LACK OF AN AMERICAN PROGRAMME
Having reviewed the radical differences between the President and myself in regard to the League of Nations and the inclusion of the Covenant in the Treaty of Peace with Germany, it is necessary to revert to the early days of the negotiations at Paris in order to explain the divergence of our views as to the necessity of a definite programme for the American Commission to direct it in its work and to guide its members in their intercourse with the delegates of other countries.
If the President had a programme, other than the general principles and the few territorial settlements included in his Fourteen Points, and the generalities contained in his "subsequent addresses," he did not show a copy of the programme to the Commissioners or advise them of its contents. The natural conclusion was that he had never worked out in detail the application of his announced principles or put into concrete form the specific settlements which he had declared ought to be in the terms of peace. The definition of the principles, the interpretation of the policies, and the detailing of the provisions regarding territorial settlements were not apparently attempted by Mr. Wilson. They were in large measure left uncertain by the phrases in which they were delivered. Without authoritative explanation, interpretation, or application to actual facts they formed incomplete and inadequate instructions to Commissioners who were authorized "to negotiate peace."
An examination of the familiar Fourteen Points uttered by the President in his address of January 8, 1918, will indicate the character of the declarations, which may be, by reason of their thought and expression, termed "Wilsonian" (Appendix IV, p. 314). The first five Points are announcements of principle which should govern the peace negotiations. The succeeding eight Points refer to territorial adjustments, but make no attempt to define actual boundaries, so essential in conducting negotiations regarding territory. The Fourteenth Point relates to the formation of "a general association of the nations for the purpose of affording mutual guarantees of political independence and territorial integrity to great and small nations alike."
It is hardly worth while to say that the Fourteen Points and the four principles declared in the address of February 11, 1918 (Appendix V), do not constitute a sufficient programme for negotiators. Manifestly they are too indefinite in specific application. They were never intended for that purpose when they were proclaimed. They might have formed a general basis for the preparation of instructions for peace commissioners, but they omitted too many of the essentials to be considered actual instructions, while the lack of definite terms to-be included in a treaty further deprived them of that character. Such important and practical subjects as reparations, financial arrangements, the use and control of waterways, and other questions of a like nature, are not even mentioned. As a general statement of the bases of peace the Fourteen Points and subsequent declarations probably served a useful purpose, though some critics would deny it, but as a working programme for the negotiation of a treaty they were inadequate, if not wholly useless.
Believing in the autumn of 1918 that the end of the war was approaching and assuming that the American plenipotentiaries to the Peace Conference would have to be furnished with detailed written instructions as to the terms of the treaty to be signed, I prepared on September 21, 1918, a memorandum of my views as to the territorial settlements which would form, not instructions, but a guide in the drafting of instructions for the American Commissioners. At the time I had no intimation that the President purposed to be present in person at the peace table and had not even thought of such a possibility. The memorandum, which follows, was written with the sole purpose of being ready to draft definite instructions which could be submitted to the President when the time came to prepare for the negotiation of the peace. The memorandum follows:
"The present Russian situation, which is unspeakably horrible and which seems beyond present hope of betterment, presents new problems to be solved at the peace table.
"The Pan-Germans now have in shattered and impotent Russia the opportunity to develop an alternative or supplemental scheme to their 'Mittel-Europa' project. German domination over Southern Russia would offer as advantageous, if not a more advantageous, route to the Persian Gulf than through the turbulent Balkans and unreliable Turkey. If both routes, north and south of the Black Sea, could be controlled, the Pan-Germans would have gained more than they dreamed of obtaining. I believe, however, that Bulgaria fears the Germans and will be disposed to resist German domination possibly to the extent of making a separate peace with the Allies. Nevertheless, if the Germans could obtain the route north of the Black Sea, they would with reason consider the war a successful venture because it would give them the opportunity to rebuild the imperial power and to carry out the Prussian ambition of world-mastery.
"The treaty of peace must not leave Germany in possession directly or indirectly of either of these routes to the Orient. There must be territorial barriers erected to prevent that Empire from ever being able by political or economic penetration to become dominant in those regions.
"With this in view I would state the essentials for a stable peace as follows, though I do so in the most tentative way because conditions may change materially. These 'essentials' relate to territory and waters, and do not deal with military protection.
"First. The complete abrogation or denouncement of the Brest-Litovsk Treaty and all treaties relating in any way to Russian territory or commerce; and also the same action as to the Treaty of Bucharest. This applies to all treaties made by the German Empire or Germany's allies.
"Second. The Baltic Provinces of Lithuania, Latvia, and Esthonia should be autonomous states of a Russian Confederation.
"Third. Finland raises a different question and it should be carefully considered whether it should not be an independent state.
"Fourth. An independent Poland, composed of Polish provinces of Russia, Prussia, and Austria, and in possession of the port of Danzig.
"Fifth. An independent state, either single or federal composed of Bohemia, Slovakia, and Moravia (and possibly a portion of Silesia) and possessing an international right of way by land or water to a free port.
"Sixth. The Ukraine to be a state of the Russian Confederation, to which should be annexed that portion of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in which the Ruthenians predominate.
"Seventh. Roumania, in addition to her former territory, should ultimately be given sovereignty over Bessarabia, Transylvania, and the upper portion of the Dobrudja, leaving the central mouth of the Danube as the boundary of Bulgaria, or else the northern half. (As to the boundary there is doubt.)
"Eighth. The territories in which the Jugo-Slavs predominate, namely Croatia, Slavonia, Dalmatia, Bosnia, and Herzegovina, should be united with Serbia and Montenegro forming a single or a federal state. The sovereignty over Trieste or some other port should be later settled in drawing a boundary line between the new state and Italy. My present view is that there should be a good Jugo-Slav port.
"Ninth. Hungary should be separated from Austria and possess rights of free navigation of the Danube.
"Tenth. Restoration to Italy of all the Italian provinces of Austria. Italy's territory to extend along the northern Adriatic shore to the Jugo-Slav boundary. Certain ports on the eastern side of the Adriatic should be considered as possible naval bases of Italy. (This last is doubtful.)
"Eleventh. Reduction of Austria to the ancient boundaries and title of the Archduchy of Austria. Incorporation of Archduchy in the Imperial German Confederation. Austrian outlet to the sea would be like that of Baden and Saxony through German ports on the North Sea and the Baltic.
"Twelfth. The boundaries of Bulgaria, Serbia, and Greece to follow in general those established after the First Balkan War, though Bulgaria should surrender to Greece more of the Aegean coast and obtain the southern half only of the Dobrudja (or else as far as the Danube) and the Turkish territory up to the district surrounding Constantinople, to be subsequently decided upon.
"Thirteenth. Albania to be under Italian or Serbian sovereignty or incorporated in the Jugo-Slav Confederation.
"Fourteenth. Greece to obtain more of the Aegean littoral at the expense of Bulgaria, the Greek-inhabited islands adjacent to Asia Minor and possibly certain ports and adjoining territory in Asia Minor.
"Fifteenth. The Ottoman Empire to be reduced to Anatolia and have no possessions in Europe. (This requires consideration.)
"Sixteenth. Constantinople to be erected into an international protectorate surrounded by a land zone to allow for expansion of population. The form of government to be determined upon by an international commission or by one Government acting as the mandatory of the Powers. The commission or mandatory to have the regulation and control of the navigation of the Dardanelles and Bosphorus as international waterways.
"Seventeenth. Armenia and Syria to be erected into protectorates of such Government or Governments as seems expedient from a domestic as well as an international point of view; the guaranty being that both countries will be given self-government as soon as possible and that an 'Open-Door' policy as to commerce and industrial development will be rigidly observed.
"Eighteenth. Palestine to be an autonomous state under a general international protectorate or under the protectorate of a Power designated to act as the mandatory of the Powers.
"Nineteenth. Arabia to receive careful consideration as to the full or partial sovereignty of the state or states established.
"Twentieth. Great Britain to have the sovereignty of Egypt, or a full protectorate over it.
"Twenty-first. Persia to be freed from all treaties establishing spheres of influence. Rigid application of the 'Open-Door' policy in regard to commercial and industrial development.
"Twenty-second. All Alsace-Lorraine to be restored to France without conditions.
"Twenty-third. Belgium to be restored to full sovereignty.
"Twenty-fourth. A consideration of the union of Luxemburg to Belgium. (This is open to question.)
