This seems a good day to share some insights from one of the books I've been reading about World War I in the course of my project of exploring that conflict's residue in our current world. Margaret MacMillan's Paris 1919: six months that changed the world offers a full global survey of the victors' choices in the various treaties and agreements that followed. It is comprehensive, thoughtful and sometimes delightfully snarky about the statesmen who momentarily believed they could construct a new world order.
The Paris Peace Conference in winter of 1919 stirred ambitions and imaginings on an unprecedented scale.
That quotation catches what I found the most fascinating aspect of this enormous world survey: the extent to which this European conclave reached into, not only the home continent and the powers' former colonies plus the Middle East where the boundaries it set are still contested, but also into the farthest reaches of Asia.
Japan was an ally of the victors. Having shown in 1905 that it could defeat a Russian army, it was acknowledged as a true power, the only non-white one in the world. The Japanese had viewed the European combat as a opportunity for cheap gains from the winner, if only they could pick the right warring coalition. They were willing to flirt with the German/Austro-Hungarian/Ottoman bloc; hence the story of Zimmerman telegram. But eventually they threw down with the British/French/American allies.
Japan came to Paris with two objectives. First, it wanted to come away with control of the former German commercial sphere of influence in China at Shantung. The Chinese republic hoped for an end to these foreign enclaves, but the Japanese had forces on the ground and won its point at the peace conference. Japan also held on to naval stations in the Pacific Ocean, presaging future conflict with the United States.
If Japan's colonial demands represented its aggressive and militarist side, its other priority at Paris represented a different development path that was ignored and blocked by the united West. Japan was the principle champion of what was called the "racial equality" clause proposed for the founding declaration of the new League of Nations that the peace conference was creating. The story is telling.
In 1919, all parties looked to U.S. President Woodrow Wilson to advance a moral world order. After all, he has staked out a role as the carrier of moral aims amid the horrors and corruption of the war. Those who hoped this might bring him on board with Japan's clause were to be disappointed.
MacMillan wonders whether, had the powers of the world put themselves even nominally on the side of non-discrimination by race or religion, might twentieth century history evolved differently?
My emphasis. Have we learned? I think to some extent we have and that it remains the job of arroused people to remind our rulers: No more wars!