ON JANUARY 11, David Lloyd George bounded with his usual energy onto a British destroyer for the Channel crossing. With his arrival in Paris the three key peacemakers, on whom so much depended, were finally in one place. Although he was still feeling his way with Wilson, Lloyd George had known Clemenceau on and off since 1908. Their first meeting had not been a success. Clemenceau found Lloyd George shockingly ignorant, both of Europe and the United States. Lloyd George’s impression was of a “disagreeable and rather bad-tempered old savage.” He noticed, he said, that in Clemenceau’s large head “there was no dome of benevolence, reverence, or kindliness.” When the two men crossed paths again during the war, Lloyd George made it clear that there was to be no more bullying. In time, he claimed, he came to appreciate Clemenceau immensely for his wit, his strength of character and his passionate devotion to France. Clemenceau, for his part, developed a grudging liking for Lloyd George, although he always complained that he was badly educated. He was not, said the old Frenchman severely, “an English gentleman.”1
Each of the Big Three at the Peace Conference brought something of his own country to the negotiations: Wilson the United States’ benevolence, a confident assurance that the American way was the best, and an uneasy suspicion that the Europeans might fail to see this; Clemenceau France’s profound patriotism, its relief at the victory and its perpetual apprehension of a revived Germany; and Lloyd George Britain’s vast web of colonies and its mighty navy. Each man represented great interests, but each was also an individual. Their failings and their strengths, their fatigue and their illnesses, their likes and dislikes were also to shape the peace settlements. From January to the end of June, except for the gap between mid-February and mid-March when Wilson was back in the United States and Lloyd George in Britain, the three met daily, often morning and afternoon. At first they were accompanied by their foreign ministers and advisers, but after March they met privately, with only a secretary or two or an occasional expert. The intensity of these face-to-face meetings forced them to get to know each other, to like each other and to be irritated by each other.
Lloyd George was the youngest of the three, a cheerful rosy-faced man with startling blue eyes and a shock of white hair. (“Hullo!” a little girl once asked him. “Are you Charlie Chaplin?”) He was only two when the American Civil War—something Wilson remembered clearly—ended. When a twenty-year-old Clemenceau was witnessing the birth of the new Germany in the aftermath of France’s defeat by Prussia, Lloyd George was still in primary school. He was not only younger; he was also fitter and more resilient. Wilson worried himself sick trying to live up to his own principles, and Clemenceau lay awake at nights going over and over France’s needs. Lloyd George thrived on challenges and crises. As Lord Robert Cecil, an austere Conservative who never entirely approved of him, said with reluctant admiration, “Whatever was going on at the Conference, however hard at work and harried by the gravest responsibilities of his position, Mr. Lloyd George was certain to be at the top of his form—full of chaff intermingled with shrewd though never ill-natured comments on those with whom he was working.”2
Lloyd George had known tragedy with the death of a much-loved daughter, as well as moments of considerable strain when personal scandals and political controversies had threatened to ruin his career. He had worked under enormous pressure during the previous four years, first as minister of munitions and then as war minister. At the end of 1916, he had taken on the burden of the prime ministership, at the head of a coalition government, when it looked as though the Allies were finished. Like Clemenceau in France, he had held the country together and led it to victory. Now, in 1919, he was fresh from a triumphant election but led an uneasy coalition. He was a Liberal; his supporters and key cabinet members were predominantly Conservative. Although he had a solid partnership with the Conservative leader, Andrew Bonar Law, he had to watch his back. His displaced rival, the former Liberal prime minister Herbert Asquith, sat brooding in his tent, ready to pounce on any slip. Many of the Conservatives remembered his radical past as the scourge of privilege and rank, and as they had with their own leader Disraeli, they wondered if he were not too clever, too quick, too foreign. He also faced formidable enemies in the press. The press baron Lord Northcliffe, who had chosen his title because it had the same initial letter as Napoleon, was moving rapidly from megalomania to paranoia, perhaps an early sign of the tertiary syphilis that was to kill him. Northcliffe had been convinced that he had made Lloyd George prime minister by putting his papers, which included The Times and the Daily Mail, behind him. Now he was angry when his creation refused to appoint him either to the War Cabinet or to the British delegation in Paris. He wanted revenge.