"Twenty-fifth. The Kiel Canal to be internationalized and an international zone twenty miles from the Canal on either side to be erected which should be, with the Canal, under the control and regulation of Denmark as the mandatory of the Powers. (This last is doubtful.)
"Twenty-sixth. All land north of the Kiel Canal Zone to be ceded to Denmark.
"Twenty-seventh. The fortifications of the Kiel Canal and of Heligoland to be dismantled. Heligoland to be ceded to Denmark.
"Twenty-eighth. The sovereignty of the archipelago of Spitzbergen to be granted to Norway.
"Twenty-ninth. The disposition of the colonial possessions formerly belonging to Germany to be determined by an international commission having in mind the interests of the inhabitants and the possibility of employing these colonies as a means of indemnification for wrongs done. The 'Open-Door' policy should be guaranteed.
"While the foregoing definitive statement as to territory contains my views at the present time (September 21, 1918), I feel that no proposition should be considered unalterable, as further study and conditions which have not been disclosed may materially change some of them.
"Three things must constantly be kept in mind, the natural stability of race, language, and nationality, the necessity of every nation having an outlet to the sea so that it may maintain its own merchant marine, and the imperative need of rendering Germany impotent as a military power."
Later I realized that another factor should be given as important a place in the terms of peace as any of the three, namely, the economic interdependence of adjoining areas and the mutual industrial benefit to their inhabitants by close political affiliation. This factor in the territorial settlements made more and more impression upon me as it was disclosed by a detailed study of the numerous problems which the Peace Conference had to solve.
I made other memoranda on various subjects relating to the general peace for the purpose of crystallizing my ideas, so that I could lay them in concrete form before the President when the time came to draft instructions for the American plenipotentiaries charged with the negotiation of the Treaty of Peace. When the President reached the decision to attend the Conference and to direct in person the negotiations, it became evident that, in place of the instructions customarily issued to negotiators, a more practical and proper form of defining the objects to be sought by the United States would be an outline of a treaty setting forth in detail the features of the peace, or else a memorandum containing definite declarations of policy in regard to the numerous problems presented. Unless there was some framework of this sort on which to build, it would manifestly be very embarrassing for the American Commissioners in their intercourse with their foreign colleagues, as they would be unable to discuss authoritatively or even informally the questions at issue or express opinions upon them without the danger of unwittingly opposing the President's wishes or of contradicting the views which might be expressed by some other of their associates on the American Commission. A definite plan seemed essential if the Americans were to take any part in the personal exchanges of views which are so usual during the progress of negotiations.
Prior to the departure of the American delegation from the United States and for two weeks after their arrival in Paris, it was expected that the President would submit to the Commissioners for their guidance a projet of a treaty or a very complete programme as to policies. Nothing, however, was done, and in the conferences which took place between the President and his American associates he confined his remarks almost exclusively to the League of Nations and to his plan for its organization. It was evident—at least that was the natural inference—that President Wilson was without a programme of any sort or even of a list of subjects suitable as an outline for the preparation of a programme. How he purposed to conduct the negotiations no one seemed to know. It was all very uncertain and unsatisfactory.
In the circumstances, which seemed to be due to the President's failure to appreciate the necessity for a definite programme, I felt that something ought to be done, as the probable result would be that the terms of the Treaty, other than the provisions regarding a League of Nations, would be drafted by foreign delegates and not by the President.
Impressed by the unsatisfactory state of affairs and desirous of remedying it if possible, I asked Dr. James Brown Scott and Mr. David Hunter Miller, the legal advisers of the American Commission, to prepare a skeleton treaty covering the subjects to be dealt with in the negotiations which could be used in working out a complete programme. After several conferences with these advisers concerning the subjects to be included and their arrangement in the Treaty, the work was sufficiently advanced to lay before the Commissioners. Copies were, therefore, furnished to them with the request that they give the document consideration in order that they might make criticisms and suggest changes. I had not sent a copy to the President, intending to await the views of my colleagues before doing so, but during the conference of January 10, to which I have been compelled reluctantly to refer in discussing the Covenant of the League of Nations, I mentioned the fact that our legal advisers had been for some time at work on a "skeleton treaty" and had made a tentative draft. The President at once showed his displeasure and resented the action taken, evidently considering the request that a draft be prepared to be a usurpation of his authority to direct the activities of the Commission. It was this incident which called forth his remark, to which reference was made in Chapter VIII, that he did not propose to have lawyers drafting the Treaty.
In view of Mr. Wilson's attitude it was useless for Dr. Scott and Mr. Miller to proceed with their outline of a treaty or for the Commissioners to give consideration to the tentative draft already made. It was a disagreeable situation. If the President had had anything, however crude and imperfect it might have been, to submit in place of the Scott-Miller draft, it would have been a different matter and removed to an extent the grounds for complaint at his attitude. But he offered nothing at all as a substitute. It is fair to assume that he had no programme prepared and was unwilling to have any one else make a tentative one for his consideration. It left the American Commission without a chart marking out the course which they were to pursue in the negotiations and apparently without a pilot who knew the channel.
Six days after the enforced abandonment of the plan to prepare a skeleton treaty as a foundation for a definite and detailed programme, I made the following note which expresses my views on the situation at that time:
"January 16, 1919
"No plan of work has been prepared. Unless something is done we will be here for many weeks, possibly for months. After the President's remarks the other day about a draft-treaty no one except the President would think of preparing a plan. He must do it himself, and he is not doing it. He has not even given us a list of subjects to be considered and of course has made no division of our labors.
"If the President does not take up this matter of organization and systematically apportion the subjects between us, we may possibly have no peace before June. This would be preposterous because with proper order and division of questions we ought to have a treaty signed by April first.
"I feel as if we, the Commissioners, were like a lot of skilled workmen who are ordered to build a house. We have the materials and tools, but there are no plans and specifications and no master-workman in charge of the construction. We putter around in an aimless sort of way and get nowhere.
"With all his natural capacity the President seems to lack the faculty of employing team-work and of adopting a system to utilize the brains of other men. It is a decided defect in an executive. He would not make a good head of a governmental department. The result is, so far as our Commission is concerned, a state of confusion and uncertainty with a definite loss and delay through effort being undirected."
On several occasions I spoke to the President about a programme for the work of the Commission and its corps of experts, but he seemed indisposed to consider the subject and gave the impression that he intended to call on the experts for his own information which would be all that was necessary. I knew that Colonel House, through Dr. Mezes, the head of the organization, was directing the preparation of certain data, but whether he was doing so under the President's directions I did not know, though I presumed such was the case. Whatever data were furnished did not, however, pass through the hands of the other Commissioners who met every morning in my office to exchange information and discuss matters pertaining to the negotiations and to direct the routine work of the Commission.
It is difficult, even with the entire record of the proceedings at Paris before one, to find a satisfactory explanation for the President's objection to having a definite programme other than the general declarations contained in the Fourteen Points and his "subsequent addresses." It may be that he was unwilling to bind himself to a fixed programme, since it would restrict him, to an extent, in his freedom of action and prevent him from assuming any position which seemed to him expedient at the time when a question arose during the negotiations. It may be that he did not wish to commit himself in any way to the contents of a treaty until the Covenant of the League of Nations had been accepted. It may be that he preferred not to let the American Commissioners know his views, as they would then be in a position to take an active part in the informal discussions which he apparently wished to handle alone. None of these explanations is at all satisfactory, and yet any one of them may be the true one.
Whatever was the chief reason for the President's failure to furnish a working plan to the American Commissioners, he knowingly adopted the policy and clung to it with the tenacity of purpose which has been one of the qualities of mind that account for his great successes and for his great failures. I use the adverb "knowingly" because it had been made clear to him that, in the judgment of others, the Commissioners ought to have the guidance furnished by a draft-treaty or by a definite statement of policies no matter how tentative or subject to change the draft or statement might be.
On the day that the President left Paris to return to the United States (February 14, 1919) I asked him if he had any instructions for the Commissioners during his absence concerning the settlements which should be included in the preliminary treaty of peace, as it was understood that the Council of Ten would continue its sessions for the consideration of the subjects requiring investigation and decision. The President replied that he had no instructions, that the decisions could wait until he returned, though the hearings could proceed and reports could be made during his absence. Astonished as I was at this wish to delay these matters, I suggested to him the subjects which I thought ought to go into the Treaty. He answered that he did not care to discuss them at that time, which, as he was about to depart from Paris, meant that everything must rest until he had returned from his visit to Washington.
