Paris Peace Conf. 180.03101/7

[BC–3]

Notes on Conversations Held in the Office of M. Pichon at the Quai d’Orsay, on January 16, 1919

Present

United States of America: President Wilson
Mr. Lansing
Mr. Frazier
Mr. Harrison
British Empire: Mr. Lloyd George
Mr. Balfour
Lt. Col. Hankey
Major Abraham—Major Caccia
France: M. Clemenceau
M. Pichon
M. Dutasta
M. Berthelot
Prince de Beam
Italy: M. Sonnino
Count Aldrovandi
Capt. Jones
Japan: Viscount Chinda
M. Matsui

Interpreter: M. Mantoux.

I

M. Clemenceau stated that he did not think that the solution arrived at regarding the Press was practical. He pointed out that there was no censorship of the Press in the United States or in England, while there was a French censorship in operation. Consequently, this was manifestly unfair, as false news could be sent from here to the United States or England and come back via America. Coming from America, it would be impossible to stop it. He also referred to the story carried in the New York Tribune which practically threatens the Allied Governments with withdrawal of U. S. Forces in Europe. It would seem desirable to have either total secrecy on all sides, which is absolutely impossible, or complete publicity. Would it be well to create a Committee of Communication to the Press, which would give out news and reply to false news, also do what they could to remove false impressions?

Mr. Lloyd George observed that there were papers in each of the Allied countries which were opposed to the government, and that these papers would make use of any information which they might obtain from the delegates of one government to discredit the delegates [Page 586] of another. There were several English papers which he knew were determined to discredit the plans of the British Government.

President Wilson suggested complete publicity of all that happened.

Mr. Lloyd George thought this inadvisable, as regards the small meetings. President Wilson inquired whether publicity were not practicable in the case of the large conferences.

Mr. Lloyd George seemed to think this a small matter,—that what the Press wanted was publicity regarding what took place at the small meetings.

President Wilson asked whether the protest of the Press which he had received the previous evening did not refer only to the great conferences.

Mr. Lloyd George stated that this might be the case, and that the wording of the protest might give that impression. He did not think, however, that the protest was meant to refer only to the great conferences. He felt sure that the Press want to be able to publish anything that they can pick up regarding the small conferences.

Baron Sonnino remarked that the Press can always invent things.

M. Clemenceau remarked that it was just for this reason that it was desirable to take steps to prevent it.

Mr. Lloyd George asked whether it would not be well to have a general warning issued to the Press of all countries.

M. Clemenceau inquired if this proposal meant a statement signed by President Wilson, Lloyd George, Orlando and himself.

President Wilson observed that the public of the United States wanted open sessions.

M. Clemenceau laid stress on the view that if there was to be no censorship of general news, it was most important to avoid by all possible means the efforts which would undoubtedly be made to sow discord among the delegates of the Great Powers. They must be unanimous.

Baron Sonnino agreed with M. Clemenceau, and pointed out that the responsibility of an amendment to a unanimous decision on any question should be the responsibility of all. As regards the suggestion for the formation of a committee to deny false stories and rumors, he did not see how the committee could refute false stories regarding alleged happenings at the small meetings, unless the members of the committee were present at these meetings. Moreover, if stories are denied, news will be invented by the Press for the purpose of obtaining a denial, and thus the point will be slowly narrowed down until the actual information is obtained.

[Page 587]

Mr. Lloyd George observed that the issuance of some kind of statement explaining the danger of giving out information from day to day before a final decision on any one question was reached, appealed strongly to him. He thought it would be well to issue an appeal to the public not to pay too much attention to unauthorized news which might be entirely untrue, or consist of a part only of the facts, or give a false impression of the question. He believed that a majority of the public would understand such an appeal, and would discredit the news.

President Wilson inquired whether those present saw any virtue in the suggestion that Sir George Riddell,1 Mr. Baker2 and the representatives of the Italian and French delegates meet the newspaper correspondents, tell them frankly that the object of these conversations is to come to an understanding, and that if news were to be given out from moment to moment, a false impression would be made.

M. Clemenceau did not think that this would stop the man who wanted to send false news from doing so.

President Wilson did not see how he could be stopped in any cafce. He thought that his proposal would be the most efficacious way of handling the matter, as regards small conferences, and suggested that meanwhile those present resolve that the large conferences shall be open to the Press.

