The Treaty of Versailles was intended
to be a peace agreement between the Allies and the Germans. Versailles
created political discontent and economic chaos in Germany.
The Peace Treaty of Versailles represented the results of hostility and
revenge and opened the door for a dictator and World War II.
November 11, 1918 marked the end of the
first World War. Germany had surrendered and signed an armistice
agreement. The task of forming a peace agreement was now in the hands
of the Allies. In December of 1918, the Allies met in Versailles
to start on the peace settlement. The main countries and their
respective representatives were: The United States, Woodrow Wilson; Great
Britain, David Lloyd George; and France, George Clemenceau. “At first,
it had seemed the task of making peace would be easy”. However,
once the process started, the Allies found they had conflicting ideas and
motives surrounding the reparations and wording of the Treaty of Versailles.
It seemed the Allies had now found themselves engaged in another battle.
Woodrow Wilson (1856 – 1924), the twenty-eighth
President of the United States (1913 –1921). In August of
1914, when World War I began, there was no question that the United States
would remain neutral. “Wilson didn’t want to enter the European War
or any other war for that matter”. However, as the war continued,
it became increasingly obvious that the United States could no longer ‘sit
on the sidelines’. German submarines had sunk American tankers and
the British liner, ‘Lusitania’, in May 1915, killing almost twelve hundred
people, including 128 Americans. This convinced Wilson to enter
World War I, on the allied side. As the war continued, Wilson outlined
his peace program, which was centered around fourteen main points.
“They (fourteen points) were direct and simple: a demand that future agreements
be open covenants of peace, openly arrived at; an insistence upon absolute
freedom of the seas; and, as the fourteenth point, the formation of a general
association of nations.” The fourteen points gave people a
hope of peace and lay the groundwork for the armistice that Germany ultimately
signed in November 1918. Although the United States was instrumental
in ending the war, Wilson was still more interested in a “peace without
victors” than annexing German colonies or reparations (payment for
war damages). However, as the Allies began discussions of the peace
treaty, the European allies rejected Wilson’s idealism and reasoning.
It soon became increasingly obvious that the allies were seeking revenge
and Germany was destined to be crippled economically and socially by its
David Lloyd George (1863 – 1945), who
was the Prime Minister of Great Britain (1916 – 1922), governed through
the latter part of the war and the early post war years. Britain
and Germany were, historically, always rivals. Before the war, for
instance, Germany challenged Britain’s famous powerful and unstoppable
navy by dramatically increasing the amount of money spent on their navy.
In terms of losses, Britain absorbed thirty-six percent of the debt incurred
by the allies and seventeen percent of the war’s total casualties.
After the war, Britain faced tough economic problems. Their exports
were at an all time low due to outdated factories, high tariffs, and competition
from other countries. As a direct result, Britain suffered from high
unemployment, which of course, affected the well being of the country.
Britain had its pride and nationalism stripped. The Treaty of Versailles
would provide an opportunity to seek revenge for their losses. They
were also seeking annexation of German colonies in Africa.
Georges Clemenceau (1841 – 1929) was the
Premier of France (1906-1909) and (1917-1920). As Britain,
France had a rivalry with Germany but the French’s ill feelings were even
more intensive. “Nationalism created tensions between France and
Germany. The French bitterly resented their defeat in the Franco
– Prussian War and were eager to seek revenge. Moreover, they were
determined to regain Alsace – Lorraine.” This gave the French
the motivation of increasing their military strength and ultimately, destroying
their life-long enemies. During the war, France’s portion of the
war debt amounted to twenty percent. Their loss, in terms of war
casualties, was thirty-three percent. Most of the battles were
fought on French soil. This resulted in the destruction of “ten million
farm acres, twenty thousand factories and six thousand public buildings”.
After the war, France suffered terribly, economically. Inflation
and a deflated French Franc spurned the French to take advantage of the
armistice. “Clemenceau wanted revenge as well as security against
any future German attack.” He also wanted a huge amount of
reparations, to annex the coal rich Saar Basin, the return of Alsace –
Lorraine and an independent Rhineland for a buffer zone between Germany
All the leaders had different opinions
and motives regarding the Treaty of Versailles. Coming to a consensus
was difficult. The Treaty had to be revised several times before
the final copy was signed on January 18, 1919. “There was scarcely
a section of the treaty which was not attacked, just as there was scarcely
a section of the treaty which was not attacked.” The German’s
were reluctant to agree to such harsh terms. “Even the most humble
German was appalled by the severity of the treaty.” France
and Britain were both eager to have revenge on Germany but selfishly wanted
each other’s benefits. “Clemenceau pointed out that the British were
making no effort to placate the Germans at the expense of British interests.
