Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Book I Read: Paris 1919 by Margaret MacMillan
This tightly focused book examines the deliberations of the leaders of the UK, France, and the USA as they prepared the treaty terms for the vanquished powers of World War One. The book doesn't go into the details of the war, rather it walks the reader through the amazing process by which the map of the world was recreated from the crumbling remains of old empires. Whole nations were created from territories that had belonged to the German, Austro-Hungarian, and Ottoman Empires. Some nations gained territory, some nations lost territory. Pockets of various ethnic groups found the names of their countries change as borders shifted and moved on them.

How this happened is observed by the author from the perspective of how the victorious allied leaders pursued each of their specific agendas as they horse traded. Wilson of the USA was interested to pursue his 14 Points progressive idealism (except where it clashed with the interests of France or the UK). France, ever fearful of a strong Germany at its border wanted its neighbor severely handicapped. The UK, mindful of its global Empire, strove to ensure a balance of power in Europe and its naval supremacy intact. With the three leaders playing a central role, various side actors representing the aspirations of emerging countries (Czech, Yugoslavia, Greece, Romania, Poland) each lobbied the allied powers their case for supporting their territorial/national claims. Typically, the most charismatic leaders succeeded while the less politically gifted saw their claims go unheeded (some even saw their situations get worse as territories previously under their domain were gifted to neighbors). Indeed, the map of the world radically changed as borders within Europe, the Middle East, and Asia were redrawn and lands and people contended with new governing powers.

The book is short on big picture analysis and editorial regarding the aftermath of what transpired in Paris 1919. Frankly, this is helpful as its factual examination of the events leaves the reader with a good basis to launch into further investigation of the aftereffects of the Great War's peace.


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