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The Binkley family house under construction, summer of 1919.

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.


  1. 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

  • Take all bundles to Stevens & Brown in a taxi. Make date with girl in office for 3:00 P.M. Sunday. Dine with the Adams' tomorrow at seven.

    Translate letter for Mrs. Adams in afternoon.

  • Work on shorthand nearly all morning. Go out at 3:00 with Ethel Simpson to concert at Queens Hall, then walk along embankment.

  • 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.

    Notes:

    Chu Chin Chow was a musical comedy which ran from 1916 to 1921, more than doubling the previous record. It was an Arabian Nights fantasy, popular with soldiers on leave for “its bejewelled but scanty costumes, live camel, donkey and snakes, the ‘rhythmical’ and ‘sugary’ tunes”.1


    1. A. Maunder, “Introduction: Rediscovering First World War Theatre”, in A. Maunder (ed.), British Theatre and the Great War, 1914–1919 (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015), p.23 (doi 10.1057/9781137402004_1)

  • Work on Societies in S.W. 1 Quarter. Am disappointed at Indian National Congress. Work in office from 9 to 11:30.

    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.

    Notes:

    S.A. = Salvation Army.

    Prof. Adams wrote a letter of introduction for Binkley this day:

    At the request of Mr. Herbert Hoover, American Food Administrator and a Trustee of Stanford University, California, U.S.A., I am preparing for that university an historical collection upon the war and upon the peace. The main purpose of this collection is to emphasize economic, political, social and food administration questions rather than those of a purely military nature.

    It has seemed highly desirable, in this connection, to secure the publications, monograghs, reports and materials of a similar nature gained by the leading societies of the various nations. I am, therefere, writing to you asking whether your society would be willing to add your publications to our already valuable historical collection for Stanford University. …

    The bearer af this letter, Mr. Robert C. Binkley, is my agent in collecting the society material and if desired can give further explanation as to our purposes. If you prefer a personal visit from me, I shall we happy to call upon you.[^doc76] (Doc. 76 (1919-11-06): E.D. Adams.)

    He also requested duplicate copies of materials, for the Library of Congress.

  • Work societies again. Go out to The Lea.

    Dinner with Ethel. Arrange to go to Tilly of Bloomsbury on Monday night.

    Notes:

    Tilly of Bloomsbury was a comedy about a working-class girl who falls in love with an aristocrat.

  • Programme.

    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.

    Notes:

    Joy Bells was a popular revue, running at the London Hippodrome.

  • 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.

  • Work W.C. 2. Go to Overseas Club and Empire Union. Get good results -- Afternoon go to Y.M.C.A. & Womens Guild in Hampstead.

    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.

    Notes:

    The Guardian described the two-minutes silence in London:

    The first stroke of eleven produced a magical effect.

    The tram cars glided into stillness, motors ceased to cough and fume, and stopped dead, and the mighty-limbed dray horses hunched back upon their loads and stopped also, seeming to do it of their own volition.

    Someone took off his hat, and with a nervous hesitancy the rest of the men bowed their heads also. Here and there an old soldier could be detected slipping unconsciously into the posture of ‘attention’. An elderly woman, not far away, wiped her eyes, and the man beside her looked white and stern. Everyone stood very still … The hush deepened. It had spread over the whole city and become so pronounced as to impress one with a sense of audibility. It was a silence which was almost pain … And the spirit of memory brooded over it all." (Wikipedia)

  • 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.

    Notes:

    The Holland-America Line wrote to Binkley announcing the delay in the sailing of the Nieuw Amsterdam from Liverpool, “owing to the labour troubles in America”. (Doc. 78 (1919-11-12): Holland-America Line to RCB). An identical letter is in the Ralph Lutz papers in the Hoover Institute Archive.

  • 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 evening afternoon, 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.

    G Work shorthand. Go out to Kew Gardens with Ethel. Tell her about Nime. & she responds with story of Roy & Ralph.

    Notes:

    Presumably he described his visit to Nîmes, with attendance at a bullfight, in June.

  • 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.

    Notes:

    The British National Socialist Party had nothing to do with the Nazis: it was a centrist socialist group which supported the war and opposed the Russian Revolution, and was eventually absorbed into the Labour Party.

  • 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.

