7/3/1919 Germany continues to go hungry

The British naval blockade of Germany played a major part in its defeat, creating a food crisis in the country by preventing it from importing grain and other foodstuffs from overseas. Germany’s food situation has not improved since the armistice; if anything it has got worse. The British are still preventing Germany’s importation of food, pending a final peace settlement, and they are now also blocking German fishing boats from operating in the Baltic. As a result great suffering continues in Germany. Today Plumer, the commander of British occupation forces in western Germany, reports to Lloyd George that his men are increasingly shocked by the sight of malnourished children begging for food and combing the soldiers’ rubbish for edible scraps; many of his soldiers are sharing their rations with the children, thereby going hungry themselves.

Plumer fears that the food shortages in Germany are driving the country into the hands of the Spartacists. Plumer’s fears are shared by Herbert Hoover, the head of the American Relief Administration, an organisation tasked with providing food aid to Europe. Hoover sees the Allied blockade as the main obstacle to ensuring that Germans are adequately fed and is not afraid to say so. However, the French in particular object to the blockade being lifted before peace is concluded, fearing that Germany may build up its food stocks and then renew the war if food becomes available. For now at least the Germans will continue to go hungry.

image source:

Deutschlands Kindern Hungern (Germany’s Children Are Starving), by Kathe Kollwitz (Wikiart)

29/1/1919 Stating Poland’s case

Poland disappeared from the map of Europe in the late 18th century, when it was partitioned between Prussia, Austria and Russia. Now it has popped back into being, but its borders are uncertain, with the forces of Józef Piłsudski in Warsaw engaged in messy wars along the uncharted frontiers with Germany, Czechoslovakia and Ukraine. Poland is also divided between the supporters of Piłsudski, who presents himself as something of a cosmopolitan liberal despite his military background, and those supporting Roman Dmowski, who is less tolerant of Poland’s religious and ethnic minorities.

Some fear that Poland will descend into civil war, but the Poles manage to patch up their differences. The country has recently held parliamentary elections and Piłsudski has agreed to appoint Dmowski as representative to the Paris Conference, together with Paderewski, the newly appointed prime minister. Today Dmowski addresses the conference, arguing that both justice and pragmatism require the establishment of a large and powerful Poland. The Allies, particularly the French, are broadly sympathetic to the Poles, seeing Poland as vital for the containment of both Germany and Bolshevik Russia. But Dmowski rather overstates Poland’s case, arguing for a giant Poland that would swallow up all of Lithuania (as well as much of eastern Prussia). The Allies are concerned that Poland is getting ideas above its station, with the border clashes with Czechoslovakia over the town of Teschen particularly disconcerting. But for now they are not in a position to intervene decisively in eastern Europe, so the Poles are free to do what they will.

image sources:

Józef Piłsudski (Wikipedia)

Roman Dmowski (Wikipedia)

Dmowski’s proposed Polish borders (the red line) (Wikipedia)

27/1/1919 Dividing up Germany’s colonies

The Paris Conference is looking at how to dispose of Germany’s colonial possessions, with the leaders of different countries calling for their share of the spoils. Prime Minister Botha and General Smuts have proposed that South Africa should have South West Africa, conquered by them in 1915. Billy Hughes of Australia claims New Guinea and nearby islands as being vital for his country’s future security. New Zealand’s Massey seeks formerly German Samoa for his country, affirming the high regard in which New Zealanders are held by the Samoans (who are in fact petitioning to be ruled by Britain or the United States or indeed any country other than New Zealand, whose maladministration of the islands has seen a fifth of their inhabitants die of influenza). And Japan’s Makino is looking for the German islands in the Pacific his country’s armed forces occupied in 1914, as well as Tsingtao and the surrounding Shantung peninsula (which disturbs the Americans, who are sympathetic to Chinese demands that the peninsula be returned to them). The French meanwhile are looking for Togoland and Cameroon (known to the Germans as Kamerun) and the British for German East Africa.

