On January 11, 1919, Prime Minister David Lloyd George bounded with his usual ener- gy onto a British destroyer for the Channel crossing. With his arrival in Paris the three key peacemakers, on whom so much depended, were finally in one place. Although he was still feeling his way with America’s Woodrow Wilson, Lloyd George had known France’s Georges Clemenceau on and off since 1908.
Their first meeting had not been a success. Clemenceau found Lloyd George shockingly ignorant, both of Europe and the United States. Lloyd George’s impression was of a ”œdisagree- able and rather bad-tempered old sav- age.” He noticed, he said, that in Clemenceau’s large head ”œthere was no dome of benevolence, reverence, or kindliness.” When the two men crossed paths again during the war, Lloyd George made it clear that there was to be no more bullying. In time, he claimed, he came to appreciate Clemenceau immensely for his wit, his strength of character and his passionate devotion to France. Clemenceau, for his part, developed a grudging lik- ing for Lloyd George, although he always complained that he was badly educated. He was not, said the old Frenchman severely, ”œan English gen- tleman.”
Each of the Big Three at the Peace Conference brought something of his own country to the negotiations: Wilson the United States’ benevo- lence, a confident assurance that the American way was the best, and an uneasy suspicion that the Europeans might fail to see this; Clemenceau France’s profound patriotism, its relief at the victory and its perpetual appre- hension of a revived Germany; and Lloyd George Britain’s vast web of colonies and its mighty navy. Each man represented great interests, but each was also an individual. Their failings and their strengths, their fatigue and their illnesses, their likes and dislikes were also to shape the peace settlements.
Lloyd George was made for poli- tics. From the hard work in the com- mittee rooms to the great campaigns, he loved it all. While he enjoyed the cut and thrust of debate, he was essen- tially good-natured. Unlike Wilson and Clemenceau, he did not hate his opponents. Nor was he an intellectual in politics. Although he read widely, he preferred to pick the brains of experts. On his feet there was no one quicker: he invariably conveyed a mas- tery of his subject. Once during the Peace Conference John Maynard Keynes and a colleague realized that they had given him the wrong briefing on the Adriatic. They hastily put a revised position on a sheet of paper and rushed to the meeting, where they found Lloyd George already launched on his subject. As Keynes passed over the paper, Lloyd George glanced at it and, without a pause, gradually modi- fied his arguments until he ended up with the opposite position to the one he had started out with.
Over the course of his career he became a superb, if unconventional, administrator. He shook established procedures by bringing in talented and skilled men from outside the civil service to run government departments, and he ensured the suc- cess of his bills by inviting all the interested parties to comment on them. He settled labor disputes by inviting both sides to sit down with him, normal enough procedure today but highly unusual then. ”œHe plays upon men round a table like the chords of a musical instrument,” said a witness to his settlement of a rail- way dispute, ”œnow pleading, now persuasive, stern, playful and minato- ry in quick succession.”
People have often assumed that, because Lloyd George opposed the Boer War, he was not an imperialist. This is not quite true. In fact, he had always taken great pride in the empire, but he had never thought it was being run properly. It was folly to try to manage everything from London and, he argued, an expensive folly at that. What would keep the empire strong was to allow as much local self-government as possible and to have an imperial policy only on the important issues, such as defense and a common foreign policy. With home rule-he was thinking of Scotland, his own Wales and the perennially trou- blesome Ireland as well-parts of the empire would willingly take on the costs of looking after themselves. (”œHome Rule for Hell,” cried a heckler at one of his speeches. ”œQuite right,” retorted Lloyd George, ”œlet every man speak up for his own country.”) The dominions-Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Newfoundland and South Africa-were already partly self-governing. Even India was moving slowly to self-government; but with its mix of races, which included only the merest handful of Europeans, and its many religions and languages, Lloyd George doubted it would ever be able to man- age on its own. He never visited India and knew very little about it but, in the offhand way of his times, he con- sidered Indians, along with other brown-skinned peoples, to be inferior.
