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

By Arthur Walworth | Go to book overview

2

The Voices of the People

The leaders of the major powers, meeting in closed sessions and improvising procedures for the essential business of negotiating a treaty of peace, soon found themselves importuned by advocates of social causes. Voices that heretofore had not been heard in meetings of diplomats were being raised. The champions of laborers spoke out for provisions for protection against inhumane conditions of work; organizations of women presented petitions; spokesmen for the black and yellow races sought recognition of equality with the white. Moreover, journalists, many of whom sympathized with some of the various causes, were not content to serve merely as publicizers of official bulletins. United in protest against the inhumanity of war and in insistence on respect for human rights, partisans of the new movements brought their pleas to the doors of the Peace Conference. They challenged the professional diplomats by serving notice that they would not be satisfied with a mere reconstruction of an old social fabric that they thought beyond mending.

The response of some of the American peacemakers to the rising voices of unrest was sympathetic. American liberals, who were not revolutionaries, believed that the exercise of human reason might mitigate the curses of poverty, disease, and war. 1. Woodrow Wilson had been responsive to the new social forces. It was to be expected, then, that the Americans at Paris would give attention to the spokesmen of labor who aspired to have a share in the shaping of an ideal peace. They were disposed, too, to listen carefully to pleaders for the rights of women and for recognition of equality of the races; and they sympathized with the yearning of the common man for reliable news of the proceedings of the Peace Conference.

The promise of full publicity was reassuring to those who remembered that the people of England and France had been kept in ignorance of diplomatic commitments that had brought them into the war in 1914. Actually there were many who believed that the fatal confrontation of alliances would not have occurred if the peoples had not been committed secretly to international obligations which, had they been made public, might have been rejected by the parliaments, or at least might have forestalled acts of aggression. Newsmen advocated a literal application of the first of Wilson's Fourteen Points—"open covenants of peace, openly arrived at"—not only as a preventive of new secret treaties, but as a guarantee of their right to be present during all negotiations and to tell the people what was happening from day to day. Believing that they had a champion in the president of the United States, they were disappointed when he forbade them to enter Germany or Russia, the regions that most excited their curiosity. 2.

However, censorship of mail and cables could no longer be justified by the war

____________________
1.
See Christopher Lasch, The American Liberals and the Russian Revolution, pp. vi-xvi.
2.
William Allen White, Autobiography, p. 550. Oswald Garrison Villard, The Fighting Years, p. 397.

-23-

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