6: Fiume and Italy's Passion Week
<< 5: King Nicholas of Montenegro and Essad Pasha of Albania: The Black Mountain Folk vs. the Sons of the Eagle || 7: Among the Many Poles: Paderewski and Dmowski >>
Note: The row over whether the Adriatic port of Fiume should be given to Italy or to
the newly formed Yugoslav state was a complex and important one. The Italian claims to the
city were set forth in a memorandum to the Conference dated February 7, 1919, which
demanded possession of Fiume on the basis of the request made by "the Italian
majority" (following the plebiscite conducted by the poet-filibusterer, d'Annunzio)
for Italian annexation. Other arguments advanced by Italy's delegates included: The Treaty
of London, which some assumed assured Italian domination of the Adriatic and the Dalmatian
coast; the necessity of a bulwark against Germany and Austria above that supplied by the
Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes (Yugoslavia); and the fear that Orlando's ministry and the
good will of the Italian people would disintegrate unless Fiume were included in Wilson's
promise (Ninth Point) of "the rectification of the Italian frontiers on clearly
recognized national lines."
November 18, 1918
Di Martino, Permanent Under Secretary of the Italian Foreign Office, came this morning
by appointment, but as the Colonel was under the weather he was turned over to me. He is a
dapper little man with a sharp, shrewd fox face. He told me he came at the wish of Sidney
Sonnino, his chief, the Minister of Foreign Affairs who was still detained in Rome, and
that he had been ordered to place his cards on the table face up. He certainly did so.
What struck me most about the little man was the way in which he ignored all the
shibboleths and the slogans which are resounding through the world today. When I mentioned
the Fourteen Points he seemed to regard them as literature. As to the "compass of
righteousness" with which we had all agreed to steer a new and better course, any
reference to this provoked a pitying smile.
Di Martino was still living in a world of power politics, of key positions, of
strongholds heavily fortified, of spheres of "legitimate" influence. "This
is not an ideal world and it never will be," he asserted repeatedly, "and we
must face the facts, however ugly they may seem." He was not slow in getting down to
"The outstanding fact of the situation," he went on, "at least as viewed
from Rome, is that the Serbs of the Kingdom and the Yugoslavs of the outlying regions are
not united, are not homogeneous, and I doubt very much if they will ever become so. For
instance, you must know the Serbs and the Croats are culturally miles apart. A peasant
Croat is intellectually superior to the average statesman of Belgrade, and he will never
consent to the domination of a people whom he regards as a band of ragged, illiterate
ruffians. It seems to us that what your President, who we all revere, has in mind is to
place these two fighting wild cats in a bag and expect them to behave like good
kittens." (While of course I did not admit it, to my diary I may confess that my
recent Yugoslav contacts furnished some corroboration to this Italian s point of view.)
Getting his second wind, Di Martino continued: "Whatever becomes of the German
Austrians, whether they try to stand alone or are permitted to throw in their lot with the
North Germans or with the Bavarians, it is quite certain that if the Croats are to survive
economically they will be drawn into the German orbit. And then? I admit no one knows what
will happen, but I do know we must prepare for quite possible eventualities. We must adopt
precautionary measures, and I am directed to place an outline of these before Colonel
House. Unfortunately for Italy, the keys to her national integrity, under one version of
the new doctrine of self-determination [that Fiume was always a Croatian port], will be
placed in the hands of people we cannot regard, in the light of recent experiences, as
either friendly or reliable. To achieve such a result was not our purpose in entering the
war. For this we did not sacrifice a million men and assume a staggering war debt. We
recognize that self-determination is applicable to many regions but not to the shores of
the Adriatic, and we can never consent to placing the strategic positions indispensable to
our safety in the hands of strangers who have often been our enemies and who are even now
acting in a hostile manner.
"If this policy is persisted in, let me tell you what the result, the inevitable
result, will be. Very lightly the Croats and the Slovenes will be brushed aside. Over the
weak rampart of Yugoslavia, a 'poor house' divided against itself, the Germans will reach
the Brenner and the Adriatic, and after all our expenditure of blood and treasure we will
be face to face with a Germany stronger and better equipped for battle than she was whey
in 1915 we joined in the struggle." [In retrospect I see that Di Martino was not the
least of the minor prophets - thus 1938.] When I placed the memo of this conversation
before the Colonel he said, "A dark portent of the things to come, discouraging but
January 6, 1919
Here is what really happened on the Dalmatian front in October as related by one who
saw it all with unbelieving eyes, I should add. A young naval lieutenant has just arrived
from the Adriatic with dispatches for Admiral Benson, which our senior naval officer
immediately communicated to House. He was on a ship of the so-called blockading squadron
which did not stop d'Annunzio's filibustering expedition.(1)
The lieutenant s conversation is more illuminating than the dispatches and I record some
of it here.
The poet-politician claims that he is handling a difficult situation according to
Wilsonian precepts; that on October 27 he held what he insisted was "a free and fair
election" in the American style. He announced that his party was the Unione
Nazonale, but that all were eligible to vote. However, all but men of the Unione were
driven from the polls. The booths were placarded, calling upon all to vote as patriots and
"shoot down the traitors." The representatives of the world press who arrived
from all quarters of the globe were not allowed to enter the "liberated city."
