IN Paris Smuts lived in the Hotel Majestic, where most of the British Delegation were housed. As ever, he buried himself in papers and documents. He rarely dined out or visited places or saw friends. He did not enjoy the gaiety and amusements of Paris. Except for a few visits to picture galleries and museums and some brisk walks for exercise, often alone, he took no relaxation but stayed in, working grimly.
He was acutely dissatisfied and unhappy. "The unhappiest time of my life," he said. In South Africa since a young man he had been a person of importance and accustomed to being listened to with respect and to getting his own way; in England he had been lauded to the sky, a member of many committees, and trusted and looked up to by all. In Paris he was no more than one member of the British Delegation.
The Conference was organised into a Committee of the Big Four, consisting of Orlando for Italy, Clemenceau for France, President Wilson for America, and Lloyd George for England. There was a larger central Committee of Ten and innumerable sub-committees to deal with the different problems, and finally the massed conference of all the Delegations in Plenary Session, which rarely met. Smuts was not on either of the central committees and on few sub-committees of importance.
Both he and Botha worked to prevent what they considered follies. They prevented Belgium stealing a part of Holland. They persuaded the British Delegation of the folly of breaking Germany into pieces and allowing the French to become dominant. They pleaded that the Peace Treaty should be made with clemency and not for revenge: made possible to carry out and not impossible. They quoted their own experiences after the South African war and the value of clemency. "I know what defeat means," said Botha; "my soul has felt the harrow."
But Smuts found that his opinions and advice were largely ignored both by the British Delegation and by the other Allies. The French in particular suspected him of working for the Germans, for he did not conceal his opinions. He said that England was tied to the triumphant chariot of France; that France must not be allowed to dominate Europe or to destroy Germany; that the Allies, and especially the French—as well as the defeated enemies—should be forced to reduce their armaments and to abolish conscription, "Conscription, the tap-root of militarism," he called it; and that the French had an unwholesome, a" shell-shock" effect, on the making of the Peace Treaty.
He had, however, still much influence behind the scenes, since Lloyd George still believed in him. For Lloyd George the winning of the war was simple. There he was like an engine with full steam up, driving down a track towards one definite and clear objective. To win the Peace was different. The innumerable complications, the unending possibilities, the arguments for and against put forward with skill and cunning by clever pleaders on subjects about which he was largely ignorant: these all had to be considered and judged on before decided. They left him havering and uncertain.
He was by nature volatile and quick changing and much influenced by the last person with whom he discussed a subject. In doubt he would call in Smuts, and after Smuts with his German bias had talked to him, Lloyd George would be convinced that the Germans would not sign the treaty unless he gave way on some point or other, and that it would mean the renewal of war, blockade, air raids, or some such horrors, and "under the influence . . . of General Smuts he would arrive at a meeting with a gloomy air, saying, 'They will not sign'" and be prepared to compromise and give way to the Germans.
Or again, there would be some important subject before the Council of Four. Lloyd George might call in Smuts and they would breakfast together, and then Lloyd George would go down to the meeting with proposals so favourable to the Germans that on one occasion Clemenceau exploded into bitter sarcasm and asked "whether Mr. Lloyd George expected the Allies to ask Germany's pardon for having taken the liberty of beating her."
As time passed and Smuts saw decisions made with which he disagreed and found that he could not influence these decisions or get his own way, he became resentful. He became impatient of the delays, the long arguments of the pleaders, of the constant bargaining, and the compromises. He looked on the work of the committees largely as waste, for he was convinced that most of it would have to be scrapped or revised.
He became very contemptuous of the other delegates. He compared them with Kruger and was sure Kruger could have done far better than they were doing, and he was equally sure that he could himself do far better than they were doing, but he was tied and helpless, for few would listen to him and fewer foJiow his advice. He felt that he was above and beyond them, looking down on them as a spectator into a pit where they grubbed about, quarrelling and picking up all they could get. "The other statesmen," he said in haughty disdain, ". . . and their greedy squabbling."
He tried to rouse Botha to protest, but Botha was simpler, wiser, more rational, not so easily stirred up, more philosophic, accepting facts, realising the imperfections of men and ideas; that the great truths are begotten by error out of turmoil; that the great world-forces move infinitely slowly and with infinite waste—a million years for a river to carve its way through, or for the ram and the frost to break a mountain into a plain where men might live and cultivate the soil; a billion tree seeds scattered before one took root; billions upon billions of years for a star to be born out of the agony of a nebula, itself born of terrific destruction, and man to be created on it; a thousand years for a tribe to become a nation. These things Smuts knew but did not realise. He was always in an impatient hurry to get things done. If it were wise to lead a stream from a hill-side to a lake below, Botha would have let it run its natural course; Smuts would have laboured to find a way to hurry it.
