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Policy and Personality at the Paris Peace Conference

ISSUE:  Autumn 1945

Historians have always quarreled over the problem of personal influence in the determination of events. Is it the individual leader who by his genius and force of character decides their course, or is he simply the expression of a mass tendency which he can affect this way or that only in small details? The problem becomes more difficult of solution as society becomes more complex and the forces which count in determining events become more varied. History is made by the conjunction of circumstance and men; how much emphasis shall be given to human factors? Had it not been for the background of the first world war ending in German defeat and the economic disasters of the twenties, Hitler would never have been able to seize power. His political career was made by circumstance. But it is easy to surmise that with that same background another than Hitler might have directed Germany into a policy that would have avoided a second war. If Churchill had not come in to direct the destinies of the British Empire in the late spring of 1940, was there anyone else able to bring into focus the courage and determination necessary to win the Battle of Britain? The future historian is likely to insist that it was very fortunate for the Allied cause that Roosevelt lived until the eve of complete victory over Germany. The urge to personalize history is strong and up to a certain point is clearly justifiable.

This tendency is especially obvious in the case of the Paris Peace Conference of 1919. The history of the negotiations that led to the Versailles Treaty has been thoroughly personalized and we still think of them largely in such terms. The first widely read arid the most brilliant account of the conference, Keynes’ “Economic Consequences of the Peace,” caught public attention largely because of his striking chapter on the Big Four. His analysis of the economic provisions of the treaties was and remains a document of the first importance; but it was his picture of the clash of personalities that sold the book. Ray Stannard Baker’s three-volume history of Wilson and the Conference was written almost entirely in personal terms. The same is true, naturally enough, of “The Intimate Papers of Colonel House,” of the Lloyd George “Memoirs,” of Nicolson’s “Peacemaking,” of Bonsai’s “Unfinished Business.” More recent studies, such as those of Professor Bailey and Professor Bell, have been directed to especial study of Wilson’s personality.

All this need not surprise us. Apart from the general tendency to regard history in the light of biography, the outstanding figures of the Paris Peace Conference were entirely worthy of the interest they inspired at the time and in writers since. Clemenceau, Lloyd George, and Wilson formed a trio very different from the Big Three of Teheran and Yalta, but they bulked as large in the minds of their contemporaries and they enjoyed as much power in the determination of Allied policy. As for lesser luminaries it is too early to guess what the years of peacemaking ahead of us will produce. But it is certain that at Paris roles of significance and sometimes of determining influence were played by Tardieu, House, Cecil, Paderewski, Benes, Veni-zelos, and the representatives of the British Dominions, all of them men of strong individuality and, each in his way, of great capacity.

The Peace Conference at Paris was certainly dominated by Clemenceau, Lloyd George, and Wilson and the treaties may be fairly said to represent a rough compromise or adjustment of their own views. They were, however, each of them, representative of national interests and the lines they followed would perforce have been adopted in the main by any other representatives. “What’s the use,” said Lloyd George to Colonel House, “of my saying that I accept the Freedom of the Seas? It’s no good saying I accept the principle. It would only mean that in a week’s time a new Prime Minister would be here who would say that he could not accept the principle. The English people will not look at it.” They were directly responsible to public opinion at home, which despite their great prestige they did not completely control; and they were not entirely free to develop their individual views.

Many of course will question the degree to which Wilson really represented American opinion or interests, either in the principles which he advocated or in his attempted application of them. They will remember the rebuff given by the Congressional elections of November 5, 1918, when following his partizan appeal to the electorate the Democrats none the less lost control of the Senate and its foreign relations committee. Ex-president Roosevelt, with or without justification, gave warning to Europe in The Outlook of November 27, that it must not regard the President as representing majority opinion in this country. “Our Allies and our enemies,” he insisted, “and Mr. Wilson himself should all understand that Mr. Wilson has no authority whatever to speak for the American people at this time. . . . Mr. Wilson and his Fourteen Points and his four supplementary points and his five complementary points, and all his utterances every which way have ceased to have any shadow of right to be accepted as expressive of the will of the American people. Let them [the Allies] impose their common will on the nations responsible for the hideous disaster which has almost wrecked mankind.”

