10: Beetle-Browed Bratianu and the Rumanians
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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
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
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
[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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