Botha counselled Smuts to go slow; they were in Paris to look after the interests of South Africa, he said; they must not get too deeply muddled in the quarrels of Europe; the Europeans must settle their own affairs; England was too heavily involved already, he thought.
As the American Secretary of State said, comparing the two men: " Botha was essentially logical. . . . The enthusiasm of the visionary made no headway with him. . . . Reason and facts appealed to him. . ... . He possessed the foresight which sees the end in the beginning and prevents the adoption of a course which may be disastrous or unwise or of doubtful expediency....Of the men I have met, Botha was one of the greatest. Smuts was often head in air, lost in thought. . . . He had vivacity of mind which comes from a restless imagination and . . . impatience."
But when it was South African interests, Smuts ceased to be a dreamer and was as hard-headed as Botha. He came down from his high perch into the pit with the other statesmen and joined in their "greedy squabbling." Many years before he had said, and Botha had agreed, "The day is not far distant when almost all the territory south of the equator will belong to South Africa." Long ago he had made up his mind, and said openly that the Germans were bad neighbours in Africa. With their schemes for a Mittelafrika empire and the training of armies of black troops—his experience in German East had taught him that—they were a menace to South Africa. They must go out of Africa never to return. He himself drafted and read a resolution to the Conference, affirming that on no conditions should Germany be given back her colonies.
He had also invented the term mandate. Germany was, under the Peace Treaty, to hand her colonies to the major Allied Powers. These Powers were to govern them, not for selfish exploitation, but under a mandate, a moral authority, from the League and with the blessing of the League. A mandate was a check and advance on the old policy of colonial annexation," he said. But he saw to it that German South West was handed to South Africa under a mandate that was virtually annexation, and that German East and any other colony on the Indian Ocean where the Germans could make submarine or air bases should not be handed back to her.
Despite Botha's advice, Smuts grew more difficult. It angered him that Botha would not see eye to eye with him. When he differed with the other delegates he would not compromise. With Lloyd George also his views diverged so much that they began to disagree often. Both were obstinate, dictatorial men, for ever hitting out, yet very sensitive if hit shrewdly in return.
Their disagreements grew into quarrels and their quarrels became explosive with personalities, "bitter recriminations and taunts." Smuts, German in his outlook, said: "I look on the Germans as the most cultured race in the world." Lloyd George was a Celt, and a fiery Celt who had no liking for Germans. Their temperaments clashed. Many times Botha had to come between them. "I am tired." he wrote in a letter, "of trying to keep peace between Smuts and Lloyd George. I am sitting waiting for them in my room. I have asked them to come here, for they have been quarrelling again."
"I never realised," said Smuts after the Conference, "how near I came to breaking with Lloyd George."
Suddenly Hertzog and a party of the Nationalist leaders from South Africa appeared in Paris and demanded to go before the Peace Conference and put their case for a republic.
Since the day that he had gone out almost alone from Botha's first Union Government some seven years before, Hertzog had learned much. He was a slow and muddled thinker. He was an even more muddled and vague speaker. On one occasion, seven thousand Dutchmen met to hear him speak, expecting him to declare his convictions and his policy. He spoke without stopping for two and a quarter hours and told his audience nothing.
But when out of his consciousness an idea had been slowly churned up it became a conviction, and he maintained it obstinately and persistently. He had become a convinced Republican, but he had gradually realised that if he tried to force a republic on to South Africa it would mean civil war: nearly forty per cent, of the population were Englishmen and under sixty per cent. Dutchmen. He was not prepared for civil war; the rebellion of 1914 had shown him what civil war meant. He made up his mind to gain his republic by winning the votes not only of the Dutch but of the English population. These ideas were fixed in his head: separation from England and the formation of a republic in South Africa, winning the English as well as the Dutch votes for a republic. From these he never swerved by the fraction of an inch.
He was no statesman, but he was a politician with a flair for political manoeuvre. Before he left South Africa, he knew that his mission would have no result except to win him votes in South Africa. First he must collect all the Dutchmen behind him. To this end, very astutely, he made use of every detail of his mission. When he booked a passage by a ship of the Union Castle Line the sailors refused to man the ship: most of the sailors were Englishmen from England. He used that for propaganda, and many angry South Africans joined him. A British cruiser offered to carry him to England. He refused and instead took passage on a small ship from Holland, which was useful to show how good a Dutchman he was, and many Dutchmen joined him.
