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Seeds of Disaster, Part 5
By David H. Lippman
November 2016

The story began with Part One and continued in Part Two, Part Three and Part Four.

But all these issues must wait on this July 14 for the Victory Parade. After the wounded men shuffle by, the Republican Guards, in dress uniform, trot along, escorting Joffre and Foch. The first symbolizes France's defense of 1914, the latter France's offensive of 1918. A few paces behind Foch rides his dapper, neat, chef de cabinet, General Maxime Weygand. Then come the Allies and Associated Powers, in alphabetical order. France's spellings of nations results in the United States coming first, and Les Americaines are led by General John J. Pershing, the Iron Commander, and his doughboys, with bands playing Over There.


And we won't come back, we'll be buried over there.

Next come the Belgians, and then the British, their bandsmen playing Tipperary, massed regimental banners flapping under the cobalt sky. After them come Italians in slate, Japanese troops in khaki, Portuguese, Rumanians, Serbs, Siamese, and two new nations: Czechoslovakia and Poland, their men in French horizon bleu. Only Russia - Imperial or Bolshevik - is missing. All the contingents draw cheers, but the biggest are naturally for the home team, which brings up the rear. Leading them is the Commander-in-Chief, the hero of Verdun, Marshal Henri Philippe Pétain. Under his dour, defensive command, the French Army re-organized after the disasters and mutinies of 1917. Now the austere, pale Marshal rides on his white horse, majestic, tall, and magnificent in dress uniform, alone.

Behind Pétain march men from all of France's 21 army corps, their bands playing Sambre-et-Meuse and Marche Lorraine, the two battle hymns of France's war. On and on come the hordes of poilus, including trotting chasseurs in berets, cavalrymen in glittering breastplates, Foreign Legionnaires in white kepis, Moroccan goumiers in turbans, immense Senegalese, Algerian and Indo-Chinese tirailleurs, the colorful panoply of Europe's most powerful army, the heirs to Napoleon. Behind the infantry and cavalry come the other arms…artillerymen towing the famed and reliable 75mm guns, airman René Fonck, Chasseurs Marins from the Navy, all of them holding high their shot-up battle colors.

The crowd goes into a delirium of joy and thanks, spontaneously singing the battle songs. At the Place de la Concorde, the mourning crepe is formally removed from the statue of Strasbourg, welcoming Alsace-Lorraine back to France. For an hour the French army marches down the Champs-Elysées. Finally, at the very end of the parade, after the glitter of breastplates, the splash of dress uniforms, and the trumpets of the bands, comes nine FT 17 tanks, clanking under the Arc de Triomphe, spewing noise and exhaust as they pass. The tanks are last in line. Despite their success in battle and importance in war, they bring up the rear of France's parade. They are no longer important to the swashbuckling constables of France, or most of Europe's generals and politicians, either. For as an onlooker says, "A sight like this will never be seen again. Because there will never again be a war."


The Greek contingent.

At summer's end, US President Woodrow Wilson boards a seven-car special at Washington's Union Station, and crosses the United States on a 10,000-mile trip, seeking to make his dream of the League of Nations a reality by taking his case to his people.

"If the treaty is not ratified by the Senate, the war will have been fought in vain, and the world will be thrown into chaos," he tells his amazed Cabinet. "I promised our soldiers, when I asked them to take up arms, that it was a war to end wars. If I do not do all in my power to put the Treaty in effect, I will be a slacker and never be able to look those boys in the eye. I must go."

For two weeks, Wilson rides America's rails, delivering his message, in Columbus, Indianapolis, St. Louis, Omaha, and Spokane. In San Francisco alone he makes five speeches, urging the voters to send a message to their Senators to support the League. He is most effective in west of the Rockies…the heartland of his opponents. Along the way, the frail president's health deteriorates…Insomnia, headaches, trembling, and double vision plague Wilson. But he fights on, determined to make America a leader of the League of Nations and prevent future wars. His wife Edith begs Wilson to rest, but he refuses. They'll take a vacation when the train gets back to Washington, he says.

On September 15, 1919, Boston officials begin hiring police officers to replace the 1,500 cops who have been fired for going on strike. The four-day walkout has led to mobs, looting and Governor Calvin Coolidge hurling National Guardsmen onto the Hub's streets to restore order. Union leaders beg Coolidge to allow their men to get their jobs back. Coolidge refuses. "There is no right to strike against public safety by anyone, anywhere, any time," he telegrams back in typical blunt fashion.

That same day, Wilson is in Pueblo, Colorado. He tells reporters, "This will be a pretty short speech. Aren't you fellows getting pretty sick of this?" Wilson faces the audience, launches his speech, and stumbles over the sentence, "The world will not allow Germany…" This has never happened before in Wilson's long career as schoolmaster, professor, college president, governor, and Chief Executive.

