Paris Peace Conf. 184.00101/14

Minutes of the Daily Meetings of the Commissioners Plenipotentiary, Monday, February 17, 1919

  • Present:
    • Mr. Lansing
    • Mr. White
    • Colonel House
    • General Bliss
    • Mr. Herter
[Page 43]

1. Colonel House brought up for discussion the question of the attitude which the American delegates should assume at the meeting this afternoon at the Quai d’Orsay in regard to the Russian situation. …

A draft outline of our policy in respect to the matter under consideration was considered by the Commissioners. This outline had been prepared by Mr. Auchincloss. The points contained therein were discussed one by one.

The Commissioners agreed that in any statement which was to be issued we should be frank in stating that negotiations with Russia had not been broken off but that certain groups in Russia had not complied with the conditions contained in the original proposal of the associated governments. Mr. Lansing felt that it should be made clear that because of the misinterpretation of our offer by the Bolsheviks, a further statement was necessary.

The Commissioners agreed that we should reiterate our statement that we did not wish to interfere in the internal affairs of Russia and that the motives which had actuated our first proposal had nothing to do with foreign loans or concessions in territory, but that our only wish was to be of service to Russia in relieving her distress. Colonel House observed that he had been convinced by conversation which he had had with Mr. Branting last night that it would be extremely important for us to express ourselves in favor of peasant proprietorship in Russia. The Commissioners agreed that it would be advisable to do so. Mr. Lansing added that our only real hope for stability in Russia lay in recognizing the benefits of the redistribution of land. It was decided that this statement should be made very clearly even though the British might object because of the great land problem in England.

Colonel House felt that we should make it clear that in case the various factions in Russia were willing to meet us half way we would be glad to help with food and raw materials, but at the same time we should state that no effort had been made by certain leaders of groups to meet our invitation in the spirit in which it was dictated.

Colonel House stated that we should say that we intended to offer every assistance to contiguous countries, in order to help them in the peaceful pursuit of their lives. The wording of this thought was discussed and Mr. Lansing’s proposal that “by every means in our power” should be inserted was approved.

Colonel House felt that in any statement of our policy we should be sure to add that we were at any time ready to negotiate with the various factions in Russia collectively for a peaceful settlement provided they accepted our original proposal to cease hostilities prior to any discussions. The Commissioners agreed that such a statement should be made.

[Page 44]

Mr. Herter was requested to consult with Mr. Auchincloss regarding a redraft of the outline which Colonel House had submitted.

2. General Bliss stated that we should be entirely prepared with an answer in case we were faced by the question of using armed force in Russia. He then read an opinion which he had prepared, and which he asked the other Commissioners to comment upon. This read as follows:

“It is quite certain—and it will be the part of wisdom for all of us to take note of the fact—that the Government and the people of the United States will be radically opposed to taking part in any hostile action in Russia so long as the present general conditions elsewhere continue to exist. That Government and people will not engage in a new war of unknown extent and duration until the present war is ended by a declared and settled peace.

One reason of the American indisposition to take positive action with the respect to the situation in Russia is their inability to focus their undivided attention on Russia so as to enable them to realize what is going on there and what it may mean to the peace of the world.

To them, Bolshevism in Russia is one of the many confused blotches which disfigure the map of Europe. To them, everything here seems in an intolerable confusion, Russia no more than some other States.

If we could make final and definitive peace at once; if we could say to Germany and Poland and Czecho-Slovakia and other States, ‘These are your definitive boundaries, stay inside of them and stop fighting your neighbors and trying to acquire their territory by force’; if we could now accomplish that, thereby bringing that part of Europe into the first stages of an orderly peace which is praying for that peace, then the conditions of Russia would stand out in clear and glaring relief from this general level of peace. Then, and then only, the people of the United States might come to see that peace in Russia is the only thing necessary to secure universal peace; that her present condition is the only thing that menaces the peace of the world. It is possible that then the United States might be willing to take a part in the pacification of Russia. But it is certain that it will not lift a hand to do this so long as we maintain the state of war with the Central Powers; so long as we continue to dispute not with Germany but among ourselves—about the terms of peace that we will impose on Germany; and so long as the United States sees each day bringing us nearer to a possible resumption of hostilities.

