Paris Peace Conf. 184.00101/28

Minutes of the Meetings of the Commissioners Plenipotentiary, Wednesday, March 5th, 1919

  • Present:
    • Mr. Lansing
    • Mr. White
    • Colonel House
    • Mr. Herter

1. Mr. Lansing explained the great difficulties which he had encountered on his sub-committee to determine the responsibility for the war. At the request of the American Delegation a drafting committee had submitted to this Commission a report proposing that military commissions be established to try cases for violations of the laws of war. At first the British Delegates did not approve of such a scheme but had finally given in at the insistence of the American delegates. The British had desired that a tribunal be established on which all the different nations concerned should be represented, which should try individuals, including the ex-Kaiser of Germany. This proposal Mr. Lansing had been unable to agree to particularly as it had involved the trial of individuals for acts committed before the United States entered the war. He had therefore stated that the United States could not entertain such a project. The British Delegate had evidently been displeased by the American point of view as expressed by Mr. Lansing and therefore withdrew his consent to the establishing of military commissions as suggested by Mr. Lansing. Owing to this impasse Mr. Lansing stated that he would withdraw the American member of the Drafting Committee because the American wishes in [Page 94] this matter seemed to be completely overlooked. Immediately after this statement the French and Italian Delegates as well as the Delegates from Greece and Rumania attempted to smooth matters over and suggested a compromise between the British and the American points of view. This was the first time that a wedge had been driven between the French and British, who had so far stood solidly together on this whole question. It was Mr. Lansing’s opinion that the British Delegates were not very sincere in their desire to try the Kaiser etc., but merely felt that they had to urge this measure because of a political pledge. The situation was much the same as it had been on the Reparations Committee where both the French and British were trying to accomplish the impossible, knowing that it was impossible, but wishing to place the blame for the failure upon the United States.

2. Colonel House stated that he had gone to see Mr. Clemenceau yesterday in regard to the very serious situation in Germany. He had told Mr. Clemenceau that we were directly responsible for letting this situation come upon us, and that America had foreseen it and had warned the other associated nations. Mr. Clemenceau observed that from the information he was now receiving from Germany the situation was much as Colonel House had described it. In regard to sending food and raw materials into Germany, however, Mr. Clemenceau felt that French public opinion was not yet prepared for such a step. It would, however, be willing to have food sent into German-Austria, and Mr. Clemenceau therefore had decided that this matter should be taken up at the Quai d’Orsay this afternoon when pressure would be brought upon Italy to allow the food stuffs to get into German-Austria. Mr. Clemenceau was of the opinion, however, that in two or three days French public opinion would sanction the rendering of certain assistance to Bavaria at least, if not to other parts of Germany, and then the ways and means could be discussed at the Quai d’Orsay.

Mr. Lansing read a portion of a memorandum which he had written in October 1918, which was a complete prophecy of what would happen in Central Europe unless the United States rendered assistance with food and raw material.

3. The Commissioners agreed that we were being put in rather an uncomfortable position by appearing to have to defend Germany, but that it was necessary for us to adopt this position. They are convinced that public opinion in America would stand behind them in this if the true situation were only known. In this connection they felt that Mr. White had done much to change the point of view of Mr. Wickersham, the correspondent of the New York Tribune who had just lately returned to the United States with a very different outlook on the position of our Peace Commission from that whiqh he had previously held.

[Page 95]

The Commissioners felt at the same time that in spite of the alleged resolution that had been brought up in the Senate, public opinion in the United States was very favorable to the League of Nations. This opinion, Colonel House observed, was confirmed by Mr. Melville Stone of the Associated Press, who is very familiar with public opinion in the United States.

Mr. Lansing felt very strongly that in view of the fact that many of the tangles now arising were due to the original armistice terms, it would be necessary for us sooner or later to have it known in the United States that from the beginning the United States had demanded absolute demobilization of Germany. In this connection, General Bliss’ memorandum of October 2863 was mentioned and it was even thought by the Commissioners that at some time in the near future it would be advisable to give out the substance of this memorandum.

Colonel House withdrew.

4. Mr. Herter read Memorandum No. 127 regarding the assignment of Mr. J. B. Umpleby to the Commission. The Commissioners agreed that Mr. Umpleby’s services would be very valuable on the Commission, and therefore were willing to approve the payment of his expenses as well as a salary of about $300 per month by the Commission.

5. Mr. Herter read Memorandum No. 128 embodying Mr. Norman H. Davis’ request that Captain F. S. Colt be assigned to the Commission because of his previous experience with the Farmer’s Loan & Trust Company, and his consequent utility in the Financial Department. The Commissioners approved of Mr. Davis’ request for the assignment of Captain Colt.

6. Memorandum No. 129 was read regarding the memorandum which Dr. Mezes had submitted with regard to the status of certain members of his staff. Dr. Mezes’ request as stated in the memorandum in question was approved by the Commission.

. . . . . . .

8. Memorandum No. 131 was read regarding the request from the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the so-called Montenegrin government in Paris, to have the representative of Montenegro admitted to the Peace Conference. The Commissioners approved of the recommendation that the Secretary General be authorized to reply that this request should be addressed to the Secretary General of the Peace Conference.

9. Memorandum No. 132 was read regarding the numerous requests which have been received from Bulgaria that permission be granted it to send persons to Paris unofficially. The Commissioners recommended [Page 96] that notes be drafted to both the British and the French Delegation stating that the above requests had been received by the American Mission, and asking for any suggestions which those Delegations might care to make in the premises in order that our reply to the Bulgarian government should be in harmony with the views of the British and French governments.

10. Memorandum No. 133 was read regarding the recommendation by General Churchill with respect to relief of Lt. Voska from his present duties. The Commissioners having learned that General Bliss would probably not desire the Mission to make a direct recommendation to the military authorities in this matter, suggest that a memorandum stating the facts in the case as strongly as possible should be sent to the military authorities. They felt that if this statement of the facts was properly worded the competent military authority would surely relieve Lt. Voska of his present duties.

11. Memorandum No. 134 was read embodying a statement presented by Mr. Laroche to Dr. Day regarding the action of the French army in the Orient with respect to the Rumanian and Serbian dispute in the Banat. The Commissioners were satisfied with this statement as well as the statement which Dr. Day had made in the premises, and therefore felt that there was no further action for them to take at the present time.

12. Memorandum No. 135 was read regarding the memorandum prepared by Admiral Benson with respect to the advisability of assisting the Food Administration in supplying Germany and Czecho-Slovakia by way of the city of Hamburg and the river Elbe. The Commissioners agreed that in view of Admiral Benson’s recommendations it would be advisable to have the port of Hamburg used for the purposes described and that the matter should be taken up with the Armistice Commission in order that the German Government may be notified of this intent.

13. Memorandum No. 136 was read with regard to the internal situation in Germany. The Commissioners felt that the recommendations made in this memorandum were very sound but that since this whole question would shortly be discussed at the Quai d’Orsay it would not be advisable for the United States to take any separate action in the premises at the present time.

14. Memorandum No. 137 was read regarding the printing in French of the speeches and messages of President Wilson from the date of his landing in Brest. The Commissioners agreed that it would be an excellent idea to have this done but were unable to understand why the cost of printing 15,000 copies would be about 14,600 francs if the cost of striking off 200 copies was only 800 francs. Mr. Lansing felt that the first of these estimates was exorbitant and would be glad to know just why it should be so high. He felt that if the cost of paper [Page 97] was in any way connected with this high estimate it might perhaps be advisable to get the paper from the United States.