Sunday, February 10, 2013

Nobel Peace Prize 1926 - Aristide Briand, Gustav Stresemann

Gustav Stresemann

Gustav Stresemann (May 10, 1878-October 3, 1929) was the son of a prosperous owner of a restaurant and tavern. In his early years he helped in the family business and, since he was a lonely boy, assiduously pursued his studies. After attending the Andreas Real Gymnasium in Berlin, Stresemann studied literature, philosophy, and political economy at Berlin and Leipzig. During these student days, he discovered that he had powers of leadership as well as a capacity for literary attainment. He wrote critical essays on the Utopia of Thomas More and the lyrics of D.F. Strauss, historical pieces on Bismarck (and later, on Napoleon), and acted as spokesman for his student association. His dissertation for his doctorate, an economic investigation of the bottled beer trade in Berlin, was both practical and theoretical, assessing the pressures of big business capitalism on the independent middle class of Berlin.

Stresemann entered the real world of commerce in 1901 at the age of twenty-two as a clerk in the Association of German Chocolate Manufacturers in Dresden. A year later he took over the business management of the local branch of the Manufacturers Alliance, an association of entrepreneurs. With his organizing talent and his persuasiveness, he increased the number of members in the alliance from 180 in 1902 to 1,000 in 1904 and to approximately 5,000 in 1912. Although he represented capital, Stresemann nonetheless supported the idea, novel at the time, that management should accept labor's right to organize and should recognize its representatives as official negotiators of collective bargaining demands.

Always convinced of the relationship between economics and politics, however, Stresemann sought elective office. In 1906 he was elected to a seat on the town council of Dresden, which he held until 1912; in 1907 he won election to the Reichstag. In 1917 he was elected leader of the National Liberal Party.

While in Dresden, Stresemann married Käthe Kleefeld; they had two sons. One of Stresemann's biographers remarks that his devotion to his wife was «the axis on which his whole life turned [so that he was free to fling] his entire intellect and energy, his almost superhuman powers of concentration, into his one concern, politics»1.

Stresemann passionately supported Germanic policy both before and during World War I. He believed in force, in authority, in discipline. He argued as early as 1907 for the creation of a strong navy, seeing in it the instrument by which to extend and protect German overseas trade; in 1916, he supported unrestricted submarine warfare; he helped to defeat the government of Bethmann-Hollweg which he thought too temperate; he opposed the Treaty of Versailles.

Dismayed, however, to discover Germany's true military position in the fall of 1918, Stresemann found his ideas of the world changing. Disillusioned with an imperial government that believed in force yet did not possess adequate force, and indeed realizing that the policy of force and conquest in itself is ultimately ruinous, he began to see the world as a jigsaw of political and commercial interrelationships, each nation an individual piece in the puzzle and each fitting into another.

A month after the armistice of November 11, 1918, Stresemann formed the German People's Party, was elected to the national assembly which gathered at Weimar in 1919 to frame a new constitution, was elected to the new Reichstag in 1920 and spent the next three years in opposition. From August 13 to November 23, 1923, Stresemann was chancellor of a coalition government. In his short-lived ministry he dealt firmly with insurrection in Saxony, restored order in Bavaria after Hitler's Putsch failed, ended the passive resistance of Germans in the Ruhr to the French occupying forces, and began the work of stabilizing Germany's currency.

In 1924 Stresemann's successor chose him as his secretary of foreign affairs, an office he was to fill with such distinction under four governments that he was called the greatest master of German foreign policy since Bismarck. He enjoyed immediate success with the acceptance of the Dawes Plan, which restructured reparations on the basis of Germany's ability to pay. With his note of February 9, 1925, he took the initiative in arriving at a rapprochement with the Western Allies, especially with France, in guaranteeing the maintenance of the boundaries established at Versailles. After careful preparation for a conference, Gustav Stresemann, Aristide Briand, and Austen Chamberlain, along with representatives of the other four nations involved, met at Locarno, Switzerland, to draw up mutual security pacts. The three were a study in contrasts: Chamberlain, tall, elegant, monocled, schoolmasterish, cool; Briand, slightly stooped, hair disheveled, moustached, informal, amused; Stresemann, stiffly erect, bald head reflecting the light, cautiously formal. But they shared a common goal: to provide general security so that political and economic stability could be achieved2.