Since I was the head of the American Commission when the President was absent and became the spokesman for the United States on the Council of Ten, this refusal to disclose his views even in a general way placed me in a very awkward position. Without instructions and without knowledge of the President's wishes or purposes the conduct of the negotiations was difficult and progress toward actual settlements practically impossible. As a matter of fact the Council did accomplish a great amount of work, while the President was away, in the collection of data and preparing questions for final settlement. But so far as deciding questions was concerned, which ought to have been the principal duty of the Council of Ten, it simply "marked time," as I had no power to decide or even to express an authoritative opinion on any subject. It showed very clearly that the President intended to do everything himself and to allow no one to act for him unless it was upon some highly technical matter. All actual decisions in regard to the terms of peace which involved policy were thus forced to await his time and pleasure.
Even after Mr. Wilson returned to Paris and resumed his place as head of the American delegation he was apparently without a programme. On March 20, six days after his return, I made a note that "the President, so far as I can judge, has yet no definite programme," and that I was unable to "find that he has talked over a plan of a treaty even with Colonel House." It is needless to quote the thoughts, which I recorded at the time, in regard to the method in which the President was handling a great international negotiation, a method as unusual as it was unwise. I referred to Colonel House's lack of information concerning the President's purposes because he was then and had been from the beginning on more intimate terms with the President than any other American. If he did not know the President's mind, it was safe to assume that no one knew it.
I had, as has been stated, expressed to Mr. Wilson my views as to what the procedure should be and had obtained no action. With the responsibility resting on him for the conduct and success of the negotiations and with his constitutional authority to exercise his own judgment in regard to every matter pertaining to the treaty, there was nothing further to be done in relieving the situation of the American Commissioners from embarrassment or in inducing the President to adopt a better course than the haphazard one that he was pursuing.
It is apparent that we differed radically as to the necessity for a clearly defined programme and equally so as to the advantages to be gained by having a draft-treaty made or a full statement prepared embodying the provisions to be sought by the United States in the negotiations. I did not attempt to hide my disapproval of the vagueness and uncertainty of the President's method, and there is no doubt in my own mind that Mr. Wilson was fully cognizant of my opinion. How far this lack of system in the work of the Commission and the failure to provide a plan for a treaty affected the results written into the Treaty of Versailles is speculative, but my belief is that they impaired in many particulars the character of the settlements by frequent abandonment of principle for the sake of expediency.
The want of a programme or even of an unwritten plan as to the negotiations was further evidenced by the fact that the President, certainly as late as March 19, had not made up his mind whether the treaty which was being negotiated should be preliminary or final. He had up to that time the peculiar idea that a preliminary treaty was in the nature of a modus vivendi which could be entered into independently by the Executive and which would restore peace without going through the formalities of senatorial consent to ratification.
The purpose of Mr. Wilson, so far as one could judge, was to include in a preliminary treaty of the sort that he intended to negotiate, the entire Covenant of the League of Nations and other principal settlements, binding the signatories to repeat these provisions in the final and definitive treaty when that was later negotiated. By this method peace would be at once restored, the United States and other nations associated with it in the war would be obligated to renew diplomatic and consular relations with Germany, and commercial intercourse would follow as a matter of course. All this was to be done without going through the American constitutional process of obtaining the advice and consent of the Senate to the Covenant and to the principal settlements. The intent seemed to be to respond to the popular demand for an immediate peace and at the same time to checkmate the opponents of the Covenant in the Senate by having the League of Nations organized and functioning before the definitive treaty was laid before that body.
When the President advanced this extraordinary theory of the nature of a preliminary treaty during a conversation, of which I made a full memorandum, I told him that it was entirely wrong, that by whatever name the document was called, whether it was "armistice," "agreement," "protocol," or "modus," it would be a treaty and would have to be sent by him to the Senate for its approval. I said, "If we change the status from war to peace, it has to be by a ratified treaty. There is no other way save by a joint resolution of Congress." At this statement the President was evidently much perturbed. He did not accept it as conclusive, for he asked me to obtain the opinion of others on the subject. He was evidently loath to abandon the plan that he had presumably worked out as a means of preventing the Senate from rejecting or modifying the Covenant before it came into actual operation. It seems almost needless to say that all the legal experts, among them Thomas W. Gregory, the retiring Attorney-General of the United States, who chanced to be in Paris at the time, agreed with my opinion, and upon being so informed the President abandoned his purpose.
It is probable that the conviction, which was forced upon Mr. Wilson, that he could not independently of the Senate put into operation a preliminary treaty, determined him to abandon that type of treaty and to proceed with the negotiation of a definitive one. At least I had by March 30 reached the conclusion that there would be no preliminary treaty as is disclosed by the following memorandum written on that day:
"I am sure now that there will be no preliminary treaty of peace, but that the treaty will be complete and definitive. This is a serious mistake. Time should be given for passions to cool. The operations of a preliminary treaty should be tested and studied. It would hasten a restoration of peace. Certainly this is the wise course as to territorial settlements and the financial and economic burdens to be imposed upon Germany. The same comment applies to the organization of a League of Nations. Unfortunately the President insists on a full-blown Covenant and not a declaration of principles. This has much to do with preventing a preliminary treaty, since he wishes to make the League an agent for enforcement of definite terms.
"When the President departed for the United States in February, I assumed and I am certain that he had in mind that there would be a preliminary treaty. With that in view I drafted at the time a memorandum setting forth what the preliminary treaty of peace should contain. Here are the subjects I then set down:
"1. Restoration of Peace and official relations.
"2. Restoration of commercial and financial relations subject to conditions.
"3. Renunciation by Germany of all territory and territorial rights outside of Europe.
"4. Minimum territory of Germany in Europe, the boundaries to be fixed in the Definitive Treaty.
"5. Maximum military and naval establishments and production of arms and munitions.
"6. Maximum amount of money and property to be surrendered by Germany with time limits for payment and delivery.
"7. German property and territory to be held as security by the Allies until the Definitive Treaty is ratified.
"8. Declaration as to the organization of a League of Nations.
"The President's obsession as to a League of Nations blinds him to everything else. An immediate peace is nothing to him compared to the adoption of the Covenant. The whole world wants peace. The President wants his League. I think that the world will have to wait."
The eight subjects, above stated, were the ones which I called to the President's attention at the time he was leaving Paris for the United States and which he said he did not care to discuss.
The views that are expressed in the memorandum of March 30 are those that I have continued to hold. The President was anxious to have the Treaty, even though preliminary in character, contain detailed rather than general provisions, especially as to the League of Nations. With that view I entirely disagreed, as detailed terms of settlement and the articles of the Covenant as proposed would cause discussion and unquestionably delay the peace. To restore the peaceful intercourse between the belligerents, to open the long-closed channels of commerce, and to give to the war-stricken peoples of Europe opportunity to resume their normal industrial life seemed to me the first and greatest task to be accomplished. It was in my judgment superior to every other object of the Paris negotiations. Compared with it the creation of a League of Nations was insignificant and could well be postponed. President Wilson thought otherwise. We were very far apart in this matter as he well knew, and he rightly assumed that I followed his instructions with reluctance, and, he might have added, with grave concern.
As a matter of interest in this connection and as a possible source from which the President may have acquired knowledge of my views as to the conduct of the negotiations, I would call attention again to the conference which I had with Colonel House on December 17, 1918, and to which I have referred in connection with the subject of international arbitration. During that conference I said to the Colonel "that I thought that there ought to be a preliminary treaty of peace negotiated without delay, and that all the details as to a League of Nations, boundaries, and indemnities should wait for the time being. The Colonel replied that he was not so sure about delaying the creation of a League, as he was afraid that it never could be put through unless it was done at once. I told him that possibly he was right, but that I was opposed to anything which delayed the peace." This quotation is from my memorandum made at the time of our conversation. I think that the same reason for insisting on negotiating the Covenant largely influenced the course of the President. My impression at the time was that the Colonel favored a preliminary treaty provided that there was included in it the full plan for a League of Nations, which to me seemed to be impracticable.