Mr. Lloyd George remarked that the Press once let in could never be excluded.

Baron Sonnino, referring to the suggestion of the creation of a committee, pointed out that when a certain piece of news was not completely false the committee would be unable to deny it.

Mr. Balfour inquired whether the company present had carefully considered what would be the function of the great conferences, if they were made entirely open to the Press. Would it not result in their becoming purely a matter of form?

M. Clemenceau thought it would be impossible without danger to reduce the part to be played by the great conferences. He called attention to the fact that all those present had named several delegates, because their presence was desired. It was true that certain questions should be discussed only in the small meetings, which perhaps it would not be well to discuss at the great meetings. Nevertheless, many questions will have to be discussed openly at the great meetings.

Mr. Balfour referred to the fact that it had been decided that the small powers should be present only when questions came up which [Page 588] concerned them. He mentioned the cases of Danzig and Poland generally. He did not think it would be wise to hold the discussion of both of these cases in public. If that were true, the great conferences would become simply formal and practically would be called together only to hear a decision.

President Wilson observed that it was hardly conceivable that the big conferences would be obliged to accept the decisions of those present if the principle of: one nation, one vote, were adopted.

Mr. Balfour remarked that surely the President did not propose to permit the Great Powers to be out-voted by the small powers.

M. Pichon pointed out that when such questions as those of Danzig and Poland were discussed, it would be necessary to have others present, because the Polish questions touched on the Czecho-Slovak questions and Baltic provinces, and in fact, the whole Russian problem.

Baron Sonnino suggested that all groups of questions should be examined in the small conferences, and then brought to the great conferences, and that general questions should be discussed at all conferences.

Mr. Lloyd George again urged that the discussion revert to President Wilson’s suggestion about a talk to the Press. He supported the suggestion and thought it most desirable to have the representatives of the delegates obtain the views of the Press by the following day. He asked President Wilson to be good enough to repeat his suggestion.

President Wilson stated that the three representatives should call the representatives of the Press and explain the difficulties with which the delegates were faced with regard to the question of giving out information and inform them that the delegates did not think it would facilitate results if the details of the present discussions were outlined in public. The three representatives should also make it clear to the Press that it was the desire of the delegates to tell them as fully and freely as possible of the determination taken at these conferences. In conclusion, the three representatives should ask the Press to express their views as to what they considered the best method for carrying out the desires of the delegates.

It was suggested that the three representatives arrange to meet the Press at the Hotel Dufayel at five o’clock.

II

M. Pichon read a protest received from the Siamese Government against the assignment to it of but one delegate. M. Pichon read the arguments of the Siamese Government. It was claimed that Siam had done all that she could to help; that she had eliminated German propaganda of which she was a center; had destroyed German trade; [Page 589] had deported enemy subjects, and had placed enemy ships at the disposal of the Allies.

It was decided to give Siam two delegates.

III

Preliminary Discussion Regarding the Situation in Russia

Mr. Lloyd George commenced his statement setting forth the information in the possession of the British Government regarding the Russian situation, by referring to the matter which had been exposed recently in L’Humanité. He stated that he wished to point out that there had been a serious misconception on the part of the French Government as to the character of the proposal of the British Government. The British proposal did not contemplate in any sense whatsoever, a recognition of the Bolsheviki Government, nor a suggestion that Bolshevik delegates be invited to attend the Conference. The British proposal was to invite all of the different governments now at war within what used to be the Russian Empire, to a truce of God, to stop reprisals and outrages and to send men here to give, so to speak, an account of themselves. The Great Powers would then try to find a way to bring some order out of chaos. These men were not to be delegates to the Peace Conference, and he agreed with the French Government entirely that they should not be made members of the Conference.

