Test Ban Treaty Was No Versailles

Did you ever think that in this last quarter of the last

year of the last century of the second millennium, we’d be debating World War

I? Or that a three-line, four-column front-page headline in The New York Times would contain the

words “Versailles Pact”? Those two words haven’t been featured so prominently

in any American newspaper since the last months of the Woodrow Wilson

Administration. Whatever happened to all that chatter about bridges, tunnels

and other conveyances that would take us from the wreckage of the old century

into the safe harbor of the new?

Pat Buchanan, of course, started all of this retro-brawling

with his curiously timed treatise on the century’s two global conflicts. His

thoughts on World War II garnered the most attention, but he also managed to

start an intellectual street fight with his insistence that America’s entry

into World War I, otherwise known as the war that failed to end all wars, was a

mistake whose unintended consequence was the vengeful peace settlement reached

at Versailles, which in turn contributed to the rise of Nazism and fascism. If

America’s doughboys weren’t sharing breakfasts of fried trench rat with the

British and French, Mr. Buchanan argued (as others have), the exhausted empires

of Europe would have fought to a draw and settled their bloody family quarrel

at the negotiating table. Thus, no Allied triumph, no Treaty of Versailles, no

punishment of Germany, no bitterness in the beer halls of Bavaria, no Hitler.

Most journalists,

particularly those who do their research in green rooms, didn’t know what to

make of Mr. Buchanan’s unorthodox though hardly radical analysis, for they are

generally more comfortable discussing such earth-shattering events as

Representative Howie Cheatum’s startling admission that he played spin the

bottle at age 9 with a girl who was not his wife. Confronted with

complexity and substance, they reacted as though Mr. Buchanan somehow were siding with Hitler instead of arguing how Hitlerism might have been averted.

Now, within weeks of the

Buchanan historical dustup, we find ourselves yet again recalling the ghosts of

Flanders fields. The U.S. Senate’s stunning rejection of the Comprehensive Test

Ban Treaty on Oct. 13 was described by The Times as “the most

explicit American repudiation of a major international agreement in 80

years”-since the Senate rejected the Treaty of Versailles. The historical

reference seemed more than a little frightening. After all, those of us who

were lucky enough to learn history before the discipline was converted into an

exercise in self-esteem were taught that the Senate’s defeat of the Versailles

treaty was one of the most spiteful, parochial and disastrous episodes in the

history of American diplomacy. Lunk-headed Republican isolationists, eager to

stomp on the political grave of the lame-duck Wilson, opposed the treaty for

their own petty purposes and therefore blocked America’s membership in the

fledgling League of Nations. Without America the League was powerless, making

World War II and all its horrors inevitable.

Or so went the story.

In fact, as time has demonstrated, the Treaty of Versailles

was one of the most disastrous documents of the 20th century, a triumphalist

“settlement” that humiliated Weimar Germany and did, in fact, lead to the

discontent that Hitler exploited to win the Chancellorship in 1932. (Post-Cold

War cautionary tale: Do not destabilize and encircle vanquished enemies.)

British Prime Minister David Lloyd George and France’s President Georges

Clemenceau indulged the naïve Wilson his little lectures on world peace and

self-determination for some small nations, i.e., small nations within the

defeated German and Austro-Hungarian empires. (Small nations under the control

of Britain, France and America were not included in Wilson’s New World Order.)

While Wilson preached, Lloyd George and Clemenceau

eviscerated Germany, depriving it of natural resources and population centers

while limiting its capacity to rearm. The treaty may have given voice to some

Wilsonian ideals, including the League of Nations, but at its heart it was a

cold-blooded and ruthless piece of political and military vengeance, an example

of Old World politics at its worst.

The difference between the two treaties-Versailles and the

Test Ban-is enormous. The world has, in fact, learned some of the lessons that

a century of assembly-line bloodshed has taught: There are some issues, like

nuclear arms regulation, that are too important to be left to international

brinkmen. Rogue states may very well choose to ignore the proposed ban on

underground tests of nuclear weapons, but presumably they would be subject to

global discipline of the sort that has been visited on Iraq, Yugoslavia and

North Korea in recent years. That’s positively Wilsonian in its idealism, but

now we are in the humiliating position of getting lectures in responsibility

from the Chinese Government.

The Test Ban wasn’t

the Versailles Treaty. That’s why it should have been passed.