Theodore Roosevelt’s main point in this article was that Wilson’s demand for fair treatment of defeated Germany was in reality nothing but an excuse for a “soft peace,” which by no means represented American opinion. Such fear was clearly in the minds of the French and British military leaders. It was expressed in the Senate debates over Germany’s demand for an armistice and it troubled some of Wilson’s own intimates. Belligerent emotion ran so high against Germany throughout the country that it was hard to accept the President’s insistence, in his speech of September 27, that “the impartial justice meted out must involve no discrimination between those to whom we wish to be just and those to whom we do not wish to be just.” Even during the Peace Conference there were suggestions, on various occasions, that Wilson was sentimentally “soft” in his proposed dealings with the enemy. A good many Americans were shocked by his avoidance of the French battlefields and the scenes of German devastation on the excuse that he did not want his judgment to be blurred by emotion.

The Wilson of the Peace Conference, however, represented American opinion on the treatment of Germany far better than Theodore Roosevelt. As the sequence of events proved, American demands for harsh treatment were shortlived and rested upon no profound sentiment. Indeed the virulent emotion that attended the closing of the war was succeeded very shortly by the sentimentality which during the twenties made of Germany an innocent victim of allied mendacity and international imperialism. A less objective Wilson, during the Conference, would have been less representative of America. Extreme ferocity and extreme sentimentality were in each case merely skin-deep.

As a matter of fact Wilson, during the course of the Conference, did not show himself in any way “soft” towards Germany, despite Clemenceau’s angry hiss of “pro-Boche,” hurled at him in a heated discussion. In the debates over the inclusion of pensions in the reparations bill, when the President was advised by Mr. Lamont that there was no logic in the French and British demand, his reply was: “Logic! I don’t give a damn for logic. I’m going to include pensions.” In the matter of the disposition of the German colonies Wilson made no attempt to have any of them retained under German sovereignty and accepted easily the allegations of German colonial maladministration as valid reason for taking them away. His bitter quarrel with Mr. Hughes of Australia, in which the latter with the help of his deafness was able effectively to muddy Wilson’s position, was not over the surrender of the colonies but over their disposition. If he fought valiantly, albeit vainly, against the astronomical demands of the Allies for German reparations, it was upon the advice of his financial experts and not because he wished to be easy on the Germans.

It is worth remembering that when, at the very end of the Conference, there was fear that the Germans would refuse to sign the Treaty and Lloyd George brought in British demands for large concessions, Wilson stood firmly for what had been decided. “My feeling is this,” he told the American delegation, “that we ought not, with the object of getting it signed, to make changes in the treaty, if we think that it embodies what we were contending for; that the time to consider all these questions was when we were writing the treaty, and it makes me a little tired for people to come and say now that they are afraid that the Germans won’t sign, and their fear is based upon things that they insisted upon at the time of the writing of the treaty; that makes me very sick.” Admitting that the terms of the treaty were hard, he insisted, “But the Germans earned that. And I think it is profitable that a nation should learn once and for all what an unjust war means in itself. I have no desire to soften the treaty, but I have a very sincere desire to alter those portions of it that are shown to be unjust or which are shown to be contrary to the principles which we ourselves have laid down.” With such a policy sober thought in the United States was in general agreement.

Another question that must be asked is how far Wilson represented America in his insistence upon the principle of self-determination, and in his hope of constructing upon the union of free peoples an international organization. It is true, as Professor Holborn has pointed out, that the Wil-sonian programme was designed to bring out an essential element of American history. “American democracy has been based upon principle rather than upon customs; it did not emerge from customs, or from racial or linguistic traditions. The loyalty of the American citizen was built on a high concept of law. The Constitution expressed a faith in human nature as a universal ideal, a conviction that human nature was ultimately reasonable, and therefore concluded that the principle of reason should control the processes of human society.” Wilson hoped to expand this American concept of law into a world doctrine. As expressed in the Fourteen Points and his later speeches, his policy won hearty American approval and stimulated high hopes in many European circles. Wilson was certainly justified in his insistence at the meeting of Peace Conference delegates on March 20, 1919, that “one of the fundamental principles to which the United States of America adhered was the consent of the governed. This was ingrained in the United States of America thought.”

