...Prime Minister David Lloyd George had become convinced that the terms being negotiated in Paris of what would later become the Treaty of Versailles were unduly harsh on a defeated Germany. Jan Smuts, the South African prime minister, warned him that such a treaty would result in another war in a generation.
Lloyd George retired with his advisers to Fontainebleau and wrote a trenchant memorandum to that effect. "Injustice, arrogance, displayed in the hour of triumph, will never be forgotten or forgiven."
The memorandum leaked: On April 8, a telegram inspired by Lord Northcliffe ... and signed by 200 MPs was sent to Lloyd George in Paris. It spoke of "the greatest anxiety" at any watering down of the peace terms. The telegram was published in full the next day in The Times (then owned by Northcliffe). Lloyd George backed down.
In June, the vindictive Treaty of Versailles, inflicted on Germany at gunpoint, was signed. Without that national humiliation, Hitler would never have come to power. The Second World War would not have happened.
The influence of John Maynard Keynes is clear in this memorandum. Keynes held forth in a similar vein in his Economic Consequences of the Peace.
The "Fontainebleau Memorandum" of Mr. Lloyd George (dated March 25, 1919)
Some Considerations for the Peace Conference
before They Finally Draft Their Terms
When nations are exhausted by wars in which they have put forth all their strength and which leave them tired, bleeding, and broken, it is not difficult to patch up a peace what may last until the generation which experienced the horrors of the war has passed away. Pictures of heroism and triumph only tempt those who know nothing of the sufferings and terrors of war. It is therefore comparative easy to patch up a peace which will last for 30 years.
What is difficult, however, is to draw up a peace which will not provoke a fresh struggle when those who have had practical experience of what war means have passed away. History has proved that a peace which has been hailed by a victorious nation as a triumph of diplomatic skill and statesmanship, even of moderation, in the long run has proved itself to be short-sighted and charged with danger to the victor. The peace of 1871 was believed by Germany to insure not only her security but her permanent supremacy. The facts have shown exactly the contrary, France itself has demonstrated that those who say you can make Germany so feeble that she will never be able to hit back are utterly wrong. Year by year France became numerically weaker in comparison with her victorious neighbor, but in reality she became ever more powerful. She kept watch on Europe; she made alliance with those whom Germany had wronged or menaced; she never ceased to warn the world of its danger and ultimately she as able to secure the overthrow of the mightier power which had trampled so brut- ally upon her. You may strip Germany of her colonies, reduce her armaments to a mere police force and her navy to that of a fifth rate power; all the same in the end if she feels that she has been unjustly treated in the peace of 1919 she will find means of exacting retribution from her conquerors. The impression, the deep impression, made upon the human heart by four years of unexampled slaughter will disappear with the hearts upon which it has been marked by the terrible sword of the great war. The maintenance of peace will then depend upon there being no causes of exasperation constantly stirring up the spirit of patriotism, of justice or of fair play to achieve redress. Our terms may be severe, they may be stern and even ruthless but at the same time they can be so just that the country on which they are imposed will feel in its heart that it has no right to complain. But injustice, arrogance, displayed in the hour of triumph will never be forgotten or forgiven.
For these reasons I am, therefore, strongly adverse to transferring more Germans from German rule to the rule of some other nation than can possibly be helped. I cannot conceive of any greater cause of future war than that the German people, who have certainly proved themselves one of the most vigorous and powerful races in the world should be surrounded by a number of small states, many of them consisting of people who have never previously set up a stable government for themselves, but each of them containing large masses of Germans clamoring for reunion with their native land. The proposal of the Polish Commission that we should place 2,100,000 Germans under the control of a people which is of a different religion and which has never proved its capacity for stable self-government throughout its history must, in my judgement, lead sooner of later to a new war in the East of Europe. What I have said about the Germans is equally true of the Magyars. There will never be peace in South Eastern Europe if every little state now coming into being is to have a large Magyar Irredenta within its borders. I would therefore take as a guiding principle of the peace that as far as is humanly possible the different races should be allocated to their motherland, and that this human criterion should have precedence over considerations of strategy or economics or communications which can usually be adjusted by their means. Secondly, I would say that the duration for the payments of reparations ought to disappear if possible with the generation which made the war.
