Seventy men from all corners of the earth are seated around the long horse-shoe of a green-baize table in the Clock-Room of the Foreign Office on the Quai d’Orsay. Two-hundred-odd newspapermen from all corners of the earth—reporters in soft collars and tan shoes, and imperfectly shaven, and journalists in black cutaways with tall flapped collars and patent leathers—strain eye and ear, through the arches of the adjoining reception-room, at the greatest international show since 1815. One of the two-hundred-odd, as he watches and listens to the seventy at table, finds his mind going back, not altogether in a spirit of frivolity, to the categories of Class-Day election at college. Thus: —
Handsomest man—Hymans of Belgium, who, this afternoon of January 25, leads the revolt of the little nations against the Big Five; tall, slim, thoroughbred, with a fighting face and the most eloquent hands imaginable. Livest man—tie between Clemenceau, with body, muscles, arms, and tongue always in play, and Lloyd George, who reveals himself in the jump of ironic eyes under heavy brows, and frequent half-mischievous smiles and whisperings to Balfour at his left. Most worried man—Sonnino of Italy. Most bored man—tie again between Foch and Balfour. Best poised man—the chief Japanese representative, of course. Most patient and far-seeing man—Venizelos, I am inclined to believe. Most picturesque figure—if you dismiss the outward trappings of the delegates from Hedjaz and native India, then, by all odds, Louis Botha, a massive, silent hulk, with eyes burning out of a short, thick jungle of whisker, moustache, and eyebrows. Hardest worker—Clemenceau. Most dignified—Woodrow Wilson. Best all-around athlete—Lloyd George, probably. Best student—House. Best poet—Smuts. Best orator—Woodrow Wilson. Done most for his class—?
There seems to be virtual unanimity among the seventy on this last point. Assume that the proprieties demand constant reference by every one of the speakers to the President’s rôle in war and now in peace, and it is still evident that to Woodrow Wilson belongs the distinction of cutting the pattern for the work of the Conference.
The formal opening of the Conference a week ago was formal, indeed. It comprised M. Poincaré’s salutatory and the election of a permanent chairman. The real inaugural is to-day, when the Conference holds its first public debate on the one question which Mr. Wilson has made his own. The Conference really began with the League of Nations.
And from the first it is plain that the spirit of the delegates is keyed up to the high argument. Lloyd George’s plea on behalf of the League, following upon that of Mr. Wilson, is brief; but in emotional content and in gravity of manner, it climbs very high indeed. Mr. Wilson is always in earnest. He always conveys the sense and burden of a great message and a great problem. The British Premier’s touch is usually lighter; but with Lloyd George’s few words it becomes apparent at once that the Conference is face to face with its work—and that there will be a league.
Technically, the debate which ensues is on the matter of procedure—the question whether the little nations have been given their fair share of representation on the Conference committees. Actually, in the very fact of a revolt by the little nations against the Big Five, in the successive demands which are flung down by Belgium, Greece, Brazil, Czecho-Slovakia, Roumania, we feel that the League of Nations has already begun to function. The problem which the League will always have to deal with is on the floor—the question how far the League of Nations should be by and of the little nations, as well as for the little nations. So comes the first sign of strife—and of life—which the Conference has given publicly.
The manner in which Clemenceau handles the insurrection of the little peoples permits a fair evaluation of the man, of his record, and of his reputation. With his seventy-seven years, Clemenceau is the oldest member of the assembly. He is also the most vital, externally at least. I will not say he is the most electric, because, for one, I find that Woodrow Wilson has incomparably the greater gift of surcharging the atmosphere with a tingling, emotional current, from the moment, he rises to his feet and slowly embraces the audience with his grave smile; though that may be partisanship.
But the more galvanic our Clemenceau unquestionably is. He shifts in the presidential chair now right and now left, throwing bits of his own interpretation to Wilson or Lloyd George in advance of the official translator. He corrects, he emphasizes, he underlines the interpreter with emphatic nod, or takes exception with a flourish of his gray-gloved hands or a swift uplift of the white scythe of his moustache. His eyes scour the room to study effects. He is continually signaling to the secretaries behind him for orders, memoranda, messages to be delivered. The obvious parallel is with our own man of energy whom we have lost so recently, and without whom it is so hard, three thousand miles away, to think of America.
