9/6/1919 De Valera courts American opinion, but Lloyd George blocks consideration of the Irish question in Paris

In Ireland Sinn Féin politicians elected in December’s general election have chosen not to attend the House of Commons in London; instead they have assembled in Dublin, declaring themselves to be Dáil Éireann, the sovereign parliament of the Irish nation. Making Irish independence a reality is proving however proving difficult. Members of the Irish Republican Army are attempting to wage a guerrilla war against British forces in Ireland, but IRA actions are showing no great sign of forcing the British to evacuate the country. Dáil Éireann meanwhile has so far failed to make itself the actual centre of political power in Ireland, with real authority still lying with the British administration centred in Dublin Castle.

Sinn Féin leaders are attempting to internationalise their struggle, hoping that other nations will pressurise the British to yield to Ireland’s claims. At its first meeting, the Dáil issued a Message to the Free Nations of the World, asking them to support Irish freedom. The Dáil has sent a delegation to Paris, but the conference has declined to hear it.

Irish nationalists have had more success in the United States, where Irish Americans are sympathetic to Ireland’s cause. De Valera, the leader of Sinn Féin, has crossed the Atlantic and is having some success drumming up interest in the Irish question. The Senate recently passed a resolution calling for the Paris Conference to hear the Irish delegation. Leading Irish Americans have travelled to Paris, to lobby Wilson to have the conference hear the Irish delegation. Political concerns oblige Wilson to meet the Irish Americans, but he is non-committal. Lloyd George is too important to risk antagonising over the Irish issue.

Nevertheless, Wilson today sounds Lloyd George on whether the Paris Conference might discuss the Irish question, but the British prime minister is clear that this is something that he could not countenance; any attempt by the conference to discuss Ireland would lead to a political crisis in London, with the likelihood that Lloyd George’s government would fall. This would cause great upset to the conference’s progress, which is now at an advanced stage. Wilson makes clear to Lloyd George that he has no intention of pressing the issue.

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Éamon De Valera after being made an honorary chief of the Chippewa nation (in October 1919) (History Hub: Eamon De Valera – The Chief) (The linked-to page includes an interesting newspaper report of De Valera’s visit to the Chippewa, including excerpts from De Valera’s speech, in which he draws parallels between the experiences of the Irish and the Native Americans)

3/6/1919 At Lloyd George’s behest, the Allies agree on a plebiscite to decide Upper Silesia’s future

The German peace terms in were a compromise between French desires to see Germany weakened and British and American fears of so antagonising Germany that it would seek revenge in a future war. Since then the British in particular have started worrying that they compromised too much. They are impressed by Germany’s counterproposals, which appeal to Wilson‘s Fourteen Points, and begin to wonder whether the peace terms might be ameliorated. In this Britain’s Lloyd George is supported by the wider British Empire delegation, with South Africa’s Smuts saying now that the reparations being sought from Germany are excessive.
Because the peace terms took so long to negotiate, the Wilson is extremely wary of attempting to revise them, while Clemenceau is naturally opposed to any change that would strengthen Germany. Nevertheless, Lloyd George scores a success today, when he persuades the others to accept a plebiscite in Upper Silesia on whether the territory should be part of Germany or Poland. The Poles see Upper Silesia as a natural part of their country, so no one is surprised when Paderewski protests on behalf of the Polish delegation, but Lloyd George is insistent that the Upper Silesians must themselves choose where their future lies. Organising a plebiscite will be a difficult matter, probably requiring the deployment of Allied troops to ensure it is conducted fairly, but Lloyd George sees this as a price worth paying.

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Upper Silesia (Bud’s Big Blue: Upper Silesia)

1/6/1919 The Rhineland Revolt: a farcical attempt to detach the Rhineland from Germany

At the Paris Conference French negotiators pushed for the Rhineland to be detached from Germany and either turned into a buffer state or annexed to France. The other Allies however never had any great enthusiasm for this scheme, and the peace terms the Allies have agreed provide that that the Rhineland will remain part of Germany but be permanently demilitarised once a fifteen year long Allied occupation ends.

