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The Inside Story of the Peace Conference By Emile Joseph Dillon Characters: 15672

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

To discuss in detail the peace terms which after many months' desultory talk were finally presented to Count Brockdorff-Rantzau would transcend the scope of these pages. Like every other act of the Supreme Council, they may be viewed from one of two widely sundered angles of survey-either as the exercise by a victorious state of the power derived from victory over the vanquished enemy, or as one of the measures by which the peace of the world is to be enforced in the present and consolidated in the future. And from neither point of view can it command the approval of unbiased political students. At first the Germans, and not they alone, expected that the conditions would be based on the Fourteen Points, while many of the Allies took it for granted that they would be inspired by the resolve to cripple Teutondom for all time. And for each of these anticipations there were good formal grounds.

The only legitimate motive for interweaving the Covenant with the Treaty was to make of the latter a sort of corollary of the former and to moderate the instincts of vengeance by the promptings of higher interests. On this ground, and only on this, did the friends of far-ranging reform support Mr. Wilson in his contention that the two documents should be rendered mutually interdependent. Reparation for the damage done in violation of international law and sound guaranties against its recurrence are of the essence of every peace treaty that follows a decisive victory. But reparation is seldom this and nothing more. The lower instincts of human nature, when dominant as they are during a bloody war and in the hour of victory, generally outweigh considerations not only of right, but also of enlightened egotism, leaving justice to merge into vengeance. And the fruits are treasured wrath and a secret resolve on the part of the vanquished to pay out his victor at the first opportunity. The war-loser of to-day aims at becoming the war-winner of to-morrow. And this frame of mind is incompatible with the temper needed for an era of moral fellowship such as Mr. Wilson was supposed to be intent on establishing. Consequently, a peace treaty unmodified by the principles underlying the Covenant is necessarily a negation of the main possibilities of a society of nations based upon right and a decisive argument against joining together the two instruments.

The other kind of peace which Mr. Wilson was believed to have had at heart consisted not merely in the liquidation of the war, but in the uprooting of its permanent causes, in the renunciation by the various nations of sanguinary conflicts as a means of determining rival claims, and in such an amicable rearrangement of international relations as would keep such disputes from growing into dangerous quarrels. Right, or as near an approximation to it as is attainable, would then take the place of violence, whereby military guaranties would become not only superfluous, but indicative of a spirit irreconcilable with the main purpose of the League. Each nation would be entitled to equal opportunity within the limits assigned to it by nature and widened by its own mental and moral capacities. Thus permanently to forbid a numerous, growing, and territorially cramped nation to possess overseas colonies for its superfluous population while overburdening others with possessions which they are unable to utilize, would constitute a negation of one of the basic principles of the new ordering.

Those were the grounds which seemed to warrant the belief that the Treaty would be not only formally, but substantially and in its spirit an integral, part of the general settlement based on the Fourteen Points.

This anticipation turned out to be a delusion. Wilsonianism proved to be a very different system from that of the Fourteen Points, and its author played the part not only of an interpreter of his tenets, but also of a sort of political pope alone competent to annul the force of laws binding on all those whom he should refuse to dispense from their observance. He had to do with patriotic politicians permeated with the old ideas, desirous of providing in the peace terms for the next war and striving to secure the maximum of advantage over the foe presumptive, by dismembering his territory, depriving him of colonies, making him dependent on others for his supplies of raw stuffs, and artificially checking his natural growth. Nearly all of them had principles to invoke in favor of their claims and some had nothing else. And it was these tendencies which Mr. Wilson sought to combine with the ethical ideals to be incarnated in the Society of Nations. Now this was an impossible synthesis. The spirit of vindictiveness-for that was well represented at the Conference-was to merge and lose itself in an outflow of magnanimity; precautions against a hated enemy were to be interwoven with implicit confidence in his generosity; a military occupation would provide against a sudden onslaught, while an approach to disarmament would bear witness to the absence of suspicion. Thus Poland would discharge the function of France's ally against the Teutons in the east, but her frontiers were to leave her inefficiently protected against their future attacks from the west. Germany was dismembered, yet she was credited with self-discipline and generosity enough to steel her against the temptation to profit by the opportunity of joining together again what France had dissevered. The League of Nations was to be based upon mutual confidence and good fellowship, yet one of its most powerful future members was so distrusted as to be declared permanently unworthy to possess any overseas colonies. Germany's territory in the Saar Valley is admittedly inhabited by Germans, yet for fifteen years there is to be a foreign administration there, and at the end of it the people are to be asked whether they would like to cut the bonds that link them with their own state and place themselves under French sway, so that a premium is offered for French immigration into the Saar Valley.

