“With How Little Wisdom”
By Bernadotte E. Schmitt,
President of the Association, 1960
This address was delivered at the Association's annual dinner in New York City, December 29, 1960. Published in the American Historical Review 66:2 (January 1961): 299–322.
Books by Bernadotte E. Schmitt
When I began the study of history at the University of Oxford in October 1905, the Russo-Japanese War had recently come to an end through the good offices of the United States. Shortly after my arrival in England, a conference opened at Algeciras to deal with the question of Morocco. In 1907 the second Peace Conference met at The Hague. The Young Turk revolution occurred in the following year, to be followed shortly by the annexation of Bosnia to Austria-Hungary. These events made a strong impression on my youthful mind; and when I entered upon graduate study, I decided to write a doctoral dissertation on a theme involving diplomatic history and the Near East. I duly accomplished this in 1910.1
At Oxford the study of English history stopped with 1837, the year when Queen Victoria ascended the throne, while continental history ended with the Congress of Berlin in 1878. Anything written about recent and contemporary affairs could not be history, for it lacked the proper sources andwas likely to be tainted with “politics.” Diplomatic documents were seldom available in 1910, for issues of Blue, Yellow, and other colored Books, so common in the nineteenth century, had been much curtailed.2 Foreign offices did not like being quizzed by journalists and revealed as little as they could. The student of diplomacy was dependent on the press; speeches in Parliament, in the Reichstag, and in other legislative bodies; monthly reviews in Britain, France, Germany, and Italy; and occasional specialized periodicals. In the spring of 1914 I wrote a little essay on the Balkan wars of 1912–1913. My sources were the London Times and the New York Times, speeches in Parliament, and two British, three French, and one German monthly. Very few documents had come to light. A comparison of this pamphlet with a full-dress book on the Balkan wars published in 1938 will make my point clear.3
Contemporary diplomatic history begins with the coming of war in July 1914. At that time the information purveyed by the press was quite inadequate. From the murder at Sarajevo on June 28 to the grand climacteric on August 4, the London Times and the New York Times recorded little more than the outstanding events: the details of the crime, with something about its victims; the Austro-Hungarian note to Serbia and the latter’s reply; the rejection of that reply and the Russian decision to intervene; the British proposal for a conference of ambassadors and the German refusal; the Austrian declaration of war and the Russian mobilization; the German ultimatums to Russia and France followed by declarations of war; the speech in Parliament of the British Foreign Secretary; the German refusal to respect the neutrality of Belgium and the British declaration of war. Of the intense diplomatic activity of the Thirteen Days (July 23–August 4, 1914) little was said because little was known. The London Times hardly got beyond referring (inaccurately) to a British proposal of mediation on the evening of July 29, to which the German reply “could hardly be favorable.” The New York Times printed dispatches from Vienna stating that the Emperor Francis Joseph had insisted on aggressive action against Serbia and that the Austrian note had been written in Berlin. Its reports from London and St. Petersburg asserted that British support had been promised to Russia; on August 1 Germany was said to be ready to press Austria for a compromise. The paper also printed many wild rumors.
The representatives of the United States in Europe were not much better informed. Only the chargé in Russia seems to have bad a clear notion of what was happening and kept the Department of State informed. On July 27 the ambassador in Berlin reported that he had “reason to believe matters will be arranged without a general European war”; only on July 31 did he express the opinion that “Russia’s mobilization makes war inevitable.”
In order to justify themselves to their own peoples and to the world, the belligerent governments soon issued varicolored Books of diplomatic papers relating to the outbreak of the war. These were published seriatim in the United States by the New York Times, put together in a booklet, and reviewed by an eminent lawyer whose book was widely read.4 They were also collected in a single volume by the British government and distributed throughout the world as propaganda; the German White Book was so little convincing and contained so few documents that it was included in the British volume. A world-wide debate ensued from the study of these documents, and the verdict generally went against Germany. It never occurred to me (nor, so far as I know, to anyone else) to doubt the integrity of the documents. We now know that scores of relevant documents were omitted or changed and that many published documents were “edited.” Awkward passages were deleted or altered and in some cases documents were made to order. Historical compositions based on the publications of 1914 including one of my own, are now of little use.
The revolutions in 1917 in Russia and the revolutions in Austria and Germany in 1918 brought to power socialist governments that, in order to discredit the fallen regimes, began opening their archives. While the Bolsheviks concentrated on the secret treaties made by the Czar’s government with Britain and France, the Social Democrats in Vienna and Berlin turned to the crisis of July 1914. Purporting to give the complete diplomatic exchanges of that fatal month, the new Books revealed how the Austro-Hungarian government had decided on war against Serbia and the partition of that country (even at the risk of war with Russia), how this program had been explained to Berlin, and that Germany had agreed to it and urged its immediate execution. The succeeding steps which culminated in the German declaration of war against Russia on August 1 were set forth in meticulous detail. During subsequent years the complete files for July 1914 were released by the British, Russian, and French governments. The long-delayed Italian papers may be expected at any time, but the publication of the Serbian documents remains highly problematical. It is now possible to reconstruct in greater detail than is possible for any other diplomatic crisis the calamitous course of events that ended a century of general peace and ushered in the era of conflict in which we now live. Among the numerous British, French, German, Italian, and United States historians who have written about the crisis, the last word has been said by the Italian Luigi Albertini.5 It is ironical, however, that he did not have the Italian documents, which conceivably might have led him to take a somewhat less critical view of the policy of his own country.
By the time that Karl Kautsky, who had been commissioned by the Socialist government of Germany to publish the documents of July 1914, had completed his work, that government had been replaced by a coalition which, while it did not dare suppress Kautsky’s work, was appalled by its revelations. In the hope, therefore, of discounting or minimizing them, it ordered the publication of documents prior to the crisis of 1914. The result was that series of forty volumes bound in red, white, and black, the colors of the fallen empire and known to all students of diplomatic history as Die Grosse Politik der Europäischen Kabinette 1871–1914. Publication was begun in 1922 and completed in 1927.6 As a piece of propaganda for the German cause, it proved extraordinarily effective. By the late 1920’s prewar diplomatic history began to be rewritten in terms of German documents. Other governments ultimately had to follow the German example. Only France went back to 1871; Great Britain was content to start with 1898, and Austria with 1908. Soviet Russia announced plans for a vast series dating from 1878, but, in fact, issued only four volumes for 1911–1912 and then a series from January 1914 to October 1915. Italy did not commence publishing its papers until after the Second World War. Belgium and Yugoslavia, the successor of Serbia, have done nothing. The historian does not, therefore, have available a complete published record for the years 1871–1914.
