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Rarely Does a Book Make Me Angry -- This One Did

By nature, I am not one to be easily swayed.  Nor am I given to embrace conspiracy theories--I am convinced that Lee Harvey Oswald assassinated JFK acting alone.  I am not impressed by sensational or tabloid journalism, typical of our day.  I am pretty much set in my political opinions, as well as how I see and understand America's role in the modern world.

Therefore, it is rare when an author provokes me to anger, and causes me to re-think opinions I've long held, and in which I was once fairly settled.  David A. Andelman's book A Shattered Peace:  Versailles 1919 and the Price We Pay Today made me mad.  I can honestly say this book forced me to think long and hard about America's role in forming the modern world--a role which led to a very flawed and failed treaty (Versailles), which set in motion a series of tragic events which brought about the death of millions (in a second World War, and a host of cataclysmic events including the Bolshevik revolution, the unending Arab-Israeli conflict), the re-ordering of the lives of millions more, and all with a callous indifference which will (and should) shock readers not previously aware that such a thing actually took place.

Thankfully, I am not as impressionable as I might have been back in my college days.  Had I read this book then--instead of protesting Jane Fonda's visit to my college campus--I might have joined with those burning the American flag and cheering her on.  There is much here which is disillusioning.

A Shattered Peace recounts the world-changing events which transpired during the days of the Paris Peace Conference in 1919, and which culminated in the disastrous Treaty of Versailles.  Many of our nation's actions and motives during the months when the modern world was formed in the Quai d`Orsay in Paris are troubling.  In a very compelling manner, David Andelman describes the jaded "we know better" attitudes and patterns in American and Western European diplomacy which produced the Treaty of Versailles--attributes which persist down to the present day, and which can still found throughout the diplomatic/strategic visions of each of the last four American presidential administrations (Republican and Democrat). 

The story Andelman tells is not pretty.  A Shattered Peace is not the typical left-wing attack upon American foreign policy under Republican Presidents Nixon, Reagan, and the Bushes.  In fact, the book is endorsed by two of America's most capable diplomats, Henry Kissinger and Richard Holbrooke, who acknowledge that the very-flawed Treaty of Versailles "cast a long shadow."  Andelman aims at the father of American progressivism, Woodrow Wilson, whom Andelman describes as the epitome of virtue and naivete.  Andelman exposes Wilson's stubborn arrogance as the critical factor in the "America knows best" mindset with which the peace conference opened.  But Wilson was not alone in creating the disaster of Versailles.  Wilson was simply in over his head when dealing with the long-standing diplomatic culture of Europe--Realpolitik.  Woodrow Wilson was like the rich but clueless guy folks invite to their poker parties--knowing they can shake him down and he'll be none the wiser, despite his losses.

Great Britain and France initially saw Wilson as the sole bright light in a very dark place--Wilson was thought to have a genuine solution to ending the years of war, with horrific casualties and the undoing of the previous order of things.  But then Britain's David Lloyd-George and France's George Clemenceau manipulated and outmaneuvered Wilson repeatedly--forcing Wilson into compromise after compromise of the very principles Wilson claimed were inviolate.  According to Andelman, Wilson's "Fourteen Points–under whose banner American boys had gone to war, and often to their deaths on the battlefields and France and Belgium–were eviscerated by America’s own allies, all of whom had come to Paris with their own particular priorities.  None of these involved self-determination, territorial integrity, or the various freedoms on which the Points were based.”  (David Andelman, A Shattered Peace, 318). 

In fact, says Andelman,

“the document [Wilson] took home with him from Paris was profoundly flawed in almost every respect.  It failed to embrace any of the elevating moral vision that he had brought over with him.  In his efforts to win acceptance by the allies of his beloved league of nations [Article Fourteen], he compromised at virtually every turn with respect to the world he and his fellow peacemakers were creating.  Then, after returning to Washington with this perverted vision, he compounded the felony with a categorical refusal to entertain a single amendment or reservation to the treaty from the Republican-controlled Senate.  Many of these amendments, ironically, would have restored some of the goals that Wilson had surrendered in Paris.”  Andelman, A Shattered Peace, 318).

