Margaret Macmillan ends her excellent book on the Paris Peace treaty of 1919, Paris 1919, with the following questions that the world leaders were facing at that time that still befuddle us today: “How can the irrational passions of nationalism and religion be contained before they do more damage? How can we outlaw war?”
Many of the conflicts we see today can be traced back to this period in history when borders were drawn up haphazardly, often without a reflective look at the long-term effect of such decisions. For example, this is the time that Zionism got great support from America and England to create an independent state in Palestine and the trouble there hasn’t ceased since the inception of this idea. The break up of the Austria-Hungarian and Ottoman Empires created independent orphan states that squabble about borders and tribalism among those Slavic, central European, Mediterranean states. China was aggrieved that Japan was able to take over German imperial holdings in Tsingtao, grievances that are still felt today. The Middle East in particular was carved up as spoils for the victors; already Mosul was an issue with their oil reserves (before it was introduced as the main source of power for these still were the days of coal power) that eventually became part of Iraq. There was a rift between Wilson’s new diplomacy, which sought to give sovereignty to self-determined people, while the Europeans sought to reinforce imperialistic land holdings.
Macmillan is particularly good at drawing portraits of the major players like Woodrow Wilson, Lloyd George and Georges Clemenceau. I like the way that she has organized the book in to manageable chapters systematically looking at all the issues at hand. It is surprisingly readable and extremely fascinating look at a historic moment in time. I came away with greater respect for Wilson and his vision outlined by his 14 points.