In fact, thinking about my incipient masochism, I should have had a role in that 'Fifty Shades of Tedium' film! Even so, having battled my way through Professor Margaret MacMillan's epic tome on the outbreak of WWI, including the chapters on the Balkans for which I deserve the Serbian-Croation-Bulgarian Medal of Honour, I have now set to on Prof. MacMillan's equally huge history of "The Peacemakers". I am only up to chapter 6 but 'I'm luvin' it already'! She really is a superb historian and, most important, a shrewd one, as far as I can make out.
Her assessments in the early chapters of the 'three wise monkeys men', Wilson, Clemenceau and L-G seems to me to be fair and balanced. Wilson, perhaps, comes out worst for the rather idealistic, hypocritical and ruthless operator that he was:
Wilson remains puzzling in a way that Lloyd George and Clemenceau, his closest colleagues in Paris, do not. What is one to make of a leader who drew on the most noble language from the Bible, yet who was so ruthless with those who crossed him? Who loved democracy but despised most of his fellow politicians? Who wanted to serve humanity but had so few personal relationships? Was he, as Teddy Roosevelt thought, 'as insincere and cold-blooded an opportunist as we have ever had in the Presidency'? Or was he, as Baker believed, one of those rare idealists like Calvin or Cromwell, 'who from time to time have appeared upon the earth & for a moment, in a burst of strange power, have temporarily lifted an erring mankind to a higher pitch of contentment than it was quite equal to'?
Clemenceau is the cast-iron embodiment of a man moulded from his times. His vision was not so much twisted as highly concentrated, almost laser-like, in its concentration on one single entity that he saw, with good reason, to be the cause of France's woes and the likely cause of further French miseries - Germany!
It may have been only a legend that, when he died, Clemenceau asked to be buried upright, facing Germany. It was certainly true that he had been on guard against France's great neighbour for most of his life. He was only twenty eight when the Franco-Prussian war started, part of the group of young Republicans who fought on in Paris after the French armies were defeated. He saw the city starve, the French government capitulate and the new German Empire proclaimed in the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles. As a newly elected deputy, he voted against the peace terms with Germany. As a journalist, writer, politician and finally prime minister, he sounded the same warning: Germany was a menace to France. 'My life hatred', he told an American journalist shortly before he died, 'has been for Germany because of what she has done to France.' He did not actively seek war after 1871; he simply accepted it as inevitable. The problem, he said, was not with France: 'Germany believes that the logic of her victory means domination, while we do not believe that the logic of our defeat is serfdom.'
Lloyd George was, well, Lloyd George, a one-off, unique, a man from humble beginnings in a tiny town in Wales whose intense energy and sheer joie de vivre drove him to the very top. Of course, beneath the Edwardian frock coat there were one or two shabby secrets but blessed with Welsh verbosity (they would call it oratory!) he soared over any possible difficulties:
Lloyd George was made for politics. From the hard work in the committee rooms to the great campaigns, he loved it all. While he enjoyed the cut and thrust of debate, he was essentially good-natured. Unlike Wilson and Clemenceau, he did not hate his opponents. Nor was he an intellectual in politics. Although he read widely, he preferred to pick the brains of experts. On his feet there was no one quicker. He invariably conveyed a mastery of his subject. Once during the Peace Conference Keynes and a colleague realised that they had given him the wrong briefing on the Adriatic. They hastily put a revised position on a sheet of paper and rushed to the meeting where they found Lloyd George already launched on his subject. As Keynes passed over the paper, Lloyd George glanced at it and, without a pause, gradually modified his arguments until he ended up with the opposite position to the one he started with.
So there you have them, the three most powerful men in the world ready, willing and able to decide the future of our globe - a prig, a fanatic and a chancer! I can't wait to read on and see how matters shaped with these three in command.