Germany and The Treaty of Versailles
Course: Western Civilization
Date: September 15, 2013
The Treaty of Versailles marked the official end of the Great War, with all the major combatants arriving at a resolution to the conflict. Simultaneously, the treaty also set the stage for the following world war in that the terms agreed upon by the treaty upset the centuries-old European balance that sought to prevent continental conflict. Germany, defeated by the Allies during the Great War, was not in a position to dictate the terms of surrender. Simultaneously, social and political factors in Britain, France and Italy forced treaty terms inimical to both short and long-term interests for Germany. While the Central Powers during the Great War comprised of more nations than Germany alone, the brunt of reprisals fell upon Germany as the leader of the defeated alliance. The resultant effect of the treaty obligations imposed upon Germany by the majority of the victorious allies were felt across the board in Germany in terms of financial strictures and burdens that crippled the German economy, preventing her rise (articles 119, 217, 259, 292). Moreover, the victorious nations demanded nothing less than what amounted to a decimation of Germany’s defensive capabilities, insisting upon the crippling of her military (articles 43, 428, 433). In addition, the Allies imposed territorial losses to the victors that not only stripped Germany of much needed economic means following such a destructive war but also divided the nation. These included not only colonial possessions across the world but more intimate losses in the form of Alsace-Lorraine, Northern Schleswig, Posen, Silesia and others (articles 31 - 33). Considering the number of impositions and treaty obligations Germany faced, pinpointing a singular item on the articles of the treaty that proved most burdensome to the average German citizen is difficult. However, considering the historical context and period leading to the Great War, it is credible to opine that articles 51 regarding the loss of Alsace-Lorraine to France, article 119 regarding the loss of Germany’s overseas possessions, and article 430 concerning the execution of the various articles of the Treaty, provoked the anger of the German peoples the most. Territorial losses to Germany’s former enemies injured the national psyche of the German people, to say nothing of the loss of revenue such losses posed. According to the terms dictated in article 51, Germany handed over the regions of Alsace – Lorraine in what was couched in insulting terms. The article claimed France’s natural hegemony over the coal and iron rich area, a region she lost to imperial German forces during the Franco-Prussian war of 1871. While the region possessed mostly French-speaking peoples, it originally belonged to Germany.1 Like most of the terms in the Treaty of Versailles, Germany was blamed for the war and thus the seizure of the resource rich region. Similarly, in loosing minerals rich regions such as the Saar region to the League, Germany’s recovery options were limited. According to the terms dictated in the treaty, France took possession of any mineral resources from the Saar basin, thus injuring Germany’s recovery options. The implications of such actions were that Germany lost the resources from the region. Job opportunities following the cessation of war also meant that many German people lost jobs in the region. Ultimately, like most of the territorial losses on the continent Germany suffered following armistice, the move aimed at leaving Germany financially and materially weaker than her neighbors. For the German people, coming from an age of stiff nationalistic pride in the mother country as well as centuries of European warfare, the treaty was provocative for it left the German people with no recourse for complaint. In addition, the clause limited her industrial might thus slowed her recovery. According to the dictates of the treaty as written regarding article 119, Germany lost her extensive overseas possessions to the League of Nations. In practical terms, Italy, France and Britain took over the majority of former German possessions as protectorates under their mandates. In political terms, the move represented a blow to German national pride as the possession of over-seas territories during the age was considered a mark of national prestige. At the stroke of a pen, Germany lost her prideful possessions and effectually assumed the pose of her former colonies. Like the previous article depriving Germany of her continental possessions, the move also reduced Germany’s industrial power, limiting her access to raw materials and labor. Germany’s recovery was thus severely slowed and considering other treaty clauses forcing her to shoulder the reparation costs of the war, Germany’s economy was crippled. Of all the articles of the treaty barring article 231, article 430 was perhaps the most humiliating of all the clauses in the document. Regarding the matter of sanctions, the treaty referred to how Germany was liable for invasion should any parts of the treaty fail execution. In fact, France occupied the Ruhr region following Germany’s inability to satisfy her on the part of one of the clauses. The threat posed by invasion meant that Germany operated under severe strictures while attempting to recover from the war. Lacking an army for force projection, she was at the mercy of even weak nations such as Belgium. This meant that following a war that she lost, Germany was forced to further shoulder the costs of war at gunpoint. Thus, with the forced evacuations of certain regions as well as territorial losses, the national psyche of the German people was severely wounded. In conclusion, most of the terms couched in the treaty proved detrimental to the German people. The German plebiscite was divided by the treaty terms that awarded territories to various neighboring states in the region. As measures aimed at reducing Germany’s industrial might, the treaty obligations were masterful in that her labor and material resources were reduced. However, Germany’s checkered history under the influence of various of her neighbors meant a lot to the German people. following centuries of divisive wars and political interference, she finally forged a strong identity and established herself as a power. With the Treaty of Versailles, centuries of cultural and political advancements were lost. Loosing so much national prestige and possessions rankled, especially considering the fact that Germany at yet was un-invaded. Ultimately, such clauses in the document served only to exacerbate tensions in Europe, providing the basis for the subsequent war. To the people of Germany, the treaty only served to marginalize her in Europe as well as insult her national pride. Considering the centuries of European wars where belligerents acted with honor towards each other, the terms of the treaty provoked anger as they solely blamed Germany for the arms build-up that led to war. Consequentially, the rise of the socialist party was aided by the resentment posed by territorial losses to Poland, France, Belgium and others. Bibliography
Jernigan, Kelly (ed.). “Excerpts from the Treaty of Versailles, 28th June 1919” Hist122 D2 Sum 2011 American Public University Systems.