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Stephen Bonsal [b. Baltimore March 29, 1865 - d. June 8, 1950] was a newspaperman, diplomat, linguist, soldier, and author. Of his several books, Unfinished Business, his unvarnished original diary describing his experiences during the Paris Peace Treaty negotiations, - a precursor of this volume, - earned him a Pulitzer Price.

He was an international correspondent of the New York Herald between 1885 and 1907, and the New York Times, 1910 - 1911. For a long time before and after the turn of the century, Bonsal was probably America's most distinguished foreign correspondent. He traveled extensively following the armies of many wars. As an American diplomat he served in the Seul Legation in 1895, at the U. S. Embassy in Tokyo between 1896 and 1898. He lived through the siege of the Forbidden City in Beijing during the Boxer Rebellion in 1900. During his career he has visited all the countries of Europe, Asia (with the exception of Persia), and all the republics of South America.

Many of the important figures as Clemenceau, Lloyd George, Balfour, Smuts, and Masaryk were more than mere names to Bonsal, they were acquaintances or warm personal friends. He was a trusted associate of Wilson and Colonel House. He had a genius for self-effacement, or, using Colonel House's term: "low visibility". His diary, written up day by day, include not only actual notes taken during meetings, but also the personal and human side of the interchanges. To preserve their integrity, Bonsal made no attempts to cover up mistaken judgements or even to improve the records literary style. They are original source documents of genuine historical importance.

During World War I, Bonsal served in the American Expeditionary Forces, in charge of the forerunner of "psychological warfare", directing propaganda efforts to weaken the resolve of the soldiers of the Central Powers. He knew Edward House from before the war, and at the beginning of the Armistice negotiations, the Colonel had asked that he be assigned to him. Serving initially as an expert on the Balkans, he was assigned to maintain liaison with the representative delegations of all but the major nations.

After World War I, Colonel Bonsal was urged to publish his diaries.Countering his objection that this might be indiscreet on the part of a professional writer who had been given access to confidential information, President Wilson told him, "You can't be too indiscreet for me. I give you full absolution in advance." He held out against their friends pleas to publish his notes until it became clear to his informed mind that the world is about to repeat the same mistakes that led to the tragedy of Versailles.

These biographical notes were pieced together from biographical references, small remarks interspersed in his notes, and from the introduction to his Unfinished Business written by Ambassador Hugh Gibson.

His important literary contributions to the analysis of international affairs include:

The Real Condition of Cuba (1897)
The American Mediterranean (1912)
Unfinished Business, Paris Versailles 1919 - for this he received the Pulitzer Price in 1944
Suitors and Suppliants - the Little Nations at Versailles (1946)


THE CAUSES of war vary in detail, although in most instances they have their source in the expansionist policies of a nation of people on the make, or in the determination of a fading power to hold what it acquired when it was young and strong and relatively virtuous.

Nations in the first category which have made war have usually been egged on to it by a chorus of ancestral voices both jingo and traditional of whom Wagner and Hegel are good examples and this cultural voodoo has usually evoked an uncultured but more effective demagogic leader of whom Hitler will serve as well as any in history as the illustration.

Nations in the second category need no such mental preparation for war their principal requirement is a seneschal with a good loud horn to rouse them unwillingly from their slumbers with the news that the rustlers are among their fat sheep and cattle.

But the occasions of war nearly always have been the outgrowth of the conflicting policies of such nations as these in the territory of small or weak peoples, strategically located for this purpose by the curse of geography or natural riches. Because the peoples at the point of conflict are small or weak this enables the new aggressor or the hold-fast overlord to play appealingly on the strings of the instruments of virtue, assuring one or all of these several results:

The masses in the strong nations are presented with a handmade set of idealistic objectives, which many require for spiritual consolation and the rest for a dignified excuse.

The military and civil leaders of the nations which engage in the war can publicly summon God to their standards with every mark of belief that He could not possibly make another choice, and this comforts the upright whom they summon to the colors.

The victims who furnish the occasions of war and most of the battle areas are thus held in the supply system of the victors, who always stand in need of abnormal supply quotas after they have won their wars.

If the small or weak peoples who furnish most of the occasions and areas for large conflict could ever have their grievances reasonably redressed, if the promises of the great were ever fully kept to them, and if those forced onto the losing side were not stripped of the opportunities for a fair existence, it would be much more difficult for the great nations to justify this hypocritical use of them in the rhetoric which always precedes and accompanies it. And the difficulty would be greater in this period of the world s history for these reasons:

A Second World War, twenty-five years after the First (and with the Twentieth Century in which they were fought not yet half over) has produced a real determination in every nation to try to space these conflicts more widely.

Those who feel this determination, currently expressed m the United Nations Organization, are more attracted than ever before by the thesis that in a successful league to keep the peace all nations must be heard and heeded, and some of the sovereignty of the great must go into a world pool with that of the small.

War has demonstrated twice, emphatically, and in the sight of millions of living men and women, that it is the eternal vanguard of the Four Horsemen, however pious and idealistic the assertions of any who participated may be.

Because of these things, Colonel BonsaI's book is more timely, and could have more lasting benefit, than at any period of the past in which it might have appeared. The story, documented by the records of the author in his official capacity at Paris in 1919, is that of the efforts of the small nations to remove themselves thereafter as the occasions of war. And it is the story of their failure to get from the victors the assistance essential to that objective.

The direct consequence, as these pages make plain, was another and larger and more terrible war. Nor is the atmosphere of the anterooms of the next peace conference, in which the "suitors and suppliants" are again forgathering for the same purpose, very favorable to a wiser and fairer arbitrament of their claims than that, related by Colonel Bonsal, in which was spawned the Axis and the hideous war that followed.

