January 18, 1919: Paris Peace Talks open, ending World War I

Coming just after World War I, stuck rather at the beginning of the end of the Progressive Era, the Paris Peace Conference that led to the Treaty of Versailles gets shorted in most history books.

The talks are difficult to explain easily.  And serious dipping of toes into these historical waters turns up the errors of the resulting treaty, including the onerous provisions saddled on Germany, and the oft-portrayed-as-betrayal of the Arabian allies of the Allies, whose lands were carved up with formal borders creating new nations where tribes previously didn’t bother with such formalities.  The treaty’s errors in Europe resulted in World War II, and the treaty’s errors in the Middle East plague the world still.

Woodrow Wilson took his 14 Points to France, won some  of them with the Europeans, but later lost the entire ballgame with the U.S. Senate.  His frantic, public campaign for ratification of the Treaty probably contributed to his stroke, which left him disabled for the remainder of his presidency and the rest of his life.

No wonder people want to forget it.

We’re coming up on the 100th anniversary of World War I, which started with the June 1914 assassination of  Austria’s Crown Prince, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, in Sarajevo, formerly in the Republic of Serbia but at the time under the captive thumb of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Maybe we should strive to understand the Paris Peace Conference better, to better understand how we got into those messes, and how we might yet get out of the remaining ones.

The Library of Congress’s Today in History feature carries this very nice, concise write-up:

The Paris Peace Conference

Portions of Territory Proposed to be taken from Germany,
December 31, 1919.
Newspaper Pictorials: World War I Rotogravures, 1913-1919

On January 18, 1919, a few months after the end of World War I, leaders from the Allied nations began a series of discussions that became known as the Paris Peace Conference to settle issues raised by the war and its aftermath. Preceded by a series of armistices in September, October, and November 1918, that ended World War I, the Paris Peace Conference brought together representatives from the victorious nations. Russia had withdrawn from the fighting and was not invited. Because Allied leaders held Germany responsible for the war, German leaders attended only the conclusion of the discussions.

Preliminary meetings between the leaders began on January 12, 1919, after British Prime Minister David Lloyd George arrived in Paris.  Lloyd George, President Woodrow Wilson of the United States, Premier Georges Clemenceau of France, and Premier Vittorio Orlando of Italy emerged as the leaders of the conference and became known as the Big Four. The conference ended approximately one year later when the League of Nations, an international organization adapted from one of President Woodrow Wilson‘s Fourteen Points plan for peace, was organized.

political cartoon showing two men, one gesturing towards the other
The seance that failed,
C. K. Berryman, artist,
circa 1918-19.
Prints & Photographs Online Catalog

group of four men standing outside a building

“Big Four” — Photo by Edward Jackson.
Photo shows “Big Four” world leaders at World War I Peace Conference in Paris, May 27, 1919. From left to right: Prime Minister David Lloyd George, Premier Vittorio Orlando, Premier Georges Clemenceau, and President Woodrow Wilson.
Forms part of: George Grantham Bain Collection (Library of Congress).  Prints & Photographs Online Catalog

political cartoon of a man looking at a large scroll of paper labeled peace treaty
At Last!,
C. K. Berryman,
July 10, 1919.
Prints & Photographs Online Catalog

Wilson’s idealistic Fourteen Points generated heated opposition from Clemenceau and Lloyd George in particular as each disagreed on the details of how to proceed. Eventually, however, the League of Nations was formed in 1919-20 as an alternative to traditional diplomacy. The United States did not join, in part because of opposition and disagreement among a group of powerful U.S. senators led by Foreign Relations Committee Chair Henry Cabot Lodge. The discussions also resulted in the 1919 signing of the Treaty of Versailles with Germany, the Treaty of Saint-Germain with Austria, and the Treaty of Neuilly with Bulgaria.


9 Responses to January 18, 1919: Paris Peace Talks open, ending World War I

  1. Black Flag® says:

    You do not “stand up” to aggression by increasing it.

    The war was over. The US restarted it.

    Do not appeal to “bravery” then as if -somehow- it cures the stupidity of the action.


  2. Ed Darrell says:

    Stupidity doesn’t turn brave men into evil men, good men into evil men either. You argue, in effect, that failing to stand up against aggression would be better in the long run.

    That is not our experience in history.


  3. Black Flag® says:

    Didn’t say it was.
    It was a European war, not an American one.

    With the entry of the US into this mess, it began a series of events which will likely be the end of Western Civilization.

    Your missive pretends that the US entry ended such use of such weapons, obviously laughable given the US did all those things then and now, and worse (nuclear weapons). You pretend to be so high-and-mighty and pure.

    Bravery of stupid men does not turn evil into good.


  4. Ed Darrell says:

    It’s not as if it were a delicate little war with Germany leading the Forces of Light until the bad old USA got involved, you know?

    I’ll not accuse you of endorsing the use of mustard gas, chlorine gas, genocidal enslavement, terror bombings by dirigible and being anti-Serb; I’ll then thank you for extending a similar courtesy to my not-explained-here views on World War I, its ridiculous start, the U.S.’s late involvement, the bravery of U.S. troops, the stupidity of trench warfare, the lessons about why imperialism should die contrasted with the lessons of a few advantages of worldwide trade encouraged by empires, and the poetry of Joyce Kilmer and John McCrae, and the century-long conflict between communism and capitalism.

    Most of which has little to do with a post that merely remembers the opening of the talks in Paris — the point of which was to stir thought, but not rant.


  5. Black Flag® says:

    …and peace WAS achieved; the US breaking the armistice ensured a future war…


  6. Black Flag® says:

    Then what you agree with is the slaughter of 100 million people for your failed God called “Democracy”.

    Eastern Europe and most of Asia enslaved…. as if Democracy is some supreme ideal….


  7. Ed Darrell says:

    Most historians tend to agree the reparations clauses were the big errors — clauses the U.S. opposed.

    But on the whole, I can’t get too worked up over the U.S. having tipped the scales slightly for more democratic tendencies in Europe, and away from aggression as an accepted tool of international relations. Yes, the peace was botched — easy to botch a peace. A very bad peace is always preferable to a very good war.


  8. Black Flag® says:

    The disaster following WW1 actually starts with the US entry into the war.

    If US did not enter, detente was absolutely likely, with all warring parties retreating to post-war borders.

    Germany felt betrayed. She agreed to the armistice – which meant a termination of any buildup of arms, men and materials – and the US broke it by landing a million more troops – creating an intractable condition on “Peace talks” that were more of “you agree or we’ll attack”.

    The world still suffers from this.


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