As his time in Europe drew to a close, Binkley began to grapple with a sense of disillusionment over failure of Wilson’s peace program. The the tenth anniversary of the armistice in 1928, when he was a rising young historian of the Peace Conference, he wrote about the bitterness that set in in 1919:
The failure of Wilson to carry through his complete peace settlement has left legacy of doubt and disillusionment which confuses our thought on foreign policy even to this day. Our attitude toward the League of Nations and the World Court is still embittered by a memory of the Shantung settlement or the Fiume crisis. Our war debt policy is awkward because we no longer believe what we once asserted: that the war was a crusade in which civilized nations were banded together to resist enslavement by barbarians. That body of liberal opinion in America which should be most helpful in the cause of world peace finds itself paralyzed by a conviction that European diplomacy is unregenerate and had best be left alone. The American flair for self righteousness and the American tradition of isolation both feed abundantly upon Wilson’s failure.
Was there ever a chance to realize the Wilsonian peace settlement, or was the whole program illusory from the beginning? Did Wilson’s war speeches represent the real substance of American war aims, or were they a stupendous ruse de guerre designed to delude at once the enemies and the friends of America and the American citizens themselves? It is not strange that questions as searching and remorseless as these should impose themselves today upon those who ten years ago worked, saved and fought to make the world safe for democracy.1
In November the news from Washington of the rejection of the Treaty of Versailles and the League of Nations troubled Binkley and embarassed him as an American in Britain.
He dated Ethel Simpson, who worked in Prof. Adams’ office, and started attending the theatre more frequently, attending eight performances.
Prof. Adams made arrangements for the party’s return to the U.S., then had to rearrange them as strikes in American ports upset the steamship schedules. Binkley and Lutz ended up booked on the Carmania, the very ship that had brought Binkley and S.S.U. 578 to Britain a year earlier. By the end of the month he is packing his trunks and finishing work in the office.
News from his brother Charles about the family’s troubles (Nov. 19) reminded him of his responsibilities. I mentioned the fire that had destroyed the family’s new house in an earlier entry in this series, placing it in October; but I’ve realized that it actually happened in early January, 1919. That means that Binkley’s decisions to extend his time in Europe, first by attending a French university in February and then by accepting the job with Prof. Adams in July, were made in the knowledge of his family’s hardships. There’s nothing in the surviving letters to suggest any hard feelings about this, except a gentle rebuke from his sister Elizabeth in June:
Since you did decide to stay across, we have to start writing to you again. Blame you! You are missing the acquaintance of the sweetest little chipmunk that ever was. Ruthie [Binkley’s youngest sibling, 6 months old when Binkley left California and now 2½ years old]. Of course we know nothing about passports. You might have been held and had nothing to do. But we want you here. […] I question the wisdom of your staying in France…. Experience and College credit, I suppose? OK, for you’re your own boss. (Doc. 68: Mary Elizabeth Binkley to RCB, [1919-06-01].)
The fact that she has to guess at his motives suggests he had written in his usual breezy style and hadn’t engaged with the question whether he had an obligation to return. According to Charles’ 1977 memoirs their father was dazed after the fire and allowed himself to be persuaded to hire an entirely unqualified person to design and build the new house, which gave the family trouble for years:
I recall analysis of the location and design of the house built in 1919 as reflecting Dad’s demoralization after the fire. He surrendered to someone who just wandered in. (Was his name Hibbert. It was reported to me that he had a crazy notion that rubbing urine on his head would make his hair grow). I have no record and recall nothing about the house until after it was built, except some work around it on two trips home in 1919 or 1920. I thought both location and design were bad. (p.47)
Binkley worked hard for the family when he did return, taking terms off from Stanford and supporting the schooling of his younger siblings. If he ever felt guilty about staying in Europe, though, I haven’t found evidence of it in his papers.
Robert C. Binkley, “For What Did We Fight?: Review of The Intimate Papers of Colonel House, by Charles Seymour”, New York: A Four-Page Journal of Ideas for the General Reader, November 17, 1928.↩︎
Diary: November, 1919
Translate letter for Mrs. Adams in afternoon.
Catalogue everything in the office, finish up work at British Museum. Get ready to start in again tomorrow with societies.
Work shorthand till 4 A.M.
Start in on societies. Get someone to look over my cards.
Go to Chu Chin Chow in the evening.
Have trouble in bathroom with gas that does not work.
Still working S.W. 1. Federation of Demobolized Soldiers & Sailors sends "all publications." -- & lot of auditing certificates. A mistake, of course. Work shorthand in evening. Gas fixture is changed so I cannot heat water. Go down to S.A. at Aldwych and get tea.
Work societies again. Go out to The Lea.
Dinner with Ethel. Arrange to go to Tilly of Bloomsbury on Monday night.
Work out at Imperial Institute district. Go to show in afternoon with Doc Adams. Joy Bells -- pretty good too. Argue with Miss Heaton about the bath & hot water question in evening.
