Simms: Why we lost the peace (1944)

The Pittsburgh Press (September 4, 1944)

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Why we lost the peace –
Simms: ‘Unconditional surrender’ was ultimatum in 1918 too

Germans depended on ‘14 Points’ then, now they have Roosevelt’s ‘Four Points’
By William Philip Simms, Scripps-Howard foreign editor

This is the first in a series of articles on the mistakes made by the Allies at the peace table following the German surrender in 1918 – mistakes which laid the groundwork for World War II.

Washington –
The Allies have now reached Compiègne. There, on Nov. 11, 1918, occurred one of the most variously interpreted events in history. Yet a clear understanding of that event is necessary to further peace.

Today a certain magic is attributed to the formula of “unconditional surrender.” The surrender at Compiègne was unconditional. When Erzberger, Count von Oberndorff and the rest of the German mission stood before Marshal Foch in his private car on a siding in the woods, he eyed them coldly and demanded the nature of their visit.

ERZBERGER: “We have come to receive the Allied peace proposition.”

FOCH: (frigidly) “I have no proposition to make.”

OBERNDORFF: (hurriedly to forestall the gruff Erzberger) “We wish to learn what your armistice conditions are.”

FOCH: (icily) “I have no conditions to offer.”

ERZBERGER: (timidly) “But President Wilson–”

FOCH: (impatiently) “Do you or don’t you wish an armistice? If so, I am here to state the terms.”

Germans hear terms

Glumly, the Germans chorused, “Ja,” they wanted an armistice; whereupon Marshal Foch had the terms read off to them. Nor were they “soft.” On the contrary, they set the mission back on its heels. In addition to the occupation of the left bank of the Rhine, with bridgeheads, they called on the Kaiser to give up practically his entire war machine forthwith. When the Germans demurred, Marshal Foch told them they could take it or leave it and he set a time limit within which they were to answer yes or no.

Erzberger’s feeble effort to drag in President Wilson’s “14 Points” was promptly, and rightly, squelched. The 14 Points had nothing to do with the surrender of the Kaiser’s army; that had to be unconditional. The “points” were a concession to the German people and there was a tremendous difference.

Parallel situation

Today as the Allies face an almost parallel situation. Now as then, insofar as the German Army is concerned, the terms are “unconditional surrender.” But now, as then, the American President has offered generous conditions to the German people. Then, President Wilson put forward his “14 Points.” Now, President Roosevelt holds out his “Four Points” – which have something in common with the 14. President Roosevelt said:

We look forward to a world founded upon the four essential human freedoms. The first is freedom of speech… everywhere in the world. The second, is freedom of worship… everywhere in the world. The third, is freedom from want… of economy understanding which will secure it every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants… everywhere in the world. And, the fourth is freedom from fear with sweeping armaments reductions… everywhere in the world.

Patently these apply to the Germans no less than to others since “all nations” and all peoples are to enjoy them “everywhere in the world.”

There is just one difference between the Wilson and the Roosevelt formulas.

Where President Wilson used his 14 points to drive a wedge between the German masses and the Kaiser – and succeeded – President Roosevelt is putting his Four Points to no such effective use against Hitler.

TOMORROW: Why we did not occupy Berlin in 1918.

The Pittsburgh Press (September 5, 1944)

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Why we lost the peace –
Simms: Allies lacked statesmen to enforce pact they made in World War I

By William Philip Simms, Scripps-Howard foreign editor

Last of two articles.

Washington –
Gen. Pershing did his utmost in 1918 to persuade the Allies to occupy Berlin. But to their bitter regret, later on, he was overruled.

Some – especially in Britain and France – still hold President Wilson largely to blame for ending the war at Compiègne instead of at Berlin. But these are hindsight critics, as “Tiger” Clemenceau, the French Premier, called them. not only did he and Marshal Foch both agree with Wilson that the war should not be prolonged a single day beyond military requirements, but, he wrote, David Lloyd George and Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig led “all others” in opposing harsh measures.

“When he sent us the American Army,” Clemenceau related, “Mr. Wilson had asked if we were prepared to cease fighting on the day the Germans accepted his 14 Points.” And Clemenceau answered yes.

Clemenceau related that Lloyd George once threatened to withdraw from the peace conference “if I did not consent to the occupation of the Rhineland for only two years instead of 15.” Angrily the French Premier replied that if Lloyd George withdrew, he [Clemenceau] would lay his resignation before the Chamber of Deputies and tell the world why he did so, Even them, he added, “without the stalwart support of Mr. Wilson the treaty that day would have been a mangled corpse.”

The chief trouble with the Allies, the “Tiger” never ceased to growl, was not that they failed to make a harsh peace, but that they lacked statesmen with the will to enforce the peace they made.

When the French entered the Ruhr to enforce the peace terms, the outcry in the United States and England was deafening. France, it was said, was “militaristic.” When Poincaré made his famous series of speeches, warning against German perfidy, the same thing happened. The British and French evacuated the Rhineland long before the date fixed by the treaty and Allied opinion forced France to follow suit.

When Hitler denounced the military clauses of the treaty and openly began to rearm, France did not like it but Anglo-American opinion remained indifferent. When the Nazis reoccupied the Rhineland and France wanted to throw them out – even at the price of a “preventive war” – Britain warned France she could not count on Britain being at her side.

The lessons of Clemenceau and of events are clear. Whether or not we occupy Berlin this time, Germany will find a way to stage a third world war unless we remain permanently vigilant. The second World War was due, not to any lack of firmness in the peace of Paris, but to a lack of firmness in ourselves afterwards. We got “soft” and Germany came within an ace of destroying us. Next time – if we get “soft” – she may succeed.

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