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The first global summit

The first global summit
Nearly 100 years ago, British prime minister David Lloyd George set off from London to Paris to join the delegates at the Peace Conference, hoping to build a new world order. Now I’m about to follow in his footsteps. Back then, such international trips were quite an effort, especially for Woodrow Wilson, who sailed across the Atlantic by ship, or the Koreans, who also came by ship and arrived late. Today, at major conferences, travel is no longer a real issue. Modern summits have become mass events. For example, in 2012, politicians from around the world travelled to Rio for an international conference on climate change. –communication. Member states have made good agreements– They were joined by thousands of journalists, by campaigners, and by lobbyists.
NGOs held shadow summits, often more exciting than the real show, and important to create momentum. All these people needed flights. They needed hotels, food, and entertainment. They turned the city into a global village. The black and white pictures we have of Paris 1919 feel very different– old men in top hats, news cables rather than Twitter feeds, and meetings in hotel lobbies rather than on social media– but we’ll see how different things really were.
One of the suggestions Lloyd George made at the conference was to facilitate travel between France and Britain, and this should be done by building a Channel Tunnel. Today, almost a century on, I can use the Channel Tunnel for my journey.
Of course, you couldn’t imagine a US president or a British prime minister spending months away from home in a foreign capital today, but by the standards of the time, the Paris Peace Conference was a mass event, too.
While the Americans, the British, and the French took many of the major decisions, this was a global summit. 30 Allied powers sent delegations. Germany, Austria, and other defeated nations would join later. There was an exotic touch to some of the meetings. Queen Mary of Romania joined her delegation, and from her suite at the Ritz set out to conquer the powerful for the Romainian cause. But the political leaders and the royals, while they dominated the headlines, were just part of the picture. President Wilson had argued for open diplomacy, open covenants openly arrived at, and to some extent, the Paris Peace Conference was open to the world.
“Everyone seems off to Paris,” noted the French ambassador to London in late 1918. There were diplomats, activists, journalists, pacifists, trade unionists, socialites, not just statesmen, but also the likes of John Maynard Keynes, the economist. Emir Faisal leading the Arab delegation, Chrystal Macmillan, a Scottish suffragist who spoke for the International League for Peace and Freedom, one of the many early NGOs that took part in the debates. There were also Scotland Yard officers brought over from Britain to protect the British delegation from spies, and there was a young Vietnamese activist called Ho Chi Minh. Ho Chi Minh was inspired by Wilson’s views on self determination.
He tried to meet the leaders and failed, but Paris marked the beginning of a political career that would see him become the leader of Communist Vietnam and a household name at student protests in Western Europe. All these and many more were off to Paris in 1919, because Paris was where things happened. It was the centre of world society. And this was important. As we’ll see, the major decisions at the conference were often taken by the leaders of a few powerful nations, but these leaders had to be mindful of public opinion. Paris was the first media summit in history.
Hundreds of journalists came to Paris and met in a press club specifically set up by the French government, and there was just so much to report. Beyond questions of war and peace, the conference discussed humanitarian matters, racial equality, women’s rights, and technical progress. Trade unionists attended a large number and they secured international backing for the creation of the International Labour Organisation. Not all of it was serious business, though. The 1919 issues of Vogue magazine tell a very different story of the conference.
“One no longer knows which invitations to accept,” and it went on to say that the great fete at the Hotel de Doudeauville for the benefit of the Polish Red Cross was a great success. In short, Paris in 1919 was not only modern in that it was the seat of a virtual world government, it also provided a foretaste of modern summit life.

Old men in top hats, old cars, black-and-white images — the Paris Peace Conference seems to belong to a different era. But it was a modern summit, perhaps the first of its kind, where world opinion and news coverage mattered. In this video, Christian sets off to Paris to visit the sites of the Conference.

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World War 1: Paris 1919 - A New World Order?

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