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									                                                      John Milton Cooper, Jr.

                                                      January 8, 2009




Begin with comment on title, “Versailles 1919”----take it many of you have

visited Paris, and bet most have taken in one of the greatest of all tourists

sites there---Louis XIV’s great palace at Versailles, and particularly its star

room, its piece-de-resistance, the Hall of Mirrors. Some years ago, I was

on tour, and just before went into the Hall of Mirrors, stopped in small

anteroom---guide pointed to table, not terribly impressive, about size of

reasonably large kitchen table---she explained was Louis XIV’s writing table

and then, as throwaway line, said, “This was the table on which the Treaty of

Versailles was signed in 1919”----as went out, I asked her why treaty signed

on that table, she answered, “Ah, monsieur, I take it you are not German. If

you were, you would know why.” I wasn’t, of course, and she explained that

this was the table on which the French had been forced to sign the peace
treaty in 1870 that ended the Franco-Prussian War----Talk about

generational acts of historical revenge----goes even further, in 1870, Hall of

Mirrors was where Wilhlem I was crowned first Kaiser of newly united

Germany---in turn, Hall of Mirrors was where Germans were forced to sign

Treaty of Versailles on June 28, 1919

      Those facts may give some idea of why this peace didn’t last----two

years ago, National World War I Museum in Kansas City had a symposium

that was entitled “The Peace That Failed”---apt name for this one---as know,

just two months past the twentieth anniversary of the signing of this treaty,

the Second World War broke out----and nine months after that, just a few

weeks short of the twenty-first anniversary of the signing, was another act of

historical revenge---in June 1940, Hitler forced the French to sign their

capitulation in the railway car at Compeigne where the Germans had signed

the Armistice in November 1918

      It’s easy to see that the peace settlement hammered out in 1919 had a

lot of odds going against it---there’s widespread agreement among historians

and others that this was not just the Peace That Failed but was a peace that

was doomed to fail----where the argument comes in is, why? Broadly

speaking, there are three schools of thought on that subject----One is that it

was too harsh---that this was a crippling, humiliating peace that left the
Germans bent on the revenge that they wrought in 1939 and ’40----The

second is that it was too lenient---that this was a soft peace that left the

Germans able to wreak that revenge----A final school broadens the reference

to claim that this was an effort by a bunch of culture-bound, short-sighted

white men from the West to preserve the hegemony of their kind on a

changing, revolutionary world Very few people have had kind words for

the peacemakers of 1919, particularly the strongest and most visionary of

them, Woodrow Wilson

      As a result of that near consensus on the failings of the peacemakers--

-there has been an obsessive study of what they did----Allow me to commit

an act of historical heresy----I think peacemaking in 1919 is one of the most

overstudied events in history----I know that no historian should ever say that

something hasn’t been studied enough----After all, that’s why we’re in

business----Don’t get me wrong----I think this is a fascinating, hugely

significant event that has lots yet to be discovered about----I think the

peacemakers are fascinating figures who have lots yet to be learned and

pondered about----What I mean by saying this is an overstudied event is that

there has been an obsession with trying to discover what went wrong in Paris

in 1919---what did these peacemakers do or left undone that made this peace

fail? What can we do right the next time so that a peace doesn’t fail?
      The height of this obsession with what went wrong came, as you

might guess, during World War II----Not just academic historians but

newspaper and magazine writers and policy makers all got into this game----

Woodrow Wilson became the subject of not just books and articles but the

longest and biggest-budget Hollywood movie up to that time---even longer

bigger budgeted than “Gone with the Wind”----much of that outpouring said

that what went wrong was that people, both Americans and others, didn’t

listen to Wilson and follow him---he was portrayed as a prophet who should

have been listened to and we suffered the doom he predicted because we

didn’t----But much of the World War II outpouring went the other way----

this search for mistakes in 1919 and lessons to learn about how to do it right

this time----two of the best books of that era and two of the best books on

the subject to this day, were Thomas A. Bailey’s Woodrow Wilson and the

Lost Peace and Woodrow Wilson and the Great Betrayal----and each book

has a list of mistakes made and things to do differently this time----

interestingly, the number of mistakes and recommendations on all four lists

is Fourteen

      I’d like to take a different approach to peacemaking in 1919----I want

to look primarily but by no means exclusively at the principal actor---
Woodrow Wilson and what he tried to achieve and what he failed to do and

