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

By Arthur Walworth | Go to book overview

22

The Signing with Germany

President Wilson remained in Paris for almost two months after May 7, when the draft of the peace treaty was given to the Germans. It was necessary to deal with the enemy's criticism of the terms proposed, the desire of Lloyd George to soften them, and the preparation of a treaty text that was delivered to Austrian delegates at St. Germain on June 2. 1.

When Brockdorff-Rantzau divulged the victors' terms to his people at the Hôtel des Reservoirs on May 7, they fell into the blackest despair. They foresaw a complete breakdown of German credit, the desolation of Germany's ports, the utter destruction of its industry, and a permanent famine in the land. 2. In their gloom they gave themselves to an orgy that left both their residence and their persons in a sordid state. 3.

Brockdorff-Rantzau was no Talleyrand and lacked sufficient ability to insinuate his voice effectively into the negotiations at Paris. Seeing no choice but to adopt the course that the Peace Conference had suggested, he wrote a series of public notes that contrasted the treaty draft with the letter and spirit of Wilson's principles. At the same time his government undertook to formulate criticism and counterproposals that would reveal the provisions of the treaty that it thought exploitative.

Within the fifteen days that were allotted, Brockdorff-Rantzau addressed a volley of notes to the Peace Conference. These were intended to point out absurdities in the conditions imposed and to lead the peacemakers back to what he considered to be the legal basis of the treaty—Wilson's principles. The assumption of German war guilt was challenged, and the demands upon Germany were deemed "intolerable for any nation" and impossible to fulfill. The Germans, suggesting alternatives to some of the terms, presented a meticulous draft for a covenant for a league of nations, and they inquired how they might become members of the league that they were asked to accept by signing the treaty of peace. 4.

The protests, weakened by a lack of executive direction and based on the advice of specialists working in isolation, failed to concentrate on the most intolerable of the terms and advanced many suggestions that would be unacceptable to the victors. 5. The tone of the notes tended to be accusatory rather than conciliatory, and

____________________
1.
See below, p. 443.
2.
Schiff, The Germans at Versailles, pp. 78-79.
3.
Steed, Through Thirty Years, vol. 2, pp. 335-336.
4.
Luckau, The German Delegation at the Paris Peace Conference, pp. 225-233. Christoph M. Kimmich, Germany and the League of Nations, pp. 8-21. See below, pp. 81 ff.
5.
Schaefer, "German Peace Strategy in 1918-1919," p. 279. Shotwell, At the Paris Peace Conference, p. 48. Bernadotte Schmitt in Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society (January 1961). The notes covered these topics: the League of Nations Covenant; the international labor office; repatriation of prisoners and interned civilians; reparations and responsibility; economic questions; territorial questions; the Saar; the treatment of German missionaries; and the liquidation of German private property abroad.

-409-

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