There can be little doubt that, if there had been a settled programme prepared or a tentative treaty drafted, there would have been a preliminary treaty which might and probably would have postponed the negotiations as to a League. Possibly the President realized that this danger of excluding the Covenant existed and for that reason was unwilling to make a definite programme or to let a draft-treaty be drawn. At least it may have added another reason for his proceeding without advising the Commissioners of his purposes.
As I review the entire negotiations and the incidents which took place at Paris, President Wilson's inherent dislike to depart in the least from an announced course, a characteristic already referred to, seems to me to have been the most potent influence in determining his method of work during the Peace Conference. He seemed to think that, having marked out a definite plan of action, any deviation from it would show intellectual weakness or vacillation of purpose. Even when there could be no doubt that in view of changed conditions it was wise to change a policy, which he had openly adopted or approved, he clung to it with peculiar tenacity refusing or merely failing to modify it. Mr. Wilson's mind once made up seemed to become inflexible. It appeared to grow impervious to arguments and even to facts. It lacked the elasticity and receptivity which have always been characteristic of sound judgment and right thinking. He might break, but he would not bend. This rigidity of mind accounts in large measure for the deplorable, and, as it seemed to me, needless, conflict between the President and the Senate over the Treaty of Versailles. It accounts for other incidents in his career which have materially weakened his influence and cast doubts on his wisdom. It also accounts, in my opinion, for the President's failure to prepare or to adopt a programme at Paris or to commit himself to a draft of a treaty as a basis for the negotiations, which failure, I am convinced, not only prevented the signature of a short preliminary treaty of peace, but lost Mr. Wilson the leadership in the proceedings, as the statesmen of the other Great Powers outlined the Treaty negotiated and suggested the majority of the articles which were written into it. It would have made a vast difference if the President had known definitely what he sought, but he apparently did not. He dealt in generalities leaving, but not committing, to others their definition and application. He was always in the position of being able to repudiate the interpretation which others might place upon his declarations of principle.
Another matter, concerning which the President and I disagreed, was the secrecy with which the negotiations were carried on between him and the principal European statesmen, incidental to which was the willingness, if not the desire, to prevent the proceedings and decisions from becoming known even to the delegates of the smaller nations which were represented at the Peace Conference.
Confidential personal interviews were to a certain extent unavoidable and necessary, but to conduct the entire negotiation through a small group sitting behind closed doors and to shroud their proceedings with mystery and uncertainty made a very unfortunate impression on those who were not members of the secret councils.
At the first there was no Council of the Heads of States (the so-called Council of Four); in fact it was not recognized as an organized body until the latter part of March, 1919. Prior to that time the directing body of the Conference was the self-constituted Council of Ten composed of the President and the British, French, and Italian Premiers with their Secretaries or Ministers of Foreign Affairs, and two Japanese delegates of ambassadorial rank. This Council had a membership identical with that of the Supreme War Council, which controlled the armistices, their enforcement, and other military matters. It assumed authority over the negotiations and proceedings of the Conference, though it was never authorized so to do by the body of delegates. The Council of Four, when later formed, was equally without a mandate from the Conference. They assumed the authority and exercised it as a matter of right.
From the time of his arrival in Paris President Wilson held almost daily conversations with the leading foreign statesmen. It would be of little value to speculate on what took place at these interviews, since the President seldom told the American Commission of the meetings or disclosed to them, unless possibly to Colonel House, the subjects which were discussed. My conviction is, from the little information which the President volunteered, that these consultations were—certainly at first—devoted to inducing the European leaders to give their support to his plan for a League of Nations, and that, as other matters relating to the terms of peace were in a measure involved because of their possible relation to the functions of the League, they too became more and more subjects of discussion.
The introduction of this personal and clandestine method of negotiation was probably due to the President's belief that he could in this way exercise more effectively his personal influence in favor of the acceptance of a League. It is not unlikely that this belief was in a measure justified. In Colonel House he found one to aid him in this course of procedure, as the Colonel's intimate association with the principal statesmen of the Allied Powers during previous visits to Europe as the President's personal envoy was an asset which he could utilize as an intermediary between the President and those with whom he wished to confer. Mr. Wilson relied upon Colonel House for his knowledge of the views and temperaments of the men with whom he had to deal. It was not strange that he should adopt a method which the Colonel had found successful in the past and that he should seek the latter's aid and advice in connection with the secret conferences which usually took place at the residence of the President.
Mr. Wilson pursued this method of handling the subjects of negotiation the more readily because he was by nature and by inclination secretive. He had always shown a preference for a private interview with an individual. In his conduct of the executive affairs of the Government at Washington he avoided as far as possible general conferences. He talked a good deal about "taking common counsel," but showed no disposition to put it into practice. He followed the same course in the matter of foreign affairs. At Paris this characteristic, which had often been the subject of remark in Washington, was more pronounced, or at least more noticeable. He was not disposed to discuss matters with the American Commission as a whole or even to announce to them his decisions unless something arose which compelled him to do so. He easily fell into the practice of seeing men separately and of keeping secret the knowledge acquired as well as the effect of this knowledge on his views and purposes. To him this was the normal and most satisfactory method of doing business.
From the time that the President arrived in Paris up to the time that the Commission on the League of Nations made its report—that is, from December 14, 1918, to February 14, 1919—the negotiations regarding the League were conducted with great secrecy. Colonel House, the President's collaborator in drafting the Covenant, if he was not, as many believed, the real author, was the only American with whom Mr. Wilson freely conferred and to whom he confided the progress that he was making in his interviews with the foreign statesmen, at many of which interviews the Colonel was present. It is true that the President held an occasional conference with all the American Commissioners, but these conferences were casual and perfunctory in nature and were very evidently not for the purpose of obtaining the opinions and counsel of the Commissioners. There was none of the frankness that should have existed between the Chief Executive and his chosen agents and advisers. The impression made was that he summoned the conferences to satisfy the amour propre of the Commissioners rather than out of any personal wish to do so.
The consequence was that the American Commissioners, other than Colonel House, were kept in almost complete ignorance of the preliminary negotiations and were left to gather such information as they were able from the delegates of other Powers, who, naturally assuming that the Americans possessed the full confidence of the President, spoke with much freedom. As Mr. Wilson never held a conference with the American Commission from the first meeting of the Commission on the League of Nations until its report was printed, his American colleagues did not know, except indirectly, of the questions at issue or of the progress that was being made. The fact is that, as the Commission on the League met in Colonel House's office at the Hotel Crillon, his office force knew far more about the proceedings than did the three American Commissioners who were not present. As the House organization made no effort to hide the fact that they had inside information, the representatives of the press as a consequence frequented the office of the Colonel in search of the latest news concerning the Commission on the League of Nations.
But, in addition to the embarrassment caused the American Commissioners and the unenviable position in which they were placed by the secrecy with which the President surrounded his intercourse with the foreign statesmen and the proceedings of the Commission on the League of Nations, his secret negotiations caused the majority of the delegates to the Conference and the public at large to lose in a large measure their confidence in the actuality of his devotion to "open diplomacy," which he had so unconditionally proclaimed in the first of his Fourteen Points. If the policy of secrecy had ceased with the discussions preliminary to the organization of the Conference, or even with those preceding the meetings of the Commission on the League of Nations, criticism and complaint would doubtless have ceased, but as the negotiations progressed the secrecy of the conferences of the leaders increased rather than decreased, culminating at last in the organization of the Council of Four, the most powerful and most seclusive of the councils which directed the proceedings at Paris. Behind closed doors these four individuals, who controlled the policies of the United States, Great Britain, France, and Italy, passed final judgment on the mass of articles which entered into the Treaties of Peace, but kept their decisions secret except from the committee which was drafting the articles.
The organization of the Council of Four and the mystery which enveloped its deliberations emphasized as nothing else could have done the secretiveness with which adjustments were being made and compromises were being effected. It directed attention also to the fact that the Four Great Powers had taken supreme control of settling the terms of peace, that they were primates among the assembled nations and that they intended to have their authority acknowledged. This extraordinary secrecy and arrogation of power by the Council of Four excited astonishment and complaint throughout the body of delegates to the Conference, and caused widespread criticism in the press and among the people of many countries.