why----and then, I want to look at what this all means

      Wilson’s greatest foreign policy triumph created his greatest problem

as a peacemaker. The triumph was bringing about the end of World War I

in November 1918----if he had not been president and pursued the policies

he did this would not have happened----as know, US came into World War I

late---we were out of the war longer than we were in it----and we came in for

different reasons than other nations----Wilson had tried to end the war

through mediation and his promise of a compromise peace----“a peace

without victory”----that would leave no winners and losers and would be

enforced in the future by a league of nations----when the Germans unleashed

their submarines early in 1917----Wilson came to the painful, most reluctant

conclusion that we had to get into the war---but, as he often stated publicly,

he still believed there could be a compromise peace and a new world order--

-that’s what he put forward in January 1918 in the Fourteen Points---most

interpreters see this as a move to seize command of the Allies and bolster

flagging morale among the British and French---it was---it was also a bid to

Lenin and the Bolsheviks not to make peace with the Germans---but I think

it was primarily aimed at getting the Germans to end the war early---
      Except as an Allied morale builder, the Fourteen Points didn’t work,

at least not immediately----the Bolsheviks accepted peace at any price at

Brest-Litovsk, which freed the Germans to hurl all their forces on the

Western Front in their bid to win the war in one massive offensive----the

German government spurned the offer and the war went on for another ten

months---This was a tragedy---the best chance for a stable peace would have

been for the war to end then----not only Germany but the Allies would have

been spared much death and destruction and been in much better shape----

but all sides might have been able to reconcile themselves to the end of the

war---at least that’s one alternative scenario

      The Fourteen Points did work eventually as an inducement to the

Germans to surrender---they laid down their arms early in the hopes that this

would not be a humiliating peace---and this was a triumph of Wilson’s

diplomacy----but it created a bad situation for him at the peace table----by

the summer of 1918, the US had over 2 million troops in France, with

another 2 million on the way----Allied war plans called for an invasion of

Germany in 1919, and the bulk of the fighting was going to fall on the AEF-

---Pershing had dreams of riding his horse down Unter den Linden in Berlin

at the head of a victory parade----Sounds great, doesn’t it? A lot of

Americans were calling for “unconditional surrender” in 1918, most
prominently somebody named Roosevelt, Theodore, that is----if that

scenario had played out, World War I would have looked more like World

War II---in addition, the British had finally gotten their tanks working and

had developed planes capable of carrying bombing payloads over longer

distances----shades of 1944 and 1945

        But consider what that would have meant---picture Germany in 1945,

shattered, destroyed---think of the hundreds of thousands of lives, military

and civilian, that would have been lost in more months of war----a lot of

people owed their lives to Wilson and his diplomacy---but he suffered for

this outcome---if the war had continued with a conquest of Germany carried

out primarily by American forces, then he would have been in a position to

dictate terms not just to the Germans but also to his fellow Allies---what’s

more, the Germans would have been whipped and compelled to recognize

their defeat----instead, Wilson got the worst of both worlds---he got Allies

who could still claim that they had really won the war and didn’t have to

bow to him, and he got Germans who really didn’t feel legitimately

defeated.----here’s a peacemaker who was trying to build bricks without

straw

        So, what did Wilson do? He went to Paris----this is a decision that a

lot of people have criticized after the fact---he lowered himself by being
there and had to make compromises----I don’t buy that---the notion that he