Wilson looks like he will pitch forward and collapse. He is visibly crying. He struggles and continues his speech in a weak voice, finishing: "I believe that men will see the truth, eye to eye and face to face. There is one thing that the American people always rise to and extend their hand to, and that is the truth of justice and of liberty and of peace. We have accepted that truth and we are going to be led by it, and it is going to lead us, and through us the world, out into the pastures of quietness and peace such as the world never dreamed of before."

Then he disappears back into his train, barely able to eat his dinner. Next morning Wilson is suffering a splitting headache and is unable to rise from his bed. When he finally does, the left side of his face is immobile. His words are mumbled and indistinct. He can't move his left arm and leg, or dress himself. The trip is cancelled. "The President has suffered a complete nervous breakdown," Dr. Cary Grayson tells the press. Wilson heads straight back to Washington. Back in the White House, Wilson cannot work because of the headaches. He finds enough energy to veto the Volstead Act (Prohibition), but Congress overrides his veto.

Meanwhile, the Senate fires back its official answer to Wilson: 45 amendments to the Treaty and four reservations, to safeguard American sovereignty and Freedom of Action. The Senate says that the Monroe Doctrine is beyond the League's jurisdiction. And that America will not be bound by any League decision in which any one member casts more than one vote. That is designed to prevent the British Empire from ordering American troops into battle again. Most objectionable to Lodge and his Senate colleagues is League Article 10, which obligates the members to guarantee the territorial integrity of any other member against "external aggression." In other words, if a member is invaded, American bayonets must defend that nation. Lodge says that Congress must keep the power to send troops abroad. Wilson calls Chapter 10 the heart of the League. Had it existed in 1914, there would have been no war.

On October 2nd, the French Chamber of Deputies ratifies Versailles, 372 to 53. In Washington, Wilson suffers another stroke, paralyzing the left side of his body. He is now prone to weeping spells. Edith Wilson censors her husband's mail, screens his visitors, and conceals his infirmities from them. With Wilson enfeebled and Congress deadlocked, the Treaty stands stalled. Worse, the American national mood is shifting daily, even hourly. By October 1919, despite Wilson's veto, the Volstead Act is in place. By January 1920, Al Capone is in place in Chicago, starting that city's gangland wars.

In June 1919, Congress passes the 19th Amendment, giving women the right to vote, making the female view critical in the 1920 presidential election. And women voters have numerous issues to address. That same month, with the political atmosphere tense, Senator Hitchcock of Nebraska, chief spokesman for Senate Democrats, visits the White House to beg the president to compromise. "Let Lodge compromise," Wilson bellows from his wheelchair, summoning up all his remaining energy.

"Well, of course, he must compromise also," Hitchcock replies. "But we might well hold out the olive branch."

"Let Lodge hold out the olive branch," Wilson retorts.

Hitchcock is obedient to his president and party chief. Others try to move Wilson. Herbert Hoover fires a telegram at Wilson, saying Lodge's reservations are insignificant compared with the need of peace and the League. Bernard Baruch says "half a loaf is better than no bread." A bitter Wilson says, "And Baruch too," when he reads that telegram.

Edith begs, "For my sake, won't you accept these reservations and get this awful thing settled?"

"Little girl," the white-bearded Wilson answers, "don't you desert me; that I cannot stand. Better a thousand times to go down fighting than to dip your colors to dishonorable compromise."

When the Versailles vote comes up in the Senate on November 19, 1919, Hitchcock and his crew vote down the Lodge amendments, after five hours of debate. Then Lodge and his crew vote down the treaty itself. Both votes fail to gain two-thirds majorities. The Senate leaders meet again in December, and by January 1920 Lodge and the Democrats have reached a compromise. But Borah and his "Irreconcilables" are adamant: no support of the Treaty, no support of the League. 1920 is an election year. Borah threatens to bolt the Republican Party if Lodge does not accede. Lodge agrees to drop his reservations and oppose the treaty.

On March 15, 1920, the Senate, with many Democrats voting against Wilson, finally rejects the Treaty of Versailles, 49-35. The Treaty of Versailles fails, seven votes short of ratification. Next morning the Secretary of the Senate delivers the Treaty to the White House, officially returned. The volume is tied up in brown paper and wrapped in an enormous amount of red tape. Wilson reads the voting results and comments, "They have shamed us in the eyes of the world."

To be continued.

David H. Lippman, an award-winning journalist and graduate of the New School for Social Research, has written many magazine articles about World War II. He currently works as a public information officer for the city of Newark, N.J.