In the old days victorious powers in wars were able to simply annex territories and possessions captured from their enemies, but President Wilson of the United States wishes to consign such vulgar ways to the dustbin of history. Instead of taking on conquered territories as new colonies, he is insisting that Germany’s former colonies are divided out among the Allies as mandates, with the mandated authorities charged with preparing the territories for self-government and independence. It is taken for granted that it will be some time before the native peoples are ready to rule themselves, but Wilson is insistent that the mandates are not to be thought of as simply additions to the victors’ empires. The Allied leaders may have other ideas, but for now they are willing to humour the American President.

18/1/1919 The Paris Conference opens

The world’s attention is turning to Paris, where Allied leaders are meeting to draft the peace treaties that will bring the war to a final end. To those of a historical bent, the Paris Conference is reminiscent of the Congress of Vienna that marked the end of the Napoleonic Wars. However this conference is solely for the victors: whereas France’s Talleyrand played a key role in Vienna, the Germans have not been invited to send representatives to Paris. The intention is that the Allies will agree terms among themselves, which will then be presented to Germany as a fait accompli.

The first plenary session of the conference meets today, on the anniversary of the 1871 coronation in Versailles of the first German emperor. The date is no coincidence. In his opening address to delegates, President Poincaré of France states:

“This very day forty-eight years ago, on January 18, 1871, the German Empire was proclaimed by an army of invasion in the Chateau at Versailles. It was consecrated by the theft of two French provinces; it was thus vitiated from its origin and by the fault of the founders; born in injustice, it has ended in opprobrium. You are assembled in order to repair the evil that it has done and to prevent a recurrence of it. You hold in your hands the future of the world. I leave you, gentlemen, to your grave deliberations, and I declare the Conference of Paris open.”

In truth, the real work of the conference has already begun, as the leaders of the key Allied powers have already begun deliberating among themselves. This Supreme Council is made up of the leaders of the United States, Britain, France, Italy and Japan. The first four countries are represented by their heads of government and foreign ministers, while the Japanese delegation is headed by Prince Saionji Kinmochi and Baron Makino Nobuaki, former prime minister and former foreign minister respectively.

The Allied leaders are now pursuing different objectives. President Wilson wants to secure a just peace that will remove the causes of future wars; a key goal for him is to create a League of Nations, through which countries will be able to resolve their differences without recourse to war. France’s Clemenceau however wants to so weaken Germany that it will never be able to threaten his country again; he is also keen to assert French claims to territories of the defeated Ottoman Empire. Lloyd George is also keen to advance British colonial interests but is wary of treating Germany so harshly that the seeds are laid for future conflict. Italy’s Orlando meanwhile is keen to secure the gains promised in the secret Treaty of London, and to secure the port of Fiume and other territories at the expense of the newly emergent Yugoslavia (and also to grab its share of the Ottoman Empire). Japan’s goals are a strange mixture of the venal and idealistic. As the only country not led by whites, Japan’s delegates are keen to insert a clause into the League of Nations’ charter affirming the equality of all races; they are however also looking to secure the territories they seized from Germany at the start of the war (some Pacific islands and the naval base of Tsingtao and the surrounding Shantung peninsula, which China would like to see returned to it).

The Supreme Council has already faced internal disagreements over the language to be used in its discussions (Clemenceau favoured French but was forced to accept the use of both French and English). They have also been unable to reach an agreement on what to do about Russia: whether to intervene more forcefully on the side of the Whites or whether to try and engage constructively with the Bolsheviks. As the conference progresses, more areas of disagreement are likely to emerge; it may well prove impossible for the Allies to maintain a united front against Germany.

The full text of President Poincaré’s address

images source (Guardian: The Paris peace conference begins – archive, January 1919)

21/2/1919 to 9/3/1919: Unrest in Egypt, more unrest in Germany, more claims stated to the Paris Conference

I am still playing catchup but think that I am about to reach a stage where key anniversaries are happening slower than I can write about them. Here are some interesting events that happened since my last catch-up post.

21/2/1919 Recently defeated at the polls, Bavaria’s minister-president Kurt Eisner is assassinated by a rightwing fanatic while on his way to present his resignation to parliament.

26/2/1919 Armenian representatives present their claims to the Paris Conference. Fearful of their Turkish neighbours, they seek the creation of Armenia as effectively a protectorate of the United States.