How reliable are these vast collections? Generally speaking, the reputations of the several editors were so high that there was no disposition to believe that their work was not honest, that they had withheld documents which made awkward revelations. Some doubt has been expressed, however, about the Grosse Politik. The most important files of the German Foreign Office for 1871–1918 were filmed after the Second World War while the documents were in England, and the films are now available in certain public archives and university libraries. As the result of some private investigations, an interesting correspondence appeared in the London Times Literary Supplement in August–September 1953. According to this, Gottlieb von Jagow, State Secretary of the German Foreign Office from 1913 to 1916, wrote to Friedrich Thimme, the editor in chief of the Grosse Politik, that publication of the documents on the grounds of political interest should not be an end in itself—“political ends must have priority”—whereupon be was assured by Thimme that “the treatment of the documents would be such as to offer every guarantee against injurious effects from their publication.” In a memorandum written in 1928, Thimme acknowledged that he had omitted certain documents of 1905 and 1911 out of consideration for the interest of German policy in 1928. The document of 1905 revealed the opposition of the German government to the inclusion of Austria in Germany in the event of the Hapsburg monarchy breaking up on the death of Francis Joseph—which would have been awkward in 1928 when the German government was promoting Anschluss. The documents for 1911 had to do with the role of Joseph Caillaux in the second Moroccan crisis, the reason being a reluctance to embarrass Caillaux if he returned to power in France. More recently it has come to light that the chapter in the Grosse Politik on the Boxer Rebellion of 1900 suppressed documents which revealed German policy in an unfavorable light and gave a tendentious summary, in a footnote, of an instruction sent by the Foreign Office on July 22, 1900, to the newly appointed German minister in Peking.7 With the aid of a catalogue recently published of the files for 1871–1914 which have been microfilmed,8 it is certainly possible to make a check of the Grosse Politik against the archives, and this should be done, at least for highly controversial subjects such as the “war scare” of 1875, the two Moroccan crises, and the annexation of Bosnia.9
A second question is whether there is any cream left in studying the prewar years. In his recent volumes on the history of international relations, Pierre Renouvin has demonstrated effectively how diplomacy can be linked with politics and economics, both internal and external.10 Likewise the catalogue of the German Foreign Office films lists numerous papers concerning the economic foreign policy of the Empire, for example, the activities of the Mannessmann brothers in Morocco, about which the Grosse Politik is silent but which had a strong bearing on German policy in that country. It may therefore be said that there is much more than skimmed milk left in studying the diplomatic history of the years 1871–1914.
The Grosse Politik and the other collections have been available for many years and have been exploited by scholars of many lands. But after consulting a considerable number of books written in the 1930’s or after 1945, 1 have come to the conclusion that there has been little change in traditional views. Although German writers find much to criticize in William II, Holstein, Bülow, and Bethmann Hollweg, they continue to blame Russia for the war of 1914. There is, however, some recognition of the fact that British hostilityto Germany was not caused by commercial jealousy but by the building of the German fleet,11 and one writer, who may be a Marxist, says: “Despite the common responsibility of the ruling classes of all imperialist Great Powers for the outbreak of the first world war, historical truth requires the recognition that the German militarists and imperialists took the decisive initiative for the outbreak of the war in 1914.”12 Austrian writers uniformly hold Serbia responsible for the catastrophe of 1914; only the famous historian A. F. Pribram concedes that in the light of events “Austro-Hungarian policy was wrong.”13
I do not find any French or British writer who admits even partial responsibility of his country for the war. The latest British historian to deal with the question, while critical of Sir Edward Grey for concealing from the cabinet the military conversations with France, insists that Grey gradually freed himself from the anti-German sentiment of the Foreign Office and was determined to be fair to Germany.14 I believe it was Voltaire who described history as un faible convenu, a tale agreed upon. That stage has not yet been reached regarding the origins of the First World War.15
Having started with 1914 and then moved backward to 1871, I now reverse my direction and turn to the war of 1914–1918.More than forty years after its close, there is still no adequate account of the diplomatic history of that struggle. The largest number of documents has been circulated by the Soviet government, but its publications have been directed mostly to the specific subjects of Constantinople and the Straits, the Balkans, and the secret treaties. Some documents for the period November 7, 1917–December 31, 1918, have recently been released.16 An official of the Quai d’Orsay has written an incomplete history of French policy during the war.17 The Italians have just begun to publish their papers. The British government not only keeps its archives closed, but maintains silence about many controversial matters. The wartime Prime Minister, David Lloyd George, was able, however, to use individual documents for his memoirs. After the United States entered the war, the story becomes clearer, for the American archives are now open. Fortunately the most important political files of the German Foreign Office have been microfilmed, and the films are available for research. Young scholars in search of a field to cultivate will find rich digging in the German files from 1914 to 1918.
Considering the controversies aroused by the peace treaties of 1919–1920, it is astonishing that no adequate study of the Paris Peace Conference has been published. The most satisfactory book is one written by a German in 1933, by which time the diary of David Hunter Miller was available,18 but before the thirteen volumes of documents relating to the conference were released by the Department of State. Even the work of the directing body, the Big Four, lacks treatment, although its minutes have been available since 1946. Here again is a superb opportunity for a definitive work, and I understand that two scholars are applying themselves to the job. The Paris conference is memorable for having led to the publication of John Maynard Keynes’s The Economic Consequences of the Peace,19 the repercussions of which were enormous and set the tone of both British and German diplomacy for years to come. Not until after the end of the Second World War was the Keynes thesis dispassionately examined in The Carthaginian Peace: The Economic Consequences of Mr. Keynes by Étienne Mantoux,20 the son of Professor Paul Mantoux, the interpreter for the Big Four.
Diplomatic history from 1919 to 1939 was much easier for a contemporary to follow than that of the years before 1914 had been for me. The horrors and sufferings of the war, the contentious peace treaties, the impact of revolution in Central and Eastern Europe, and the general confusion of the times aroused public opinion in Western Europe and the United States to a greater realization of the importance of foreign policy than had been the case before the war. In Britain the Royal Institute of International Affairs was set up at Chatham House; in the United States the Council on Foreign Relations and the Foreign Policy Association were founded, all three with their organs of publication. It became fairly easy to acquire authoritative information about all parts of the world, all kinds of problems, and all fields of international relations. In due course the Royal Institute established an annual Survey of International Affairs, accompanied by a volume of pertinent Documents, and the Council on Foreign Relations has sponsored several publications, under different titles, on the foreign policy of the United States. Similar publications appeared in France and Italy. Such volumes were invaluable at the time, and are still useful to historians.