Finally, it is worth noting that the resumption of a state of peace elsewhere in Europe may, directly or indirectly, go a long way of itself in removing or diminishing the menace of Bolshevism. The latter lives and thrives in the murky waters of confusion and strife that still engulf Europe. When it shall stand out in the full view of the United States and of all the world without their attention and scrutiny being diverted by many other evils in many other places Bolshevism, like other disease-breeding microbes, will be weakened and perhaps die in the light.[”]

The Commissioners agreed heartily with General Bliss’s statement of our policy, and decided that it should be read at this afternoon’s meeting as a preliminary to suggesting that a statement should be [Page 45] made by all the associated governments in the sense of the outline which Colonel House had submitted at the beginning of the meeting. The Commissioners felt that in case the French tried, as had been done in previous cases, to publish some statement to the effect that all the governments were agreed on a policy toward Russia, and that this policy was armed intervention, we should then immediately counter by giving to the press the statement which General Bliss had just read. The Commissioners further felt that by reading the statement in question at the meeting this afternoon Mr. Churchill’s proposal of referring the matter to a military commission to study the whole question would of itself fall through.

The Commissioners then discussed the present position of our armies in Russia. General Bliss explained that the expeditions to both Murmansk and Vladivostok had been motivated because of the threatened seizure of Allied supplies by the Germans or factions of Russia friendly to the Germans, or because of threatened famine in Russia. He added that our neutrality laws absolutely prevented our fighting Russia without the consent of Congress. He also stated that a telegram had been sent to the Secretary of War asking him to explain to the Military Committees of the Senate and the House that the two companies of Railroad engineers which had been sent to assist our forces in Archangel had been sent to assist these not in aggressive action toward Russia but in order to facilitate their withdrawal from Russia as soon as weather conditions permitted. He pointed out that this withdrawal was not possible until next Spring, and that in any case we should not desert the forces of the associated governments which are collaborating with us in that region. He added that this was a time to make a definite statement of our policy in regard to the withdrawal of these forces and that he was sure that England would agree with us as a nation …

3. Colonel House observed that Mr. Balfour appeared much worried about a situation which had arisen in regard to the indemnity question. America was now advocating one view whereas all the other associated nations were advocating another view. At present the Committee on Reparations had divided into three classes, the first class was one whose duty it was to determine how much Germany should pay. In this section there had been the most trouble. Mr. Balfour had told Colonel House that he would urge on his colleagues to soft-pedal further discussion in this section and to put all their energies in section No. 2 whose duty it is to determine what Germany can pay. Colonel House added that Sir William Wiseman had suggested that if this procedure was not accepted by the British delegates we might suggest that the discussion in Section No. 1 had reached an impasse upon a question of a political nature and it would therefore be well to refer that question to the Bureau of Ten. New men would undoubtedly be [Page 46] chosen on behalf of Great Britain to reconsider the matter. Sir George [omission] was being suggested as the most likely candidate.

Mr. Lansing observed that he had told both the Belgian Prime Minister and Mr. Hugues Leroux, a friend of Mr. Pichon, how foolish both France and Belgium were to support the British point of view in regard to indemnities. He felt that both of these gentlemen agreed with him in this matter.

The Commissioners all had the feeling that France and Belgium were going against their own interests in this whole question but that as matters were now developing it would seem as if the United States could eventually be expected to pay for all.

4. Mr. Lansing read a memorandum which he had prepared incorporating the points which he believed should be inserted in the preliminaries of peace. This draft follows:

Restoration of peace and official relations.
Restoration of commercial and financial relations subject to conditions stated.
Renunciation by Germany of all territory and territorial rights outside of Europe.
Minimum territory of Germany in Europe, the boundaries to be finally determined in the Definitive Treaty.
Maximum military and naval establishments which Germany will be permitted to maintain, including production of munitions.
Total amount of money and property to be surrendered by Germany for reparation of losses with time limit for payment and delivery.
German territory and property to be held as security by the Allied and Associated Powers for the faithful performance of the undertakings by Germany until the Definitive Peace is ratified.
Declaration of approval of the League of Nations.

Mr. Lansing in commenting on this memorandum expressed the belief that it should be shorter. General Bliss added that he could furnish Mr. Lansing with the American draft proposal in regard to the military and naval terms to which Germany should submit.

Colonel House withdrew.

5. Mr. Lansing spoke of a complaint which had been made by the French in regard to the United States negotiating with Holland with respect to the passage of supplies and troops through the port of Rotterdam. In the discussion of this question it was found that an agreement had already been reached upon it at the meeting at the Quai d’Orsay on Saturday, February 15, 1919,41 at which time it was agreed that the five Powers should take joint action in the premises sending an identical note to the Dutch government.

Mr. Grew, Mr. Dresel and Captain Gherardi entered the meeting.

