Paris Peace Conf. 851.00/2

Mr. Warrington Dawson 22 to the Chargé in France ( Bliss )

Yesterday afternoon I went by appointment to call on Marshal Joffre,23 and I repeated to him a remark the Secretary of State had made in conversation with me concerning the Marshal’s popularity in America and America’s opinion of his services in the war. I told him that I had asked the Secretary’s permission to repeat this.

The Marshal’s eyes filled with tears, and he asked me to express to the Secretary of State his deep gratitude and to say that such a tribute from America, conveyed by the lips of the Secretary, atoned to him for the hours during which he had seemed to be overlooked and forgotten.

He then spoke to me at length on conditions in France and in Germany. At the end of this conversation, which lasted more than an hour, I asked his permission to inform the Secretary of all he had said. He replied that he would be happy to have me do so. He asked me to present his respects to the Secretary and say he would be much honored if he could have a personal interview with him; but that in any event he begged permission to remain in contact with the Secretary through me.

Appended is a report of the Marshal’s conversation, as written out by me from memory immediately after leaving him. A long intimacy having made me familiar with the Marshal’s opinions, train of thought, and usual phraseology, I can say that this is an accurate rendering in condensed form of his words on this occasion.

Warrington Dawson
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Memorandum by Mr. Warrington Dawson of a Conversation With Marshal Joffre

I beg to report the following remarks made to me to-day by Marshal Joffre:

M. Clemenceau and the Society of Nations

“President Wilson’s visit has proved to be a very fortunate thing, and his influence has already made itself felt. I am told that M. Clemenceau himself has calmed down somewhat, and is disposed to more reasonable views since being in contact with Mr. Wilson’s intellect and personality. Clemenceau has never been a partisan of the Society of Nations. England appears to be, with reserves as to the Freedom of the Seas, and Italy also, with reserves as to the Jugo-Slav question. Both may have cause to regret, in the future, that their adherence was not prompter and more complete, especially England when she sees America across the Atlantic with a fleet larger than her own. But whereas England and Italy are agreeable to the principle, M. Clemenceau holds out in the name of France, while not appearing to know just what he wants in the stead of the Society of Nations. The fact of saying ‘I don’t want that’ does not constitute a very complete programme at a time like this.

The Position of the Cabinet

“M. Clemenceau’s political position appears to have been consolidated, of late, on the strength of his having won what he calls ‘his war’. But there has not been an organized opposition, no leader has come forward and contested his power. His opponents have not disarmed, however, and it would not be surprising if he were overthrown within the next month or two.

Briand24 is the only likely successor I have heard mentioned. He is an able, while not a really strong, man. He has the advantage of more polished ways than Clemenceau; he never breaks out in gross personal denunciations at awkward junctures. But he has the defect which is unfortunately characteristic of our statesmen—making whatever promises may be useful for tiding over difficulties. France needs at this juncture a leader following a clear, open policy, who will furthermore dare say ‘No’ in the face of Parliament when he feels it right to do so.

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“If Clemenceau were appointed French Peace Plenipotentiary, as he desires, and he were then overthrown in Parliament, strange complications would follow.

The Premier Must Head the French Peace Delegation

“With a Constitution and customs like ours, the Prime Minister must head the French Peace Delegation. Clemenceau would sit not in his personal capacity, but as the head of our Government; so that if he were replaced as Prime Minister, he would have to be replaced as Peace Plenipotentiary also.

“Furthermore, Clemenceau’s nature makes it impossible for him to brook anyone else’s authority or to admit of divided authority. He would sit only as absolute master of France’s representatives. Perhaps this has been the cause of reports spread to the effect that France will have but one Delegate, strictly speaking, with official Secretaries the first of whom would be M. Pichon, and another M. Berthelot.25 These reports seem to have more consistency than those according to which France would be represented by four or five equally eminent men. M. Bourgeois26 is an opponent of M. Clemenceau on many points, though a sufficient degree of harmony between them might be maintained if Bourgeois is willing to recognize Clemenceau’s superiority. But Briand, as Clemenceau’s chief rival for power, could not be expected to bend before his absolute will. I have heard Tardieu’s name mentioned as a possibility. There has been talk of Foch, but I do not know with what degree of likelihood. I myself have not been approached in any way, nor do I believe that M. Clemenceau, owing to his personal hostility towards me, would allow me to serve with him. Our views are so different that I should be singularly embarrassed, if the question were put to me; I should have to reserve my independence of judgment, and Clemenceau would not admit of that from any member of the Delegation.

Two Vital Points for the Peace Treaty

“In my opinion, the Peace Treaty should include two vital points. First, the Allies must not only state all that they demand of Germany, they must foresee and mention specifically the means they will adopt if necessary for forcing Germany to comply to the very end. Secondly, mention must be made of the Society of Nations, and its application must be prepared in such respects as can be immediately realized.

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The Attitude To Be Taken Towards Germany

“I believe that the Germans sincerely want to get the negotiations over and to sign peace as soon as possible. While they have haggled and delayed over clauses of the armistice, there have been genuine material difficulties in their way. After peace is signed, they will probably haggle and seek to delay over executing the peace conditions. But they are eager to end the present state of affairs; and we are in a position to make them respect the conditions they have accepted, as well as to avert the possibility of another war. What we want is a stable German Government to affix its signature to the treaty, even though that Government should last only for a time. Some clauses will take as long as twenty or thirty years to fulfill; but we can enforce respect of the treaty, once it has been properly signed.

