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Beetle-Browed Bratianu and the Rumanians

January 10, 1919

Duly announced with a flourish of trumpets over the telephone from Rumanian headquarters, M. Goga came to see me this morning. Fortunately I had heard that a man of this name, the "bard of Transylvania," was expected to join Bratianu [prime minister] and bear testimony to the pure Rumanianism of the people who dwell in that beautiful mountain country where the Telekis and the other Hungarian magnates have lorded it for centuries and carved out for themselves quite sizeable estates which, not unnaturally, they are extremely reluctant to give up.

Goga said what he had to say and he said it beautifully. Transylvania was the cradle of his race. Here on these mountain slopes and in these sunlit valleys the scattered remnants of the Roman legions had taken refuge from the Dacian hordes. He mentioned Varus and Trajan, the Latin leaders, as glibly as we talk about Joffre and Foch. Here these refugees had found safe harbor and prospered while Mother Rome sank into insignificance and decay. Then, alas, into this paradise where the Christian faith and brotherly love held sway there came another horde of invaders, the Moslems under their green banners; and the war for land and religion was waged with varying fortunes for generations.

"At times we fought alone," explained Goga, "at others the Christians of the West aided us - but not unselfishly. In the last campaign, Magyar lords fought at our side, but when the war was won they parceled out our lands and our peasants to suit themselves. This is the history, the sad history of my people," insisted Goga, "and our day of redemption only dawned when Wilson sent his soldiers across the seas and liberated Europe." That was his story, and it was perhaps a fair one of the land of his birth; but of course I fail to do justice to the poetic prose in which it was unfolded.

I told Goga that America had no special Transylvania policy, but that I had no doubt that his aspirations were fully covered by the Wilsonian doctrine of the self-determination of peoples. "We can now take care of ourselves," he went on. "We have rifles and we know how to use them. 'We do want medicines and perhaps a little food. The Germans swept out our storehouses and devastated our farms, and the Russians who came to our aid brought us the plague of typhus. Our need for medicines is great, but Bratianu has already spoken to Mr. Hoover about this and he has promised to do what is possible." With this I thought the interview was at an end, but suddenly the poet darted off on another tangent.

"I came to Paris in a roundabout way," he said, "and with good reason; throughout the war my voice had been raised against them, so when I was selected to represent my province of Greater Rumania at the Conference I had to avoid the lands of the Germans and the Magyars. So, I floated down the Danube and across the Black Sea to Constantinople. There I shipped for France, but not for Marseilles as I had hoped. My ship was bound for Bordeaux and the captain would not deviate from his course. This meant a delay of a week, but what a fortunate delay it was! I now sailed through the Pillars of Hercules, and as I looked our across the boundless Western Ocean a song straight from my heart fell from my lips. It was my salute to America from where our salvation had come. It was an ode of Thanksgiving to the American people, and when it is perfected I shall send it to you."

[The poem never came. Perhaps it was never "perfected." The atmosphere that now prevailed in Paris was not helpful to expressions of gratitude. In fact they all went out the window. Years later Goga, the poet-politician, became Prime Minister of Greater Rumania (1937). He made a mess of his difficult job, and his ministry that was distinguished for anti-Semitism soon fell. So Goga, my charming visitor, died, it is said, of a broken heart and was carried back to his beloved hills by a cortege which included all the poets of his land.]

All this was interesting, but I was a hard-driven man and my desk was piled mountain high with prosaic communications that had to be attended to, so perhaps the gesture of impatience which I now permitted myself was pardonable.

March (undated), 1919

One of President Wilson's marked dislikes is his aversion for Bratianu, the beetle-browed prime minister of Rumania with the notorious Byzantine background. Up to the present he has avoided the tête à tête with him which the Bucharest leader so ardently desires. He puts him off with messages through House. "Tell him," says the President, "that the frontiers we are tracing are temporary, certainly not final, and that later on, in a calmer moment and informed by longer study, the League of Nations will intervene to adjust provisional settlements which may be found to be imperfect."

Last week, however, the Colonel said to me: "Bratianu insists upon an interview with me and I do not think it wise to put him off any longer. I have every reason to think it will be stormy and I want you to be present. Misu, the Rumanian Ambassador, is coming with him, but I prefer to have you interpret."

The interview was more stormy and the language of the Bucharest "Bull," as he is sometimes called, was even more outrageous than had been anticipated. Little Misu did what he could to soften the words of his chief, and in asides to me was often apologetic, but it is difficult for a mere ambassador to stand up against his chief, a prime minister.