Mr. Lloyd George then proceeded to set forth briefly the reasons which had led the British Government to make this proposal. They were as follows:

  • Firstly, the real facts are not known;
  • Secondly, if it is impossible to get the facts, the only way is to adjudicate the question; and
  • Thirdly, conditions in Russia are very bad; there is general misgovernment and starvation. It is not known who is obtaining the upper hand, but the hope that the Bolshevik Government would collapse has not been realized. In fact, there is one report that the Bolsheviki are stronger than ever, that their internal position is strong, and that their hold on the people is stronger. Take, for instance, the case of the Ukraine. Some adventurer raises a few men and overthrows the government. The government is incapable of overthrowing him. It is also reported that the peasants are becoming Bolsheviki. It is hardly the business of the Great Powers to intervene either in lending financial support to one side or the other, or in sending munitions to either side.

Mr. Lloyd George stated that there seemed to be three possible policies:

1.
Military intervention. It is true that the Bolsheviki movement is as dangerous to civilization as German militarism, but as to putting [Page 590] it down by the sword, is there anyone who proposes it? It would mean holding a certain number of vast provinces in Russia. The Germans with one million men on their Eastern Front only held the fringe of this territory. If he now proposed to send a thousand British troops to Russia for that purpose, the armies would mutiny. The same applies to U. S. troops in Siberia; also to Canadians and French as well. The mere idea of crushing Bolshevism by a military force is pure madness. Even admitting that it is done, who is to occupy Russia? No one can conceive or undertake to bring about order by force.
2.

A cordon. The second suggestion is to besiege Bolshevik Russia. Mr. Lloyd George wondered if those present realized what this would mean. From the information furnished him Bolshevik Russia has no corn, but within this teritory there are 150,000,000 men, women and children. There is now starvation in Petrograd and Moscow. This is not a health cordon; it is a death cordon. Moreover, as a matter of fact, the people who would die are just the people that the Allies desire to protect. It would not result in the starvation of the Bolsheviki; it would simply mean the death of our friends. The cordon policy is a policy which, as humane people, those present could not consider.

Mr. Lloyd George asked, who was there to overthrow the Bolsheviki? He had been told there were three men, Denikin, Kolchak and Knox. In considering the chances of these people to overthrow the Bolsheviki, he pointed out that he had received information that the Czecho-Slovaks now refused to fight; that the Russian Army was not to be trusted, and that while it was true that a Bolshevik Army had recently gone over to Kolchak it was never certain that just the reverse of this did not take place. If the Allies counted on any of these men, he believed they were building on quick-sand. He had heard a lot of talk about Denikin, but when he looked on the map he found that Denikin was occupying a little backyard near the Black Sea. Then he had been told that Denikin had recognized Kolchak, but when he looked on the map there was a great solid block of territory between Denikin and Kolchak. Moreover, from information received it would appear that Kolchak has been collecting members of the old regime around him, and would seem to be at heart a monarchist. It appeared that the Czecho-Slovaks were finding this out. The sympathies of the Czecho-Slovaks are very democratic, and they are not at all prepared to fight for the restoration of the old conditions in Russia.

Mr. Lloyd George stated that he was informed that at the present time two-thirds of Bolshevik Russia was starving.

Institutions of Bolsheviki are institutions of old Czarist regime. This is not what one would call creating a new world.

3.
The third alternative was contained in the British proposal, which was to summon these people to Paris to appear before those present, somewhat in the way that the Roman Empire summoned chiefs of outlying tributary states to render an account of their actions.

Mr. Lloyd George pointed out the fact that the argument might be used that there were already here certain representatives of these [Page 591] Governments; but take, for instance, the case of Sassonoff, who claims to represent the Government of Omsk. As a matter of fact, Sassonoff cannot speak from personal observation. He is nothing but a partisan, like all the rest. He has never been in contact, and is not now in direct contact with the Government at Omsk.

It would be manifestly absurd for those who are responsible for bringing about the Peace Conference, to come to any agreement and leave Paris when one-half of Europe and one-half of Asia is still in flames. Those present must settle this question or make fools of themselves.

Mr. Lloyd George referred to the objection that had been raised to permitting Bolshevik delegates to come to Paris. It had been claimed that they would convert France and England to Bolshevism. If England becomes Bolshevist, it will not be because a single Bolshevist representative is permitted to enter England. On the other hand, if a military enterprise were started against the Bolsheviki, that would make England Bolshevist, and there would be a Soviet in London. For his part, Mr. Lloyd George was not afraid of Bolshevism if the facts are known in England and the United States. The same applies to Germany. He was convinced that an educated democracy can be always trusted to turn down Bolshevism.