To their petitions the poet answered: "You men have always described me as a
notorious publicity hound, so I have decided that the only account of this important event
will be written by me and placed in the confidential files of the government in
The Susak bridge was closed, but still a few Croats or Dalmatians did get across, and
despite the formidable barrier of bayonets around the booths two hundred did vote, but of
course their ballots were not counted. On the following day, d'Annunzio announced that
seven thousand votes had been polled and that all confirmed his declaration of May 18 that
Fiume was an Italian city, had always been so, and as long as he lived would remain as
such. "I will hold this pearl of the Adriatic coast against a world in arms," he
announced. He then mentioned Gorizia and a number of other important cities and sites that
would have to be liberated. "If we do not hold for civilization these key positions,
the flood of barbarian Slavs will surge up to the walls of Trieste," he announced.
On the following day, continued the lieutenant, the poet thumbed his nose at the
Supreme Council. "This historic movement is written in the best, the noblest, blood
of Italy," he proclaimed, "and it cannot be hindered, much less stopped, by
Paris." Then he concluded with his favorite phrase: ''The old world is no more."
Well, the Supreme Council greeted this defiance with silence. Of course they asked Rome
to enforce their decrees, and then nothing happened.
"Encouraged by this weak-kneed policy," said the disgusted lieutenant,
"the poet rabble-rouser landed in Zara, which he claimed was another Italianisimo
port, at the head of six hundred of his Arditi. On his return to Fiume he announced that
he would soon take possession of Spalato and most of Istria and that out of his conquests
(he called them reconquests, however) he would form an independent Italian state.
"The English admiral told us to go slow; that the Arditi were quite out of hand,
and that they were about to attack Montenegro and take a slice of the Black Mountain. But
if he ever planned it, d'Annunzio did not follow it up. He probably knew that if he did he
would be coming up against something more formidable than the decrees of the Supreme
Council. When I left," concluded the young lieutenant, "the Italian admiral who
had two ships on the coast joined the filibusterers, so now the poet has a naval force.
Just as I left, the new Italian premier, Tittoni, went on the air and announced that Fiume
was always an Italian city and reproached the Allies for not understanding the situation.
Again the Supreme Council by silence consented to this high-handed proceeding."
I heard one of our delegates say today, and not the least important of them, "e
finita Ia commedia." But I do not think so. Flaunted in this way, the decrees of
the Supreme War Council are not worth the paper they are printed on, and this inaction
will open the floodgates to many other and much more important revolutionary movements.
The new public law of Europe may be more respectable than the old, but I fear it is not
more effective. Of course, as many argue, Fiume is not very important, but the principle
is vital to the New Order.
April 16, 1919
I told the Colonel today that further talks with the Italians, with Orlando, with Di
Cellere and Company, were a pure waste of time. When pushed, and certainly we have pushed
them at times diplomatically and at others somewhat forcibly, they always come back to the
ninth of the Fourteen Points, which authorizes for Italy a readjustment of frontiers along
clearly recognizable lines of nationality. We can recognize them, geographers and
ethnologists can recognize them, but apparently no Italian can. At this vital point of the
discussion they simply "go blind."
Orlando, the smooth and silky Sicilian, is at once obliging, courteous, and impossible.
First off, he accepts with grateful enthusiasm House s proposal that Wilson should act as
a mediating umpire between Italy and new-born Yugoslavia. Then suddenly his sunny
countenance darkens and he whimpers that we shall live to regret the day we brought into
the world the "new-born Yugoslavia, the unhappy mixture of Serbs, Croats, and
I tell him we had nothing to do with it; that on October 28, 1918, they proclaimed
themselves a happy band of brothers and launched their ship upon the angry waters of
Europe as a sovereign state a sovereignty won through much suffering. Then the brow of the
Sicilian Premier lightens and he says: "We are fighting side by side with your
President. He is our sword and buckler." Then he quotes the oft-repeated creed of his
foreign minister, Baron Sidney Sonnino: "Although always acting in full and complete
conformity with the fundamental principles of President Wilson, Italy must uphold her
territorial claims based on the conventions that govern and regulate our participation in
the war." (He refers, of course, to the bribe, the bait that brought the Italians
into the conflict, the Treaty of London, April, 1915, which promised Italy much territory
on the Adriatic, but not Fiume.
April 23, 1919
This has been Fiume week; the air is filled with rumors and with counter rumors; an
explosion is expected any hour. There is nothing in sight that suggests a settlement, and
yet, with but a little good will on both sides, it should not be difficult. Gallovresi,
one of Orlando's secretaries, has just been in and he has, I think, spilled the beans. He
says in view of what d'Annunzio is shouting throughout the length and breadth of Italy,
Orlando is quite convinced that unless he secures the coveted port Italy will go Bolshevik
and, while the Prime Minister does not stress this point, that he will then be out of a
When House saw Clemenceau this afternoon he took up the matter, although it is one on
which the Tiger does not talk with his usual frankness. He did say, however, that in the
stress of war his predecessor and the English statesmen had promised Italy practically the
earth, but not Fiume. "I told Orlando last week that he thought I was the sainted
King Stanislas of Poland who, when he was bitten by a dog, not only pardoned the animal
but gave him a chunk of cheese in addition. Well, my name is Georges, not Stanislas. I am
not giving cheese to the boys who scampered away from Caporetto. I shall live up to our
treaty pledge, and in addition I shall convey a frank expression of my profound contempt.
But I shall give no extras.
