Great Britain and the Creation of the League of Nations: Strategy, Politics, and International Organization, 1914-1919

By George W. Egerton | Go to book overview

8

War No More for Ten Years:
Retreat from the Covenant

In a statement to the press after having reluctantly signed the Treaty of Versailles, Smuts voiced the hope of many who shared his concern at the harshness of the settlement that the League of Nations could provide the path of escape out of the ruin brought about by the war. He continued: "But the League is as yet only a form. It still requires the quickening life, which can only come from the active interest and the vitalizing contact of the people themselves. The new creative spirit, which is once more moving among the peoples in their anguish, must fill the institution with life, and with pacific ideals born of this war, and so convert it into a real instrument of progress." 1 The period from May to December 1919 witnessed the first phase of the attempt to translate the formal league into an organism possessing the life and spirit spoken of by Smuts. These initial months perhaps marked the most critical interlude of all in the league's genesis.

During this time the league's organizing committee, meeting in London under the impetus of House and Cecil, set the preparatory machinery of the league in motion and established the secretariat. At the same time Eric Drummond, the secretary general, recruited an international staff, which laid plans for the first meetings of the council and the assembly and attempted to chart the ground rules for the new international organization in world politics. Proleague associations continued their fight to bring public support to the league cause. Concurrently, the great powers were determining their

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