Paris Peace Conf. 180.03101/36
Minutes of the Meeting of the Supreme War Council at 11:00 a.m., Wednesday, February 12, 1919, Held in M. Pichon’s Room at the Quai d’Orsay, Paris
America, United States of
- President Wilson
- Mr. R. Lansing
- The Rt. Hon. A. J. Balfour, O. M., M. P.
- The Rt. Hon. Viscount Milner, G. C. B., G. C. M. G.
- M. Clemenceau
- M. Pichon.
- Mr. A. H. Frazier
- Mr. L. Harrison
- Lt. Col. Sir M. P. A. Hankey, K. C. B.
- Mr. E. Phipps
- M. Dutasta
- M. Berthelot
- M. de Bearn
- H. E. M. Orlando
- H. E. Baron Sonnino
- Count Aldrovandi
- M. Bertele
- Baron Makino
- H. E. M. Matsui
- America, United States of
America, United States of
- Col. U. S. Grant
- Major A. M. Caccia, M. V. O.
- Capt. A. Portier.
- Major A. Jones
- M. Saburi
- America, United States of
America, United States of
- Gen. Tasker H. Bliss
- Admiral Benson
- Maj. Gen. McAndrew
- Lt. Comdr. Carter
- Captain de Marenches
- Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig, K. T.
- Lieut. Gen. The Hon. Sir Henry [Herbert?] Lawrence, K. C. B.
- Maj. Gen. the Hon. C. J. Sackville-West, C. M. G.
- Maj. Gen. Thwaites, C. B.
- Rear Admiral Hope, C. B.
- Capt. Fuller, R. N., C. B., D. S. O.
- Mr. Keynes, C. B.
- M. Klotz
- M. Loucheur
- M. Clémentel
- M. Leygues
- Marshal Foch
- Marshal Petain
- Gen. Degoutte
- Gen. Belin
- Admiral de Bon
- Lt. Odend’hal
- M. de Lasteyrie
- Gen. Weygand
- H. E. M. Crespi
- H. E. General Diaz
- General Cavallero
- Admiral Grassi
- General Nara
- Colonel Nagai
- Captain Fujioka
- Capt. de Vaisseau Nomura
- Capt. de Vaisseau Yamamoto
- America, United States of
Interpreter: Professor P. J. Mantoux.
Terms for Renewal of the Armistice With Germany: (a) Conclusions of Committee Assembled in Accordance With the Decision of Supreme War Council Dated 10th, Feb, 1919 1. M. Clemenceau having declared the meeting opened, called for the report of the Committee which had assembled at Marshal Foch’s Headquarters in accordance with the decision of the Supreme War Council, dated 10th February, 1919.1
(General Weygand then read the conclusions of the Committee assembled in accordance with the decision of the Supreme War Council of the 10th February, 1919. For full text, see Annexure “A”.)
M. Clemenceau inquired whether it was thought advisable by the Conference to discuss the report at once.
President Wilson thought the sooner this was done, the better.
(It was agreed that the report should be discussed forthwith).
M. Orlando expressed the desire to ask a question in regard to the report just read. The concluding paragraph of the Committee’s report contained the following declaration: “The members of the Committee are of the opinion that naval and military terms of peace should be drawn up immediately by a Commission appointed for the purpose, and shall be imposed on the enemy.” He understood that “the naval and military terms of peace” therein referred to were not the same as the conditions contained in the body of the report, which were purely provisional. The two sets of conditions constituted, in fact, two entirely separate propositions.
(b) Mr. Balfour’s Suggestion for Naval & Military Terms of Peace To Be Imposed on Germans Mr. Balfour agreed that there were evidently two quite different questions to be decided, namely:—First, how should the execution by the Germans of the unfulfilled promises be assured. Second, what was to be the future policy of the Associated Governments in regard to the renewal of the Armistice: should the Armistice constantly be renewed, with new clauses and new conditions, or were the final Naval and Military Terms to be drawn up immediately and imposed on the enemy? The two questions should be kept quite distinct.
M. Orlando remarked that that was exactly the distinction he had meant to emphasise.
M. Clemenceau held that the final peace terms must not now be discussed. The Committee had certainly made that suggestion; but [Page 972] this report contained no indication as to what the naval or military terms of peace should be. The question would no doubt eventually have to be referred to the Committee for advice. But the Council was not in a position that day to discuss peace terms. On the other hand, the first of Mr. Balfour’s two points, namely, the enforcement of the conditions already accepted by the Germans, called for an immediate decision, as Marshal Foch would have to confer with the Germans almost immediately for the renewal of the Armistice.
