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14: Rhineland Difficulties

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December 29, 1918

Yesterday Clemenceau came in for what he called a friendly informal talk. Both he and the Colonel asked me to stay, "to keep us old fellows from straying too far afield" was the way the Tiger put it. He began by explaining the expression of noble candeur as applied to the President in his recent speech in the Chamber, to which many ascribe an offensive meaning.

"Nothing was farther from my thoughts than that," explained the Tiger; "I used the words in their English sense. I was applauding his frankness and his loyalty of spirit, but at the same time I wished to utter a word of warning because we are both in a difficult situation and naturally and inevitably we shall view it from different standpoints."

Then turning to House: "Let us survey the scene calmly and deliberately, my dear friend, before the battle begins. America is far away, but we are near to the ravening wolves. America came and saved us, but still you remain far away, and while you were coming think of what we suffered! Our homes and our fields have been ravaged and our mines destroyed. Don't take this as a formal statement, much less a protest. I am simply a tired old man thinking aloud. We are reviving after a world disaster. We in Paris placed our faith in the balance of power and in strong frontiers. Well, as the event has proved, our frontiers were not solid and the political arrangements - well, they were in unbalance. In view of the disaster that followed many today condemn the old system and President Wilson is their prophet. He and he alone can lead us into the pastures of peace and plenty, we are told. Now I admit I am, even in view of the disaster that has involved us all, still a partisan of the old system, at least until something better is offered and, note this, has been tested by experience. I am not an opponent of the proposed League of Nations. Gladly I accept it as a supplementary guarantee, but for today we must have something more practical, something that has been through the furnace of war, even if, as might well be the case, some of the tests have not turned out very successfully."

[I think this is the first indication that Clemenceau had in mind a joint agreement for the defense of the Rhine frontier.]

March 11, 1919

The problem of the Rhine is now the order of the day. Tardieu came in this morning and had a long talk with the Colonel who asked me to he present and, when he left, to draw up a memo of what was said. He admitted that by the Armistice arrangements the Fourteen Points had become binding on France, but he asserted they should be interpreted in the light of what he called "antecedent circumstances," he went into what he called the historique of the Rhine problem for the purpose of showing that the present demand for a rearrangement of the frontier had always been a principal war aim of France. He brought with him documents to prove that the question had been taken up with some of the Allies in January, 1917, three months before we entered the war, and that at least with Russia an agreement had been reached. At this time Briand, who was Prime Minister, had instructed the French Ambassador in St. Petersburg to advise the Russian government that in view of the fact that her vital interests were involved France must be allowed a preponderant influence in the adjustment of the Rhine frontier. "In the future," ran this communication, "Germany must nor be allowed to touch the Rhine or to secure positions near by which would facilitate future aggression.

Tardieu also revealed a communication which at the same time was sent by his Foreign Office to Ambassador Paul Cambon in London. In it Cambon was instructed to feel our Britain as to the best methods of securing the independence of the Rhine provinces or, in any event, of shielding them from Prussian contact and influence. However, as the instruction revealed, leeway was granted Cambon as to when and how he should broach the subject. He was not to introduce it if in his judgment it would lead to discord between the principal allies or even to discussion. A few days later the Briand ministry fell and the instruction was not renewed.

But with Russia the negotiations went much farther. M. Doumergue was sent to St. Petersburg with a letter from the President of the Republic to his great and good friend the Tsar in which once again it was affirmed that both Britain and France had agreed to give Constantinople to Russia and also some territory in Thrace that was to be taken away from ungrateful Bulgaria. M. Doumergue brought hack from St. Petersburg his quid pro quo. The Tsar agreed to support whatever decision France might make as to the future of the Rhine.

"It was not intended to keep these arrangements secret," explained Tardieu. "On the contrary it was planned to publish them urbe et orbe at a favorable moment, for instance, when the expected success of the Nivelle offensive was apparent. Indeed a secondary instruction went to Paul Cambon in London advising him that in the opinion of the French government this would be the appropriate moment to inform London of its views, indeed of its decision. But unfortunately Nivelle was nor successful and on March 12, 1917, the Tsar was overthrown and all the papers dealing with the matter went into the waiting but certainly not into the "dead" files. So we admit that when Lloyd George came to Paris he was not bound by treaty, open or secret, to any territorial arrangements with France except in regard to Turkey in Asia and also unfortunately on the Adriatic."

