|Download PDF of this full issue: v49n1.pdf (28 MB)|
Hopes and Promises Lost, Stolen and Betrayed: Interest Payments on the 100-Year-Old Debt
By Joe Miller (reviewer)
A Shattered Peace: Versailles 1919 and the Price We Pay Today (Centenary Edition)
by David A. Andelman
(John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2014)
I'm guessing that, for most of us, the Treaty of Versailles is just some item we vaguely recall from high school history class. One of those things we needed to retain for a test that did not really mean anything for our daily lives. Well, for those of us who may have served in Southeast or Southwest Asia, decisions made at that peace conference (January to June 1919) had deep significance. Not to mention the fact that, for our fathers and grandfathers who sacrificed in World War II, the Treaty of Versailles had much to do with that conflict as well.
In November 1919, marking the anniversary of the end to the "war to end all wars." Woodrow Wilson said:
"A year ago today our enemies laid down their arms in accordance with an armistice which rendered them impotent to renew hostilities, and gave to the world an assured opportunity to reconstruct its shattered order and to work out in peace a new and juster set of international relations...Out of this victory there arose new possibilities of political freedom and economic concert. The war showed us the strength of great nations acting together for high purposes, and the victory of arms foretells the enduring conquests which can be made in peace when nations act justly and in furtherance of the common interests of man..."
Some high-sounding words....'political freedom,' 'high purposes,' 'act justly,' 'common interests of man' ... at the time when the US was already involved, with other major powers, in efforts to overthrow the Bolshevik regime in Russia from 1918-1925. The Allied Powers (UK, France, USA, Italy) ultimately withdrew in 1920, while the Japanese stayed in the Russian Far East until 1922-25, when the Red Army forced them out as well. Then, there were the anti-Bolshevik Palmer raids in the USA, November 1919 to January 1920. Significant challenges to those high-sounding words.
This book, originally published in 2007, was enlarged and updated for this centenary edition in 2014. It is a very detailed inside view of all the machinations and intrigues that were behind the ultimate completion of the treaty on June 29, 1919.
For many of the delegates at the Conference, especially those from the lesser powers and the colonial peoples, there seemed to be some hope in Woodrow Wilson's "Fourteen Points," which included free trade, open agreements, democracy, self-determination, political independence, and territorial integrity. This all proved to be empty talk.
As the author states: "The end of the Great War, which in perfect hindsight we call World War I, changed everything. Certainly the peace imposed at Versailles by the Western powers—Britain, France, Italy, and the United States—on the vanquished, not to mention the weak, the powerless, the orphaned, and the friendless, determined much of what went wrong for the balance of the century and beyond."
This book is not some leftwing screed. Rather, I see it as an effort by a somewhat liberal veteran foreign correspondent, with many decades experience in Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, to explain how we got to this point in international politics.
Why did the so-called "moral values" of Wilson and the USA not dominate the decisions made at Versailles? How was it that the British and French, old colonial powers, managed to work their will, along with Italy and Japan, to carve up the post-war world? With Wilson's acquiescence, of course.
Each of the powers were honing their intelligence operations going into this conference. We meet Allen Dulles, future CIA director, as he cuts his teeth on making sure that the US knew what each of the other powers were thinking and planning. The intrigues that run throughout this book reveal something quite akin to a John Le Carre novel.
Who were the winners? The Great Powers, of course, at least for the time being. Most of the decisions were ultimately made by the British, French, and Americans. Japan was a beneficiary, but only because the Great Powers wanted to have some influence over Japanese imperialist ambitions.
In this connection, China was one of the big losers, with territory that had been controlled by Germany now turned over to Japan. In May 1919, a month before the actual signing of the treaty, Chinese students and others rose up against their own government in what is known as the May 4th Movement. Militant Chinese nationalism was born and would eventually result in a thirty years' civil war, with World War II, in the middle of that internal conflict.
Colonial peoples, like those of French Indochina, were also losers. Nguyen Tat Thanh [Ho Chi Minh] was totally rebuffed by US representatives at the conference when he appealed to Wilson's "Fourteen Points" as a support for the self-determination of Indochinese people.
The Middle East was carved up in an attempt to limit the influence of religious differences among the various populations. Divide and conquer was the name of the game here.
The German people were devastated by the demands made by the Great Powers, and, forces for revolution there aside, this helped set the stage for the rise of Nazism.
This book is not a dry academic piece. The personalities almost jump off the pages, The intrigues and backstabbing will have you holding your breath, even though, unfortunately, we all know the end of the story. The "end" of the story is TODAY, the "endless wars."
Joe Miller is a Navy veteran, 1961-68. Naval Security Group, 1961-64. USS Ticonderoga (CVA14), 1964-66. HELTRARON 8, 1966-68. He is a VVAW National Board Member.