could have controlled the peace conference from Washington like a deus ex

machina strikes me as fanciful----if he wanted to make peace along the lines

of his thinking he had to be there----a better criticism is that he didn’t take

either senators or prominent Republicans---those omissions would add to

serious problems with selling the treaty when he got back home----I think he

made mistakes here, but he did have his reasons

      When he got to Europe, the conference wasn’t ready to open---so he

had to spend his time touring the Allied capitals, Paris, London, Rome---

where he received a hero’s welcome----it was heady stuff, but it didn’t really

turn his head---Wilson got an early taste of how bent the Allied leaders were

on revenge and spoils, and he knew he would have to fight them in the

negotiations----but he discovered also that a lot of people and liberal

statesmen in Europe wanted a different kind of peace, especially a league of

nations----So, he made the League his first order of business----once the

conference opened, he set up and dominated a committee to draft a charter

for the organization----in a little over three weeks, he and the committee

hammered out the Draft Covenant, which he unveiled to the world on

February 14, 1919----he had brought off an incredible feat, and things

looked good for a liberal non-punitive peace
      Then he had to make a three-week trip back home----the old

congressional calendar required him to be back by March 4, to sign

appropriation bills---and this was a chance to start selling the League at

home---he invited the members of the foreign affairs committees of both

houses of Congress to the White House for a question-and-answer session,

which went reasonably well---but then man who would be Seante majority

leader and chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee in the next

Congress, Wilson’s bitter enemy Henry Cabot Lodge, introduced a statement

signed by 39 Republicans saying they could not accept the League “in its

present form”---a fight was going to be on at home

      Back in Pairs, Wilson went into a regime of twelve- and thirteen-hour

days, with endless meetings---the most important meetings were with the

main Allied leaders---the conference had first tried to operate with an

executive committee called the Council of Ten---but that proved unwieldy---

so they created the Council of Four, also known as the Big Four---Wilson,

Prime Minister Lloyd George of Britian, Premier Clemenceau of France, and

Premier Orlando of Italy----they met most of the time in the study of

Wilson’s residence---all but Orlando spoke English, and there was an

interpreter for him---Orlando participated little except to try to advance
Italy’s interests---it was really the Big Three who put together the peace

settlement

      Looking back, with these strong, conflicting personalities and diverse

national aims, it’s a wonder that they put together a settlement at all----the

principal issues involved German boundaries, French security, financial

claims---known as reparations---Italy’s boundaries, and former German

colonies----all of these except the financial part involved Wilson having to

compromise on the Fourteen Points, and the financial ones involved

departure from the spirit of the Fourteen Points----

      The negotiations were hard fought---Wilson got seriously ill once, and

the regimen undermined his health----when the settlement was first revealed

in May 1919, many liberals and the Germans accused him of abandoning his

peace program----and historians have repeated the accusation ever since---

but it’s worth asking whether Wilson really gave in all that much

      On the major controversies----he largely got his way on the German

boundaries----some Frenchmen wanted Germany broken up----that didn’t

happen, instead there was a brief French occupation followed by

demilitarization of the Rhineland----Germany lost territory in the east, but

the population there was mainly Polish----on French security, they gave

way----they wanted a multi-lateral military alliance under the League with
its own army----Wilson said the Senate would never accept that, and the

French settled for a separate three-way mutual security guarantee by

themselves with the US and Britain----on finances, Wilson gave way and left

a fixed sum out of the treaty----John Maynard Keynes would accuse him of

selling out and crippling the German economy----others have argued that the

reparations were not that hard on Germany, less hard than the reparations

they had imposed on France in 1870---besides, Wilson counted on future

American participation on the reparations commission to soften the blow---

that didn’t happen, but that was not his doing----on Italian boundaries, he

gave allowed the cession of the South Tyrol with a large German-speaking

population and conceded that he made a mistake---on Italy’s claims to the

Adriatic coast and the port of Fiume, he held firm and the Italians walked

out of the conference for a while----on the German colonies, he put together

a pragmatic compromise---the conquering Allied powers already occupied

the colonies, but rather than getting them outright---these became mandates

under the League----critics thought this was just a fig leaf to cover a colonial

swap, but the League required the mandatory powers to provide for

education, infrastructure, and eventual independence---it was the first time

any colonial power, including the US, had ever promised independence----

decolonization was still a generation away, and it would take World War II
to hasten the process----but the great black American intellectual and bitter

critic Wilson, W. E. B. Du Bois, recognized that both the war and the

League mandate system marked big steps away from white domination of

the world.

