- Paperback: 624 pages
- Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks (2003)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0375760520
- ISBN-13: 978-0375760525
- Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.4 x 9.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 400 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #20,656 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World
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“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.”
From the Inside Flap
"New York Times Editors' Choice
Winner of the PEN Hessell Tiltman Prize
Winner of the Duff Cooper Prize
Silver Medalist for the Arthur Ross Book Award
of the Council on Foreign Relations
Finalist for the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award
For six months in 1919, after the end of "the war to end all wars," the Big Three--President Woodrow Wilson, British prime minister David Lloyd George, and French premier Georges Clemenceau--met in Paris to shape a lasting peace. In this landmark work of narrative history, Margaret MacMillan gives a dramatic and intimate view of those fateful days, which saw new political entities--Iraq, Yugoslavia, and Palestine, among them--born out of the ruins of bankrupt empires, and the borders of the modern world redrawn.
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Incredibly well researched and written this is an entertaining and fascinating book that brings to light the immense political pressures and difficulties faced by the Allies who were negotiating the fate of the world. It makes it clear that while the intentions were good as evidenced by Wilson's 14 points ( included as an appendix) , real world considerations and political jousting created the need for compromises and decisions that ultimately had tragic consequences. The author concludes that history has simplified these complex factors into essentially a formula that blames the stringent terms of the Treaty Of Versailles on what was to follow in Germany and lead to the rise of Hitler ,and makes a sound case that the reality and circumstances were much more complicated. From the Middle East to Eastern Europe to Africa and Asia the horse trading and decisions made in these fateful days , so well described in these pages, have echoed down the decades and many of those decisions shape the world we still live in almost 100 years later.
Wilson's dream of a league of nations fairly constituted of nations of self -determined peoples seems naive in retrospect; a case of good intentions colliding with reality that had innumerable and still not fully realized long term implications.
Richard Holbrooke, who masterminded the Dayton agreement and went on to tell the tale in To End a War, prefaced Margaret MacMillan's book for a reason: as a negotiation practitioner, he studied the Paris Peace Conference of 1919, as he did other international gatherings such as the Geneva talks that led to the end of the Vietnam war and in which he participated as a junior diplomat. This gave him practical insights to stage the Dayton negotiations that are the topic of his aforementioned book. Every detail mattered to him: the shape of the negotiating table (during the 1968 peace talks the Americans had wasted two months arguing over it with the North Vietnamese), the setting of the compound, the choice of audio channels for translation, the eating arrangements, etc. He may have borrowed from Paris in 1919 the recourse to "proximity talks", whereby the mediator moves between the different parties who rarely meet one another face-to-face. This negotiating technique was used for some sessions of the Paris peace conference, as chronicled by MacMillan.
It is said that success is 10 percent talent, and 90 percent hard work. In international negotiations, much of the hard work occurs behind the scenes. Logistics plays a key part, although protocol agents and technicians are not often granted full credit for their contribution. Minor decisions—seating arrangements, the quality of the interpretation, the place where the delegations reside and the way they occupy their leisure time—all have important consequences over the outcome of a negotiation. The names of the treaties that stood up as products of the Paris Peace Conference—Versailles, Trianon, St. Germain, Neuilly and Sevres—all refer to posh places in the outskirts of Paris where meetings were gathered and documents were signed. These locations have kept their charm and distinctiveness to this day. They are certainly not the places that the French have in mind when they use the word “la banlieue,” although they are technically part of it.
The reason Versailles was chosen as a location to sign the treaty with Germany was to wipe out the humiliation that had been imposed upon France by the Prussian victors in 1871. The signing ceremony itself proved a logistical conundrum. Each of the Great Powers was awarded sixty places in the Hall of Mirrors at the Versailles Palace. This gave rise to a hunt for tickets, some of them going at exorbitant prices on the black market. The press corps was also in attendance, and it was the first time a signing ceremony was filmed by cameras. Everything was conceived to humiliate the Germans. The train that brought them to France slowed down when it crossed the devastated battlefields where the war of trenches had been fought. In Versailles, they were quarantined in the barracks where French leaders had stayed in 1871 while they negotiated with Bismarck. After one week, they were summoned to the Trianon Palace Hotel to be handed out the text of the treaty, with only a fortnight to take it or leave it. The terms were so harsh that even members of the British and the American delegations, including John Maynard Keynes, resigned in protest. At the gallerie des glaces, on June 28th, the two German delegates stood erect, heartsick, as if the hour of death had rang. An American compared the scene to a Roman triumph, with the defeated being dragged behind their conqueror's chariots.
Even so, Margaret MacMillan makes the case that the Treaty of Versailles was not excessively harsh on Germany. It certainly didn't cause World War II. In Germany, the Diktat (“dictated treaty”) took the blame for all that was wrong with the economy: high prices, low wages, unemployment, taxes, inflation. But the reparations, which were set afterwards in 1921 and then continuously revised downward, were not a devastating blow: in the final reckoning, Germany paid less to the Allies than what France, with a much smaller economy, paid Germany after the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71. The disarmament clauses didn't prevent the Weimar Republic and then the Third Reich to rearm on the sly. The “war guilt clause,” Article 231, which was denounced by German nationalists as the most shameful act of the “peace of shame,” was a standard clause that was also put in the treaties with Austria and Hungary, without becoming an issue.