But there is a consideration in favor of a long-sighted peace which influences me even more than the desire to leave no causes justifying a fresh outbreak 30 years hence. There is one element in the present condition of nations which differentiates it from the situation as it was in 1815. In the Napoleonic wars the countries were equally exhausted but the revolutionary spirit had spent its force in the country of its birth and Germany had satisfied the legitimate popular demands for the time being by a series of economic changes which were inspired by courage, foresight and high statesmanship. Even in Russian the Czar had effected great reforms which were probably at that time even too advanced for the half savage population. The situation is very different now. The revolution is still in its infancy. The extreme figures of the Terror are still in command in Russia. The whole of Europe is filled with the spirit of revolution. There is a deep sense not only of discontent, but of anger and revolt amongst the workmen against pre-war conditions. The whole existing order in its political, social, and economic aspects is questioned by the masses of the population from one end of Europe to the other. In some countries, like Germany and Russia, the unrest takes the form of open rebellion, in others like France, Great Britain and Italy it takes the shape of strikes and of general disinclination to settle down to work, symptoms which are just as much concerned with the desire for political and social change as with wage demands.
Much of this unrest is healthy. We shall never make lasting peace by attempting to restore the conditions of 1914. But there is a danger that we may throw the masses of the population through- out Europe into the arms of the extremists whose only idea for regenerating mankind is to descry utterly the whole existing fabric of society. These men have triumphed in Russia. They have done so at terrible price. Hundreds and thousands of the populations have perished. The railroads, the roads, the towns, the whole structural organization of Russia has been almost destroyed, but somehow or other they seem to have managed to keep their hold upon the masses of the Russian people, and what is much more significant, have succeeded in creating a large army which is apparently well directed and well disciplined, and is, as to a great part of it prepared to die for its ideals. In another year Russia inspired by a new enthusiasm may have recovered from her passion for peace and have at her command the only army eager to fight, because it is the only army that believes that it has any cause to fight for.
The greatest danger that I see in the present situation is that Germany may throw in her lot with Bolshevism and place her resources, her brains, her vast organizing power at the disposal of the revolutionary fanatics whose dream is to conquer the world. for Bolshevism by force of arms. This danger is no mere chimera. The present government in Germany is weak; it has no prestige; its authority is challenged; it lingers merely because there is no alternative but the spartacists, and Germany is not ready for spartacism, as yet. But the argument which the spartacists are using with great effect at this very time is that they alone can save Germany from the intolerable conditions which have been bequeathed her by the way. They offer to free the German people from indebtedness to the Allies and indebtedness to their own richer classes. They offer them complete control of their own affairs and the prospect of a new heaven and earth. It is true that the price will be heavy. There will be two or there years of anarchy, perhaps of bloodshed, but at the end the land will remain, the people will remain, the greater part of the houses and the factories will remain, the railways and the roads will remain, and Germany, having thrown off her burdens, will be able to make a fresh start.
If Germany goes over to the spartacists it is inevitable that she should throw her lot with the Russian Bolshevists. Once that happens all Eastern Europe will be swept into the orbit of the Bolshevik revolution and within a year we may witness the spectacle of nearly three hundred million organized into a vast red army under German instructors and German generals equipped with German cannon and German machine-guns and prepared for a renewal of the attack on Western Europe. This is a prospect which no one can face with equanimity. Yet the news which came from Hungary yesterday shows only too clearly that this danger is no fantasy. And what are the reasons alleged for this decision? They are mainly the belief that large numbers of Magyars are to be handed over to the control of others. If we are wise, we shall offer to Germany a peace, which, while just, will be preferable for all sensible men to the alternative of Bolshevism. I would, there- fore, put in the forefront of the peace that once she accepts our terms, especially reparation, we will open to her the raw materials and markets of the world on equal terms with ourselves, and will do everything possible to enable the German people to get upon their legs again. We cannot both cripple her and expect her to pay.
Finally, we must offer terms which a responsible Government in Germany can expect to be able to carry out. If we present terms to Germany which are unjust, or excessively onerous, no responsible Government will sign them; certainly the present weak administration will not. If it did, I am told that it would be swept away within 24 hours. Yet if we can find nobody in Germany who will put his hand to a peace treaty, what will be the position? A large army of occupation for an indefinitie period is out of the question. Germany would not mind it. A very large number of people in that country would welcome it as it would be the only hope of preserving the existing order of things. The objection would not come from Germany, but from our own countries. Neither the British Empire nor America would agree to occupy Germany. France by itself could not bear the burden of occupation. We should therefore be driven back on the policy of blockading the country. That would inevitably mean spartacism from the Urals to the Rhine, with its inevitable consequence of a huge red army attempting to cross the Rhine. As a matter of fact I am doubt- ful whether public opinion would allow us deliberately to starve Germany. If the only difference between Germany and ourselves were between onerous terms and moderate terms, I very much doubt if public opinion would tolerate the deliberate condemnation of millions of women and children to death by starvation. If so the Allies would have incurred the moral defeat of having attempted to impose terms on Germany which Germany had successfully resisted.
