“Paris 1919, Six months that changed the world” , by Margaret MacMillan was an “Illuminating, engrossing, honest, and thoroughly engaging story. Macmillan provides generous amounts of background material and sometimes wide-ranging ‘aftermaths’ on given issues. She deals with most of Europe and much of Asia as well as Africa and North America occasionally, and addresses the full swing of events from the 1918 Armistice until the 1923 treaty of Lausanne.
Between January and July 1919, after ‘The War to End All Wars,’ men and women from around the world connected to Paris to shape the peace.
As MacMillan notes, the Paris Peace Conference was disorganized, both in the early times of small powers before the Council of Ten and in the later sessions of the Council of Four. MacMillan chose to follow this inefficiency and present issues more chronologically than of topics. She started with the League of Nations, which was an international organization established after World War I under the provisions of the Treaty of Versailles.
Then, added related problems that began as is predictable but does not discuss the tense battle over a racial equality clause in the League Covenant until a chapter on Japan, presumably because the question reached crisis amounts in April, though it had risen earlier. Once Macmillan gets to the topic about Paris, she often sets an issue up and then jumps shortly to the outcome, skimping how and why it was reached.
Next, MacMillan talks about how Serbia and Rumania appeared early before the Council of Ten, the first three territorial chapters deal with Yugoslavia, Rumania, and Bulgaria, even though none of these were addressed in the first treaty completed, that of Versailles.
In a summary often repeated, MacMillan writes almost twelve pages about that topic. About ten pages in the Yugoslavian chapter to the background; which provides a limited four pages for some of Serbia’s territorial claims, the views of the powers, a departure, and an abrupt record of the upshot without any warning of how or why these results were achieved; and ends with a paragraph on the long-term aftermath without noting that resultant Yugoslavia was a heavily handicapped patchwork of non-compatible peoples, legal systems, and railways.
The question of the Banat is left to the next chapter on Rumania. More importantly, the forcefully contentious issue over the port of Fiume, claimed by Italy but the only feasible Yugoslav commercial port, is not mentioned until much later in a chapter on only Italy, who left the conference over this issue. That departure moved the remaining Council of Three to authorize a crucial Greek occupation of Smyrna in Anatolia.
Next, political historians’ experts in the peace conference know the trail from Fiume to Smyrna and more, but others may get lost along the way. Macmillan offers almost no opinions or non-biased discussions on the other treaties, she breaks several long-standing traditions about the Versailles treaty with Germany. Macmillan announces strongly that a real downfall was not brought home to the German people, that the power of the peacemakers was limited, that they were not responsible for the falling of Europe which stopped workers, and that the barricade did not make Germany starve. More importantly, neither the Versailles treaty nor France was hostile. Most importantly, while acknowledging that the peacemakers made errors, particularly outside Europe, Macmillan rightly asserts that the Versailles treaty was not primarily responsible for either the next twenty years or for World War II. The Treaty of Versailles was a peace document signed at the end of World War 1 by the Allied and associated powers and by Germany in the Hall of Mirrors in the Palace of Versailles, France, on June 28, 1919; it took force on January 10, 1920.
In a chapter on reparations, by examining through recent learning, Macmillan tackles the question chiefly from Lloyd George’s shifting points of view and dodges an assumption as well as some key reasons needed for clarity, such as why the Belgian case to be paid war costs was stronger than that of France.
In the last German chapter, the Saar and Rhineland are settled, with the Fontainebleau Memorandum in their midst. Macmillan concludes that Georges Clemenceau did well for France, but otherwise offers no summary or assessment here, as elsewhere. Four readings of the German section have produced no clear impression of a viewpoint or picture of what the terms added up to, partly because some questions were still unsettled at the end of April and partly because MacMillan reserves her brief views until after the Middle Eastern section of the book.
The Paris Peace Conference, held in 1919, as a result of World War I. At the time, the entire world looked at this conference as a solution to end poor economies, help countries regain their power and overall insert peace throughout the world. Although there were twenty-nine countries involved in the conference the ‘Big Three,’ which included President Woodrow Wilson, British Prime Minister David Lloyd George, and French premier Georges Clemenceau, were the main leaders. With them they brought the liveliest of their team from their countries, this included treasurers, people high up in government, and anyone who could help make decisions that proved beneficial for all sides. In the story, Macmillan describes the Big three as: “Wilson, the United States’ benevolence, 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 apprehension 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.” (68)
Even though the three men spent much of their time together, they had different views of each other, which MacMillan goes into detail about in the book. This included Clemenceau’s hatred for Lloyd George. He also viewed Wilson as Jesus and George as Napoleon in one of his analogies, which did not pass and this created problems in the setting of Japan holding power in China. Other issues addressed were Arab independence, Ataturk and the breaking of Sevres, creating terms with Germany and the Balkans. Finally, in May of 1919, the League of Nations was putting the final touches of the German Treaty. To a significant degree, MacMillan focuses on the Big Three. Sadly, Italy and Japan receive moderately the short end of the stick. Macmillan delays long and gently on Lloyd George. To Macmillan, Wilson comes off poorly, as does Soncino; clearly, she finds both to be unappealing individuals. She is nicer and fairer to Clemenceau than her predecessors but, does not fully capture his personality. Overall, the book is written from an Anglo-American point of view, but for the most part, Anglo. A lot of British Francophobic is quoted. For all that, there is a genuine understanding of France’s doubts and dilemmas.
In conclusion the novel ‘Paris 1919’ was a long and drawn-out story. It is not a book one may think can finish in one day, it may take time to understand what is going on. In the story MacMillan says, “The glories of the past compensated for the imperfections of the present.” (447) which means if it was not for the past, the things that happen in the present would not be the same.