(Another flash of the «Tiger’s» wit, it may be noted, was that President Wilson with his fourteen points, was «worse» than God Almighty. «Le bon Dieu» only had ten …) M. Clemenceau sat with Signor Orlando in the more central chairs of a semicircle of four in front of the fire, says Keynes. He wore a black frock-coat and gray suede gloves, which he never removed during these sessions. He was, it is to be ’noted, the only one of these four reconstructors of the world who could understand and speak both French and English.
The aims of M. Clemenceau were simple and in a manner attainable. He wanted all the settlement of 1871 undone. He wanted Germany punished as though she was a uniquely sinful nation and France a sinless martyr land. He wanted Germany so crippled and devastated as never more to be able to stand up to France. He wanted to hurt and humiliate Germany more than France had been hurt and humiliated in 1871. He did not care if in breaking Germany Europe was broken; his mind did not go far enough beyond the Rhine to understand that possibility. He accepted President Wilson’s League of Nations as an excellent proposal if it would guarantee the security of France whatever she did, but he preferred a binding alliance of the United States and England to maintain, uphold, and glorify France under practically any circumstances. He wanted wider opportunities for the exploitation of Syria, North Africa, and so forth by Parisian financial groups. He wanted indemnities to recuperate France, loans, gifts, and tributes to France, glory and homage to France. France had suffered, and France had to be rewarded. Belgium, Russia, Serbia, Poland, Armenia, Britain, Germany, and Austria had all suffered too, all mankind had suffered, but what would you? That was not his affair. These were the supers of a drama in which France was for him the star … In much the same spirit Signor Orlando seems to have sought the welfare of Italy.
Mr. Lloyd George brought to the Council of Four the subtlety of a Welshman, the intricacy of a European, and an urgent necessity for respecting the nationalist egotism of the British imperialists and capitalists who had returned him to power. Into the secrecy of that council went President Wilson with the very noblest aims for his newly discovered American world policy, his rather hastily compiled Fourteen Points, and a project rather than a scheme for a League of Nations.
«There can seldom have been a statesman of the first rank more incompetent than the President in the agilities of the Council Chamber». From the whispering dark nesses and fireside disputes of that council, and after various comings and goings we cannot here describe, he emerged at last with his Fourteen Points pitifully torn and disheveled, but with a little puling infant of a League of Nations, which might die or which might live and grow-no one could tell. This history cannot tell. We are at the end of our term. But that much, at least, he had saved …
This homunculus in a bottle which it was hoped might become at last Man ruling the Earth, this League of Nations as it was embodied in the Covenant of April 28th, 1919, was not a league of peoples at all; it was the world discovered, a league of «states, dominions, or colonies». It was stipulated that these should be «fully self-governing», but there was no definition whatever of this phrase. There was no bar to a limited franchise and no provision for any direct control by the people of any state. India figured-presumably as a «fully self-governing state», an autocracy would no doubt have been admissible as a «fully self- governing» democracy with a franchise limited to one person. The League of the Covenant of 1919 was, in fact, a league of «representatives» of foreign offices, and it did not even abolish the nonsense of embassies at every capital. The British Empire appeared once as a whole, and then India (!) and the four dominions of Canada, Australia, South Africa, and New Zealand appeared as separate sovereign states. The Indian representative was, of course, sure to be merely a British nominee; the other four would be colonial politicians. But if the British Empire was to be thus dissected, a representative of Great Britain should have been substituted for the Imperial representative, and Ireland and Egypt should also have been given representation. Moreover, either New York State or Virginia was historically and legally almost as much a sovereign state as New Zealand or Canada. The inclusion of India raised logical claims for French Africa and French Asia. One French representative did propose a separate vote for the little principality of Monaco.
There was to be an assembly of the League in which every member state was to be represented and to have an equal voice, but the working directorate of the League was to vest in a Council, which was to consist of the representatives of the United States, Britain, France, Italy, and Japan, with four other members elected by the Assembly. The Council was to meet once a year; the gatherings of the Assembly were to be at «stated intervals», not stated.
