January 18, 1919: The Paris Peace Conference Begins

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In examining the Paris Peace Conference, it is hard to be objective.  We know that another World War followed, much more terrible, only two decades later.  It is difficult to view the Paris Peace Conference as anything other than a tragedy that did little to prevent the cataclysm of World War II.  This is an understandable viewpoint but a mistaken one.  The peace negotiators at the Paris Peace Conference made lots of mistakes, but the coming of World War II was very event driven, events that Wilson, Lloyd George and Clemenceau did not, and largely could not, foresee.  Their only road map was the Congress of Vienna which laid the basis for a peace that endured, with brief interruptions, for 99 years.  However, that peace was no less event driven than World War II.  The “success” of the Congress of Vienna, and the “failure” of the Paris Peace Conference, is very much a retrospective conclusion.  In the months to come we will take several looks at the Paris Peace Conference and I will strive to present issues as they appeared at the time, so we can view them more as the participants did, rather than we do now.  Hopefully this will help us understand why the participants did what they did, which surely must be an important goal when looking at any historical event.

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