PARIS 1919

PARIS 1919 by Margaret MacMillan Read Free Book Online

Book: PARIS 1919 by Margaret MacMillan Read Free Book Online
Authors: Margaret MacMillan
Tags: Fiction
business, were examples that others should follow for their own good. As one of the younger Americans said in Paris: “Before we get through with these fellows over here we will teach them how to do things and how to do them quickly.” 28
    The Americans had a complicated attitude toward the Europeans: a mixture of admiration for their past accomplishments, a conviction that the Allies would have been lost without the United States and a suspicion that, if the Americans were not careful, the wily Europeans would pull them into their toils again. As they prepared for the Peace Conference, the American delegates suspected that the French and the British were already preparing their traps. Perhaps the offer of an African colony, or a protectorate over Armenia or Palestine, would tempt the United States—and then suddenly it would be too late. The Americans would find themselves touching pitch while the Europeans looked on with delight. 29
    American exceptionalism has always had two sides: the one eager to set the world to rights, the other ready to turn its back with contempt if its message should be ignored. The peace settlement, Wilson told his fellow passengers, must be based on the new principles: “If it doesn’t work right, the world will raise hell.” He himself, he added half-jokingly, would go somewhere to “hide my head, perhaps to Guam.” Faith in their own exceptionalism has sometimes led to a certain obtuseness on the part of Americans, a tendency to preach at other nations rather than listen to them, a tendency as well to assume that American motives are pure where those of others are not. And Wilson was very American. He came to the Peace Conference, said Lloyd George, like a missionary to rescue the heathen Europeans, with his “little sermonettes” full of rather obvious remarks. 30
    It was easy to mock Wilson, and many did. It is also easy to forget how important his principles were in 1919 and how many people, and not just in the United States, wanted to believe in his great dream of a better world. They had, after all, a terrible reference point in the ruin left by the Great War. Wilson kept alive the hope that human society, despite the evidence, was getting better, that nations would one day live in harmony. In 1919, before disillusionment had set in, the world was more than ready to listen to him.
    What Wilson had to say struck a chord, not just with liberals or pacifists but also among Europe’s political and diplomatic élites. Sir Maurice Hankey, secretary to the British War Cabinet and then the Peace Conference itself, always carried a copy of the Fourteen Points in the box he kept for crucial reference material. They were, he said, the “moral background.” Across Europe there were squares, streets, railway stations and parks bearing Wilson’s name. Wall posters cried, “We Want a Wilson Peace.” In Italy, soldiers knelt in front of his picture; in France, the left-wing paper
L’Humanité
brought out a special issue in which the leading lights of the French left vied with each other to praise Wilson’s name. The leaders of the Arab revolt in the desert, Polish nationalists in Warsaw, rebels in the Greek islands, students in Peking, Koreans trying to shake off Japan’s control, all took the Fourteen Points as their inspiration. Wilson himself found it exhilarating but also terrifying. “I am wondering,” he said to George Creel, his brilliant propaganda chief, who was on board the
George Washington,
“whether you have not unconsciously spun a net for me from which there is no escape.” The whole world was turning to the United States but, he went on, they both knew that such great problems could not be fixed at once. “What I seem to see—with all my heart I hope that I am wrong—is a tragedy of disappointment.” 31
    The
George Washington
reached the French port of Brest on December 13, 1918.

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