Tag Archives: David Lloyd George

What Are a Historian’s Most Important Skills?

The purpose of history (at least according to Leopold von Ranke) is ‘to show how things actually were’. There is much debate about the exact meaning of this phrase – does it provide a warrant only for literalism and the stating of fact, or does it give license, for example, for historians to write about how the past was in essence? – but much of the central tenets of Ranke’s own empirical history have been broadly accepted. What is not so concrete, however, is the question of what skills and traits a historian ought to exhibit. After all, it takes a certain skill to write empirically, and it takes a certain knack to assemble facts into the form of historical writing, but true skill in the writing of history is something less easy to define; it contains something higher, something nobler – and something infinitely more subjective. But the best historians – in short, those who master both substance and style – can achieve something greater than the result of Ranke’s rather prosaic observation; their works can contain and aspire to the literary – and they can attract the permanence of true art in the process. Continue reading

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Blessed are the Peacemakers? Review – Peacemakers (2001) by Margaret MacMillan

In many ways the Paris Peace Conference which followed the First World War represented a moment unlike any other in history. For less than a year, the leaders of victorious nations – many of which were also crippled by the conflict – came together to determine the fate of the defeated. These statesmen also acted, for a short but intense period, as what was in effect a world government, a situation entirely without precedent (as Margaret MacMillan notes in her compelling Introduction). But more than that, the Peace Conference was also the world’s ‘court of appeal and parliament, the focus of its fears and hopes’. It represented not just the prospect of a settlement of the most cataclysmic conflict the globe had ever seen; it represented the hope of a better world. Whether the peace treaties which were issued from this conference were vicious or short sighted (questions I have attempted to answer elsewhere) is superficially enough to convict or commend the peacemakers; but when trying really to understand them – their motivations and dreams and desires – and what made them act as they did, an altogether more holistic frame of reference is required. Continue reading

Were the Post-War Peace Treaties of 1919-1922 Vicious and Short-Sighted?

The peace treaties signed at the 1919 Paris Peace Conference were certainly short-sighted, but they were not vicious, for while they did reduce nations such as Germany and Austria to dire economic situations, and fostered political climates which were counter to the interests of peace, they did so without the desire to cripple these countries; on the contrary, as evidenced by Lloyd George’s Fontainebleau memorandum, the victors wanted their former enemies to thrive and to serve as future trading partners. In matters economic, territorial and in the manner of the treaties themselves, too, the treaties were short-sighted but not vicious. The 1920 Treaty of Sèvres, however, was both vicious and short-sighted, compelling as it did the rebellion of Ataturk and the national crises which struck Turkey in the aftermath of its signing. But this itself serves to demonstrate how the Paris peace treaties were not vicious, for they did not resemble Sèvres in severity. Continue reading