They offered no proposals to reduce the number of German ships to be handed
over, or to return Germany’s colonies, or to restore the German Navy, or
to remove the restrictions on Germany’s overseas trade. Instead,
it was always at the expense of French interest that concessions were to
be made.” Wilson thought both France and Britain were being
too vindictive and unreasonable. The allies used Wilson’s Fourteen
Points program to convince Germany to sign an armistice. However,
once Germany complied, these points were ignored. “The French, for
example, had no intention of abandoning what Wilson castigated as the “old
diplomacy,” with its secret understandings and interlocking alliances.”
Therefore, in the end, the European Allies, including France and Britain,
received what they wanted from the treaty.
“The actual costs, for Germany, included:
the guilt of the entire war and, paying 132 billion gold marks in reparations.
Germany also lost one eighth of its land, all of its colonies, all of its
overseas financial assets and limiting their once powerful military.”
Britain and France would receive large sums of the reparations and German
colonies in Africa as mandates. France also received its wishes
with Alsace-Lorraine. “France would recover Alsace-Lorraine outright.”
However, the main delight for France and Britain was seeing Germany suffer.
The biggest problem Germany had with Versailles
was the war guilt, which was stated in article 231 of the Versailles Treaty.
The Allies were astonished to find this particular paragraph was the most
violently disputed point in the entire treaty. Article 231 stated:
“The Allied and Associated Governments affirm and Germany accepts the responsibility
of Germany and her allies for causing all the loss and damage to which
the Allied and Associated Governments and their nationals have been subjected
as a consequence of the war imposed upon them by the aggression of Germany
and her allies.” It seems weird that they would treat Germany that
way after they too had been in the war. Fighting and killing were
done by both sides but only the Germans were punished. “If our army
and our workmen had known that peace would look like this, the army would
not have laid down its arms and all would have held out to the end.”
All Germany became very upset about the whole treaty. “This aroused
intense nationalist bitterness in Germany.” The future looked
grim and had no cause for optimism in the near future.
After Versailles was ‘in stone’, Germany
became a very weak country, seeking to avenge the vindictiveness and total
lack of empathy shown by the allies. “The German people could not
resist, but, in unanimity, they could still hate.” Germany
suffered from great economic problems after the war. They had already
lost many lives and things during the war, but now they were responsible
for paying the reparations. The Germans tried paying their debts
by borrowing and printing more money. They were shocked to find that
incredible inflation was the result. “The hardships caused by the
inflation of the 1920’s contributed to the political unrest of Germany
after WWI.” After the war, Germany became a republic (called
the Weimar Republic). The Weimar Republic had many problems from
the very beginning. “Many Germans despised it (the Republic) because
its representatives had signed the hated Versailles Treaty.”
There were revolts by both a communism party and a fascism party.
In the end, the fascists party was favoured because “they were extreme
nationalists, who denounced the Versailles Treaty and opposed the democratic
goals of the Weimar Republic.” With the rise of fascism came
the rise of Hitler and his Nazi Party.
Adolph Hitler, of the Nazi Party, preached
a racist brand of fascism. His party “kept expanding, benefiting
from growing unemployment, fear of communism, Hitler’s self-certainty,
and the difference of his political rivals.” When Hitler became
chancellor in January 1933, he began rebuilding a promising future for
Germany. He promised jobs and benefits to all classes of people.
Almost all Germans felt compelled to listen and obey Hitler’s extreme ideas
of fascism because for some, he was their last hope. Hitler knew
how to win people’s obedience, through their fears and insecurities.
“Hitler successfully appealed to a Germany that was humiliated by defeat
in World War I and the Treaty of Versailles of 1919.” Hitler
succeeded and began to regain Germany’s strength. “Germany was too
powerful to be suppressed for long.” Hitler broke many rules
contained in the Treaty of Versailles. For example, Hitler sent troops
into the demilitarized Rhineland and the French did not respond.
This and other scenarios gave Hitler the incentive to invade other countries
and ultimately, invade Poland and started World War II. With WWII
came the dreadful horrors of the Holocaust. Hitler had ordered the
deaths of at least five million Jews. Not only did he orchestrate
these mass murders, but he also influenced countless individuals to think
and act in the same disgraceful manner. Hitler may have had sick
and shameful ideas but he certainly knew how to be a manipulative leader.
He played on the fears and insecurities of the people and used their weaknesses
to win their loyalty.
In conclusion, The Treaty of Versailles
was supposed to represent the peaceful ending to World War I, however,
it became the prelude to another war. It was originally an effort
to restore order and provide a peaceful conclusion to World War I.
The ill feelings and economic upheaval that resulted provided the perfect
climate for Hitler’s dominance, in post-war Germany. The contributors/participants
of Versailles had other motives behind the ‘peace agreement’ other than
a peace settlement. Their selfish actions resulted in, not only the
economic hardship of Germany, but inflation and unemployment in all of
Europe. The severity of the reparations contained in this document
set the stage for history to repeat itself. “Therefore, the very
way in which the Treaty of Versailles was forced on the German people stored
up the material for the next round.”