       Wilson would also be criticized for giving away too much on the

specific terms in order to get the League Covenant into the treaty----that

charge doesn’t hold up----on all those questions, he did what he did without

reference to the League---the one time he did make a concession for the sake

of the League was when he agreed to the Japanese taking over the German

territory they had conquered in China---Shantung---this caused an enormous

hue and cry as a betrayal of China---but Wilson regretfully swallowed it

because the Japanese threatened not to sign the treaty or join the League---

also, they were in possession, and none of the western powers had any

stomach for fighting to force them out----This was neither the first or the last

time that an American president had to bow to unpleasant power realities in

Asia

       The best judgment I’ve seen of Wilson’s performance on the

settlement comes from Winston Churchill----Churchill was no friend of

Wilson’s and clashed with him over intervention in Russia, which Churchill

wanted and Wilson opposed----he said the amazing thing was not how little
Wilson got into the settlement but how much----I think the real problem was

that expectations had gotten so high that they were bound to be

disappointed---that was a public relations failure on Wilson’s part----he

refused to allow greater publicity for the deliberations---but that was in part

because the rest of the leaders were adamant about secrecy----Let me

suspend further judgment on the treaty for a little while, so that I can get to

the other part of peacemaking for Wilson---the home front

      From the very beginning Wilson and most Americans had a shorthand

term for the debate and political conflict over the peace treaty---they called it

the “League fight”---it’s an appropriate term----first, nearly all the debate

here focused on the League and particularly one provision----except for

attacks on the Shantung cession to Japan and the conference’s failure to

address Irish independence, nothing else in the treaty attracted much

attention----some American liberals denounced what they say as betrayal of

the Fourteen Points, but most spokespersons seemed satisfied with its terms,

and some, such as Lodge, criticized the treaty for not being harder on

Germany----second, the political debate and conflict really was a fight,

except in the literal sense of physical blows----it was bitter, it was often

personal, and it was fought out mainly along party lines
      The political terrain did not favor Wilson in his fight for the treaty and

the League----approval of the treaty would require a two-thirds vote in the

Senate and the Republicans had narrowly gained control in the last election-

--Wilson’s advisors were divided over whether he out to negotiate with the

senators or appeal over their heads by speaking directly to the public----He

tried both strategies----he spent the first month after getting back from Paris

meeting with individual senators, trying to persuade them----Nearly all of

them told him the same thing----in order to get through, there would have to

be reservations----

      Forgive me, but this requires a side journey into the formal

requirements of treaty-making----first, who ratifies a treaty? No, it’s not the

Senate, it’s the president----there are three states of treaty-making, which are

analogous to domestic legislation---first, there’s negotiation, which is an

executive function---then, there’s advice and consent by the Senate---then,

there’s ratification by the president----he doesn’t have to ratify, and if he

doesn’t it’s a veto with no override----Now, in the course of giving advice

and consent, the Senate can do three things

   1. simply approve the treaty outright---this rarely happens, usually there

       are at least “interpretative reservations”----like sense-of-the-meeting

       resolutions---important, but with no binding force
  2. attach reservations to the instrument of ratification---these are binding

      statements that require at least the passive acquiescence of the other

      parties to the treaty----sometimes, the Senate may require positive

      assent from other parties

  3. amend the treaty---go in and change the text---this requires for

      negotiations to be reopened

There’s considerable gray area here, both between interpretative and binding

reservations and between reservations and amendments

      Wilson also met with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and

submitted to a grilling---he preserved the constitutional niceties by not going

to the Capitol but inviting them to the White House and calling it an

informal gathering---but it was a remarkable event----really the only time in

American history a president has submitted to such cross-examination by a

congressional committee

      For his troubles, he got a set of amendment passed by Lodge and the

Republican majority on the committee----in response, partly in anger, the

took his case to the people----in September 1919, Wilson made a

barnstorming speaking tour through the Midwest and West---he gave forty

speeches in a little over three weeks---he had never done such intensive

campaigning, not even the two times he ran for president
      Some critics have labeled that speaking tour a fool’s errand---senators