6. Captain Gherardi who had just returned from Germany was asked to give his opinion in regard to the situation in that country. [Page 47] He stated that the present government of Germany was struggling against a great opposition and was unfortunately not supported by a majority vote of the majority Socialists. It had had to compromise with the Democratic party in which were several members from the old Pan-German crowd. Among those was Count Bernstorff who is playing an extremely important part both in the Foreign Office and at Weimar. This was probably due partly to his aggressive ability and partly because he was a relation of Count Von Brockdorff-Rantzau. The latter will undoubtedly head the German Peace Commission. In the government itself, Ebert could be considered as honest and sincere. Noske is probably the strongest man, whereas Scheidemann although much of a politician was really interested with the rest of the majority socialists in earnest reforms throughout Germany. According to Captain Gherardi, the press in Germany was still being controlled by the government, and was now bending its efforts in line with the desires of the Democratic party to arouse in the German people a sentiment for the necessity of having the German colonies returned, and the former territorial boundaries of Germany left unchanged. Captain Gherardi felt, however, that at present the coalition government in Germany should be maintained, and that the best way in which we could render desistance [assistance] was by sending in food and raw material.

Commenting on the Bolshevik situation in Germany, Captain Gherardi stated that through the efforts of Radek and certain members of the Spartacus group, the government had managed to keep this movement pretty well in hand. At one time, however, the government had been unable to depend on a single soldier in Berlin, but at the present time there are several regiments of highly paid volunteers who are considered loyal, and who are maintaining order.

Captain Gherardi observed that the Commission of which he had been the head had been considerably hampered by the fact that most of its members were officers in uniform. Any officer in uniform was now an object of suspicion in Germany and it was therefore difficult for them to gather much information. A plot had been discovered directed against Captain Gherardi’s life. He was therefore continually under the guard of Foreign Office detectives. The Foreign Office felt that this plot had probably been engineered by enemies of the government as a political move to cause the United States to get into difficulties with the present German government.

Captain Gherardi felt that the best way of getting information from Germany at the present time was by sending traveling commissions of experts who should stay in Germany for only a short time, and then report direct to the Peace Commission. He felt that his men had better be reduced to a small number of prominent members [Page 48] who would stay in Berlin and who would preferably be civilians. He suggested that it would be advisable to have the military personnel withdrawn by degrees.

In reply to a question from Mr. Lansing as to the make-up of his Commission Captain Gherardi replied that he had 14 officers and 2 civilians as well as a navy communication party with him in Berlin. Two officers he had sent to Hamburg and Bremen, whereas [where?] one officer was studying the unemployment situation, and one the canal and railway conditions. This latter information was particularly valuable for Mr. Hoover’s representatives. One civilian was constantly at Weimar and another civilian, though not a member of the Commission, had been traveling every week from Weimar to Berlin to report on the political situation in the former city.

Captain Gherardi observed that the feeling against [toward?] the American officers was not too friendly. He added that when he had first arrived in Berlin Count Von Brockdorff-Rantzau had asked him if he would not submit the reports that would be sent to the American government through the Foreign Office for correction and verification. This he naturally refused to do.

Captain Gherardi informed the Commissioners that the German government already had a large amount of material prepared for the time when they should be admitted to the Peace Conference. Dr. Taylor had collected some of this material. They had even gone so far as to compute the damage caused by the blockade in monetary values, and that this computation would form a base for a claim of reparation.

In Captain Gherardi’s opinion the proposed constitution in Germany was quite imperialistic. The President can convoke and dissolve the assembly. A clause proposing the abolition of all secret treaties had been voted down etc.

Very few people in Germany want the Kaiser back, although a few members of the clergy and school teachers who were very content under the old regime probably wished to have it revived. The danger at the present moment comes from the left and not from the right. The country is in a steady flux. The shell is off and the whole body is rather soft. There is, however, a genuine wish for democracy.

General Bliss inquired whether Captain Gherardi had any information in regard to the continuing of work in the munition plants. The latter replied that the only information he had in this respect came from some city on the North Sea where it was reported that an old factory was now manufacturing bombs to supply the Bolsheviks in their next uprising. Captain Gherardi also stated that there were many applications from German officers for positions in the American army.

After a brief further discussion on present plans for helping Russian prisoners of war in Germany, the Commissioners agreed that [Page 49] Captain Gherardi should be relieved of his present duties and allowed to resume his service at sea. They also decided that the military members of his Commission should be gradually withdrawn from Germany and that special missions should be sent to Germany from time to time for the purpose of obtaining first hand information. It was felt that Mr. Day at least should remain permanently in Berlin but that if possible an older man should be sent to act as his superior, if not in practice, at least in name.

  1. See BC–33, minute 2, vol. iv, p. 5.