The Inside Story of the Peace Conference
by Harper and Brothers. 1920. 8vo, xii+513 pp. $2.50.. New York:
THIS title promises too much to pass without a challenge. But it is fair to say that Doctor Dillon has told one inside story of the Peace Conference — and in many ways a more intimate version than even the masters of the Conference could tell, or will prove to have written if their memoirs are ever published. These men had little or no previous preparation for their task; the author knows Europe, and he knew the actors at Paris as perhaps no other man since de Blowitz has known their kind. Ambassadors, premiers, and even crowned heads were to him coffee and cigarette acquaintances; their problems, prejudices, and ambitions were already an old story in his ears. So he viewed the clash of events at the great, blundering, futile gathering from a mental background in which a thousand confidential conversations with the men who have guided the recent history of Europe, and decades of personal familiarity with their lands and peoples, had painted vivid memories.
The book is a crushing indictment of the methods and the results of the Conference; but the very mastery of facts that makes it so, at the same time makes it unsymmetrical and incomplete. For the work of the Conference must also be viewed in the light of a new vision, which the author does not always have. His book is the complement to Mr. Keynes’s Economic Consequences of the Peace. Where Keynes throws into relief the economic, Dillon throws into relief mainly the political aspects of the attempted settlements. As Keynes has been charged with favoring Germany, Dillon — though condemning with equal definiteness the economic failures of the treaties — will perhaps be charged with unduly pressing the political claims of the small nations. Indeed, the central chapters of his book are a compendium of the respective cases of the minor and middle-sized powers, as they were presented, or should have been presented, to the momentary shapers of world-destinies — had the latter not preferred intuitions to positive knowledge.
Dillon is more condemnatory of Wilson, Lloyd George, and Clemenceau than is Keynes, touching with the acid of his criticism their ignorance and incapacity rather than their good intentions. His charges are usually more definite and precise in respect to particular incidents than those of Keynes, and are made vivid by a constant succession of dialogues and anecdotes which enliven the sober discussions of his book. The total effect is certainly not heartening for the reader.
The first four chapters, and especially the picture of Paris flaunting the midnight revelries of prodigal diplomats in the face of the demobilized poilus, contain passages likely to be quoted and requoted by historians. Subsequent events may bestow permanent interest on the author’s allusions to the sentiment of the soldiers returning hopefully from the front, to be met by the discouragement of unheated homes, scant rations, and tedious waiting in dreary rain-beaten bread-lines, from which, late at night, they caught glimpses of the glare and glamour of theatres and luxurious restaurants, patronized by those who had profited by the war, — or were comfortably dallying about its settlement at government expense, — without having endured its hardships.
A suggestion of the righteous wrath of a Salvianus sometimes inspires these pages, conventionalized though they be by quotations from the daily press. There are allusions to the intrigues of big capital and of men intent on sordid gain, from which America and its representatives do not emerge with unspotted hands. These should have been more specific. Apparently the author’s association with the ruling classes of Eastern Europe has left him with strong anti-Semite prejudices. He describes with an acrid pen the stupidities of super-secret diplomacy — and the blunders of the censorship.
As to the Treaty of Versailles Doctor Dillon says: ‘It was shaped neither by the Fourteen Points nor by the canons of the balance of power and territory. It was hardly more than an abortive attempt to make a synthesis of the two. Created by force, it could be perpetuated only by force; but if symptoms are to be trusted, it is more likely to he broken up by force. . . .
‘Whatever tests one applies to the work of the Conference, — ethical, social, or political, — they reveal it as a factor eminently calculated to sap high interests, to weaken the moral nerve of the present generation, to fan the flames of national and racial hatred, to dig an abyss between the classes and the masses, and to throw open the sluice-gates to the inrush of the waves of anarchistic internationalities.’
V. S. C.