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Old 12-26-2010, 01:52 PM   #33
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"Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World" by Margaret Mcmillan

A Review of: Paris 1919

Prof. Margaret MacMillan’s Paris 1919 is not a book – it’s a movie. Her description of all major and minor characters, their egos, their desperation, their tactics, their mistresses make the book a moving experience. Her eye for detail is amazing. Her description of the ladies of the story from a socialite who plotted to marry General MacArthur to the charming Queen of Romania is amusing. Her portrait of the Hall of Mirrors where the German empire was born and where two German ministers had to sign the certificate of humiliation, also known as Treaty of Versailles, touches the heart. When the main actors leave Paris after signing the treaty, one feels a sense of melancholy.

Like a sad man who unsuccessfully hides his broken heart with humour, the characters in Paris 1919 are involved in high voltage drama about principles only to cover their national and individual greed.

President Wilson went to Paris with 14 points for the conduct of international relations. His very first point proclaimed the importance of transparent and open diplomacy in the place of secret deals between powerful men. If the Paris Peace Conference was anything, it was about secret deal making between four powerful men, though they went through the process of open hearings by experts, nationalists, and others.

President Wilson introduced the principle of self-determination, something he had tough time achieving for himself vis-à-vis his own Congress. He did not even try to sell this to the French when they claimed Alsaice Lorraine. He did try to sell it to the Japanese who wanted a pie of the Chinese cake but relented, precisely in the course of secret negotiations that the 14-point charter was averse of.

President Wilson was certainly a visionary. He conceptualised the League of Nations and its offshoot, the International Labour Organisation. He wanted a peaceful world but he was also an opportunistic man. He wanted peace in Europe where the spectre of Bolshevik revolution was knocking on the door. He was least bothered about the Arab world. The British and French leaders distributed Arab land as if spoiled school kids were exchanging marbles. Less than one hundred years later, the Americans, the British and the French are all paying heavily for the games played in Paris of 1919. If they don’t realise the mistakes that were made, they will be in an unpredictable situation in 2019.

The negotiations between the big four were an exercise in land grabbing. Prof MacMillan must be credited for her very impartial critique of all the four without any bias to her grandfather, Prime Minister Lloyd George of Britain. Venizelos of Greece had an eye on the Turkish properties. Queen Marie of Romania wanted half of Hungary. Prime Minister of France, Georges Clemenceau, wanted to seize the German coal reserves and Italy’s Orlando wanted the Adriatic ports. Further away, Clemenceau also wanted Syria while the British wanted Suez Canal to control access to India.

The book reveals how supreme selfishness is in the ladder of human properties. Europe had just gone through massive destruction. War was followed by the plague. One would expect that such a series of catastrophes would have sobering effect on anyone. The negotiators of Paris seemed immune to any such sentiments.

The world has paid heavy price for the greed of old men who played ruthless games in Paris that year. Hitler’s rise can be attributed to the humiliation the Germans suffered, not to mention the surrender of their colonies, the navy, and industrial output. Mussolini was inspired by Fiume. The British plot to create Israel, without proper negotiations with the Arabs, along with encouragement to Arab nationalism to revolt against the Ottoman empire without redeeming the promises made, has led to wars, Intifadas and Al Qaeda. The cheating of China contributed to the rise of communism, with all its consequences.

As the world entered twenty first century, with terrorist attacks on the American symbols of economic and political power, and myriad conflicts in the developing world, one is reminded of how the mistakes of Paris were repeated at Yalta. The United States, UK, France and the former Soviet Union, so thoughtful in distributing zones of influence in Europe, have again and again forgotten that real people also live in Africa, Latin America, the Middle East and Asia.

Prof Margaret MacMillan reaches a very dangerous conclusion as to why the Paris peace conference was more like negotiations between real estate brokers than a plan to create a sustainable world order, capable of carrying most parts of the planet for at least a century or two. In the last paragraph of the book, she says, that the negotiators might have been willing to contemplate a completely new way of conducting international relations if only the world had been thoroughly devastated by the war. Obviously the destruction caused by the First World War was not enough by the standards of their morality.

The behaviour of our leaders indicates that the first world war, the second world war, the Vietnam war, the two Gulf wars, the Arab-Israeli wars, and several regional conflicts have not yet caused thorough enough devastation of the world for them to seek a new way of managing international relations. How can the irrational passions of greedy old men be contained before their excuses of nationalism, religion and even democracy do more damage? How can we ever have national and international governance based on the principles for the benefit of the world’s people, rather than pursuit of power by those driven by insatiable thirst? How can we create the architecture of the sustainable global security and development? Prof MacMillan deserves thanks for provoking us to ask these questions.