"In his Fourteen Points Wilson promised to Italy 'a rectification of her frontiers
according to the recognized lines of nationality; but unfortunately these lines are far
from clear." Reflecting, Clemenceau continued:
"Have you ever thought, my dear House, how absurdly patient the poor hoodwinked
people are? Rarely, very rarely, do they hang a diplomat. And I beg you to view what
Italian diplomacy is doing now. These absurd disciples of Machiavelli are replacing the
traditional enemy, the white-coated Austrians whom we have destroyed for their benefit,
with the valiant Serbs. It s an exchange they will live to regret. But our hands are tied.
If they insist upon sticking fiery barbs into the proud flesh of the Serbs, Croats, and
Slovenes there is nothing we can do about it; we are bound by the terms of our bond. Of
course, I have dropped and shall continue to drop words of warning into the big ears of
Orlando. I tell him he is making a poor exchange; that the South Slavs are valiant
fighters; that if they are provoked they will prove a very different enemy from the motley
Austro-Hungarian conglomeration we have just put out of existence. But he, poor simpleton,
only listens to the mobs in the piazzas who shout: 'We want Fiume - evviva Italia
As a matter of fact, the Tiger is bored and at times quite appalled by the outlook.
Yesterday he said to me: "Perhaps you recall that in 1917 I said: 'Those Austrian
statesmen have putrid consciences. I was right; but there are many others whose
consciences deserve to be classed in the same category. How I would like to retire into
the Vendée and write a sequel to my philosophy of history (Le Grand Pan) that
would be a hair-raiser. That would make the dust fly. But just because 'je faisais Ia
guerre,' they tell me I must make the peace. I hope we shall be successful, but it is
going to be difficult, most difficult."
As a matter of fact, the Adriatic problem is more complicated than it appears even from
the Tiger's presentation of it. By the Eleventh Point Wilson promised Serbia free access
to the sea at least a port on the Adriatic and the Serbs and many others assert that Fiume
is the only port half-way suitable. But then, in Point Nine, he boldly guaranteed "a
readjustment of Italy's frontiers along clearly recognizable lines of nationality."
Here a head-on collision between the Italian claims of "nationality" and the
promise of the President is only too apparent.
It may be true, as Sonnino asserts, that during the armistice negotiations he, Sonnino,
made a reservation on the Ninth Point, but although present I did not hear him, and
certainly the record is far from clear. Nobody apparently heard him; perhaps because no
one was paying attention to Italy at the moment (we were dealing with Germany). Yet here
is developing a rift in the foundation wall which may bring down the whole peace edifice.
I have again suggested to House that the disputed city be placed under the sponsorship of
the League with a fixed date for a plebiscite ten or fifteen years hence. To us looking at
it from a distance and disregarding the undoubted fact that Fiume has become a symbol of
victory (or defeat) to the excited people of Italy, it seems an excellent arrangement; but
it is certain neither of the contenders will like it. House told the President last week
that in his judgment the only way to keep Italy out of Fiume was "a military
occupation or perhaps a naval demonstration. In this neither Britain nor France will take
part. Do we want to do it alone?" he asked.
The President remained silent; so did House, but clearly he thinks we should do it - or
April 20, 1919
Wilson had a sharp encounter with Sonnino today. The Italian seems to be fighting not
only for more of Dalmatia but for other strong positions that would give his country
supremacy in the Balkans.
"There is the gravest danger in that quarter," Sonnino said. "No one can
foresee what will happen down there in the next five years or even in the next twelve
months. Placing the control of all or any part of this region in the hands of a League of
Nations that is nor made powerful with an adequate military force is an absurdity; more,
it is a criminal action. These are a reckless, warlike people, very able in the use and in
the manufacture of forged documents."
Here Wilson interrupted: "How can we promulgate an entirely different set of
principles for our treaties with Austria, Bulgaria, and Turkey from those we insist upon
in our treaty with Germany? There must be a single, and I hope I shall not have to say it
again, an honorable standard for all these treaties. We are pledged to establish a new
basic principle, a new international morality, one that has been so often ignored in the
last century. Never has a greater or a more vital question been presented than the one
with which we are now confronted. I do not know whether France and Britain consider that
the Treaty of London conforms to the principles upon which the Armistice was offered and
accepted [that is, the Fourteen Points] and upon which in my view the Treaty of Peace is
to be written. But I can and I do say that I do not think so. You are placing a great
burden upon me; but I shall not shirk the responsibility you impose. If you insist, I
shall have to state openly to the world the basic reasons of my objections. I cannot
accept for myself or for the United States responsibility for principles which are in
direct contradiction to those for the maintenance of which we entered the war."
It was after this passage in arms that the three prime ministers requested Orlando to
withdraw his Foreign Minister (Sonnino) from the sessions. He was told that his presence
was "incomodo" (inconvenient).
[1938. In the at times acrimonious verbal clashes in the course of the negotiations
between Mr. Wilson and Signor Orlando, the Italian Prime Minister, as to the possession of
Fiume, there was one which even today has an almost topical significance. "Mr.
Wilson," shouted the usually urbane Sicilian, "there are at least thirty
thousand Italians in that most Italian of cities. We cannot abandon them to the by no
means tender mercies of the Yugoslavs - treaty or no treaty." (Orlando s figures were
of course greatly exaggerated.) "Signor Orlando," countered the President,
"there are at least a million Italians in New York, but I trust that you will not on
this score claim our Empire City as Italian territory."]
