11/4/1919 Wilson blocks Japan’s racial equality proposal

Tensions are mounting in Paris, with Wilson and Clemenceau at odds over the future of Germany. Clemenceau wants Germany to be severely weakened, while Wilson wants to avoid future war through a more conciliatory approach that will offer the Germans the prospect of rejoining the family of nations. So poisonous have relations become that the French rejoice when the American president is struck down by a bad cold (which might perhaps be influenza). Wilson meanwhile has taken the step of having a warship in Brest readied to bring him home, in the event that the talks break down.

For now though the Americans and French manage to paper over their difference. Wilson also recovers from his illness. But now he faces new antagonists: the Japanese. As the only major non-white power at the conference, the Japanese are keen to insert a clause into the League of Nations covenant affirming the equality of all races. This is deeply problematic to Wilson, as he knows that any recognition of racial equality will cause uproar in the United States. Other nations are however more sympathetic; when Japan’s Makino presses the amendment to the covenant today, the racial equality clause passes. Nevertheless Wilson rules that the strength of opposition means that it cannot be included in the covenant.

The Japanese do not publicly contest Wilson’s ruling. Privately though they intimate that this affront may mean that they will be unable to sign the final peace treaty.

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Woodrow Wilson and Makino Nobuaki (Wikipedia: Racial Equality Proposal)

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.

14/3/1919 Keeping Germany weak and France strong

President Wilson is now back in Paris after his brief trip back home, so the conference can once more engage with its more difficult problems, chief among which is how to prevent Germany threatening European peace in the future. To the French, this particularly means their protection from a revived Germany. Foch has argued that Germany should effectively be permanently demilitarised, allowed to maintain only a tiny army of conscripts with no tanks, aircraft or general staff. The British however think it better that Germany instead maintain a small army of longer-serving volunteers. Their argument is that even a small conscript army would mean that Germany would over time have a considerable body of trained men available for war; Foch however fears that a professional force could provide the nucleus around which the German army could be greatly expanded.

The French are also seeking to reduce Germany in size. Unlike the British, they look favourably on the more grandiose claims Poland is advancing on German territory. They also support neutral Denmark’s claims to ownership of Schleswig-Holstein, absorbed into Germany in the last century. And Foch is arguing that the Rhineland (German territories on the west bank of the Rhine) should be either permanently occupied by the Allies or even detached from Germany and turned into a French client state.

Wilson and Lloyd George are particularly wary of French plans regarding the Rhineland. Wilson fears that a permanent occupation there will make the peace treaty harder to sell domestically. They reckon that plans to turn the Rhineland into a buffer state are doomed to failure, given the Rhinelanders’ signal lack of interest in independence from Germany. They also fear that detaching the Rhineland will simply create another Alsace-Lorraine, poisoning relations between France and Germany and laying the seeds for future conflict. So now they make an alternative proposal to Clemenceau. Instead of a Rhineland occupation, they offer France security guarantees, promising that Britain and the United States will come to its aid in the event of a German attack. The proposal intrigues Clemenceau, who is recovering well after the recent attempt on his life. He retreats to consider the matter with his closest advisors.

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.

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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.

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Baron Makino Nobuaki (Wikipedia: Racial Equality Proposal)