Wilson and His Peacemakers: American Diplomacy at the Paris Peace Conference, 1919

By Arthur Walworth | Go to book overview

7

The Russian Question

Woodrow Wilson left Paris in mid-February in the midst of a controversy about one of the most persistently vexing of the issues of the peacemaking.

For the nations opposing Germany in the war there had been two paths to peace. One was by unrelenting pursuit of victory in the hope that once it was attained the terms for an enduring peace might be dictated. The other way—the easy one—was to get an immediate surcease of fighting by surrendering. The Russian Soviet government, overthrowing a revolutionary regime that had maintained some resistance to Germany, had chosen the path of capitulation at Brest-Litovsk, and in so doing had aroused enduring resentment on the part of the Allies in the West.

When the Allies sent arms and troops to strengthen the forces of "white" anti‐ Bolshevist generals and pressed the American government to share the burden, Wilson had reluctantly given his consent in the summer of 1918. 1. This concession became acutely embarrassing. Friction developed among the armies of the powers that had been sent to north Russia and to Siberia. 2. The morale of the troops was not good, and the White Russians were doing little to advance their own cause. 3. The presence of foreign forces in Russia served to create cynicism among the Russian people and to stimulate recruiting for the Red army. House, who had joined with British agents 4. in urging American participation in the intervention, thought it nec‐

____________________
1.
See Walworth, America's Moment: 1918, pp. 198 ff. The question of American policy toward the Russian revolution and that of Wilson's motives have evoked differing interpretations from historians. See the summary by Eugene F. Trani, in "Woodrow Wilson and the Decision to Intervene in Russia," Journal of Modern History 48 (September 1976):440-461, and also Betty Miller Unterberger's chapter, "Woodrow Wilson and the Russian Revolution," in Woodrow Wilson and a Revolutionary World, ed. Arthur S. Link. Also see John Bradley, Allied Intervention in Russia, and John W. Long, "American Intervention in Russia: The North Russian Expedition, 1918-1919," Diplomatic History 6, no. 1 (Winter 1982), in which an excellent footnote on p. 45 summarizes earlier studies.
2.
Sir Charles Eliot to Curzon, February 22, 1919, Curzon papers, box 65, F112/210. Polk to John W. Davis, February 1, 1919, Davis papers, Y.H.C.
3.
"Memorandum on the Russian Situation," February 15, 1919, Balfour papers, 4975. Notes of conversation with C. T. Williams, deputy commissioner of the Red Cross, February 22, 1919, Bliss papers, box 248. On conditions in Siberia see Unterberger, America's Siberian Expedition, 1918-1920, ch. 7, and Unterberger (ed.), American Intervention in the Russian Civil War (Lexington, Mass., 1969), esp. "Suggestions for Additional Reading." The Japanese, whose aggressiveness Wilson had hoped to curb by ordering General Graves to Siberia with a few thousand men, had sent many more soldiers than had been specified, but had indicated at the end of 1918 that the number would be reduced to the minimum needed to keep order, Polk to Ammission, December 30, 1918, transmitting dispatch, Morris to the secretary of state, December 29, 1918, Wilson papers. After protracted negotiations at Tokyo, Ambassador Morris was able to conclude with Japan a compromise agreement that confirmed the control of the trans-Siberian railway by American engineers; and the arrangement was accepted by France and Great Britain in February 1919, memoranda, Lord to Bullitt, January 17 and 19, 1919, Y.H.C.; F.R., 1918, Russia, vol. 3, pp. 269, 278-280, 301-303, 307. See Mayer, Politics and Diplomacy of Peacemaking, pp. 337-339.
4.
Memorandum dated February 11, 1919, in Wilson papers, with endorsement by House commending this paper to Wilson, who already understood that the intervention was exploited by Bolshevik propaganda.

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