Under all the circumstances, Mr. Lloyd George saw no better way out than to follow the third alternative. Let the Great Powers impose their conditions and summon these people to Paris to give an account of themselves to the Great Powers, not to the Peace Conference.

M. Pichon suggested that it might be well to ask M. Noulens, the French Ambassador to Russia, who had just returned to France, to appear before the meeting tomorrow morning, and give those present his views on the Russian situation.

President Wilson stated that he did not see how it was possible to controvert the statement of Mr. Lloyd George. He thought that there was a force behind his discussion which was no doubt in his mind, but which it might be desirable to bring out a little more definitely. He did not believe that there would be sympathy anywhere with the brutal aspect of Bolshevism. If it were not for the fact of the domination of large vested interests in the political and economic world, while it might be true that this evil was in process of discussion and slow reform, it must be admitted, that the general body of men have grown impatient at the failure to bring about the necessary reform. He stated that there were many men who represented large vested interests in the United States who saw the necessity for these reforms and desired something which should be worked out at the Peace Conference, namely, the establishment of some [Page 592] machinery to provide for the opportunity of the individuals greater than the world has ever known. Capital and labor in the United States are not friends. Still they are not enemies in the sense that they are thinking of resorting to physical force to settle their differences. But they are distrustful, each of the other. Society cannot go on on that plane. On the one hand, there is a minority possessing capital and brains; on the other, a majority consisting of the great bodies of workers who are essential to the minority, but do not trust the minority, and feel that the minority will never render them their rights. A way must be found to put trust and cooperation between these two.

President Wilson pointed out that the whole world was disturbed by this question before the Bolsheviki came into power. Seeds need soil, and the Bolsheviki seeds found the soil already prepared for them.

President Wilson stated that he would not be surprised to find that the reason why British and United States troops would not be ready to enter Russia to fight the Bolsheviki was explained by the fact that the troops were not at all sure that if they put down Bolshevism they would not bring about a re-establishment of the ancient order. For example, in making a speech recently, to a well-dressed audience in New York City who were not to be expected to show such feeling, Mr. Wilson had referred casually to Russia, stating that the United States would do its utmost to aid her suppressed people. The audience exhibited the greatest enthusiasm, and this had remained in the President’s mind as an index to where the sympathies of the New World are.

President Wilson believed that those present would be playing against the principle of free spirit of the world if they did not give Russia a chance to find herself along the lines of utter freedom. He concurred with Mr. Lloyd George’s view and supported his recommendations that the third line of procedure be adopted.

President Wilson stated that he had also, like Mr. Lloyd George, received a memorandum from his experts which agreed substantially with the information which Mr. Lloyd George had received. There was one point which he thought particularly worthy of notice, and that was the report that the strength of the Bolshevik leaders lay in the argument that if they were not supported by the people of Russia, there would be foreign intervention, and the Bolsheviki were the only thing that stood between the Russians and foreign military control. It might well be that if the Bolsheviki were assured that they were safe from foreign aggression, they might lose support of their own movement.

[Page 593]

President Wilson further stated that he understood that the danger of destruction of all hope in the Baltic provinces was immediate, and that it should be made very clear if the British proposal were adopted, that the Bolsheviki would have to withdraw entirely from Lithuania and Poland. If they would agree to this to refrain from reprisals and outrages, he, for his part, would be prepared to receive representatives from as many groups and centers of action, as chose to come, and endeavor to assist them to reach a solution of their problem.

He thought that the British proposal contained the only suggestions that led anywhere. It might lead nowhere. But this could at least be found out.

M. Pichon referred again to the suggestion that Ambassador Noulens be called before the meeting.

Mr. Balfour suggested that it might be well to call the Dutch Consul, lately in Petrograd, if it was the desire of those present to hear the anti-Bolshevik side.

Baron Sonnino suggested that M. Scavenius, Minister of Denmark, recently in Russia, would be able to give interesting data on the Russian situation.

Those present seemed to think that it might be desirable to hear what these gentlemen might have to say.

  1. Sir George Riddell, British press representative at the Peace Conference.
  2. Ray Stannard Baker, director of the press bureau of the American Commission to Negotiate Peace.