The Real Colonel House
Chapter 23 Preparing for the Peace Conference
Arthur D. H. Smith
IN September, 1917, the President appointed Colonel House to organize the laborious task of gathering and tabulating the mass of data which will be required by the American delegates to the Peace Conference at the end of the war. His intercourse with foreign governments and statesmen had convinced Colonel House that when the final peace conference came—as come it must, no matter how dark may be the immediate horizon—the American delegates should be in a position to match wits on equal terms with the leading diplomats of Europe. Also, he knew that for two years and more European chancelleries had been at work collecting information on the moot points which would have to be settled, and had so much the start on the United States, wholly aside from the fact that every European country, including Germany and Austria, possessed diplomats whose knowledge of world politics, through long training and experience, was superior to that possessed by American statesmen, who, very naturally, had never had occasion
( 263) to familiarize themselves with the ethnic, geographical, or commercial problems of Europe and Asia, or the conflicting colonial claims of the white races in Africa.
"The theory of this undertaking," Colonel House said, in outlining his preparations for peace, "is that it is better to be in a position to view intelligently what you are, trying to do, than to be obliged to jump blindfolded. In any conference the people come off best who are most thoroughly equipped, who hold the highest cards in the way of knowledge of what they are about. It is our intention that the American delegates to the peace conference shall be so equipped. We shall endeavor to supply them with all the information they may require, even regarding points in which it is quite probable that the United States may take no active interest. It is always advisable to understand thoroughly what is going on, although you may not be directly concerned in the event.
"The fact that this work is going forward does not mean that we anticipate peace soon, or at arty definite date. It may be this year, or next year, or the year after that. The. governments of our Allies began this work of preparation long ago, when peace was even more remote than it is today. You might describe our attitude as the reverse of the old saying, `In time of peace prepare
(264) for war.' We are preparing in time of war for peace." Before Colonel House went to Europe in October to attend the Inter-Allied Conference, and the first sitting of the Supreme War Council, at Versailles, he had the work of his peace inquiry well under way. The scheme adopted was to unite the ablest minds in the country under the direction of an Executive Committee, and a few specialists, in different fields, who, in turn, were directly supervised by Colonel House himself. By this arrangement he was relieved of the burden of details, and could devote himself to the high lights of the undertaking.
He found that individuals, societies, universities, and colleges were glad to co÷perate with him, and those persons and institutions possessing the necessary funds eagerly volunteered to defray the expenses of whatever work they were given to do. The faculties and research machinery of practically every important higher institution of learning, the Library of Congress, the New York Public Library, the American Geographical Society, and the National Board for Historical Service, with many other similar organizations, were placed at his disposal.
The Executive Committee is headed by Dr. Mezes, president of the College of the City of New York, and brother-in-law of Colonel House,
( 265) as director, with Walter Lippman, formerly one of the editors of the New Republic, and writer on international topics, as secretary. Colonel House is particularly fortunate in having Dr. Mezes available as his right-hand man. Besides being a scholar of great attainments and wide range of learning, especially in history, economics, and international relations, Dr. Mezes has the peculiar distinction of standing toward Colonel House in precisely the same relation which Colonel House occupies with the President. In other words, his mind works along the same lines. He sees things in the same perspective. Colonel House can ask him to do something, and be sure that in Dr. Mezes's hands the work will have the same treatment as he would give it himself. When Colonel House went to Europe the last time he was able to leave the supervision of the newly-created inquiry in charge of his brother-in-law, without worrying over the possible mistakes in policy or distortion of his intentions. He could have planed such confidence in no other individual. The research consultant of the Executive Committee is Prof. James T. Shotwell, professor of history, at Columbia University, author of "The Religious Revolution of To-day," assistant general editor of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, and editor of "Records of Civilization, Sources and
( 266) Studies." The gathering of material on territorial questions is in charge of Dr. Isaiah Bowman, the geographer. Prof. A. A. Young, ex-director of research of the War Trade Board, is in charge of investigations in international economies. Questions in international law are handled by D. H. Miller, of the New York Bar, assisted by many others. It would be impossible to give a complete list of all the scientists, trade experts, students, and scholars who are combining in this work, most of them without any remuneration from the Government. The first aim has been to do the work well. The second has been to do it inexpensively. In this respect, it may be said that, thanks to the whole-hearted co÷peratiοn which has been extended to the Government by universities and societies, the net expense will be negligible.
For example, the services of the American Geographical Society's expert map-makers have been placed at the disposal of the inquiry, a facility of the utmost importance. When the American delegates go to the peace conference they will take with them an immense assortment of maps illustrating every phase of the territorial, economic, and ethnologic problems at stake. They will be able to turn at need, say, to Map Χ4, depicting racial distribution in Bessarabia, and see the exact proportion of the Rumanian, Jewish,
( 267) and Slavonic stocks, and how they are dispersed geographically. Or they can ask for Map Y2 and find the areas of land suitable for white colonization in equatorial Africa. Of course, both these instances are purely imaginary, but they show the system, and how it will work in application. Besides maps and charts, investigators have accumulated quantities of data on every subject which might be considered within the purview of the peace conference, and an elaborate card-index will permit the ready consultation of the mine of information by American delegates who may wish to ascertain the conditions in a given tract of territory, regarding which a difference of opinion exists. This means that the American representatives will not be obliged to depend upon information from any other delegation, be it from an allied nation or an enemy nation, in reaching an opinion on any subject. Complete independence of outlook is thus assured to our representatives, without the sacrifice of intelligence or breadth of vision.
