Peacemaking days of 1919 told by ‘insider’ (2-20-44)

The Pittsburgh Press (February 20, 1944)

Peacemaking days of 1919 told by ‘insider’

Col. Stephen Bonsal, confidant of President Wilson during World War I, tells of petty intrigues of many world-famous men
By John D. Paulus

When the firing ceases in World War II, will the heads of state – Roosevelt, Churchill, Stalin, et al. – sit down in person to dictate the peace and draw blueprints for the “world that is to come”?

Or will that job be delegated the experts in international affairs, the foreign ministers of the various governments, with a consideration for the economic as well as the political welfare of all the nations involved?

Those two questions will concern many thinking persons in the months to come. And they should concern every American, since the fate of the world and the course of history can be decided by the capricious or deliberate actions of one man or one group of men.

Thus, we are deeply indebted to the publishing firm of Doubleday, Doran for bringing out at this time a new book, Unfinished Business, by Stephen Bonsal. Col. Bonsal was President Wilson’s confidential interpreter and a confidant of Col. House, the Harry Hopkins of World War I.

Unfinished Business contains extracts from Col. Bonsal’s diaries covering such historic subjects as the attendance of the President at the Peace Conference, the clash with the Allied powers over the Fourteen Points, the struggle over ratification of the Peace Treaty, the troubles at home with Senator Lodge and his colleagues, and the influence of Col. House on Mr. Wilson.

Results of policies

This is the inside story of the mysterious and troubling period in 1919 during which the events of the next 20 years were actually decided. The rise of National Socialism in Germany, the advent of Hitler, the coming of World War II, the emergence of Japan as a world power, the unskilled manipulation of territorial boundaries of little nations – all these historic events and many more are the results of policies (and politics!) which Col. Bonsal witnessed.

The reader is dismayed at the petty intrigues, the smallness of big men, the vanity and self-interest of a handful of “nationalists” in all countries. Col. Bonsal’s diaries are replete with accounts of personalities and clashes between those personalities – and those passages are easily the most interesting parts of the book.

President Wilson’s insistence on attending the Peace Conference and actually taking part in the formulation not only of the Peace Treaty but of the League of Nations is an interesting part of the book. Col. House and other U.S. Delegation leaders, plus many leaders of Allied countries, urged Wilson to stay in Washington as a kind of great referee over the momentous deliberations.

But Wilson insisted on going to Europe, insisted on becoming a delegate and becoming embroiled in the petty arguments that inevitably were stirred up in the historic sessions.

Would the world have turned out better if Mr. Wilson’s decision had been different? Would the French have been easier to get along with if he had remained in Washington? Would Clemenceau have been more tolerant toward the fallen foe? Would Mr. Wilson have seen clearer the role of the Japanese delegates?

Shows glaring failures

The questions can be answered by each individual for himself as he reads the book. For Col. Bonsal points out the glaring failures, hoping that our leaders will not make similar mistakes when World War II ends.

This book should be “must” reading for the fourth-term candidate, for Messrs. Willkie, Dewey, Bricker, Taft, MacArthur, for every candidate to every public office in the national government in this historic year. Every thinking voter will want to read it.

On nearly every page is a grim contemporary ring, a warning to the men of 1944. We read Mr. Bonsal’s story with a new perspective and with an acute awareness of the terrible parallel between Wilson’s time and ours.

It isn’t often that the common man gets to see what goes on in the councils of the great. Col. Bonsal’s book succeeds not only in giving us a good look, but also in affording an insight into the all-too-human differences in 1919 that made another war inevitable in 1939.