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The Treaty of Versailles

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HIS 120
28 April 2014
The Treaty of Versailles
Downtrodden, traumatized, wary. Following the end of the First World War in 1919, the world could agree they were experiencing these similar feelings. The aftermath of this total war had left the world in chaos; drastic political, cultural, and social changes had taken place throughout Europe, Asia, and Africa, powerful empires had collapsed, countries were abolished as new were formed. The number of casualties of all the nations from the war added up to be around 8.5 million, with 21 million wounded.
Even though there were victors of the war, everyone lost to a degree. Great Britain, France, the United States, and Italy, known collectively as the allied powers, were not focused on celebrating this "win", but preventing a war of this magnitude from ever happening again. In January of 1919, delegates from 32 countries met in Paris to make peace after World War I, a peace that was intended to end all wars. The Treaty of Versailles started a debate between Britain, France and the United States of America. Lloyd-George, Clemenceau and Wilson all devised this treaty, with the intention that it would cripple Germany. Because the Treaty of Versailles was a failure, it did the opposite of what it intended. Instead of preventing further conflict and wars, the Treaty of Versailles was a catalyst in World War II, because it angered the Germans, leaving them revengefully. The Treaty of Versailles proved to be too harsh on Germany, sparking animosity, which caused it to fail and another World War to occur twenty years later.
Before considering why the Treaty was unnecessarily harsh, one must understand how it came to be. The Treaty of Versailles was a compromise between "The Big Three", Georges Clemenceau, the Prime Minister of France, Woodrow Wilson, the President of the Unites States of America, and David Lloyd George, the Prime Minister of Britain. The three men all agreed that they wanted to prevent a total war like World War I from ever happening again, but they did not initially agree on how to accomplish this goal. Each of The Big Three took a stance, which is why there were months of arguing and negotiating before the Treaty was signed.
Georges Clemenceau goal in the Treaty of Versailles was simple; Germany should be completely smashed. He showed no mercy in his suggestions to the Treaty, and he was not alone in his suggestions, all of France felt the same way. They had experienced the most destruction, warfare, and had one of the highest death tolls in the whole war, so Clemenceau, also known as "The Tiger", was determined that Germany should never be allowed to do this again. He wanted revenge on Germany and for the people to be punished for what they had done to his country and the rest of the world. His attitude can be summed up in this quote, " 'There are 20 million Germans too many in the world!" His main desires for the Treaty were for Germany to pay large sums of money for reparations, and for Germany to be split up into many smaller countries, so they would never be able to pay all their debt and regain power, becoming stronger than France.
Woodrow Wilson, the President of the United States looked at the Treaty from a different perspective. He wants to make the world safe, and end the war by making a fair peace. It was no surprise what he wanted from the Treaty, as he had already published the 14 points in 1918. The main points of this document were no more secret treaties, all countries must seek to reduce their weapons and their armed forces, and all nations should belong to the League of Nations. During his speech introducing the 14 points he said:
We entered this war because violations of right had occurred which touched us to the quick and made the life of our own people impossible unless they were corrected and the world secure once for all against their recurrence. What we demand in this war, therefore, is nothing peculiar to ourselves. It is that the world be made fit and safe to live in; and particularly that it be made safe for every peace-loving nation which, like our own, wishes to live its own life, determine its own institutions, be assured of justice and fair dealing by the other peoples of the world as against force and selfish aggression. Woodrow claimed World War I was being fought for a moral cause, and there needed to be a post-war peace. This explained his viewpoints and what he wanted out of the Treaty, which was mainly a League of Nations, where countries could peacefully discuss their problems, without war. Wilson agreed with Clemenceau in the sense that Germany should receive punishment; he did not want revenge, but reconciliation with Europe.
David Lloyd George tried to compromise between Wilson and Clemenceau. He wanted to make Germany pay, but not in a harsh way, because that would lead to another war in down the road. Lloyd George was also struggling between his public and private image. To please the people of Britain, he had to demand punishment toward the Germans for what they did, or else he would be voted out of office. Therefore, he embraced the slogans, "Hang the Kaiser" and "Make Germany Pay" to gain public support. Behind closed doors, however, was very concerned with the rise of communism in Russia, and he was afraid it might plague Western Europe. Germany would turn to communism if they were punished severely enough by the Treaty. Lloyd George was more worried about the future of his political career, however, and kept his private beliefs to concealed.