A week after the Council of Ten was divided into the Council of the Heads of States, the official title of the Council of Four, and the Council of Foreign Ministers, the official title of the Council of Five (popularly nick-named "The Big Four" and "The Little Five"), I made the following note on the subject of secret negotiations:
"After the experience of the last three months [January-March, 1919] I am convinced that the method of personal interviews and private conclaves is a failure. It has given every opportunity for intrigue, plotting, bargaining, and combining. The President, as I now see it, should have insisted on everything being brought before the Plenary Conference. He would then have had the confidence and support of all the smaller nations because they would have looked up to him as their champion and guide. They would have followed him.
"The result of the present method has been to destroy their faith and arouse their resentment. They look upon the President as in favor of a world ruled by Five Great Powers, an international despotism of the strong, in which the little nations are merely rubber-stamps.
"The President has undoubtedly found himself in a most difficult position. He has put himself on a level with politicians experienced in intrigue, whom he will find a pretty difficult lot. He will sink in the estimation of the delegates who are not within the inner circle, and what will be still more disastrous will be the loss of confidence among the peoples of the nations represented here. A grievous blunder has been made."
The views, which I expressed in this note in regard to the unwisdom of the President's course, were not new at the time that I wrote them. Over two months before I had watched the practice of secret negotiation with apprehension as to what the effect would be upon the President's influence and standing with the delegates to the Conference. I then believed that he was taking a dangerous course which he would in the end regret. So strong was this conviction that during a meeting, which the President held with the American Commissioners on the evening of January 29, I told him bluntly—perhaps too bluntly from the point of view of policy—that I considered the secret interviews which he was holding with the European statesmen, where no witnesses were present, were unwise, that he was far more successful in accomplishment and less liable to be misunderstood if he confined his negotiating to the Council of Ten, and that, furthermore, acting through the Council he would be much less subject to public criticism. I supported these views with the statement that the general secrecy, which was being practiced, was making a very bad impression everywhere, and for that reason, if for no other, I was opposed to it. The silence with which the President received my remarks appeared to me significant of his attitude toward this advice, and his subsequent continuance of secret methods without change, unless it was to increase the secrecy, proved that our judgments were not in accord on the subject. The only result of my representations, it would seem, was to cause Mr. Wilson to realize that I was not in sympathy with his way of conducting the negotiations. In the circumstances I think now that it was a blunder on my part to have stated my views so frankly.
Two days after I wrote the note, which is quoted (April 2, 1919), I made another note more general in character, but in which appears the following:
"Everywhere there are developing bitterness and resentment against a secretiveness which is interpreted to mean failure. The patience of the people is worn threadbare. Their temper has grown ragged. They are sick of whispering diplomats.
"Muttered confidences, secret intrigues, and the tactics of the 'gum-shoer' are discredited. The world wants none of them these days. It despises and loathes them. What the world asks are honest declarations openly proclaimed. The statesman who seeks to gain his end by tortuous and underground ways is foolish or badly advised. The public man who is sly and secretive rather than frank and bold, whose methods are devious rather than obvious, pursues a dangerous path which leads neither to glory nor to success.
"Secret diplomacy, the bane of the past, is a menace from which man believed himself to be rid. He who resurrects it invites condemnation. The whole world will rejoice when the day of the whisperer is over."
This note, read at the present time, sounds extravagant in thought and intemperate in expression. It was written under the influence of emotions which had been deeply stirred by the conditions then existing. Time usually softens one's judgments and the passage of events makes less vivid one's impressions. The perspective, however, grows clearer and the proportions more accurate when the observer stands at a distance. While the language of the note might well be changed and made less florid, the thought needs little modification. The public criticism was widespread and outspoken, and from the expressions used it was very evident that there prevailed a general popular disapproval of the way the negotiations were being conducted. The Council of Four won the press-name of "The Olympians," and much was said of "the thick cloud of mystery" which hid them from the anxious multitudes, and of the secrecy which veiled their deliberations. The newspapers and the correspondents at Paris openly complained and the delegates to the Conference in a more guarded way showed their bitterness at the overlordship assumed by the leading statesmen of the Great Powers and the secretive methods which they employed. It was, as may be gathered from the note quoted, a distressing and depressing time.
As concrete examples of the evils of secret negotiations the "Fiume Affair" and the "Shantung Settlement" are the best known because of the storm of criticism and protest which they caused. As the Shantung Settlement was one of the chief matters of difference between the President and myself, it will be treated later. The case of Fiume is different. As to the merits of the question I was very much in accord with the President, but to the bungling way in which it was handled I was strongly opposed believing that secret interviews, at which false hopes were encouraged, were at the bottom of all the trouble which later developed. But for this secrecy I firmly believe that there would have been no "Fiume Affair."
The discussion of the Italian claims to territory along the northern boundary of the Kingdom and about the head of the Adriatic Sea began as soon as the American Commission was installed at Paris, about the middle of December, 1918. The endeavor of the Italian emissaries was to induce the Americans, particularly the President, to recognize the boundary laid down in the Pact of London. That agreement, which Italy had required Great Britain and France to accept in April, 1915, before she consented to declare war against the Austro-Hungarian Empire, committed the Entente Powers to the recognition of Italy's right to certain territorial acquisitions at the expense of Austria-Hungary in the event of the defeat of the Central Empires. By the boundary line agreed upon in the Pact, Italy would obtain certain important islands and ports on the Dalmatian coast in addition to the Austrian Tyrol and the Italian provinces of the Dual Monarchy at the head of the Adriatic.
When this agreement was signed, the dissolution of Austria-Hungary was not in contemplation, or at least, if it was considered, the possibility of its accomplishment seemed very remote. It was assumed that the Dalmatian territory to be acquired under the treaty to be negotiated in accordance with the terms of the Pact would, with the return of the Italian provinces, give to Italy naval control over the Adriatic Sea and secure the harborless eastern coast of the Italian peninsula against future hostile attack by the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The boundary laid down in the agreement was essentially strategic and based primarily on considerations of Italian national safety. As long as the Empire existed as a Great Power the boundary of the Pact of London, so far as it related to the Adriatic littoral and islands, was not unreasonable or the territorial demands excessive.
But the close of active warfare in the autumn of 1918, when the armistice went into effect, found conditions wholly different from those upon which these territorial demands had been predicated. The Austro-Hungarian Empire had fallen to pieces beyond the hope of becoming again one of the Great Powers. The various nationalities, which had long been restless and unhappy under the rule of the Hapsburgs, threw off the imperial yoke, proclaimed their independence, and sought the recognition and protection of the Allies. The Poles of the Empire joined their brethren of the Polish provinces of Russia and Prussia in the resurrection of their ancient nation; Bohemia, Moravia, and Slovakia united in forming the new state of Czecho-Slovakia; the southern Slavs of Croatia, Slavonia, Bosnia, Herzegovina, and Dalmatia announced their union with their kindred of the Kingdom of Serbia; and Hungary declared the severance of her political union with Austria. In a word the Dual Empire ceased to exist. It was no longer a menace to the national safety of Italy. This was the state of affairs when the delegates to the Peace Conference began to assemble at Paris.
The Italian statesmen realized that these new conditions might raise serious questions as to certain territorial cessions which would come to Italy under the terms of the Pact of London, because their strategic necessity had disappeared with the dissolution of Austria-Hungary. While they had every reason to assume that Great Britain and France would live up to their agreement, it was hardly to be expected that under the changed conditions and in the circumstances attending the negotiation and signature of the Pact, the British and French statesmen would be disposed to protest against modifications of the proposed boundary if the United States and other nations, not parties to the agreement, should insist upon changes as a matter of justice to the new state of the Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes. It apparently was considered expedient, by the Italian representatives, in view of the situation which had developed, to increase rather than to reduce their claims along the Dalmatian coast in order that they might have something which could be surrendered in a compromise without giving up the boundaries laid down in the Pact of London.
It is probable, too, that these additional claims were advanced by Italy in order to offset in a measure the claims of the Jugo-Slavs, who through the Serbian delegates at Paris were making territorial demands which the Italians declared to be extravagant and which, if granted, would materially reduce the proposed cessions to Italy under the Pact of London. Furthermore, the Italian Government appeared to be by no means pleased with the idea of a Jugo-Slav state so strong that it might become a commercial, if not a naval, rival of Italy in the Adriatic. The Italian delegates in private interviews showed great bitterness toward the Slavs, who, they declared, had, as Austrian subjects, waged war against Italy and taken part in the cruel and wanton acts attendant upon the invasion of the northern Italian provinces. They asserted that it was unjust to permit these people, by merely changing their allegiance after defeat, to escape punishment for the outrages which they had committed against Italians and actually to profit by being vanquished. This antipathy to the Slavs of the former Empire was in a measure transferred to the Serbs, who were naturally sympathetic with their kinsmen and who were also ambitious to build up a strong Slav state with a large territory and with commercial facilities on the Adriatic coast which would be ample to meet the trade needs of the interior.
