21/2/1919 The gun speaks: right wing fanatic kills Bavaria’s ousted prime minister

Although the Spartacist uprising has been defeated in Berlin, Germany’s capital remains restive. The city is deemed too unsafe for the recently elected national assembly, which instead meets in the quieter city of Weimar. There the Social Democrats form a coalition with the Centre Party and the German Democratic Party. The assembly begins work on a new constitution. Ebert is chosen as Germany’s first president and Scheidemann succeeds him as chancellor.
Meanwhile in Bavaria it had appeared as though the local political scene was stabilising after voters decisively rejected the radical left government of Kurt Eisner in state elections. Eisner has remained temporarily in power since the election, but today he finally bows to the inevitable and prepares to offer his resignation to Bavaria’s parliament. However, he is unable to do, as on the way to parliament he is shot and killed by Anton Arco-Valley, a reactionary aristocrat. The assassination triggers disturbances in Munich, with clashes erupting between supporters and opponents of the late premier.

image source:

Kurt Eisner on his Way to the Bavarian State Parliament (GHDI – German History in Documents and Images)

20/2/1919 The gun speaks: Afghanistan’s King assassinated

Yesterday Clemenceau survived an assassination attempt. Today Habibullah Khan, the King of Afghanistan, is less lucky. He had kept his country neutral during the war, a policy that led to some disquiet in his country, as many Afghans are deeply hostile to the British Empire. Today while on a hunting trip Habibullah Khan is murdered. Mystery surrounds who exactly killed him and whether they were operating under orders.

Habibullah Khan had already named his brother, Nasrullah Khan, as his heir. In Kabul however his son Amanullah Khan begins preparations to seize the throne for himself.

image sources:

Habibullah Khan (Wikipedia)

Amanullah Khan (Wikipedia)

19/2/1919 The gun speaks: anarchist shoots Clemenceau

President Wilson has temporarily returned to the United States. Lloyd George too has had to make a short trip home to deal with pressing matters. Nevertheless the work of the Paris Conference continues. Edward House, Wilson’s advisor, deputises for the President, while Arthur Balfour, the British foreign minister, does the same for Lloyd George. Clemenceau is his way to meet these two for an important meeting today when a man loitering outside his house produces a gun and shoots.

The man shooting at the French prime minister is Émile Cottin, an anarchist, who had become increasingly hostile to Clemenceau after his troops broke up a strike last year. Cottin is nearly lynched before being arrested. Clemenceau meanwhile is hit, but survives. Nevertheless the incident is a disturbing one, with Allied leaders now wondering whether there might be some kind of Bolshevik-inspired plot to eliminate them all.

image sources:

Émile Cottin (Wikipedia)

Georges Clemenceau resting after the assassination attempt (Herodote.net: 19 février 1919 – « On a tiré sur Clemenceau »)

14/2/1919 Progress in Paris on the League of Nations, deadlock on German reparations

Negotiators in Paris have struggled over some of the conflicting claims presented to them, but one area where they have made remarkable progress is in preparing a draft covenant for the League of Nations. The League is Wilson‘s big idea, an international forum in which countries will be able to find peaceful ways of resolving their problems. Now, notwithstanding the awkward matter of Japan’s proposal to insert a racial equality clause, the draft covenant is largely complete. The covenant requires the League’s members to respect each other’s borders and independence. There will be a general assembly of all member states and an executive council comprising the five leading Allied nations as permanent members and another five elected from the rest; decisions of the executive council will require unanimity. For now Germany will not be allowed to join the League, though perhaps in due course it will be able to do so.

More problematic though are separate discussions on the reparation payments Germany is to make for the damage it has caused to Allied nations by the war. The French are seeking an enormous sum, both as recompense for the devastation inflicted on them and to keep Germany weak into the future. The British are arguing for a smaller though still very substantial amount. The Americans meanwhile are proposing a much smaller figure, fearing that if too much is sought from the Germans they will either not pay it or else be so impoverished that Germany will succumb to Bolshevism.

Discussions on reparations are now completely deadlocked. And they are likely to remain so for some time. President Wilson departs from Paris to make a short trip back to the United States. He is the first American president to visit Europe while in office and he wants to report to his compatriots in person on the good work he is doing in Paris, to avoid any suggestion that he has forgotten about them. Until he returns the Paris Conference will not be able to make any difficult decisions.

image source:

Wilson reading the League’s draft covenant, by Cyrus Leroy Baldridge (ResearchGate)

13/2/1919 Japan’s racial equality proposal causes a sensation

Japan’s role in the war was minimal. The country seized the German naval base of Tsingtao and several Pacific islands in 1914, thereafter playing no significant part in the conflict and declining to send troops to take part in the fighting in Europe. Nevertheless, the country is recognised at the Paris Conference as one of the leading Allied nations. This is something of a coup, given that until the mid-19th century Japan was largely closed off from the world and its new technologies.