After initialing the Locarno Pact on October 16, Stresemann hurried home to insure its acceptance by the government. In a speech broadcast to the nation on November 3, 1925, he appealed for support, saying: «Locarno may be interpreted as signifying that the States of Europe at last realize that they cannot go on making war upon each other without being involved in common ruin.»3

As another part of his peace offensive, Stresemann signed a rapprochement with Russia, called the Treaty of Berlin, in April of 1926. And, following an unsuccessful trip to Geneva in March, he finally saw on September 8, 1926, the unanimous acceptance of Germany's admission into the League of Nations.

Despite his health, which declined rapidly after the Christmas of 1927, and against medical advice, Stresemann retained his position as German foreign minister. In 1929 at The Hague, he accepted the Young Plan which named June 30, 1930, as the final date for the evacuation of the Ruhr.

Stresemann did not live to see that evacuation. The victim of a stroke, he died in Berlin in October of 1929.

Aristide Briand

Aristide Briand (March 28, 1862-March 7, 1932), while at the height of his influence within the League of Nations, attended a dinner in Geneva where the guests were given menu cards on which was printed a cartoon depicting the statesmen of the world smashing a statue of Mars while Briand, alone, talked to the god of war trying to convince him to commit suicide1. The cartoon caught not only Briand's main objective in public life - the elimination of war in international relations - but also his method: his penchant for personal diplomacy, his renowned persuasiveness, and his habit of attacking the heart of a problem rather than its symbols or symptoms.

Born in Brittany, Briand was endowed with a heritage containing something of the peasant, something of the aristocrat, and a good deal of the Breton. His father, a prosperous innkeeper, sent him to school in Saint-Nazaire and then to the Nantes Lycée. There he was warmly befriended by Jules Verne, then rising to fame as a novelist and inventor. In A Long Vacation, a novel for youngsters, Verne describes a thirteen-year-old boy named «» Briant, he says, was audacious, quick at repartee, a good chap, somewhat untidy, « intelligent but so unwilling to waste good time studying that he was usually in the last quarter of his form. Occasionally he would spurt into a period of concentrated work, and then his quick understanding and remarkable memory helped him outstrip the rest.»2. Throughout his life Briand read little but listened intently, never prepared a speech but was, by common acknowledgment, the leading French orator of his generation; he understood everything, so it was said, but knew nothing.

Although Briand studied law and established a practice, he preferred the profession of journalism to that of law. He wrote for Le Peuple, La Lanterne, La Petite République, and collaborated with Jean Jaurès in founding L'Humanité, a socialist paper. A supporter of the labor-union movement, Briand emerged as a leader in the French Socialist Party after a speech at a congress of workingmen at Nantes in 1894. He found his true calling in politics, however, when, at the age of forty, he was elected to the Chamber of Deputies in 1902. In the next thirty years he was premier of France and a cabinet minister innumerable times3.

He achieved recognition almost immediately as the moving force of the commission that prepared the law separating church and state. He guided the legislation through the Chamber and in 1906 was appointed to administer the law itself as minister of public instruction and worship in Sarrien's cabinet. He was retained in this post when Clemenceau formed a government later in that year, was given the justice portfolio in Clemenceau's next government, and in 1909 became premier for the first time.

Briand tended to be a political loner. In 1906 when he joined Sarrien's «» government, he was expelled from the Socialist Party. As premier he broke the railway workers' strike in 1910 by the novel expedient of mobilizing the railway workers who were still subject to military service. Since he never formed a political party, he survived because of his power of imagination, his mastery of procedure, his talent in oratory, and his understanding of people, especially of the common man.