Two days later Jules Cambon came in on what the Colonel called a "follow up" mission. He is an ardent partisan of a division of Germany into what he calls "its component parts." "We must separate the sheep from the goats," he said; "the good Bavarians from the stiff-necked, impossible Prussians. Otherwise there will never be peace on our frontier or for that matter in Europe." His argument is as follows:

"It was the wicked treaty imposed by our conquerors in 1815 that put Prussia on the Rhine. Who can deny that from that sad day to 1870 the inhabitants of these stolen regions have regarded themselves as the unfortunate victims of a detestable diplomatic combination? I hope the right of self-determination will he granted to these people and that in any event the dominance of Prussia will be terminated. Among the Germans, Prussian influence will always be great, perhaps controlling, and this danger must be removed from our frontier as far as possible.

"I cannot see," continued Cambon, "how our plan runs counter to the humanitarian ideals of your great President, and I even think it will find favor in many liberal circles in Germany and perhaps secure the support of some Prussians who must be tired of the recurrent and fruitless wars to which this unsettled frontier condemns them."

The Colonel spends much time reading and pondering over these memoranda. Today he said, "I do not have to tell you that this is graveyard stuff. France won the battle of the Maine and the struggle for Verdun, but now the Battle for the Rhine looms on our dark horizon. How will it end? I confess I do not know."

February 27, 1919

Much to our surprise Clemenceau, unannounced, dropped in on House this morning. He looked rather shaky (he had been shot on the nineteenth) but was in fine spirits. "I have come to pay homage to the American delegation on the birthday of our joint father, the immortal George. Of course I had planned to come on the twenty-second, that is a date I shall never forget, but was prevented by an 'unpleasant incident over which the police had no control.'"

The Tiger was in a rollicking humor and gave amusing accounts of the birthday celebrations in which he had participated during his happy years of exile, as he called them, in New York, in Rochester, and in Stamford. Then he grew serious and the real purpose of his call was revealed.

"My dear House, during many sleepless nights I have cudgeled my brains, what is left of them, for a substitute policy that would he more palatable to Wilson and to you, but I can t find it. There is no other way to secure the security of France than by the annexation of the Rhine lands or the establishment of the Rhenish republic. Wilson told me he could not consider even for a moment direct annexation, so I have come to tell you that after due consideration the French government will insist upon the creation of the Rhenish republic. Those lands furnish easy access to the very heart of France, access that has been availed of so frequently in the past, as the Prussian invasions of our country during the last hundred years reveal. The keys to France must be in the custody of Frenchmen. I am sorry we cannot accept the American view. We probably would had we enjoyed the same pleasant neighbors as you have during your national existence, but unfortunately we have been up against quite a different breed."

March 28, 1919

The last ten have been crucial days and at times the outlook for the long-sought world settlement has been none too bright. It is most unfortunate that the French and the Italian delegates should be so well informed as to Wilson's increasing difficulties with the Senate and the insistent, indeed the imperative demand that has been served on him in Washington as to the necessity of making a hard and fast reservation in regard to the Monroe Doctrine. At times it has looked as though the Isolationists, far from awaiting the ratification battle at home, have succeeded in choking the Covenant while still in the cradle over here. At the very first meeting of the chief delegates after Wilson's return to Paris (March 14), as is his habit the Tiger placed his cards face up on the table, he told his listeners, who simulated surprise, that unless he secured some hold on the Saar and at least a fairly defensible position on the Rhine he did not think he could present the Treaty for ratification and that if he did he was quite certain that in its present mood the Senate and the Chamber would not ratify it.

The issue was now clearly defined, as Lloyd George and the President were in agreement that they could not accept either the Foch or the Tardieu plan for a solution of these problems. While they differ as to terms, both of these plans aim at a permanent occupation of these frontier districts by Allied forces, a commitment which neither Britain nor America is willing to assume.

It looked as though a stalemate was impending and it must be admitted that it was the resourceful little Welshman who broke it. First he sounded out House with, "I confess I find it natural and even reasonable that France should ask for protective guarantees; in the last fifty years she has been twice invaded by Germany, and it is clear to me why she has been attacked. France is the guardian of democratic civilization on the Continent; she is our bulwark against Central European autocracy." When this had sunk in, George continued, "Until the League has proved its strength we must stand by France in case of invasion and we must make public announcement of our decision in this regard."