But however valuable they were, they were works of journalism, not of history, for the governments made few documents public. The narratives were based on newspaper accounts, speeches of public men, and whatever information the compilers could assemble. In 1931there occurred the so-called “Manchurian incident,” that is, the attack of the Japanese army on the Chinese province of Manchuria, and the League of Nations was seized of the issue. The efforts of the League to deal with it and the abortive participation of the United States are described at length in the Chatham House Survey for 1931, chiefly from documents published by the League—an excellent account as far as it goes, but highly formalized and saying little about what went on behind the scenes. For the latter, we must turn to the Papers Relating to the Foreign Relations of the United States for 1931–1932 and to the Documents on British Foreign Policy, 1919–1939, both published since the Second World War. A study of these volumes reveals how wide of the mark were the speculations of the time about the policies pursued by Britain and the United States.21 There is no substitute for documents, even if documents do not always tell the whole story! By the time the volume of the Survey for 1938 on “Munich” was ready, the second war had broken out, and publication was postponed. After the war, the volume could be rewritten from British, German, and United States documents, and something approaching diplomatic history could be undertaken (I say “something approaching diplomatic history” because French, Italian, Russian, and Czech materials were still lacking.22)
Of Documents on British Foreign Policy, 1919–1939, twenty-six volumes have been published to date. Italy is on the way with seven volumes. Documents on German Foreign Policy, 1918–1945, a unique publication in that the files of a great power have been edited and published by its former enemies, will have nineteen volumes for the years from the accession of Hitler to Pearl Harbor, and the files for the period of the Weimar Republic are open to research. The principal United States papers from 1919to 1939 have been published, and the files are open to 1937. For the years immediately preceding the war, these American papers are of great importance, for our ambassadors were as well informed as they had been ignorant in 1914. France has published nothing for these years, and during the German occupation many documents were destroyed. The Russians have remained silent until recently, when they published documents for the years 1919–1921.23 But there is much Japanese material available to those who read the language. Twenty-five years hence historians may have discovered about the diplomatic history of 1919–1939 as much as or more than my generation did about the story of 1871–1914.
Two strange stories about the documents must be recounted. In 1931 Pierre Laval, President of the French Council of Ministers, visited Washington and conferred with United States officials, notably the President and the Secretary of State. But the compilers of Foreign Relations found no minutes of these conversations and could print only a short memorandum by Secretary Stimson of a conversation with the British ambassador about the visit.24 The ambassador’s report is a much longer and more detailed document.25 After his return to Paris, furthermore, Laval talked at length to the British ambassador.26 And so we learn more from British documents than from our own. The reverse is also true. On September 26,1938, Neville Chamberlain, then British Prime Minister, wrote a “short manuscript” letter to Adolf Hitler which was handed to the German chancellor by Sir Horace Wilson, who had been sent to Berlin by Chamberlain.27 The Documents on British Foreign Policy do not contain this letter. But Édouard Daladier, President of the French Council, mentioned it to William C. Bullitt, the American ambassador in Paris, as a “handwritten letter” and finally showed it to Bullitt, who telegraphed its substance to Washington.28 In this letter Chamberlain is reported to have told Hitler that “if German troops should cross the frontier of Czechoslovakia the French army would attack Germany at once ... in case this should occur Great Britain would enter the war at once on the side of France with all her forces.” No wonder Daladier asked that “the existence of this note should be kept as a complete secret.”
Press reports of the crisis of August 1939 were much better than in 1914. The crisis had been building up for months and did not come as a bolt from the blue. Newspapers were more alert and had better sources of information. If no one was able to find out exactly what was said at Salzburg early in August when Ciano, the Italian Foreign Minister, conferred with Ribbentrop and Hitler, the London Times guessed that “something was in the air,” and the New York Times understood that German action against Poland was only a matter of days. The latter subsequently reported that action was set for August 24, which was the original German plan. Both papers learned that Germany was demanding from Poland not only Danzig but also what the Germans called the “corridor.” The London Times knew something about the negotiations for an Anglo-French alliance with the Soviet Union, but was vague about the Russian objections; the New York Times, which incorrectly heard that Poland was ready to accept Russian help, consistently reported that the Polish Foreign Minister, Józef Beck, did not expect the German pressure to eventuate in war. Grasping at straws, both papers printed some reports from Berlin that Germany might moderate its demands, but they learned enough about the conversations between Hitler and Sir Nevile Henderson, the British ambassador in Berlin, to dispel any hope. Actually, there were far fewer exchanges between the governments than in 1914, for whereas in 1914military decisions were made only after a week of negotiations, in 1939Germany had already decided to attack Poland, and the only result of the Anglo-German negotiations was to postpone the attack until September 1. The newspapers learned nothing about the negotiations for a German-Soviet pact of nonaggression until the official announcement was made.
As in 1914, the German and British governments issued White Papers, first with a minimum of documents, later in more extensive editions containing reports on Poland. The Germans claimed that the Poles were guilty of atrocities; the British showed that they had done their best to restrain the Poles and to induce German negotiations with them. These German publications fell rather flat, for outside Germany that country’s responsibility was universally recognized. The complete British correspondence, published after the war, showed that the papers released in 1939 had not been tampered with. On the other hand, the papers included in Documents on German Foreign Policy, published by the Allied governments, revealed that the large German White Book of 1939 had been much “edited” to build a case against Poland. As in 1914, the French Yellow Book was much delayed and included documents of the previous year, and the Italian government issued no Green Book. No documents were released by any government concerning the German-Soviet negotiations or the Anglo-French-Russian negotiations.
For the diplomatic history of the Second World War, the films of the German Foreign Office down to 1945are being made available as fast as possible, and there are Japanese materials in the Library of Congress. The Italian documents will extend only to the fall of Mussolini in July 1943. From the Russian side only two volumes of correspondence between Stalin on the one hand and Sir Winston Churchill and President Roosevelt on the other have appeared. From Britain and France as yet only silence. At the moment Foreign Relations of the United States has barely gone beyond Pearl Harbor. “It’s a long, long road to Tipperary,” that is, to a proper diplomatic history of the Second World War.
It is always necessary to remember that diplomatic documents seldom tell the whole story. The more recent volumes of diplomatic correspondence fortunately contain an increasing number of private letters. Hitler’s military directives have been included in Documents on German Foreign Policy. I documenti diplomatici italiani goes further than any other collection in including papers not strictly diplomatic and covers a longer period, 1861–1943.