In 1916, shortly after he became prime minister, Lloyd George told the House of Commons that the time had come to consult formally with the dominions and India about the best way to win the war. He intended, therefore, to create an Imperial War Cabinet. It was a wonderful gesture. It was also necessary. The dominions and India were keeping the British war effort going with their raw materials, their munitions, their loans, above all with their manpower-some 1,250,000 soldiers from India and another million from the dominions. Australia, as Billy Hughes, its prime minister, never tired of reminding every- one, had lost more soldiers by 1918 than the United States.
By 1916 the dominions, which had once tiptoed reverentially around the mother country, were growing up. They and their generals had seen too much of what Sir Robert Borden, the Canadian prime minister, called ”œincompetence and blundering stupid- ity of the whiskey and soda British H.Q. Staff.” The dominions knew how important their contribution was, what they had spent in blood. In return, they now expected to be consulted, both on the war and the peace to follow. They found a receptive audi- ence in Britain, where what had been in prewar days a patronizing contempt for the crudeness of colonials had turned into enthusiasm for their vigor. Billy Hughes became something of a fad when he visited London in 1916; women marched with signs saying ”œWe Want Hughes Back,” and a popu- lar cartoon showed the Billiwog: ”œNo War Is Complete Without One.” And then there was Jan Smuts, South Africa’s foreign minister, soldier, states- man and, to some, seer, who spent much of the later part of the war in London. Smuts had fought against the British fifteen years previously; now he was one of their most trusted advisers, sitting on the small committee of the British cabinet which Lloyd George set up to run the war. He was widely admired: ”œOf his practical contribu- tion to our counsels during these try- ing years,” said Lloyd George, ”œit is difficult to speak too highly.”
In the last days of the war Hughes and Borden were infuriated to dis- cover that the British War Cabinet had authorized Lloyd George and Balfour to go to the Supreme War Council in Paris to settle the German armistice terms with the Allies without bother- ing to inform the dominions. Hughes also strongly objected to Wilson’s Fourteen Points being accepted as the basis for peace negotiations-”a painful and serious breach of faith.” The dominion leaders were even more indignant when they discovered that the British had assumed they would tag along to the Peace Conference as part of the British delegation. Lloyd George attempted to mollify them by suggesting that a dominion prime minister could be one of the five British plenipotentiaries. But which one? As Hankey said, ”œThe dominions are as jealous of each other as cats.” The real problem over representation, as Borden wrote to his wife, was that the dominions’ position had never been properly sorted out. Canada was ”œa nation that is not a nation. It is about time to alter it.” And he noted, with a certain tone of pity, ”œThe British Ministers are doing their best, but their best is not good enough.” To Hankey he said that if Canada did not have full representation at the conference there was nothing for it but for him ”œto pack his trunks, return to Canada, summon Parliament, and put the whole thing before them.”
Lloyd George gave way: not only would one of the five main British del- egates be chosen from the empire, but he would tell his allies that the domin- ions and India required separate repre- sentation at the Peace Conference. It was one of the first issues he raised when he arrived in Paris on January 12, 1919. The Americans and the French were cool, seeing only British puppets-and extra British votes. When Lloyd George extracted a grudging offer that the dominions and India might have one delegate each, the same as Siam and Portugal, that only produced fresh cries of outrage from his empire colleagues. After all their sacrifices, they said, it was intolerable that they should be treated as minor powers. A reluctant Lloyd George persuaded Clemenceau and Wilson to allow Canada, Australia, South Africa and India to have two plenipotentiaries each and New Zealand one.
The British were taken aback by the new assertiveness in their empire. ”œIt was very inconvenient,” said one diplomat. ”œWhat was the Foreign Office to do?” Lloyd George, who had been for home rule in principle, dis- covered that the reality could be awk- ward, when, for example, Hughes said openly in the Supreme Council that Australia might not go to war the next time Britain did. (The remark was sub- sequently edited out of the minutes, but South Africa raised the question again.) Britain’s allies watched this with a certain amount of satisfaction. They might be able to use the domin- ions against the British, the French realized with pleasure, when it came to drawing up the German peace terms. House took an even longer-term view: separate representation for the dominions and India in the Peace Conference, and in new international bodies such as the League of Nations and the International Labour Organization, could only hurry along ”œthe eventual disintegration of the British Empire.” Britain would end up back where it started, with only its own islands.
