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Peacemakers of the Past
When the First World War ended, much of Yale’s gratitude flowed to its combat veterans. It took longer to catch up with the alumni who helped negotiate the conflict’s aftermath.

The military contributions of Yale alumni and faculty to the winning of World War I have long been recognized, most visibly on the colonnade in front of Commons. But far less heralded are the efforts—often clandestine—of Yale graduates in planning for the post-war world.

Shortly after America entered the war, in 1917, the first long-range studies aimed at achieving global harmony were undertaken by a secret government organization known as The Inquiry. At the time, the U.S. state department could provide few experts on past and current world affairs, so president Wilson’s adviser Colonel Edward M. House formed an independent group to plan for a new world social order. Isaiah Bowman 1909PhD, a former Yale geography professor, and the director of the American Geographical Society, became the most powerful member of this group of distinguished scholars.

There were many Yale professors on The Inquiry—among them Charles Seymour, who taught history and was later the University’s President—and their reports covered the historical, ethnic, sociological, economic, and political aspects of dozens of geographical problem areas. In its memorandum of December 22, 1917, The Inquiry advised Wilson that there should be a league “for common protection, for the peaceful settlement of international disputes, and for the attainment of a joint economic prosperity.”

In December 1918 The Inquiry leaders, including Bowman, Seymour, and Clive Day, a professor of economic history, sailed to France with the American Commission to Negotiate Peace. Fearing that their professorial attire would be inadequate in diplomatic circles, the State Department allotted each man $150 to buy a new suit.

Many delegations relied on The Inquiry’s Black and Red books. Compilations of proposed solutions, the Black Book dealt with European problems; the Red dealt with colonial problems. Their authors served on commissions that framed recommendations for the Supreme Council of heads of states.

Bowman, the territorial adviser to the American Commission, was instrumental in helping create the new boundary lines in Eastern Europe. Twenty-two additional alumni and one Yale faculty member provided intelligence reports and administrative support for the American Commission. In the spring of 1919 Seymour and Day prepared to leave Paris, but U.S. secretary of state Lansing said that the American Commission “could not hope to finish without expert help as they really knew nothing about the problems.”

Bowman later became president of Johns Hopkins, and in 1951 Charles Seymour delivered the first Isaiah Bowman Memorial Lecture there. In his talk, “Geography, Justice, and Politics at the Peace Conference of 1919,” Seymour declared, “The only way to bridge . the gap between national self-interest and human justice . was through the principle of justice that shall be administered with an even hand through the organized co-operation of all the nations of the world.”  the end


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