Memoirs, autobiographies, and biographies can be of the utmost value, or completely worthless, with every gradation in between. When the memoirs of Baron von Eckardstein, counselor of the German embassy in London at the turn of the century, appeared in 1920, they created a tremendous sensation, for they told the story, hitherto unknown, of the negotiations of 1898and 1901 for an Anglo-German alliance. When they were checked against German and British documents, however, they were found to be full of mistakes, some apparently deliberate. The numerous volumes of memoirs by David Lloyd George and Raymond Poincaré are a main source of our knowledge of British and French diplomacy during the First World War, but it is not possible to check them against the archives. The memoirs of Prince von Bülow, German chancellor from 1900 to 1909, are notoriously unreliable. After Germany’s defeat in 1918, Bülow enjoyed a certain réclame as the man who might have prevented the war in 1914 or have brought about a compromise if he had been recalled to power in 1917. When his memoirs were published posthumously, they were said to have evoked from William II the remark that Bülow was the only man known to history who had committed suicide after his death. They were promptly attacked from all sides, and twenty-four distinguished and qualified Germans united in publishing a devastating critique.29 In spite of innumerable inaccuracies and misrepresentations, they nevertheless provide a vivid picture of Wilhelmine Germany, and occasionally throw a lurid light on German policy. Thus Bülow stated that in 1905 he “did not hesitate to confront France with the question of war,” trusting to his “skill and strength not to let things come to the worst”—“brinkmanship” fifty years in advance. And while he boasted of his sharp performance in ending the crisis over the annexation of Bosnia, he advised the Emperor not to repeat it.
Even with full documentation and reliable memoirs or biographies, it is seldom easy to write satisfactory diplomatic history. The English historian H. A. L. Fisher, who served as Minister of Education from 1916 to 1922, contended that historians could do better work if they had held public office. Certainly during the seven years that I served in the Department of State, I learned much about the operation of a foreign office. In Foreign Relations of the United States one can read the instructions sent to ambassadors and ministers abroad, but not always does one find the reasons for these directives. Sometimes the reasons are set forth in memoranda which are not published but can be found in the archives. This is, however, not always the case. Much work of this nature is accomplished by informal conferences or by telephone conversations of which no record is kept. When one is in the Department, one discovers that some things are not done, that others are imperative, that individuals have prejudices which have to be taken into account. The volume of papers by the late Pierrepont Moffat gave an admirable picture of the ways in which policy was formulated in his day.30 The Department has at all times to keep its ear cocked toward “the Hill,” for it depends on Congress for its funds. If the Department offends Congress, a cut in appropriations may follow. Congress does not make American foreign policy, but it influences that policy profoundly, and the historian of policy cannot ignore this.
The Department of State may be ignored or bypassed by the White House. Cordell Hull stated in his memoirs that he favored the recognition of the Soviet Union by the United States, but he would have made this dependent on a number of conditions.31 Ten years later, the tradition in the Department, as passed on to me, was that he was really against it. The unpublished documents in the departmental files leave no doubt that many officials were opposed to recognition. Other cases might be mentioned in which the White House took an opposite course from that recommended by the Department. This is not peculiar to the Department of State, for examples can easily be cited from British and French diplomatic history, but it is a circumstance that historians must always remember.
On occasion the President has carried on negotiations of which the Department of State was left in ignorance; examples can be cited from Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt, and it is a matter of chance whether the incident gets into the record.32 This too is not unique, for Hitler, being distrustful of professional diplomatists, frequently ignored the German Foreign Office, which might have heard of his action only much later.
In the case of British policy, the British documents on the origins of the First World War were frequently accompanied by “minutes” written by Foreign Office officials, minutes which often explain subsequent action. Such minutes were not published with the documents on British policy between the two wars. From the documents it is often evident that the decisions were made, not by the Foreign Office, but by the cabinet. Since the minutes of the cabinet (there were no minutes kept before 1916) remain secret, the historian is often reduced to guessing what were the reasons for action.
As a historian, I do not complain that there are lacunae in the evidence. Part of the fun of writing a book on diplomatic history is becoming aware of the gaps and the questions and then trying to close the gaps and find the answers. Diplomatic history can be awfully dull, especially if the complete record is spread out before you.
Sir Winston Churchill has described our age as the “terrible twentieth century,” and the New Cambridge Modern History entitles its volume for 1898–1945 The Era of Violence, words justified by two world wars, the Korean War, Communist revolutions in Russia and China, and lesser disturbances elsewhere. Having been immersed in diplomatic history for half a century, I ask myself how far poor diplomacy has contributed to these violent upheavals, although in passing I may note that Africa was partitioned among the great powers without recourse to war and that in 1912–1913the same powers kept the peace between themselves while the Balkan States were expelling the Ottoman Empire from Europe.
With the perspective that is now possible, it is clear that German diplomacy in the years before 1914was singularly maladroit. It was at this time that Germans were vociferously demanding “a place in the sun” for their country, and the German government undoubtedly wished to attain it. But neither agitators nor government succeeded in formulating a precise program which commanded general assent and behind which government and people could rally. To some Britain seemed the principal opponent of German expansion, for others France played that role. Some dreamed of expansion in Africa, others preferred the Near East. Like one of Stephen Leacock’s heroes, the government rode off brilliantly in all directions, challenging now Britain, now France, now Russia, with the result that those countries, feeling themselves threatened, joined in a Triple Entente which the Germans denounced as “encirclement.” Clever diplomacy would have decided where Germany’s vital interests lay—east or west—but the Germany of William II acted as if it believed that it was strong enough to challenge the rest of Europe. In contrast to this bravado, Britain, which was more powerful than Germany, decided that it was not strong enough to continue the policy of isolation, or the free hand, which it had affected for many years, and began to seek friends. By 1914, as the result of its miscalculations, Germany felt that it had only one reliable ally, Austria-Hungary, which was also a ramshackle ally. The German government’s decision in July 1914 to support Austria’s policy of war against Serbia, disastrous though it proved to be, was, so to speak, a last minute choice between east and west. But inasmuch as this involved trying to revive, or even to preserve, a moribund state, the action was a confession of bankruptcy. The slipperiness of Bülow, chancellor from 1900 to 1909, the incompetence of Bethmann Hollweg, his successor, and the impulsiveness of William II brought Germany down from the heights of 1901, when it was offered an alliance by Britain and was on excellent terms with Russia, to a position from which it sought to escape by deliberately accepting the risk of a general European war.33
Ignoring many controversial aspects of the negotiations of July 1914, it must be observed that the most vital decisions were taken without proper consideration. On July 5 the German Emperor pledged his support to the Emperor Francis Joseph without consulting his chancellor or his military advisers, merely “telling them” what he had done and leaving them to face the consequences. On July 25 the Austrian minister in Belgrade broke off diplomatic relations with Serbia after a most cursory glance at the Serbian reply to the Austrian ultimatum, a reply subsequently recognized by the German Emperor and the German chancellor as being in large measure an acceptance of the Austrian demands. On July 30 the highest officials of the Russian government pressed the Czar to order mobilization on the strength of a single report that Belgrade was being bombarded. Less precipitate diplomatic action in each case was surely called for.
