Historical Fiction!

Here’s the story I wrote for our short story group. Genre: historical fiction. I had just finished reading Margaret MacMillan’s wonderful book Paris 1919. 

We were supposed to change the world.

The winter sun shone brightly through a smattering of clouds, a promise of the spring to come. A spring of hope, after four years of hellish winter that marched on and on, taking the lives of millions.

Paris was a party; the people lined the streets in celebration. Banners covered every building, hats and streamers flew through the air as we made our way down the Place de la Concorde. I did not see a face without a smile during that entire walk to L’Hotel Crillon. We settled into suites of luxury made for kings, and we felt like kings.

We were supposed to change the world.

We went to England, where we were welcomed with open arms; we met with Lloyd George, who smiled and spoke of the promising weeks to come. Even London itself seemed to welcome us, the winter rains taking their leave for the moment, letting the sun burn off the heavy fogs of the city.

Our mission brought us back to Paris, where Wilson, Lloyd George and Clemenceau held almost daily meetings. I took notes; the meetings were jovial, with Lloyd George performing comical imitations of Orlando, which amused the French to no end.

We were supposed to change the world.

An open peace. Self-determination. Freedom of the seas. The League of Nations. These were the things we fought for, the core of the peace that all agreed were essential to the lasting tranquility of the new world. We believed in them, with all our hearts, in those early days. Even as things progressed, as Wilson’s interpretation of the Fourteen Points evolved with each passing crisis, we still believed in them.

What should we do with the Kaiser? How much of Turkey should Greece get? What do we do with Arabia? What about the Japanese, the Serbs, the Romanians? What on Earth should we do about the bloody threat of Bolshevism, which had consumed Russia, Hungary, and threatened the rest of Europe?

There were no easy answers. We thought Wilson’s principles — our principles — would guide us, but in too many cases personal interests trumped the Fourteen Points. And in the worst cases, the Points contradicted themselves.

But we had to change the world.

We needed a peace that would put an end to war. The French wanted to cripple Germany, leaving it a broken state with no means to create war. Wilson wanted to rebuild Germany, to help the nation, giving her no cause to go to war. Lloyd George tiptoed between them, picking whatever side public mood most favoured.

Weeks turned into months. Those days in March were long, with meetings going on well into the night. Lloyd George stopped telling jokes. Clemenceau got angrier with each passing day. Wilson’s health started to fail. Then a series of disasters put the whole conference in jeopardy: Orlando lost all sense of reason and pulled the Italians from Paris; and Clemenceau, walking to his car after a gruelling six-hour session, was shot.

And still, we tried to change the world.

We pushed on, without Orlando, without Clemenceau. Without a clear idea of what we were fighting for, but still we went on. Then slowly, painfully, a peace began to form. We settled on a number for reparations; America thought it was too high, and France too low. Germany was forced to give up much of it’s army and navy — the German admirals scuttled their ships rather than hand them to the allies. The Rhineland was demilitarized, but who would police it was unclear. New countries were formed, and ones that had once existed were brought back from the grave: Palestine, Poland, Albania, Armenia, to name a few. The self-determination of many was decided by referendums based on the questionable data of few.

But still, we changed the world.

The treaty we signed, that Germany signed, changed everything. I look back now and see what a mess it was, what a unattainable dream the world had. In some places, the treaty was too harsh, in others too soft. Other parts were conflicting, or confusing. As the armies of the Reich now march across Europe, it’s too easy to see where we went wrong. We had an impossible task, and we tried. Hundreds of men from all over the world tried. For six months, we sat in meetings, hotel rooms, dining rooms, conference rooms — we tried.

And we did change the world.

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