Bratianu's blast began by a violent and yet by no means an untrue account of how after entering the war Rumania had been let down by the "promising" Allies. "Solemn pledges were given us that a great Russian army would come to our aid, and that, as the Germans would be held by intensive operations on the Western Front, the invading army of Mackensen would not be a force larger than we could cope with. Now what happened? The Grand Duke did not move, and on the Western Front the Allies went to sleep. An unholy calm settled down on that sector, and Mackensen drew from there all the divisions he needed to overwhelm our gallant resistance. But mark you, we have learned our lesson; it has cost us the complete devastation of our country; so for its restoration we are demanding naturally something more substantial than verbal pledges. We know now what these are worth."

After excoriating Briand and Lloyd George (as to Clemenceau he was reserved), suddenly the Rumanian scold went after Hoover. "He will not permit us to have loans, or food, except in return for oil-land concessions. Without these we can expect no help, he says. I have been advised that no assistance of any kind will be forthcoming unless special privileges are granted our Jewish minority. And the American Jews, bankers and big businessmen, seem to think that our country is to be turned over to them for exploitation. Their agents in the thin disguise of food organization officials are on hand and they are earmarking industries and concessions which they must have, they say, otherwise no assistance can be expected. Once for all I have come to say that these people may go to Palestine, or to Hell for all I care, but I shall not let them settle down upon my country, devouring locusts that they are!"

This went on for three quarters of an hour. It should in all fairness be admitted Bratianu was in a nervous condition, although not "concerned in liquor," for which he should not perhaps be held responsible. Several times Misu intervened with placating words, but without success. He, however, whispered to me: "His Excellency has had very had news from Rumania in the last few days..." Then, shrinking from the fierce frowns of his chief, he stopped short, and so the details of the bad news were not forthcoming.

Suddenly the Colonel's patience was exhausted and he ended the interview with, "I think you will admit that I have listened to you very patiently. If you furnish me your charges in writing I can assure you that they will be carefully investigated and answered. And now, Mr. Prime Minister, I bid you good day."

Misu was most embarrassed; throughout the tirade of his chief he made deprecatory gestures and now and again he had murmured, ''Yes, but..." Evidently he wished to pour oil on the stormy waters, but all his efforts only tended to infuriate "Bull" Bratianu. Shouting, "I shall file with you a memorandum dealing with the matter, officially," Bratianu bounced out of the room while little Misu slunk after him with an apologetic smile.

After a moment's reflection the Colonel said: "I must ask you to make a record of what has been said. It will furnish a basis of comparison with the Prime Minister's charges when they are put in writing. When, and if, this is done, in justice to Hoover we must make them a matter of official record. I think Bratianu, when comes to himself, will hesitate and that the formal charges will never be filed. In the meantime I must ask you to type out what he has said and give it to me for the confidential file. It must be 'graveyard,' even to our stenographers."

The result was I made almost a night of it. Never expert in typing, I had not tapped on my old-fashioned Blick for months. It was near morning when I concluded the unusual task. My hatred of Bratianu was unbounded. At sight of me little Misu always slunk away. My transcript was placed in the confidential files and as we say in conference circles "the incident is closed."

The memorandum that Bratianu agreed to file never came. Perhaps on second thought he never wrote it. More likely, however, little Misu intercepted it. That is one of the things that a wise ambassador sometimes gets away with. On the following day House advised Hoover in general terms of what the Prime Minister had said. He received it with the most perfect equanimity. "Bratianu is a liar and a horse thief - that's all there is to it." Then as an afterthought. "I hope God will help the Rumanians - I cannot."

[Months later Bratianu indeed had a short day of popularity. When his armies invaded Hungary and flouted the veto of the Supreme War Council, many delegates of countries who would have liked to do the same, had they dared, cheered Bratianu - at least under their breath. And there was something in Bratianu's contention at this moment. "We are looting Hungary, it is true," he said. "But we are only taking back what the Hungarian regiments stole from us when as an important contingent of Mackensen's army they invaded our country. ]

Bratianu is undoubtedly the most unpopular of the prime ministers who are assembled here. He is not, however, the only one of the statesmen present who during the war fell between two stools and flirted with the opposing forces, but it would seem that he fell more awkwardly than the others and that his flirtations were the most shameless. And it should be said that his shortcomings are emphasized and perhaps magnified by the diplomatic and social activities of his adroit rival, Take Ionescu, whose prophecies as to the outcome of the war have been justified. He is having a splendid time running around and saying, "I told you so! But Bratianu..."

Much of the correspondence in regard to the entrance of Rumania into the war is still closely guarded in the secret files, but on the facts that are known, Bratianu's policy, whether in power or out, was anything but adroit. It landed his unfortunate country in disasters which many think might have been avoided. At the outbreak his sympathies seem to have been with the Entente, but there was the Hohenzollern king who had to be "managed," and the burly Rumanian statesman had quite a soupçon of the Italian sacro egoismo in his composition. Ionescu traveled up and down the country shouting, "Our rôle is that of an unconditional ally of the democracies. We must not drive a bargain. We should and can rely on the appreciation of our allies when the victory is won.