Where he differed from the majority of his fellow-countrymen was in his ardor for spreading this doctrine among all the peoples of the world. The democratic crusade, to his mind, was to be the test of the Peace Conference. On the George Washington he told his advisers that “if it won’t work it must be made to work . . . only a cleansing process would recreate the world. . . .” If he could not win acceptance of this principle generally in the peace treaties, he “would not want to go home to show his face . . . would like to retire to some distant spot in shame,—Guam perhaps.” But when it came to the drawing of new frontiers, he discovered the difficulties in the actual application of the principle. National self-determination was by no means the key solution to all political problems; economic interests and forces conflicted with its application; and in numerous instances it was impossible in view of the confusion of national sentiments to discover what was actually the “consent of the governed.”

Furthermore, the Americans at home, to whom denial of the principle would have seemed an act of treachery to our own constitution, were by no means ready to involve themselves in distant and costly adventures in order to give universal effect to it. These were European quarrels in which we had no immediate stake. We could not afford to prosecute indefinitely the crusade for freedom to which we had already made adequate contribution by helping to defeat the German Empire. As for the League of Nations, which Wilson regarded as the cornerstone of the new international order, most Americans in the spring of 1918 were enthusiastic. But once again, when it came to the drafting of a specific organization and questions arose of the surrender of national sovereignty and limitation of national action, enthusiasm rapidly cooled. How far this “slump in idealism” was a true expression of American basic opinion and how far it resulted from political domestic conditions has never been satisfactorily determined by historians.

Whether or not Wilson represented the American people as a whole, he was certainly quite non-representative of the political forces which would determine the ultimate decision. He had lost control of those forces at home and during the course of the Peace Conference his position was steadily weakened. He had taken no one to Paris with him whose later explanation of the treaties would carry weight with the Senate. He absented himself from Washington during all the period when the opposition was gathering its strength. He could not bring himself to work personally with the middle-of-the-road senators and such elder statesmen as Root and Taft, who were willing to forget party issues in order to carry through an American programme.

It is curious to reflect that in spite of American pride in our democracy, the European heads of state were more directly representative of national forces than was Wilson. They operated under the parliamentary system and an adverse vote in the House of Commons or the Chamber of Deputies would immediately have thrown Lloyd. George or Clemenceau into the discard. Their strength, like Wilson’s, depended largely upon the personal prestige acquired by the victory over Germany; it was greater than his in that the danger of France and of Britain had been more vivid than our own. They had the further advantage, having appealed to the popular suffrages in the December elections, that they had secured large majorities and could thus claim clear mandates resulting directly from the will of the people.

Their very strength in the coming discussions with Wilson, however, was matched by a corresponding restriction of power in relation to their own electorate and a definite limitation upon their own policies. The emphasis laid upon the principle that “Germany must pay,” in the British elections, compelled Lloyd George to assume a position in the reparations debate which precluded his supporting a settlement based upon purely financial and economic interests. The British Prime Minister was further restricted by the influence of the British Dominions’ representatives, especially Smuts and Hughes. He could afford to appear generous to Germany in the European territorial discussions, since the generosity was chiefly at the expense of France. But in the disposition of German colonies in Africa and the southern Pacific he was bound to support the annexationist demands of the Union of South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand.

Clemenceau was on reasonably solid ground. The essential peace aims of France were relatively simple: the weakening of Germany and the maintenance of French security. Without definitely throwing down the gage before Wilson’s challenge of a new idealistic order, he had insisted that France must find her security in the old international system of the balance of power based upon strong alliances.

