Historiography of the Peace Conference of 1919 and Surrounding Events

The events of history have been documented as an objective form of non-fiction throughout time. The way in which historians compose these events is termed historiography. Historiography in its simplest terms is a historical form of literature. A more accurate description of historiography is that it is the principles, theories, or methodology of scholarly historical research and presentation. It is also the writing of history based on a critical analysis, evaluation, and selection of authentic source materials, as well as composition of these materials into a narrative subject. It is the study of how historians interpret the past. Historiography is a debate and argument about previous and current representations of the past. Historiography is present in all historical works big and small. The notorious Peace Conference of 1919 has received its fair share of historiography. There are many viewpoints and interpretations of the ins and outs of the peace conference by vast numbers of historians; the historical works that will be focused on in this composition are The Illusion of Peace: International Relations in Europe 1918-1933 by Sally Marks, The Peace Conference of 1919 by F.S. Marston, Great Britain, France, and the German Problem 1918-1939 by W.M. Jordan, and Paris 1919: Six Months that Changed the World by Margaret MacMillan.

The extent as to which the conference was discussed varies by historian. Sally Marks’ The Illusion of Peace, is broken down into six chapters that focus primarily on peace. These chapters are titled The Pursuit of Peace, The Effort to Enforce the Peace, The Revision of the Peace, The Years of Illusion, The Crumbling of Illusion, and The End of All Illusion. For the sake of this composition we will focus on chapter 1, The Pursuit of Peace, which deals primarily with the Peace Conference. Marks begins The Illusion of Peace by stating that “major wars often provide the punctuation marks of history, primarily because they force drastic realignments in the relationships among states.” F.S. Marston chose to take a slightly different route in recording the occurrences of the Peace Conference in his The Peace Conference of 1919. Marston’s main focus was not on the concept of peace itself but the actual procedure of the Peace Conference. In the preface of The Peace Conference of 1919, he states that his purpose for writing the book was because “there was an obvious need for an objective analysis of the organization of the Conference.” Marston breaks The Peace Conference of 1919 into eighteen chapters. These chaoters go into great detail about the characteristics of the conference. The book begins with “The Paris Peace Conference was a unique gathering of the nations. We are still perhaps too near it and too deeply involved in its consequences to make a final appraisal of its work.”

Another perspective to be discussed is that of W. M. Jordan in Great Britain, France, and the German Problem 1918-1939, which is divided into seventeen chapters. These chapters discuss everything from the concepts of peace of 1914-1918 to the European framework of territorial settlement. Professor C. K. Webster states in the foreword of Great Britain, France, and the German Problem that “this study makes painful but salutary reading. It faces relentlessly certain facts which have produced the world in which we live now. It is objective, and the author has taken the greatest care to be as fair to France as to Britain.” The last perspective to be discussed is that of Margaret MacMillan, who, by far, presents the most information on the Peace Conference out of the previous listed historians. Her Paris 1919: Six Months that Changed the World, has eight parts and thirty chapters. In the foreword written by Richard Holbrooke, it is stated that MacMillan’s account of the seminal event in Paris 1919 contains several success stories, but is measured against the judgment of history and consequences.

Marks begins, early on in the Illusion of Peace, discussing the sudden collapse of Germany and the surprise it caused to the victors. The defeat of Germany was so prevalent in the minds of the Allies that they failed to consider planning the peace that follows after war. Marks stressed that what little peace planning that was in progress was not even close to being considered effective. She states that out of all of the major Allies, the French were the closest to being the best prepared for matters of peace. She gave the reasoning behind this to be that the French had a predetermined notion of what mattered to them and were less than interested in what occurred on a global scale. Marks writes that the American standpoint on peace was obscured by President Woodrow Wilson’s highly ambiguous Fourteen Points, which are ideally good points, but from a realistic standpoint face a difficult time being implemented because of their complexities.

As for the location of the Peace Conference, Marks writes that Paris was not the ideal place for such a conference. Paris was considered a poor location because “wartime passion [ran] higher there than any other location” and the capital was in no condition, after four years of war, to provide lodging and other important amenities to the leaders. In the first chapter, Marks, uses Erich Eyck’s A History of the Weimar Republic to support information on the relationship between the Allies and Germany. She also discusses the fatal influenza that was sweeping across Europe and the rest of the world. During this discussion, Marks writes that Germany was fortunate in that its people were not starving like the rest of the war torn countries. As for the actual conference, Marks writes that “When the conference finally got down to business, it functioned very haphazardly. Much of the work was done by committees.” She elaborates on this statement by stating that several things played a major part in the haphazardness of the decisions made. Some of these things included influence and idiosyncrasy, and personality and prejudice. When dealing with the League of Nations, Marks writes that provided the circumstances of such damaging characteristics the League was set up to fail and the creation of such a thing presented a misleading illusion of peace that was impossible to achieve.

In Marks’ recordings of the Treaty of Versailles, she explains that the treaty has been criticized a great deal throughout history and deserves to be because of its numerous inadequacies and lack of attention to “economic realities.” Marks writes that despite the criticisms for the economic aspects of the treaty, great care had been taken in the preservation of economic units by the Allied leaders. She presents several different views of certain events in order to provide the reader with as much objectivity as is possible. She explains that despite what has been recorded or despite popular belief, there is always room for argument as to what was and was not effective during the Peace Conference of 1919. The last pages of The Illusion of Peace are dedicated to a chronological table of the events that took place before, during, and after the Peace Conference. There is an extensive bibliography that includes documents and official publications, such as the official journal of the League of Nations, and diaries, letters, and memoirs, such as David Lloyd George’s Memoirs of the Peace Conference. An extensive number of secondary sources were used in addition to several periodicals as well. The last component of The Illusion of Peace is Marks’ notes and references. All in all, this account of the Peace Conference of 1919 was presented in an unbiased and informative manner.

F. S. Marston took on the role of composing a historical rendition of the organization and procedure of the conference in The Peace Conference of 1919. Marston’s position on the organization of the conference is as follows: “The following pages will show the extent to which the throwing away of the fruits of victory twenty-five years ago was due to premature relaxation of effort and failure to make immediate use of the organization that had been so laboriously developed.” One of the first things included in The Peace Conference of 1919 was a chart depicting the general organization of the conference. The Council of Ten is the center of this chart, which branches out into the sub-councils, which in turn branch out into smaller more centralized committees. Marston describes the conference in relation to earlier conferences and events. According to Marston, the most critical development that occurred in the year 1917, just two years before the Peace Conference, the Supreme War Council was formally established. Marston includes references from General Bliss to reiterate a fact about the war council and its roles. The primary function of the council was to monitor the conduct of the war, but it also acted as a political body.

After discussing the Supreme War Council, Marston proceeds into discussing the Armistices in chapter two. Within the first paragraph, Marston writes that “The main background to the peace negotiations of 1919 was foreshadowed by the German Note of 4th October asking President Wilson to take the necessary steps to secure a suspension of hostilities.” The bulk of Marston’s information is based on times, dates, and locations. Chapter two does not focus so much on who did what, but rather when the event took place and for how long did the event last. Marston jumps from the Armistice to the Conference in chapter three and in chapter four. He begins chapter three by discussing the importance of the time interval between the Armistice and the Peace Conference. “It was a time of intense diplomatic activity, but of very little tangible progress, preparation for the Conference being combined with complete uncertainty as to the exact point at which it was to take charge of the negotiations” writes Marston.

Santosh

Santosh is an international development specialist and author of several publications on socio economic development. Santosh is a regular contributor to online article sites on the topics of on line education, underserved peoples, scholarship and educational excellence.

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