17/6/1919 Turkey’s prime minister fails to charm the Paris Conference

The Allies are waiting to see whether the Germans will finally accept the peace terms, with Foch ready to invade Germany if they fail to do so. In the meantime, the work of the Paris Conference continues. Today the Allied leaders hear Damad Ferid Pasha, the Turkish prime minister. He attempts to ingratiate himself with the Allies by laying all the blame for Turkey’s entry into the war and the terrible massacres of the Armenians onto the Ottoman Empire’s three leaders in 1914, Enver, Talaat and Djemal (all of whom have conveniently fled into exile). It would be wrong, he says, to punish the Turkish people as a whole for their crimes. Accordingly he rejects any talk of dismembering the Turkish Empire.

The Turkish prime minister’s presentation does not have a positive effect on the Allies. Lloyd George see Ferid Pasha’s speech as little more than a joke, while Wilson declares that he has “never seen anything more stupid”; he states that he is now in favour of Constantinople being taken from the Turks. The Allies moreover are determined that there will be a reckoning for the crimes committed against the Armenians; the Turkish people will have to accept responsibility for the actions of their leaders.

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Damad Ferid Pasha (Wikipedia)

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)

15/5/1919 Greek troops land in Smyrna

Without authorisation from the Paris Conference, Italian forces have landed in the Turkish city of Antalya, using it as a base to occupy Bodrum and Marmaris. They are also rumoured to be thinking of landing in Smyrna.

Smyrna has large Greek-speaking population. Venizelos, the Greek prime minister, is close to Britain’s Lloyd George and has been making the case for its cession to Greece. He talks of attacks on Greeks in Smyrna’s vicinity by the Turks and cites the natural affinity with his country of the city’s Greek population.

The Americans are not generally supportive of Turkey being carved up among the Allies, but Lloyd George is very insistent that Smyrna should go to Greece. In the end, Wilson agrees, if only to prevent the troublesome Italians from occupying the port. The Allies authorise a Greek landing in Smyrna, over the objections of Henry Wilson, the British army’s chief of staff, who warns that they may be starting another war whose outcome is uncertain.

Greek troops land in Smyrna today. They receive a warm welcome from the city’s Greek citizens. Initially there is something of a carnival atmosphere, but as the day wears on the mood turns ugly. Some Turkish troops are beaten to death when they try to surrender. Inter-communal rioting breaks out and the town descends into an orgy of violence and looting, with disorder quickly spreading into the countryside around the city.

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Greek troops in Smyrna (Wikipedia: Turkish War of Independence)

28/4/1919 Wilson’s dirty deal with Japan

President Wilson‘s great goal in Paris is the establishment of a League of Nations. His hope is that this international organisation will usher in a new age of peace by allowing nations to resolve their conflicts without recourse to war. The other Allies are also sympathetic to the idea of the League, with French leaders hoping that it will effectively provide them with security guarantees against a resurgent Germany.

As work on design of the League has progressed, Wilson has found himself facing a terrible conundrum. The Japanese delegates have indicated that they will be unable to sign the peace treaty if the League’s covenant does not include their proposed racial equality clause. Wilson knows that if the racial equality clause is included then the peace treaty will be rejected by the US Senate. However with Italy having walked out of the conference, he fears the consequences of Japan’s defection. Some deal with the Japanese must be found.

The racial equality clause is not Japan’s only demand. They are also looking for control of the Shantung peninsula in northeastern China. This was the site of the German naval base at Tsingtao, which Japanese forces captured at the start of the war. The problem is that the Chinese understandably want Shantung returned to them.

Opinion within the United States and elsewhere is very sympathetic to Chinese claims to Shantung. But Wilson is in a bind, feeling that he must give the Japanese Shantung in return for their withdrawal of the racial equality proposal. A tacit deal along these lines is struck.

Today at a plenary session of the conference the League’s covenant is adopted. Baron Makino of Japan barely mentions the racial equality proposal and expresses broad support for the covenant. It is at this point that the Chinese delegates begin to realise that they have been betrayed.

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Woodrow Wilson (Wikipedia)

Tsingtao and Shantung (Wikipedia: Kiautschou Bay concession)

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)