At the end of the Great War the victorious Allies assembled at N'ersailles to build a new world order. After four years of bloody brutal conflict in which empires perished, more than ten million lost their lives, and the lives of countless additional millions were disrupted, the delegates to the Paris Peace Conference convened to make the world safe, to provide a better future for the young or yet unborn. Never had there been a better opportunity to create a new political equilibrium. Never has such an opportunity been lost so pathetically.
The historian Harold Nicolson, himself a delegate to the Paris Peace Conference, suggested shortly after the conference adjourned that future historians would, with some justifications, conclude that the delegates to the conference were stupid men who had arrived in Paris determined that a wise and just peace should be negotiated, but who left the conference conscious that the treaties imposed on their enemies were neither just nor wise nor workable. The reason for the debacle was more clearly articulated by Charles Seymour, another historian also present at Paris, who e. xplained the failure of the conference in the following terms:
The Peace Conference, representing the democracies, reflected the mind of the age; it could not rise measurably above its source. That mind was dominated by reactionary’ nostalgia and a traditional nationalism. . . It was not so much the absence of justice from the Paris Peace Conference that caused the ultimate debacle; it was the failure to make the most of what justice there was.
When the Allied delegates assembled in Paris, revenge was in the air, and all their lofty rhetoric could not mask their true intent. The Central Powers had caused the war and they (especially), would pay the price for that calumny. Unlike the deliberations at V'ienna after the Napoleonic W'ars, a century earlier, the vanciuished would have no voice at the peace conference, would not participate in the creation of a new world order, and would not be returned into the family of nations until proper retribution had been made. Indeed, the conference ultimately proved little-more than a punitive device to extract a pound of flesh from the defeated, and produced not a lasting peace, but the seeds for a future war.
To be sure, some justice was administered in Paris. As empires tojjpled, subject nationalities were granted independence and national goals and aspirations were formally recognized. Yet even here the delegates to the conference were selective, preferring to mete justice out to those people who had lived under the domination of the vanqqished while failing to deal with those who sought the same rights and equality, but happened to fall under the hegemony of the victors. The Czechs, Hungarians, and Poles realized their independence; the Burmese, Chinese, and Vietnamese did not. It remained for the next war to settle their fate.
When the conference adjourned, a treaty of peace had been imposed on Germany and a League of Nations had been created. Beyond this, little had been accomplished. 'Phe treaty provided reparations for the victors, the League a forum for the idealists among them. The rest of the convention’s agenda remained untouched. Wilson’s vision of a new world order would never be achieved.