Was the Treaty of Versailles a Carthaginian Peace?

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1. The Versailles settlement quickly gained a reputation as ‘a Carthaginian peace’. What was meant by this, and was it a fair and accurate assessment.

The Versailles Peace Treaty was signed in June 1919 after the First World War by the victorious Allies and defeated Germany and was intended to punish Germany for what was seen as her war guilt and to prevent her from becoming powerful enough again to disturb European peace. It was called a Carthaginian peace in the first instance by Jan Smuts (a member of the British Delegation at the Peace Conference in Paris) in a letter to Lloyd George dated 16th March 1919[1] and in 1920 by John Maynard Keynes (also a member of the British Delegation) in his book The Economic Consequences of the Peace. A Carthaginian peace is described in modern usage as referring to a peace settlement ‘whose terms are overly harsh and designed to perpetuate the inferiority of the loser’.[2] The Allies, especially France, were insistent that Germany should be seen to pay for her part in the war and the terms were not as harsh as those Germany had imposed on Russia (the Brest-Litovsk Treaty, summer 1918)[3] or those that Germany intended to impose on the Western Allies had she won the war, which included the suppression of Belgium, who had been an innocent victim of German aggression in 1914. However, at the end of the war where approximately 8.5 million soldiers had died and 21 million wounded the victorious Allies were not in a mood to be benevolent towards a Germany they thought responsible for causing the war. Carthage and its inhabitants were almost totally annihilated by the Romans and the objective of the Treaty of Versailles was not even meant to perpetuate the inferiority of the Germans but to protect her neighbours from her ambitions of territorial expansion through aggression. Therefore, compared to Carthage the phrase ‘Carthaginian peace’ would not appear to be a fair and accurate description of the Treaty of Versailles.

When the Treaty was being discussed in Paris after the war it became obvious that although countries wanted it to ensure a lasting peace in Europe differences in how best this could be achieved began to appear. France was eager to solve the problem of her territorial security against future attacks from Germany and the Prime Minister, Clemenceau, thought this problem could be resolved by inflicting stringent conditions on Germany to prevent a recurrence the precarious position France had already found herself in twice. He also feared that if Germany recovered quickly from the war she would be free to threaten France yet again and thought the Treaty would limit her pre-war economic superiority and ability to rearm. France had also suffered devastation on home soil; a huge loss of men and industry and damage to her infrastructure and Clemenceau wanted to show the French people that Germany would pay for her actions and to the French the Treaty was never harsh enough. The Americans did not wholly approve of the changes from the Fourteen Point Plan and although Woodrow Wilson was persuaded to sign he later refused to ratify it, leaving France, Britain and Italy, to carry out the demands of the Treaty. Woodrow Wilson had favoured reconciliation rather than revenge and after setting up the League of Nations that he thought would mediate in any future conflict went back to America and a period of isolationism. Lloyd George had promised the British, still smarting from their disastrous loss of men, that the Germans would be dealt with rigorously and seems to have veered between feeling Wilson’s Fourteen Point Plan was too liberal and lenient or considering the Treaty was too harsh; so he was torn between his election pledges of November 1918 to the British population and a knowledge that some of the conditions of the Treaty did not comply with promises of the Armistice and were unrealistic and unworkable. Keynes blamed the rejection of Woodrow...
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