April 26, 1919
The attitude of the President in the Fiume imbroglio is being hotly discussed and has
given rise to many interpretations not all of which can be correct. Some assert that what
they call his "mulish stubbornness is due to his regret (at times they call it his
"remorse") at having conceded the Brenner and the three hundred thousand
bed-rock Germans who live in the South Tyrol to the grasping Romans. As to why he made
this disastrous concession, I at least am not informed. Some say he acted on a sudden
impulse; others that he was beguiled to take this unfortunate step by one of his advisers
on geographical matters who loves to dine at the Hotel Edouard VII, where undoubtedly the
Italians set an excellent table. But whatever may be his sons, it is evident that the
President, as far as Fiume is concerned, has returned to his original principles embodied
in the Fourteen Points, and which, as he at least insists, were frankly accepted by
Orlando during the armistice negotiations.
Tardieu puts in appearance daily, almost hourly in fact. He begs the Colonel to
persuade the President to take a realistic view of the situation, which he asserts is
endangering the none-too-friendly relations between Rome and Paris. His argument is this:
"The good will of Italy is more important to the peace of the world than the ultimate
disposition of a miserable Dalmatian fishing village." And he adds: "I fear that
the Italians, unless they are 'sweetened,' will turn pro-German."
Under instructions from the President, House has talked repeatedly with Lloyd George
and with Clemenceau and also with those of their experts to whom the prime ministers are
inclined to listen. All agree that their sympathies are with Wilson, hut unfortunately
they are bound by a treaty which they cannot ignore. When told that Fiume is expressly
excluded from the Italian domain and given to the Croats by the secret treaty, they say
nevertheless that Italy must be kept happy or Orlando will not sign, and then our united
front against the barbarians is broken.
In his report on the negotiations as of today, House told the President: "The
situation is perfectly clear. Orlando will not give up Fiume because he is convinced that
if he does his ministry will fall, and Page(2) wires from
Rome that the Sicilian s conclusion is perfectly correct. He asserts that no ministry that
signed the treaty without Fiume as part of the booty would survive." He (House) then
went on to say to the President:
"In our insistence on giving Fiume to the Yugoslavs we stand alone and
unsupported, except for a few expressions of platonic sympathy. What is the wisest course?
We can keep Italy out by force of arms, perhaps even by merely sending a few warships to
the Adriatic port; but then the united front would be broken and Germany and Russia would
rejoice and not without reason."
The President listened with interest but said nothing. He had, it seemed to me,
embarked upon his course without exploring the dangers that lurk ahead. In my judgment,
the Colonel is against military measures to keep the Italians out of the disputed port. He
thinks that would he an armed intervention in the affairs of Europe, which neither the
Congress nor the people of the United States would approve unless they had been consulted
in advance. I think, though he does not say so, that the Colonel is in favor of a policy
of postponement, of procrastination; of bringing pressure to bear upon both Belgrade and
Rome not to fight, and so, after a cooling-off period, to have the problem certified to
the Council of the League as one threatening the peace of the world, which under the
Covenant it is empowered to face and should solve.
May 4, 1919
After half a dozen interminable conferences, now with Trumbitch and Korosec for
Yugoslavia and then with Chiesa and di Cellere for Italy, the Adriatic problem failed to
yield to our diplomatic treatment. The Colonel grew weary of listening to complaints not
all of which were well founded. And I? Certainly I was quite fagged out by my interpreting
duties. And then an idea occurred to me. As the sequel proves not a very brilliant idea,
perhaps it should be regarded merely as a lazy man's effort to escape continuing
responsibility and increasing boredom. I cannot claim that my idea was even novel, because
the same plan was being pursued in the Saar dispute.
The hope of a reasonable settlement under my plan was based on the conversations I had
had with leading Italians and above all with prominent Croats before victory came and
pretensions began to sprout. I knew that both parties to the dispute were claiming more
territory than belonged to them either by historic rights or by the doctrine of
self-determination. And both parties to the dispute knew that I knew this. I also knew
there were areas for which probably each of the disputants would fight and that there were
others which they claimed merely for trading purposes. I talked in confidence with most of
the delegates, many of whom had sat with me at the Congress of Submerged Nationalities
(Paris, September, 1918), and I also took counsel with Professor Salvemini, who was active
for Italy's legitimate claims, among which he did not include Fiume. Seton-Watson, pupil
of Supillo and an eloquent advocate of the Slav claims that would bear scrutiny, helped me
to draw up a boundary line between the two nationalities which was much nearer the truth
than the frontier that was drawn in the Treaty of London.
In this way we tossed about free cities and played ducks and drakes with not a few
islands, and we certainly whittled down the territory which both countries claimed and
insisted, it being a vital interest, much as they preferred peace, that for this they
would have to fight. I made a "graph" and a map showing what we had
accomplished. There was the city of Fiume and the port of Susak and a little of the
adjacent territory. All the rest was assigned. "But this area, Colonel," I
explained, "we shall call Disputanta, and we shall place it under the
administration of the League of Nations for the period of fifteen years. Then we shall end
up with a free and fair election, a plebiscite, Uncle Sam perhaps presiding over the
ballot boxes." The Colonel was enchanted with what he called "a magical solution
of all our troubles." He ordered a number of copies of my map made and he distributed
it widely. In a few days it got into the papers, and to the anger of the Colonel it was
ticketed, we shall say, as the Smith-Jones plan, names far better known than mine.
