From the Publisher
“The history of the 1919 Paris peace talks following World War I is a blueprint of the political and social upheavals bedeviling the planet now. . . . A wealth of colorful detail and a concentration on the strange characters many of these statesmen were keep [MacMillan’s] narrative lively.”
—The New York Times Book Review
“MacMillan’s book reminds us of the main lesson learned at such a high cost in Paris in 1919: Peace is not something that can be imposed at the conference table. It can grow only from the hearts of people.”
—Los Angeles Times
“Beautifully written, full of judgment and wisdom, Paris 1919 is a pleasure to read and vibrates with the passions of the early twentieth century and of ours.”
—San Francisco Chronicle
“MacMillan is a superb writer who can bring history to life.”
—The Philadelphia Inquirer
“For anyone interested in knowing how historic mistakes can morph into later historic problems, this brilliant book is a must-read.”
A joke circulating in Paris early in 1919 held that the peacemaking Council of Four, representing Britain, France, the U.S. and Italy, was busy preparing a "just and lasting war." Six months of parleying concluded on June 28 with Germany's coerced agreement to a treaty no Allied statesman had fully read, according to MacMillan, a history professor at the University of Toronto, in this vivid account. Although President Wilson had insisted on a League of Nations, even his own Senate would vote the league down and refuse the treaty. As a rush to make expedient settlements replaced initial negotiating inertia, appeals by many nationalities for Wilsonian self-determination would be overwhelmed by rhetoric justifying national avarice. The Italians, who hadn't won a battle, and the French, who'd been saved from catastrophe, were the greediest, says MacMillan; the Japanese plucked Pacific islands that had been German and a colony in China known for German beer. The austere and unlikable Wilson got nothing; returning home, he suffered a debilitating stroke. The council's other members horse-traded for spoils, as did Greece, Poland and the new Yugoslavia. There was, Wilson declared, "disgust with the old order of things," but in most decisions the old order in fact prevailed, and corrosive problems, like Bolshevism, were shelved. Hitler would blame Versailles for more ills than it created, but the signatories often could not enforce their writ. MacMillan's lucid prose brings her participants to colorful and quotable life, and the grand sweep of her narrative encompasses all the continents the peacemakers vainly carved up. 16 pages of photos, maps. (On sale Oct. 29) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
On his trip to China in February 1972, President Richard Nixon exclaimed in a toast to his hosts that his visit, the first such trip by an American President, was "the week that changed the world." However, Nixon, who considered the opening of China his greatest achievement, didn't bask in his glory for long because Watergate would soon put him on the defensive for the remainder of his presidency. MacMillan (history, Univ. of Toronto; Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World) presents a lively narrative of the people, diplomacy, and pomp of this memorable visit, which was orchestrated as much by National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger and Premier Zhou En-Lai as it was by Nixon and Mao. Although the visit did not resolve the major issue for the People's Republic (reunification of Taiwan with mainland China) and for the United States (terminating the Vietnam War), Nixon's visit ended decades of Chinese diplomatic isolation from most of the world and began an important Cold War-era dialog between the two nations. The author is especially good at providing historical background on China and showing how the trip's aftermath reverberated among such American allies as Britain, Taiwan, Australia, and Japan and within its Cold War nemesis, the Soviet Union. Recommended for all public and academic collections.
From Canadian historian MacMillan (Women of the Raj, not reviewed), a lively and thoughtful examination of the conference that ended the war to end all wars. After more than four years of carnage on a scale the world had never before seen, WWI ended with an exhausted Germany asking the exhausted Allies for an armistice based on American President Woodrow Wilson's idealistic formula for a just peace. The resulting Paris Peace Conference of 1919 aimed at redrawing the map of a Europe in which the Russian, German, Austro-Hungarian, and Ottoman Empires lay ruined, and rearranging a world in which new nations were struggling to emerge from those moribund colonial empires. Diverse characters came to Paris, including British Arabist T.E. Lawrence, Greek patriot Eleutherios Venizelos, Poland's Roman Dmowski, and Japan's Prince Saionji, but MacMillan (History/Univ. of Toronto) focuses on the complex relationships among the three disparate personalities who dominated the Conference: Wilson, French premier Georges Clemenceau, and British prime minister David Lloyd George (the author's great-grandfather). Bringing them vividly to life, MacMillan reviews the conference's considerable failures and accomplishments. In hindsight, the punitive disarmament and reparation terms imposed upon Germany and the accommodation of Japanese claims to Pacific territory can be seen as setting the stage for the rise of those nations' militarism. The creation of colonial mandates in the Mideast and betrayal of Arab nationalists who had fought for the Allied cause led to tensions that plague the world today. However, MacMillan disputes that the Paris arrangements led directly to WWII; decisions made afterward, sheargues, were more significant. The peacemakers made mistakes, she concedes, but "could have done much worse." Among the Conference's real achievements were the fashioning of seven European countries and Turkey out of the detritus of failed empires, the development of an International Labor Organization, and the creation of the League of Nations, which presaged the rise of the United Nations. Absorbing, balanced, and insightful narrative of a seminal event in modern history.
Read an Excerpt
Woodrow Wilson Comes to Europe
On december 4, 1918, the George Washington sailed out of New York with the American delegation to the Peace Conference on board. Guns fired salutes, crowds along the waterfront cheered, tugboats hooted and Army planes and dirigibles circled overhead. Robert Lansing, the American secretary of state, released carrier pigeons with messages to his relatives about his deep hope for a lasting peace. The ship, a former German passenger liner, slid out past the Statue of Liberty to the Atlantic, where an escort of destroyers and battleships stood by to accompany it and its cargo of heavy expectations to Europe.