But man somehow and at times progresses and learns from the lessons of the past when they are written down plain and the span of human experience is as brief as that from 1919 to 1946. The plain writing is here and the lesson is obvious. Also, the author speaks by facts within his own sight and knowledge.

This is no "analysis," no assumption "on reliable witness." It is the group photograph of the small nations at Paris and Versailles, illuminated but not posed by the ablest and best-informed foreign correspondent in the history of the American press, and a diplomat and statesman when called upon to be.

Once when he felt obliged to relate what he thought to be too tall a tale of history, Gibbon countered with this footnote: "Abu Rafe says he will be witness for this fact, but who will be witness for Abu Rafe?" That question does not arise in the contents of the following pages. The facts themselves, expertly assembled by Colonel Bonsai, and with foreboding, are sufficient witness.


[Arthur B. Krock (November 16, 1886 Glasgow, KY - April 12, 1974, Washington, DC) was the principal political writer and analyst of the New York Times for a generation (1932 - 66). Twice a recipient of the Pulitzer price, he was famous for his calm analysis of American political life.]


IN THE FOLLOWING section of my chronicle of things seen and heard at the Peace Conference, I have in pursuit of clarity, an ideal so often praised by our French friends, withdrawn from the body of my diary many entries dealing with issues with which in my subordinate capacity I was closely concerned or which for a variety of reasons were of special interest to me. Also, in order to present in as straightforward and lucid a manner as possible the complex pleas of the many suitors and supplants at the bar of the Great Assizes, I have made changes in the day-by-day chronological order of my diary, though each individual entry, of course, retains its original date. I can see objections to such rearrangement, but it does avoid much acrobatic springing from one topic to another, from the familiar home front to distant lands, from an involved ethnic factor to a remote boundary dispute.

In the main these excerpts deal with ancient questions once again become present-day problems which the Conference, and particularly the Great Four, pressed as they were for more urgent decisions, regarded as of such minor importance that they might be postponed, or, with advantage, could be relegated to the League of Nations then a-borning. Even before the League died, however, several of these neglected issues had developed into a menace to the public law so recently and so hopefully proclaimed throughout the world, and this neglect paved the way to the catastrophic situation in which all the nations of the world have for a second time been involved.

The proceedings in this impromptu world court, for such was the Peace Conference, have often been described as forensic battles between the Good and the Bad nations. This seems an illustration of a tendency toward over- simplification to which particularly in times of stress we are so often prone. This statement may be accepted as a half truth, but during the Conference I came across the illuminating words (and indeed was fascinated by them) which Thomas Carlyle, that Titan among the thinkers, applied to a somewhat similar but less tragic situation in his day. He wrote: "Formula and Reality wrestle it out" words that are truly descriptive of what happened then and are appropriate to what is happening today. The wrestling has brought widespread misery to the world and it is only too clear that the cut-and-dried formalist has not been silenced. He is heard today in the market places and in the forum and, as always before, he will put in an appearance at the Peace Conference.

While admitting failure in many regions where complete success had been too confidently expected, it should be stressed that no single feature of his programme was nearer to the heart of our crusading President than the fate of the submerged nationalities and the widely scattered ethnic factors (only too often but forlorn fragments) who presented themselves at the Great Assizes with their petitions, supplications and pleas. One of the basic mistakes in Mr. Wilson's campaign was, however, that he almost invariably ignored the experts - who could have told him that his belief in "easily recognizable frontiers of nationality" was not based on accurate knowledge, that frequently they did not exist, and that the traditional ties between reputedly sister nations were often tenuous and frequently snapped without warning. Yet it cannot be denied that the President, although the outstanding formalist, made a gallant fight in Paris for what he thought to be right and most certainly often was. He was slow in perceiving that many of his fellow delegates, blinded by racial or national ambition, seeking only what seemed economic advantages or a winning election slogan, were turning deaf ears to the voices of humanity and were not fearful of that unenviable pre-eminence in history which the President had in the opening skirmish predicted for them if only they could boost trade and maintain their parliamentary majorities.

The first trumpet note with which President Wilson electrified the world in that dark moment of world history should be recorded here. His words were:

The voices of humanity insist that no nation or peoples shall be robbed or punished because the irresponsible rulers of a single country have themselves done deep and abominable wrong. (Dec. 4, 1917)

Then getting down to details he insisted: "There shall be no more bartering of peoples and provinces as mere chattels and pawns in a game. Every territorial settlement is to be made in the interests of the populations concerned." And last but by no means least, he demanded "the destruction of any arbitrary power anywhere that can disturb the peace of the world." (The full text of the Wilson programme is detailed in the Appendix.)

By April 1919 the President came to a truer appreciation of his situation and he saw, as General Smuts put it in words a few days later, "that humanity was failing him." It was then on May 31st that he summed up the pleas he had so often made in the sessions of the League and Covenant Commission, where he had so frequently insisted that the treatment of the submerged and the oppressed nationalities would prove the acid test of the Conference. But by this time his confidence in the outcome of the good fight was weakening. He asked questions and his words were pleading, unlike the tone of perhaps unconscious arrogance with which he had opened his campaign. In this mood his words were:

Nothing I venture to say is more likely to disturb the peace of the world than the treatment which might in certain circumstances be meted out to minorities and, therefore, if the Great Powers are to guarantee the peace of the world in any sense, is it unjust that they should be satisfied that the proper and necessary guarantees have been given? If we agree to the additions of territory asked for in this instance (particularly by Prime Minister Bratianu of Rumania), we have the vested right to insist upon certain guarantees of peace.

They were not forthcoming. There was an epidemic of sidestepping among the war-worn nations and unfortunately in the backward movement the people of America were not the hindmost. It is to be hoped that we have learned our costly lesson.


Washington, D.C.

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