The efforts made by the Russian and British governments to secure a diplomatic compromise of the Austro-Serbian dispute probably had little chance of success, for Austria was bent on war and Germany was pledged to go along. But the proposals of St. Petersburg and London were so improvised and so frequent that before one proposal could be circulated and digested, it was superseded by another. In consequence, it was difficult at any given moment to say what the precise situation was, and this certainly helped the military to press for action. Finally, the uncertainty about the attitude of Britain was a great calamity. Almost to the end of the crisis, Germany gambled on British neutrality, while Russia and France gambled on British help. Britain, unfortunately, did not know what it was going to do until Germany invaded Belgium.
During the war years Germany made two blunders of the first magnitude. By establishing a kingdom of Poland out of territory conquered from Russia, it threw away the possibility of a separate peace with Russia, a peace which the German chancellor looked upon as the only salvation for his country and which the Russian government was perhaps—the evidence is meager and inconclusive—ready to consider as an alternative to revolution. Second, the German government gave President Wilson to understand that it looked to him to bring about peace negotiations with its enemies and that its terms would be moderate. But, instead of waiting for him to act, it made a direct and futile offer, and when it did finally communicate its terms, they turned out to be anything but moderate. Wilson deeply resented Germany’s conduct and was even more furious when a little later it revoked its promise concerning submarine warfare.
On the side of the Allies, the “secret treaties” dividing the spoils of war have been generally condemned because their provisions conflicted with the professions of disinterestedness which the Allies had made. The treaties with Italy and Rumania were born of desperate military need, the hope being that the fresh Italian and Rumanian armies would turn the tide into victory. Not only were these hopes unfulfilled, but the Serbs learned almost immediately that Dalmatia had been promised to Italy and called off their attack on Austria at a moment when it would have been of great help to the Russians. In the final settlements, the secret treaties, including those concerning the Ottoman Empire, were either much modified or abandoned.
Both sides blundered badly in their handling of the Russian revolutions. The Allies failed to comprehend that the upheaval of March 1917, which deposed the Czar, was produced by war weariness. The people wished to stop fighting and have peace. At the time, the Allies were so hard pressed that they could hardly have been expected to accept demands that would take the Russian armies out of the war. By refusing to restate the aims for which they were fighting, however, they played into the hands of the Bolsheviks, and by insisting that the Russian army go on fighting, they deprived the provisional government of the few remaining reliable troops that might have suppressed the Bolshevik revolution. Their intervention in the Russian civil war was an even greater blunder, for not only did it fail to produce results, but it was never forgotten by the Soviet government, which even now cites it as proof of the evil designs of the West against the Communist regime.
The Germans were equally shortsighted. First, they sent Lenin in a sealed train across Germany to Sweden and made it possible for him to organize the Communist revolution. Then they imposed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, which proved that they were as avaricious as the Allies said they were. Next, by resuming diplomatic relations with Russia, they admitted a Bolshevik ambassador who spent most of his time propagandizing for Communism. Lastly, because they knew that no other Russian government would recognize the terms of Brest-Litovsk, they decided not to overthrow the Bolshevik regime after the murder of the German ambassador in August 1918.
Woodrow Wilson’s performance in October 1918, when he compelled Germany to surrender on his terms and then induced the Allies to accept his Fourteen Points with two reservations, is without parallel in the history of diplomacy. He was negotiating from a position of strength; nevertheless, the skill with which he drove the German government from one position to another position ranks him with the masters of diplomacy. It is not easy to explain why, after this triumph, Wilson began to make mistakes. Whether he was wise to attend the Peace Conference has been debated. Probably his first visit, during which the Covenant of the League of Nations was drafted and the general principles of the peace treaties were laid down, was useful. But the second visit, during which he sat merely as an equal in the meetings of the Big Four, was unfortunate. He would probably have accomplished more by staying in Washington and thundering from that Olympus against any departure from the Fourteen Points. He might also have found time to mend his political fences in Congress. While Wilson’s struggle with the Senate over the Treaty of Versailles and the League of Nations is still controversial, the view most frequently expressed at the time of the Wilson centennial a few years ago was that the President should have made some kind of compromise. I did not think so in 1919–1920, but I now agree. How far Wilson’s attitude was affected by physical and nervous weariness remains an open question.
Concerning “open covenants openly arrived at,” Wilson certainly did not intend to exclude secret negotiations whatever the popular impressions may have been. He meant that when an agreement had been reached, the fact should become known and the terms published. There were no secret articles in the peace treaties of 1919–1920, and that was also generally true of the various treaties drawn up between 1919 and 1939, except for the details of military conventions between France and its allies in Eastern Europe. The two serious exceptions were the secret clauses of the Franco-Italian agreement of January 1935 concerning Ethiopia and the Anti-Comintern Pact of 1936; in each case the existence of secret articles was widely suspected. The requirement of the Covenant of the League of Nations that treaties must be registered to be valid was fairly effective, for failure to register a treaty would greatly reduce its validity. Wilson’s precept was more generally followed than is usually recognized.
