The libraries of the world are filled with books devoted to history and new ones are published on any almost daily basis, but if their lessons are ignored, it condemns nations and the peoples of the world to horrors that increase with the evolving technology of death.
A book that should be mandatory reading for all the current and aspiring leaders of the world is David A. Andelman’s “A Shattered Peace: Versailles 1919 and the Price We Pay Today.”
“If there was a single moment in the twentieth century when it might have been different, this was the moment.” The gathering in Paris that followed the end of World War I and the defeat of Germany, the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman Empires did not merely fail to insure peace; it set in motion the events leading to World War II, the conflicts in Korea, Vietnam, and the tinderbox that is today’s Middle East.
Most Americans, if they know anything about the last century, may associate the event that brought together the United States, England, France, Japan, and representatives of colonial and emerging nations with President Woodrow Wilson’s dream of creating a League of Nations. It was his dream to create an organization that would enforce international laws. WWI was to be “the war to end all wars.” With the exception of the hapless Herbert Hoover, the U.S. has not had such a dangerously naïve, arrogant, and failed presidency until Jimmy Carter.
Following the end of World War II, another such effort was made with the establishment of the United Nations. It has proven to be every bit the failure as the League and infinitely more corrupt. It took only twenty years for Germany, joined by fascist Italy and imperial Japan, to plunge the world into war again. That is failure on a spectacular level.
Specific to both the League and the UN is the fact that both were structured to insure that the world powers then and now, would hopefully control their own worst instincts and those of other nations. Just as the handful of men who shaped the Versailles Treaty sought to serve their nation’s self-interests and set the stage for their dominance of world affairs, the UN Security Council serves this same purpose today.
Despite the UN, only the muscular U.S. determination to keep Korea from total Soviet domination insured its division between the insanely dangerous North and the astonishingly prosperous South, but it was the foolish U.S. assumption of France’s colonial control of Vietnam that would lead to the military and political defeat of the United States that still influences current foreign policy.
In the early decades of the 1900s, the enemy was Bolshevism, the global ambitions of Marxist Communism that was being played out in the former czarist Russia by Lenin and Stalin. At the meeting in Paris, this threat to the West, combined with the desire to divvy up Germany’s colonial possessions and the Ottoman Empire, dominated the proceedings. Nations were created in Europe as a buffer against the emerging Soviet Russia. Men who knew little or nothing of its history or population created other nations in the Middle East.
Today Soviet Russia is a failed state and many of its satellites in Eastern Europe have joined the European Union and even NATO. Even avowedly communist nations like China practice capitalism in recognition of the failure that communist and/or socialist economic policies invariably produce. Until that change, however, millions died.
The new threat to the world is Islamofascism and, thanks to the decisions of 1919, its locus is in nations such as Iraq, Lebanon, the former Palestine protectorate, and Iran. It had been funded by Saudi Arabia and led by a former Saudi, Osama bin Laden, despite the threat it poses to their obscene wealth. The Saudis fund other fundamentalist organizations that have been identified as supporting terrorism.
The gathering in Paris virtually ignored Feisal ibn Hussein, a Bedouin sheik who allied himself with the British in order to secure all of Arabia. His advisor, the famed Lawrence of Arabia, would betray Feisal to further Britain’s plans for the region and accommodate France’s intention to retain and expand its colonial interests there.
Chaim Weizmann, who had devoted his life to the creation of Israel, also attended the Paris conference. Having secured the support of the British, a Palestinian protectorate based on the Balfour Declaration, became part of the conference’s legacy. With extraordinary prescience, Lord Peel noted that, “an irrepressible conflict has arisen between two national communities within the narrow bounds of one small country. There is no common ground between them. Their national aspirations are incompatible.” To this day, Israel’s Jews have been unable to find peace with the descendents of the Palestine Mandate’s Arabs.
Peoples of different ethnic, religious, linguistic, and cultural backgrounds were simply thrown together by the great powers of 1919. In the Depression that followed, the efforts to contain Communism, and the desire for self-determination by a polyglot of peoples in Europe, Russia, Asia, and the Middle East were put on a course that would erupt into World War II and the wars that have been fought since.
Emerging out of both great wars, the United States became the acknowledged superpower, both economically and militarily. It is now engaged in a largely unilateral war in the Middle East to contain and destroy Muslim ambitions that rival those of the Communists.
The divisions between liberal and conservative political leaders in the United States oddly resemble those of the idealistic, but failed dreams of Wilson, and the vastly expanded federal government of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. They compete with those of the Bush administration that favored military intervention, the expansion of FDR’s centralized government powers over those of the states, and the embrace of international organizations.
Reality has intruded on both political factions, neither of which appears to have learned anything from the failures and horrors that proceeded from the Versailles Treaty. Diplomacy still does not hold much promise in the face of fanatically held beliefs. The brutality of war, however, does impose a peace of sorts, if only for a short while between new conflicts.