Japan is the only major power represented in Paris that is neither European nor led by people of European ancestry. Conscious of this, Baron Makino of the Japanese delegation today reads out a proposed amendment to the founding covenant of the League of Nations. The draft covenant already contains a recognition of the principle of religious freedom; Makino proposes to include in this an affirmation of racial equality.

Makino’s proposal causes a sensation. While opinion in Japan is firmly behind such a move, Wilson is conscious that any proposal for equality between Asians and whites would cause uproar in much of the United States (Wilson himself has also never given any great impression of favouring equality between white and black Americans). Meanwhile Billy Hughes, prime minister of Australia, denounces the proposal as a threat to the ‘White Australia’ policy, with New Zealand’s premier William Massey echoing similar concerns.

For now the issue is parked. The British are anxious to avoid choosing between their dominions and their Japanese allies, so they propose that the proposal be closely studied in the hope that time will find some of way of settling it.

image source:

Baron Makino Nobuaki (Wikipedia: Racial Equality Proposal)

6/2/1919 Emir Faisal seeks a promised kingdom

Britain has found itself in a bit of sticky wicket in the Middle East, where its contradictory promises to the French and the Arabs are now coming home to roost. Today the awkwardness is laid bare when Emir Faisal appears before the Paris Conference to advance the claims of his father, Sharif Hussein of Mecca (self-declared King of the Arabs). Faisal does not speak English, but he has the British intelligence officer T. E. Lawrence to translate for him. Faisal is seeking the Arab kingdom promised to his father, a greater Syria that would stretch from the Anatolian border all the way down to the Arabian peninsula. This unfortunately clashes with French ambitions in the Middle East and the Sykes-Picot agreement on the region’s partition. The French have a particular attachment to the area around Mount Lebanon, where francophile Maronite Christians live, and are keen both to create a larger Lebanese entity under French control and to use this to expand into Syria proper.

As can be imagined, the French are hostile to Faisal’s presentation. Wilson is curiously indifferent. The British meanwhile are in an embarrassing position. They would like to support their Arab client, but they dare not risk a rupture with France. If they have to choose, then Faisal will be disappointed.

image source:

Emir Faisal and his delegation. Lawrence is to his right. (Wikipedia: Faisal I of Iraq)

3/2/1919 Carving up Turkey

As a defeated power, the Turks are going to have to accept the loss of their empire in the Middle East. The exact shape of arrangements there is still up for grabs, as there is a welter of contradictory agreements in place between Britain, France, the Arabs, and Zionist Jews. More worryingly for the Turks, Allied eyes are also turning towards their Anatolian heartland. Venizelos, the leader of Greece, presents his country’s claims to the Paris Conference today. He argues that his country should be granted much of European Turkey and also much of Anatolia’s Aegean coast. He cites the Greek inhabitants of these regions and the ancient links they have to Hellenic culture. While he is at it, he also claims much of Albania, but he is careful not to antagonise the British by advancing claims on Cyprus. And he avoids appearing too greedy by not making any explicit claims on allied-occupied Constantinople itself.

Venizelos’s claims receive a favourable hearing from the Allies, with Lloyd George particularly enthusiastic. The British prime minister has formed a warm relationship with Venizelos himself, but he also sees a strong Greece as a useful British ally in the Eastern Mediterranean. His military men are less enthusiastic, warning that an attempt by the Greeks to establish themselves in Anatolia may well provoke a determined Turkish reaction. Their warnings go largely unheeded.

The one Allied power that is signally unimpressed by Greek claims is Italy. Italy’s leaders also want to take over Albania and they are eyeing up some of the same Anatolian coastal areas as the Greeks. Graeco-Italian relations are further complicated by the Italian occupation of various Greek-speaking islands in the Aegean.

The Allies are also trying to assert their power within Turkey, not just in the occupied zone but beyond it. Here their goal is to have those responsible for atrocities against the Armenians or Allied troops arrested and tried. However this is all proving a bit difficult. The Allies can arrest people in the occupied zone, but beyond that the Turkish authorities are reluctant to do the Allies’ bidding. Calthorpe, Britain’s high commissioner in Constantinople, reports that the Turkish Sultan fears for his own safety if he cooperates too readily with Allied attempts to prosecute war criminals. Nevertheless, the British continue to insist to the Turks that there must be justice for the terrible crimes that were committed.

image source:

Greek ambitions (Wikipedia: Megali Idea)