Not so, decidedly not so, Bratianu. He wanted military guarantees and blueprints of territories to be annexed in advance of mobilization. He blew hot and he blew cold, and always at unhappy moments. His timing was always bad. He fascinated the Queen Marie who is now here bringing her undeniable charm to bear upon some of the more susceptible statesmen. As a granddaughter of Queen Victoria, she always thought as an English woman, and Bratianu assured her that she "would come out of the war as Empress of all the Rumanians wherever they were seated."

In the early years of the struggle, when the adherence of Rumania could have been of great assistance to whichever of the powers that secured it, the great talking point and the preferred prize of all the Rumanians was the possession of Transylvania - "The cradle of our race," says the Queen Marie (the daughter of Edward VII's brother and a Russian Grand Duchess). Czernin, who had served as minister in Bucharest and understood Rumanian aspirations fully when he took charge of the Austro-Hungarian foreign office, certainly toyed with the idea of ceding some districts of Transylvania to the Rumanians as a bribe - to keep them in line - but the Hungarian Premier Tisza was strongly opposed; the project came to nought, and all thought of it was abandoned when the Central Powers made their break through at Görlitz and captured Warsaw. The result of the shilly-shallying and at times bare-faced bargaining was that Rumania joined her forces with the Western Powers just as Russia began to disappear as an important factor on the Eastern Front. Three months later Field Marshal Mackensen was in Bucharest and in possession of the coveted oil fields.

When his armies were defeated and his country almost completely overrun, in the opinion of the military men of the Supreme War Council, Bratianu's behavior was neither loyal nor intelligent. They assert he capitulated too soon and bargained too promptly with the Germans; they insist that the remnants of the Rumanian armies were in fine fighting trim and had they but stood up they could have held in Rumania many, very many, of the German divisions which were then needed so desperately on the Western Front. So, rightly or wrongly, Bratianu is charged with entering the war too late and of having surrendered too soon, a difficult position from which only a diplomat of great tact could have extricated himself. I however, he plumes himself upon not signing the Treaty of Bucharest. Take Ionescu is on the worst of terms with the Bratianu group now in power, but he represents, as president of the National Council of United Rumania, the will of his people. At least that is his claim. He is a voluble talker and inclined to boast about his four pre-war prophecies all of which came true. "It is a too perfect score," I remind him and shut him off, a proceeding which he accepts with the most perfect good nature. He is strong for the League, however. He calls the Covenant the Fifth Gospel and American participation the hope, the only hope, of the European world.

Undated - probably March 6, 1919

The event of the week, with all its social, political, and economic repercussions, is the expected arrival any day now of the beautiful Queen Marie of Rumania. 'While like almost everyone else she comes a-borrowing, the ceremonial officer has decided that in homage to protocol some important member of our delegation should be at the station to greet her, to see that the red carpet is worthy of royal feet and properly spread. Frazier and I discussed the matter without any particular personal enthusiasm and we decided that a flip of a coin would decide who should perform this diplomatic chore. Gordon Auchincloss, son-in-law and secretary of our Colonel, overheard this conversation, at least in part, and, "getting us wrong," advised the Colonel that in his judgment the most beautiful woman in Europe should not be greeted on her arrival in "gay Paree" by men whose hair was gray or at least on the "graying side." And he offered to go to the station himself.

This remark started quite an uproar in the "family." It was promptly quelled by the Colonel deciding that as the Queen was coming to borrow money for her bankrupt country and food for her unfortunate subjects we might well await her appearance at the Crillon. lie was confident she would not fail to put in appearance, and soon.

So the affair was settled by our chief with his usual wisdom, but the remark about the graying hair rankled. Then a copy of the Temps and an article which spread over several columns arrived which exalted us and gave sweet revenge. It was written by Mentchikof, the great scientist, biologist, and anthropologist, and the present head of the Pasteur Institute. He said that for some years now (in the midst of the greatest war in history) he had indulged himself in an intensive and extensive study of mammals. One of the discoveries lie had made was that the superior animals of the fauna family, with the passing of the years and the coming of age, turned gray, while the inferior animals "moulted." We placed many copies of this informative article on Auchincloss desk and others came to him by mail and special messengers.

And was he angry! The joke, at least from our viewpoint, is that while A. is quite young and, as some think, even juvenile, his head is as bare of hair as a billiard ball. He, like other members of the inferior tribes, must have "moulted" years ago. Jests such as these relieve the tension of world-shaking events.

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