serve six-year terms and are somewhat insulated from public opinion---

what’s more he ruined his health----actually, his reception on the tour made

his opponents in the Senate nervous, and he was planning a second tour in

the Northeast, which would have included stops in Boston, Lodge’s

hometown---Wilson was tired and suffering from headaches and breathing

problems, and his speaking performance often did reflect the state of his

health---but the remarkable thing was how much he rallied and generally

how good his speeches were----he patiently explained the provisions of the

League Covenant and other parts of the treaty---he appealed for membership

in the League as the best insurance against another world war that could be

had----not infallible, but reasonably good---he warned that the children who

flocked up to see him would be the people who would have to fight another

world war, which he predicted would happen without the League----and he

warned that still more terrible weapons would be used in that next war----It’s

small wonder that Wilson would later have a reputation as a prophet whose

warnings were not heeded

      But he failed---he really failed because of his health----three-quarters

of the way through the tour, he couldn’t go on----he was exhausted, and he

was suffering from facial twitches---his doctor feared a stroke and he and
Mrs. Wilson scrubbed the rest of the tour----four days after he got back to

the White House---Wilson suffered a massive stroke on the right side of his

brain---it was what we now call an “ischemic stroke”---one caused by clots,

not hemmorhage---such strokes are rarely life-threatening and in this area

they do not affect speech or intellect----what this stroke did do was cause

paralysis on the left side, which gradually improved but never completely

went away----it also left emotional and psychological consequences that I’ll

come back to in a minute

      The stroke hit Wilson just when the final negotiations were taking

place in the Senate over reservations---a week after the stroke he also

suffered a probably unrelated blockage and infection in the prostate gland

that threatened his life and weakened him further----as a result, he was out of

commission during these critical negotiations, and the Senate Democrats

would not act without him----Wilson’s stroke also brought on the worst

crisis of presidential disability in American history----it was largely denied

and covered up----Mrs. Wilson acted to some degree as a surrogate

president, which she should not have done, but actually did not do badly----

      By the time the Senate was ready to vote on the treaty in November,

Wilson had recovered sufficiently to pay attention to public business----this

is when the psychological effects of the stroke kicked in---he became rigid
and unyielding and would not listen to reason about trying to compromise---

-there is a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde quality about Wilson’s performance

before and after the stroke----he had previously held out against concessions

but as a tactical position in bargaining----now, he was obdurate and

unreasonable----he became the biggest roadblock to American ratification of

the Treaty of Versailles

      The Senate voted on the treaty two different times----in November, it

took votes with and without reservations, and both times it came nowhere

near the necessary two-thirds---it was a stalemate----and if Wilson and

Lodge had hat their way it would have stayed a stalemate----but pressures

from outside the Senate and from moderates inside the Senate led to

renewed efforts to achieve a compromise---

      The central issue was Article X, the collective security clause of the

League Covenant----under that article, members pledged to respect each

others’ political independence and territorial integrity and, in the event of

violations, to bring them before the League Council----the Council, like the

UN Security Council, had a veto, and it could recommend action to stop

violations or other acts of aggression---these ranged from censure to

diplomatic boycotts to economic sanctions and, as a final resort, military

action---the Council could not order such actions but member states were
obliged to respond in some way, preferably by participating in collective

actions----

      The two sides of the argument were Wilson, on one side, who wanted

the collective security commitment to be maintained more or less intact----

he often called Article X the “heart of the treaty” and he said that without it

and its commitment the League would become only “a debating society”----

he believed that only with wholehearted commitment by the members of the

League, who included the leading powers of the world, could another

catastrophe like the world war be avoided----moreover, he believed that a

strong League would create new international customs and a new way of

conducting international relations---something that would grow and adapt

over time

      Lodge and the majority of Republicans, on the other side, feared loss

of American sovereignty---they feared that the League could embroil the

United States in faraway conflicts in which it had no interests and require

sacrifices by Americans against their will---what they wanted was to

maintain complete freedom of choice on the part of the United States in

responding to any decisions of the League Council---and they wanted to be

sure that Congress made the decisions, especially because that is where the

war-making power resides under the Constitution----What they wrote into a
reservation on Article X was an absolute ban on any American response to