Briand, the enemy of war, was forced by the irony of events to lead his nation during World War I for eighteen critical months from October, 1915, to March, 1917. He devised and, despite opposition from the French general staff, resolutely supported a plan, ultimately a successful military venture, to strike Turkey, Bulgaria, and Austria through Greece; he strengthened the French high command; he helped to obtain a new ally in Italy.

Briand was not a member of the Clemenceau government which conducted the negotiations for France at Versailles after the war. When he resumed as premier in January of 1921, retaining for himself the portfolio for foreign affairs, he tried to obtain a settlement of the reparations issue; represented France at the Washington Arms Conference; and negotiated a security pact with Lloyd George at Cannes in 1922, resigning when he failed to obtain its ratification.

Recalled to the foreign ministry by Painlevé in 1925, Briand now entered upon five and a half years of highly successful diplomacy. The first success was at Locarno. Briand seized upon Stresemann's offer of a pact of mutual guarantee and nonaggression, showed Austen Chamberlain how this proposal would fit into his concept of regional, collective security pacts, and during the conference itself, established the atmosphere of informal amiability that eventually brought understanding. On October 16, 1925, Briand, as foreign minister, initialled and on December 1, as premier, signed the Locarno Pact, which included various treaties and guarantees: four arbitration treaties between Germany on the one hand and France, Belgium, Poland, and Czechoslovakia on the other; two treaties between France on the one hand and Poland and Czechoslovakia on the other; Germany's western boundaries were guaranteed, the Rhineland was to be demilitarized, war was renounced except in extraordinary circumstances, and Germany was to join the League of Nations. Locarno embodied the Briand spirit - the humanization of politics.

With Locarno as a model, Briand sought to extend the arbitration concept to the United States, proposing in 1927 that France and the United States join in renouncing war as « instrument of national policy» Frank B. Kellogg countered with the suggestion of a multilateral rather than a bilateral treaty, and on August 27, 1928, at the Quai d'Orsay, fifteen nations signed the Pact of Paris, or Kellogg-Briand Pact, for the renunciation of war. In the next year Kellogg joined Briand in the ranks of Nobel Peace Prize laureates.

The last major proposal Briand offered to the world was his sweeping concept of a European Union outlined in a memorandum to twenty-six nations in May, 1930. In September the proposal was presented to the League of Nations, but when Briand was not reappointed to the foreign ministry after Premier Laval's resignation in January, 1932, the proposal languished.

On May 13, 1931, Briand lost his bid for the presidency of France, but with his vital resiliency and equable temperament, he did not lose a day at his office in Quai d'Orsay.

Briand occupied the French foreign office longer than any diplomat since Talleyrand. A moral force in post-World War I politics, he sought to substitute trust for suspicion, law for international disorder, mankind's betterment for human destruction. Yet he tempered his ideals with a Gallic sense of reality; he would, for example, hedge an idealistic conception with precautions in case it should fail.

Briand died quite unexpectedly on March 7, 1932; he was buried at Cocherel, his country retreat.

1. Antonina Vallentin-Luchaire, Stresemann, p. 24.

2. For a few more details on the Locarno Pact, see the biography of Austen Chamberlain.

3. «The Treaty of Locarno», in Stresemann's Essays and Speeches on Various Subjects, p. 238.

4. Noted by Emil Ludwig in «Briand», Political Quarterly, 3 (1932) 393.

5. Jules Verne, A Long Vacation, translated by Olga Marx (New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1967), p. 28.

6. See Jules-Bois (Selected Bibliography) for his list of offices held by Briand from 1906 to 1929, with details of dates and names of premiers involved.

From Nobel Lectures, Peace 1926-1950, Editor Frederick W. Haberman, Elsevier Publishing Company, Amsterdam, 1972

This autobiography/biography was written at the time of the award and first published in the book series Les Prix Nobel. It was later edited and republished in Nobel Lectures. To cite this document, always state the source as shown above.

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