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

By Arthur Walworth | Go to book overview

11

The Control of Germany

In March and April, while the Americans were pressing for a revision of the League Covenant, it became apparent that an ordered sequence of talks was impossible. The political chiefs were loath to settle any question on its own merits. Sometimes they insisted on relating an issue to others in which their governments had stakes that they regarded as vital. The time had come for the "rough-and-tumble" that Balfour had foreseen.

"The prime ministers have skirted around the difficult questions long enough," House wrote in his diary on March 14, "and I am determined that they shall get at them, troublesome as they are, and settle them this week if it is possible. The president is willing, but first Lloyd George, and then Clemenceau shies. The reason I wanted them to meet in my rooms was to keep my hand on the situation. If they go to the Quai d'Orsay or the Ministry of War or to the president's house, matters get out of hand.... My main drive now is for peace with Germany at the earliest possible moment, and I am determined that it shall come soon if it is within my power to force action. I have the Northcliffe press at my disposal in this effort, and every day editorials and articles appear which have a tendency to frighten, persuade or coerce." House, convinced of the ineptness of Lansing as a diplomat, thought it important to the speedy realization of Wilson's program that he maintain the contacts that he had fostered with Lloyd George, Balfour, and Clemenceau. Otherwise, he feared, serious difficulties might befall the president, who had confessed his bewilderment at the ways of the Europeans and who sometimes tended to confuse diplomatic negotiatons by the crusading zeal that he expressed so effectively in his political speeches.

By House's arrangement Lloyd George was waiting for conferences when Wilson arrived at his new domicile in Paris at noon on March 14. Boasting of the support that his people had given to him in the "khaki election," the prime minister had asked House more than once whether America was behind Wilson. 1.

Deeming France's demand for security against German domination to be of the first importance, Wilson and Lloyd George met this challenge with a momentous proposal. They agreed to offer Clemenceau formal defensive alliances in return for renunciation of any plan for permanent occupation of the left bank of the Rhine.

They talked for more than an hour about the major problems facing the Peace Conference. The prime minister said he could not afford to remain at Paris for much more than another week because of Labour agitation in England. Afterward Wilson went to the Crillon to confer with the American commissioners. 2. According to the record of Dr. Grayson, who, attired in his admiral's uniform, accompanied his

____________________
1.
Bonsal, Suitors and Suppliants, p. 246.
2.
Grayson diary, March 14, 1919.

-203-

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