In putting this policy before the Chamber of Deputies on December 29, 1918, and in his rather sneering reference to the “noble candeur” of President Wilson, he had won a majority of practically four to one. He had unquestionably the support of French public opinion and at the moment, at least, of the important and active political forces of France.

This does not mean that both Lloyd George and Clemenceau were not harassed by a deal of personal opposition which, unlike Wilson, they found time and means to overcome. Lloyd George, especially, had to expend effort and brains in watching his political fences. The clever Welshman, despite his activity and success in the Liberal party, had widened rather than closed the gap between Radicalism and traditional Liberalism. Such men as Asquith and Grey looked upon him as a Tory Democrat; more and more the Prime Minister found himself in sympathy with the Tories. At the same time he became involved in a bitter feud with Lord Northcliffe, chiefly, if we are to believe his own account, because of his unwillingness to bring Northcliffe into the British Peace Commission. “I would as soon rely upon a grasshopper,” he wrote of the latter. All during the Conference Lloyd George kept at least one eye on by-elections across the Channel and was always ready to rush back to Westminster for a critical debate. Therein lay one aspect of his political advantage as compared with the position of Wilson.

Clemenceau was likewise bothered by individual animosities as well as underlying political differences with various individuals. He had for the French President, Poincare, a profound personal dislike as well as political contempt. His feelings were not smoothed by Poincare’s fussiness and irritability. After one of his protracted conferences with him, Clemenceau, late for a meeting, is said breathlessly to have begged Lloyd George, “Cannot you lend me George the Fifth for a short time?” Briand would have been of the greatest political assistance to the Tiger, not merely because of the liberalism of his views but also because he would have brought with him the astute and experienced Philippe Ber-thelot. But Clemenceau regarded Briand as an empty rhetorician and he completely distrusted Berthelot. Most difficult of all for him was the obstinate and belligerent attitude of Foch, who shared with Clemenceau in the popular adoration and who with Poincare protested vehemently against French concessions to the British and American policy on the treatment of Germany. The French Prime Minister, always detested by the Church, thus found himself harassed by the Right and the Center, and often compelled to take a more extreme position than he himself desired in his negotiations with the other Allies. “Smarting under the stings of the hornets and gnats of the Chauvinist and clerical Press,” wrote Lloyd George, “and of Parliamentarians who accused him of surrendering the historical interests of France, the Tiger lashed his tail furiously and bit his best friends.”

Whatever the difficulties of the British and French leaders, they were certainly in a stronger position for negotiation than the American President when the Conference convened. Colonel House noted sadly in his diary, on learning of Clemenceau’s triumphant vote in the Chamber of Deputies in December, that this huge majority was “about as bad an augury for the success of progressive principles at the Peace Conference as we could have had. . . . Coming on the heels of the English elections, and taking into consideration the result of recent elections in the United States, the situation strategically could not be worse.”

This use of the term “strategic” suggests a conception of the Peace Conference which the Colonel himself later modified, and which has been frequently over-stressed by various writers. Too often the Conference has been pictured as an arena in which the protagonists of national interest or idealistic vision matched their strength and wits in open affray. Mr. Ray Stannard Baker has made of Wilson the champion of the rights of man battling against the vicious national greed characteristic of the Old World,—a clear and obvious conflict. The brilliant pen of Keynes has delineated the President as playing blindman’s buff in a party which he never understood, or with rapid change of metaphor, a “blind and deaf Don Quixote . . . entering a cavern where the swift and glittering blade was in the hands of the adversary.”