On his feet Clemenceau is less dynamic in action than Roosevelt. The voice indicates his age, though it does not quite reveal it. His utterance is softer than his words. His manner is colloquial, but his message bites. He does not thunder, he rends. And as we listen to his reply to the little nation, we first begin to understand why he is calling the Tiger. In itself his argument, though frank, is not ferocious. He simply wants to say that big committees work more slowly than small committees, and that the great need before the Conference is speed. The message he succeeds in conveying is that, if you give the little nations the representation they demand, the Conference will degenerate into palaver. His enemies have spoken of his brutal speech. He himself, in referring to utterances of his past, has described them as perhaps ‘cruel.’ Easily that. Clemenceau is the only man of the seventy capable of saying aloud, as he does now, that it is for the great Powers to run the show, because it was they who had twelve million men in the field when the armistice came, and they who count their dead by the millions.
Put aside the fact that this is unfair to Serbia and to Belgium, who proportionately have suffered as heavily as the Great Powers—it is brutal, as we conceive the word in the ordinary sense, to throw their dependency into the faces of the nineteen little peoples. Clemenceau may have spoken the truth as to the definite intentions of the Great Powers and the probable procedure of the Conference. But there are ways and ways of conveying the truth, and obviously Clemenceau has the gift of choosing the most lacerating. There are people who are the victims of their own bitter tongues. They have a gift of conveying a sense of exasperation which they may not even feel. Clemenceau is one of these.
Should he therefore be voted also the best fighter in this world-class of ’19 assembled on the Quai d’Orsay? I am by no means certain. One may fight with red-hot rapier thrusts, as Clemenceau does, or with a splendid flourish of the club, as Roosevelt did, or with abstract terms and general formulas, as Woodrow Wilson so often does, and so often to the disquiet of those whose hearts are with him. When the President first came to Europe, there was fear, even among those who believe him, whether he was a match for his supposedly astute, hard-headed, realistic opponents. (Everyone assumed that Lloyd George and Clemenceau were his opponents.) But at the moment of writing, the President is not prostrate under the foot of Lloyd George, and he is not yet lashed captive to Clemenceau’s chariot. He has fought, and in his own way.
Just what that way is, it is impossible to miss in the speech with which he opened the debate on the League of Nations. In the corridors I heard one veteran journalist describe it as the sermon of a Congregational minister. That veteran has a poor ear, to have missed the swell of passion behind the solemn utterance, the challenge behind the pleading. It is a speech of summons and exhortation, but it is essentially a fighting speech. When the President says, ‘It is a solemn obligation on our part, therefore, to make permanent arrangements that justice shall be rendered and peace maintained,’ it is Wilson’s way of saying, ‘We cannot go away from this place before we have made permanent arrangements that justice shall be rendered and peace maintained.’ Nor is the President indulging in psychological analysis when he declares that the United States ‘would feel that it could not take part in guaranteeing those European settlements unless that guaranty involved the continuous superintendence of the peace of the world by the associated nations of the world.’ He is uttering a threat. If it had been Clemenceau speaking, he would have said, ‘Either you will give us the guaranties that we, the United States, think proper, or else you must run your Continent as you did before, and much good will it do you.’
To one at least of the President’s listeners, there is the ring of an absolute ultimatum in the apparently plaintive reflection, ‘If we return to the United States without having made every effort in our power to realize this programme, we shall return to meet the merited scorn of our fellow citizens.’ What the President really says is this: ‘Do you imagine that I am going back to the United States with empty hands, to meet the scorn of my fellow citizens? I am here until you give me the League of Nations I want.’
Such is one kind of fighting speech. The method is by no means exclusively Wilsonian. It is applied within an hour by Orlando, speaking for Italy in the same debate. Orlando is of middle height, thickset, with a backward sweep of white hair that emphasizes a strong resemblance to the pictures of the late King Humbert. He has the warm, vibrant voice of the orator. The body of his remarks is approval of the League; but the main import, as I catch it, is in the eloquent peroration of his brief address, a burning tribute to the heroism and merit of France.