27/2/1919 Zionist leaders address the Paris Conference, proposing the establishment of a large Jewish homeland in Palestine.

2/3/1919 The Third International (better known as Comintern) is founded in Russia, to coordinate the activities of revolutionary socialist parties allied to Russia’s Bolsheviks.

3/3/1919 The Spartacists call a general strike in Berlin, where more disturbances break out.

6/3/1919 Freikorps paramilitary units smash the Spartacists again, driving them from central Berlin, also crushing the People’s Naval Division.

6/3/1919 Arthur Griffith, Constance Markievicz, William Cosgrave and other leading Sinn Féin members arrested last year in connection with a non-existent German plot are finally released.

7/3/1919 The commander of Britain’s occupation forces in western Germany reports to Lloyd George on the shocking scenes of malnutrition being witnessed there and the distress this is causing his men.

9/3/1919 Egypt erupts after the British authorities responded to request by political leaders to attend the Paris Conference by having them arrested and deported.

9/3/1919 In response to far left unrest, Gustav Noske, Germany’s war minister, orders that armed malcontents be shot on sight.

image source:

Demonstrators at Ramses Station, Cairo (Wikipedia: Revolución egipcia de 1919)

8/2/1919 to 20/2/1919 Reparations and racial equality trouble the Paris Conference while assassins strike and war continues to rage in the East

Unfortunately my commitments to science fiction have obliged me to neglect the First World War. Here are some fascinating events that occurred a hundred years ago since the last episodes I highlighted.

13/2/1919 At the Paris Conference, the Japanese delegation causes a sensation by proposing that the covenant of the League of Nations affirm the equality of all races. European colonial powers are unimpressed, Wilson embarrassed, and Australian & New Zealand leaders extremely hostile.

14/2/1919 Wilson temporarily leaves Paris, heading back to the United States for a short trip, leaving the peace conference deadlocked on the question of German reparations.

15/2/1919 Ukrainian nationalists evict Bolshevik supporters from the town of Proskurov and immediately massacre the town’s Jewish population.

16/2/1919 Austria votes in elections for a constituent assembly. The Social Democratic Workers Party wins the most seats, but not enough to govern alone.

19/2/1919 Consternation in Paris as Clemenceau is shot by an anarchist malcontent. Although injured, the French prime minister survives.

20/2/1919 King Habibullah Khan of Afghanistan is assassinated while on a hunting trip. His policy of neutrality had made him unpopular with the many people in his country who are hostile to the British Empire.

image source:

The Japanese delegation

27/1/1919 to 7/2/1919 The Paris Conference prepares to reorder the world

I continue to apologise to all readers as science fiction commitments are keeping me away from my Great War blogging. These are some of the events that have transpired since the last post.

27/1/1919 At the Paris Conference, the Japanese delegation formally states their claim to the territories Japan seized from Germany in 1914: various Pacific islands and the Shantung Peninsula (including the Tsingtao naval base) in China.

31/1/1919 Much to everyone’s relief, fighting between Poland and Czechoslovakia over disputed Teschen comes to an end.

3/2/1919 Jailbreak! Irish nationalist leader Éamon De Valera is sprung from Lincoln Jail, where he was being held since Sinn Féin leaders were rounded up last year. He now hopes to make his way back to Ireland to take charge of the struggle for Irish independence.

5/2/1919 The Ukrainian capital Kiev falls to the Red Army.

6/2/1919 The German assembly meets for the first time since the recent elections. As Berlin is still considered too dangerous in the aftermath of the Spartacist revolt, the assembly meets in Weimar.
6/2/1919 Assisted by British intelligence officer T.E. Lawrence, Emir Faisal of Mecca states Arab claims to the Paris Conference. Faisal is seeking an Arab kingdom, led by his father, stretching from Syria to the Arabian peninsula, in line with promises previously made by the British.

7/2/1919 The Italian delegation to the Paris Conference presents their claims to the Dalmatian coast. President Wilson chooses today to formally recognise Yugoslavia, suggesting that Italy’s ambitions are unlikely to be satisfied.

image source:

Emir Faisal’s delegation. Lawrence is to his right (Wikipedia)