President Wilson himself was largely responsible, because of his initial attitude, for what seems to me a misconception of the historical character of the Peace Conference. It is a fact that when he crossed the Atlantic he expected the coming negotiations to be in the nature of a contest between the forces of good and evil. He regarded himself as the representative of the common man the world over, and he looked upon the European leaders as blind to the necessities of humanity. He was willing to fight them. On the George Washington, he insisted that “we shall be the only disinterested people at the Peace Conference and the men with whom we are about to deal do not represent their own people. This is the first conference in which decisions depend upon the opinion of mankind, not upon previous determinations and diplomatic schemes of the assembled representatives. . . . Unless the Conference is prepared to follow the opinions of mankind and to express the will of the people rather than that of their leaders at the Conference we shall soon become involved in another break-up of the world, and when such a break-up comes it will not be a war but a cataclysm.” The only alternative to a League, he went on, was to maintain the idea of the Great Powers and of balance of power and “such an idea has always produced only aggression, selfishness, and war; the people are heartily sick of such a course and want the Peace Conference and the Powers to take an entirely new course of action.” If the Peace Treaty “doesn’t work right,” he added, “the world will raise Hell.”

Wilson was entirely correct in his prophetic summary of what would ensue following a failure of the League of Nations. But he was wrong in his conviction that he himself represented the peoples of the world as against their own political leaders; this he was shortly to discover in his visits to London and Rome, and on various occasions in Paris, especially during the Fiume crisis. He never entirely accepted the lesson and he was justified partially in his belief that the demonstrations against him were the work of a controlled Press. But we need not accept the Keynes thesis of a “bamboozled” Wilson to recognize that the President learned at first hand the need of adjusting his own position to the political situation. He saw that vital issues must be settled promptly and must therefore be compromised. Colonel House impressed this lesson upon him and he did not find the advice pleasant. He was loath to admit that he was making any compromise of principle, and he preferred that House should arrange the details of the compromise and even assume responsibility for it. But he himself finally came around to appreciation of the fact that the European leaders could do nothing else than make the best of conditions as they were, rather than as he would like them to be. This adjustment on his part took from the Conference much of its character of a contest a outrance.

He also discarded the idea of the essential viciousness of the domination of affairs by the big Powers. It is true that he appeared as the champion of the smaller powers in all the discussions of the Council of Ten, and it was to him that their leaders addressed themselves; he continued to emphasize the League as an association of free nations, whatever their size, which must not serve merely as the instrument of a few controlling powers. But he came clearly to recognize that responsibility for its success would depend upon their leadership and, in effect, upon their control of affairs in general. This change in his attitude was of the first importance and it has not always been fully appreciated. On May 31, 1919, at the Plenary session of the Peace Conference, the representatives of the smaller Powers, led by Bratianu, rebelled against the terms of the Minority clauses. Their champion, Wilson, while he soothed their feelings, also insisted, “We must not close our eyes to the fact that in the last analysis the military and the moral strength of the Great Powers will be the final guarantee of the peace of the world. . . . Where the great force lies there must be the sanction of peace.” If we compare these sentences with his talks on the George Washington, the extent of Wilson’s adjustment to existing circumstances becomes clear.

It is worth repeating that, as the Peace Conference finally developed, the conception of it as a contest between Wilson and the European Premiers is misleading. Gradually he entered into collaboration with them in working out what seemed to the Big Three the best possible compromise of existing claims. He came to this position not through surrender but through an understanding of the facts. Granting that he personally would have been in a much stronger position if he had stayed in Washington and had been represented by a capable commission in Paris, it is still questionable whether a better adjustment of those claims could have been made. International unity was the only possible basis of continued peace and that unity could be achieved only through compromise.

The attitude of the Europeans toward Wilson also changed during the course of the Conference. If popular adoration for him subsided and idealistic liberals insisted that he had betrayed them, he won a high degree of confidence, if not admiration, from the men with whom he worked most closely. The British Prime Minister has described the initial attitude of Clemenceau toward Wilson, “eyeing him with a mixture of suspicion not unmixed with apprehension. Clemenceau followed his movements like an old watch-dog keeping his eye on a strange and unwelcome dog who has visited the farmyard and of whose intentions he is more than doubtful.” Lloyd George does not conceal his own feelings that “the idealistic president regarded himself as a missionary whose function it was to rescue the poor European heathen from their age-long worship of false and fiery gods. He was apt to address us in that vein.” Premier Hughes of Australia warned the Imperial War Cabinet, “If we are not very careful we shall find ourselves dragged quite unnecessarily behind the wheels of President Wilson’s chariot.” On his side, as we have seen, Wilson entered the Conference filled with suspicion of his foreign colleagues. He found it difficult to accept House’s admiration for Clemenceau as a person, because of his dislike of the vigor of his Gallic policy. Later he came to like and in a certain sense to trust him, far more so, indeed, than he ever did Lloyd George. The latter amused Wilson more than he irritated him, but he was not one capable of winning Wilson’s trust. The American President enjoyed repeating the mot regarding the British delegates: “Bonar Law cares, but doesn’t know; Balfour knows but doesn’t care; Lloyd George neither knows nor cares.”