While there may have been a certain fear for the national safety of Italy in having as a neighbor a Slav state with a large and virile population, extensive resources, and opportunity to become a naval power in the Mediterranean, the real cause of apprehension seemed to be that the new nation would become a commercial rival of Italy in the Adriatic and prevent her from securing the exclusive control of the trade which her people coveted and which the complete victory over Austria-Hungary appeared to assure to them.
The two principal ports having extensive facilities for shipping and rail-transportation to and from the Danubian provinces of the Dual Empire were Trieste and Fiume. The other Dalmatian ports were small and without possibilities of extensive development, while the precipitous mountain barrier between the coast and the interior which rose almost from the water-line rendered railway construction from an engineering standpoint impracticable if not impossible. It was apparent that, if Italy could obtain both the port of Trieste and the port of Fiume, the two available outlets for foreign trade to the territories lying north and east of the Adriatic Sea, she would have a substantial monopoly of the sea-borne commerce of the Dalmatian coast and its hinterland. It was equally apparent that Italian possession of the two ports would place the new Slav state at a great disadvantage commercially, as the principal volume of its exports and imports would have to pass through a port in the hands of a trade rival which could, in case of controversy or in order to check competition, be closed to Slav ships and goods on this or that pretext, even if the new state found it practicable to maintain a merchant marine under an agreement granting it the use of the port.
In view of the new conditions which had thus arisen through the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the union of the Southern Slavs, the Italian delegates at Paris began a vigorous campaign to obtain sovereignty, or at least administrative control, over Fiume and the adjacent coasts and islands, it having been generally conceded that Trieste should be ceded to Italy. The Italian demand for Fiume had become real instead of artificial. This campaign was conducted by means of personal interviews with the representatives of the principal Powers, and particularly with those of the United States because it was apparently felt that the chief opposition to the demand would come from that quarter, since the President was known to favor the general proposition that every nation should have free access to the sea and, if possible, a seaport under its own sovereignty.
The Italian delegates were undoubtedly encouraged by some Americans to believe that, while the President had not actually declared in favor of Italian control of Fiume, he was sympathetic to the idea and would ultimately assent to it just as he had in the case of the cession to Italy of the Tyrol with its Austrian population. Convinced by these assurances of success the Italian leaders began a nationwide propaganda at home for the purpose of arousing a strong public sentiment for the acquisition of the port. This propaganda was begun, it would seem, for two reasons, first, the political advantage to be gained when it was announced that Signor Orlando and his colleagues at Paris had succeeded in having their demand recognized, and, second, the possibility of influencing the President to a speedy decision by exhibiting the intensity and unity of the Italian national spirit in demanding the annexation of the little city, the major part of the population of which was asserted to be of Italian blood.
The idea, which was industriously circulated throughout Italy, that Fiume was an Italian city, aroused the feelings of the people more than any political or economic argument could have done. The fact that the suburbs, which were really as much a part of the municipality as the area within the city proper, were inhabited largely by Jugo-Slavs was ignored, ridiculed, or denied. That the Jugo-Slavs undoubtedly exceeded in numbers the Italians in the community when it was treated as a whole made no difference to the propagandists who asserted that Fiume was Italian. They clamored for its annexation on the ground of "self-determination," though refusing to accept that principle as applicable to the inhabitants of the Austrian Tyrol and failing to raise any question in regard to it in the case of the port of Danzig. The Italian orators and press were not disturbed by the inconsistency of their positions, and the Italian statesmen at Paris, when their attention was called to it, replied that the cases were not the same, an assertion which it would have been difficult to establish with facts or support with convincing arguments.
While the propaganda went forward in Italy with increasing energy, additional assurances, I was informed by one of the Italian group, were given to Signor Orlando and Baron Sonnino that President Wilson was almost on the point of conceding the justice of the Italian claim to Fiume. It was not until the latter part of March, 1919, that these statesmen began to suspect that they had been misinformed and that the influence of their American friends was not as powerful with Mr. Wilson as they had been led to believe. It was an unpleasant awakening. They were placed in a difficult position. Too late to calm the inflamed temper of the Italian people the Italian leaders at Paris had no alternative but to press their demands with greater vigor since the failure to obtain Fiume meant almost inevitable disaster to the Orlando Ministry.
Following conversations with Baron Sonnino and some others connected with the Italian delegation, I drew the conclusion that they would go so far as to refuse to make peace with Germany unless the Adriatic Question was first settled to their satisfaction. In a memorandum dated March 29, I wrote: "This will cause a dangerous crisis," and in commenting on the probable future of the subject I stated:
"My fear is that the President will continue to rely upon private interviews and his powers of persuasion to induce the Italians to abandon their extravagant claim. I am sure that he will not be able to do it. On the contrary, his conversations will strengthen rather than weaken Italian determination. He ought to tell them now that he will not consent to have Fiume given to Italy. It would cause anger and bitterness, but nothing to compare with the resentment which will be aroused if the uncertainty is permitted to go on much longer. I shall tell the President my opinion at the first opportunity. [I did this a few days later.]
"The future is darkened by the Adriatic situation and I look to an explosion before the matter is settled. It is a good thing that the President visited Italy when he did and when blessings rather than curses greeted him. Secret diplomacy is reaping a new harvest of execrations and condemnations. Will the practice ever cease?"
During the first three weeks of April the efforts to shake the determination of the President to support the Jugo-Slav claims to Fiume and the adjacent territory were redoubled, but without avail. Every form of compromise as to boundary and port privileges, which did not deprive Italy of the sovereignty, was proposed, but found to be unacceptable. The Italians, held by the pressure of the aroused national spirit, and the President, firm in the conviction that the Italian claim to the port was unjust, remained obdurate. Attempts were made by both sides to reach some common ground for an agreement, but none was found. As the time approached to submit the Treaty to the German plenipotentiaries, who were expected to arrive at Paris on April 26, the Italian delegates let it be known that they would absent themselves from the meeting at which the document was to be presented unless a satisfactory understanding in regard to Fiume was obtained before the meeting. I doubt whether this threat was with the approval and upon the advice of the American friends of the Italians who had been industrious in attempting to persuade the President to accept a compromise. An American familiar with Mr. Wilson's disposition would have realized that to try to coerce him in that manner would be folly, as in all probability it would have just the contrary effect to the one desired.
The Italian delegates did not apparently read the President's temper aright. They made a mistake. Their threat of withdrawal from the Conference resulted far differently from their expectation and hope. When Mr. Wilson learned of the Italian threat he met it with a public announcement of his position in regard to the controversy, which was intended as an appeal to the people of Italy to abandon the claim to Fiume and to reject their Government's policy of insisting on an unjust settlement. This declaration was given to the press late in the afternoon of April 23, and a French newspaper containing it was handed, it was said, to Signor Orlando at the President's residence where the Council of Four were assembled. He immediately withdrew, issued a counter-statement, and the following day left Paris for Rome more on account of his indignation at the course taken by the President than because of the threat which he had made. Baron Sonnino also departed the next day.
It is not my purpose to pursue further the course of events following the crisis which was precipitated by the President's published statement and the resulting departure of the principal Italian delegates. The effect on the Italian people is common knowledge. A tempest of popular fury against the President swept over Italy from end to end. From being the most revered of all men by the Italians, he became the most detested. As no words of praise and admiration were too extravagant to be spoken of him when he visited Rome in January, so no words of insult or execration were too gross to characterize him after his public announcement regarding the Adriatic Question. There was never a more complete reversal of public sentiment toward an individual.
The reason for reciting the facts of the Fiume dispute, which was one of the most unpleasant incidents that took place at Paris during the negotiations, is to bring out clearly the consequences of secret diplomacy. A discussion of the reasons, or of the probable reasons, for the return of the Italian statesmen to Paris before the Treaty was handed to the Germans would add nothing to the subject under consideration, while the same may be said of the subsequent occupation of Fiume by Italian nationalists under the fanatical D'Annunzio, without authority of their Government, but with the enthusiastic approval of the Italian people.
