32 nations fought in the First World War. This 32-book series looks at the seminal events surrounding the Paris peace treaties through the eyes of the key leaders involved aEURO" genuinely the Makers of the Modern World.
Professor Alan Sharp is Provost of the Coleraine Campus at the University of Ulster. He joined the History Department at Ulster in 1971 and has been successively Professor of International Studies, a post in which he helped to set up degrees in International Studies and, later, International Politics and Head of the School of History and International Affairs. His major publications include The Versailles Settlement: Peacemaking in Paris, 1919 (1991) amongst others.
'[A] beautifully produced series... The allied aEURO"big threeaEURO(t) lead the first six titles... All three capture and convey the essential tragedies of their subjectsaEURO(t) Nigel Jones, Literary Review, November 2008 -- Nigel Jones Literary Review 20081101 aEUROoeThese books form part of a series called Makers of the Modem World. Publishers' titles of this kind are often little more than puffing. But this series earns its puff. 'In victory, magnanimity' was the motto of Churchill's history of the second world war. These books are a sombre confirmation of its wisdom, and required reading for any one who wants to understand how the world has got where it has. [T]he best are outstanding. Lloyd George, by Alan Sharp, is shrewd, incisive and learned, a masterpiece of analytical narrative by a notable authority on the international relations of the periodaEURO D; The Spectator 21.11.09 The Spectator 20091121 For those who are new to reviews of this series, it comprises thirty- two volumes, each volume a biography of one or more of the leaders of delegations to the peace conferences which took place from 1919 to 1923. Some of these were would-be leaders of would-be nation states, but primarily they were official representatives sent by established governments. It is an ambitious enterprise, and the volumes which have been already published have largely garnered good reviews. This particular book will receive a favourable assessment from this reviewer. Yet what is missing from the series as a whole is a standard introduction which places the volumes in any sort of context. In short, why should we bother to read any of the books in this series? What was the importance of the Conference to European and even world history? The current student generation, which is probably the main target audience,1 seems hardly to know that there was a First World War, let alone a Versailles Conference, and it would have been, at the least, a kindness to give them a lead. A version of the short introduction in the publisherA's brochure about the series which was written by Professor Alan Sharp, the General Editor of the series, would have served very well. Alas, there is almost nothing. Pity. David Lloyd George was one of the so-called Big Three leaders at the Versailles Conference, the main focus of the book. Two of them, he and Georges Clemenceau, were leaders of members of the Entente alliance; a certain turbulence in Russia/the Soviet Union prevented a representative of the other Entente power from being present, even had one been welcome. The third was President Woodrow Wilson. It is worth noting that Wilson and the United States held this position not primarily because of their military prowess and importance during the war itself, but because of their potential power. This, to the disappointment and rage of Great Britain, the U.S .failed to exercise during the following two decades, the period which Alan Sharp, the author of this biography, terms the A"aftermathA". Nevertheless, the British expectation was that the U.S. was a natural and powerful ally, and Lloyd George made certain that the two countries worked together during the conference. This was despite a pre-conference spat between the two over sea power: the U.S. wanted Great Britain to cease its habit of using sea power to control the access of enemy powers to certain exports of neutrals, whilst the British knew that this was a strong element of their power. Wilson threatened to take his ball and go home if the British refused to agree to his demand, and Lloyd George called his bluff. Thereafter the two powers were in general accord, in spite of real differences over, for example, the amount of reparations. Lord Vansittart, later Permanent Under Secretary at the Foreign Office, wrote an autobiography in which he remembered his earlier self deciding that A'the essence of Diplomacy was apparently to get oneA's own way.A'2 This was clearly the theme of the peace conferences, with the French leader, Georges Clemenceau, making no bones about it. Wilson and Lloyd George, however, knew that they had to take account of the larger issue of World Peace, but, not surprisingly, each equated the interests of his own country with this desire of mankind. The sheer shambolic nature of the conferences facilitated this: there were too many participants, too many committees, and too few leaders who could see where it was all leading and could do something about it. In the book, Sharp quotes Paul Cambon, the long-serving French ambassador in London: A"No matter how hard you try, you cannot imagine the shambles, the chaos, the incoherence, the ignorance here. Nobody knows anything because everything is happening behind the scenes.A"3 Harold Nicolson, a member of the British Delegation, later wrote of A"that incessant interaction between the elements of hope and exhaustion, of wisdom