Whether the peace treaties of 1919–1920 seriously violated the Fourteen Points or were unfair to the extent often alleged is too large a question to be discussed here. The Allies, by refusing oral discussions with their late enemies, enabled the latter to speak of the “dictated” peace and must be charged with a psychological blunder.34 The terms of the treaties were certainly severe, and if they were to be enforced, continued Allied unity was essential. But the Allies fell out, as often happens to the victors after a war. Besides United States refusal to ratify the treaty, Britain and France were soon disagreeing about its meaning and the problem of enforcement. The Parliament upon which the British government depended had in 1919 protested against treating Germany leniently, and it lasted until 1923. But public opinion, as distinct from the Foreign Office, probably in consequence of Keynes’s book, showed increasing unwillingness to support France in enforcing the treaty, and the chameleon Lloyd George acted accordingly. From a diplomatic point of view, this disagreement between Britain and France was disastrous, for it gave the Germans a chance to play one against the other, and they made the most of it. The foreign ministers of the Weimar regime showed much greater skill in defeat than their predecessors exhibited in the days of German power before 1914. Not only did they keep their opponents divided, but they managed to win considerable sympathy and support for Germany throughout the world. By 1925Germany had become so respectable that by the Treaty of Locarno it was readmitted to international society on the basis of practical equality, while the United States, by means of private loans, lent Germany enough money for it to go through the motion of paying reparations on a substantial scale. Diplomacy never seemed to justify itself so well as from 1925to 1930, when Europe was supposed to “have turned the corner.”
The twenties were the years of the much-touted “diplomacy by conference,” Lloyd George’s contribution to the conduct of international relations. On innumerable occasions the Allied governments met to thrash out the differences between them, and from time to time they met the Germans, or even the Russians, as at Genoa in 1922, for the same purposes. These conferences were very time consuming, as one can see by reading the minutes published in Documents on British Foreign Policy, but it is doubtful if just as satisfactory results, or unsatisfactory results, would not have been achieved by the routine methods of diplomatic correspondence. The minutes reveal the extraordinary versatility of Lloyd George and his habit of sometimes overriding the views of Lord Curzon, his Foreign Secretary. But after the fall of Lloyd George in 1922, conferences became less frequent. Since their original purpose had been chiefly to bring about the payment of reparations by Germany, it was somewhat ironical that the Lausanne Conference of 1932 in substance agreed to abolish reparations.
Diplomacy reached its nadir in the thirties. In 1931 Japan seized Manchuria, and the League of Nations was unable to do more than secure the appointment of the Lytton Commission. What the League might have done if the United States had promised its support will never be known, but our adoption of the Stimson Doctrine, by which we refused to recognize conquests made by force, was a futile gesture which did not deter Japan.
In 1931 Sir John Simon became British Foreign Secretary. Hitherto, in spite of many difficulties and disagreements, the British and French governments had to a considerable degree maintained a common front, but under Simon the thirty-year-old Entente Cordiale almost ceased to exist, as was revealed by the Anglo-German naval convention of 1935 made behind the back of France. When Italy’s determination to seize Ethiopia became evident, the French government made a secret agreement with Mussolini giving him a free hand. Although the British government disapproved of this, it did not make its opposition known to Mussolini, who plunged ahead. Then the League of Nations, under British inspiration, tried to stop him, but because of Anglo-French divergences, did so only halfheartedly. It imposed sanctions which aroused Mussolini’s indignation but which were not stringent enough to stop him. While the British sent their fleet to the Mediterranean, it became evident that they would not use it. Out of the impasse came the Hoare-Laval plan, a last effort to appease Mussolini, a deal so shocking that it caused the fall of both ministers. Diplomacy was shown at its worst, not only because of the lack of principle displayed but also because it helped convince Hitler that the Western powers were incapable of energetic action. How right he was was proved in 1936 when he sent his troops into the demilitarized Rhineland. Although this was a clear violation of both Locarno and Versailles, the British explained it away and the French refused to mobilize because it would cost five billion francs.
It must be recognized, in fairness, that at this time the people in France and Britain did not want war and were for peace at almost any price. In England, Liberals and Labourites put their trust in the League of Nations and advocated sanctions, but strongly opposed the rearmament of Britain which alone would have made British diplomacy effective. There was also much distrust of the Soviet Union, even after it joined the League in 1934. And so when Germany began to rearm in defiance of the Treaty of Versailles, Britain and France lacked both the will and the means to call a halt. The paralysis of Anglo-French diplomacy was revealed by its inability to prevent the intervention of Italy and Germany in the Spanish Civil War. It might have been expected that Britain and France, being democracies, would sympathize with the legally elected republican government of Spain in its resistance to General Franco, but dominant public opinion in both countries was determined to avoid any course that might involve the risk of war.
A further misfortune occurred when Neville Chamberlain became British Prime Minister in 1937. He inherited a bad situation, for his predecessor Stanley Baldwin had failed to warn the British people of the dangerous predicament into which they had been allowed to fall. Unfortunately Chamberlain compounded this folly by believing that through personal contacts with Hitler and Mussolini he could do business with them. Largely ignoring the Foreign Office, he chose as his principal adviser a civil servant with no diplomatic experience. In September 1938, as the German-Czech crisis came to a head, Chamberlain visited Hitler at Berchtesgaden, where, to the surprise of the latter, he accepted the German terms for the partition of Czechoslovakia. It is not to be wondered at that when the two men met a second time at Godesberg, Hitler raised his terms. If Chamberlain, with the assistance of Mussolini, was able to prevent a German invasion of Bohemia, it was a pyrrhic victory: Hitler resented being deprived of his war, and Anglo-German relations soon began to deteriorate. Chamberlain’s amateur technique provided Britain with the greatest diplomatic defeat in its history. It is said that German opposition to Hitler, chiefly military, was planning to depose him rather than face the risk of war with Britain and France. They gave up in disgust, however, when they heard of Chamberlain’s visit. Chamberlain is also credited with excluding the Soviet Union from negotiations at Munich. This was resented by the Russians and was a reason for the distrust shown by Russia in subsequent negotiations for an Anglo-French-Soviet alliance.35
During this decade the United States Congress passed legislation designed to place the sale of munitions to foreign powers in wartime on a “cash and carry” basis. This was the result of a “phony” agitation that munitions makers had maneuvered the United States into war in 1917and that they had been abetted by unscrupulous British propaganda. Both the White House and the Department of State were opposed to this legislation, but they were helpless. The effect was doubly unfortunate: not only was the United States deprived of a legitimate weapon in the conduct of foreign policy, but it was written off as a factor in international affairs by Germany, Italy, and. Japan. It is not for Americans, who were unwilling to do anything about Manchuria, Ethiopia, or Spain, to be too critical of the British and the French if they practiced appeasement.