Five days after the Italian Premier and his Minister of Foreign Affairs had departed from Paris I had a long interview with a well-known Italian diplomat, who was an intimate friend of both Signor Orlando and Baron Sonnino and who had been very active in the secret negotiations regarding the Italian boundaries which had been taking place at Paris since the middle of December. This diplomat was extremely bitter about the whole affair and took no pains to hide his views as to the causes of the critical situation which existed. In the memorandum of our conversation, which I wrote immediately after he left my office, appears the following:
"He exclaimed: 'One tells you one thing and that is not true; then another tells you another thing and that too is not true. What is one to believe? What can one do? It is hopeless. So many secret meetings with different persons are simply awful'—He threw up his hands—'Now we have the result. It is terrible!'
"I laughed and said, 'I conclude that you do not like secret diplomacy.'
"'I do not; I do not,' he fervently exclaimed. 'All our trouble comes from these secret meetings of four men [referring to the Big Four], who keep no records and who tell different stories of what takes place. Secrecy is to blame. We have been unable to rely on any one. To have to run around and see this man and that man is not the way to do. Most all sympathize with you when alone and then they desert you when they get with others. This is the cause of much bitterness and distrust. Secret diplomacy is an utter failure. It is too hard to endure. Some men know only how to whisper. They are not to be trusted. I do not like it.'
"'Well,' I said, 'you cannot charge me with that way of doing business.'
"'I cannot,' he replied, 'you tell me the truth. I may not like it, but at least you do not hold out false hopes.'"
The foregoing conversation no doubt expressed the real sentiments of the members of the Italian delegation at that time. Disgust with confidential personal interviews and with relying upon personal influence rather than upon the merits of their case was the natural reaction following the failure to win by these means the President's approval of Italy's demands.
The Italian policy in relation to Flume was wrecked on the rock of President Wilson's firm determination that the Jugo-Slavs should have a seaport on the Adriatic sufficient for their needs and that Italy should not control the approaches to that port. With the wreck of the Fiume policy went in time the Orlando Government which had failed to make good the promises which they had given to their people. Too late they realized that secret diplomacy had failed, and that they had made a mistake in relying upon it. It is no wonder that the two leaders of the Italian delegation on returning to Paris and resuming their duties in the Conference refrained from attempting to arrange clandestinely the settlement of the Adriatic Question. The "go-betweens," on whom they had previously relied, were no longer employed. Secret diplomacy was anathema. They had paid a heavy price for the lesson, which they had learned.
When one reviews the negotiations at Paris from December, 1918, to June, 1919, the secretiveness which characterized them is very evident. Everybody seemed to talk in whispers and never to say anything worth while except in confidence. The open sessions of the Conference were arranged beforehand. They were formal and perfunctory. The agreements and bargains were made behind closed doors. This secrecy began with the exchange of views concerning the League of Nations, following which came the creation of the Council of Ten, whose meetings were intended to be secret. Then came the secret sessions of the Commission on the League and the numerous informal interviews of the President with one or more of the Premiers of the Allied Powers, the facts concerning which were not divulged to the American Commissioners. Later, on Mr. Wilson's return from the United States, dissatisfaction with and complaint of the publicity given to some of the proceedings of the Council of Ten induced the formation of the Council of Four with the result that the secrecy of the negotiations was practically unbroken. If to this brief summary of the increasing secretiveness of the proceedings of the controlling bodies of the Peace Conference are added the intrigues and personal bargainings which were constantly going on, the "log-rolling"—to use a term familiar to American politics—which was practiced, the record is one which invites no praise and will find many who condemn it. In view of the frequent and emphatic declarations in favor of "open diplomacy" and the popular interpretation placed upon the phrase "Open covenants openly arrived at," the effect of the secretive methods employed by the leading negotiators at Paris was to destroy public confidence in the sincerity of these statesmen and to subject them to the charge of pursuing a policy which they had themselves condemned and repudiated. Naturally President Wilson, who had been especially earnest in his denunciation of secret negotiations, suffered more than his foreign colleagues, whose real support of "open diplomacy" had always been doubted, though all of them in a measure fell in public estimation as a consequence of the way in which the negotiations were conducted.
The criticism and condemnation, expressed with varying degrees of intensity, resulted from the disappointed hopes of the peoples of the world, who had looked forward confidently to the Peace Conference at Paris as the first great and decisive change to a new diplomacy which would cast aside the cloak of mystery that had been in the past the recognized livery of diplomatic negotiations. The record of the Paris proceedings in this particular is a sorry one. It is the record of the abandonment of principle, of the failure to follow precepts unconditionally proclaimed, of the repudiation by act, if not by word, of a new and better type of international intercourse.
It is not my purpose or desire to fix the blame for this perpetuation of old and discredited practices on any one individual. To do so would be unjust, since more than one preferred the old way and should share the responsibility for its continuance. But, as the secrecy became more and more impenetrable and as the President gave silent acquiescence or at least failed to show displeasure with the practice, I realized that in this matter, as in others, our judgments were at variance and our views irreconcilable. As my opposition to the method of conducting the proceedings was evident, I cannot but assume that this decided difference was one that materially affected the relations between Mr. Wilson and myself and that he looked upon me as an unfavorable critic of his course in permitting to go unprotested the secrecy which characterized the negotiations.
The attention of the delegates to the Peace Conference who represented the smaller nations was early directed to their being denied knowledge of the terms of the Treaty which were being formulated by the principal members of the delegations of the Five Great Powers. There is no doubt that at the first their mental attitude was one of confidence that the policy of secrecy would not be continued beyond the informal meetings preliminary to and necessary for arranging the organization and procedure of the Conference; but, as the days lengthened into weeks and the weeks into months, and as the information concerning the actual negotiations, which reached them, became more and more meager, they could no longer close their eyes to the fact that their national rights and aspirations were to be recognized or denied by the leaders of the Great Powers without the consent and even without the full knowledge of the delegates of the nations vitally interested.
Except in the case of a few of these delegates, who had been able to establish intimate personal relations with some of the "Big Four," the secretiveness of the discussions and decisions regarding the Treaty settlements aroused amazement and indignation. It was evident that it was to be a "dictated peace" and not a "negotiated peace," a peace dictated by the Great Powers not only to the enemy, but also to their fellow belligerents. Some of the delegates spoke openly in criticism of the furtive methods that were being employed, but the majority held their peace. It can hardly be doubted, however, that the body of delegates were practically unanimous in disapproving the secrecy of the proceedings, and this disapproval was to be found even among the delegations of the Great Powers. It was accepted by the lesser nations because it seemed impolitic and useless to oppose the united will of the controlling oligarchy. It was natural that the delegates of the less influential states should feel that their countries would suffer in the terms of peace if they openly denounced the treatment accorded them as violative of the dignity of representatives of independent sovereignties. In any event no formal protest was entered against their being deprived of a knowledge to which they were entitled, a deprivation which placed them and their countries in a subordinate, and, to an extent, a humiliating, position.
The climax of this policy of secrecy toward the body of delegates came on the eve of the delivery of the Treaty of Peace to the German representatives who were awaiting that event at Versailles. By a decision of the Council of the Heads of States, reached three weeks before the time, only a digest or summary of the Treaty was laid before the plenary session of the Conference on the Preliminaries of Peace on the day preceding the delivery of the full text of the Treaty to the Germans. The delegates of the smaller belligerent nations were not permitted to examine the actual text of the document before it was seen by their defeated adversaries. Nations, which had fought valiantly and suffered agonies during the war, were treated with no more consideration than their enemies so far as knowledge of the exact terms of peace were concerned. The arguments, which could be urged on the ground of the practical necessity of a small group dealing with the questions and determining the settlements, seem insufficient to justify the application of the rule of secrecy to the delegates who sat in the Conference on the Preliminaries of Peace. It is not too severe to say that it outraged the equal rights of independent and sovereign states and under less critical conditions would have been resented as an insult by the plenipotentiaries of the lesser nations. Even within the delegations of the Great Powers there were indignant murmurings against this indefensible and unheard-of treatment of allies. No man, whose mind was not warped by prejudice or dominated by political expediency, could give it his approval or become its apologist. Secrecy, and intrigues which were only possible through secrecy, stained nearly all the negotiations at Paris, but in this final act of withholding knowledge of the actual text of the Treaty from the delegates of most of the nations represented in the Conference the spirit of secretiveness seems to have gone mad.