Except in certain specified instances the league of this Covenant could make only unanimous decisions. One dissentient on the council could bar any proposal-on the lines of the old Polish liberum veto, (Chapter XXXV, sec 7). This was a quite disastrous provision. To many minds it made the Covenant League rather less desirable than no league at all. It was a complete recognition of the unalienable sovereignty of states, and a repudiation of the idea of an overriding commonweal of mankind. This provision practically barred the way to all amendments to the league constitution in future except by the clumsy expedient of a simultaneous withdrawal of the majority of member states desiring a change, to form the league again on new lines, The covenant made inevitable such a final winding-up of the league it created, and that was perhaps the best thing about it.
The following powers, it was proposed, should be excluded from the original league: Germany, Austria, Russia, and whatever remains there were of the Turkish Empire. But any of these might subsequently be included with the assent of two-thirds of the Assembly. The original membership of the league as specified in the projected Covenant was: the United States of America, Belgium, Bolivia, Brazil, the British Empire (Canada, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, and India), China, Cuba, Ecuador, France, Greece, Guatemala, Haiti, the Hedjaz, Honduras, Italy, Japan, Liberia, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru, Poland, Portugal, Rumania, the Serb-Croat-Slovene State, Siam, Czecho-Slovakia, and Uruguay. To which were to be added by invitation the following powers which had been neutral in the war: the Argentine Republic, Chile, Colombia, Denmark, Holland, Norway, Paraguay, Persia, Salvador, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and Venezuela.
Such being the constitution of the league, it is scarcely to be wondered at that its powers were special and limited. It was given a seat at Geneva and a secretariat. It had no powers even to inspect the military preparations of its constituent states, or to instruct a military and naval staff to plan out the armed co- operation needed to keep the peace of the world. The French representative in the League of Nations Commission, M. Leon Bourgeois, insisted lucidly and repeatedly on the logical necessity of such powers. As a speaker he was rather copious and lacking in «spice» of the Clemenceau quality. The final scene in the plenary session of April 28th, before the adoption of the Covenant, is described compactly by Mr. Wilson Harris, the crowded Banqueting Hall at the Quai d’Orsay, with its «E» of tables for the delegates, with secretaries and officials lining the walls and a solid mass of journalists at the lower end of the room. «At the head of the room the ‘Big Three’ diverted themselves in undertones at the expense of the worthy M. Bourgeois, now launched, with the help of what must have been an entirely superfluous sheaf of notes, on the fifth rendering of his speech in support of his famous amendments».
They were so often «diverting themselves in undertones», those three men whom God had mocked with the most tremendous opportunity in history. Keynes (op. cit.) gives other instances of the levities, vulgarities, disregards, inattentions, and inadequacies of these meetings.
This poor covenant arrived at in this fashion returned with President Wilson to America, and there it was subjected to an amount of opposition, criticism, and revision which showed, among other things, how relatively unimpaired was the mental energy of the United States. The Senate refused to ratify the covenant, and the first meeting of the League Council was held therefore without American representatives. The close of 1919 and the opening months of 1920 saw a very curious change come over American feeling after the pro-French and pro-British enthusiasms of the war period. The peace negotiations reminded the Americans, in a confused and very irritating way, of their profound differences in international outlook from any European power that the war had for a time helped them to forget. They felt they had been «rushed» into many things without due consideration. They experienced a violent revulsion towards that policy of isolation that had broken down in 1917. The close of 1919 saw a phase, a very understandable phase of passionate and even violent «Americanism», in which European imperialism and European socialism were equally anathema. There may have been a sordid element in the American disposition to «cut» the moral responsibilities the United States had incurred in the affairs of the Old World, and to realize the enormous financial and political advantages the war had given the new world; but the broad instinct of the American people seems to have been sound in its distrust of the proposed settlement.
The main terms of the Treaties of 1919–20 with which the Conference of Paris concluded its labors can be stated much more vividly by a few maps than by a written abstract. We need scarcely point out how much those treaties, left unsettled, but we may perhaps enumerate some of the more salient breaches of the Twelve that survived out of the Fourteen Points at the opening of the Conference.