When he arrived in Paris, no one wanted to see him. Paris was crowded with similar little self-appointed casual delegations. He avoided Botha and Smuts, but he saw Lloyd George.
Lloyd George told him briefly that he had no standing. South Africa had its own government and must decide its own domestic affairs and its own form of government: Botha and Smuts represented South Africa at the Conference.
Hertzog went back to South Africa chirping in his pleasant little way. In Paris they had laughed at him, but he was quite happy. He had got what he wanted. He had got himself well into the public eye.
The mass of the population, whether Dutch or English, whether they were glad or sorry that England was victorious, were determined not to be dragged into the quarrels of Europe, and they suspected that Botha and Smuts—but especially Smuts —would involve them before they knew it. Hertzog was able to tell them of Paris, of how Botha and Smuts were sitting there in conference with statesmen from all countries, giving their opinions on problems which were of no concern to South Africa, and which they had best leave alone; and how when he had come to put the case for South Africa, he had been shut out of the Conference. And many thousands more voters joined Hertzog and suspected Botha and Smuts.
One mission Smuts undertook. Hungary was ruled by a Bolshevik dictator, Bela Kun. The Rumanians were trying to advance into Hungary over the frontier laid down at the Armistice, and the Hungarians were resisting them. The French and the Italians wanted to send troops and smash the Hungarians. Lloyd George persuaded the Conference to send Smuts on a mission to settle the quarrel peacefully. This was the official reason given.
The real reasons for Smuts' mission were more complicated. Lloyd George wished to get into touch with the Russians and find some grounds for agreement. Bullitt, an American diplomat-politician, a Left Wing Socialist, had gone on an unofficial mission to Russia. He had talked it over with Lloyd George. He came back with proposals from Lenin on which some discussion was possible, but Lenin's condition was that the Allies should open an invitation. Bullitt saw Lloyd George. Wilson heard of this. He had a curious streak of intense personal jealousy in him, and he was furious with Bullitt. He refused to see Bullitt or to consider Lenin's proposals. Without Wilson's agreement Lloyd George could do nothing. The proposals were, therefore, never placed before the Conference and the chance slipped away.
A second try was made a little later. The Allies invited the Russians to send representatives to Constantinople for a conference, but that also fell through.
Bela Kun was in close touch with Moscow and with Lenin. Smuts was now instructed to endeavour to use Bela Kun to persuade the Russians to send delegates to the Peace Conference and if possible to get Lenin himself to come.
Never was a man less fitted than Smuts to carry out such a mission. He was completely ignorant of Hungary and the Hungarians. He disliked even mild Socialism. Bolsheviks and Bolshevism made him foam at the mouth. The whole idea of getting into touch with Lenin repelled him.
He had on his staff two officials from the Foreign Office who knew his instructions, but Smuts did not tell them. One recorded after a conversation with him, "Smuts is very reserved. I cannot make out what his own view is. I get the impression, and so does— that Smuts wants us to handle this side of the business on our own, and without engaging his responsibility. If that is really so, we shall do the stupid, and pretend not to understand what is expected of us."
Smuts was in fact being what both his friends and his enemies in South Africa called him—" slim" Others could take responsibility for the awkward and unpleasant work which he disliked; but he found it not easy to catch the Foreign Office officials.
On the way, he stopped at Vienna and visited the British Military Mission, which was lodged in the Embassy. He was in his least pleasant mood. He took a dislike to the Head of the Mission, did not attempt to disguise the fact, and treated him with the same arrogant contempt with which he had, as State Attorney, treated the old men in Pretoria. He turned him out of his room, and, while Smuts conferred with one of the subordinates, the Head of the Mission had to wander disconsolately about the building. Later, Field-Marshal Sir H. Wilson sent an officer from Paris. Smuts did not like Sir H. Wilson, and treated the officer with the same scant courtesy.
Arriving in Budapest he refused to leave the train or to let his staff go outside the station except for a short drive. He was determined that no Bolsheviks should get any encouragement from him, and if he went into the town they might make capital of his visit. He did all he could to discredit them, and to get them turned out.
