Paris

ON THE WORLD TODAY

THE gentlemen came to talk of peace. Their French hosts provided them with pretty little blue lapel pins ornamented with a white dove, olive branch, and gold scroll stamped “Conférence de Paris, 1946.” (The pins were made in April, before the Russians agreed to call it a peace conference.) But after the delegates began talking on July 29, the sounds issuing from the Luxembourg Palace seemed much more prophetic of war than of peace.

In making specific provisions for peace with Italy, Finland, and the Balkans, the unanimity of the great powers, created by common necessity during the war and barely maintained during the founding of the United Nations, finally collapsed. The fundamental cause of the break was the conflicting conceptions of the organization of the post-war world. Each point of view was defended idealistically — but each was calculated to give its supporters the controlling voice in world councils.

As the division became more manifest, it was reflected in harsher words around the peace table and in political power moves elsewhere in the world, notably Russian demands on Turkey and United States remarks to Yugoslavia. These might be dismissed as customary maneuvers preliminary to driving a hard bargain for peace, but it remained a question of how often public opinion could be inflamed without having people become resigned to another war.

As long as delegates went on talking, ominous as the sounds might be, the situation was not hopeless. One wise diplomat expressed earnestly and privately the hope that this might be a hundred-year peace. He implied that this peace conference and those to deal with Germany and Japan might last that long — keeping peace without making it. Annoying and even dismaying as it might be, the laborious talk of peace was better than any other apparent alternative.

But in the absence of any assurance of peace and in the presence of a finally evident division, the world was engaged in a struggle that would lead no one knew where. Always inherent in relations between the Russian and the Western bloc, the contest began in the Council of Foreign Ministers, where the United States refused to agree to anything more than tentative rules of procedure. The conflict came into the open at the peace conference of twenty-one nations when the Big Four started amending tentative agreements previously reached and calling for support of countries within their blocs.

For the championship of the world

Once the punching had started, it was a clear encounter between the United States and the Soviet Union. The fiction of a clash between small and great powers was ended. The farce of the debate between Australia and the Ukraine was dropped.

The United States took the initiative, perhaps not wisely and certainly not well. Byrnes saw fit to engage the Russians in open combat in meetings of the Committee on Procedure even before the conference had organized its work. Although the immediate result was a ritual fifteen-to-six victory for Byrnes’s point of view whenever a single small issue came to vote, the long-range effect in terms of peace or war could not be calculated from the show of hands.

Early in the conference Byrnes startled the delegates by rising to attack the Russians. He charged them with trying to dictate rules of procedure to the conference by their insistence on a two-thirds vote for any conference recommendation. He complained that Molotov’s little-publicized remarks of the previous day, criticizing his support of majority rule for conference recommendations, were a personal attack. He challenged Molotov to “secure or permit” publication of his statement in the Soviet press.

Byrnes wrote that speech the evening before its delivery. It was carefully weighed and rehearsed. But it sounded ill-advised and even petulant to some of its hearers, particularly the passage about its publication in the Soviet Union. This challenge could be regarded by the Russians as an attempt to use freedom of information at the conference to attack the Soviet leaders in such a way that the Russian people would hear of it.

If that was Byrnes’s intent, it misfired. Molotov rose to ad lib his reply defending the principle of unanimity among the great powers and accepting Byrnes’s challenge to publish his speech in Russia. It was published textually there as a shirttail to Molotov’s reply, and if it had any effect it was only to increase Soviet suspicion that the goal of the United States foreign policy was to overthrow the Soviet regime.

After the Western bloc put through the rule that a simple majority vote should suffice for conference recommendation, Byrnes defended Italy and Greece against the criticism to which they had been subjected by Russia, and made a fundamental expression of United States policy of economic equality among nations.

This speech received a generally better welcome. It was dismissed less effectively by the Soviet delegation with the reminder that the day’s agenda was devoted to other subjects: the Balkans and Finland — not Italy and Greece.

In his first three-day turn as chairman of the conference, Byrnes again became involved personally with the Russians over the question of whether they should have the right to reply to addresses made by representatives of former enemy nations. For once the Russians were on the side of freedom of speech, insisting on the privilege of immediate reply to enemies, while Byrnes wanted to restrict debate.

This time he went down to ignominious defeat. Without knowledge of the minutes of the previous meeting and ill-advised by the international secretariat, he thought debate should be limited to hearing enemy states. But the Russians, better informed, proved that the conference had already agreed to hear a general discussion of the position of enemy states.

Byrnes’s aid — Bohlen

Through all this period a curious paradox was noted by many observers. While speaking, Byrnes assumed a marked resemblance to the late President in the tilt of his head, inflections of his voice, and gestures of his hand. But the policy he expounded of rivalry with the Soviet Union was the opposite of Roosevelt’s wartime policy of cooperation with Russia.

At Byrnes’s side in committee meetings and just behind him in the chair at the plenary sessions was Charles E. “Chip" Bohlen, a young career diplomat who was also with Roosevelt at Teheran and Yalta. Bohlen was an interpreter for Roosevelt, but his duties for Byrnes were more extensive. Privately he dismissed his own position as “legman” for the Secretary of State. But his whispered translations in committee meetings and his advice in plenary sessions influenced the Secretary strongly.

Bohlen is one of the leaders of the State Department group who feel that the best way to do business with the Russians is to be rough with them. Because he understands everything that goes on in English, French, and Russian and possesses a photographic memory and unparalleled knowledge of all that led up to Paris, he has been one of the most important members of the United States delegation.

