Versailles #23: Settling Into Paris
I am SO EXCITED to bring you all this episode. This is exactly what this project is all about - a comprehensive examination of primary sources, left to us by those that were in place and charged with TAKING charge a century ago. Here we cover the period of 13-17 January 1919, using the minutes of the Paris Peace Conference, provided by the US Foreign Relations papers series as our guide. I am super keen to hear what you all thought, but read on if you want to know more about this very chunky episode before you get started...
By 15th January 1919, everyone of importance had arrived, but there was much work to be done before this world summit could open. In #23, we examine this body of work which preceded the official opening of the Paris Peace Conference. Join us as we drift between the major characters, assessing the major concerns of each, and the ways in which their aims created controversy and friction with their counterparts. It was not an easy task to make everyone feel on the same page, and the list of issues which each day threw up are too numerous to go into sufficient detail here. Suffice to say, in this episode, a whole range of problems come under our microscope, at the centre of them was Germany.
Germany was the defeated power, yet she was not conquered. She was beaten, yet she could not be aggressively punished. She had been the enemy, yet the allies knew they would have to provide food for her people, otherwise a more sinister force would overthrow the fledgling German democracy before it had even left the cradle. This force was Bolshevism, moving like a torrent from the east, and the conflict reigned between those that feared pushing Germans too hard would occasion their succumbing to Bolshevism, and those that reasoned, whatever happened, the Germans had to be made to pay. The tension between these two viewpoints grew only larger as the difference in opinion became greater, and this all before the Conference had officially opened.
But, then again, what was this Conference? Was it a preliminary, inter-allied gathering, designed to formulate the main terms of the peace treaty, which would then be left in the hands of minor diplomats to hammer out? Other questions abounded - what form of censorship should be used, did they need another committee? What would the official language of the Conference be? French, or English, or French and English? Why not Italian and Japanese then as well? How large should each of the smaller power's delegations be, and did the dominions have to have delegates since Britain could speak for them? Could Britain actually speak for them, or was the Empire, now the Commonwealth, past that point of deference to the mother country?
The week preceding the official opening of the Conference, in short, threw up just as many questions, if not more, than answers. But one thing which was certain was that this Conference would remain in place in Paris, near the Palace of Versailles where the Supreme War Council had met in months past. Furthermore, a Supreme Council or Council of Ten would sit, composed of the premier and Foreign Minister of each of the five major powers (USA, UK, France, Italy and Japan) and this group would make executive decisions, guided by the appointed President of the Council, Georges Clemenceau. Administration and organisation were surely the intended goals of the week before the 18th January, but instead, this was for many the week when the scales began to fall from their eyes, and they began to come to terms with the sheer size of the challenge which loomed before them...
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