Marshal Foch pointed out that the armistice would expire at 5.0 a.m. on the 17th February next, and the renewal would have to be signed on the 16th. He would therefore be obliged to leave Paris on the 14th or 15th.
M. Clemenceau resuming said that only two days would therefore be available for a decision to be reached. Obviously, more than two days would be required to decide the final naval and military clauses to be included in the Treaty of Peace. Consequently, the consideration of that question would have to be postponed, but the conditions for a renewal of the armistice must at once be decided.
Mr. Balfour agreed that it was impossible to discuss then and there the final peace terms; but the general policy which should govern their arrangements in regard to the renewal of the armistice, in view of arriving at the final peace terms was quite another question. Doubts had been expressed as to the advisability of using the renewal of the armistice each month as a means of getting new terms out of the Germans. From time to time some slight modifications might be desirable and necessary. For instance, the question of Poland was one which called for immediate action, but many of the members of the Council held the view that it was inexpedient to introduce new terms every time the armistice was renewed. No satisfactory end could, however, be put to that method of procedure until the conditions of the final peace terms had been decided, and, he agreed, that a decision on that question could not be reached on that day. His proposal, therefore, was that only inevitably small changes, or no changes whatever, should be made in the armistice until the Allies were prepared to say to Germany: “These are the final naval and military terms of peace, which you must accept in order to enable Europe to demobilise and so to resume its life on a peace footing and re-establish its industries.”
President Wilson said that Mr. Balfour’s proposal for the first time seemed to suggest to him a satisfactory solution. All along his difficulty had been that little and irritating secondary demands were continually being added to the armistice conditions whilst at the same time reports were being received to the effect that the previously accepted terms had not been fulfilled. Each time he had [Page 973] asked the question “What will be the result of adding these new conditions? How can the enforcement of the unfulfilled conditions be secured?” And he had been conscious of the fact that either might involve a renewal of hostilities. He was perfectly prepared to renew the war if the Germans refused to accept the final terms of peace, decided upon by the Allies. But he was not prepared to renew hostilities because the Germans might refuse to accept some little portion of the eventual peace terms. Each time something was asked for which, if not accepted, meant the renewal of the war; but each condition by itself was not worth the renewal of the war. On the other hand, a refusal to accept the Allies’ final terms of peace would be worth renewing the war, and ultimately the Allies would have to insist on the acceptance of their peace terms. Moreover, renewal of the armistice, with certain small additional conditions merely meant a repetition and a continuance of endless debates with the Germans as to the reason why they had been unable to comply with the accepted conditions, close technical distinctions being raised in regard to the meaning of those conditions. It seemed to him that this procedure placed the Allied Governments in the undignified position of debating with the Germans, while conscious all the time that a stop could be put to the debate by a renewal of hostilities. There could be no desire to debate with the Germans and, therefore, the final conditions to be imposed must be decided upon. That was business, as compared with the present policy which meant asking for things that formed only a part of the programme and not the whole programme. Personally he was deeply interested in the fulfilment of the entire programme, and he was ready to employ the whole strength of the American army to obtain the acceptance of the whole of the naval and military terms of peace: but he was not prepared to make use of that Army for the little pieces. It was reported that Germany had failed to fulfil part of the terms of the Armistice. What was to be done? It was suggested that more conditions should be imposed on the enemy at the next renewal of the Armistice. The enforcement of the new conditions would, however, inevitably lead to more debates and further discussions with the Germans. Would it not be better, as had been suggested, to go to Spa and to say to the Germans: “The present situation is altogether unsatisfactory. You have failed to keep your promises. You have failed to carry out the terms of the Armistice. The Armistice will be renewed, on the present terms, for a period which will be terminated on a few days’ notice. Meanwhile the final Military and Naval terms of peace will be drawn up and presented to you for acceptance on the understanding that non-acceptance of the whole [Page 974] of the terms would mean an immediate resumption of hostilities.”
The proposal he had just made had been suggested to him that morning and it appeared to him as a thoroughly sound and statesmanlike idea.
M. Clemenceau protested that yet once more, in his long career, he felt compelled with great regret to state that his views differed very considerably from those he had just heard. It had been stated that the Germans had not carried out the terms of the Armistice, but that it would merely be irritating to the Germans if difficulties were constantly raised about the non-fulfilment of secondary demands.
