Sunday, April 12, 2015

Margaret MacMillan. Paris 1919 (2003)

    Margaret MacMillan. Paris 1919 (2003) Macmillan deals with the Versailles Treaty, and all the other ones, including those that were concluded long after that one. She has mastered her material, and provides exhaustive abut hardly ever exhausting detail, a feat in itself. She keeps her narrative lines clear by concentrating on one treaty at a time, linking its narrative to the main one when such links actually existed.
     As in her later book, The War that Ended Peace, about the lead-up to WWI, she shows how character influences events. Clemenceau, Lloyd George, and Wilson each had flaws, blind spots, and assorted prejudices that prevented them from doing their duty, which was to craft peace treaties that would improve the odds of peaceful and co-operative international relations. Other players, such as Kemal Ataturk and Gabriele D’Annunzio, had agendas at odds with that of the great powers, who didn’t take them seriously enough until it was too late.
     But while hindsight suggests that a number of mistakes were avoidable (I think the Armenian genocide could have been prevented if Lloyd George in particular had more forcefully supported Wilson’s plans), hindsight also shows us that some mistakes were inevitable. The partitioning of the Middle East was the most serious of these, measured by its current effects. But the Europeans were unable to take Middle Eastern leaders seriously as equals, and besides, they wanted the oil.
    The attitudes towards Germany are another example: the French and the British especially exhibited a bias against the untrustworthy Hun that pretty well guaranteed that they would insult the Germans by refusing to negotiate peace terms. German attitudes were equally intransigent; both the people and most of their leaders were unwilling to accept any kind of blame for their role in starting the war, and so were outraged when peace terms were dictated to them. Conscious and unconscious racism is not only ethically repugnant, it’s politically stupid.
     A good book, worth reading not only as a thorough and even-handed account of those events and their aftermaths, but also as an example of how not to make treaties. There were many people at the time who saw quite clearly where the terms and process of treaty-making would lead, but they were ignored. It demonstrates once again that being smart enough to be a good politician doesn’t mean you’re smart enough to know which political goals to pursue.
     Recommended. ***

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