Lloyd George had on his hands a country ill prepared for the peace, where the end of the war had brought huge, and irrational, expectations: that making peace would be easy; that wages and benefits would go up and taxes down; that there would be social harmony, or, depending on your point of view, social upheaval. The public mood was unpredictable: at moments vengeful, at others escapist. The most popular book of 1919 was The Young Visiters, a comic novel written by a child. While he was in Paris, Lloyd George had to take time out for labor unrest, parliamentary revolts and the festering sore of Ireland. Yet he entered into the negotiations in Paris as though he had little else on his mind.
If anyone was like Napoleon it was not the poor deluded Northcliffe but the man he hated. Napoleon once said of himself, “Different subjects and different affairs are arranged in my head as in a cupboard. When I wish to interrupt one train of thought, I shut that drawer and open another. Do I wish to sleep? I simply close all the drawers and there I am—asleep.” Lloyd George had those powers of concentration and recuperation, that energy and that fondness for the attack. “The Englishman,” he told a Welsh friend, “never respects any fellow unless that fellow beats him; then he becomes particularly affable towards him.”3
Like Napoleon, Lloyd George had an uncanny ability to sense what other people were thinking. He told Frances Stevenson that he loved staying in hotels: “I am always interested in people—wondering who they are—what they are thinking about—what their lives are like—whether they are enjoying life or finding it a bore.” Although he was a wonderful conversationalist, he was also a very good listener. From the powerful to the humble, adults to children, everyone who met him was made to feel that he or she had something important to say. “One of the most admirable traits in Mr. Lloyd George’s character,” in Churchill’s view, “was his complete freedom at the height of his power, responsibility and good fortune from any thing in the nature of pomposity or superior airs. He was always natural and simple. He was always exactly the same to those who knew him well: ready to argue any point, to listen to disagreeable facts even when controversially presented.” His famous charm was rooted in this combination of curiosity and attention.4
Lloyd George was also a great orator. Where Clemenceau drove home his points with devastating clarity and sarcasm, and Wilson preached, Lloyd George’s speeches, which he prepared so carefully and which sounded so spontaneous, were at once moving and witty, inspiring and intimate. Like a great actor, he was a skillful manipulator of his audience. “I pause,” he once told someone who asked him about his technique, “I reach out my hand to the people and draw them to me. Like children they seem then. Like little children.”5
John Maynard Keynes, who went to Paris as the Treasury’s representative and did so much to create myths about the Peace Conference, wove a special one for Lloyd George. “How can I convey to the reader,” the great economist asked, “any just impression of this extraordinary figure of our time, this syren, this goat-footed bard, this half-human visitor to our age from the hag-ridden magic and enchanted woods of Celtic antiquity?” There spoke the voice both of intellectually superior Cambridge and of stolid John Bull, but it spoke romantic nonsense. The real Wales in which Lloyd George grew up was a modest sober little land, with slate mines and shipbuilding, fishermen and farmers.6
Lloyd George liked to talk of his origins in a humble cottage, but in fact he came from the educated artisan class. His father, who died when he was very young, was a schoolmaster; the uncle who brought him up was a master cobbler and lay preacher, a figure of stature in his small village. Wales was always important to Lloyd George as a reference point, if only to measure how far he had come, and also for sentimental reasons (although he grew quickly bored if he had to spend too much time there). He had early on seen himself on a larger stage. And what larger stage than the capital of the world’s biggest empire? As he wrote to the local girl who became his wife, “My supreme idea is to get on.”7
He was fortunate in his uncle, who gave him unstinting devotion and support. When, as a boy, he discovered that he had lost his belief in God, the lay preacher forgave him. When he decided to go into the law, his uncle worked through a French grammar book one step ahead of him so that he could get the language qualification that he required. And when he decided to go into politics, a huge gamble for someone without money or connections, his uncle again supported him. The old man lived just long enough to see his nephew become prime minister.8
Lloyd George was made for politics. From the hard work in the committee rooms to the great campaigns, he loved it all. While he enjoyed the cut and thrust of debate, he was essentially good-natured. Unlike Wilson and Clemenceau, he did not hate his opponents. Nor was he an intellectual in politics. Although he read widely, he preferred to pick the brains of experts. On his feet there was no one quicker: he invariably conveyed a mastery of his subject. Once during the Peace Conference Keynes and a colleague realized that they had given him the wrong briefing on the Adriatic. They hastily put a revised position on a sheet of paper and rushed to the meeting, where they found Lloyd George already launched on his subject. As Keynes passed over the paper, Lloyd George glanced at it and, without a pause, gradually modified his arguments until he ended up with the opposite position to the one he had started out with.9