    Notes:

    Presumably this was Charles’ letter of Oct. 26:

    On the old place again. There is nothing but an endless pile of work to be done. About 1500 shakes have to be split, 3 big ditches must be made. Each one is a days work at least – with a real team – but to work with Paul and Mag [the horses] is not really working. I shall have 5 days to work, and if I split 1000 shakes and finish two of the ditches in that time I’ll be satisfied. Dad wants to work on a fence, but I don’t think he has the stuff here to finish it, and also I want more than anything else to see the house safe. (Doc. 74 (1919-10-26): Charles Herbert Binkley to RCB.)

    The family was still recovering from the fire which had destroyed their house the previous January.

  • 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.

    Notes:

    Failure to ratify the treaty

  • 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 little has 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.

    Notes:

    The Times suggested that the Republican majority in the Senate would pass a resolution for a state of peace with Germany, in lieu of ratification of the Treaty of Versailles.

    Such an effort would be the obvious, though not, perhaps, a conclusive, Republican answer to the campaign the Democrats may be expected to make to show the country the immediate practical drawbacks of non-participation in the Treaty of Versailles. That campaign, indeed, has already started. Dispatches from Washington this morning are full of disquisitions about the handicap it will be to American traders in Germany not to have their Consuls there as soon as those of other nations; about the danger of losing the German ships already allotted to the United States; about the inconvenience of not being represented on the Reparation and other Commissions. The Democratic Press for the most part reinforces such arguments by excoriation of the Republicans for having, from partisan motives and narrow-mindedness, blocked the participation of the United States in the task of rebuilding civilization and working for a better world. (“Treaty Hopes In U.S.Times, 22 Nov. 1919, p. 12.)

    Wilson gave two speeches in San Francisco during his western trip in September: “Address at Auditorium, San Francisco, Calif., September 17, 1919” and “Address at Luncheon, Palace Hotel, San Francisco, Calif., September 18, 1919”. Binkley no doubt had received a clipping from one of his California friends or family. It is probably the Sept. 17 speech which Binkley read, for it defends the treaty an justifies the apparent violation of the principle of self-determination in actions such as the Japanese assumption of German rights in the province of Shantung. When this happened in May it had been a blow to the idealism which Wilson had fostered. Binkley’s friend Bill Adams, son of Prof. Adams and fellow member of SSU 578, wrote to him:

    I wonder if today’s papers have made you as mad as they have me. I’ve had the bottom kicked out of most of my dreams. All along I’ve accepted my Dad’s skepticism of the League of Nations, but somehow felt he was just a bit behind the times. I may have doubted the perfect efficacy of the League, but I at least thought it would get off to a fair start. Now, to my mind, it’s dead before it ever begins. More than all else it demanded impartial justice, and mutual concession from all parties concerned. This Japanese affair is a direct slap in the face of justice, and an exhibition of the selfishness that will send the League on the rocks at the very start. (Doc. 82 (1919-05-04): William F. Adams to RCB)

    Wilson’s defence in the Sept. 17 speech attempted to sustain the idealism which had been lost, by pointing to the League of Nations as the solution to wrongs like the Shantung agreement, which had been unavoidable at the Peace Conference.

    The league of nations for the first time provides a tribunal in which not only the sovereign rights of Germany and of Japan in China, but the sovereign rights of other nations can be curtailed, because every member of the league solemnly covenants to respect and preserve the territorial integrity and existing political independence of the other members, and China is to be a member. Never before, my fellow citizens, has there been a tribunal to which people like China could carry the intolerable grievances to which they have been subjected. Now a great tribunal has been set up in which the pressure of the whole judgment of the world will be exercised in her behalf. (p.238)

  • 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.

    Go out to Marble Arch, and listen to the Babel. Help a little in the heckling. Hyde Park is a good safety valve for Britain. Pillar of Fire woman gets the bow when she mentions American prohibition.

    See Boy Scout Band marching in evening.

    Expect to sail on the 3rd. Hooray.

    Notes:

    Chadley and Grey were presumably fellow tenants in the boarding house.

  • 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.

  • Finish societies.

    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.

    Notes:

    Grock was the stage name of Swiss-born clown Charles Adrien Wettach (1880-1959). Wikipedia He sailed on the same ship as Binkley and performed on board.

  • 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.