The psychological effects of secrecy on those who are kept in ignorance are not difficult to analyze. They follow normal processes and may be thus stated: Secrecy breeds suspicion; suspicion, doubt; doubt, distrust; and distrust produces lack of frankness, which is closely akin to secrecy. The result is a vicious circle, of which deceit and intrigue are the very essence. Secrecy and its natural consequences have given to diplomacy a popular reputation for trickery, for double-dealing, and in a more or less degree for unscrupulous and dishonest methods of obtaining desired ends, a reputation that has found expression in the ironic definition of a diplomat as "an honest man sent to lie abroad for the good of his country."
The time had arrived when the bad name which diplomacy had so long borne could and should have been removed. "Open covenants openly arrived at" appealed to the popular feeling of antipathy toward secret diplomacy, of which the Great War was generally believed to be the product. The Paris Conference appeared to offer an inviting opportunity to turn the page and to begin a new and better chapter in the annals of international intercourse. To do this required a fixed purpose to abandon the old methods, to insist on openness and candor, to refuse to be drawn into whispered agreements. The choice between the old and the new ways had to be definite and final. It had to be made at the very beginning of the negotiations. It was made. Secrecy was adopted. Thus diplomacy, in spite of the announced intention to reform its practices, has retained the evil taint which makes it out of harmony with the spirit of good faith and of open dealing which is characteristic of the best thought of the present epoch. There is little to show that diplomacy has been raised to a higher plane or has won a better reputation in the world at large than it possessed before the nations assembled at Paris to make peace. This failure to lift the necessary agency of international relations out of the rut worn deep by centuries of practice is one of the deplorable consequences of the peace negotiations. So much might have been done; nothing was done.
THE SHANTUNG SETTLEMENT
The Shantung Settlement was not so evidently chargeable to secret negotiations as the crisis over the disposition of Fiume, but the decision was finally reached through that method. The controversy between Japan and China as to which country should become the possessor of the former German property and rights in the Shantung Peninsula was not decided until almost the last moment before the Treaty with Germany was completed. Under pressure of the necessity of making the document ready for delivery to the German delegates, President Wilson, M. Clemenceau, and Mr. Lloyd George, composing the Council of the Heads of States in the absence of Signor Orlando in Rome, issued an order directing the Drafting Committee of the Conference to prepare articles for the Treaty embodying the decision that the Council had made. This decision, which was favorable to the Japanese claims, was the result of a confidential arrangement with the Japanese delegates by which, in the event of their claims being granted, they withdrew their threat to decline to sign the Treaty of Peace, agreed not to insist on a proposed amendment to the Covenant declaring for racial equality, and orally promised to restore to China in the near future certain rights of sovereignty over the territory, which promise failed of confirmation in writing or by formal public declaration.
It is fair to presume that, if the conflicting claims of Japan and China to the alleged rights of Germany in Chinese territory had been settled upon the merits through the medium of an impartial commission named by the Conference, the Treaty provisions relating to the disposition of those rights would have been very different from those which "The Three" ordered to be drafted. Before a commission of the Conference no persuasive reasons for conceding the Japanese claims could have been urged on the basis of an agreement on the part of Japan to adhere to the League of Nations or to abandon the attempt to have included in the Covenant a declaration of equality between races. It was only through secret interviews and secret agreements that the threat of the Japanese delegates could be successfully made. An adjustment on such a basis had nothing to do with the justice of the case or with the legal rights and principles involved. The threat was intended to coerce the arbiters of the treaty terms by menacing the success of the plan to establish a League of Nations—to use an ugly word, it was a species of "blackmail" not unknown to international relations in the past. It was made possible because the sessions of the Council of the Heads of States and the conversations concerning Shantung were secret.
It was a calamity for the Republic of China and unfortunate for the presumed justice written into the Treaty that President Wilson was convinced that the Japanese delegates would decline to accept the Covenant of the League of Nations if the claims of Japan to the German rights were denied. It was equally unfortunate that the President felt that without Japan's adherence to the Covenant the formation of the League would be endangered if not actually prevented. And it was especially unfortunate that the President considered the formation of the League in accordance with the provisions of the Covenant to be superior to every other consideration and that to accomplish this object almost any sacrifice would be justifiable. It is my impression that the departure of Signor Orlando and Baron Sonnino from Paris and the uncertainty of their return to give formal assent to the Treaty with Germany, an uncertainty which existed at the time of the decision of the Shantung Question, had much to do with the anxiety of the President as to Japan's attitude. He doubtless felt that to have two of the Five Great Powers decline at the last moment to accept the Treaty containing the Covenant would jeopardize the plan for a League and would greatly encourage his opponents in the United States. His line of reasoning was logical, but in my judgment was based on the false premise that the Japanese would carry out their threat to refuse to accept the Treaty and enter the League of Nations unless they obtained a cession of the German rights. I did not believe at the time, and I do not believe now, that Japan would have made good her threat. The superior international position, which she held as one of the Five Great Powers in the Conference, and which she would hold in the League of Nations as one of the Principal Powers in the constitution of the Executive Council, would never have been abandoned by the Tokio Government. The Japanese delegates would not have run the risk of losing this position by adopting the course pursued by the Italians.
The cases were different. No matter what action was taken by Italy she would have continued to be a Great Power in any organization of the world based on a classification of the nations. If she did not enter the League under the German Treaty, she certainly would later and would undoubtedly hold an influential position in the organization whether her delegates signed the Covenant or accepted it in another treaty or by adherence. It was not so with Japan. There were reasons to believe that, if she failed to become one of the Principal Powers at the outset, another opportunity might never be given her to obtain so high a place in the concert of the nations. The seats that her delegates had in the Council of Ten had caused criticism and dissatisfaction in certain quarters, and the elimination of a Japanese from the Council of the Heads of States showed that the Japanese position as an equal of the other Great Powers was by no means secure. These indications of Japan's place in the international oligarchy must have been evident to her plenipotentiaries at Paris, who in all probability reported the situation to Tokio. From the point of view of policy the execution of the threat of withdrawal presented dangers to Japan's prestige which the diplomats who represented her would never have incurred if they were as cautious and shrewd as they appeared to be. The President did not hold this opinion. We differed radically in our judgment as to the sincerity of the Japanese threat. He showed that he believed it would be carried out. I believed that it would not be.
It has not come to my knowledge what the attitude of the British and French statesmen was concerning the disposition of the Shantung rights, although I have read the views of certain authors on the subject, but I do know that the actual decision lay with the President. If he had declined to recognize the Japanese claims, they would never have been granted nor would the grant have been written into the Treaty. Everything goes to show that he realized this responsibility and that the cession to Japan was not made through error or misconception of the rights of the parties, but was done deliberately and with a full appreciation that China was being denied that which in other circumstances would have been awarded to her. If it had not been for reasons wholly independent and outside of the question in dispute, the President would not have decided as he did.
It is not my purpose to enter into the details of the origin of the German lease of Kiao-Chau (the port of Tsingtau) and of the economic concessions in the Province of Shantung acquired by Germany. Suffice it to say that, taking advantage of a situation caused by the murder of some missionary priests in the province, the German Government in 1898 forced the Chinese Government to make treaties granting for the period of ninety-nine years the lease and concessions, by which the sovereign authority over this "Holy Land" of China was to all intents ceded to Germany, which at once improved the harbor, fortified the leased area, and began railway construction and the exploitation of the Shantung Peninsula.
The outbreak of the World War found Germany in possession of the leased area and in substantial control of the territory under the concession. On August 15, 1914, the Japanese Government presented an ultimatum to the German Government, in which the latter was required "to deliver on a date not later than September 15 to the Imperial Japanese authorities, without condition or compensation, the entire leased territory of Kiao-Chau with a view to the eventual restoration of the same to China."
On the German failure to comply with these demands the Japanese Government landed troops and, in company with a small British contingent, took possession of the leased port and occupied the territory traversed by the German railway, even to the extent of establishing a civil government in addition to garrisoning the line with Japanese troops. Apparently the actual occupation of this Chinese territory induced a change in the policy of the Imperial Government at Tokio, for in December, 1914, Baron Kato, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, declared that the restoration of Tsingtau to China "is to be settled in the future" and that the Japanese Government had made no promises to do so.