He made his mark early on as a leading radical politician. Where Wilson attacked the big banks and Clemenceau attacked the church, Lloyd George’s favorite targets were the landowners and aristocracy. He rather liked businessmen, especially self-made ones. (He also frequently liked their wives.) As chancellor of the exchequer, he pushed through radical budgets, introducing an income tax for the rich along with benefits for the poor, but he was not a socialist. Like Wilson and Clemenceau, he disliked collectivism, but he was always prepared to work with moderate socialists just as he was prepared to work with Conservatives. 10
Over the course of his career he became a superb, if unconventional, administrator. He shook established procedures by bringing in talented and skilled men from outside the civil service to run government departments, and he ensured the success of his bills by inviting all the interested parties to comment on them. He settled labor disputes by inviting both sides to sit down with him, normal enough procedure today but highly unusual then. “He plays upon men round a table like the chords of a musical instrument,” said a witness to his settlement of a railway dispute, “now pleading, now persuasive, stern, playful and minatory in quick succession.” 11
Naturally optimistic, he was always sure that solutions could be found to even the most difficult problems. “To Lloyd George,” said a friend of his children, “every morning was not a new day, but a new life and a new chance.”12 Sometimes the chances he took were risky, and he engaged in some dubious transactions—a mine in Argentina or the purchase of shares where he had inside knowledge—but he seems to have been motivated more by the desire for financial independence than by greed. He was equally careless in his private life. Where Clemenceau’s affairs with women enhanced his reputation, Lloyd George came close to disaster on more than one occasion when angry husbands threatened to name him in divorce actions. His wife, a strong-willed woman, stuck by him, but the couple grew apart. She preferred to stay in north Wales with her beloved garden; he got used to a part-time marriage. By 1919 he had settled down, as much as was in his nature, with a single mistress, a younger woman who had originally come into his household to tutor his youngest daughter. Frances Stevenson was an educated, efficient and intelligent woman who gave him love, intellectual companionship and a well-run office.
People often wrote Lloyd George off as a mere opportunist. Clemenceau once dismissed him as an English solicitor: “All arguments are good to him when he wishes to win a case and, if it is necessary, he uses the next day arguments which he had rejected or refuted the previous day.” Wilson, sharp-eyed where the failings of others were concerned, thought Lloyd George lacked principle: he wished that he had “a less slippery customer to deal with than L.G. for he is always temporizing and making concessions.” In fact, Lloyd George was a man of principle; but he was also intensely pragmatic. He did not waste his energies on quixotic crusades. He opposed the Boer War, when Britain waged war on the small South African republics, because he thought it was wrong and wasteful. His tenacious public opposition took courage and nearly cost him his life when an angry mob in Birmingham stormed the platform where he was speaking. But it paid off politically. As the British government blundered its way through to a hard-won peace, Lloyd George emerged as a national leader.13
When the Great War broke out, it was inevitable that he would play an important part in the British war effort. As Churchill, an increasingly close friend, wrote: “L.G. has more true insight and courage than anyone else. He really sticks at nothing—no measure too far-reaching, no expedient too novel.” He hated war, Lloyd George told a Labour delegation in 1916, but “once you are in it you have to go grimly through it, otherwise the causes which hang upon a successful issue will perish.” The wise old Conservative Arthur Balfour had seen leaders come and go. “He is impulsive,” he said of Lloyd George, “he had never given a thought before the War to military matters; he does not perhaps adequately gauge the depths of his own ignorance; and he has certain peculiarities which no doubt make him, now and then, difficult to work with.” But there was no one else, in Balfour’s opinion, who could successfully lead Britain. 14
Although Lloyd George had come a long way from his village in north Wales, he never became part of the English upper classes. Neither he nor his wife liked visiting the great country houses, and he positively disliked staying with the king and queen. When George V, as a mark of honor, invited him to carry the sword of state at the opening of Parliament, Lloyd George privately said, “I won’t be a flunkey,” and begged off. Most of his friends were, like him, self-made men. Balfour, who was a Cecil, from an old and famous family, was a rare exception. And Balfour, with his affable willingness to take second place, suited him very well as a foreign minister. 15
