World War I became known as the Great War because it was the biggest war ever in the history of the world. It was supposed to be the war to end all wars. But it wasn’t, 20 years later Germany rebuilt its army, and tried again to take over Europe. The peace treaties were partially responsible for World War II.
The end of World War I came after 4 years of harsh fighting. When the Americans joined the war effort in April of 1917, the Allies were given unlimited industrial and manpower resources. The US were decisive in winning the war, by sending about 10,000 soldiers per day, over to Europe.
Revolution in Germany finally brought an end to the war. In October, 1918, the people of Germany couldn’t tolerate the slaughter no more. An armistice, based on Wilson’s 14 points, was signed on November 11, 1918. Germany had to evacuate all territory west of the Rhine immediately.
The Treaty of Versailles, named for the French palace where it was unveiled, was put together by 70 delegates; representing 27 victorious allied nations at, what was called, the Paris Peace Conference. Germany nor Russia were allowed to attend the conference because Russia, who broke away from the war, because of conflicts at home, signed a separate peace treaty with Germany.
The leaders of the Big Four, consisting of Woodrow Wilson from the US, Georges Clemenceau from France, David Lloyd George from England, and Vittorio Orlando from Italy, made most of the important decisions at the Conference.
Clemenceau was a tough, determined, and skillful politician. He was also a vengeful, old man. He was determined that Germany should not only suffer for what they had done, but that the peace terms should make it impossible for Germany to wage war ever again.
Lloyd George was also a skillful politician. He wanted Germany’s war leaders to be punished. And he was determined that none of Wilson’s 14 points should be allowed to interfere with England, its traditional policies, or its commitments to others.
Orlando, the least important of the Big Four, was determined that Italy was to receive huge territorial rewards that had been promised to them in 1915 to lure Italy to fight the war for the Allies.
After three and half months of argument the delegates finally finished the treaty, and it was ready to be presented to Germany. The treaty had called for a number of changes to Germany and the world. The League of Nations was adopted, the only aspect of the 14 Points that was accepted. The treaty called for a world disarmament. The Allies were to occupy Rhineland for at least 15 or more years. The German provinces of Posen and West Prussia were given to Poland. Germany’s colonies were given to the League of Nations. England and France divided up Germany’s African colonies, and Japan took islands in the South Pacific. Germany had to accept sole responsibility for the war. The former emperor and war leaders were to be tried as war criminals, but that part of the treaty never came about. Germany’s army was limited to 100,000 soldiers and they couldn’t have any heavy artillery. The general staff was abolished, and the navy was reduced. No air force was allowed, and the production of planes was forbidden. The worst part of the treaty, for the Germans, was that they had to pay the large sum of reparations. The French felt that the terms of the treaty were too merciful and voted out George Clemenceau.
During the second debate at Versailles, the leader of the German delegation, Brockdorff-Rantzau, did not sign the treaty. He felt that the economic fulfillments were impossible. The German Chancellor Philipp Scheidemann also did not sign the treaty. When it became obvious that the treaty had to be signed, Brockdorff-Rantzau and Scheidemann resigned on June 21. The treaty was finally signed by new Chancellor Gustav and a new delegation on June 28. In the US, despite Wilson’s efforts, the Senate did not ratify the treaty. Instead they made their own separate treaties with Germany, Austria, and Hungary.
Other treaties were made for the other central countries in the war. Austria signed the Treaty if Saint-Germain. It said that the Austro-Hungarian Empire no longer existed. Its army was limited to 30,000 men and Austria agreed to pay economic reparations to Allied nations that were victims of Austrian aggression. Bulgaria signed a treaty which said that they had to give some territory to Yugoslavia, Romania, and Greece. Its army was restricted and they had to pay reparations to its neighbors. Hungary signed the Treaty of Trianon on June 4, which reduced the country’s size by about 66%. The army was limited to 35,000 troops, and reparations were demanded.
The reparations were set in 1921. Germany received the bill for the war in January. At first the Allies came up with a sum of $63 billion in cash and goods paid over 42 years. Germany, on the other hand, said they could pay $7 billion. But the French wouldn’t here of it, so they had another meeting to come up with a smaller amount. Finally, in March, Germany agreed to pay $32 billion in cash and goods. The government decided on a policy of fulfillment. Which is that the government of Germany would make the payments, until they the Allies could see the burden was intolerable, and then renegotiate. At home Germany received numerous communist uprisings. The nationalists also opposed the reparations, and said that any reparations were unacceptable. Germany was still losing territory. The province of Upper Silesia was given to Poland. This outraged the nationalists, and deprived the nation of a major resource for payment on their huge debt.
The biggest results of the war was the economic, political, and social changes throughout Europe. The biggest impact of the war was on the people. The returning soldiers were deeply changed: Millions of unreasoned young men had been exposed to mind-numbing brutality, to the desperate pleasures of military life.
Germany faced economic and political instability, which caused the rise of Hitler. Germany also had huge inflation. France had 10 million acres of farm land destroyed. They had to borrow more money which led to inflation and a decrease in the French currency. England’s exporting industries suffered greatly, and the industries had to compete against other trading nations. The government also put high tariffs on imports. The rest of the combatant nations also had many changes but not so severe as Germany, France, and Germany. Bureaucracy and industry had expanded enormously. Labor shortages had led to new roles for women, and African Americans. The increased technology had greatly expanded our potential to kill. The Kellogg-Briand Pact of 1928 sought to outlaw war completely.
World War I will always be remembered as the first modern war. The casualties of this war surpasses all those before it. Even though
World War I was a terrible tragedy, it should be used as a lesson to all.
King, David, World War I, Turner Publishing Company Inc, New York, 1995.
Ramsey, Robert, World War I, Grolier Electronic Publishing, 1996.
Sharp, Alan, The Versailles Settlement: Peace Making in Paris, N ; N Publishing Company, Inc., Middletown, New York, 1991.