On board were the best available experts, combed out of the universities and the government; crates of reference materials and special studies; the French and Italian ambassadors to the United States; and Woodrow Wilson. No other American president had ever gone to Europe while in office. His opponents accused him of breaking the Constitution; even his supporters felt he might be unwise. Would he lose his great moral authority by getting down to the hurly-burly of negotiations? Wilson's own view was clear: the making of the peace was as important as the winning of the war. He owed it to the peoples of Europe, who were crying out for a better world. He owed it to the American servicemen. "It is now my duty," he told a pensive Congress just before he left, "to play my full part in making good what they gave their life's blood to obtain." A British diplomat was more cynical; Wilson, he said, was drawn to Paris "as a debutante is entranced by the prospect of her first ball."
Wilson expected, he wrote to his great friend Edward House, who was already in Europe, that he would stay only to arrange the main outlines of the peace settlements. It was not likely that he would remain for the formal Peace Conference with the enemy. He was wrong. The preliminary conference turned, without anyone's intending it, into the final one, and Wilson stayed for most of the crucial six months between January and June 1919. The question of whether or not he should have gone to Paris, which exercised so many of his contemporaries, now seems unimportant. From Franklin Roosevelt at Yalta to Jimmy Carter or Bill Clinton at Camp David, American presidents have sat down to draw borders and hammer out peace agreements. Wilson had set the conditions for the armistices which ended the Great War. Why should he not make the peace as well?
Although he had not started out in 1912 as a foreign policy president, circumstances and his own progressive political principles had drawn him outward. Like many of his compatriots, he had come to see the Great War as a struggle between the forces of democracy, however imperfectly represented by Britain and France, and those of reaction and militarism, represented all too well by Germany and Austria-Hungary. Germany's sack of Belgium, its unrestricted submarine warfare and its audacity in attempting to entice Mexico into waging war on the United States had pushed Wilson and American public opinion toward the Allies. When Russia had a democratic revolution in February 1917, one of the last reservations that the Allies included an autocracy vanished. Although he had campaigned in 1916 on a platform of keeping the country neutral, Wilson brought the United States into the war in April 1917. He was convinced that he was doing the right thing. This was important to the son of a Presbyterian minister, who shared his father's deep religious conviction, if not his calling.
Wilson was born in Virginia in 1856, just before the Civil War. Although he remained a Southerner in some ways all his life‹in his insistence on honor and his paternalistic attitudes toward women and blacks he also accepted the war's outcome. Abraham Lincoln was one of his great heroes, along with Edmund Burke and William Gladstone. The young Wilson was at once highly idealistic and intensely ambitious. After four very happy years at Princeton and an unhappy stint as a lawyer, he found his first career in teaching and writing. By 1890 he was back at Princeton, a star member of the faculty. In 1902 he became its president, supported virtually unanimously by the trustees, faculty and students.
In the next eight years Wilson transformed Princeton from a sleepy college for gentlemen into a great university. He reworked the curriculum, raised significant amounts of money and brought into the faculty the brightest and the best young men from across the country. By 1910, he was a national figure and the Democratic party in New Jersey, under the control of conservative bosses, invited him to run for governor. Wilson agreed, but insisted on running on a progressive platform of controlling big business and extending democracy. He swept the state and by 1911 "Wilson for President" clubs were springing up. He spoke for the dispossessed, the disenfranchised and all those who had been left behind by the rapid economic growth of the late nineteenth century. In 1912, at a long and hard-fought convention, Wilson got the Democratic nomination for president. That November, with the Republicans split by Teddy Roosevelt's decision to run as a progressive against William Howard Taft, Wilson was elected. In 1916, he was reelected, with an even greater share of the popular vote.
Wilson's career was a series of triumphs, but there were darker moments, both personal and political, fits of depression and sudden and baffling illnesses. Moreover, he had left behind him a trail of enemies, many of them former friends. "An ingrate and a liar," said a Democratic boss in New Jersey in a toast. Wilson never forgave those who disagreed with him. "He is a good hater," said his press officer and devoted admirer Ray Stannard Baker. He was also stubborn. As House said, with admiration: "Whenever a question is presented he keeps an absolutely open mind and welcomes all suggestion or advice which will lead to a correct decision. But he is receptive only during the period that he is weighing the question and preparing to make his decision. Once the decision is made it is final and there is an absolute end to all advice and suggestion. There is no moving him after that." What was admirable to some was a dangerous egotism to others. The French ambassador in Washington saw "a man who, had he lived a couple of centuries ago, would have been the greatest tyrant in the world, because he does not seem to have the slightest conception that he can ever be wrong."
This side of Wilson's character was in evidence when he chose his fellow commissioners‹or plenipotentiaries, as the chief delegates were known‹to the Peace Conference. He was himself one. House, "my alter ego," as he was fond of saying, was another. Reluctantly he selected Lansing, his secretary of state, as a third, mainly because it would have been awkward to leave him behind. Where Wilson had once rather admired Lansing's vast store of knowledge, his meticulous legal mind and his apparent readiness to take a back seat, by 1919 that early liking had turned to irritation and contempt. Lansing, it turned out, did have views, often strong ones which contradicted the president's. "He has," Wilson complained to House, who noted it down with delight, "no imagination, no constructive ability, and but little real ability of any kind." The fourth plenipotentiary, General Tasker Bliss, was already in France as the American military representative on the Supreme War Council. A thoughtful and intelligent man who loved to lie in bed with a hip flask reading Thucydides in the original Greek, he was also, many of the junior members of the American delegation believed, well past his prime. Since Wilson was to speak to him on only five occasions during the Peace Conference, perhaps that did not matter.
The president's final selection, Henry White, was a charming, affable retired diplomat, the high point of whose career had been well before the war. Mrs. Wilson was to find him useful in Paris on questions of etiquette.