From every point of view, therefore, it seems to me that we ought to endeavor to draw up a peace settlement as if we were impartial arbiters, forgetful of the passions of the war. This settlement brought to have three ends in view. First of all it must do justice to the Allies, by taking into account Germany's responsibility for the origin of the war, and for the way in which it was fought. Secondly, it must be a settlement which a responsible German Government can sign in the belief that it can fulfil the obligations in incurs. Thirdly, it must be a settlement which will constitute an alternative to Bolshevism, because it will commend itself to all reasonable opinion as a fair settlement of the European problem.
II. It is not, however, enough to draw up a just and far-sighted peace with Germany. If we are to offer Europe an alternative to Bolshevism we must make the League of Nations into something which will be both a safeguard to those nations who are prepared for fair dealing with their neighbors, and a menace to those who would trespass on the rights of their neighbors, whether they are imperialist empires or imperialist Bolsheviks. An essential element, therefore, is in the peace settlement in the constitution of the League of Nations as the effective guardian of international right and international liberty throughout the world. If this is to happen the first thing to do is that the leading members of the League of Nations should arrive at an understanding between themselves in regard to armaments. To my mind it is idle to endeavor to impose a permanent limitation of armaments upon Germany unless we are prepared similarly to impose a limitation upon our- selves. I recognize that until Germany has settled down and given practical proof that she has abandoned her imperialist ambitions, and until Russia has also given proof that she does not intend to embark upon a military crusade against her neighbors, it is essential that the leading members of the League of Nations should maintain considerable forces both by land and sea in order to preserve liberty in the world. But if they are to preserve a united front to the forces both of reaction and revolution, they must arrive at such an agreement in regard to armaments among as themselves as would make it impossible for suspicion to arise between members of the League of Nations in regard to their intentions towards one another. If the League is to do it's work for the world it will only be because the members of the League trust it themselves and because there are no rivalries and jealousies in the matter of armaments between them. The first condition of success for the League of Nations is therefore, a firm under- standing between the British Empire and the United States of America and France and Italy that there will be no more competitive building up of fleets or armies between them. Unless this is arrived at before the Covenant is signed the League of Nations will be a sham and a mockery. It will be regarded, and rightly regarded as a proof that its principal promoters and patrons repose no confidence in its principle promoters and patrons repose no confidence in its efficacy. But once the leading members of the League have made it clear that they have reached the understanding which will both secure to the League of Nations the strength which is necessary to enable it to protect its members and which at the same tie will make misunderstanding and suspicion with regard to competitive armaments impossible between them its future and its authority will be ensured. It will be able to ensure as an essential condition of peace that not only Germany, but all the smaller states of Europe undertake to limit their armaments and abolish conscription. If the small nations are permitted to organize and maintain conscript armies running each to hundreds of thou- sands, boundary wars will be inevitable and all Europe will be drawn in. Unless we secure this universal limitation we shall achieve neither lasting peace, nor the permanent observance of the limitation of German Armaments which we now seek to impose.
I should like to ask why Germany, if she accepts the terms we consider just and fair, should not be admitted to the League of Nations, at any rate as soon as she has established a stable and democratic Government. Would it not be an inducement to her both to sign the terms and to resist Bolshevism? Might it not be safer that she should be inside the League than that she should be outside it?
Finally, I believe that until the authority and effectiveness of the League of Nations has been demonstrated, the British Empire and the United States ought to give France a guarantee against the possibility of a new German aggression. France has special reason for asking for such a decree. She has twice been attacked and twice invaded by Germany in half a century. She has been so attacked because she has been the principle guardian of liberal and democratic civilization against Central European autocracy on the continent of Europe. It is right that the other great Western democracies should enter into an undertaking which will ensure that they stand by her side in time to protect her against invasion, should Germany ever threaten her again or until the League of Nations has proved its capacity to preserve the peace and liberty of the world.
III. If, however, the peace conference is really to secure peace and prove to the world a complete plan of settlement which all reason- able men will recognize as an alternative preferable to anarchy, it must deal with the Russian situation. Bolshevik Imperialism owes not merely menace the states on Russia's borders. It threatens the whole of Asia and is as near to America as it is to France. It is idle to think that the Peace Conference can separate, however sound a peace it may have arranged with Germany, if it leaves Russia as it is today. I do no propose, however to complicate the question of the peace with Germany by introducing a dis- cussion of the Russian problem. I mention it simply in order to remind our selves of the importance of dealing with it as soon as possible.
Source: Woodrow Wilson and World Settlement By Ray Stannard Baker, pp. 449-457, © 1922.