Mr. Balfour remarked that M. Clemenceau should have said: “future secondary demands.”
M. Clemenceau accepted the correction and said that he had a great many remarks to make on that point. He proposed to begin his argument at the end, by referring to the proposals put forward by the Economic and Military Committee.
According to President Wilson’s proposal, the Allies would condescend to explain to the Germans that the Naval and Military terms of peace would be drawn up and presented to them for acceptance as soon as possible. But the military terms depended I largely on the other terms. If the differences existing between the thirty odd nations represented at the Conference were settled; if the creation of the League of Nations gave the guarantees that were expected from it, the military terms would be different from what they would be if no agreement were reached on these various points. Consequently, he believed the military terms could not be separated from the political, economic and financial terms.
Next, President Wilson had said: “I am ready to employ the whole strength of the American Army to obtain acceptance of the final conditions of peace. As to secondary questions—well, let them go. For vital questions, I am ready to renew the war, if necessary.” If President Wilson would allow him to say so he thought that would be putting the question in an academic, theoretical and doctrinal light. In practice the question would present itself quite differently, for the final conditions of peace would only be settled after a large proportion of the troops had been sent home, when the Americans, the English and the Italians had gone. What would be the Allies’ military situation when the present accepted demobilisation schemes had been carried out? The scheme relating to the forces to be maintained in the occupied territories until the signature of peace provided for the employment of 51 French, 10 British and 10 American divisions. After the frightful losses suffered by the French nation both materially, financially and in men, when it still had sufficient [Page 975] strength to maintain 51 divisions at the front, was that the moment to say to the Germans: “If you are not in an accommodating humour, we shall start fighting again”? The final military conditions to be imposed might be extremely difficult, and it might be that the enemies, having been left free to act on the other side of the frontier, a great deal of blood would have to be shed to conquer them a second time. He thought that problem had not received sufficient consideration. In his opinion, it had been presented in too theoretical, too academic a form. But the fact must be faced that during 4 years of war the countryside of France had been devastated and subjected to the worst kind of savagery. At the end of that time, the enemy had been forced to surrender at discretion. But, left to themselves, the Germans had created order, just as the Russians had created disorder. The Germans had succeeded in forming a Government, and the first words spoken in the National Assembly had been: “Deutsch-land fiber Alles”. The second thing done had been to place all power in the hands of the accomplices of William II. News had been received that morning that Scheidemann, one of William’s most direct agents, was to govern Germany. Could it be imagined that he would alter his views though he might speak in favour of the League of Nations and of universal brotherhood? No, he did not think his hearers would allow themselves to be deceived. Let them read the German newspapers. It would be seen that they breathed nothing but threats. Ebert had said: “We will not accept terms which are too hard”. And why was all this done? To exercise a detrimental influence on our moral[e], to frighten us, to make us fear that, if the Germans were angered, the war might begin again. Nobody was less desirous than himself of seeing the war begin again, but it must not be forgotten that we were still at war. War continued in the minds of men; the same minds that had made the war of 1914. The German nation had not suffered from invasion, its aggressive moral[e] had been preserved intact. On the other hand, the Allied Conference could not have acted differently, nor more quickly, than it had done. Vital preliminary work had to be done. It had, however, been accused of impotence by the press, and probably the Germans had come to think that the Allies were quarreling and that they were incapable of action. He would implore the Council not to confirm the Germans in that idea. The Germans must not be allowed to think that they would be able to face successfully France’s 51 divisions after the Allied troops had dispersed.