Whatever his real feelings may have been, for some days Clemenceau demurred and talked of counter, more concrete, proposals. Finally, however, he weakened somewhat but insisted upon the temporary occupation of the Rhine bridgeheads by Allied troops, "until the League is seasoned - until it has proved its metal." This is the genesis, in a few words, of the Rhine agreement about which much ink is being spilled and many ponderous tomes are bound to be written.(1) As none of the parties to it are jubilant, it is probably an excellent settlement. In any event, the deadlock is broken and the other problems will now be taken up. Grudgingly rather than enthusiastically Clemenceau admits that with this guarantee he can steer the Treaty through the chambers, hut he asks House, "Can George and Wilson get it through their parliaments?" Clemenceau is well aware how reluctant these bodies are to overseas commitments and responsibilities to be automatically assumed at some future time under circumstances which no one can foresee. House reassures him. He is confident that once the President takes the stump and explains his difficulties and his purpose the American people will stand behind him enthusiastically.

[Under these circumstances, which were clearly beyond his control, the President signed the Rhine agreement. But in view of the hostile reception that the treaty received on its publication in America, he delayed presenting the protocol of the agreement to the Senate. his failure to do so released Britain from its adherence to the agreement, which it only consented to assume in case the resulting responsibility was also shouldered by America. This is the basis of Franklin Bouillon's claim that the ratification of the treaty by the Chamber was secured through misleading and even false representations. To me and to others Clemenceau flatly denied that this was the case. He stated that both before and when signing the protocol, Wilson had told him that the agreement would require the sanction of the Senate; that he hoped to obtain this but could not guarantee it.

In July, 1920, in Paris, I discussed the matter with M. Tardieu and he confirmed the information and the impressions I have given above. "Of course the charges of bad faith against Wilson made in some of our papers are absurd and absolutely without foundation, but the unfortunate fact remains that France is left 'holding the bag.' I am not so sure of the good faith of Lloyd George. Why should he have made the assistance of Britain contingent upon the ratification of the pact by Washington? I think that at the time he felt this would be regarded as an entangling alliance by many of your senators, and in consequence be rejected. He saw to it that in this event Britain would be free to act or to stand aside, as she desired. The result is, we think, that the way is left open for future aggressions on the part of Germany. I trust we are mistaken, but we must prepare for such an eventuality, and of course that is a heavy burden on our financial resources and a lamentable conclusion to our war effort. As I recall the circumstances - correct me if I am mistaken - we met in Paris in 1919 to liberate the world from economic burdens as well as from the fear of the Barbarians." Tardieu is distressed and bitterly disappointed at the resulting situation, but he at least does not misrepresent how it came about, as do so many of his countrymen, and some of our own people. "We knew exactly what we were doing" he added. "Clemenceau thought, we all thought, that we should have the Rhineland to safeguard us from invasion. When Britain and America refused this safeguard, we accepted all we could get; that is, the pledge of assistance in ease of invasion. We knew that such a pledge required parliamentary sanction in both countries, and while I fear we have been left 'holding the bag,' as you say in America, we were not hoodwinked."]

March 10, 1923

Once again the German propaganda machine is in full operation, and strange as it may seem its bare-faced lies and misrepresentations are carrying conviction in many quarters. The charge of bad faith is hurled at the Powers who signed the Versailles Treaty and, in view of their failure to evacuate the Rhinelands and the other occupied territories, the Germans claim that they are released from the obligations which they entered upon in "good faith." They chose to forget that as plainly stated in the Treaty none of these withdrawals were to be carried out unless the Germans had faithfully complied with all provisions of the Treaty. As a matter of fact, they have nor carried our a single one of them or up to the present hour even made an attempt to do so.

[In 1936 Germany marched troops into the demilitarized zone amid feeble but ineffective protests from the League and world public opinion.]


1. The basis of the Rhine agreement was: The left bank of the Rhine remained German, was demilitarized "Forever," and was to be occupied by Allied troops in three zones for fifteen years, if Germany faithfully carried out all the conditions of the peace. France had allowed the Rhineland to remain under German civil rule on the understanding that England and the United States would sign with her a pact of guarantee, a protocol against German aggression. As the United States refused to ratify it, this guarantee never came into being.

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