“Of the two factions now fighting for control in Berlin, Ebert27 is preferable to Liebknecht,28 since the partisans of the latter are Bolshevists. But we must allow the country to seethe without interference until it can settle down and recover from its own unrest. We should commit the gravest of mistakes if we were to send an inter-allied army to Berlin, even for purposes of pacific occupation.

The Question of the Left Bank of the Rhine

“The question of annexing the Left Bank of the Rhine ought not to be agitated at present. Any attempt to settle the definite status of those provinces would be not only premature but a mistake. The Allied armies must occupy the territory during all the years which will pass before the clauses of the Peace Treaty are fulfilled. That alone should be considered. To this end, it would be well for the occupied provinces to have provisional autonomy under our military supervision. We certainly could not allow them to be attached to the new German State and hold elections to send representatives to the German parliament. At the end of twenty or thirty years, the status could be definitely decided, whether annexation to France, or reversion to Germany, or complete autonomy, or a protectorate. Meanwhile, Germany could continue to claim the provinces theoretically if she wished—as she probably would.

“I must say here, however, that only the Rhine as a frontier can offer to France absolute security against future aggressions. But we cannot and must not violate the principle of the Freedom of Peoples.

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Two Grave Situations in France

“There are at this moment in France two situations giving rise to the gravest concern: one is the slowness of demobilization, and the other is inadequacy in transportation facilities.

The Slowness of Demobilization

“We have not yet worked out any effective system for demobilization. Early in October, more than a month before the Armistice was signed, the Director of one of the Divisions of the Ministry of War sent in to the Minister a report recommending that plans for demobilization be drawn up without loss of time. M. Clemenceau turned down the suggestion, saying: ‘I am making war.’ The Armistice came so suddenly that everybody was taken by surprise; and save for the fact that a few old soldiers are being released, our demobilization is no more advanced to-day than it was then.

“A spirit is arising in the army which will develop to serious proportions unless the cause is remedied very soon. There is no insubordination as yet, but there are both impatience and discontent. Hundreds of thousands of French soldiers, kept on a war footing and having nothing particular to do, see the industries of peace reviving for others while they themselves are debarred from earning money. They cannot understand such a condition of affairs, and they say so in writing to their families; who, in turn, become exasperated, lacking the support and the companionship of the men. This is playing precisely into the hands of the Socialists, who will not fail to make the best of it in favor of their own agitation.

“The only remedy is prompt and effective demobilization, which we have no reason to fear since Germany is now powerless militarily.

The Inadequacy of Transportation Facilities

“The second grave situation I have mentioned adds further complications to the first. We are exposed to shortness of food and of materials not because we lack either, for our stocks are sufficient while not abundant, but because of difficulties in transportation. The rolling stock is insufficient; but far worse, there is not enough labor.

“Last July, the question became acute. The Ministry of Public Works asked the Ministry of War to lend some tens of thousands of men, amounting roughly to forty thousand, from the Reserves of the Territorial Army, to help with the railroads. While unskilled at the start, these men gradually learned their new business, and did much towards relieving congestion. But now they are to be released, because they are for the most part old men belonging to the only classes [Page 385] which will be demobilized. They cannot be replaced by the former railroad men who have since been serving in the army, because those men remain mobilized. The only solution found has been to call for volunteers from all classes of workmen and agricultural laborers. 30,000 have already responded; 60,000 are needed, and will probably be found. But this will be entirely unskilled labor, the technical education of a large number of men will be begun during a crisis when a maximum of skilled effort is needed.

“We must have better distribution in France if we are to avoid a very serious shortage of necessaries. In the reconquered regions of the north and east, that shortage already exists, and the congestion is aggravated by the policy of using nothing but military means in the army zone. We are also obliged to feed Germany to the extent of her absolute requirements, though the Allies must of course come first; by exposing Germany to want, we should expose ourselves to many complications.

“In closing, I shall give you a homely example of existing difficulties.

“I am short of vinegar for my household, and have had trouble in buying it. Three months ago, my brother at Perpignan sent me a barrelful of his own making. It did not reach me. I wrote and inquired. At the end of a month, he shipped another barrel to me. That did not come, so I wrote again. He sent me a third shipment, six quarts not by freight but by parcels post, packed according to regulations. That was a month ago, and the parcel has not yet reached me any more than either of the barrels.

“The story is not trivial, because there are similar instances in almost incalculable numbers, affecting to a greater or lesser degree the population of our entire country, and promising to grow much worse.”


Warrington Dawson
  1. Confidential adviser and special assistant to the American Embassy in France.
  2. Joseph J. C. Joffre, Marshal of France; Commander in Chief of the French Armies, 1914–16.
  3. Aristide Briand, French President of the Council, Oct. 29, 1915–Mar. 20, 1917.
  4. Phillippe Berthelot, Director ad interim of Political and Commercial Affairs in the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
  5. Léon Bourgeois, French President of the Council, 1895–96; Minister for Foreign Affairs, 1896, 1906.
  6. Friedrich Ebert, chairman of the German Socialist Party; Chancellor of the German Provisional Government from Nov. 9, 1918.
  7. Karl Liebknecht, leader of the German Spartacist Movement.