In his book, Bullitt Lowry provides an in-depth analysis and historical account of the making of the armistice of November 11, 1918. Although Lowry also examines armistices made with other Central Powers, he emphasizes that it was "the German armistice, far more than those others, that shaped European and world events during the months and years that followed November 11" (preface). He begins by discussing the general situation and the path the war had taken in 1918. The German army was suffering from defeat in battle and from enormous amounts of casualties. August 8 was the "Black Day" of the German army, as Lowry explains, because
after the defeat Germany suffered that day, German resistance
eroded. In the four weeks after August 8, soldiers of
the Allies and the United States recaptured all the territory
they had lost to the German offensive the previous spring,
and their advance was continuing without pause. (P.2)
The allies were also victorious on the seas, preventing the German fleet from leaving harbor for more than two years. The Ottoman Empire was disintegrating as well, as Turkish leaders sought peace from the devastating effects of the Allied front and, more specifically, from the defeat they suffered at the hands of the British offensive that destroyed the three German-Turkish armies in September 1918. Austria-Hungary was on the brink of withdrawal, given the internal collapse it was facing.
With the decline and immanent defeat of the Central Powers in sight, the situation became more and more conducive to negotiation between the powers. A substantial part of the forthcoming negotiations would rest on President Woodrow Wilson's Fourteen Points, an imprecise and vague guide that was presented on January 8, 1918 to a joint session of Congress. The Fourteen Points served as a basis for peace, reflecting Wilsonian idealism and a commitment to humanity. As Lowry cites, "the Germans would accept the Fourteen Points, and the Allied leaders would eventually assent to the Wilsonian program with only two formal reservations" (p. 26). Those two reservations dealt first with the actual interpretation and definition of Wilson's freedom of the seas point and second, the point regarding financial and political reparations for damage in the war. These two points were the subject of constant debate throughout the process of drafting the 1918 Armistice. Lowry also provides a detailed discussion of the other Fourteen Points.
In a series of German notes, President Wilson facilitated communication between the United States and Germany regarding the Fourteen Points program. The first note was sent on October 8, at which time the Germans responded by saying that the Fourteen Points would serve as the basis for further discussion in ending the war. Several notes were eventually sent from both sides. However, Lowry points out that the Allied Powers had become concerned that Wilson would dominate the negotiation process with Germany. To prevent this from happening, the Allies confronted President Wilson and requested that he would "seek the advice of the Allies and the `military authorities at Versailles' before committing the United States to any particular plan for Germany" (p. 34). Hence, the other Allied Powers were concerned that the negotiations would unilaterally favor the United States and Wilson's Fourteen Points program.
Lowry then moves on to discuss Great Britain and the armistice. He explains that Great Britain had initially entered the war in 1914 because of "the immediate danger that Germany might win Continental hegemony," and because relations between the two countries had taken a turn for the worse in the past few decades. Lowry cites that "the British were trying to work out a policy on the armistice that reconciled military, naval, and political ambitions" (p. 42). He discusses how Prime Minister David Lloyd George wanted to stage an Allied invasion of Germany to provide the country with a visible sign of its defeat. Lloyd George sought to wipe out German militarism for good, to prevent the country from posing any threat in the future. Eventually, Lloyd George received very little support from the Allies for continuing the war.
French involvement in the armistice discussion centered around Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau and Marshal Foch. Lowry points out that "having twice seen Germany invade France, Clemenceau believed that his duty--and his destiny--lay in his preventing its ever occurring again" (p. 59). Prime Minister Clemenceau ruled his cabinet firmly and was often known as having a bitter relationship with Foch, which was based on hatred, although he was the one who had pushed for Foch's appointment as Allied commander in chief Clemenceau had outlined his objectives for two possible scenarios. While the armistice applied, he sought to guarantee the safety of the Allied armies. Had the armistice broken down, he wanted to prevent the Germans from gaining a more advantageous position. In addition, as Lowry argues, the French were concerned about President Wilson's Fourteen Points, often desiring a solid front that would work against the Wilsonian peace program. In their eyes, "the French foreign ministry worried about the Germans' manipulating the Fourteen Points" (p. 73).
