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Treaty of Versailles, 1919

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Stresemann Era, 1923-29

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The end of World War One

World War One finally came to an end with the German surrender and the signing of the armistice on November 11, 1918. Peace was welcomed after 4 years of hell in trench warfare and the death of 10 million young soldiers. This was the first time that the horrors of modern warfare was witnessed and continues to be commemorated to this day with a 2 minute silence at the eleventh minute, of the eleventh hour, of the eleventh month every year. The horrors of the war was conveyed in a great deal of literature. For example, Wifred Owen’s Dulce et Decorum est and Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front.

 

The Conference

The conference was attended by many nations, but Germany was left out. The Germans were not allowed to be a part of the peace negotiations. The Conference was lead by ‘The Big Three’ or in other words Prime Minister Lloyd George of Britain, President Woodrow Wilson of the USA and Premier Georges Clemenceau of France. The three men had very different agendas. Woodrow Wilson wanted a just peace and drew up Fourteen Points which he believed should be implemented. He did not believe that Germany should be punished. He also thought that the Great War was so bad that no nation could be considered the victor.  He hoped to ensure that something like this never happened again.  By contrast, Georges Clemenceau wanted a harsh peace. He wanted to make Germany pay. The French desire to crush Germany was based on the fact that the war had taken place on French soil and a history of Germany invading France (1870-71). This was a sentiment that Wilson couldn’t understand having joined the war in 1917; in fact, he even refused to see the battle field. Lloyd George held the middle ground. He felt compelled to impose somewhat of a harsh peace due to public opinion at home which was shaped by anti-German war propaganda. Nevertheless, he saw Germany as a valuable economic trading partner. He knew that crushing Germany would cost the rest of Europe as well. As a result, the Treaty of Versailles was a flawed agreement that fulfilled no one’s objectives. None of ‘The Big Three’ got what they wanted and the many small nations that came in search of self determination didn’t find it either. Most of all, Germany received a shockingly harsh treaty that wasn’t based on Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points as expected.

TheBigThree

The Terms of the Treaty        

  1. Article 231: The War Guilt Clause- this clause stated that Germany had imposed the war upon the allies and was therefore to blame for the destruction and death.
  2. Reparations: Thus, as Germany was held responsible for the war, Germany was expected to compensate by paying a huge reparations sum of $32 billion.
  3. Alsace-Lorraine, a territory that Germany took from France in 1871, was returned to the French.
  4. France took control of the coal-rich Saarland for 15 years, after which a plebiscite would be held to decide the fate of the region.
  5. Germany lost all of her colonies, which then became mandates of the League of Nations. But in reality they became British and French colonies as they took control of these mandates.
  6. All the land that Germany gained from Russia through the Brest- Litovsk Treaty of 1918 was confiscated. In this process, Poland was recreated and Germany was separated from East Prussia by the Polish Corridor. Danzig became a free city.Germany lost Upper Silesia, Memel and Schleswig.
  7. German navy was to be handed over to Britain.
  8. Germany was forbidden from having an airforce.
  9. The German army was to be reduced to a size of 100,000 and the Rhineland was demilitarized.
  10. Anschluss was forbidden- Germany was not allowed to unite with Austria.

Peace and future after Versailles

In the cartoon above, the child is crying because the child is the future generation (Class of 1940) that will fight in World War Two. This is the reaction to the Treaty of Versailles as represented by 'The Big Three' in the illustration because Versailles was ultimately the cause the Second World War and therefore not a successful peace settlement.

territorial_losses

The German Reaction

Germany was outraged by the Treaty of Versailles.  The German people felt that they weren’t entirely to blame for the war and that they too had suffered because of the war. Didn’t they need to rebuild their nation as well? How were they supposed to do this with an additional reparations amount of $32 billion, which they estimated would take 80 years to pay off? On a side note, the Germans recently made their final reparations payment in September, 2010.  At the time, in protest Germany sank its navy rather than hand it over to the British. The protest continued for the next 20 years.

Violation of the Morton Kaplan’s Rules of Balance of Power
There are many reasons why the Treaty of Versailles was, essentially, a failure. One way of looking at why it failed is that it did not implement the Balance of Power idea established by the Vienna Congress of 1815. In fact, it seems to violate Morton Kaplan’s Rules of Balance of Power. The Balance of Power before World War One was already very delicate. The atmosphere of politics in Europe, in particular relations between Britain and Germany was already extremely tense. It was so tense that the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Hungry in Sarajevo by a Serb called Gavrilo Princip could trigger a World War, due a chain reaction through the alliance systems.

Morton Kaplan's Rules of the Balance of Power

  1. All states act to increase capabilities but negotiate rather than fight.
  2. All states fight rather than pass up an opportunity to increase their capabilities.
  3. All states stop fighting rather than eliminate an essential state.
  4. All states act to oppose any coalition or single state which tends to assume a position of predominance within the system.
  5. All states act to constrain states who subscribe to supranational organizing principles.
  6. All states permit defeated or constrained essential national states to re-enter the system as acceptable role partners or to pact to bring some previously inessential state within the essential state classification. Treat all essential states as acceptable role partners.

From: Morton A. Kaplan, System and Process in International Politics (New York, 1957).”


The Treaty of Versailles did not involve all states increasing their negotiating efforts as Germany was excluded from the conference and simply presented with a treaty they had no choice but to sign. Although, the Treaty of Versailles did stop the fighting, some would say that it did not do it to stop the elimination of an essential state. It seemed to further the elimination of German in some sense. For instance, the Treaty of Versailles created the League of Nations. Germany was quite significantly left out of the League of Nations up till 1926 and the Soviet Union up till 1934. Some might argue that point four was applied in World War One, but then again one must remember that there were many other causes for the war as well. France wanted revenge for the humiliation that Germany caused in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71. Britain was in an arms race with Germany and did not want to see Germany triumph. All states did not oppose Germany simply to preserve the balance of power. For example, Japan and Italy were persuaded by Britain and France to join the war with the promise that they would gain territory. Point 6 was definitely not implemented by the Treaty of Versailles. However, it did begin to take place during the Stresemann years, a period of prosperity in Germany.

John Maynard Keynes

"On 5 October 1918 the German government addressed a brief Note to the President accepting the Fourteen Points and asking for peace negotiations. The President's reply of 8 October asked if he was to understand definitely that the German government accepted 'the terms laid down' in the Fourteen Points and in his subsequent addresses and 'that its object in entering into discussion would be only to agree upon the practical details of their application.' He added that the evacuation of invaded territory must be a prior condition of an armistice. On 12 October the German Government returned an unconditional affirmative to these questions; 'its object in entering into discussions would be only to agree upon practical details of the application of these terms'."

From the statement above it seems as if the Germans were tricked as the Treaty of Versailles was not at all based on Wilson's Fourteen Points.

Modern Day Comparisons

There seems to be a strong theme of powerful countries taking advantage of other nations which are threatening. Britain and France being the more powerful nations as they were the so called victors of the war used the War Guilt Clause to justify reparations payment that they used to pay off their own war debts. This was very hypocritical as the British and French too were to blame for the war and had caused a great deal of death and destruction. Today, the USA expects China to let its currency appreciate when the USA itself is letting the dollar depreciate to make its exports cheaper. The hypocrisy continues disguised in the language of justice and fairness.

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