Humor Magazine

They Were Human, Too

By Davidduff

Yes, slowly but surely I am progressing through Margaret MacMillan’s superb history of the 1919 Peace Conference at Versailles.  I don’t care if it ended in failure and anyway, before I condemn the four main actors I would want to know what the critics think would have been a success!  Truly, the mind boggles at the complexities with which they had to deal.  If the problems inherent in western Europe in 1919 were complex then the situation in eastern Europe was a Rubik’s cube – squared!

However, in one delightful passage Prof. MacMillan makes use not only of the meticulous minutes compiled in true British civil service style by Lord Hankey, secretary to the cabinet, but also the daily regurgitations of the French translator, the historian Paul Mantoux, and an Italian secretary who was assisting Prime Minister Orlando.  Unlike Hankey they tended to tell it the way it was!  This extract provides a flavour:

Where Hankey’s version makes everyone sound like a discreet civil servant and smoothes over the awkward exchanges, both Mantoux and Aldrovandi, the Italian, include the offhand remarks and the angry asides.

The Four bickered, shouted and swore at each other, but they also, even Orlando, teased each other, told jokes, and commiserated with each other.  They pored over maps and even crawled together over Wilson’s huge one which had to be unrolled on the floor.  Lloyd George and Wilson talked about going to church; Clemenceau said he had never been in one in his life.  They compared notes on what upset them.  Clemenceau told the others that he was never kept awake by abuse but he had trouble sleeping when he felt he had made a fool of himself.  Wilson and Lloyd George both knew exactly what he meant.  The others listened politely to Wilson’s homespun Southern jokes and ventured their own.  ‘My dear friend,’ Wilson started to Clemenceau one day, who shot back, ‘I am always a bit afraid when you begin by calling us “my dear friend”.’  Wilson replied, ‘I can’t do otherwise.  But if you like, I shall say “my illustrious colleague”.’  Towards the end of their meetings, Clemenceau asked Lloyd George, ‘How do you like him?’ and Lloyd George replied, ‘I like him and I like him much better now than I did at the beginning.’  ‘So do I’, said Clemenceau.  They shared the loneliness of power, and they understood each other in a way that no one else could.

Suddenly, they are human.


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