So far as I know the plan was mine, but it was so simple and indeed so obvious that it
might well have occurred to other observers. Then, to tell the truth, on closer contact
with the dramatis personae I was not infatuated with it nor was I
confident of its success, as perhaps I had been in the first blush of authorship. I was
even willing to concede it was not the most perfect instrument that ever sprang from the
brain of man. I also had come to the conclusion that the only way to keep Italy out of
Fiume, which by rank propaganda had been accepted by millions of her deluded people as a
national symbol, was by military force, and I was convinced that none of the powers wanted
to make the effort, least of all Uncle Sam.
I succeeded in letting the plan go into history as the Smith-Jones plan and very, very
soon It was relegated to the dead files. Hunter Miller put the document in perfect legal
shape and then both sides dropped it.
I find these memos in my daybook:
April 14th. The President told Orlando he would consent to giving Fiume the
status of an international port with full measure of local autonomy. Orlando's answer was
a sibilant Sicilian "No."
April 19th. The President made what he regarded as a further concession. lie
was willing to place the disputed port and a rim of surrounding country under League
administration somewhat like the Saar, with the promise of a plebiscite at some future and
more tranquil day. This seems to be a revival of my plan, endorsed by House but long since
lost in the general shuffle. It has at least one virtue. Neither of the contenders would
suffer immediate defeat. They could both hope for victory at the polls at some not too
distant day and then perhaps, as Tardieu remarks (he is enthusiastic for the plan),
"No one would care whether he was saddled with the miserable fishing village or
not." I do not agree because I know how important this sea front is to the Yugoslavs;
but it was not necessary for me to express an opinion, for in half an hour Orlando had
answered with a rotund "No" rather than his usual Papal "non
April 28, 1919
Even for those who were present and heard the uproar and witnessed the resulting
disorganization in the ranks of the peacemakers, it is hard to understand and consequently
most difficult to describe what has happened in Paris during what the Italians call the
"Passion Week of 1919." It is certain, however, that President Wilson, in
publishing to the world, although it was addressed to the Italian people, his views on the
Adriatic problem that denied the right of Italy to claim Fiume, set off a time bomb the
course and explosive qualities of which should not have been difficult to foresee. Even
before the extremely unfavorable reception of the document in Rome was apparent, there
were not a few who announced that Wilson had smashed the Peace Conference and that the
Americans had better go home. The storm of fury that broke upon the President's head
evidently surprised him, although Colonel House, who had sensed the high explosives which
the document contained, had urged him to start his campaign by first reading the manifesto
to Clemenceau and to Lloyd George. This he had apparently done at an official meeting,
and, in the judgment of the President, they had both concurred in the statements made and
fully approved of the views expressed.
Indeed, according to the President, Lloyd George went even farther. He (George) spoke
of a memorandum which at his suggestion BaIfour had drawn up in which the Italian
pretensions to Fiume were combatted, even more vigorously than in the Wilsonian text. The
President had understood Lloyd George to say that he would publish this memorandum within
a few hours with a statement demonstrating his complete approval of the President s
position. His (the President's) impression was that M. Clemenceau had concurred in the
views expressed but had made no announcement as to what action he would take.
In view of the fact that no formal records of the words exchanged, much less of the
agreement reached, were kept, it is not surprising that the recollections of the
distinguished participants in the conference are widely divergent. Mr. Wilson was
impressed with M. Clemenceau's desire to keep in the background for reasons which he
understood and respected. He had stated several times to the President that by the act of
his predecessor France was a party to the Pact of London, providing for the division of
spoils in anticipation of that victory which admittedly hung fire until America entered
the war. The Tiger on several occasions had shown a reluctance to discuss the problem, but
he had made it quite clear that Italy alone could release France from her given word. On
the other hand, the President was quite certain that Lloyd George had pledged himself and
his government to back up the American view and to hold the Adriatic bridge with him.
The President s argument was as follows: He insisted that the events of the last few
months had completely transformed the Adriatic problem and that it should now be settled
in the new spirit that was abroad in Europe, in fact in the world. He pointed out that the
once powerful Austro-Hungarian monarchy had disappeared. He argued consequently that the
Treaty of London, drawn up in the stress of a dark period in the war and designed as a
protective bulwark for the submerged nationalities against a predatory power, then
powerful and rampant but now destroyed, should be canceled. He suggested that the proposal
of cancellation might best come from Italy, but as this was not the case, he made the
Orlando, quite sincerely no doubt, chose to regard the manifesto as a direct appeal to
the Italian people over his head. He told House that it was an invitation to the
electorate in his country to repudiate their representatives in Paris and the government
that had sent them there. All the Italian newspaper correspondents in Paris, with whom
hitherto he had not been a favorite, rallied to his support when he stated that the
manifesto was a challenge to his authority and that his position was: "The Italian
people must choose between my leadership and that of Wilson."
It was not long before the first extremely sensational newspaper dispatches from Rome
were confirmed by our official advices. Apparently, the Italian people had reached an
immediate decision, and it was wholly unfavorable to our President; many of the avenues
and streets in Italy which had so recently been given the name of Wilson, the Liberator,
were "'de-baptized" in short order. And suddenly, overnight, Orlando and even
his colleague, Sonnino, so generally disliked both at home and abroad, became immensely
popular; civic crowns were voted them by many municipalities, and the cities awarded them
the palms which are only given to those who have deserved well of their country. When
Orlando, having walked out on the Conference [he returned May 6], arrived in Rome seeking
a renewal of his mandate, he tasted for him the unusual sweets of unbounded popularity.
