Courtesy Reuters

Things Not Foreseen at Paris

The Future in Retrospect

A HISTORY OF THE PEACE CONFERENCE OF PARIS. Edited by H. W. V. TEMPERLEY. London: Frowde, 1920-1924, 6 volumes.

IT IS certainly easy to be wise after the event; and yet this facile wisdom is sometimes illuminating; for life, after all, is a game of blindman's buff or a horse-race in which some dark horse is always the winner. If this is true of life in general, it is eminently true of the game of international politics; and it is true above all of peace conferences following general wars, when statesmen whom war exigencies and war psychology have carried into power meet together with the intention of settling the affairs of the world, once for all, in a kind of omnipotent seven days' creation.

At such a peace conference, at the end of a war which has involved the whole living generation of mankind and which has ended in a knock-out blow, the illusion of omnipotence is probably stronger than in any other social situation; for at such a moment there is, after all, an unusual concentration of power. One of two groups of belligerent countries has just been beaten and finds itself constrained, for the moment, to conform passively to the will of the victorious countries; and at the same time, in these countries themselves, "the general will" is given over into the hands of a few dominant personalities whom the war has brought to the front. It is quite natural that these war-made supermen, when they meet together in conference after the armistice, should succumb to the illusion that they have it in their power to make all things new. Yet, as a matter of cold fact, the subsequent course of history -- which never stands still -- has shown again and again that in such circumstances statesmen, so far from being exceptionally free, are prisoners of the bellicose feelings in the hearts of their constituents and, more serious even than that, they are the prisoners of the retrospective pictures

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