Other treaties negotiated during the Paris conference had more earth-shaking consequences. Empires disappeared, new nations were created, borders were redrawn, cities acquired special status. The treaty of St. Germain officially registered the breakup of the Habsburg Empire, recognizing the independence of Czechoslovakia, Poland, Hungary, and the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes (Yugoslavia) and ceding eastern Galicia, Trento, southern Tirol, Trieste, and Istria. It reduced Austria to a small state of 8 million people and allocated former non-German speaking territories to the new states of Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia. Under the treaty of Trianon, Hungary lost over two thirds of its territory to Yugoslavia, Romania and Czechslovakia. With the treaty of Neuilly, Bulgaria lost about 10 percent of its land, including the southern Dobrudja and what it still had of western Thrace, along with its access to the Aegean. The treaty of Sevres abolished the Ottoman Empire and obliged Turkey to renounce all rights over Arab Asia and North Africa. Its Middle Eastern Territories were handed to British and the French as League of Nations mandate. Britain gained mandate of Iraq and Palestine. France gained mandate of Lebanon and Syria.
In judging the performance of the peacemakers, a general law seems at work: the closer the territory, the more attention was paid to find workable solutions and equitable outcomes. The farther away from Paris (and from Western Europe), the more catastrophic the outcomes proved to be. The Great Leaders particularly botched their job when they dealt with non-European places, of which they knew little. Japan was allowed to pursue its land-grabbing policy in the Far East. In the Middle East, the seeds of future conflicts were sown, to which there seems to be no end in sight, even today. Even on the European continent, negotiators fell prey to national stereotypes and ethnic profiling. MacMillan reflects on their nineteenth-century preconceptions with a delight that shows these categories are still active in the twenty-first century: “The Poles were dashing and brave, but quite unreasonable; the Rumanians charming and clever, but sadly devious; the Yugoslavs, well, rather Balkan. The Czechs were refreshingly Western.”
But even if Versailles and, to a letter extend, St. Germain, Trianon, Neuilly and Sevres are remembered as the outcomes of the peace negotiations, most of the action took place in Paris. This is where logistics comes in again, and what gives the French their main asset for hosting international conferences: Paris will always be Paris. Margaret MacMillan makes a great job of recreating the atmosphere that surrounded the delegates who took part in the negotiation: diplomats of course, but also outside experts such as intelligence officers (all the hotel rooms were rumored to be tapped), university professors whose expertise on regions and ethnicities was often kept idle, Wall Street bankers such as Thomas Lamont and Paul Baruch, journalists emboldened by Woodrow Wilson's point that “open covenants of peace” should be “openly arrived at”, and interlopers of various stripes who claimed to represent the interests of faraway nations and peoples. Almost exclusively men, they found in Paris a promiscuous atmosphere where many distractions were offered: the races at St. Cloud, excellent restaurants if you could afford the price, shows at the Opera, revues and cabarets, and ballroom dancing. As MacMillan notes coyly, “attractive women had a wonderful time in Paris that year.”
Wherever the Paris Climat 2015 conference turns out to be a one-in-a-century event or a flop, there are some lessons to be learned from the “six months that changed the world” in Paris 1919. As Holbrooke notes in his foreword, flawed decisions can have terrible consequences, many of which haunt us to this day. Therefore, instead of playing God and taking part in the Creation, designers of a new international order should apply simple rules to limit the negative consequences of their acts: minimize regret, encourage reversibility, build in flexibility and adaptability, defer some decisions in time while front-loading others, go for low-hanging fruits and early harvests, etc. Most importantly, beware general principles, slogans and catchwords. Nowadays climate change negotiators have to grapple with the “common but differentiated responsibility” principle, which sheds more darkness than light. In 1919, the buzzword was “self-determination” which was invoked like a mantra by all parties but offered little help in choosing between competing nationalisms. “Of all the ideas Wilson brought to Europe,” writes MacMillan, “this concept of self-determination was, and has remained, one of the most controversial and opaque (…) Did he really intend that any people who called themselves a nation should have their own state?” This interrogation is still valid today: with 16,000 existing ethnic groups (by some accounts), can one imagine a world with a similar number of independent polities?
As for logistics, it is interesting to note that most of COP21 negotiations will take place in “la banlieue”: not the bourgeois cities of the south-west of Paris, where most of the post-WWI treaties were signed, but in the convention center of Le Bourget Airport, north-northeast of Paris, in the department of Seine-Saint-Denis. This will certainly contribute to the reshaping of the image of France abroad. In 1919, foreign delegates were impressed by Parisian insouciance, joie de vivre, and flirtatious promiscuity. For Puritan Americans whose country was entering Prohibition, the description of Parisian life brought back by delegates and journalists created dual reactions of attractions and repulsion. While a generation of rich American expatriates and bohemians settled in Paris to lead a life of sinful pleasure, others were confirmed in their isolationist tendencies by this image of decadent Old Europe. Similarly, Seine-Saint-Denis now stands in the mind of many Americans as synonymous with Muslim immigrants, derelict housing projects, urban riots, and the failure of the French republican model of integration. My sincere hope is that the success of the Paris Climat 2015 conference may eventually contribute to dispel such stereotypes and to give a more positive image of twenty-first-century France.