While it is true he made the effort, he could not divest the ovations which he received of
a distinctly and-Wilson character.
The President was distressed at the uproar. But he was not the man to bow his head to
the storm nor to seek to explain away the charges of insolent interference in matters
which did not directly concern him. In fact, he stood by his guns and told our
newspapermen and all others who were entitled to hear his views (although he stated he
deplored further newspaper controversy at such a delicate moment) that a vital factor in
the peace settlement was in the balance; that the future peace of Europe, and hence of
America, was at stake; that he would fight with the weapons of diplomacy for the only
proper settlement of the Adriatic problem just as stoutly as he had fought for it with men
and ships and money before the Armistice was declared.
Isolated as he now found himself, Mr. Wilson was naturally most anxious to learn what
had happened to the British co-operation that was pledged and the unqualified support of
the BaIfour memorandum that had been announced and, as he thought, promised. Many steps
were taken to clear up this mystery, and some of them are doubtless unknown to me; I can,
therefore, only relate with confidence those that were taken by me under instructions from
Colonel House. Lloyd George was absent when I called at his residence, but all, or nearly
all, of his secretaries were on hand. They seemed to have been mobilized in large numbers
to meet the emergency. As they understood the agreement or understanding between Lloyd
George and Wilson, the latter's manifesto was to have been released for publication in the
morning papers of April 24 (as to the exact date, I am, as were they, not quite certain).
Unhappily, they stated, the document had been sent out by the American press bureau so
early on the afternoon of the day previous to the agreed date for release that it had been
published in almost all the evening papers of Europe on that day. I had to admit that this
was unfortunately true; that someone had been careless. "But," I said,
"which is the press bureau that has not been guilty of similar acts of inconsiderate
haste? And after all, what of it? Could not the Prime Minister of England endorse a
manifesto which through the impetuosity of one of Wilson s subordinates had been published
something like ten hours ahead of schedule?"
Now, as always, my colleagues of the British mission were frank and aboveboard, and
they agreed that even after this trifling contretemps (mischance) the Prime
Minister could co-operate; but, as a matter of fact, orders had been received from him
which canceled all previous instructions on the matter. "Our slate is wiped clean and
we can't do a thing until we hear from him again. He has gone to the country and we do not
expect to hear from him very soon."
"Indeed," said one of these merry wights, "the last word we had was to
the effect that we are not likely to hear from him for some time."
This concluded our business interview, but we then, as often before, resolved ourselves
into a "common council" of the younger and, as we thought, more intelligent set
and began to speculate as to the motives behind the enigmatic moves of the great men with
whom we were associated. One of these charming fellows said:
"My guess is L. G. decided it would not be dignified to come steaming along in
Wilson's wake a day or so late; perhaps he will barge in, however, when the atmosphere has
cleared up a bit; when he learns that you fellows were not trying to steal a march on
Then another of the bright boys chuckled: "You see, we got the roar from Rome
early in the evening, long before we had said 'goodnight' to London, and perhaps L. G.
thought it was no use for him to rush in among the brickbats, and so he told us to lay
off, but later on, of course..."
May 3, 1919
If Aldovrandi, the secretary of Orlando, is to be believed, and I have always found him
hitherto reliable, my previous entries with regard to this delicate subject are incomplete
and certainly do less than justice to Lloyd George. He apparently did make an attempt to
straighten things out, or at least smooth them over, to prevent the open "break"
which is now apparent to all. In these words Aldovrandi describes the interview between
Lloyd George and Orlando which he says took place on the afternoon of April 24.
"I ought to know what was said," he asserts, "as I acted as their
Apparently Lloyd George insisted upon the meeting which Orlando wished to avoid, and
when he appeared at the Hotel Edouard VII he (George) was nervous and quite pale. "I
am taking this unusual step," he began, "because I wish to call your attention
to the fact that the situation with which we are confronted is grave, very grave. It is
not only critical for Italy, it is critical for all of us. All Europe needs America.
Without America Europe cannot continue to live. I have come to tell you that Wilson, as
always obstinate, is greatly irritated now. In this unfortunate state of mind he has drawn
up a manifesto to the people of Italy which is really addressed to the people of the
world, and he has requested M. Clemenceau and myself to sign it or in some way signify our
approval. We have begged him to delay publication for at least forty-eight hours, and that
is the reason why I am here. I hope to make its publication, which cannot fail to have
unpleasant consequences for all of us, unnecessary. Cannot we smooth things over? I do not
have to tell you the scandal that will follow upon its publication or how the Germans and
our other enemies will rejoice. The unhappy division that exists in the council of the
Allies will then be apparent to all the world. Let us see if we cannot stave off this
A few minutes after these words were spoken, Lloyd George left and while the Italian
delegation was deliberating as to how the situation was to be met, one of the secretaries
came in with a copy of the Temps of that evening. In it the manifesto of Wilson
was published and Orlando said: "There is nothing left for us to do but to pack up
and leave for Rome."
April 29, 1919
This morning the President gave House a brief account of what happened at the
last-minute meeting designed to pacify Orlando, or at least to keep him from "running
out" on the conference. It was engineered by Lloyd George and took place in his
private apartment in the rue Nitot. "I regret you were not present," explained
the President, "for while completely unsuccessful it was illuminating."