Not only was Wilson blissfully unaware of how badly he played the game, the game itself was beyond the pale--European imperialists dividing up the world as though they were playing a game of Risk.  The haphazard nature of the process of settling national boundaries after the Great War, especially in the Middle East after the fall of the Ottoman Empire, was cynically described by Harold Nicolson, a young British diplomat at Versailles, in his diary (cited by Andelman).

A heavily furnished study with my huge map on the carpet.  Bending over it (bubble, bubble, toil and trouble) are Clemenceau, Lloyd George and PW.  They have pulled up armchairs and crouch low over the map . . . . They are cutting the Baghdad railway.  Clemenceau says nothing during all of this.  He sits at the edge of his chair and leans his two blue-gloved hands down upon the map.  More than ever does he look like a gorilla of yellow ivory . . . . It is appalling that these ignorant and irresponsible men should be cutting Asia Minor to bits as if they were dividing a cake . . . . Isn’t it terrible, the happiness of millions being discarded in that way?  Their decisions are immoral and impracticable . . . . These three ignorant men with a child to lead them . . . . The child I suppose is me.  Anyhow, it is an anxious child.  ( A Shattered Peace, 1-2)

It is hard to imagine the leader of the free world (Woodrow Wilson) and the representatives of the two victorious great powers (Lloyd-George and Clemenceau) down on their hands and knees, looking at a huge map, dividing up the world, and creating artificial nations and spheres of influence, which had never before existed (i.e., Iraq) and which have greatly troubled the world since.

Among the consequences of the Versailles treaty, Andelman describes the following:

  • Arbitrarily determining the boundaries of Rumania, Hungary, and Bulgaria, which led to great strife and conflict among these nations in the years to follow 
  • Versailles recognized the new nations of Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia, yet left scores of ethnic minorities in new countries, cut-off from their former nations.  This included millions of ethnic Germans in Poland and the Sudetenland, virtually guaranteeing Der Fuhrer's occupying them by peace or by force
  • China sought self-government, but Wilson sold them out due to his concern that Japan would not endorse the League of Nations
  • The Balfour Declaration and the establishment of a Jewish homeland (not a state) in Palestine.  This issue has not been settled since
  • Redrawing the map of the entire Middle East--producing endless conflict and a resurgence of militant Islam
  • And then, of course, there were the economic reparations required of Germany, which ensured that Germany would go to war against Britain and France again because of the injustice of it all

I could go on and on, but am getting angry again just thinking about how three men (Italy was there too, but not nearly as active) and their staffs of ill-informed and aggressive political wannabes carved up the world, without a clue as to what they were doing, and how many millions of lives their decisions would impact.

You get the point--the Treaty of Versailles was an unmitigated disaster.  David Andelman's A Shattered Peace recounts the whole gory process and the consequences of it all--all the way down to the formation of ISIS.

What makes me angriest perhaps, is that much of American foreign policy since continues to demonstrate that our politicians and diplomats have not learned these lessons, and far too often we read of our foreign policy folks continuing with the arrogant "we know better" attitude which create and fuel many of the conflicts they are now attempting to resolve!  If we don't know our own history, we are doomed to fail.

I began this review with my own experience of protesting Jane Fonda during my college days, precisely because Andelman recounts the story of a young man (a waiter and sous-chef) from French Indo-China.  The young man witnessed first-hand the behind the scenes events at Versailles, and was glibly turned away by staffers, when he tried to get a hearing with the participants about how his own people ought to be delivered from French Colonial rule.  Disillusioned by what he saw and thoroughly exasperated, the young man made the journey to St. Petersburg to learn what he thought might be a better way.  He would sit at the feet of Lenin and Trotsky.  That young man was Nguyen Ai Quoc.  We know him today as Ho Chi Minh.  Versailles' long shadow extends all the way to the Vietnam War.

Sadly, A Shattered Peace is marred by typos, the presence of computer code, and editor's symbols.

Read it, and weep.  It is a sad and tragic story, but of vital importance.