The most difficult part of the undertaking was the necessity of having all the data mobilized, so that the facts and figures regarding any region or question could be pulled out from the total and brought to bear on any phase of that particular region or question, in order to give an exact picture of it, not only in so far as that one point was
( 268) concerned, but as it was related to adjoining countries and problems. This difficulty was met by making the basis of calculation the least unit of Government, corresponding to the American county, whatever it was called and however administered. These counties or primary units are listed separately in each area under discussion, and the data dealing with them can be obtained at once, either separately for each unit or altogether for the entire region.
Colonel House and his assistants have approached this big proposition in the spirit of modern research and scholarly efficiency. They have left nothing to chance. They quarter every field of speculation and analyze each contested subject from every side. No country has gone at the problem of preparing for peace in such a whole-souled, open-minded mood. Foreign governments, no matter how pure their motives, have some pet hobbies and secret ambitions mingled with their war aims, and they are inclined to stress these in laying their foundations for peace. But the United States is going to the peace conference without a single selfish motive. The President is just as determined to secure justice for Germany as he is for Belgium, but he is going to be in a position to form his own judgment of Germany's rights and not have to depend upon the Kaiser's delegates.
The only ambition of the United States is to help in rearranging the world's affairs so that . war will be made impossible—or so difficult and expensive that the most arrogant nation will hesitate ever again to resort to the sword. And as a means to its end, the representatives of the United States must be acquainted with all the questions which will come up for discussion, whether the United States expects to have anything to say about them or not--because it stands to reason that unless the Government knows all there is to know about a question it will . be impossible to decide whether we should speak about it.
When Colonel House and his assistants had determined the main outlines of their work, they turned to concrete problems. To begin with, they decided that there were certain regions of urgency, presenting questions of pressing importance, the evidence regarding which should be collected as rapidly as possible. For one thing, there was Alsace-Lorraine. The peace investigators have made a painstaking study of the entire subject of Alsace and Lorraine, in their relation to France and to Germany.
Elaborate records and statistics of the population have been accumulated, indicating the proportion of French and German inhabitants in the two provinces, in the communes, in the rural and in the urban districts ; the proportions in which
( 270) French and German, respectively, are spoken; and the records of elections, with regard to the demonstration therein of the spirit of independence; the movement of trade and commerce during association with France and after the annexation to Germany. The result is an orderly array of facts on practically every aspect of the history of Alsace-Lorraine, and on the treatment of like questions in the past.
Of the regions of urgency, probably none presents more difficulties in the way of settlement than that comprising the lands between the Persian Gulf and the Baltic Sea. There, where the Germans are trying to rear a row of barrier states, subordinate to themselves economically and acting as buffers to ward off the newly-awakened spirit of Russian liberalism, where Turkey is endeavoring to wrest back the lands of Armenia, Georgia, and the Caucasus conquered from her by Russia, a myriad of vexed problems, submerged racial desires, national antipathies, religious animosities, and fruits of bygone oppressions are lying in wait to trip the unwary statesman. There, where Germany's new ambitions lie, the astute and unscrupulous diplomats of Berlin will make their bitterest fight for dominance, in the hope that their wrecked commercial empire in the west may be built up anew on a Russia and Turkey economically enslaved. American states-
( 271) -men know very little about this part of the world, and the data Colonel House's inquiry will have ready for them should be of the greatest value. It will put them in a position to check up on every statement made in their presence.
A second region of urgency is the Central African Colonial area. The conquest of Germany's enormous African territories is one of the minor trump cards held by the Entente Allies. Public opinion in England and France seems to be divided on the question of returning these lands after the war, if the Allies win and can dictate their own terms. In British South Africa, the idea of retaining at least German South West Africa is openly advocated, and in some quarters it has been hinted that an order to return the lands won by General Smuts would be disobeyed. Although the United States has no commercial or political stake in Africa, this problem certainly will exert a big influence at the final settlement, and it will be necessary for the representatives of the United States to be able to judge of the value of the conflicting statements and claims which will be put forward. So Colonel House's assistants are studying the entire question of the Central African colonies, French, Belgian, Portuguese, and British, as well as German, the climate of different sections, the products, the native tribes, the past conduct of the white governments
( 272) towards their charges, the possibilities for white 'colonization, the circumstances of settlement and so forth.
Still another important subject of study is the economic needs of the Central Powers. The Teutonic Allies may be relied upon to make a plea for special consideration, in view of their sufferings in the war, and to attempt to cast responsibility for the struggle on their enemies by alleging economic repression in the past. The delegates of the United States will be provided with full statistics covering a period of years, showing the various economic needs of Germany and Austria- Hungary, how they may be satisfied and the exact amount, of their natural resources which must be supplemented from outside.
The freedom of the seas is the fifth question which is occupying the inquiry's attention. This truly momentous problem, upon which may very well depend the future peace of the world, is being examined from every angle of law, commerce, and history. The researches of the peace investigation will enable the American delegates to present the case for the well-known theories of the United States with weight and precision.
The claims of the Jews in Palestine; the age-old struggle of the rival Slav nationalities in the Balkans; the fate of the Czecho-Slavs, Slovaks, Dalmatians, Italians, and other subject races of
( 273) Austria ; the Rumanian lands held by the Dual Monarchy; the future of Poland and Greece; Arabia, and the subject races of Turkey—these are some of the matters regarding which the experts of Colonel House's Committee are inquiring at length, with patience and resource. All the plans which have been put forward at one time or another for the prevention of war have been placed under examination, with a view to ascertaining their practicability or usefulness, with due emphasis upon the rival claims of a world court or an international league of peace, or any other scheme enforcing the standards of civilization.
"It is not that we are trying to find a way to peace," said Colonel House, "or to settle off-hand the difficulties of the world. We are simply trying to lay the basis for our country's share in ending the war on terms which will be so fair and equitable that they will leave a minimum of heart- burnings and jealousies to disturb the generations which will come after us."