League Council decisions except by majority vote of both houses of

Congress in each and every instance

      With the benefit of hindsight, this can look like a teapot tempest----

Wilson was asking the impossible, namely to bind future presidents and

congresses---even without any reservation, the United States would have

acted the same way that the Europeans did under the League, that is, it

would have considered its interests and convenience in deciding how to

comply with League decisions----in response, he argued that the armed

forces were protected because Congress retained the war-making power and,

anyway, the United States would always have a veto as a permanent member

of the Council----conversely, the most restrictive reservations would not

have prevented a president from doing many things to act in conjunction

with the League and create situations in which it would be difficult for

Congress not to approve action

      What, then, was the shouting about? Much of it was partisan, and

personal animosity between Wilson and Lodge was a factor----above all,

Wilson’s stroke-warped mentality prevented him from seeking half a loaf

worth having----still, he had a point when he argued that it made all the

difference how the U. S. went into the League----either enthusiastically and
wholeheartedly or grudgingly and suspiciously, with its hand on the door of

the exit----only with true participation and commitment could a new

international community be built and future wars prevented

      The League fight turned out badly for many reasons----but the biggest

one was Wilson’s refusal to compromise----the second time the treaty came

to a vote, it carried a majority, only seven votes short of two-thirds, and half

the Democrats broke with the president to support the treaty with

reservations---he was threatening to refuse to ratify----but that was not such

a great threat----a two-thirds vote would have committed probably have

committed a future Republican president to ratify and take the country into

the League----as it was, this second stalemate left the Republicans free to

wipe the slate clean and pursue their own foreign policy outside the League-

--which they did in the 1920s

      What was lost in this sorry outcome to the League fight may or may

not have been the chance to prevent World War II----it is a great stretch to

say that was at stake----What was at stake was the manner and the degree to

which the United States participated as a leading power in world politics---

for the next twenty years the country would draw back from commitments in

the international arena, and thereby lost a whole generation’s experience in

as a great power----whether we would have acted more responsibly than the
British and French did in the 1930s is an open question, but there would

have been greater chances for constructive engagement

      This brings me back to the question of why what was wrought in 1919

became the Peace That Failed----the peacemakers did not behave well in a

number of ways----they did not treat the Germans as kindly as they might

have done----they refused to engage with the new Soviet regime in Russia---

they played games with former empires and colonies in the Middle East and

eastern Europe----they failed to live up to the implicit promises and hopes of

non-white subject peoples in Africa and Asia----

      But I don’t think those sins of commission and omission really

doomed this peace----Germany remained the central problem---given the

way the war ended, the victors lacked both the force and the will to crush the

Germans----failing that, I am not sure anything would have appeased the

Germans----their basic beef was not the war-guilt clause of the treaty or the

reparations---it was that they had lost the war----they simply could not

accept their defeat, and no one was in a position to make them truly accept

that----What that would have taken was willingness to enforce the clauses of

the treaty, to stomp on violations, to show that the victors meant business----

That was not a matter of what was or wasn’t done in Paris in 1919---That

was a matter of what leaders in the next two decades were willing to do----
and they showed that they lacked the will to maintain this peace----Sadly,

the first of the victors to show the lack of will was the United States----by

not entering into the League in something like the spirit Wilson wanted we

showed that we would not put ourselves on the line to prevent future

conflicts-----The British and French would later show a similar lack of will--

--

      If you ask why this peace failed, and another has succeeded, look at

what happened after 1945----I don’t think anybody would argue that there

was a very good settlement in Europe or Asia----certainly not in the division

of Europe----and remember there never has been a peace treaty with

Germany, because for a long time there was no Germany---or, rather, there

were two---theirs and ours----but this unsatisfactory settlement has held for

more than fifty years, often with violence, but never a general war----

Nuclear weapons had a lot to do with it----Churchill said “Stability will be

the sturdy child of terror”----and there was a Cold War---that was the real

price of general peace in the second half of the twentieth century----

      It’s hard to defend the Peace That Failed, and I am not about to try---

but looking at my lifetime and the Peace That Held----I’m reminded of what

Robert E. Lee said after Chancellorsville, “Another such victory and we are

undone.” Think about Korea, Vietnam, and the Cuban Missile Crisis, and
we might wonder if success at keeping a general peace was all that much

better than the earlier generation’s failure

								
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