Making War, Making Peace: Versailles, 1919

By MacMillan, Margaret | Queen's Quarterly, Spring 2014 | Go to article overview

Making War, Making Peace: Versailles, 1919


MacMillan, Margaret, Queen's Quarterly


[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

The leaders who committed their nations to war in 1914 never dreamed that the conflict would drag on for years and claim millions of lives. They never imagined that it would lead to the birth of a massive Bolshevik state while destroying the empires of czarist Russia, Austria-Hungary, Germany, and Ottoman Turkey. And in the aftermath of the Great War, the individuals at the negotiating table found themselves trying to do nothing less than piece their world together anew. At the centre of the negotiations were three individuals, each a fascinating bundle of enlightenment, narrow-mindedness, tolerance, bigotry, pragmatism, and idealism. And, to a large extent, we are all still living in the world they drew up for us.

THE OBSERVATION "it is harder to make peace than war" was, as one might expect of someone so witty, that of Georges Clemenceau, prime minister of France at the end of the First World War and during the peace conference that followed. Of course he only half meant it. Yet, there is some truth in the remark as well. What could be harder than the huge, all-demanding struggle that had lasted for four years? War, as Dr Johnson so famously said about the prospect of being hanged, concentrates the mind wonderfully. And a war like the First World War, where the stakes were so very high, narrowed the choices before leaders significantly. The most important policy was to win--or, at least, not to lose. All else flowed from that.

However, decisions about the peace settlements that followed after the guns fell silent were also taken under pressure. The peacemakers who met in Paris feared that, unless they moved quickly to wind up the war and to try to set the framework for a better international order, Europe and perhaps the wider world would be plunged into anarchy, revolution, and misery. On the other hand, they faced a great range of possibilities and choices. How should the borders be drawn in the centre of Europe and in the Middle East? What exactly should be the nature of the treaties with Germany and its allies, Austria, Hungary, Bulgaria, and the Ottoman Empire? What shape should the proposed League of Nations take? In the end individuals--surprisingly few of them--had to make such decisions.

HOW DO WE JUDGE the importance of individuals in events of the past? Clemenceau, the prime minister of France between 1917 and 1920, and his counterpart in Britain, David Lloyd George, were clearly very important in the outcome of what used to be called the Great War. After all, they made the final decisions when and where to wage the war. On the other hand, without French factories or British ships or the millions of men who went to fight, their leadership meant little. One of the great difficulties for historians as we attempt to make sense of momentous events is to strike a balance between explanations that credit only the "forces" of history and those that single out individuals. The "Great Man" theory of history has been discredited in recent years while attention has been focused on the slow, often opaque, movements of economics or ideas or fashions. But does it truly deserve to be abandoned altogether?

My own view is that we must try to understand both the context and the individuals, especially when we are trying to understand great events. Of course the men and women of the past were creatures of their own times, just as we are today. Their attitudes and their beliefs, just like ours, were shaped by the societies in which they lived. They had only the institutions and the technologies of their own times at hand. They thought in certain ways and employed certain concepts because these were the tools they had. If they changed the course of events, if they helped to create new realities, they still did so within the confines of their own times.

The Paris Peace Conference of 1919 was one of those moments in the recent history of the world--like 1945 or 1989--when society was turned upside down, when it was not clear what the future would be.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Making War, Making Peace: Versailles, 1919
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.