Returning to his starting-point, complaints had been made that the Germans were not carrying out the armistice terms. But they must be compelled to carry them out; as to that, all were agreed. [Page 976] Then it had been said, (it was the echo of a sentiment he had read in German newspapers), that there must be no fresh terms, otherwise, the Germans would get angry, would start discussions. That argument might hold good if the new conditions to be imposed were either frivolous or due to the sudden impulse of the moment. But, in reply, he need only draw attention to the Polish question, to which Mr. Balfour very rightly attached great importance, even though it was a new question, only a few days old. Now, provided the wishes of the Allies were plainly expressed, it would be impossible for the Germans to rise. Marshal Foch and Marshal Petain would agree that the Germans could not at the present moment embark on an offensive against the Allies. Would the Polish question be worth an offensive? He thought so. But if the Germans were told that an attack on Poland would be followed by an immediate advance of the Allied troops along the entire Western front, Germany would at once comply with the Allies’ conditions. He would here recite his mea culpa, for the matter concerned him directly. He wished to repeat what he had already said, namely, that the fortune of war had been such that neither American nor British territories had suffered, whilst the territory of France had been so ravaged that it would seem as though recovery would be impossible. The first wish of the French frontier peasants had been to get back the cattle which had been stolen from them by the hundred and by the thousand, and which they could watch grazing on the German side. These peasants kept on saying “We have been victorious, of course, but could not the Germans be asked to give us back our cattle?” Well that was not a question of world-wide importance. The world would still continue to go round, even if the unhappy peasants were not granted the means of making good—(and in how fragmentary a fashion)—the disasters caused by the war. Nevertheless Mr. Balfour would not, as a philosopher, contradict him when he said that there was such a thing as a philosophy of war, when events accumulated in the human brain and put it out of gear, destroying the balance of entire nations. The barbarians of whom history spoke took all that they found in the territories invaded by them, but destroyed nothing; they settled down to share the common existence. Now, however, the enemy had systematically destroyed everything that came in his way. As M. Klotz had said in his report, nothing had been left standing. France would be unable to compete against Germany for two years. It had been stated that Germany would be supplied with raw materials; but the industries of France had been scientifically destroyed, not for military reasons, but in order to prevent France from recovering in peace time. That was how matters stood. It [Page 977] was true that Italy had also suffered a great deal, but no comparison was possible, as it was the richest districts of France that had been destroyed. France had lost 3,000,000 men, either killed or mutilated, and it is truly necessary that some compensation should be obtained.
The Conference had worked conscientiously up to the present and had dealt with questions of the highest order. The purest idealism had been represented there, as well as more material interests; but the world was waiting. The Supreme Council would meet again in a fortnight or three weeks; by that time no one must be able to say: “The Associated Governments will not make up their minds to give us that satisfaction to which we are entitled”.
This state of mind must not be allowed to develop. It could not be said that the French people were concerned with material interests to the exclusion of all others. If the French people deserved any reproach it was rather for erring in the opposite direction; for they are apt to be carried away by ideas, regardless of terrestrial affairs. But the people of France were attached to the soil, they were accustomed to work on the soil, and they now implored the representatives of the Allied and Associated peoples to consider this aspect of the question. If no heed were given to such requests, a time would come when small, supposedly secondary, questions would accumulate and create a state of mind which would drive the people to insist on their demands with an amount of energy such as he should not like to see. Indefinite postponements would appear to the Germans as a proof of weakness. He was aware that President Wilson considered the Armistice to be a threat continually hanging over the heads of the Germans. But he (M. Clemenceau) knew the Germans better, and he would assure the Council that they will not take it thus. The Germans must, of course, be spoken to with moderation and equity, but also with firmness and decision; otherwise the Council would be obliged to meet again in a fortnight’s time under less favourable conditions.
In speaking at such length—a proceeding justified by the importance of the question—he had not contradicted any arguments either of President Wilson or Mr. Balfour. He had merely wished to convey his own opinions which coincided with those of the entire French nation. France would suffer most from this indefinite prolongation of the Armistice. He was continually being assailed with requests for a speedy conclusion of peace, and that was the reason why he had been somewhat emphatic in his suggestions. He should like a decision to be reached as soon as possible. The Germans would be compelled to give satisfaction for the violation of the Armistice terms, described at length in General Weygand’s report.[Page 978]
The Allies should remain firm on these points, including also the terms rendered necessary by the Polish question and such other questions that might arise, seeing that, on President Wilson’s own proposal, an Economic Committee had been attached to Marshal Foch. He urged that the policy so far followed should be continued. The degree of pressure to be exerted would be made to fit each case as it arose. But the Germans must not be told: “Go on, Do as you like, Perhaps we shall some day threaten to break off relations; but just now we will not be firm”. Germany would continue her preparations, and after the Allied troops had dispersed, Marshal Foch might perhaps find himself confronted by more German troops than might have been anticipated.
In conclusion he wished to apologise for having spoken at such length, but it was necessary to say these things.
(c) Mr. Balfour’s Resolution To Impose on Germany Without Delay Final Naval and Military Terms of Peace Mr. Balfour said that M. Clemenceau had made a speech which everybody would regard as most impressive, even though it must inevitably have lost by translation. He thought, however, there was a real misunderstanding, not on all, but on most of the points raised, which he hoped to remove. All were agreed that in regard to the past the Germans must be compelled to carry out the engagements. The wishes of the Allies in regard to Poland must also be complied with. M. Clemenceau had, however, been greatly moved (and not unnaturally) by the declaration made by Marshal Foch’s Committee at the end of their report. That report had only been distributed in the Council Chamber that morning; and he himself had not seen it when he had drawn up his proposals.