And so we come to the crisis of August 1939. Remembering how the British government of 1914had been criticized for not making its position clear at the beginning of the crisis, Chamberlain in his first letter to Hitler stated clearly that if Germany attacked Poland, Britain would go to the aid of that country.36 But Hitler was not impressed by this declaration, for the Britain of 1939was, in terms of power, not the Britain of 1914. With the evidence before us, it now seems clear that Hitler might have been stopped, but only by a firm Anglo-French-Soviet alliance. If Chamberlain really desired such an alliance (which is doubtful), he made the mistake of sending an official of the Foreign Office instead of a minister of high rank to Moscow to conduct the negotiations. This contributed to Soviet suspicions of British sincerity. When the Soviet government also learned that Britain was ready to put a far smaller army into the field than in 1914, it lost interest. If Russia was to participate in war against Germany, it must be able to send troops into Poland. This being rejected by Poland, and therefore by Britain, there was no apparent possibility of agreement. In the complete absence of Russian documents, speculation about the Soviet motives is dangerous, and Ishall not risk it. In any case, the Soviet government did accept the German offer of a pact of nonaggression, and the last obstacle to Hitler’s war against Poland was removed. Thus the Soviet government gained nearly two years in which to prepare for that German attack which, if Hitler’s own words were to be believed, was inevitable. Whether the Soviet bargain with Germany was wise is certainly open to argument.
In the war of 1914–1918 there were seven original belligerents: Austria-Hungary and Germany on one side; Serbia, Montenegro, Russia, France, and Britain on the other. Germany invaded Luxembourg and Belgium; Japan entered the war partly because of its alliance with Britain. Turkey, Italy, Bulgaria, Rumania, and Greece were brought in as a result of diplomatic activity. The United States, after long hesitation, joined to defend its interests
In the war of 1939–1945 diplomacy was less effective. It began as a German war against Poland, Britain, and France. Italy joined at the moment when Germany seemed to have won, and Mussolini wished to be on hand for the distribution of the spoils. Russia attacked Finland. Germany invaded Denmark, Norway, Holland, Belgium, and Luxembourg. Hungary Bulgaria, and Rumania were forced in by German military and economic pressure. Greece was attacked by Italy, and Yugoslavia by Germany. There was nothing like the bargaining that went on from 1914 to 1916. In 1941 Germany attacked the Soviet Union, and Japan assaulted the United States. Thanks to almost incredible diplomacy, Spain and Sweden were able to resist German pressure, and Turkey maintained its neutrality against both sides.
During the first war Germany tried several times to obtain a separate peace with Russia; there were rumors of similar attempts in the second war, but they have not been verified. In December 1916 the Central Powers proposed peace negotiations, but nothing came of them. There were no such suggestions in the second war.
In spite of an Anglo-Soviet alliance made in 1942, both Britain and the United States refused to recognize Russia’s forcible absorption of the Baltic States. Not all the efforts of British and American diplomacy were able to overcome the suspiciousness of the Soviet government so well revealed in General John R. Deane’s book The Strange Alliance. The Western powers have been severely criticized for not having Russia sign an agreement to restore the frontiers of Poland and to respect the independence of the Eastern European states. Had this been diplomatically feasible—which I very much doubt—who could guarantee that the Soviet government would have respected it? Churchill and Roosevelt have also been denounced for the Yalta agreement, which brought Russia into the Far Eastern war, at the possible expense of China. Since they wanted Russia’s entry into the war, they had to pay Stalin’s price. It can be argued that by their agreement they hoped to tie the Soviets down to the precise points mentioned. The enigmatic attitude of the Soviet government toward peace feelers from Japan before the first atomic bomb was dropped was, however, not a hopeful sign of future cooperation. If Anglo-American diplomacy was not completely successful in dealing with the Soviet Union, historians will remember that this is characteristic of coalitions.
The agreement to insist on Germany’s “unconditional surrender” has also been criticized on the ground that it prolonged unnecessarily the resistance of Germany. I am not convinced of this. It must be remembered that in 1918 Germany surrendered on condition that peace would be based on Wilson’s Fourteen Points. The Germans later complained that the Fourteen Points had been ignored in the Treaty of Versailles. “Unconditional surrender” guaranteed that the Allies would not have to meet that reproach a second time.
Could diplomacy have averted the wars and revolutions of our time? It is possible that if Germany had not been so precipitate in promising help to Austria in July 1914 or if Britain had declared itself at the beginning of the crisis, war in that summer might have been avoided. But the demand for war against Serbia did not originate in 1914; it had been considered for years. If war had not come in 1914, what would have happened on the death of Francis Joseph in 1916? Russian, French, and German foreign offices had long been concerned about this eventuality, but we do not know that they had reached any agreement as to what should be done if the Dual Monarchy disintegrated. War might have been precipitated then, for Austria-Hungary was a sensitive area where large numbers of minorities were kept in unhappy subjection to existing governments. Clever diplomacy was not needed to prevent an explosion as much as far-reaching internal reforms, of which there seemed little prospect.
By 1939 the situation was more explosive than in 1914. Hitler and Mussolini were determined to “revise” the treaties, and Japan was equally determined to take what it wanted from China. The only way to stop these aggressors was by the manifestation of superior force, rather than by diplomacy. Neither France nor Britain, however, was willing to build up the necessary force in Europe, any more than the United States was in the Pacific. War may have been avoidable in 1914, but not in 1939.
In 1960 we are better informed about the diplomacyof the years since 1945 than people in 1914 were about the events of the preceding fifteen years. A few comparisons can end this address. Between 1901 and 1914 there were five international crises: that between Russia and Japan over Manchuria and Korea, which culminated in war; those between France and Germany over Morocco, in both of which Germany considered the possibility of war but accepted a compromise; that between Austria and Russia over Bosnia, in which Russia did not feel strong enough for war, especially as it could not get assurance of help from Britain and France; and that between the Balkan States and Turkey, in which the powers allowed the war to proceed without too much interference and compromised their own differences. It was this diplomatic achievement which encouraged the view that war between great powers was out of the question because it would be too horrible and too expensive.
Since 1945 we have experienced six crises: two over Berlin, the second of which is still with us; two in Asia, one involving Korea, the other Indochina, in both of which force was used; two in Africa, the war between Israel and the Arab states and the Anglo-French attack on Egypt. Diplomacy was more successful in avoiding war before 1914 than it has been since 1945,in spite of the fact that the United States, until recently and perhaps still the strongest military power in the world, has worked zealously for peace. The explanation of this paradox is a matter of controversy, into which I shall not plunge. But there is one encouraging sign. In 1914 and again in 1939 no power hesitated to go to war. In 1960 both the United States and the Soviet Union have publicly proclaimed their abhorrence of war and insist that they are working for peace. The Russian leader, confident that capitalism is doomed, predicts that our grandchildren will be living under socialism; the free world is not willing to admit this and hopes that somehow the Russian satellites will recover their freedom. The historian, recalling Oxenstierna’s famous quip, “With how little wisdom is the world governed,” will pray that more wisdom will be exhibited in the next fifty years than in the last fifty.
