The Peace Negotiations: A Personal Narrative

by Robert Lansing. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin Co. 1921. 8vo, pp. vi + 328. $3.00.
‘ Now it can be told.’ So thinks the late Secretary of State as he hurries to join the ranks of those who, for personal or partisan reasons, seek to belittle America’s part in the war and the peace. His book is not a history of the peace negotiations, but a recital of his personal differences with President Wilson. In Mr. Lansing’s case the provocation was great, because of the unfortunate manner in which he was asked to resign; but he has placed the satisfaction of a personal grievance above his plain duty to his country.
He speaks of ’the conduct of Mr. Bullitt, who had held a responsible position with the American Commission at Paris, in voluntarily repeating a conversation which was from its nature highly confidential ; but it does not seem to occur to the author that he is doing the same thing, voluntarily repeating highly confidential conversations with the President. Mr. Bullitt, likewise, was out of office when he volunteered to violate confidences. If it be urged that Mr. Lansing has the right some day to publish his story, now is surely not the time, while the Treaty and Covenant, with his own signature on them, are still matters of international as well as domestic discussion, and while American policy in relation to them remains undefined. Intent on justifying himself, he forgets all international considerations.
The obligation laid on retired officials in such matters has been admirably expressed by Mr. Lansing’s father-in-law, the late John W. Foster, in his book on The Foundations of Diplomacy: ‘ It has been well said that a diplomatist, who necessarily assumes confidential relations to his government, is not at liberty to dissolve that confidential connection for his own vindication. . . . There is no doubt that such conduct is immoral in political ethics and to be severely condemned.'
If Mr. Lansing’s volume does not reveal him as a large man, neither does it make him out a great secretary. Great secretaries play the game or resign. Whether he or the President was right in specific matters, is a question that time alone can decide. The principal points of difference are staled to be: the President’s going to Paris; the nature of the League and the inclusion of the Covenant in the Treaty; the guaranty treaty with France; the lack of a definite programme for the American Commissioners; ‘secret diplomacy’; and Shantung. If the President had followed his Secretary’s advice by staying in Washington, Mr. Lansing would have been head of the American delegation, and on his own showing this would have created an impossible situation. Not only
was he opposed to self-determination, but his idea of a league of Nations centred about a court with no ‘teeth’ in it or other means of enforcing peace, so that he was unfitted from the start to work for the kind of a league which the President desired, and consequently unwilling to make any of the compromises which the President made in order to secure it. It was inevitable that he should early drop out of the discussions at Paris, and should dislike the Treaty at the end. How little he understands the real difficulties of the negotiations or the amount of preliminary work required is seen in his naïve belief that, if only his ideas of procedure had been accepted, adequate preliminary treaties could have been signed within a few weeks, covering all territorial questions, as well as the fundamental problem of reparation, which is still unsettled. Mr. Lansing believes honestly that his advice should haw been taken. Another alternative would have been to leave him at home.
There remains the delicate question of truth. Have we the whole truth in this “personal narrative,’or must we await something fuller and more impersonal? Besides various memoranda. Mr. Lansing prints a few extracts from his diary. We need the whole diary, and more, in order to judge the fundamental questions, why and when the Secretary lost the President’s confidence. Did Mr. Lansing ever offer his resignation before it was called for? Until all the facts on this point are before us, we are left wondering whether the Secretary’s resignation ought not to have been offered and promptly accepted before the President sailed for France.
C. H. H.