Versailles#34: On The Big Four
The latest episode of the project hones in on three specific days – the 8, 9 and 10 of February 1919, as we build up to the moment when David Lloyd George and Woodrow Wilson returned home for various reasons. Both figures had a lot on their mind even before they had left, but before the American President could return home, he would at least have to face the full brunt of the paranoid French in action. At least, they seemed paranoid enough to him. The French demands, and the insistence that the Germans intended at any moment to avenge themselves upon allied divisions or weaknesses, struck Wilson as extremely far-fetched. Not for the first or for the last time, the American President was rubbed the wrong way by French severity towards Germany. Wilson didn’t understand this extreme angle of Clemenceau, but then, how could he, since America had not been invaded by its neighbour two times in as many generations.
If this episode’s purpose could be summarised in four words, then it would read ‘Clemenceau’s battle with Germany.’ It was impossible, Clemenceau insisted, to leave Germany to her own devices. He was not interested in anything – not the League of Nations, not mandates, not Russia – so long as Germany remained unresolved as a problem. Clemenceau imagined that as soon as the final peace treaty was concluded, the British and Americans would leave the French to face their adversary alone. To guard against this, Clemenceau planned to drive a hard bargain in four key areas with respect to Germany – in the case of the Rhineland, the industrial Saarland, Germany’s eastern border and on the question of reparations. To Clemenceau it was vital that these matters were worked out in France’s favour, but he came up constantly against the resistance of the American President. The honeymoon period between Premier and President certainly appeared to be over, yet there was much work still to be done…
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