In Paris, Lloyd George ignored the Foreign Office wherever he could and used his own staff of bright young men. The bureaucrats particularly resented his private secretary, the high-minded, religious and arrogant Philip Kerr. Because Lloyd George hated reading memoranda, Kerr, who dealt with much of his correspondence, was the gatekeeper to the great man. Even Balfour was moved to mild reproof when he asked Kerr whether the prime minister had read a particular document and was told no, but that Kerr had. “Not quite the same thing, is it, Philip—yet?” The professional diplomats muttered among themselves, and Lord Curzon, who had been left behind in London to mind the shop while Balfour and Lloyd George were in Paris, was pained. The prime minister paid no attention.16
Was this a bad thing for Britain? He clearly did not have a grasp on foreign affairs equal to that of his predecessor, Lord Salisbury, or his later successor Churchill. His knowledge had great gaps. “Who are the Slovaks?” he asked in 1916. “I can’t seem to place them.” His geography was equally sketchy. How interesting, he told a subordinate in 1918, to discover that New Zealand was on the east side of Australia. In 1919, when Turkish forces were retreating eastward from the Mediterranean, Lloyd George talked dramatically of their flight toward Mecca. “Ankara,” said Curzon severely. Lloyd George replied airily, “Lord Curzon is good enough to admonish me on a triviality.” Yet he often came to sensible conclusions (even if his disdain for the professionals and his own enthusiasms also led him into mistakes, such as support for a restored Greater Greece). Germany, he told a friend in the middle of the war, must be beaten, but not destroyed. That would not do either Europe or the British empire any good, and would leave the field clear for a strong Russia. He understood where Britain’s interests lay: its trade and its empire, with naval dominance to protect them and a balance of power in Europe to prevent any power from challenging those interests.17
He recognized that Britain could no longer try to achieve these goals on its own. Its military power, though great, was shrinking rapidly as the country moved back to a peacetime footing. During 1919, the size of the army was to drop by two thirds at a time when Britain was taking on more and more responsibilities, from the Baltic states to Russia to Afghanistan, and dealing with more and more trouble in its empire—India, Egypt and, on its own doorstep, Ireland. “There are no troops to spare,” came the despairing answer from the general staff to repeated requests. 18 The burden of power was also weighing heavily in economic terms. Britain was no longer the world’s financial center; the United States was. And Britain owed huge amounts to the Americans, as the prime minister was well aware. With his usual optimism, he felt that he could build a good relationship with the United States which would help to compensate for British weaknesses. Perhaps the Americans would take on responsibility for such strategically important areas as the straits at Constantinople.
Britain went into the Peace Conference with a relatively good hand, certainly a better one than either France or Italy. The German fleet, which had challenged British power around the world, was safely in British hands, the surface ships in Scapa Flow in the Orkneys and most of the submarines in Harwich on the southeast coast of England. Its coaling stations, harbors and telegraph stations had been taken by Japan or the British empire. “If you had told the British people twelve months ago,” Lloyd George said in Paris, “that they would have secured what they have, they would have laughed you to scorn. The German Navy has been handed over; the German mercantile shipping has been handed over, and the German colonies have been given up. One of our chief trade competitors has been most seriously crippled and our Allies are about to become her biggest creditors. That is no small achievement.”
There was more: “We have destroyed the menace to our Indian possessions.” Russia, whose southward push throughout the nineteenth century had so worried generations of British statesmen, was finished as a power, at least in the short run, and all along its southern boundaries, in Persia and the Caucasus, were British forces and British influence. 19
So much of prewar British policy had been devoted to protecting the routes to India across the Mediterranean, the Suez Canal and down the Red Sea, either by taking direct control, as in the case of Egypt, or by propping up the shaky old Ottoman empire. That empire was finished, but thanks to a secret agreement with France, Britain was poised to take the choice bits it wanted. There were new routes, at least in the dreams of the Foreign Office and the military, perhaps across the Black Sea to the Caucasus and then south, or by air via Greece and Mesopotamia, but these, too, could be protected if Britain moved quickly enough to seize the territory it needed.