It was a British Empire delegation (and the name was a victory in itself for the fractious dominions) that Lloyd George led to Paris. With well over four hundred officials, special advisers, clerks and typists, it occupied five hotels near the Arc de Triomphe. The largest, and the social center, was the Hotel Majestic, in prewar days a favorite with rich Brazilian women on clothes-buying trips. To protect against spies (French rather than German), the British authorities replaced all the Majestic’s staff, even the chefs, with imports from British hotels in the Midlands. The food became that of a respectable railway hotel: porridge and eggs and bacon in the mornings, lots of meat and vegetables at lunch and dinner and bad coffee all day. The sac- rifice was pointless, Nicolson and his colleagues grumbled, because all their offices, full of confidential papers, were in the Hotel Astoria, where the staff was still French.
Security was something of an obsession with the British. Their letters to and from London went by a special service that bypassed the French post office. Detectives from Scotland Yard guarded the front door at the Majestic, and members of the delegation had to wear passes with their photographs. They were urged to tear up the con- tents of their wastepaper baskets into tiny pieces; it was well known that at the Congress of Vienna, Prince Talleyrand, the French foreign minis- ter, had negotiated so successfully because his agents assiduously collect- ed discarded notes from the other del- egations. Wives were allowed to take meals in the Majestic but not to stay- yet another legacy of the Congress of Vienna, where, according to official memory, they had been responsible for secrets leaking out.
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Lloyd George chose to stay in a luxurious flat in the Rue Nitot, an alleyway that had once been the haunt of ragpickers. Decorated with wonder- ful eighteenth-century English paint- ings-Gainsboroughs, Hoppners and Lawrences-the flat had been lent him by a rich Englishwoman. With him he had Philip Kerr and Frances Stevenson, as well as his youngest daughter and favorite child, the sixteen-year-old Megan. Frances was her chaper- one, or perhaps it was the other way around. Balfour lived one floor above and in the evenings he could hear the sounds of Lloyd George’s favorite Welsh hymns and black spirituals drifting up.
At the Majestic each inhab- itant was given a book of house rules. Meals were at set hours. Drinks had to be paid for unless, and this was a matter for bitter comment, you came from one of the dominions or India, in which case the British government footed the bill. Coupons were avail- able, but cash was also accepted. There was to be no running up of accounts. Members of the delegation were not to cook in their rooms or damage the fur- niture. They must not keep dogs. A doctor (a distinguished obstetrician, according to Nicolson) and three nurs- es were on duty in the sick bay. A bil- liard room and a jardin d’hiver were available in the basement for recre- ation. So were a couple of cars, which could be booked ahead. There was a warning here: windows had already been broken ”œthrough violent slam- ming of doors.” There was another warning too: ”œAll members of the Delegation should bear in mind that telephone conversations will be over- heard by unauthorised persons.”
”œVery like coming to school for the first time” was the opinion of one new arrival. ”œHanging about in the hall, being looked at by those already arrived as `new kids,’ picking out our baggage, noting times for meals, etc., tomorrow-very amusing.” If the British were the masters and the matrons, the Canadians were the senior prefects, a little bit serious perhaps, but reliable; the South Africans were the new boys, good at games and much admired for their sporting instincts; the Australians the cheeky ones, always ready to break bounds; the New Zealanders and Newfoundlanders the lower forms; and then, of course, the Indians, nice chaps in spite of the color of their skin, but whose parents were threatening to pull them out and send them to a pro- gressive school.
The Canadians, well aware that they were from the senior dominion, were led by Borden, upright and hand- some. They took a high moral tone (not for the first time in international relations), saying repeatedly that they wanted nothing for themselves. But with food to sell and a hungry Europe at hand, the Canadian minister of trade managed to get agreements with France, Belgium, Greece and Rumania. The Canadians were also caught up in the general feeling that borders had suddenly become quite fluid. They chatted away happily with the Americans about exchanging the Alaska panhandle for some of the West Indies or possibly British Honduras. Borden also spoke to Lloyd George about the possibility of Canada’s tak- ing over the administration of the West Indies.
