The Great Tide of Our Age: Colonies, Mandates and the Failed Promise of Self-Determination
Woodrow Wilson's Fourteen Points promised self-determination to colonies around the globe, raising hopes of independence and freedom for millions. But Wilson and the Allies had no intention of letting occupied peoples throw off imperialism. What would be the long-term consequences of raising the hopes and then dashing the dreams of so many people?
Nguyễn Ái Quốc, aka Nguyễn Tất Thành, was born in French Indochina and fled to find better opportunities. He was living in Paris in 1919 and working as a busboy at the Ritz. His declaration on the rights of the people of Annam, a land better known today as Vietnam, was ignored by the Western delegates.
Rudyard Kipling wrote his poem "The White Man's Burden." His purpose was to exhort the United States to join the colonial system by taking over and "civilizing" the Philipplines, which had recently come under American control. It is a deeply racist text, as is the cartoon above from Judge magazine, which shows John Bull (aka England) and Uncle Sam carrying "barbarians" over the rocks of oppression, ignorance and superstition toward the gleaming beacon of civilization.
Mandates in the Pacific were all former German colonies. They included:
- The South Pacific Mandate
- Territory of New Guinea
- Western Samoa
Mandates in Western Asia and Africa included:
- Mesopotamia (Iraq)
- British Togoland
- French Togoland
- British Cameroon
- French Cameroon
- South West Africa
The Japanese delegates to the Paris Peace Conference wanted two things from the Allies: a racial equality clause in the League of Nations covenant and Shandong in China.
Australia was one of the most vocal opponents to the racial equality clause. The country was dominated by the White Australia movement, which called to limit immigration to the continent to whites only. This is the cover of a popular song about this topic.
When news reached China that the Allies had granted Shandong to Japan, protests erupted across the country. This photo shows a demonstration in Beijing. The May the Fourth movement led directly to the creation of the Chinese Communist Party.
Protests also broke out across Korea, then under Japanese rule, in what became known as the March First Movement. The date is still celebrated in Korea as National Liberation Day.
All of these photos of protests begin to look alike, but this one stands out because it shows women. It depicts a demonstration in Cairo in 1919 against British. What really alarmed the British about these demonstrations was that so many people, both Christian and Muslim, male and female, participated.
Gabriele D'Annunzio was short and balding but incredibly charismatic. After years of fame as a poet, novelist, and playwright, he became a geuine war hero. In 1919, he adopted the cause of the Italian claim on Fiume.
D'Annunzio's invasion of Fiume more closely resembled a picnic outing, except for all of the weapons. The new leader of city became known as "Il Duce" and surrounded himself with Italian special forces troops.
Benito Mussolini closely followed D'Annunzio's conquest of Fiume and adoped many of his strategies in his March on Rome in 1922, right down to the black shirts and palm-down salute.
D'Annunzio was dismissive of Fascism--he had done it all himself first--but Mussolini made a point of paying D'Annunzio's bills, giving him gifts, and appearing in photographs with the poet. Here they are in 1925, with Mussolini on the left and D'Annunzio, showing his age, on the right.
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- Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World by Margaret Macmillan — MacMillan's book continues to be my essential companion to the Paris Peace Conference. Her accounts of both the racial equality clause and the dispute with Italy were incredibly helpful.
- What was the May Fourth Movement? - The Washington Post — This is an interesting look at the May Fourth movement in China in the context of current events.
- Opinion | The Birth of Korean Nationhood - The New York Times — This is a great overview of the March First Movement in Korea, again in the context of current events.
- The Treaty Of Versailles And Its Rejection Of Racial Equality : Code Switch : NPR — The excellent Code Switch team at NPR did a really good review of the Japanese proposal for a racial equality clause in the League of Nations covenant.
- Mussolini and D'Annunzio On The Rise - Allies in Crisis Over Italy I THE GREAT WAR April 1919 - YouTube — The Great War team did an excellent overview of the Fiume crisis and the rise of Mussolini.
- ‘Gabriele d’Annunzio,’ by Lucy Hughes-Hallett - The New York Times — This is a review of a recent biography of Gabriele D'Annunzio that provides a good introduction to the poet and proto-Fascist.
- Two Poems of Gabriele D'Annunzio > Michael Shindler — I haven't read enough of poetry of Gabriele D'Annunzio to really have an opinion on it. It's not hard to track down online, although you have to dig a bit to find it in English. Here are two poems, translated by Michael Shindler, to get you started.