One initial cause of nearly all those breaches lay, we believe, in the complete unpreparedness and unwillingness of that preexisting league of nations, subjected states and exploited areas, the British Empire, to submit to any dissection and adaptation of its system or to any control of its naval and aerial armament. A kindred contributory cause was the equal unpreparedness of the American mind for any interference with the ascendancy of the United States in the New World (compare Secretary Olney’s declaration in this chapter, sec 6). Neither of those Great Powers, who were necessarily dominant and leading powers at Paris, had properly thought out the implications of a League of Nations in relation to these older arrangements, and so their support of that project had to most European observers a curiously hypocritical air; it was as if they wished to retain and ensure their own vast predominance and security while at the same time restraining any other power from such expansions, annexations, and alliances as might create a rival and competitive imperialism. Their failure to set an example of international confidence destroyed all possibility of international confidence in the other nations represented at Paris.
Even more unfortunate was the refusal of the Americans to assent to the Japanese demand for recognition of racial equality.
Moreover, the foreign offices of the British, the French, and the Italians were haunted by traditional schemes of aggression entirely incompatible with the new ideas. A League of Nations that is to be of any appreciable value to mankind must supersede imperialisms; it is either a super-imperialism, a liberal world-empire of united states, participant or in tutelage, or it is nothing; but few of the people at the Paris Conference had the mental vigor even to assert this obvious consequence of the League proposal. They wanted to be at the same time bound and free, to ensure peace forever, but to keep their weapons in their hands. Accordingly the old annexation projects of the Great Power period were hastily and thinly camouflaged as proposed acts of this poor little birth of April 28th. The newly born and barely animate League was represented to be distributing, with all the reckless munificence of a captive pope, «mandates» to the old imperialisms that, had it been the young Hercules we desired, it would certainly have strangled in its cradle.
Britain was to have extensive «mandates» in Mesopotamia and East Africa; France was to have the same in Syria; Italy was to have all her holdings to the west and southeast of Egypt consolidated as mandatory territory. Clearly, if the weak thing that was being nursed by its Secretary in its cradle at Geneva into some semblance of life, did presently succumb to the, infantile weakness of all institutions born without passion, all these «mandates» would become frank annexations. Moreover, all the Powers fought tooth and nail at the Conference for «strategic» frontiers the ugliest symptom of all. Why should a state want a strategic frontier unless it contemplates war? If on that plea Italy insisted upon a subject population of Germans in the southern Tyrol and a subject population of Yugo-Slavs in Dalmatia, and if little Greece began landing troops in Asia Minor, neither France nor Britain was in a position to rebuke these outbreaks of pre- millennial method.
We will not enter here into any detailed account of how President Wilson gave way to the Japanese and consented to their replacing the Germans at Kiau Chau, which is Chinese property, how the almost purely German city of Danzig was practically, if not legally, annexed, to Poland, and how the Powers disputed over the claim of the Italian imperialists, a claim strengthened by these instances, to seize the Yugo-Slav port of Fiume and deprive the Yugo-Slavs of a good Adriatic outlet. Nor will we do more than note the complex arrangements and justifications that put the French in possession of the Saar valley, which is German territory, or the entirely iniquitous breach of the right of «self-determination» which practically forbade German Austria to unite as it is natural and proper that she should unite with the rest of Germany. These burning questions of 1919–20, which occupied the newspapers and the minds of statesmen and politicians, and filled all our wastepaper baskets with propaganda literature, may seem presently very incidental things in the larger movement of these times. All these disputes, like the suspicions and tetchy injustices of a weary and irritated man, may lose their importance as the tone of the world improves, and the still inadequately apprehended lessons of the Great War and the Petty Peace that followed it begin to be digested by the general intelligence of mankind.
It is worthwhile for the reader to compare the treaty maps we give with what we have called the natural political map of Europe. The new arrangements do approach this latter more closely than any previous system of boundaries. It may be a necessary preliminary to any satisfactory league of peoples that each people should first be in something like complete possession of its own household.