Apparently before the President appeared Lloyd George had tried to calm down the now
angry Sicilian. Above everything he begged him to be "careful."
"Remember," he said (this from Aldovrandi), "Wilson is not only an
obstinate man, he is also a vindictive one. We must humor him. If he left us in the lurch,
Europe would be in a sad plight indeed."
Orlando s reply was, "Yes, everybody is generous including Wilson. Yes, even he
promises me everything but what is necessary, absolutely necessary, to save my position as
head of the government."
Wilson (still according to Aldovrandi) was very affectionate with the Tiger, who was
not in his usual good humor. Wilson addressed him as "my dear friend," and the
Tiger s riposte was, "I am all tremble when you address me with those
endearing words." Thea Wilson bridled and said, "I will then call you 'my
illustrious colleague.' " With this out of the way, Wilson, Lloyd George, and
Clemenceau vied with one another in assuring the Sicilian how fond they were of him, how
they would miss him, how delightful in many respects their talks had been. Orlando
replied, "You may be still fonder of me next week when you may well be confronted
with d'Annunzio in my place."
Apparently coming to the conclusion that the Italian situation was hopeless, Lloyd
George darted off to the Antipodes and took up the cudgels for little Hughes of Australia,
who hates the ground that Wilson walks on, a feeling that is reciprocated in a generous
measure. "Hughes is very bitter, Mr. President. He says that great America suffered
fewer casualties in the war than little Australia, yet you oppose all her just claims and
seek to shape the peace alone, excluding all others."
Again and not unnaturally Wilson lost his temper. "Do you mean to minimize our
contribution or to deny that through our assistance the war was brought to a successful
"Of course not, of course not," repeated Lloyd George. "However, we are
so far apart as to many problems, let us not pursue this prickly question further."
Then Clemenceau put in his oar. "I made war, but now I want to make peace. I hope
you will help me. And mark what I say. I am not going to allow incompetent generals and
bellicose civilians to spoil it not if I can help it."
House laughed quietly as he put away the notes that came to him from an undisclosed
source. "What luck we had in not being at that party," was his only comment.
April 29, 1919
I was now told by House to take up the matter with Clemenceau and did so that evening.
This was not difficult. For many weeks my visits to the Tiger were a matter of almost
daily, or rather nightly, routine. For while the Prime Minister of France had resumed his
attendance at the conference of the Big Four, Colonel House had held that this intimate
channel of communication after the day's work was done, which had been initiated after
Clemenceau was shot [February 19, 1919], was still valuable and that in certain
emergencies it might prove even more so. Thus my visits were maintained.
The incident I am about to describe was certainly interesting, but as my mission was
far from successful, I must sacrifice my reputation as a negotiator to the drama of the
after-midnight scene. When I was shown in by Albert, I found the Tiger in his small study,
installed in his large armchair where, half reclining, he could, because of the wound
still troubling him, rest and even sleep more comfortably than in his bed. He was wearing
the old wrapper and the famous slippers, and on his head was the cap which he called his
"day and night cap." As I came in I found him grumbling about the inherent
cussedness of books, for like most men with a large and disordered library he could never
find the volume he wanted.
"C'est agaçant," he grunted. "In the morning, as usual, I 'shall have
to send to the publisher for another copy and doubtless he'll say, 'Out of print,' as most
good books are. 'You must apply at the Bibliothèque Nationale.' "
As I got down to the purpose of my visit, the Tiger listened very attentively. At my
recital of the rôle, which in the light of the facts, as far as we knew them, Lloyd
George had played, he grunted again. And then:
"I certainly concurred in every statement that Mr. Wilson made, but it was the
spokesman of the great associated Power who was speaking. The spokesman of one of the
Allied Powers could not speak in that independent way, and I never dreamt for a moment
that Mr. Wilson thought that we could. If we did, the whole fabric of the alliance which
had at last brought us through the furnace of the World War would have crashed. I won't
say I wasn't tempted. I was. Wilson's attitude was straightforward, honest, and true. Yes,
for a moment I was tempted to cut my cables, to cast off the old shackles and with him
plunge into the unknown. But, no, the thing was impossible. We had fought to uphold the
sanctity of treaties and we were trying to erect a barrier against future wars. I raw
clearly what it would mean if I went back on my pledges and seconded Wilson. WelI, in the
first place, it would mean that before I said a word I would have to send at least four
divisions of troops to the Italian frontier. Things are very ticklish there today, to say
the least, and I should think that the dangerous situation in Europe would be patent even
to hopeful American eyes. The Spartacists in Germany, who are trying to overthrow the
Weimar Republic, are openly working for an alliance with Soviet Russia against Western
Europe. Many think they have already achieved it; the outbreak of war between the victors
in the great conflict is by no means an impossibility, and that would indeed be a sad
conclusion to our battle to end war.
"Let me illustrate the situation by reminding you of an incident that occurred
some ten days ago, which for obvious reasons we have not stressed. One of our most
irresponsible boulevard sheets published a canard to the effect that I was opposing
Italian war aims. When the rumor reached Italy, even though it was immediately and
officially denied and although Orlando announced that he had no cause of complaint against
rue, anti-French riots broke out in many Italian towns. In Leghorn a mob attacked a small
detachment of our soldiers, the very men who had been sent to Italy after the Caporetto
disaster to save them. Some of our men were killed and a large number were wounded before
order was restored. No, things are ticklish. It is touch and go; we must move very
cautiously. From the beginning, I wished Wilson success, but I could not participate in
his adventure. And now that the failure of his well-meant move is notorious, the only way
I can help is to stand by, not jump overboard with Wilson, but talk quietly with Orlando,
reason with him as best I can, and that I shall do."