As the conference proceeded and as the three met intimately in the apartment of Wilson or of Lloyd George, the inforhiality of their contacts facilitated unified decisions. Nothing is more misleading than a “shot” from the recent moving picture “Wilson” portraying a diplomatic council table across which the Tiger and the American President fulminate formally against each other in rhetorical and hostile phases, which betray the selfish nationalism of France and emphasize the noble idealism of America. Rather I remember the casual atmosphere of the upstairs drawing-room of the President’s apartment; Clemenceau apparently somnolent, his grey-clad hands clasped across his stomach, chary of speech; Lloyd George, with one leg thrown over the arm of his chair; Wilson in the corner of a sofa talking in a low tone as he might have to a faculty colleague at Prospect; or again the three of them on their hands and knees, peering at a map of the Italian-Jugoslav frontier, with Orlando crawling like a bear to enter the circle and get a better view. “I came to like Wilson,” Clemenceau told me in 1925. “He did not understand Europe but he was honest. That’s more than you can say of everybody.”

When one takes into consideration the extraordinary differences in temperament represented by the three, as well as the conflict of national aims, ultimate agreement must be regarded as noteworthy. It involved, of course, all sorts of concessions, the details of which stirred up fierce controversy and criticism and obscured the value of basic agreement. Clemenceau yielded the French demands for an independent Rhineland, the annexation of the Saar, a centralized military machine in control of the League. He won concessions from the British and Americans on the fifteen-year occupation of western Germany and the Rhine bridgeheads; he prevented the settlement of a lump sum for reparations that would have disappointed the French electorate; he secured the promise of Wilson and Lloyd George that they would guarantee French security against German aggression. Wilson, yielding on such matters and in the mandates dispute to the Dominions, secured the League that he demanded. Lloyd George acquired for the Dominions the German colonies in South Africa and in the Pacific south of the equator; in return he yielded to various French demands in Europe; he supported the American amendments to the Covenant and received in return our approval of an understanding on naval armament.

The Big Three refused to be split apart by the complex demands of the other powers, which in the case of the Italians were none the less extremely troublesome. Had Orlando and Sonnino rested their case squarely upon the Treaty of London they would have been in a strong position to force a definite show-down on the secret treaties. Their additional claim for Fiume, irritating though it was for Wilson, brought Clemenceau and Lloyd George to his side. Orlando, for whom the American President had great personal fondness, suffered from his facility as an orator and found himself promising to the Italians at home more than he could deliver in Paris. Sonnino suffered even more from the almost universal personal dislike which he inspired among all the peace delegates. Wilson enjoyed the illustrative distinction which Balfour is said to have made between the terms “misfortune” and “calamity” and which was frequently repeated: “If Sonnino fell in the Seine, that would be a misfortune; if someone pulled him out, that would be a calamity.”

The Japanese held strong diplomatic cards and inevitably they had to be recognized by the Big Three. They took full advantage of what now appears to have been the cardinal mistake of the Allies of admitting them as a Principal Power into the inner circles of the Conference. Makino and Chinda, affable and quiet, bothered little except about three points: Japanese control, even if temporary, of Shantung; acquisition of German colonies north of the equator, as to which Americans and Australians were strangely trustful; a stipulation of racial equality in the Covenant. The Japanese secured their first two demands, which were for them all-important. They yielded on the third, in a struggle in which Wilson was forced to assume chief responsibility although the anti-Japanese movement was inspired by Hughes. On other questions the Japanese remained blandly silent, voting, when definitely called upon, only after discovering which side held the majority.