M. Clemenceau apparently wished to introduce into the armistice certain conditions which would compel the Germans to restore cattle, sheep, etc., which had been stolen from the unhappy peasants in the ravaged districts of France. In his opinion, that proposal belonged to the general question of reparations, which would be included in the final peace terms, and it could not be separated from similar questions, such as reparations due for the destruction of spindles and weaving machinery. But even if it were decided that the question should not be postponed until the general peace treaty came to be drawn up, such proposals should, he thought, be discussed separately with the Germans, who should be informed that the supply of raw materials would be made conditional on the return of the cattle. He need only assure M. Clemenceau that everybody felt most deeply for the general suffering which France had had to endure.
The fundamental misunderstanding which existed lay, however, in the fact that M. Clemenceau believed that the policy suggested was [Page 979] one dictated by a desire to put off a decision and to yield to the Germans until such time as the British and American troops had been withdrawn from France. That was not only not the policy proposed, but the whole object of his proposal was to hasten the time when the Germans would have been compelled to demobilise their forces to such a degree as to render them helpless. Speed and thoroughness was what they were aiming at. The long succession of months spent, not in bringing about a peace, but in settling small additional conditions to the terms of the armistice, was postponing the final settlement in a dangerous manner. It was, therefore, with the object of reaching a complete and a rapid end that his proposals had been put forward. Consequently when M. Clemenceau pointed to the small number of American and British troops which would be left when the final solution would come—that was the very reason why he wished to hasten the settlement so that demobilisation of the Allied forces could be carried out without fear and misgiving, after the Germans themselves had been compelled to demobilise.
His plan might be good or it might be bad, but its object was to get over the danger which M. Clemenceau foresaw, so that Germany would no longer be able to resist, and the Allies would then be in a position to exact those reparations which might be thought to be just.
He wished, therefore, to submit the following resolution for discussion at the meeting to be held that afternoon. It embodied the general policy, which he thought did not in reality differ in substance from M. Clemenceau’s, though differing in form:—
“The Supreme War Council agree that:
- The armistice with Germany shall be renewed on the present terms for an undefined period terminable by the Allied and Associated Powers at . . . . . days’ notice.
- Detailed and final naval, military, and air conditions shall be drawn up at once by a Committee to be presided over by Marshal Foch and submitted for the approval of the Supreme War Council: These, when approved, will be presented for signature to the Germans.
- After the signature of these preliminaries of peace Germany will be permitted to receive such controlled quantities of food, and raw materials for the rehabilitation of her industry, as shall be deemed just, having regard to the prior claims of Allied countries, especially those on whose industries Germany has deliberately inflicted damage.
- The question of the quantities of food and raw material to be allowed to Germany after the signature of the preliminaries of peace shall be referred to the Economic Council for examination and report.”
(It was agreed to adjourn the discussion until 3.0 p.m. that afternoon. The technical, Military and Naval Advisers were requested to be in attendance at 5.0 p.m.).[Page 980] [Page 989]
- BC–27. p. 952.↩
- For the content of this telegram, see appendix C to BC–25 (SWC–3), p. 924.↩
- See annex II, p. 987.↩
- Abbreviation for “Commission Interallée Permanente d’Armistice” (Interallied Permanent Armistice Commission).↩
- Abbreviation for “Permanent Allied Naval Armistice Commission.”↩
- Gen. Charles Joseph Dupont, chief of the French mission at Berlin for the repatriation of prisoners of war.↩
- Gen. H. K. A. Winterfeldt, member of the German Armistice Commission.↩
- Gen. Pierre Henri Desticker, Chief of Staff to Marshal Foch.↩
- For the content of this telegram, see appendix C to BC–25 (SWC–3), p. 924.↩
- Maj. Gen. Sir Richard Ewart, Chief of the British Military Mission at Berlin; President, Inter-Allied Commission for Repatriation of Russian Prisoners of War, January–May, 1919.↩
- These words supplied from the copy of the text appearing in Miller, My Diary, vol. xiv, p. 366.↩
- The German communication quoted in telegram No. 926, supra.↩
- The German communication quoted in telegram No. 955, infra. ↩