Why? I read this interpretation into Orlando’s speech. ‘We are about to accept the principle of a League of Nations. This League, as the outstanding factor in the peace, is a Wilson feature. Its next warmest supporters are the British. On the other hand, Frenchmen and Italians have been rather cool to the League. Lest, therefore, it should seem that the Anglo-Saxon impress is being stamped on this Conference, I, Orlando, take the opportunity to remind the Conference that France is the nation whose heroism primarily gave us victory, and that we, a sister nation, of the Latin blood, insist on the world taking cognizance of the fact.’
Orlando’s is a fighting speech, and intended, in part, as a reply to Wilson’s fighting speech. And the vivid sense of muffled combat, of a challenge and counter-challenge in undertones and overtones, is not the least fascinating impression of the debate.
Seventy men make up the membership of the Conference in full-dress debate; but it is the pretty generally accepted opinion here, as with you, no doubt, that the real Conference is the Council of Ten, as it is sometimes described: Wilson and House or Lansing, Clemenceau and Pichon, Lloyd George and Balfour, Orlando and Sonnino, Viscount Chinda and his principal associate. The exact topography of the Conference, for that matter, is for the future student of the official records to determine. Take in the first place the Council of Ten, and it is not always easy to say when these Ten act as a Supreme War Council and when as a Peace Conference. The panel system, which summons the minor delegates from the Big Five, or the representatives of the smaller nations when it is a question of their special interests, adds confusion. People who are not delegates at all have been summoned to the meetings of the Ten; and at the plenary meetings everybody apparently attends, in disregard of the panel.
Thus it is difficult to say just where the minor delegate merges into the mere technical expert. In the full sessions of the Conference the walls are lined with auditors in khaki and in mufti, who may well be the technical assistants, and they in turn blend into the secretaries and interpreters. Outside of the Big Ten the principal distinction would therefore seem to be between those delegates who have the perquisite of a chair, a desk, and a blotter with pad and pencil, and those who stand up around the wall and look pleased. The whole question is rather an empty one, like the original question, how many delegates should be awarded to the various nations. Since the voting, even in theory, is to be by nations, and in practice will be unanimous, it resolves itself into the question, how many names each nation shall have the honor of affixing to the final documents.
Cynical opinion, therefore, regards the victory of the American newspapermen on the issue of publicity as a highly doubtful one. Our press delegation demanded that at least five from our ranks be admitted to the sessions of the Conference. The other Allied pressmen were inclined to be content with one. We imposed our will on the Conference, to the extent of obtaining admission for three representatives from the press delegations of the five Powers and three for the rest of the newspaper world. Having fought hard to keep us down to three, the Conference, as I see it, smiled quietly to itself, and gave orders to admit the whole mob of us. So that here again the distinction is between the fifteen press delegates who sit on their chairs in front, and the other 185 who stand on their chairs behind, and hear just as well and see a good deal better.
As for other sessions of the Conference, we have simply the official communiqué, which records that the Ten, having met at 10.30 and again at 3.30, adopted decisions with regard to Russia, or the warring mid-European nationalities, or the League of Nations; and the morning and afternoon were another day.
This will explain why our ultra-pessimists here look upon the plenary sessions as a device of stage-management to satisfy the demand for publicity. Even the dramatic episodes of the second plenary meeting, — the revolt of the little nations, the blunt assertion by Clemenceau that the Big Five intend to run the Conference, and that the little fellows might as well be grateful for whatever they are going to receive, and M. Hymans’s defiant fling of the arms in the face of force majeure, and the crunch of the Clemenceau steam-roller—all this is supposedly staged for the double purpose of lending an air of vicious combat to a cut-and-dried affair, and giving the reporters a semblance of their money’s worth.
But if this be so, the stage-management is unquestionably perfect. The promise of a good-sized row is in the air to the very last minute; and the glimpse we have of the men and talents that the small nations can rally suggests that perhaps the incident is not yet closed. In spite of the emotional let-down since the armistice, Belgium is still something more than a small nation. Because the name is still a symbol and a rallying-cry, the representative from Belgium is probably chosen to lead the assault on the Big Five; and Belgium, through men like Hymans and Vandervelde, can make herself heard among men.
