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THE NATIONS: The Path of Peace

5 minute read

The Big Four’s Foreign Ministers met in Paris last week. They met for what Paris’ Figaro somewhat extravagantly said would “once and for all … settle or unsettle the peace of mind of men in every street in every capital of the world.” The French greeted their guests with culinary reminders of what the man in the street was up against. The British delegates faced a dinner of cauliflower, spinach and ice cream. The Russians got beets, apple pie and coffee—a hotel menu to which the Soviet Embassy hastily added steak. The prudent Americans had wisely arranged for U.S. Army food.

Next day the delegates drove along boulevards, where ill-fed Parisiennes in gay print frocks strolled beneath the blooming chestnuts, and swung through the faded green wooden gates into the courtyard of the Luxembourg Palace. A black, bullet-proof Cadillac yielded a grey, tired-looking Molotov. As the courtyard clock struck 4, an oldfashioned, boxlike Daimler arrived. Red-faced, breathing heavily, Ernie Bevin half ran up the steps as if afraid he would be late.

Spirit of the Arts. In the Salle Victor Hugo four armchairs and 16 straight chairs were set round the circular, greenclothed table. The ceiling overhead was covered with a painting of a winged nude youth, the Spirit of the Arts, who gazed benevolently on sundry French peasants and workers tilling fields, building houses, digging holes and filling them up again. “Any time the Ministers think things are going badly,” said the Luxembourg’s curator, “all they need to do is lean back and gaze at the ceiling and realize things could be worse.”

Things actually began better than anyone had hoped. In the first five minutes Molotov agreed to let Host Georges Bidault discuss the Finnish and Balkan treaties—the very issue that had broken up the Foreign Ministers’ meeting at London last autumn. Next Molotov budged a little from Russia’s insistence that Italy pay $300,000,000 in reparations; he helped pick a committee to decide what Italy could pay. In the sessions that followed he made a series of small concessions on the Italian peace treaty.

All this moderation served at least two Russian purposes. It strengthened French and Italian Communists in forthcoming elections (see FOREIGN NEWS) and it paved the way for Russian demands on other issues. More significantly, it renewed the world’s waning hopes that the major powers might yet reach workable agreements that would stick. In the year since V-E day,* they had tried three times—and every settlement had come unstuck.

“Peace Cocktail.” Before the 21-nation peace conference, originally set to start May 1 in Paris, can actually meet, the Big Four must agree to a great deal more. On Italy, their first treaty, they face such moot points as Trieste, Tripolitania and the Dodecanese. This week they put the “whole German problem” on their agenda —and no final European settlement was conceivable until Germany’s neighbors knew what would happen to her. Molotov wanted to put off consideration of the draft U.S. treaty for Austria, where Jimmy Byrnes wants to get Allied troops (about 75% of them Russian) out of the country. The Balkans were sure to provide fireworks. With such obstacles ahead, optimism had to be well qualified. Asked how the conference was going, one U.S. official cracked: “Nobody has yet thrown a monkey wrench.”

At President Félix Gouin’s state luncheon, Ernie Bevin tried to link the nations with a “peace cocktail”: one-half English gin, one-quarter Russian vodka and one-quarter French vermouth. Gastronomically, at least, things were vastly improved: Gouin’s guests ate homard parisienne, poularde du Mans à la broche, pommes noisettes, asperges de Lauris—sauce mousseline, fromages, parfait Grand Marnier, mignardises, accompanied by white Burgundy, red Bordeaux, champagne, coffee, . Armagnac, Benedictine and Cointreau.

Mirabeau, We Are Here!

Senator Arthur H. Vandenberg is a normally cautious man with a good sense of history, and a fine sense of the politically appropriate remark. But all these admirable qualities melted in the Paris sunshine last week when he landed at Orly airfield.

Asked to add a few words in French to a brief radio address, he hesitated, then beamed and faced the microphone. He delivered a single portentous sentence. Translation: “When the French Revolution was about to collapse, Mirabeau had to be called in.”

Puzzled Frenchmen frowned. Editors scratched their chins. It made no historical sense, but one of the most important of U.S. Senators had obviously meant something by it. Several days later a girl reporter asked Vandenberg why he had called for revolution in France.

Indeed, he hadn’t, the Senator protested. He had merely dredged up from high school days the one French sentence he remembered.

*The peacemakers met two months after the Armistice in World War I, completed their treaties at Versailles in another six months.

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