People have often assumed that, because Lloyd George opposed the Boer War, he was not an imperialist. This is not quite true. In fact, he had always taken great pride in the empire, but he had never thought it was being run properly. It was folly to try to manage everything from London and, he argued, an expensive folly at that. What would keep the empire strong was to allow as much local self-government as possible and to have an imperial policy only on the important issues, such as defense and a common foreign policy. With home rule—he was thinking of Scotland, his own Wales and the perennially troublesome Ireland as well—parts of the empire would willingly take on the costs of looking after themselves. (“Home Rule for Hell,” cried a heckler at one of his speeches. “Quite right,” retorted Lloyd George, “let every man speak up for his own country.”) The dominions—Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Newfoundland and South Africa—were already partly self-governing. Even India was moving slowly to self-government; but with its mix of races, which included only the merest handful of Europeans, and its many religions and languages, Lloyd George doubted it would ever be able to manage on its own. (He never visited India and knew very little about it but, in the offhand way of his times, he considered Indians, along with other brown-skinned peoples, to be inferior.20)
In 1916, shortly after he became prime minister, Lloyd George told the House of Commons that the time had come to consult formally with the dominions and India about the best way to win the war. He intended, therefore, to create an Imperial War Cabinet. It was a wonderful gesture. It was also necessary. The dominions and India were keeping the British war effort going with their raw materials, their munitions, their loans, above all with their manpower—some 1,250,000 soldiers from India and another million from the dominions. Australia, as Billy Hughes, its prime minister, never tired of reminding everyone, had lost more soldiers by 1918 than the United States. 21
By 1916 the dominions, which had once tiptoed reverentially around the mother country, were growing up. They and their generals had seen too much of what Sir Robert Borden, the Canadian prime minister, called “incompetence and blundering stupidity of the whiskey and soda British H.Q. Staff.” The dominions knew how important their contribution was, what they had spent in blood. In return, they now expected to be consulted, both on the war and the peace to follow. They found a receptive audience in Britain, where what had been in prewar days a patronizing contempt for the crudeness of colonials had turned into enthusiasm for their vigor. Billy Hughes became something of a fad when he visited London in 1916; women marched with signs saying “We Want Hughes Back,” and a popular cartoon showed the Billiwog: “No War Is Complete Without One.” And then there was Jan Smuts, South Africa’s foreign minister, soldier, statesman and, to some, seer, who spent much of the later part of the war in London. Smuts had fought against the British fifteen years previously; now he was one of their most trusted advisers, sitting on the small committee of the British cabinet which Lloyd George set up to run the war. He was widely admired: “Of his practical contribution to our counsels during these trying years,” said Lloyd George, “it is difficult to speak too highly.”22
In the last days of the war Hughes and Borden were infuriated to discover that the British War Cabinet had authorized Lloyd George and Balfour to go to the Supreme War Council in Paris to settle the German armistice terms with the Allies without bothering to inform the dominions. Hughes also strongly objected to Wilson’s Fourteen Points being accepted as the basis for peace negotiations—“a painful and serious breach of faith.” The dominion leaders were even more indignant when they discovered that the British had assumed they would tag along to the Peace Conference as part of the British delegation. Lloyd George attempted to mollify them by suggesting that a dominion prime minister could be one of the five British plenipotentiaries. But which one? As Hankey said, “The dominions are as jealous of each other as cats.” The real problem over representation, as Borden wrote to his wife, was that the dominions’ position had never been properly sorted out. Canada was “a nation that is not a nation. It is about time to alter it.” And he noted, with a certain tone of pity, “The British Ministers are doing their best, but their best is not good enough.” To Hankey he said that if Canada did not have full representation at the conference there was nothing for it but for him “to pack his trunks, return to Canada, summon Parliament, and put the whole thing before them.” 23
Lloyd George gave way: not only would one of the five main British delegates be chosen from the empire, but he would tell his allies that the dominions and India required separate representation at the Peace Conference. It was one of the first issues he raised when he arrived in Paris on January 12, 1919. The Americans and the French were cool, seeing only British puppets—and extra British votes. When Lloyd George extracted a grudging offer that the dominions and India might have one delegate each, the same as Siam and Portugal, that only produced fresh cries of outrage from his empire colleagues. After all their sacrifices, they said, it was intolerable that they should be treated as minor powers. A reluctant Lloyd George persuaded Clemenceau and Wilson to allow Canada, Australia, South Africa and India to have two plenipotentiaries each and New Zealand one.24