Venizelos speaks for Greece. This man with snow-white hair and beard and laughing eyes behind gold-rimmed glasses has the most winning smile in the world. But this is also the little Cretan lawyer, who lay out on the hills before Canea with a rifle twenty years ago; who drove the Turk from the island, and brought back the ancient cradle of Ægean civilization to Greece; who built up the miracle of Balkan unity against the Turk on the still hot ashes of fratricidal guerilla warfare; who saw wisely enough into the future to try to swing his country to the side of the Allies, and was beaten for the time being; who showed how extraordinary courage may go with extraordinary foresight, by putting through a revolution and aligning Greece with the Allies at a moment when their fortunes were almost at their lowest. Such a genius for leadership may yet create in the bosom of the Conference a league of little nations with which the Clemenceau steam-roller will have to reckon.
Along with Hymans, Vandervelde, Venizelos, Bratiano, as representatives of little peoples who have risked greatly and suffered greatly, we may reckon the nationalities born out of struggle and presumably not afraid of a few more months of struggle—Poland, speaking through the astute and somewhat hard-minded Dmowski; the Czecho-Slovaks, through the highly gifted and extremely winning personality of Benes; and the Greater Serbians, who combine in their leadership the trained gifts of the older diplomacy in the person of Pasitch, and in Trumbitch the newer creative aspirations.
Nor, for that matter, is the effort of the little nations restricted to the Quai d’Orsay. The Conference is bigger than the private cabinet of M. Pichon, where the Ten hold their daily sessions. It is bigger than the ornate Clock-Room, with its seventy seats and desk-blotters. I will not go so far as to say, what people were saying a month ago, that the real conference was being held in Paris, London, Rome, and wherever else Mr. Wilson was a pleasant caller for the day. But the Conference is certainly as big as Paris and its hotels and it is pretty nearly coextensive with the Parisian press, and through that, with the public opinion of the world.
The question of publicity and the Conference, as it has reached you through the cables, is really but one side of the problem. The world has been concerned with what the Conference would do to publicity. It has rather left out of account what publicity can do to the Conference. The fact is, of course, that from every side a feverish activity is being brought to bear on the proceedings at the Quai d’Orsay. It is propaganda, for the most part legitimately and openly carried on. The British delegation is living up to the reputation established by British talent for publicity during the war. Lord Robert Cecil, for example, with his passionate interest in the League of Nations, has kept in constant touch with our American and other Allied newspapermen. In London and repeatedly here in Paris he has conducted conferences with the reporters from which our men have come back tremendously influenced by the frankness, the sincerity, and the thorough likableness of this British aristocrat, with the shoulder-stoop and near-sighted gaze of the scholar. To Cecil his country is indebted for valiant service in behalf of something broader than the British scheme for a League of Nations: he has won the sympathy and confidence of our Americans for the British attitude as a whole. With Cecil, but working through the written word, stands Smuts, an idealist from the veldt, a soldier with the aspect of a self-contained business-man and the vision and language of a poet.
Other nations follow great Britain’s example. Orlando summons the newsmen and puts before them Italy’s case—a difficult case, as the Italians themselves recognize, in the face of the impression created by the secret treaties of 1915 and the world’s sympathy for the newborn Jugo-Slav nation. The newspapermen take tea with the Emir Feysal, son of the King of Hedjaz. The smaller national groups, Armenians, Lithuanians, Zionists, bring their case before the reporters, and so before the Conference. While waiting for the Conference to pass on the claims of the Greek nation, Venizelos lays hi brief before the public with a thoroughness and plausibility which are characteristic of the genius of the man. And even M. Pichon begins to hold converse with us.
Altogether I am far from convinced that the Conference will be allowed to carry out its programme without the help of the newspapers, or without their knowledge. It does not matter in just what way the public obtained access to the Pichon note of early January, in which he gave a categorical refusal to the British suggestion of a new Soviet policy. It is enough that the publication of the note blew the gilded lid off the ornate chambers in the Quai d’Orsay and hastened the formulation of a Russian programme which, personally, I do not consider very fruitful, but which was active, nevertheless. Nor must we overlook the facilities for applying pressure on the Conference which exist in the French Chamber of Deputies, where we may be sure that crucial decisions in the inner councils of the peace conferees will find their echo and their comment.
