Woodrow Wilson, prophet and politician

If the President had properly conceived the minute special knowledge and the realistic and practical judgment necessary to write the fourteen points in the treaty, he would have chosen his peace colleagues from among the most informed, responsible and independent thinkers in the States -United. He would also have provided himself with a group of experts with whom he himself would have been in daily communication and at whose feet he would have sat. Instead, he employed a body of special students, most of them capable and all of them conscientious, but a separate body, without instructions, without authority, without real contact with the president, disconnected.

The expert who studied Kiaochow wasn’t supposed to know what the president was thinking, even though what the president was thinking on the morning of decision day was the decisive thing. Mr. Wilson’s theory was that all decisions should be his own and all should be based, if not on direct inspiration, at least on evidence he had sifted through. But he utterly failed to perceive the magnitude of such a task: no mind, however vast, could have grasped all these complexities, and where the greatest man would have failed, Mr. Wilson failed. He was ignorant because of his chosen method of work, his love of political abstraction, his distaste for concrete, complex, coordinated research, finally because of his voluntary intellectual isolation. Working alone, he worked too slowly and never finished anything. No wonder he was overwhelmed with the impossible and unsympathetic task.

This task, even after weeks and months of work, Mr. Wilson never really understood. He vaguely saw that the treaty was going badly, but he couldn’t quite see what it was about. The problem still presented itself to him in abstract moral terms; some people were bad and proposals made by bad people were bad proposals. As his fourteen principles skilfully opposed each other until finally Mr. Wilson himself could not choose between them, he fell back in his decisions on a passing sympathy. He liked certain people, among them Lloyd George, a quick-witted, humorous, easy-principled politician, one of those “cunning” men, whom Bacon says are “perfect in the moods of men” but “not very capable of the real part of business.

Clemenceau, on the contrary, seems to have mistrusted it, and consequently the French imperialists seemed – and indeed they were – insatiable. The Italian imperialists also wanted all they could get and knew no other way but to ask for more than they could get. In the benevolent eyes of Mr. Wilson, the British, on the contrary, seemed moderate and were, it seemed, forced against their will to accept what they wanted. But, unfortunately for Mr. Wilson’s steadfastness, the whole Conference whirled like a top, diplomats changed roles, and allies became adversaries and adversaries of allies. There were times when Mr. Wilson could not determine the relative morality of his colleagues but, like Alice judging the Walrus and the Carpenter, was forced to the lame conclusion that “they were both very disagreeable characters” . And, in truth, beneath all apparent concessions to Mr. Wilson and behind all temporary alignments in his favour, there existed in Paris, and had existed from the beginning, notwithstanding intense mutual bitterness between these powers, a hostile bloc of four nations , united by secret treaties which, although uncomfortable, were binding.

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