These problems are still with us

Posted by Helen Thursday, December 07, 2006

In between other tasks Tory Historian has been ploughing on with Margaret MacMillan’s “Peacemakers”. Actually, that is the wrong expression as the book is very interesting and extremely well written. Even the fact that Dr MacMillan clearly has a special fondness for those two rogues, Lloyd George and Clemenceau, does not detract from the interest in this detailed and vivaciously told book.

As the story unfolds the reader can follow the creation and growth of the many problems the world is still trying to grapple with.

It will be interesting to see whether Margaret MacMillan will produce the costs of the Paris Conference. The participants of the Great War had come out significantly poorer than they had gone in. France, in particular, had suffered enormously, both in economic and human terms, as Clemenceau never ceased to remind others of the Conference. Yet it managed to lay on an astonishingly lavish conference and many of the participants spent much of their remaining income on large and well-equipped delegations.

Some discussions, though, do not change:

The Supreme Council managed to choose a secretary, a junior French diplomat who was rumoured to be Clemenceau’s illegitimate son. (The extraordinarily efficient [Sir Maurice] Hankey, the deputy secretary, soon took over most of the work.) After much wrangling it decided on French and English as the official languages for documents. The French argued for their own language alone, ostensibly on the grounds that it was more precise and at the same time capable of greater nuance than English, in reality because they did not want to admit France was slipping down the rankings of world powers.

French, they said, had been the language of international communication and diplomacy for centuries. The British and Americans pointed out that English was increasingly supplanting it.

Lloyd George said that he would always regret that he did not know French better (he scarcely knew it at all), but it seemed absurd that English, spoken by over 170 million people, should not have equal status with French.

The Italians said, in that case, why not Italian as well. ‘Otherwise,’ said the foreign minister, Sonnino, ‘it would look as if Italy was being treated as an inferior by being excluded’.

In that case, said Lloyd George, why not Japanese as well? The Japanese delegates, who tended to have trouble following the debates whether they were in French or English, remained silent. Clemenceau backed down, to the consternation of many of his own officials.
But the row has gone on ever since.


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