The British were taken aback by the new assertiveness in their empire. “It was very inconvenient,” said one diplomat. “What was the Foreign Office to do?” Lloyd George, who had been for home rule in principle, discovered that the reality could be awkward, when, for example, Hughes said openly in the Supreme Council that Australia might not go to war the next time Britain did. (The remark was subsequently edited out of the minutes, but South Africa raised the question again.) Britain’s allies watched this with a certain amount of satisfaction. They might be able to use the dominions against the British, the French realized with pleasure, when it came to drawing up the German peace terms. House took an even longer-term view: separate representation for the dominions and India in the Peace Conference, and in new international bodies such as the League of Nations and the International Labour Organization, could only hurry along “the eventual disintegration of the British Empire.” Britain would end up back where it started, with only its own islands. 25
It was a British empire delegation (and the name was a victory in itself for the fractious dominions) that Lloyd George led to Paris. With well over four hundred officials, special advisers, clerks and typists, it occupied five hotels near the Arc de Triomphe. The largest, and the social center, was the Hôtel Majestic, in prewar days a favorite with rich Brazilian women on clothes-buying trips. To protect against spies (French rather than German), the British authorities replaced all the Majestic’s staff, even the chefs, with imports from British hotels in the Midlands. The food became that of a respectable railway hotel: porridge and eggs and bacon in the mornings, lots of meat and vegetables at lunch and dinner and bad coffee all day. The sacrifice was pointless, Nicolson and his colleagues grumbled, because all their offices, full of confidential papers, were in the Hôtel Astoria, where the staff was still French.26
Security was something of an obsession with the British. Their letters to and from London went by a special service that bypassed the French post office. Detectives from Scotland Yard guarded the front door at the Majestic, and members of the delegation had to wear passes with their photographs. They were urged to tear up the contents of their wastepaper baskets into tiny pieces; it was well known that at the Congress of Vienna, Prince Talleyrand, the French foreign minister, had negotiated so successfully because his agents assiduously collected discarded notes from the other delegations. Wives were allowed to take meals in the Majestic but not to stay—yet another legacy of the Congress of Vienna, where, according to official memory, they had been responsible for secrets leaking out.27
Lloyd George chose to stay in a luxurious flat in the Rue Nitot, an alleyway that had once been the haunt of ragpickers. Decorated with wonderful eighteenth-century English paintings—Gainsboroughs, Hoppners and Lawrences—the flat had been lent him by a rich Englishwoman. With him he had Philip Kerr and Frances Stevenson, as well as his youngest daughter and favorite child, the sixteen-year-old Megan. Frances was her chaperone, or perhaps it was the other way around. Balfour lived one floor above and in the evenings he could hear the sounds of Lloyd George’s favorite Welsh hymns and black spirituals drifting up.28
At the Majestic each inhabitant was given a book of house rules. Meals were at set hours. Drinks had to be paid for unless, and this was a matter for bitter comment, you came from one of the dominions or India, in which case the British government footed the bill. Coupons were available, but cash was also accepted. There was to be no running up of accounts. Members of the delegation were not to cook in their rooms or damage the furniture. They must not keep dogs. A doctor (a distinguished obstetrician, according to Nicolson) and three nurses were on duty in the sick bay. A billiard room and a jardin d’hiver were available in the basement for recreation. So were a couple of cars, which could be booked ahead. There was a warning here: windows had already been broken “through violent slamming of doors.” There was another warning too: “All members of the Delegation should bear in mind that telephone conversations will be overheard by unauthorised persons.”29
“Very like coming to school for the first time” was the opinion of one new arrival. “Hanging about in the hall, being looked at by those already arrived as ‘new kids,’ picking out our baggage, noting times for meals, etc., to-morrow—very amusing.”30 If the British were the masters and the matrons, the Canadians were the senior prefects, a little bit serious perhaps, but reliable; the South Africans were the new boys, good at games and much admired for their sporting instincts; the Australians the cheeky ones, always ready to break bounds; the New Zealanders and Newfoundlanders the lower forms; and then, of course, the Indians, nice chaps in spite of the color of their skin, but whose parents were threatening to pull them out and send them to a progressive school.