Subject to these influences and checks from inside and outside the body of the Conference, it is still true that the principal levels of world-reconstruction are in the hands of the three men who sit at the head of the green table—Clemenceau in the presiding officer’s chair, with Wilson on his right and Lloyd George on his left. And as one thinks back on the career of the three, the dramatic fact emerges, significant for the revolutionary times we live in, that all these men to whom the architecture of the new world is intrusted are of the type we have hitherto regarded as non-constructive, emotional, above or below the shrewd wisdom and the practical training which have been assumed to be essential for the governance of mankind.
Wilson is the college professor, the doctrinaire, the coiner of ‘vague’ formulas, and at home the representative of a political party which, on the record of fifty years of American history, had been written down as incapable of producing out of itself the highest statecraft. Clemenceau is the ‘Tiger,’ the wrecker of ministries and reputations, the Ishmael of politics and journalism, the man of bitter passions and venomous tongue—here surely was no preparation for the greatest constructive task in a century. Lloyd George is perhaps nearest, by force of his record as social legislator before the war and administrator of war-effort under Asquith, to the type of constructive statesmanship. But Lloyd George, too, is not so far away, in time, from the Limehouse days, but that his former friends can fling at him the epithet of demagogue which his present friends used so busily nine years ago; and now the demagogue is to rebuild the Empire on broader and deeper foundations.
The answer is found partly in the profound change which has come over the world and has made havoc of the ordinary constructive statesmanship of peace-times. This earlier practical wisdom did not avail to save the world from agony or to avert dissolution in half of Europe. After such a vast expenditure of blood, of treasure, and of human happiness, we cannot apply the standards of the ordinary peace-time budget to the labors of the newer men; just as, in the strain of our own war-effort, we could not apply the standards of peace economy to our munitions organizers, railroad managers, and ship-builders. The task of the three men is made easier for them by the fact that the world gives them a blank check for expenses. No errors they can make, so far as we can imagine, can conceivably compare with the tragic errors of statesmanship before the war. All over the world the Opposition, in the broadest sense, is in power.
But each of the three men has his own personality. Clemenceau, for all his forty years of destructive individualism, is now revealed as embodying in himself the qualities of a people which before this has manifested a genius for passing from criticism to motive energy, form destruction to construction. Clemenceau has called himself an inheritor of the principles and spirit of the great Revolution, and his career now completes the parallel with those great figures of 1789 who tore down savagely and rebuilt mightily. Those who know him well describe him as a man of far from transcendent intellect. Like his friend of forty years, Stephen Pichon, he is credited with a narrow intensity. But it was that very quality which was apparently wanted in the critical days of 1917, when Nivelle failed on the front, and Painlevé vacillated at home when disaster threatened the nation within and without. In such a time a narrow intensity may attain the fierce heat of the acetylene flame which burns away steel and removes mountains.
Clemenceau’s career is as characteristic of France as is Foch’s career. France is a land of muddle, but in the moment of crisis she has the genius for a supreme mobilization of mind and of energy. The Foch imagination, which read German defeat in the very flame of the German advance on the Somme and on the Marne, is paralleled by the energy of the man of seventy-six whose spirit drove that heavy, squat, short-limbed body through long hours of office-labor and those daily trips to the front, from which he brought back the cheerful communiqués which kept the soul of the nation alive. Nor can it be altogether a narrow soul which, even allowing for the exaltation of victory, could rise to that magnificent apostrophe in the Senate after the armistice, the ‘Allez donc, enfants de la patrie!’
In Lloyd George the process of transformation has been more gradual. The flame of energy and courage he always had—during the Boer War, when he faced embittered national sentiment at the peril of his life; and later, when his enemies called him demagogue because of his social budgets, which history will record as the beginning of his constructive career. Lloyd George grew more rapidly prudent than did Clemenceau. It was not altogether advancing years, but a ready susceptibility to changing influences, which his new enemies call demagoguery, but which his new friends attribute to his Celtic temperament. Mr. Wilson has played upon that Celtic temperament.
