Versailles #72: Grim Expectations
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The last few days of May 1919 were a weird time in the allied camp. Despite the fact that it was absolutely expected that Germany was about to send 'elaborate' counterproposals, which meant that Germany, therefore, would not be signalling its complete acceptance of the Peace Treaty, the big three refrained from authorising Marshal Foch to begin his preparations for war. These preparations might have turned up the heat on Germany, and demonstrated to Chancellor Scheidemann's government that the allies were serious indeed about their demand for unconditional acceptance being respected. This was a strange contradiction in the allied policy - did they not want the Germans to know they meant business? It was a strange contradiction, but it was far from the only one.
Despite the need to prepare for the arrival of these anticipated counterproposals, and the necessity in maintaining allied unity at all times, the big three decided that the time was now right to gang up on Italy like never before. In a series of scathing verbal attacks on the Italian premier who was present, Clemenceau, Wilson and Lloyd George in their turn all claimed that Orlando had had no policy, that he had made no clear requests, that much had changed since 1915, that he was jeopardising the Entente, and a whole range of other ideas. We will measure the fairness of these jibes in the episode, but they typically followed by the claim that they meant Italy to feel no disrespect, and that they looked forward to solving these issues in the future.
Insincere though the last minute trudgings through the Italian issues, the Austrian peace and the Russian situation might appear to us here, the big three seemed to have little else to do, while they waited with baited breath to see what the Germans would say about their peace treaty. Remember - these were supposed to be the victorious allies. Notwithstanding Germany's right to make suggestions, according to the terms of the peace, the spectre of Germany making the allies wait in line for their verdict was a bizarre one. Perhaps, the big three genuinely believed that the best course was to give diplomacy another chance, and that was why they made Foch delay his plans, which might have made a difference to the German reply. Either way, the moments which filled the diaries of the big three in the final days of May were about to build towards something incredible, and the grim waiting process seemed like the very worst part of this process.
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