The main Canadian concern, however, was to keep on good terms with the United States and to bring it together with Britain. Part of this was self-interest: a recurring nightmare in Ottawa was that Canada might find itself fighting on the side of Britain and its ally Japan against the United States. Part was genuine conviction that the great Anglo-Saxon powers were a natural alliance for good. If the League of Nations did not work out, Borden suggested to Lloyd George, they should work for a union between ”œthe two great English speaking com- monwealths who share common ancestry, language and literature, who are inspired by like democratic ideals, who enjoy similar polit- ical institutions and whose united force is sufficient to ensure the peace of the world.”
South Africa had two out- standing figures: its prime minister, General Louis Botha, who was overweight and ailing, and Jan Smuts. Enthusiastic supporters of the League and moderate when it came to German peace terms, they neverthe- less had one issue on which they would not compromise: Germany’s African colonies. Smuts, who helped to draw up Britain’s territorial demands, argued that Britain must keep East Africa (what later became Tanganyika and still later part of Tanzania) so that it could have the continuous chain of colonies from south to north Africa which the Germans had so inconveniently blocked. He also spoke as a South African imperialist. His country must keep German Southwest Africa (today’s Namibia). Perhaps, he sug- gested, Portugal could be persuaded to swap the southern part of its colony of Mozambique on the east side of Africa for a bit of German East Africa. South Africa would then be a nice compact shape with a tidy border drawn across the tip of the continent.
Australia was not moderate on any- thing. Its delegation was led by its prime minister, Billy Hughes, a scrawny dyspeptic who lived on tea and toast. A fighter on the Sydney docks, where he became a union organizer, and a veteran of the rough- and-tumble of Australian politics, Hughes made Australia’s policies in Paris virtually on his own. He was hot- tempered, idiosyncratic and deaf, both literally and figuratively, to arguments he did not want to hear. Among his own people, he usually listened only to Keith Murdoch, a young reporter whom he regarded as something of a son. Murdoch, who had written a report criticizing the British handling of the landings at Gallipoli, where Australian troops had been slaugh- tered, shared Hughes’s skepticism about British leadership. (Murdoch’s own son Rupert later carried on the family tradition of looking at the British with a critical eye.) On certain issues, Hughes probably spoke for pub- lic opinion back home: he wanted lee- way to annex the Pacific islands which Australia had captured from Germany, and nothing in the League covenant that would undermine the White Australia policy, which let white immi- grants in and kept the rest out.
Lloyd George, always susceptible to the Welsh card, which Hughes played assiduously, generally found the Australian prime minister amus- ing. So did Clemenceau. He thought that Hughes, who stood for firmness with Germany, would be a good friend to France. Most people found Hughes impossible. Wilson considered him ”œa pestiferous varmint.” Hughes in return loathed Wilson: he sneered at the League and jeered at Wilson’s principles. New Zealand shared Australia’s reservations about the League, although less loudly, and it, too, wanted to annex some Pacific islands. Its prime minister, William Massey, was, according to one Canadian, ”œas thick headed and John Bullish as his appearance would lead one to expect and sidetracked the dis- cussion more than once.”
Then there was India. (It was always ”œthe dominions and India” in the official documents.) India had been included in the Imperial War Cabinet along with the self-governing dominions thanks to its participation in the war. But its delegation did not look like that of an independent nation. It was headed by the secretary of state for India, Edwin Montagu, and the two Indian members, Lord Satyendra Sinha and the Maharajah of Bikaner, were chosen for their loyalty. In spite of the urgings of various Indian groups, the Indian government had not appointed any of the new Indian nationalist leaders. And in India itself, Gandhi’s transformation of the Indian National Congress into a mass political movement demanding self-government was rapidly making all the debate about how to lead India gently toward a share of its own gov- ernment quite academic.
The British were to find the pres- ence of so many dominion statesmen in Paris a mixed blessing. While Borden faithfully represented the British case in the committee dealing with the borders of Greece and Albania, and Australia did the same with respect to Czechoslovakia, it was not quite such smooth sailing when the dominions had something at stake. Lloyd George had already con- fronted his Allies on behalf of his dominions and he would have to con- front them again. It was not a compli- cation he needed as the laborious negotiations began.
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