and expediency, of vast racial needs and tiny personal preoccupations, of knowledge and ignorance, of justice and revenge, of power and cowardice, of thought and emotion, of the immediate and the ultimate, of the past and the future, of the convenient and the desirable, of the practicable and the difficult, of the popular and the scientific -- that interaction which arose less from a conflict, than a fusion, of motive, less from a struggle than a muzz: that interaction which, as the weeks passed, shrouded the Conference in mists of exhaustion, disability, suspicion and despair.A"4 The Librarian of the British Foreign Office had foreseen the mess which was likely to ensue, and commissioned the historian Charles K. Webster to spend the eleven weeks from May to August 1918 writing a history of the only previous conference of such importance and magnitude, the Congress of Vienna. It was published in early 1919, and, as Webster wrote in the original Preface, because there was no standard history of the Congress, A"we thus stand on the threshold of a new Congress without any adequate account of the only assembly which can furnish even a shadowy precedent for the great task that lies before the statesmen and peoples of the world. ...I have written for the information of officials and men of action rather than historians. Throughout I have avoided any reference to or comparison with present Circumstances... So far, indeed, as any precedents are provided by this period of history, they may probably be considered useful rather as warnings than as examples; and the book will have served its purpose if it draws attention to some errors of statesmanship, which we may hope will be avoided at the present day.A"5 Yet, even these low expectations were not to be fulfilled. As he wrote in the Preface to the new edition, published in 1934, his suggestions as to the applicability of the Congress to the Conference were A"circulated in a confidential edition to the Members of the British Delegation. I cannot say that they produced much effect except on the waste-paper baskets and one or two other minor problems of organisation. The situation changed a good deal before the Conference met, and those who directed it had little leisure to meditate on historical precedents. Indeed, when on 28 January 1919, one Delegate referred to the Congress of Vienna, President Wilson is recorded to have replied that: A'The present enterprise was very different from that undertaken at Vienna a century ago, and he hoped that even by reference no odour of Vienna would again be brought into their preceedings.A' Nor so far as I know was any introduced -- by reference.A"6 So much for the uses of history. Yet the official machine supporting Lloyd George7 was of a high quality and this, combined with his own abilities, enabled the Prime Minister to emerge with a significant number of British desires fulfilled. Britain effectively took over German East Africa (Tanganyika), Mesopotamia and Palestine from the dead Ottoman Empire, and an unexpectedly huge proportion of any reparations which might be going. Sharp makes clear that Lloyd George also set out to produce a stable, democratic Europe, ideally one which contributed to a balance of power, but in this he, and all other like-minded representatives, eventually failed. What were the qualities, according to Sharp, which facilitated the British successes? First of all, he was extremely clever, with a quicksilver mind and tongue; Nicolson refers approvingly to the A"kingfisher dartings of Mr Lloyd GeorgeA's intuition.A"8 Secondly, he was keen to compromise, engaging with opponents and establishing good personal relationships. Thirdly, he was brilliant in negotiations, able to absorb complex ideas in verbal briefings, and to change direction and argument in the midst of discussions both private and, as importantly in this case, public. He radiated plausibility. And fourthly, he was charasmatic. The fact that he was the leader of the most powerful country in the world, the one with the largest army and navy, did not hurt. Yet he lied and deceived both publicly and personally.9 Furthermore, as Sharp argues, A"although he could produce inspirational and exciting long-term visions, his real forte was in reaching deals in the present, without necessarily considering whether their medium and longer-term outcomes would aid or hinder his aspirations. Whilst it might be argued that such is the way all politicians -- and indeed others as well -- often behave in the face of practical problems requiring a solution, there must be some doubt as to Lloyd GeorgeA's methods which prioritised instant fixes and sometimes sacrificed trust for temporary success.A"10 As Sharp makes clear in the first fifty or so pages, which comprise a hop, skip and jump over his life before the Conference, many of his better and some of his worse traits were present almost from birth. Sharp has produced a crisp and focused picture of Lloyd George which enables the reader to appreciate the growth and development of the Lloyd George whom we recognise. SharpA's research career has been largely devoted to the subject of the 1919-1923 peace conferences and their aftermath. This has enabled him, even within the strict confines of a book in this series, to produce an account of Lloyd George and the conferences which, whilst almost schematic at times, is clear and dependable. It is well-written and wears its extensive learning lightly. Its target audience will find it very useful indeed. -- Kathleen Burk H-Diplo Review 20100924