Take bath. Do lesson on r in shorthand. Don't finish it till 5:00 P.M. Then go out for walk thru London. Go down to Waterloo Bridge.
See Tilly of Bloomsbury, by Ian Hay, in evening. Very good.
Salvation Army in morning. Armistice day silence is the most impressive ceremony imaginable. Poincaré is in London, but I can't be bothered seeking him.
Have rotten intervu with Conservative Club man. May lose him. Do a little shorthand at night.
Saw President Poincare & Queen & Haig & retinue pass window at Albemarle St.
Stayed 11:00 P.M. cataloguing.
Take Mrs Adams out to Hampstead.
News that our boat does not sail till the 21st.
Worked in SW again. Greek Legation came thru.
Doc Adams is all fagged out and irritable. I shall be very careful not to annoy him.
Go to movie at night. Have shorthand lesson. Get Maritime League material, & also books from Irish Union. Secy of Maritime League says that 35% of Recruits in American Army couldn't speak English.
See Friends, & Chamber of Commerce. Don't get very much done. Go down and look at art in
eveningafternoon, at National Gallery.
In evening roast a few chestnuts. Have argument with woman who dows not like California.
Talk around gas fire in morning. Everyone peeks on Arthur and his occupation. Capt. Barker says England does not fear our merchant marine competition.
GWork shorthand. Go out to Kew Gardens with Ethel. Tell her about Nime. & she responds with story of Roy & Ralph.
Work late at office. When I get home I have a quarrel about the light. Miss Heaton maintains that her gas will be cut off. I ring incessantly, & finally go down to her door and knock.
Am a litle early in morning and at noon. Seem to notice decided coolness in Adams'. Aim to finish making original calls tomorrow.
See The Mikado with Ethel in evening. Very good.
Workers Educational Association man explains object of his society -- to serve broad & general education -- opposes vocational education. Affilliations include Shakespearian society. Conservative Club & Nat. Socialist Party etc.
Work late in Office. Go to Friends, and to Railwaymen. Try to get keys for my trunk. Letter from Charles gives me idea that I'm needed at home.
Go to a very poor show -- The Girl for the Boy – with Ethel. I work societies in Russel Square, & get material from Anglo-Latin American C of C & Imperial Institute.
Buy a shorthand book.
Take books to Stevens & Brown.
Work in Strand section See Joseph Hyder. & others on Victoria St again African Society thinkgs they are giving us a great deal. Church Temperance Society gives tiny envelope & congratulate me on getting it for nothing. The Church is in general the stingiest. Especially the Anglican.
Considerable disgust is felt over our failure to ratify the treaty.
Prof Adams says I may sail on the 3rd.
Pack up one trunk.
Go to Indian National Congress. They make a point of forgetting. The oriental is inscrutable perhaps, but damn lazy certainly. Think the Friends Emergency Committee
hold littlehas some mimeographed material. Wilson says he'll veto the joint resolution declaring the war at an end. People over here are getting more and more disgusted. But I am surprised to see how patiently the papers treat us.
Went to see Maurice Marcovitch in the Merchant of Venice. A perfect production.
Read Wilson's San Francisco speech. It nearly convinces me. But I don't know my own mind. There is a good political fight coming.
Chadley & Grey revolted yesterday & gave notice I look to see more of the milk of human kindness around H.Q. here. Perhaps a little more milk for our porridge too. I am surprised at the warm -- almost motherly interest Miss Heaton took in my bath this morning.
See Boy Scout Band marching in evening.
Expect to sail on the 3rd. Hooray.
Get Fawcett Ass'n, & Royal Society of St. George material. Take load to Stevens & Brown. Work is closing up rapidly. I sail with Lutz on the Carmania, Dec 3rd, from Liverpool. Go with Ethel to Reparation -- a gloomy but powerful Russian play -- Tolstoy. Get home very late & crall into bed.
The Indian National Congress puts me off again. I write most of the necessary letters and hope to finish job tomorrow.
The cook seems to have taken a liking to me. I gave her another shilling.
Go to Baby Bunting with Ethel.
Lutz is back. I get ticket on Carmania, and $200 cash. Ooooo!
Get address lists of Trade Unions etc.
Get my passport stamped at Bow St.
Work in British Museum, but don't make very great progress.
Go down to visit Ethel's folks. Have a delightful evening, & am stuffed with good things to eat. Ethel can't keep from thinking of Tilly of Bloomsbury. She's a game little girl.
Go to Labor Party office and get address book checked Mr. Ames for employers.
Work in office all day. write the thank you's & finish up cataloguing.
Go to Colloseum with Lutz & Mrs. Adams, Grock, the clown, is very good, and is applauded magnificently, the gallery shouting like mad. He is sailing on Wednesday for America.
Go down to Rathwood [?] Lane and buy mouth organ. Then out to tea with Mrs. Mary Hinkins, & Annie & Will, to whom I must write, 22 Malvern Road, London N.
Go to Euston Y. Am asked for my pass by an M.P.