SEVERAL YEARS AGO, after I had delivered what was doubtless too pontifical a lecture on the mistakes of Wilson and others at the Paris Peace Conference, one of the girls in the class came up to the lectern to ask a routine question. When she had gone I noticed that she had inadvertently left behind a copy of the university news sheet, on the margin of which she had scrawled, evidently for the edification of her neighbor, "Too bad Bailey couldn't have been there to tell them how to do it."
Lest others react similarly to the account that follows, I must at the outset deny any claim to superior wisdom. If I had been in a position of authority at Paris in 1919, I am sure that I should have made many of the mistakes I criticize, and a good many more besides. I realize that statesmen who are working under the pressure of an avalanche of events, and often under physical disabilities as well, cannot attain the serenity of mind and detachment of judgment that come to the scholar in his cloistered cubicle. I realize perfectly well that the wisdom of hindsight is not difficult to attain, and that twenty-five years after the event anyone can see a great many things that were not currently evident.
But so costly have been our blunders, and so strong is the likelihood that we shall again run through the same tragic cycle of disillusionment and isolationism, that I regard it as a solemn duty to rise above the inhibitions of false modesty and call spades by their right names. I happen to be among those who believe that history has lessons for those who will read, and that the Paris Conference of 1919 presents many striking illustrations of what to avoid. Every generation of apes begins where the previous generation began, because apes can hand down no record of their experience. Man leaves a record; but how much better is he than the apes if he does not study it and heed its warnings?