Paris Peace Conf. 185.112/3

General Tasker H. Bliss to the Secretary of State

My Dear Mr. Secretary: This afternoon, at your apartments, I had a brief conversation with you on the subject of the desirability of the prompt determination of the question of the extent to which the American Commission, in its studies, is to be guided by abstract principle and the extent to which such principle may properly yield to considerations of expediency. I want to give you an illustration of cases in point which I am constantly running into.

A change in an existing frontier may be demanded for either of two general reasons:

It is right, from the point of view of the interests of the peoples immediately concerned, to do so;
It is expedient, from the point of view of the interests of the world at large, to do so.

I shall not discuss the question as to whether an expediency for the whole world may not constitute a right for the world, even though adverse to the immediate rights of the peoples concerned; because, as I take it, our problem just now is to try to find out how these rights of the peoples directly concerned can be reconciled with what is expedient for the world.

I find that, for example, a frontier line for northern Italy can be drawn in substantial accord with the Pact of London3 and which follows a natural line of racial cleavage such as contemplated in President Wilson’s Declarations,—practically, all Italians on one side and all aliens on the other side.

[Page 295]

I find that, following a similar line of racial cleavage, a Czechoslovak State may be created with a practically homogeneous population of 8,500,000 people. A certain proportion of Germans and Magyars will be included, but so small is the number at any one point that colors on the map cannot be employed to distinguish them.

But, in the first case, a demand will be made for a much advanced frontier on the ground that, in order to be prepared for the next war, there must be a scientific, strategic frontier. This will include a certain alien population radically antagonistic to the Italian one.

In the second case, a strategic frontier is demanded which will include some 2,500,000 Germans and Magyars in compact bodies (besides some 600,000 Germans and 250,000 Magyars referred to above as scattered through the Czecho-Slovak State).

Now, if we have to consider strategic frontiers as such, we are committed to a mere revision of the Marquis of Queensbury rules for the European prize-ring. And our work will be futile in our own life time. If we make the probability of future wars our guiding principle we must remember that any of the small states thus created, by amalgamating with some other one may upset all of our strategic calculations.

The first object, and naturally so, of our European associates, is to secure certain territorial adjustments. Our first and only object is to secure certain principles.

If the territorial adjustment is to be the first matter considered, the Americans will be at a great disadvantage. Such adjustments are a matter of barter and trade. One of our associates says to the others, “I will concede you this if you will concede me that.” We have nothing of that sort to concede to any one. Therefore, at the very beginning, some of our principles must come to the front as the only thing that we can oppose to these transactions of barter and sale when they do not conform to our sense of justice.

And so, in my judgment, some of our principles should and must come up for consideration before anything else. It may mean a hard struggle, but I am inclined to think that the struggle will be hopeless for us if we allow everything else to be settled first.

To come back to what I intended to say: one of our principles or ideals is a league of nations. Its object is to do all that is possible to prevent war. Its necessity and justification are based on the fact that not all nations can have scientific, strategic frontiers, such as military men demand. Belgium has not and cannot have such a frontier. A sort of league was formed to protect such frontiers as she has. That league failed because it was not of the kind that we now have in mind.

[Page 296]

If we believe that such a league can be formed and will be effective we ought to secure the recognition of its principle at the outset. This will smooth the path of negotiation. When one interest demands the inclusion of an alien and racially antagonistic population, in order to secure a strategic frontier, the reply will be that the league of nations is the strategic frontier of every nation which has no other. This would entirely meet the cases which I mentioned above by way of illustration.

Therefore it seems to me that first of all the principles of the league of nations and of rational disarmament must be admitted, or we are committed to a re-weaving of the Penelope’s web that has been unravelled by every Congress in Europe for the past 250 years.

What have we Americans to do with that?

Cordially yours,

Tasker H. Bliss
  1. Great Britain, Cmd. 671, Misc. No. 7 (1920): Agreement Between France, Russia, Great Britain and Italy, Signed at London, April 26, 1915.