Bela Kun came to see him. Smuts held the Bolshevik at arm's length, treating him with cold disdain mixed with a frigid courtesy equalling chilling. He discussed the frontier problem but refused to give way one inch. He made no attempt to be amiable or to get on to friendly terms with Bela Kun or to use him to establish contact with Moscow.
He stopped two days but did not leave the train or accept any hospitality. He did not visit the town or country. He made no inquiries, but listened to half a dozen casual observers who came to see him. He could not bear any contact with Bolshevism. He had no patience to expend in negotiating. On the second evening he gave Bela Kun an ultimatum about the frontier, and would discuss nothing; and when the Bolsheviks asked for a further meeting, he ordered the train to move off and left them standing disconsolate on the platform in the pouring rain.
Free from the work he had undertaken, but disliked, he relaxed, ceased to be morose and ill-natured, expanded, and told stories of South Africa, of the open veld, and of his adventures in his raid across the Cape.
He arrived in Paris with nothing of his real mission accomplished or even attempted, but with a proposal to make an economic union of the Central European states, and when the Peace Conference ignored his advice, he quarrelled violently with Lloyd George, and, with his disdain of the Conference, wrote: "I went back to that wrangling in Paris."
In one piece of work Smuts was happy: in the creation of the League of Nations. By the time he arrived in Paris he had thought out his conception of the League exactly, got it into concrete form, and knew what he wanted. President Wilson had similar ideas, but they were vague, woolly, and nebulous; he had not thought them out. Lloyd George offered him Smuts' memorandum, to read. Wilson was liverish and intimated to Lloyd George somewhat shortly that he did not want any of his help. "But," said Lloyd George, "after Wilson had read Smuts' memorandum he swallowed it whole." From that minute, on all questions on the League, President Wilson looked to Smuts. He used his pamphlet as the basis for the final draft of the Covenant of the League. He called him in when he wanted advice, believed in him and trusted him. And Smuts was once more content. He was getting the attention to which he was accustomed. He was getting his own way. In planning the League he felt that he was out of the "greedy squabbling" and doing great work for the world.
He had, moreover, in Wilson a man of similar outlook. Wilson was essentially a schoolmaster. He looked down on those round him from a higher plane. He treated them and the nations of the world as schoolboys, to be educated and improved. Smuts had the same attitude and the same desire to improve others. "Mankind," he said, "has to be educated into a new mentality and into new international methods." Neither realised how this air of superiority irritated other men, and how few men wished to be improved.
Both Wilson and Smuts were scholars and found books and words more attractive than live men, and both loved phrases. A good phrase had more influence with them than a pamphlet full of figures and facts. They borrowed phrases from each other and swapped them with enjoyment. Smuts used Wilson's "selfdetermination." Wilson borrowed Smuts' "Europe is being liquidated and the League of Nations must be the heir to that great estate." "Heir to that great estate": Wilson rolled the phrase round his mouth and used it whenever he got the chance.
Both loved power. Both were very self-concentrated, and both, to get their own way, used big words and small deeds. Clemenceau's caustic and blasphemous description of Wilson might equally have applied to Smuts. "He talked like Jesus Christ and acted like Lloyd George."
Smuts believed that ideas were stronger than physical force: that if they let loose on the world an idea which was true and was an ideal it would defeat all opposition; that, even if some show of force should be necessary, the strength of the League would depend on the idea and the ideal within it. Wilson agreed, but Clemenceau and the French, on the other hand, were far more practical. They wished to educate and improve no one. They wanted solid, concrete gains—reparations in good cash gripped between the clutched fingers, square miles of territory annexed; not nebulous ideals. The League, they said, would be useless without military strength to enforce its will. They wanted an international police force and a General Staff of the League.
Smuts believed that the League was the most important decision before the Peace Conference. All other problems— frontiers, minorities, payments of war debts, precautions against future wars, creation of new states—all these and the thousand other complicated problems to be settled could be dealt with later, once the League of Nations was recognised, legalised, and had become part of the organisation of the world," and a great organ of the ordinary life of civilisation."
Wilson was of the same opinion and he took one step farther, for he tried to knit the League so closely into the Peace Treaty with Germany that the two should stand or fall together.
A committee was appointed to work out the Covenant on which the League should be based. The principle members were President Wilson for America, with Lord Robert Cecil and Smuts for the British Empire. Lloyd George took little part, but left it to Cecil. At meetings Cecil did all the talking. Smuts, as he had done in the War Cabinet, said little and then always said something of value, so that he was looked to with respect; and it was his influence and his advice which made the final result— "The Covenant of the League of Nations."
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