Herbert Hoover Describes The Ordeal Of Woodrow Wilson


Having made up his mind, he acted quickly. The compromises to which he yielded rather than lose the League sowed the whole earth with dragon’s teeth. But he held the faith that the League could redeem the world from these evils.


From the European point of view the focal point of the Conference was not the Covenant of the League but the Treaty with Germany. Through the Treaty the entire structure of Europe was to be rebuilt.

The Treaty was formulated by various subcommittees made up from the different delegations, subject to higher authority—originally the Council of Ten, and later the Big Four. Each subcommittee cut a piece of the mosaic, but it was not assembled and printed as a whole until the day before the Germans were to receive it. The final document comprised about 75,000 words, 4,000 of which were devoted to the League Covenant.

The German Delegation of more than 100 members headed by Foreign Minister Count BrockdorffRantzau had been waiting in Versailles since April 29, but the Treaty was not ready until May 7. After it had been given to them, they were to be allowed a period in which to propose amendments. After Allied acceptance of any of the proposed changes, they were to be shown the dotted line.

At four o’clock on the morning of May 7 I was awakened by a troubled servant, who explained that there was a messenger waiting with an important document which he would put into no hands other than mine. It was the printed draft of the Treaty, which was to be handed to the Germans that day. At once I scanned its important parts. Although I had known the gist of many of the segments, I had not before had opportunity to envision it as a whole. Aside from the League Covenant, many provisions had been settled without considering their effect on others.

I certainly had no admiration for the conduct of the German militarists. But if the world was to have peace, it had, in my mind, to choose one of two alternatives: to reduce Germany to such poverty and political degradation that initiative and genius would be extinguished; or to give her terms that would permit the new representative government under President Ebert to live with the hope that free government might develop the nation as a peaceful member of the family of mankind. If this were not done, there would come either a return of the sullen militarists or the already infectious Communists—both with agression in their souls.

I was convinced that the terms set up in this draft of the Treaty would degrade all Europe and that peace for the long run could not be built on these foundations. I believed the Treaty contained the seeds of another war. It seemed to me that the economic provisions alone would pull down the whole Continent and, in the end, injure the United States.

I arose at early daylight and went for a walk in the deserted streets. Within a few blocks I met General Smuts and John Maynard Keynes of the British Delegation. We seemed to have come together by some sort of telepathy. It flashed into all our minds why each was walking about at that time of morning. Each was greatly disturbed. We agreed that the consequences of many parts of the proposed Treaty would ultimately bring destruction. We also agreed that we would do what we could among our own nationals to point out the dangers.

General Smuts had full knowledge of Old World diplomacy, an independent mind and often real statesmanship. Keynes was the economist for the British Delegation. Lloyd George apparently did not like him and referred to him as the “Puck of Economics.” He had a brilliant mind, powerful in analysis, and the gift of expression. Like most intellectuals, he was usually groping for new shapes and forms for the world, rather than for wisdom in what to do next. That sort of mind has a high place in the world, although it sometimes gets on the nerves of the fellow who must keep the machinery of civilization operating in the meantime. However, Keynes and I agreed fully on the economic consequences of the Treaty.∗

∗ I at least won his commendation, for in a book published later he remarks:

“Mr. Hoover was the only man who emerged from the ordeal of Paris with an enhanced reputation. This complex personality, with his habitual air of weary Titan (or, as others might put it, of exhausted prize fighter), his eyes steadily fixed on the true and essential facts of the European situation, imported into the Councils of Paris, when he took part in them, precisely that atmosphere of reality, knowledge, magnanimity and disinterestedness which, if they had been found in the other quarters, also would have given us the Good Peace.”

Later that morning, I called together the thinking members of my own organization who were in Paris. These men knew every economic and political back alley of Europe better than any one group of the peacemakers. They could appraise the hard problems of the political and economic consequences of the proposed Peace Treaty with objective minds.