- By Sundeep Waslekar

I`ve read this book last week and it`s really good and easy to read as well. I recommend for anyone who wanna learn about how most of the world today has been shaped by few angry men with insatiable lust for power and behind the closed doors in 1919; The borders of states(most are still intact today), destruction of two empire(Hapsburg and Ottoman), Jewish migration to Palestine for the first time, creation of Yugoslavia, complete reshape of the middle-east because of the discovery of oil fields and creation of most of today`s Europe and more...

And all these was the reason of countless world problems like in Palestine and other consequences like the rise of Mussolini and Hitler which eventually leads to WW-2. Also this book will help you to understand the driving force of why great powers still plays the "Great game" in middle-east today.

This paragraph from the book summarizes the consequence when few men(mainly French, British, American) tries to reshape whole world just for their own profit by totally ignoring the people who live on it;

In Europe alone, 30 million people were left in states where they were an ethnic minority, an object of suspicion at home and of desire from their co-nationals abroad. In that grim winter of 1919, a young American diplomat in Vienna received a delegation of gray-bearded men from Slovenia in the northwest of the Balkans. They spoke German. Their whole town of 60,000 people had spoken German for over 700 years. Now Slovenia was to become part of the new state of Yugoslavia. They were reluctant to be ruled by people they felt to be inferior. Would the United States please annex them? Nicholas Roosevelt, a young cousin of the great Teddy, passed the request on to his superiors but received no reply. Although neither Roosevelt nor the elderly Germans knew it, their community was fated to disappear, along with many others, when the Germans were forcibly expelled from much of Central Europe after the Second World War.
Most of these 30 million people who has been left in states as an ethnic minority because of the new borders drew just by political needs, has been killed or forcibly expelled during WW-2 because they were considered as a foreign threat in their new countries.

And another quote from the book about the situation in Balkans during early 20th century;
With the spread of nationalism in the nineteenth century, Serb historians rummaged the past to bolster their claims and bring all Serbs into the fold. “We got the children,” a schoolmaster told a traveler in Macedonia when it was still under Ottoman rule. “We made them realize they were Serbs. We taught them their history.” All over the Balkans, teachers, artists and historians were at work, reviving memories, polishing national myths, spreading a new sort of consciousness. The trouble was that it was not only Serbs who were awakened. As Churchill observed, the Balkans produce more history than they can consume. Where the blind Serb musicians sang of the great fourteenth-century kingdom of Stephen Dušan, stretching from the Danube to the Aegean, the Bulgarians looked to the tenth century, when King Simeon’s empire controlled much of the same land. And the Greeks had the grandest memories of all, going all the way back to classical times, when Greek influence spread east to Asia Minor and the Black Sea, and west to Italy and the Mediterranean. Even the brief possession of a piece of land centuries ago could be hauled out to justify a present claim. “We might as justly claim Calais,” the traveler pointed out to the nationalist schoolmaster. “Why don’t you?” he replied. “You have a navy.”

How today`s middle-east has been created in the Paris conference;

One day during the Peace Conference, Arnold Toynbee, an adviser to the British delegation, had to deliver some papers to the prime minister. “Lloyd George, to my delight, had forgotten my presence and had begun to think aloud. ‘Mesopotamia… yes… oil… irrigation… we must have Mesopotamia; Palestine… yes… the Holy Land… Zionism… we must have Palestine; Syria… h’m… what is there in Syria? Let the French have that. Thus the lineaments of the peace settlement in the Middle East were exposed: Britain seizing its chance; the need to throw something to the French; a homeland for the Jews; oil; and the calm assumption that the peacemakers could dispose of the former Ottoman territories to suit themselves.

Lloyd George, a Liberal turned land-grabber, made it worse. Like Napoleon, he was intoxicated by the possibilities of the Middle East: a restored Hellenic world in Asia Minor; a new Jewish civilization in Palestine; Suez and all the links to India safe from threat; loyal and obedient Arab states along the Fertile Crescent and the valleys of the Tigris and Euphrates; protection for British oil supplies from Persia and the possibility of new sources under direct British control; the Americans obligingly taking mandates here and there; the French doing what they were told.

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Last edited by Onur; 12-28-2010 at 06:27 PM.
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