The signing of the Treaty of Versailles marked the end of the war between Germany and the Allies. Signed on July 28th 1919, the reparations in the Treaty defined Germany 's punishment and aspired to never give Germany the means to begin another conflict. Article 231 states, "The Allied governments affirm, and Germany accepts, the responsibility of Germany and her allies for causing all the loss and damage to which the Allied governments and their peoples have been subjected as a result of the war." This is the harshest clause that developed from the Treaty, because it gave the Allies the right to demand the rest of the punishments. In Article 244, a payment plan was laid out for Germany, totaling to about £6,600 million in reparations. Germany was required to compensate every Allied nation a different sum of money, and if they could not pay these sums, they must modify the taxes paid by the population to ensure they are focused on repayment. Not only did they have to provide money, but they also had to compensate animals to France and Belgium. Knowing that Germany would not be able to fulfill the reparations demanded by the Allies, Article 232 was set into place. Germany was allowed to borrow the funds they could not provide from Belgium, but they had to return it with an interest rate of 5% a year. Articles 159-213 outlined the Military, Naval, and Air Clauses of the Treaty. In Article 160, the German Army was not allowed to comprise more than seven divisions of infantry and three divisions of cavalry. Germany was also denied of any use of submarines, and use of arms. Germany suffered territory loses in Europe, and their colonies were given to Britain and France.
While I could go through and analyze each of the 440 punishments set forth by the Allies, I think it is clear that it was very uncompromising towards Germany. Even though they were forced to sign it that did not mean they accepted defeat. This Treaty made Germany angry for many different reasons, mostly because they believed it was unfair. Firstly, Germany had not taken part in the Conference. The terms were involuntarily forces upon Germany, and when Germany they spoke their concerns, the Allies threatened to declare war on Germany. Although they were not defeated, they were being treated as such. When they signed the Armistice in 1918, and they believed they were accepting Wilson 's 14 Points. In reality, few of the 14 Points appeared in the Treaty, which left the Germans feeling double-crossed
The various terms of the Treaty also angered Germany. The War Guilt clause, article 231, especially angered them. The Germans did not believe they were the cause of the war, because for them, the war was a self defense mechanism against Russia. In an attempt to prove they had tried to prevent the war, the Germans published all their secret documents from 1914. The Germans hated clause 231 because it provided the Allies the authority to punish Germany and gave validation to all the harsh terms of the Treaty.
Germany was left without any power due to the military clauses.
If that was not bad enough, Germany was not included in the League of Nations. The Germans were insulted, and it ensured they would never receive fair treatment from the rest of the nations. They did not have an army or an argument.
The Germans did not agree with reparations, which were set at £6.6 billion, to be paid in installments until the late 1980 's. They felt that a huge sum was put in place to demolish their economy and force their people to starve. During this post wartime, Germany should have been focused on rebuilding their nation, but they were forced to ship large amounts of money to different countries, when they were not yet strong enough to earn.
The fact that Germany lost 10% of its land angered them greatly. The Saar was a crucial coalfield, and West Prussia and Upper Silesia were abundant agriculture areas, and this loss destroyed their economy even more. They also lost the Polish Corridor as it separated East Prussia from Germany, which further hurt their economy. Germany had a quarter of its coalfields and half its iron and steel industry wiped out.
Germany had the right to be angry about the standards set forth by the treaty, because they were being blamed for a war they had not started. The actual cause of World War I had nothing to do with Germany, but was started by the assassination of Austria 's Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie. The assassination occurred on June 28, 1914 while he was visiting Bosnia-Herzegovina, and was committed by a group consisting of five Serbs and one Bosnian Muslim. Because Germany did not begin the war, they should not have been held solely accountable.
On the other hand, there are other people who believe that Germany deserved everything they earned from the Treaty of Versailles. The two arguments used to justify the Treaty are the Schleiffen Plan, and the invasion of neutral Belgium. The Schlieffen Plan was a battle plan drawn up by German military tacticians, with the main goal being to secure victory against France and Russia. Because Russia lacked railways, they knew it would take them weeks to mobilize, so in the meantime, a plan was developed to ensure the French surrender. The plan was to invade France, capture Paris and force a French surrender quickly. Once Germany had conquered France, they could then deal with Russia. Schlieffen’s battle plan involved some German troops entering France would instead invade via the small nations of Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. These three nations were neutral, lacked sizeable military forces and unprotected French borders. Because they were neutral, it was against regulation to harm them in the war.