Those are a few of the consequences of the mixture of the two irreconcilable principles.

That Germany richly deserved her punishment cannot be gainsaid. Her crime was without precedent. Some of its most sinister consequences are irremediable. Whole sections of her people are still unconscious not only of the magnitude, but of the criminal character, of their misdeeds. None the less there is a future to be provided for, and one of the safest provisions is to influence the potential enemy's will for evil if his power cannot be paralyzed. And this the Treaty failed to do.

The Germans, when they learned the conditions, discussed them angrily, and the keynote was refusal to sign the document. The financial clauses were stigmatized as masked slavery. The press urged that during the war less than one-tenth of France's territory had been occupied by their countrymen and that even of this only a fragment was in the zone of combat. The entire wealth of France, they alleged, had been estimated before the war at from three hundred and fifty milliard to four hundred milliard francs, consequently for the devastated provinces hardly more than one-twentieth of that sum could fairly be demanded as reparation, whereas the claim set forth was incomparably more. They objected to the loss of their colonies because the justification alleged-that they were disqualified to administer them because of their former cruelties toward the natives-was groundless, as the Allies themselves had admitted implicitly by offering them the right of pre-emption in the case of the Portuguese and other overseas possessions on the very eve of the war.

But the most telling objections turned upon the clauses that dealt with the Saar Valley. Its population is entirely Ger

man, yet the treaty-makers provided for its occupation by the French for a term of fifteen years and its transference to them if, after that term, the German government was unable to pay a certain sum in gold for the coal mines it contained. If that sum were not forthcoming the population and the district were to be handed over to France for all time, even though the former should vote unanimously for reunion with Germany. Count Brockdorff-Rantzau remarked in his note on the Treaty "that in the history of modern times there is no other example of a civilized Power obliging a state to abandon its people to foreign domination as an equivalent for a cash payment." One of the most influential press organs complained that the Treaty "bartered German men, women, and children for coal; subjected some districts with a thoroughly German population to an obligatory plebiscite[326] under interested supervision; severed others without any consultation from the Fatherland; delivered over the proceeds of German industry to the greed of foreign capitalists for an indefinite period; ... spread over the whole country a network of alien commissions to be paid by the German nation; withdrew streams, rivers, railways, the air service, numerous industrial establishments, the entire economic system, from the sovereignty of the German state by means either of internationalization or financial control; conferred on foreign inspectors rights such as only the satraps of absolute monarchs in former ages were empowered to exercise; in a word, they put an end to the existence of the German nation as such. Germany would become a colony of white slaves...."[327]

Fortunately for the Allies, the reproach of exchanging human beings for coal was seen by their leaders to be so damaging that they modified the odious clause that warranted it. Even the comments of the friendly neutral press were extremely pungent. They found fault with the Treaty on grounds which, unhappily, cannot be reasoned away. "Why dissimulate it?" writes the foremost of these journals; "this peace is not what we were led to expect. It dislodges the old dangers, but creates new ones. Alsace and Lorraine are, it is true, no longer in German hands, but ... irredentism has only changed its camp. In 1914 Germany put her faith in force because she herself wielded it. But crushed down under a peace which appears to violate the promises made to her, a peace which in her heart of hearts she will never accept, she will turn toward force anew. It will stand out as the great misfortune of this Treaty that it has tainted the victory with a moral blight and caused the course of the German revolution to swerve.... The fundamental error of the instrument lies in the circumstance that it is a compromise between two incompatible frames of mind. It was feasible to restore peace to Europe by pulling down Germany definitely. But in order to accomplish this it would have been necessary to crush a people of seventy millions and to incapacitate them from rising to their feet again. Peace could also have been secured by the sole force of right. But in this case Germany would have had to be treated so considerately as to leave her no grievance to brood over. M. Clemenceau hindered Mr. Wilson from displaying sufficient generosity to get the moral peace, and Mr. Wilson on his side prevented M. Clemenceau from exercising severity enough to secure the material peace. And so the result, which it was easy to foresee, is a régime devoid of the real guaranties of durability."[328]

