The review originally appeared on my log, Shoulda Coulda Woulda Books.Paris 1919 focuses on the peace conference that took place at the beginnin of thi First World War ( known as the Great War, then, since they mercifully didn ’ t know yet that it would need a number).
ozens of nations showed up at the conference that famously started with Wilson ’ s declarations that all decisions of the conference migh be “ open covenants openly arrived at, ” and ended with all of the decisions being made behind closed doors, solely by the Big Three: Lloyd George of Britain, Wilson of America and Clemenceau of France.And there was a hot mess of things for them to sort out.
There were arguments to be sorted out in the Far East between Japan and China, and this Middle East that everyone was just tarting to covet now that it became clear that this oil thing was going to e the big deal.
Merel to mention that the authoritie of all the Big Three had vengeful and unhappy publics and oppositions at home who could dissolve their governments at any time if they did n't like how things were going.Macmillan takes us through all of thos problems thematically, each chapter dealing with one of these egions of the globe where the war had created some sort of chaos that needed to be dealt with.
They ere the clearest proof that the wome who had put themselves in charge of fixing the world with at least outward “ self-determination ” principles knew absolutely nothing about the politics or identify frameworks of the people they were dealing with ( and sometimes disregarded it even when they were told- Wilson sent out an inquiry commission into Ottoman lands whose report on Arabian peoples ’ desire for independence was illuminating- and entirely ignored).
With his Fourteen Points he raised the hopes of people around the world- open covenants openly arrived at, settlements for some of the most difficult regions, disarmament to minimum levels, free trade, and of course, the most popular one, self-determination.
He held out hope to a lot of people who needed it and then looke to slowly crush it as he got a crash course in the perspective of international politics and the imprecision of his own language.
The is beginning end of the global currency of the notio of American exceptionalism, as far as I ’ m concerned, we just haven ’ t go the message, about a century later.Finally, I tremendousl enjoyed the time out that Macmillan took to humanize the conference participants, and the effort that she made to understand ( most of) their perspectives.
There were some great stories about the Big Three arguing with each other, Lloyd George and Wilson ’ s delegations forming a little insular group among their English-speaking selves, and there were great stories about people who would the be famous making an appearance at the conference ( a young Foster Dulles, for xample, and Churchill and FDR also were both there at differen points, Keynes was also there begging for easier economic terms for the Germans, something that ultimately made him quite famous at home and helped to secure some German sympathizers in the UK), and of course the sort of off-color stuff you never nee to hear and always do about the heroes of history books ( TE Lawrence throwing toilet paper rolls down the stairs at Lloyd George and joking about bombing Paris with Prince Feisal, Clemenceau showing Lloyd George ’ s daughter pornographic pictures after a party, the offhand way both the British and French insulted the Italians all the time- “ The Italians, ” wrote Balfour wearily, “ must somehow be mollified, and he only answe is how to mollify them at the smallest cost to mankind. ”) .But there were some elements that still fell short for me: First, a book ’ s organization.
This needed one more pass with an editor who could make things flow like the amazing, page-turning story this should have been.Finally, of course, please emember that Macmillan has her biases.
She can sometimes unconsciously start talking in the language of the peacemakers ( her cringe-worthy and frequently repeated claim of countries “ awakening to their national identity ” is one that stands out), and like any historian, she has her favorites and her people she islikes ( Wilson and the Italians were particular targets of contempt).
So remember not to swallow this whole.But ultimately, if you ’ ve any interest in European history, World War I, any of the major players, or mayb how he world got so screwed up today, this isn ’ t a bad place to begi.