Paul Birdsall:


For six years Paul Birdsall led an advanced seminar at Williams College in an investigation of "the diplomatic factors which shaped the general character of the Treaty of Versailles." In 1941 he published the results of these inquiries in a book which he believed "relevant to the immediate issues of war and peace, as they affect the United States and the world in general." Birdsall viewed the Peace Conference as a "struggle between Wilsonian principles of a new world order and the principles of reactionary nationalism." Obviously approving Wilson's program, he also made the most effective defense of Wilson's achievement in supporting that program at Paris.

IF the first World War taught us anything, it taught us that after four years of bloodshed democracies become thoroughly vindictive toward the enemy who has caused them to suffer. The peoples of England and France were in a mood to "hang the Kaiser" and to "squeeze the orange until the pips squeak." It is by now a commonplace that a hysterical populace in Allied countries called for punishment and destruction of Germany, and Allied leaders, true to the principles of democracy, bowed to the storm. Belief in the unique guilt of the Kaiser for the horrors of the World War was unanimous. Can the peoples of Great Britain and France entertain many doubts about the guilt of Hitler? If they could regard the people of Imperial Germany as "Huns" and barbarians, how will they think of their Nazi enemies?

How can such passions be controlled? They must be controlled if democracy is to solve the problem of a stable peace and of a durable world order. Only in a stable world can democracy survive. Those who decry idealism and justice as sentimental and unrealistic terms in world politics miss the point. For idealism and justice are the very rudiments of common sense. They amount to a practical realization of what the traffic will reasonably bear. They require the sacrifice of immediate vengeance for the sake of long-term enlightened selfinterest.

Woodrow Wilson symbolized the forces of reason in the fight for a peace of justice. He spoke too much the language of idealism and self-sacrifice and too little the plain language of a genuine community of interest, and to that extent he brought upon himself the misrepresentation which obscured his real rôle in the Paris Peace Conference and contributed to the defeat of his program in the United States. A hardboiled and disillusioned age is quick to gibe about cant and hypocrisy, and Keynes' characterization of the Presbyterian theocrat who was "bamboozled" by Clemenceau

From Paul Birdsall, Versailles Twenty Years After, pp. 4-21, 289-295. Copyright, 1941. Reprinted by permission of Harcourt, Brace and Company, Inc.


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Wilson at Versailles


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