For Wilson, as well as for Clemenceau and Lloyd George, personal fondness or antipathy for-this representative or that frequently affected his judgment of the claims put forward. He yielded in the arrangement for mandates to Dominion claims largely because of the persuasiveness of Louis Botha; General Smuts was equally effective in winning his consent to the inclusion of pensions in the reparations account. The British complained that Wilson’s acquiescence in Polish claims, which they looked upon as excessive, proceeded from his fond admiration for Paderewski.

His confidence in Venizelos was such that upon the basis of the Greek Premier’s claims he repudiated his own American delegates on the Greek Commission. Czech claims at the expense of German-Austria and Hungary were endorsed the more easily by him because of his friendship for Masaryk. In this regard, however, tribute must be paid to the diplomatic skill of Benes and his understanding of the Anglo-Saxon temperament, in contrast to the brusque methods of Bratianu who succeeded in alienating Wilson from the Rumanian cause. At a meeting of the Council of Ten, convened to give the Czechs and Rumanians an opportunity of appealing the recommendations of the territorial commissions, the difference in the tactics of the leaders, both of them clearly dissatisfied, was manifest. Benes, concealing all disappointment, with smiling appreciation for the work of the commission, expressed the gratitude of the nation. “We accept completely the report of the commission,” he said, “and ask for no changes in the frontiers recommended. We do suggest, in the interests of all parties, certain minor rectifications.” Bratianu was recalcitrant. “We will not accept this report, which is an insult to the Rumanian people. We must have our claims and will be satisfied with nothing less.” The upshot was instructive. Wilson approved all of Benes’ “rectifications,” which turned out to be serious additions of strategic points; he disapproved any addition whatever for Rumania.

The collaboration which the Big Three developed at Paris, and which found ultimate expression in unified agreement upon the Versailles Treaty, was not translated into national collaboration after these men passed from the political scene. Therein is to be found the chief reason for the failure of the settlement. The treaties were never put into operation in the way that had been intended. Nothing indicates the significance of the personalities of these men more clearly than the degeneration of international politics under their successors. The illness of Wilson and the virtual withdrawal of the United States from the exercise of any influence abroad, which was confirmed by the election of 1920, had immediate effects upon the trend of policy in Europe and altered the entire situation. The fundamental basis upon which the Reparations Commission was built speedily collapsed. The repudiation of Clemenceau by France and the advent of Poincare brought on a course of extravagant imperialism in the Near East and adventure in Germany. The atmosphere of international relations became impregnated with the fumes of financial and political intrigue.

Mr. Lloyd George, the only one of the three to remain in office for any length of time, a prejudiced witness perhaps, has nevertheless correctly remarked: “The permanence of a peace settlement depends not only on the justice of its provisions but also on the wisdom and integrity of its interpreters. Vision, breadth of sympathy and outlook, restraint, honest dealing, courage, and magnanimity were essential to the successful working of the Peace Treaties. These attributes were conspicuously absent amongst the men to whose lot fell the application and execution of the Treaties. Fate played a shattering part in the working of the healing and appeasing measures projected by the scheme of the Settlement.”

It is not likely that any historian can successfully depersonalize the Peace Conference and the attempt would result in denaturing its history. No one can say what might have developed there if the leading figures had been different. But the national forces which the Big Three represented and which they could not themselves change were nevertheless directed by them into certain channels—for the moment into a single channel—according to the personal qualities of the three. Other personalities who followed were unable to maintain what had been accomplished. So much must be granted to the memory of the leaders of the Conference. Eagerly we must pray that the men who direct the policies of the Big Three of today and tomorrow can bring their own personal qualities into close collaboration, so as to effect a unified international policy for the future.


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