Bernadotte E. Schmitt was Andrew MacLeish Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus of Modern History at the University of Chicago. His noted works include England and Germany, 1740–1914 (1916), The Coming of the War (1930), Triple Alliance and Triple Entente (1934), and The Annexation of Bosnia, 1908–1909 (1937). [back to top]
2. France published Yellow Books for the two Moroccan crises of 1905 and 1911, and Germany issued a White Book for the first crisis. Britain, although deeply involved in both, did not publish a Blue Book for either. Austria-Hungary released a Red Book on the Bosnian crisis of 1909, but its example was not followed by Russia. [back to text]
3. E. C. Helmreich, The Diplomacy of the Balkan Wars, 1912–1913 (Cambridge, Mass., 1938). Sometime in 1914 Austria-Hungary issued a Red Book and Russia an Orange one on the Balkan wars, but they did not become available in the United States until after the outbreak of war in July 1914. The French Yellow Book was not published until 1922, and no Blue Book was issued. [back to text]
6. Johannes Lepsius et al., Die Grosse Politik der Europäischen Kabinette 1871–1914 (40 vols. in 54, Berlin, 1922–27). This was not quite a unique undertaking, for the French government had begun in 1910 to publish the papers relating to the origins of the war of 1870. But forty years had elapsed since that war, and the persons involved were dead, whereas the Grosse Politik was almost a contemporary publication, and many of the persons involved were still living. [back to text]
7. Fritz Klein, “Über die Verfalschungen der historischen Wahrheit in der Aktenpublikation Die Grosse Politik der Europäischen Kabinette,” Zeitschrift für Geschichtswissenschaft, VII (No. 2, 1959), 318–30. The Communist Chinese government presented the German legation in Peking to the East German Republic, which made it possible to examine the diplomatic files of the imperial regime. Klein prints the full text of the Foreign Office instruction. [back to text]
9. The selection of documents for publication is not so easy as it may appear. When I served as United States editor in chief for Documents on German Foreign Policy, 1918–1945, published by the British, French, and United States governments, I soon learned that the selection of documents for the main lines of German policy was comparatively easy, for they were to be found in the political files. The difficulties began with policies and activities on lower levels. The teams (British, French, United States) working immediately with the files at Whaddon Hall, England (where the documents were located), made their selections from thousands of papers available and submitted them to the editors in chief, who discussed these selections with their staffs. It was not always easy for me and my colleagues to reach agreement, and sometimes Whaddon had to be asked for more documents. In the end, each editor in chief had to decide what documents to include in his list. The three lists were then exchanged, and the three editors in chief, either meeting together or by correspondence, worked diligently until they had selected documents on which all three could agree. Obviously there was room for differences of opinion, and I have no doubt that if the editors’ choices, in the published volumes, are checked against the files, there will be criticism for including some documents and excluding others. One reviewer of the previously cited Catalogue of Files and Microfilms wants assurances that all the important files were filmed. Surely what is “important” is partly subjective, but after the triple distillation mentioned above, the editors can certainly claim to have worked as dispassionately as possible. I never knew of a document’s being included or excluded because it reflected, either favorably or unfavorably, on an Allied government or even on the German government. [back to text]
11. Paul Rohrbach (one of the most ardent imperialists before 1914, Um des Teuffels Handscrift (Hamburg, 1953), 184. Some years later Ludwig Dehio wrote: “Our naval armament was ultimately intended, from the very first, to achieve a great offensive aim ... the expulsion of England from her position of supremacy.... In the last years before the war the liberal imperialists, and with them wide circles of the upper classes, were prepared to accept the risk of a European war rather than renounce the ultimate offensive on which they had set themselves at the turn of the century.” Germany and World Politics (London, 1959), 78–84. [back to text]
15. While the German documents were at Whaddon, the most secret files for the origins of the war of 1870 were discovered and filmed. They form the basis of an important book edited by Georges Bonnin (Bismarck and the Hohenzollern Candidature for the Spanish Throne: The Documents in the German Diplomatic Archives [London, 1957]), which answers some of the controversial questions about that war. [back to text]
18. Wilhelm Ziegler, Versailles (Hamburg, 1933). Paul Birdsall, Versailles Twenty Years After (New York, 1940, is a commentary on the treaty rather than a history of the peace conference. [back to text]
21. The principal speculations concerned the questions whether Secretary Stimson wished to go further than President Hoover and whether Britain had let the United States down in declining to support the “Stimson Doctrine.” [back to text]
32. In 1918 Wilson carried on secret negotiations with the Emperor Charles through the medium of the king of Spain. The correspondence was intercepted by the British intelligence service—and communicated to the Department of State, which apparently knew nothing about it. [back to text]
33. “Mit einem Wort: es haben in Deutschland die wahrhaft zeitgemässen Staatsmänner gefehlt, die eine den deutschen Gegebenheiten, Notwendigkeiten, aber auch Gefahren adäquate, konsequent geplante, bis ins letzte durchdachte Weltpolitik trieben, die vielleicht auch jene ‘Objektivitäten’ im Frieden zu rneistern gewusst hätten.” Werner Frauendienst, “Deutsche Weltpolitik zur Problematik des Wilhelmischen Reichs,” Die Welt als Geschichte, XIX (No. 1, 1959), 38. [back to text]
35. What British professional diplomacy could do when left alone was revealed in the Far East, where the Japanese were being very troublesome in China. Although they had no fleet at their disposal, the British ambassador in China managed to remain on the good side of Chiang Kai-shek, while his colleague in Tokyo, by endless talking and protesting, kept the Japanese from seizing the British concession at Tientsin until the Nazi-Soviet pact of nonaggression upset all Japanese calculations and led them to settle the Tientsin difficulty on a reasonable basis. The long record reproduced in Documents on British Foreign Policy, 1919–1939, ed. E. L. Woodward and Rohan Butler (London, 1955), 3dser., VIII–IX, should be required reading for all fledgling diplomatists. [back to text]
36. The British unilateral promise given to Poland in April 1939 and confirmed by the Anglo-Polish alliance signed in August was, from a practical point of view, futile, for Britain had no way of helping Poland resist Germany, and the action was sharply criticized at the time. It was another example of Chamberlain’s amateur diplomacy.
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© 1961, 2000, American Historical AssociationLast Updated: August 9, 2012 10:13 AM