With such resistance in mind, Colonel House from the United States was sent to persuade the Allies to accept the Fourteen Points. Lowry explains that Colonel House not only sought acceptance of the Wilsonian peace program but also wanted to see that the armistice would prevent the Germans from fighting again. Colonel House was also aware of the possibility that he would become the United States' chief delegate in the peace conference that would follow the armistice, if it were to be accepted. As the author cites,
Wilson ordered House to throw "our whole weight" behind any plan
that would prevent Germany's renewing hostilities, but which will
be as moderate and reasonable as possible within those limits,
because it is certain that too much success or security on
the part of the Allies will make a genuine peace settlement
difficult if not impossible. (P. 80)
It was the freedom of the seas portion of the Fourteen Points that continually plagued House's efforts for approval, especially with Great Britain. This led to the possibility that the United States would have to enter into a "separate peace" with Germany, with Lloyd George and the British pursuing other avenues, possibly involving a continuation of the war. Lloyd George had no other disagreement with any of the other Fourteen Points aside from the reparations he sought to the freedom of the seas point. Other Allied nations sought changes in the Fourteen Points with regard to financial responsibilities and reparations for war damage. In the end, "House had gained Allied approval of the Fourteen Points--to a degree. The Allied leaders believed they had settled the matter gracefully, with reparations protected and with a reservation against the freedom of the seas" (p. 100).
The armistice was debated at great length, and the Supreme War Council eventually asked President Wilson to contact Germany about the draft. The Germans would need to respond to the document within seventy-two hours, at which time they would direct all communications to Marshal Foch and the British admiral, who could amend It minor technical points" of the armistice. At 12:30 A.M. on November 6, in the face of chaos and defeat, the Germans radioed Foch for a meeting. At the meeting, "it astonished Foch that the German delegates accepted the terms so easily" (p. 158). The greatest concerns the Germans had with the armistice were the loss of equipment, the armaments they would be surrendering, and the short amount of time granted for withdrawal from foreign soil. The last of the negotiations ended early on the morning of November 11, "at 11:00 a.m. the guns fell silent."
Lowry provides a very detailed and insightful analysis of the Armistice of 1918. However, the strength of his book is not merely the historical account he provides but also the analytic conclusions he draws throughout the piece. Perhaps one of the most enduring themes of Lowry's book is the idea that each of the Allied Powers brought with it a set of preferences, interests, goals, and objectives. These were prevalent in both of the possible outcomes of the war: the signing of the armistice or the continuation of the war. Lowry sums it up best by arguing that "mutual mistrust, conflicting national ambitions, indifference to the hopes and fears of one's partners, and intolerance toward the errors of one's partners all contributed in the fall of 1918 to shaping the negotiations over the armistice" (p. 176). Another strength of Lowry's book is his incredible insight of Wilson's Fourteen Points, as well as the important debates and viewpoints that he documents between each of the Allied Powers over the acceptance of the Fourteen Points. Not only are the major actors in the armistice identified and discussed; Lowry applies a small-scale version of cost-benefit analysis to each country involved, as he portrays them as rational actors seeking to maximize their benefits. Other important topics found in the book include a discussion of the Austro-Hungarian armistice, the Supreme War Council, and the various terms of the armistice that were constantly under debate between the Allied Powers. Lowry also examines the unconditional surrender policy of World War II, as a reaction to the events that took place at the end of World War I.
Bullitt Lowry's book is a valuable source of data and a tremendous contribution to the disciplines of history and political science. For the historian, the book provides a rich and in-depth chronological account of the armistice. For the political scientist, the piece examines vital topics such as the power relationships among the actors and the impact that the armistice would have on the American political system and the global arena for times to come. Scholars from both disciplines will not be disappointed with Lowry's work, whether it be as required reading for a class that they are teaching or as general reading as colleagues interested in the topic.
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|Publication:||Presidential Studies Quarterly|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Jan 1, 1998|
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