Paris, July, 1925
The acute stage of the Adriatic problem soon passed, or rather, I should say, it was
passed over. Although unsolved, it was displaced on the agenda by the more urgent,
although not more important, questions of the future of the Saar, Belgian priority in
reparations, and then Shantung. I never asked M. Clemenceau for his permission to publish
any of the revealing statements in regard to Fiume that he made to me in the course of
these confidential conversations, which were intended exclusively for the information of
my chief, and of course I never published them or in any way indicated that such
statements had been made. It was his pleasure and his wish that all these matters should
be regarded as confidential. Frankly, I admit that, concerning this conversation, I
pestered him many times for permission to print, but he would always dart off on some
amusing tangent and permission was never forthcoming. Like most "old
newspapermen," he had a horror of the modern hair-trigger reporter and a great
distrust of amateur news gatherers.
Clemenceau gave me unstinted praise for respecting his confidence in this and several
other matters that if published at the time would have proved world sensations. While
amused at my persistence now he remained firm in his refusal to let me make public what I
thought was the important lesson to be drawn from his decision to stand aside at the time
of the Italian crisis. In 1925, when I stayed with him for some days in the Vendée, I
returned to the attack and we had what he called a battle royal on the subject. I
told him that my conscience troubled me, that I thought the deduction that could and
undoubtedly should be drawn from his action at this time would strengthen the League of
Nations and by the spread of understanding would help along the cause of peace. It would
demonstrate, I argued, that the world needed the United States in the League, not because
she was so rich and powerful or so "good," but because, owing to her happy
geographical position, she was the only great power that could insist upon the truth as
she saw it without being forced to move armies to her frontiers.
"Well, you can tell it when I m gone from this vale of tears - but nor now. You
will not have to wait long. You are terribly insistent and hopeful, just like that heavy
artilleryman who during the war was always clamoring for the manufacture, intensive,
extensive, and oh, so expensive, of heavy guns, which never could be brought up to where
they were needed by any power that was available. I fear it will be equally difficult now
to get the League into anything like effective action, since your good people in America
abandoned it on the doorstep of Europe.
Then he rehearsed what was said at our midnight conference, which, as I thought, if
made public, would help in the pacification of a distracted world.
"Yes, you wanted me to second something that Wilson, a free-lance in European
affairs, had said about the Adriatic problem. I agreed that what Wilson said was true and
even wise, but I added that I was bound to a different course by a treaty as solemn as any
France ever entered upon. It was in anticipation of the fulfillment of this treaty, you
must remember, that brought the Italians into the war on our side, and you may remember at
the time we assumed this would be helpful to our just cause. How different was the
position of Wilson! He was merely associated with our general war purposes, but as far as
this treaty was concerned, of which officially he was ignorant, he was as free as air. And
I did tell you that I was tempted, only I saw very clearly that before I joined in on this
adventure I would have to talk with Weygand about how many army divisions we could send to
the Italian frontier. That, you must admit, would not have been a pleasing conclusion to
our peace powwow.
"I admit that your memory of what I said further at this time is correct. Wilson
was right; the disappearance of the Austro-Hungarian Empire had put an entirely new face
upon the European situation - certainly upon the Adriatic problem, and I hoped that Italy
would release us from the obligation, which in a critical moment of great stress we had
assumed. I talked to Orlando in that sense, not once, but several times. But I could not
ignore the fact that this treaty carried with it the signature of France, duly
authenticated, and that only Italy could release us from its provisions.
"When later we talked over the fiasco, and fiasco it certainly was, I comforted
Wilson with the thought that the question could be taken up at an early meeting of the
League, under Article 19 of the Covenant, which provides for a reconsideration of treaties
which with the passage of time and the change in conditions have failed of their purpose,
or, as is clearly the case in this instance, have developed into a menace to peace. And he
told me that this was his purpose. Then you abandoned Wilson, and later on, as it seems to
me, you abandoned Europe. I was disappointed, but, I confess, not surprised. Just as I was
compelled to look at the Adriatic problem from the standpoint of our national
responsibilities and pledges, so you were forced to look at the European scene, later on,
from your traditional transatlantic standpoint of aloofness.
"Had Wilson said to me, as he seems to have said to Lloyd George and most
certainly did not say to me, 'Clemenceau, will you make common cause with me? I would have
been compelled to answer, 'Mr. President, most certainly not, but from the bottom of my
heart I wish you luck. And I am afraid that is the attitude and the feeling of the great
majority of Americans as they view the turmoil in Europe today."
1. Italian possession of Fiume came to symbolize to this wildly
romantic radical the conflict between Italy's aspirations and the more restricted benefits
the Allies wished to impose. A year later, in September, 1919, he marched into Fiume and
for fifteen months defied his own government and indeed the whole Europe. Ousted finally
in January, 1921, he became an ardent Fascist and was titled a prince in 1924. On March 1,
1938, he died.
2. Thomas Nelson Page, American Ambassador to Italy.
<< 5: King Nicholas of Montenegro and Essad Pasha of Albania: The Black Mountain Folk vs. the Sons of the Eagle || 7: Among the Many Poles: Paderewski and Dmowski >>