Nevertheless, the French continue to dream of separating the Rhineland from Germany. If some kind of fait accompli could be engineered then the British and Americans might just have to accept the region’s independence. French officers have been in contact with Rhineland separatists, persuading themselves that these eccentrics have wide support in the local population. Now, with some French support, the separatists attempt to seize power in the Rhineland. Pro-independence placards appear in the French occupied part of the Rhineland, calling on the people to revolt against Germany and assert their Rheinisch freedoms.

The Rhineland revolt is a fiasco. Most of the placards are torn down and the Rhinelanders signally fail to rally to the separatists. The separatists themselves appear to be either disorganised fantasists or outright charlatans; they completely fail to evict the German civil authorities from anywhere in the region.

Far from strengthening France, the affair weakens it by irritating its allies. Wilson and Lloyd George are irked by these hamfisted intrigues, with Lloyd George now suggesting that the Allies’ planned long occupation of the Rhineland may have to be rethought. The whole affair feeds into a general sense gripping the British prime minster that the peace terms presented to the Germans are too harsh and will lead only to future conflict.

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The Rhineland occupation zone (Wikipedia)

24/4/1919 Crisis in Paris at Italy walks out of the peace conference

Italy joined the Allies in 1915 after the secret Treaty of London promised it considerable territorial gains at the expense of Austria-Hungary: the South Tyrol and the Istrian peninsula, as well as territories along the Dalmatian coast and islands off it. Since then Italian appetites have grown, with Italian opinion now fixated on the need to add the port of Fiume to the spoils of victory.
Developments since the signing of the Treaty of London have not been kind to Italian ambitions. Although large numbers of Italians died in the war, the Italian contribution to the Allied war effort was largely ineffectual and is not seen as having played a major part in securing Allied victory. This makes the other Allies less keen on acceding to Rome’s lust for Adriatic expansion. The emergence of Yugoslavia and the rise of the United States as the leading Allied power have also created problems for Italy. President Wilson‘s ideas of national self-determination mean that it would now be problematic to transfer the Slavic peoples of Dalmatia from Yugoslavia to Italy. Fiume likewise is a bit of a conundrum, as the town centre has an Italian majority but the countryside around it is predominantly Slav.

Orlando, the Italian prime minister, is insistent that Italy must have everything it was promised, as well as Fiume. He rejects any compromise and refuses to accept a proposal whereby Fiume would become a free city. He intimates that Italy will decline to sign the peace treaty if its demands are not met.

Wilson and Lloyd George are increasingly exasperated with Orlando and what they see as Italy’s unrealistic demands. After a fraught meeting over Easter, Wilson decides to appeal directly to the Italian people. Lloyd George and Clemenceau express caution, but Wilson insists and takes out advertisements in the Italian press, warning the Italian public that their leaders are pursuing an unrealistic policy. Ties of kindred and geography require that Dalmatia and Fiume will have to be part of Yugoslavia.

The result in Italy is nationalist uproar. Opinion writers in the Italian press fall over themselves to denounce Wilson in terms that make him go white with anger. In the face of this maelstrom, a climbdown by Orlando is impossible. He instead announces to the other Allies that he is leaving the conference. Lloyd George laughs in his face when Orlando suggests that the conference will be unable to function without Italy. And then Orlando and Sonnino, his foreign minister, leave Paris and return to Rome.

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Map of territories promised to Italy in 1915, as well as territories separately promised to Serbia (Wikipedia: Vittoria mutilata)

Vittorio Orlando (Wikipedia)

1/4/1919 Agreement on Danzig and the Poland’s corridor to the sea

In Paris the Allies are still discussing Germany’s future frontiers. The French, particularly Marshal Foch, are still pressing for the Rhineland to be detached from Germany and turned into some kind of French protectorate, but the British and Americans are not interested.

The Allies have at least managed to reach some agreement on Germany’s frontiers with Poland. Disagreement here had been over the size of the corridor that would link Poland to the sea. The Polish delegation has pushed for a wide corridor and for the port of Danzig to be annexed to Poland. This would unfortunately leave large numbers of Germans inside Poland’s frontiers but the Poles argue that a wide corridor is necessary for their security. The French are sympathetic to the Poles, as part of Clemenceau‘s general interest in weakening Germany as much as possible, but Britain’s Lloyd George is more wary, fearing that too many Germans on the wrong side of the Polish-German frontier will sow the seeds of future conflict.