Yet in Lloyd George, as in Clemenceau, it is easy to discern the historic genius of a race manifesting itself. The British gift for moulding diverse temperaments to the destiny of the nation and the empire, which showed in Pitt and in Grey, in Disraeli and in Gladstone, is reflected in the picture one sees around the curve of the long peace-table, to the left of Clemenceau. There, beginning with Lloyd George, the line of British plenipotentiaries runs through Balfour and Bonar Law (Conservatives), Barnes (Laborite), the Dominions, represented by Briton, Boer, and Hindu, and tails off into the symbolic presence of two Arab princes from Hedjaz, who manifest the apparently inexhaustible capacity of British expansion. More than Woodrow Wilson’s or Clemenceau’s entourage, these associates of Lloyd George have a meaning. They limit and at the same time strengthen him. One feels that, if a Conservative Premier sat close at the left hand of Clemenceau, then, next to that Premier in such a crisis would sit a Liberal Foreign Minister. Here again is the talent for the general mobilization of a nation’s strength, though not so completely in a single individual, as France in Clemenceau.
In Lloyd George and Clemenceau one thinks primarily of the energy of action. In Woodrow Wilson I see embodied the energy of imagination, of insight, and of ultimate purpose. It is not necessary now to hark back to criticism of the Wilson tactics of ‘drift,’ before the outbreak of the war and before our entrance into the conflict. Drift for a time may be in accordance with plan. It may be a searching for ways to a goal. That Mexican policy of Woodrow Wilson’s, which has been to his enemies so comforting a revelation of purposelessness and indecision, has always been, to the present writer, an index of ultimate purpose, reached for painfully, if judged by the normal procedures of practical statesmanship, but relentlessly, nevertheless. Assume that the thing in the President’s mind with regard to Mexico was, first, to prevent our seizure of that country; assume that, in order to forestall such an event, it was necessary to set Mexico on the way to democratic order by eliminating Huerta, and the whole subsequent process justifies itself through all its apparent inconsistencies, vacillations, and legal fictions: the occupation of Vera Cruz that was not an occupation, the invasion that was not an invasion, the interference with Mexico’s internal affairs that was not interference. Once the Wilson aim is recognized as one of getting Huerta out before public exasperation in America forced our army in, we perceive Wilson’s policy staggering through a nightmare of international procedure to a fixed and justified purpose.
I have gone back at this length to Mexico, because the same understanding of the Wilson procedure, and the same faith in the worth of the ultimate purpose, are necessary here to-day, if we are to surmount the uncertainties and panics of the moment and give the President our support toward the winning of the goal.
We had our doubts here during the week before the opening of the Conference, when the little band of American newspapermen was waging its epic fight for a greater publicity. We were asking ourselves at that moment whether it was conceivable that the President, after giving to the world the slogan of open covenants openly arrived at, should have bent under the pressure of the old diplomacy. It seemed to me then that the only thing before us, while making the fight, was to assume that Mr. Wilson had done his best for us, and that, if he yielded, it was not, as his opponents hurried to assert, out of a constitutional vacillation, but out of a constitutional willingness to yield on the minor matter and keep his eye on the main purpose. At the present moment I am far from sure who won the battle for publicity—the American newspapermen or Clemenceau; I am inclined to think it was Clemenceau. But we can still keep our faith.
The same doubt rises up to-day in the Conference room, as we hear Clemenceau tell the representatives of the little nations that it is for the Great Powers to call the tune and for the rest to dance, with the best heart they can muster. One turns instinctively to where Woodrow Wilson sits, next to Clemenceau, and owners what his thoughts and feelings might be—he who has laid down the principle of democratic self-determination for the little peoples. I cannot give the answer. But my belief is that once more it is what his opponents may call vacillation, but what history will yet record as a yielding on the flank for the sake of victory in the centre. Faith is again necessary. But, after all, Mr. Wilson got Huerta, and it is my conviction he will get his real League of Nations.