The judge of the French syndicalists was still more severe. "The Versailles peace," exclaimed M. Verfeuil, "is worse than the peace of Brest-Litovsk ... annexations, economic servitudes, overwhelming indemnities, and a caricature of the Society of Nations-these constitute the balance of the new policy,"[329] The Deputy Marcel Cachin said: "The Allied armies fought to make this war the last. They fought for a just and lasting peace, but none of these boons has been bestowed on us. We are confronted with the failure of the policy of the one man in whom our party had put its confidence-President Wilson. The peace conditions ... are inacceptable from various points of view, financial, territorial, economic, social, and human."[330]

It is in this Treaty far more than in the Covenant that the principles to which Mr. Wilson at first committed himself are in decisive issue. True, he was wont after every surrender he made during the Conference to invoke the Covenant and its concrete realization-the League of Nations-as the corrective which would set everything right in the future. But the fact can hardly be blinked that it is the Treaty and its effects that impress their character on the Covenant and not the other way round. As an eminent Swiss professor observed: "No league of nations would have hindered the Belgian people in 1830 from separating from Holland. Can the future League of Nations hinder Germany from reconstituting its geographical unity? Can it hinder the Germans of Bohemia from smiting the Czech? Can it prevent the Magyars, who at present are scattered, from working for their reunion?"[331]

These potential disturbances are so many dangers to France. For if war should break out in eastern Europe, is it to be supposed that the United States, the British colonies, or even Britain herself will send troops to take part in it? Hardly. Suppose, for instance, that the Austrians, who ardently desire to be merged in Germany, proclaim their union with her, as I am convinced they will one day, does any statesman believe that democratic America will despatch troops to coerce them back? If the Germans of Bohemia secede from the Czechoslovaks or the Croats from the Serbs, will British armies cross the sea to uphold the union which those peoples repudiate? And in the name of which of the Fourteen Points would they undertake the task? That of self-determination? France's interests, and hers alone, would be affected by such changes. And France would be left to fight single-handed. For what?

It is interesting to note how the conditions imposed upon Germany were appreciated by an influential body of Mr. Wilson's American partizans who had pinned their faith to his Fourteen Points. Their view is expressed by their press organ as follows:[332]

"France remains the strongest Power on the Continent. With her military establishment intact she faces a Germany without a general staff, without conscription, without universal military training, with a strictly limited amount of light artillery, with no air service, no fleet, with no domestic basis in raw materials for armament manufacture, with her whole western border fifty kilometers east of the Rhine demilitarized. On top of this France has a system of military alliances with the new states that touch Germany. On top of this she secured permanent representation in the Council of the League, from which Germany is excluded. On top of that economic terms which, while they cannot be fulfilled, do cripple the industrial life of her neighbor. With such a balance of forces France demands for herself a form of protection which neither Belgium, nor Poland, nor Czechoslovakia, nor Italy is granted."


[326] One of the three districts of Schleswig. A curious phenomenon was this zeal of the Supreme Council for Denmark's interests, as compared with Denmark's refusal to profit by it, the champions of self-determination urging the Danes to demand a district, as Danish, which the Danes knew to be German!

[327] Das Berliner Tageblatt, June 4, 1919.

[328] Le Journal de Genève, June 24, 1919.

[329] Cf. L'Echo de Paris, May 12, 1919.

[330] Ibidem.

[331] In a monograph entitled Plus Jamais.

[332] Cf. The New Republic, August 13, 1919, p. 43.

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