The Canadians, well aware that they were from the senior dominion, were led by Borden, upright and handsome. They took a high moral tone (not for the first time in international relations), saying repeatedly that they wanted nothing for themselves. But with food to sell and a hungry Europe at hand, the Canadian minister of trade managed to get agreements with France, Belgium, Greece and Rumania. The Canadians were also caught up in the general feeling that borders had suddenly become quite fluid. They chatted away happily with the Americans about exchanging the Alaska panhandle for some of the West Indies or possibly British Honduras. Borden also spoke to Lloyd George about the possibility of Canada’s taking over the administration of the West Indies.31
The main Canadian concern, however, was to keep on good terms with the United States and to bring it together with Britain. Part of this was self-interest: a recurring nightmare in Ottawa was that Canada might find itself fighting on the side of Britain and its ally Japan against the United States. Part was genuine conviction that the great Anglo-Saxon powers were a natural alliance for good. If the League of Nations did not work out, Borden suggested to Lloyd George, they should work for a union between “the two great English speaking commonwealths who share common ancestry, language and literature, who are inspired by like democratic ideals, who enjoy similar political institutions and whose united force is sufficient to ensure the peace of the world.”32
South Africa had two outstanding figures: its prime minister, General Louis Botha, who was overweight and ailing, and Jan Smuts. Enthusiastic supporters of the League and moderate when it came to German peace terms, they nevertheless had one issue on which they would not compromise: Germany’s African colonies. Smuts, who helped to draw up Britain’s territorial demands, argued that Britain must keep East Africa (what later became Tanganyika and still later part of Tanzania) so that it could have the continuous chain of colonies from south to north Africa which the Germans had so inconveniently blocked. He also spoke as a South African imperialist. His country must keep German Southwest Africa (today’s Namibia). Perhaps, he suggested, Portugal could be persuaded to swap the southern part of its colony of Mozambique on the east side of Africa for a bit of German East Africa. South Africa would then be a nice compact shape with a tidy border drawn across the tip of the continent.33
Australia was not moderate on anything. Its delegation was led by its prime minister, Billy Hughes, a scrawny dyspeptic who lived on tea and toast. A fighter on the Sydney docks, where he became a union organizer, and a veteran of the rough-and-tumble of Australian politics, Hughes made Australia’s policies in Paris virtually on his own. He was hot-tempered, idiosyncratic and deaf, both literally and figuratively, to arguments he did not want to hear. Among his own people, he usually listened only to Keith Murdoch, a young reporter whom he regarded as something of a son. Murdoch, who had written a report criticizing the British handling of the landings at Gallipoli, where Australian troops had been slaughtered, shared Hughes’s skepticism about British leadership. (Murdoch’s own son Rupert later carried on the family tradition of looking at the British with a critical eye.) On certain issues, Hughes probably spoke for public opinion back home: he wanted leeway to annex the Pacific islands which Australia had captured from Germany, and nothing in the League covenant that would undermine the White Australia policy, which let white immigrants in and kept the rest out.34
Lloyd George, always susceptible to the Welsh card, which Hughes played assiduously, generally found the Australian prime minister amusing. So did Clemenceau. He thought that Hughes, who stood for firmness with Germany, would be a good friend to France. Most people found Hughes impossible. Wilson considered him “a pestiferous varmint.” Hughes in return loathed Wilson: he sneered at the League and jeered at Wilson’s principles. New Zealand shared Australia’s reservations about the League, although less loudly, and it, too, wanted to annex some Pacific islands. Its prime minister, William Massey, was, according to one Canadian, “as thick headed and John Bullish as his appearance would lead one to expect and sidetracked the discussion more than once.”35
Then there was India. (It was always “the dominions and India” in the official documents.) India had been included in the Imperial War Cabinet along with the self-governing dominions thanks to its participation in the war. But its delegation did not look like that of an independent nation. It was headed by the secretary of state for India, Edwin Montagu, and the two Indian members, Lord Satyendra Sinha and the Maharajah of Bikaner, were chosen for their loyalty. In spite of the urgings of various Indian groups, the Indian government had not appointed any of the new Indian nationalist leaders. And in India itself, Gandhi’s transformation of the Indian National Congress into a mass political movement demanding self-government was rapidly making all the debate about how to lead India gently toward a share of its own government quite academic.
The British were to find the presence of so many dominion statesmen in Paris a mixed blessing. While Borden faithfully represented the British case in the committee dealing with the borders of Greece and Albania, and Australia did the same with respect to Czechoslovakia, it was not quite such smooth sailing when the dominions had something at stake. Lloyd George had already confronted his Allies on behalf of his dominions and he would have to confront them again. It was not a complication he needed as the laborious negotiations began.