Wilson comes round to Lloyd George’s thinking, perhaps fearing the consequences for Fiume on the Adriatic if Danzig is given to Poland. Now Clemenceau is obliged to accept less generous frontiers for Poland. The corridor will be narrow, minimising the number of Germans that will find themselves living in Poland. And Danzig will be a free city, linked to Poland but self-governing. To the Poles this is a shocking betrayal. Roman Dmowski, co-leader of their delegation, becomes convinced that Lloyd George is an enemy of his country. He complains to his colleagues that the British prime minister is “the agent of the Jews”.

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Danzig and the Polish Corridor (Robinson Library)

28/3/1919 Tense negotiations in Paris over Germany’s western frontiers

In an effort to streamline decision making at the Paris Conference, Allied leaders have replaced the Supreme Council with the Council of Four, containing just Wilson, Lloyd George, Clemenceau and Orlando (and not their foreign ministers). The exclusion of the Japanese from the top table is justified on the basis that negotiations are now dealing primarily with European concerns, about which they have little to contribute.

Negotiations between the Allies have become increasingly tense, reflecting a fundamental divide in the approach of Clemenceau from that of Lloyd George and Wilson. Clemenceau wants punitive terms imposed on Germany, to prevent it ever threatening France again. The British and American leaders however fear so alienating Germany that it either refuses to sign the peace treaty or else reneges on it as soon afterwards as it can. Their further fear is that if Germany is treated too harshly it will follow Hungary into communism. And Lloyd George worries that if Germany is excessively weakened then France will become too powerful.

This divide affects Allied discussions on Poland’s frontiers, where Clemenceau is supporting proposals to give the country a wide corridor to the sea containing large numbers of Germans. But it is in the west that the difficulties are most acute. Clemenceau supports the separation of the Rhineland from the rest of Germany, something his French and British counterparts regard as a recipe for disaster. The French are also seeking the annexation of the Saar, a heavily industrialised border region rich in coal.

Clemenceau once more states France’s claim to the Saar today, leading to a major row between him and Wilson. Lloyd George and Orlando manage to smooth things over and a possible compromise is agreed: perhaps the Saar could remain autonomous and demilitarised. The French and American leaders ostensibly renew their friendship, but in private each comments on the other’s intransigence.

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David Lloyd George, Vittorio Emanuele Orlando, Georges Clemenceau & Woodrow Wilson enjoy a moment of levity (Wikipedia: The Big Four (World War I))

18/3/1919 Disputes over the Rhineland and Germany’s fleet

Allied leaders in Paris have now broadly agreed the military terms that will be imposed on Germany. To prevent its future aggression, Germany will be allowed to maintain only a small army. British preferences for this to be an army of long-serving volunteers rather than short-term conscripts have carried the day. The army will have no heavy equipment and should be able only to assist with the maintenance of internal order. The Germans will be obliged not to allow veterans’ clubs or other private associations turn into surrogate military organisations. They are also required to dismantle all fortifications on both banks of the Rhine.

The future of the German navy meanwhile has led to serious disagreements among the Allies. They are broadly agreed that Germany will no longer be allowed to maintain an ocean-going fleet, but there is still the vexed question of what to do with the German ships currently interned at Scapa Flow. The French and Italians have called for these ships to be divided out among the Allies, but the British fear that doing so will undermine their own naval dominance. Lloyd George has proposed the ceremonial sinking in the Atlantic of the German fleet, but Wilson sees this as wasteful. Mistrust on naval matters is building between the British and Americans, with the British afraid that the United States is about to embark on a naval building programme that will hand control of the world’s seas to it.

Another area of tension remains the Rhineland. France has sought the permanent occupation or separation from Germany of this region, but Britain and the United States have instead offered security guarantees to the French against aggression from a resurgent Germany. Now Clemenceau replies to the Anglo-American offer. He accepts that the Allies will not permanently occupy the Rhineland but demands a temporary occupation of at least five years. Furthermore, he requires that afterwards the Rhineland be permanently demilitarised.

Clemenceau’s response irks his allies. Balfour, the British foreign minister, fears that the French are making a terrible mistake, concentrating on weakening Germany instead of reforming the international order to make future wars less likely. But for now Clemenceau is insistent.