Heinz K. MeierRappard, Wilson and the League of Nations

2.19 Heinz K. Meier, Rappard, Wilson and the League of Nations, excerpt, in Friendship under Stress, US – Swiss Relations 1900 – 1950, Berne, 1970, p. 107 – 123

a) Background

The text may be read in conjunction with the text James H. Hutson, Swiss-American peacemaking: The Alabama Affair and the League of Nations (2.16).

The text at hand is a chapter of the second book of Heinz K. Meier with the title Friendship under Stress: U.S.-Swiss relations 1900 to 1950. The book is divided into parts modelled on the conventional periodisation of the 20th century. According to Heinz K. Meier, United States-Swiss relations, never were of a determining influence on the general course of history but were often strongly determined by it. The second volume followed the general chronological pattern of the problems in U.S.-Swiss relations, which,according to Meier, are recurring or permanent, while others are conditioned by particular circumstances of international politics. Meier writes, that among the former one would find commerce and trade relations, Swiss immigration to the United States, and various treaty aspects and among the latter, the tensions and difficulties created by the two World Wars. The permanent problems were in many respects a continuation of and a variation on the circumstances described in previous books on the United States and Switzerland in the 19th century (see for instance text 2.13 on the Period of the Civil War). The major parts of the book however, are concerned with the specific problems created by World-wide crisis and wars. The key question is, how did U.S.-Swiss relations fare under the impact of major international tensions? In the course of the last 70 years, according to Meier, the United States had grown from a middling power at the periphery of the European world into one of the two major world powers, which determined the fate of the rest of the world. Switzerland, on the other hand, had, according to Meier, if anything, lost in relative significance during the same period of time. At the beginning of the 20th century it was one of perhaps a dozen small countries highly regarded among the family of nations. At the time the book was written, it was still well regarded in most places, but it shares the stage with more than 100 other independant small nations.

The author Heinz K. Meier was born in Switzerland in 1929. He has been educated at the University of Zurich, at the Alliance Francaise of Paris and at Emory University, Atlanta, where he obtained his PhD degree in history. He spent all his professional life in the United States. From 1960 to 1975 he was a professor and than department chair in the History Department and from 1975 to 1985 as Dean of the College of Arts and of the Old Dominian University Norfolk, Virginia. As indicated in the books, he did extensive research in libraries and archives of Switzerland and the United States.

b) Summary

The text at hand deals with relationships of Switzerland and the United States, in particular with the role of William Rappard, envoy of Switzerland to the Paris peace conference. Switzerland prepared actively for the peace conference. In those days, according to Meier, preparation was guided to a considerable extent by a desire to please and impress President Wilson. The key issues were the confirmation of the Swiss status of neutrality and an active participation in the forming of the League of Nations. The text deals with the reversal of the original decision to hold the peace conference in Geneva, which was based upon intelligence information on possible internal political upheavals in Switzerland. The text further deals with the attempt of Switzerland to participate conceptually in the formation of the new international organisation. It deals as well with the attempt of Switzerland to be able to fully participate in the peace conference as a neutral nation.

Switzerland failed in both respects. The text contains interesting insights in the apparently trustful relationship William Rappard developed with President Wilson. The first meetings took place in Washington DC and later in Paris during the Peace Conference, to which William Rappard was seconded as unofficial envoy by Switzerland. The activities of William Rappard and other Swiss representatives in Paris again had two principle goals: To protect the rights of the neutrals and, specifically, to prevent the inclusion in the covenant of the League of Nations of anything that might impair the neutrality of Switzerland and to convince the Conference to select Geneva to be the future seat of the League of Nations. The second goal proved to be easier to achieve than the first. While the French and the Belgians strongly pressed for Brussels, Switzerland finally convinced president Wilson to decide for Geneva. The key question was, that Switzerland had to assure, that it could suscribe to various clauses of the covenant of the League of Nation. If Switzerland did not join the League, Geneva could not become its seat. This dilemma is particularly described in the text at hand. At the end of the day, Geneva was chosen; – and Switzerland became a member of the League of Nations while the United States did not.

c) Text

You can find a scan (PDF) of the original text here:
A_2.19_MEIER_Wilson Rappard The Paris Peace


© Prof. Jens Drolshammer, office@drolshammer.com,  www.drolshammer.net

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