Germany was not completely innocent, but they did not deserve the entirety of the punishment they received. The Treaty of Versailles could have been written differently to avoid the conflict, which would lead to World War II. To begin, Germany should not have had to accept the burden of the blame for the war. The war did not begin because of one of their initiatives, but because of the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand and his wife, which the Germans had nothing to do with. Without the blame, they would not have been forced to pay the reparations, which lead to an economic collapse, and made them angry. The distrust could have been avoided if the Treaty had looked more like Woodrow Wilson’s 14 Points, or if they had been included in the negotiations. The ways in which the Treaty went wrong caused a deep resentment toward the rest of the world, which fuelled Hitler’s actions of rebuilding Reich, creating international tension that lead to the next World War.
I believe the Treaty of Versailles was too harsh on Germany. Germany was not innocent, but in a world war, everyone is involved, so everyone shares the blame. The Allies showed weakness and fear in depositing all the blame on Germany. If they had come to the conclusion that the blame should be allocated between all the countries, there would not have been such resentment from the Germans, and World War II would not have been the tragedy it is remembered as today.
Works Cited
Primary Sources:
"The Peace Treaty of Versailles." The Peace Treaty of Versailles. Accessed April 19, 2014. http://net.lib.byu.edu/~rdh7/wwi/versailles.html.
"The Treaty of Versailles." The Treaty of Versailles. Accessed April 20, 2014. http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/treaty_of_versailles.htm.
Secondary Sources:
Flammer, Philip M. "The Schlieffen Plan and Plan XVII: A Short Critique." Military Affairs 30, no. 4 (December 01, 1966): 207-12. Accessed April 24, 2014. http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.2307/1985401?ref=search-gateway:a03a1105d0368c363c165d3cd1d03115.
Graebner, Norman A., and Edward M. Bennett. The Versailles Treaty and Its Legacy: The Failure of the Wilsonian Vision. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011. 188-226.
K., V. L. "Review: The Treaty of Versailles: Was It Just?" International Affairs Review Supplement 19, no. 11 (March 01, 1943): 582. Accessed April 18, 2014. doi:10.2307/3026319.
Myers, Denys P. "Review: Revisions of the Treaty of Versailles." The American Political Science Review 34, no. 1 (February 01, 1940): 146-47. Accessed April 28, 2014. http:/www.jstor.org/stable/10.2307/1948882?ref=search-gateway6ee8779ffec1deb855a20dbb1a96e573.
Noble, George Bernard. Policies and Opinions at Paris, 1919: Wilsonian Diplomacy, the Versailles Peace, and French Public Opinion. New York: H. Fertig, 1968. 353-419.
Nowak, Karl Friedrich, Norman Thomas, and E. W. Dickes. Versailles. New York: Payson and Clarke, 1929. 22-83.

Cited: Primary Sources: "The Peace Treaty of Versailles." The Peace Treaty of Versailles. Accessed April 19, 2014. http://net.lib.byu.edu/~rdh7/wwi/versailles.html. "The Treaty of Versailles." The Treaty of Versailles. Accessed April 20, 2014. http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/treaty_of_versailles.htm. Secondary Sources: Flammer, Philip M. "The Schlieffen Plan and Plan XVII: A Short Critique." Military Affairs 30, no. 4 (December 01, 1966): 207-12. Accessed April 24, 2014. http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.2307/1985401?ref=search-gateway:a03a1105d0368c363c165d3cd1d03115. Graebner, Norman A., and Edward M. Bennett. The Versailles Treaty and Its Legacy: The Failure of the Wilsonian Vision. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011. 188-226. K., V. L. "Review: The Treaty of Versailles: Was It Just?" International Affairs Review Supplement 19, no. 11 (March 01, 1943): 582. Accessed April 18, 2014. doi:10.2307/3026319. Myers, Denys P. "Review: Revisions of the Treaty of Versailles." The American Political Science Review 34, no. 1 (February 01, 1940): 146-47. Accessed April 28, 2014. http:/www.jstor.org/stable/10.2307/1948882?ref=search-gateway6ee8779ffec1deb855a20dbb1a96e573. Noble, George Bernard. Policies and Opinions at Paris, 1919: Wilsonian Diplomacy, the Versailles Peace, and French Public Opinion. New York: H. Fertig, 1968. 353-419. Nowak, Karl Friedrich, Norman Thomas, and E. W. Dickes. Versailles. New York: Payson and Clarke, 1929. 22-83.

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