Reader Comments (9)

But is this any different, Kim, from, say Yalta? It seems there is a long history of victor's "justice."
June 11, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterRichard

Of course, to the victor go the spoils--the very essence of realpolitik. Yes, there are some formal similarities in outcome between Yalta and Versailles--especially with the fate of Eastern Europe. But there are a couple of significant differences. The critical one is that at Yalta, there were true military victors (the allies would soon force an unconditional surrender on Germany) with the lesson of Versailles in mind--do not let Germany have an army again!

At Versailles, you had a German surrender, but not an unconditional surrender--a huge difference. At Yalta, there was a pending complete and total defeat, and the question of "now what do we do?," had to be answered. Germany came to the Paris conference expecting a deal--along the lines spelled out in Wilson's Fourteen points. The Germans were ambushed--they may have deserved what they got, but there was a cynicism and naivete at Versailles you don't find at Yalta.

Also, given Wilson's points, many nations came to Paris, hat in hand, hoping for relief from all kinds of grievances (mostly due to colonialism), only to be brought into a world of political intrigue and cynicism, especially on the part of the French. Wilson's promises turned out to be a utopian pipe dream.

Yalta was a much different situation--do you go to war with the USSR? Or do you give them what they want within limits, and wait for the Marxist planned economy to collapse.

Diplomacy has to be the toughest profession in the land!
June 11, 2015 | Registered CommenterKim Riddlebarger
And yet, the Lord can use the flawed actions of broken men for His purposes: for example, perhaps the creation of the Jewish homeland in Palestine sets the stage for a mass-conversion of ethnic Jews at the end of the age, as I've heard you say. (Yes, I've read your excellent books a Case for A-Millennialism and Man of Sin).

I can't help but see the same sort of hubris in the current debate on Obamatrade. It seems political elites can't help themselves; there is limitless desire to tinker with things. Few of them seem to realize how risky such decisions are and how they can't possibly know all the consequences. Perhaps they don't care.

Appreciate the great review and look forward to reading this based on your recommendation.

This reminds me: I have a show request for the WHI. Could you all explore the concept of the lesser magistrate and when (or if) it is justified for Christians to rebel against Caesar? I'm thinking of several scenarios: civil disobedience by American blacks in the South, Boenhoffer actively conspiring to assassinate Hitler, the American Revolution (Civil War I), etc. It is hard to know when one is called to take up the sword and when one is called to die the death of a martyr. This seems particularly relevant as our post-Christian culture becomes increasingly antagonistic and even openly hostile towards Christians.

Thank you and God bless!
June 12, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterNeal
Thanks, Kim--I'll have to pick up the book. Going through a terrific book now on the sinking of the Lusitania--"Dead Wake," a really terrific read: Larson is an excellent writer, "In the Garden of Beasts" is good too.
June 12, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterRichard
Second the recommendation for reading "Dark Wake" - good book.
You might also check out "One Nation Under God" which chronicles the rise of the American civic religion particularly Eisenhower's "contributions". It was reviewed in the WSJ this past week.
June 12, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterpb
Richard - does that book on the Lusitania cover the use of the "brittle steel" at that time during the industrial revolution that contributed heavily to the sinking? Curious.
June 15, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterGeorge
George--the book goes into detail on the Lusitania sinking, and points the finger (so far) at the Brits for their maybe deliberate negligence in not protecting it from sub attack. Pretty good book--and another book that will make you angry, I think, at the way in which this led us into war.
June 16, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterRichard
Thanks. A good post. Don't forget the humiliating treatment that Japan received at Versailles, and it was supposed to be an ally. Very few good things come out of war, or the drive for revenge that usually comes after it. To some extent, the Marshall Plan was an attempt to ensure there was no repetition of the mistakes of Versailles. It was certainly a grand vision reasonably well implemented. But WW1 was the seminal catastrophe for Europe and much of the middle east. It'll be centuries before any new equilibrium emerges - if ever.
June 19, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterWarwick McNamara
Kim--don't know if you are aware of this book:
Enjoying your lectures.
July 28, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterRichard

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