Tasker H. Bliss Papers

Memorandum by General Tasker H. Bliss for the Commission to Negotiate Peace

General McKinstry’s letter of January 1, 1919, now before us for consideration, suggests some points for determination in addition to those noted by the Secretary of the Commission in his letter of transmittal dated January 4.17

1. The Resolution adopted by the Conference in London early in December, 1918, (on which, as I understand, the United States took no affirmative action) provided

“That each Allied or Associated government should formulate its claims for reparation due from enemy states …”.

Query: Shall or shall not the United States now formulate a claim for reparation due it from enemy states, this claim to be enforced in like manner as the similar claims of the Allied governments, or held in abeyance as an off-set against possible claims made by the latter against the United States? It might be found desirable to do this, in case a lump sum for reparation and indemnity is demanded which may have to be prorated among the claimants.

This question must be determined by the Commission before General McKinstry proceeds further with his work because

if the United States is to formulate such a claim General McKinstry’s work must proceed along certain lines of great detail; whereas,
if we are only to check the claims of other governments, his work may proceed on simpler lines.

2. Query: Is the United States Government, explicitly or implicitly, a party to the Resolution of the London Conference of December? Was the resolution of the representatives of Great Britain, France and Belgium, adopted for the purpose of being submitted, for their subsequent adhesion, to the governments of the United States, Italy, Serbia, Greece, Roumania?

It is noted that each of them is requested to formulate its claims. It is further noted that “these claims will be referred for examination by an Inter-Allied Commission” (which excludes the United States) and that this Commission “will be nominated when claims are ready”.

I believe that this Resolution grew out of the idea generally accepted by the British and French, that, if the principle of exact and detailed claims for all losses be admitted by the Peace Conference, their formulation [Page 617] will continue over a considerable number of years; that the Peace Conference can only establish a principle for the payment but will never know even the approximate amount; and that the enemy states will be required to sign a treaty of peace binding them to the payment of an unknown sum extending over an unknown number of years.

Of course this ex-parte Conference at London cannot bind the Peace Conference, but it suggests an attitude that may be proposed to the American delegates for their acceptance or rejection.

This raises the further query: What shall be our attitude towards possible claims the amount of which cannot be known in any reasonable life time of the Peace Conference? Shall that conference pass its powers on to a new commission of indefinite continuance with the possibility of later disputes that might require the United States to resume the war or let the claims go by default? Or shall we adopt the principle of demanding a lump sum which can be paid within a reasonable, definite time?

This question also must be settled in order to guide General McKinstry’s work.

3. Query: Shall we accept the principle of claims for indirect damages? If so, shall we accept it without limitation? Shall we demand that these claims be submitted to the Peace Conference or agree to their being passed upon by a subsequent Commission of indefinite continuance?

The answer to this question imposes upon General McKinstry or relieves him from a great amount of work.

4. The United States cannot surrender to the Associated Powers the sole determination of the question of damages and indemnities, because on that question may depend the future peace. If, therefore, we pass upon the claims of Great Britain, France and Belgium, we must do so also on the claims of Italy, Serbia and all the Allied or Associated Powers.

To do this, General McKinstry’s Commission must be organized on a much wider basis than now proposed and with larger expense involved.

5. The foregoing leads to this conclusion.

In the case of France, alone, there will be an immense number of individual claims—besides governmental claims—representing every individual property owner claiming damage. Each of these will be supported by a mass of documentary evidence.

If the sum total of these claims comes before the peace Conference the Americans must accept it, or reject it on the result of our investigation of each individual case; or we may accept or reject it as the result of the application of the law of averages.

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I believe the former solution will be impossible, within any reasonable time limit, if the total of the claims has to be passed on by the Peace Conference.

But it seems to me possible that if, after the French Railway Claims, for example, are formulated, a group of American railway engineers could select certain type cases, make an independent investigation, and judge the approximate accuracy of the entire claim by the result of this investigation. So with rural village and urban property. And it is perhaps possible that we may apply the average of selected type cases to indirect damages, though admittedly more difficult.

6. I think that our attitude in challenging individual claims, except for the purpose of determining an average on which to base a total, should be very guarded. I doubt if the other nations will enter such challenges. The purpose of Resolution of the London Conference for an examination of the final claims before an Inter-Allied Commission was not to scrutinize claims; but it was in the belief that the total claim would exceed any amount they could hope could be gotten out of the enemy powers and the business of the Commission would be to pro rate this amount.

Tasker H. Bliss
  1. Not printed.