Wilson, Clemenceau, Lloyd George and the Roads to Paris
"...an immense and highly impressive work of historical/political scholarship. [An] admirably detailed yet still eminently readable account of the lives of three of the twentieth century's most influential politicians..." —Manhattan Book Review
"...impressively researched, with...fresh insights that will appeal to even seasoned diplomatic historians. Readers will be introduced to myriad rich details about the lives of the early-20th-century's most important world leaders." —Kirkus
The three men who met in Paris for the most consequential summit conference of the twentieth century were very different men: Georges Clemenceau, 77, “The Tiger” who had spent five decades fighting for the ideals of the French Republic; David Lloyd George, who grew up in poverty in rural Wales, had entered the House of Commons at twenty-seven, had stood alone in his opposition to the South African War, and who rose to become prime minister and become the face of Britain’s defiance to the kaiser; and Woodrow Wilson, the lifelong academic who went from president of Princeton University to the president of the United States in the span of two years.
They were, in many ways, much alike: They were three of the most brilliant men of their age. Each had the ability to charm and sway an audience, whether in the House of Commons, the French Chamber of Deputies or in a Princeton classroom. Yet, the document they produced, the Treaty of Versailles, was the “Carthaginian” peace that sowed the seeds of the Second World War. How did these brilliant men—who knew better—let it happen?
For the first time, Robert F. Klueger traces their tumultuous histories until they reach Paris in 1919, Wilson determined to remake international law based upon the ideals of his Fourteen Points, Clemenceau every bit as determined to make France secure against another German invasion, and Lloyd George, leading a coalition government and a people determined to “make Germany pay,” until, at the very last, he tried and failed to reverse what he saw would be a tragic result.
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Robert F. Klueger is a best-selling author and historian. A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania with a degree in political science, he obtained a law degree from Fordham Law School after serving as a communications officer in the United States Navy. He resides in Bradenton, Florida.
The great Hall of Mirrors of the Palace of Versailles was packed with the delegates from twenty-nine countries, secretaries, newspapermen, soldiers and guests on this Saturday, June 28, 1919. In this same room, in January, 1871, Chancellor Otto von Bismarck had proclaimed the German Empire following the defeat of France. It was five years to the day that a Serb nationalist had assassinated the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, the terrorist act that had lit the fuse that resulted in the Great War. More than six months had elapsed since the Germans had agreed to the Armistice. They were gathered here to sign the treaty that would put the war to an end.
The treaty itself, bound in a brown leather case, sat on a table in the center of the hall. At exactly 3:07 P.M. the German delegates, Dr. Hermann Müller, the new foreign minister, and Johannes Bell, the colonial secretary, entered the hall and were shown to their seats. The long table opposite the one on which the treaty sat was reserved for the delegates of the victorious Allies. Seated directly in front of the table was the prime minister of France, Georges Clemenceau. To his left sat David Lloyd George, the prime minister of Great Britain. To his right sat Thomas Woodrow Wilson, the twenty-eighth president of the United States.
Precisely at 3:10 P.M. Georges Clemenceau rose. “The session is open,” he began. “The allied and associated powers on one side and the German Reich on the other side have come to an agreement on the conditions of peace. The text has been completed, drafted and the president of the conference has stated in writing that the text that is about to be signed now is identical with the 200 copies that have been delivered to the German delegation. The signatures will be given now and they amount to a solemn undertaking faithfully and loyally to execute the conditions embodied by the treaty of peace. I now invite the delegates of the German Reich to sign the treaty.”
There was total silence as the two Germans came forward. They were shown where to sign. Dr. Müller signed at 3:12 P.M. Johannes Bell signed one minute later. They revealed no expression, but their hands trembled as they signed. And with that (except for the required ratifications by the respective legislatures) the Great War—“the war to end wars”—which had cost upwards of ten million lives, was at an end.
The three men who sat in silence as they watched the Germans sign led three very different nations. For France and Great Britain, the war had begun on August 4, 1914. The United States had not entered the war until April, 1917 and its doughboys did not see action until the end of that year. The British had lost a half million men in France and Flanders and in the North Atlantic, but its homeland had not been invaded. France had been brutally occupied for more than four years, with villages flattened and farms and fields in ruins. It had lost 1,500,000 men. The British and the French shared one fate: the war had impoverished them. The war had made the United States richer and stronger.
The three men who watched the Germans sign the treaty had traveled very different roads to get to this place. Clemenceau had traveled the longest road; he was seventy-seven. He had trained to be a medical doctor, as had his father, and like his father had devoted himself more to politics than to medicine. He had been elected to the National Assembly and had become the mayor of Montmartre when he was twenty-nine, just as Prussia and its German allies were crushing the French armies. When the National Assembly voted to approve the treaty of peace with the new German Empire, the treaty that severed Alsace and Lorraine from France, Clemenceau was one of 117 protestataires who refused to sign. More than once his political career had seemed to have floundered, only to rebound. He was the last of the 117 protestataires to survive.
David Lloyd George had grown up in poverty in rural Wales. When he was five—in 1868—he saw landlords summarily dispossess tenant farmers who had the temerity to vote against the Tories. It made him a Liberal by instinct and a lifelong hater of landlords. He never went to university, or even to high school. Apprenticed to a firm of solicitors at fourteen, he was first elected to the House of Commons at twenty-seven, where he would spend the rest of his life. He was the only Welshman, and the only solicitor, ever to become prime minister.
They were very different men. Woodrow Wilson spent the first fifty-six years of his life cloistered in academia, as a student, professor and administrator. He went from president of Princeton University to president of the United States in the span of two years. Lloyd George and Clemenceau would travel the world, Clemenceau having known Karl Marx, John Stuart Mill, Claude Monet, Ulysses S. Grant and Émile Zola, among others, before he was thirty. Clemenceau was a life-long atheist, Lloyd George gave up any belief in the hereafter when he was eleven, while Wilson’s religious belief was the centerpiece of his life. Wilson was a devoted husband and father, Clemenceau a divorced boulevardier while Lloyd George had frequent affairs and kept a mistress for half of his adult life. Clemenceau was devoted to the arts; Lloyd George and Wilson evidenced no interest whatever. Clemenceau was fluent in English; neither Lloyd George nor Wilson could speak a foreign language. Clemenceau and Lloyd George had learned to master their respective national legislatures; Wilson had never entered one. Lloyd George’s Liberalism, and Clemenceau’s belief in the ideals of the French Revolution, were inbred. Wilson had begun as an instinctive conservative and ended up as the leader of the Progressives.
But in more significant ways, they were very much alike. All three were thoughtful, insightful and brilliant men. All three possessed the gift of articulate expression that gave them the ability to move men to their ways of thinking, and this ability propelled their political careers. Each would lead his nation to triumph in the First World War, and then represent his nation in Paris for the most consequential summit conference of the twentieth century.
This is their story.