It must be acknowledged that each attack on the Russians was occasioned by what our delegates considered misrepresentation of the American position and motives. Thus Mr. Byrnes’s speech at Stuttgart, our most forthright pronouncement on Germany since Potsdam, was framed as a reply to Molotov’s statement of July 10 before the Council of Foreign Ministers. Russia now knows where we stand.

The harried host

Bidault proved to be a nervous host. He is much overworked trying to guide his own country through a difficult period of governmental coöperation between the Communists, Socialists, and the Popular Republican Movement, reflecting the divergencies of the international situation; also trying to direct the debate on a constitution for the Fourth French Republic as well as presiding at the peace conference. Through a microphone which he did not realize was live, he remarked once as he mounted the tribune, “I hope they don’t keep me on this perch for long.”

When Byrnes made his first frontal attack on Molotov in a plenary session, Bidault returned peevishly from what he had planned to be his first day of rest at the presidential chateau at Rambouillet to make a conciliatory address warning against an outbreak of recriminations. Bidault, like his country, served as an elegant host but an ineffectual mediator.

The light that failed

Two other personalities which shone brightly during the earlier peace deliberations failed to display their anticipated light in Paris. Bevin, absent the first two weeks because of illness, stayed in his hotel room during the third week and, after a brief appearance at the Luxembourg, returned home. Evatt made a few characteristically bluff speeches in Australian, but he was chastised at the very start by the Russians, who proposed Ethiopia instead of Australia for membership to the Secretariat as a “calmer” nation — Australia being “too temperamental.” Evatt then proceeded more calmly, supported the Russians on several minor points, and went home for elections.

The eclipse of these persons could be considered more or less permanent. In the peace negotiations other figures are moving to the fore. It is particularly noticeable that Vishinsky, best known as prosecutor of the purge trials but also an experienced international lawyer and diplomat, carried more and more of the Russian burden. Byrnes, having no such highpowered assistant, did his own talking.

Among the smaller powers Spaak won applause for skillful conduct as chairman of the Procedure Committee; Manuilsky, amiable former leader of the Comintern, confirmed the impression of strength he made at San Francisco and at London.

The procedural phase of the conference was succeeded by a period of general debate during which former enemies were permitted to present their points of view. To hear them tell it, they were the best friends of the Allies; when quarreling among themselves they were their own worst enemies.

This period produced the absurdity of a defeated nation, Bulgaria, demanding territory from a victorious ally, Greece. This was possible only because the enemies had become the instruments of some of the Allies. Greece was the favorite target of the Russian bloc, being the easternmost projection of the Western bloc. But that much harassed country was strongly supported by the West.

With procedure settled, the conference passed to the actual committee work on provisions of the peace treaties. There the great powers showed more unanimity in the clauses which they had already agreed to in the Council of Foreign Ministers. But those were small things. In the broader field of international coöperation, seeds of suspicion had already taken deep root.

The Western powers had succeeded in whittling down the voting procedure to the majority they could always obtain, but the veto still existed. Everything done here had to go back again to the Council of Foreign Ministers for final unanimous approval. In the meantime the barrier between the East and the West had grown higher.

The good old summertime

All this came to pass in a Paris empty as it had not been since June, 1940, when it went to the Germans. For the first time in seven years Parisians found the time and means to go on vacations. August, the traditional vacation month in France, brought the familiar pre-war aspect of shuttered shops, closed restaurants, and deserted streets.

For many of the French, vacation means business. Empty Paris indicated the revival of one of France’s most important trades, tourism. Between August 10 and 15, some 750,000 persons left Paris by train. The highways were crowded with thousands of dilapidated vehicles released from cobwebbed garages because special permits were no longer needed.

Out at resorts a paradoxical situation prevailed. Every available room was occupied, yet hotelkeepers complained that there was little business. The reason was that many large seaside hotels, cemented up by the Germans as part of the Atlantic Wall, were not yet ready for occupancy. Visitors also were not eating in expensive casinos and hotels, but in the more modest restaurants.

Deauville had a brilliant season with the casino operating at full blast, the best hotels open, and the beach ingeniously restored, even to the point of using a German pillbox as a bonbon shop. Trouville, just across the Touques River on the English Channel, was less spectacular, many of its hotels still being closed, but it also drew a considerable crowd.

Prices rivaled the fanciest Paris black-market figures. A careless client could easily find himself confronted with a dinner bill of one thousand francs per person, which is almost a week’s salary for a petit fonctionnaire. Many of those who left Paris by train carried bicycles, got off in the country, and proceeded under their own power.

Bumper crop

Another common complaint was the weather. The summer was damp and cool for vacationers but it was splendid for the harvest. The wheat crop was expected to total seven to eight million tons, which is two million more than last year. The countryside bulged with a wealth of fruit and vegetables. The livestock appeared to be completely reconstituted.

When vacationers returned to Paris they found the physical situation improved miraculously over the previous year. Food rationing had become a simple nuisance rather than a matter of restriction. A common explanation for its continuance was that the United States insisted that France retain rationing as a condition of the financial loan. Electricity, which was severely limited last winter, was distributed without restriction as a result of the filling reservoirs of the Alps and Pyrenees.

All of this was physical improvement. France was recovering externally. But internally there were still fear and uncertainty over the future. That depended on the gentlemen in the Luxembourg Palace.