After World War I, it was evident that the world needed to recover and go to peace. The Treaty of Versailles was just one of many treaties that were established after the war to help rebuild and negotiate reparations and things that must be given to the winners of the war.
Although the Treaty of Versailles was meant to create peace in Europe, many people have the view that the treaty was unfair and was actually the cause of World War II. Here are some key facts from the Treaty of Versailles that will help you make your own decision.
The Main Players
One of the first things to note is that out of the hundreds of diplomats that were negotiating the treaty,
no German delegation was in attendance. And also out of the hundreds of diplomats, the three main players were the USA President Woodrow Wilson, UK Prime Minister David Lloyd George, and France Prime Minister Jacques Clemenceau which is one form of evidence that the treaty was extremely biased towards the Allies.
Each of these players had different views on what the treaty should do and what should happen to Germany.
Aims of Each Country/Person
Belgium and France’s aims were quite similar. Both argued that claims for direct damage should receive
priority in any distribution of reparations. This was because Germany attacked France through Belgium and fought most of the war on French grounds.
France suffered burdensome consequences in World War One. Unlike countries such as Britain and the United States which only lost manpower, the French had much of its agricultural land destroyed for years to come and even had many of their crucial coal mines as the Germans were retreating in 1918. Thus, it’s only natural that France demanded control of many German factories, the return of Alsace-Lorraine to France, the demilitarisation of the Rhineland to act as a buffer zone against future attacks, and that Germany’s colonies should be taken from her and distributed between the victors. The French wanted to enact as much revenge as possible on Germany and attempt to recover a lot of what they lost.
On the other hand, Lloyd-George did not believe in punishing Germany to an extreme extent. His main goals were to keep German power relatively low and defend British superiority.
President Woodrow Wilson of America took a more conciliatory view towards reparations. They actually
put forward fourteen points, which the German public thought that the Treaty would be based on. Here are the fourteen points:
- Open covenants of peace, openly arrived at, after which there shall be no private international understandings of any kind but diplomacy shall proceed always frankly and in the public view.
- Absolute freedom of navigation upon the seas, outside territorial waters, alike in peace and in war, except as the seas may be closed in whole or in part by international action for the enforcement of international covenants.
- The removal, so far as possible, of all economic barriers and the establishment of an equality of trade conditions among all the nations consenting to the peace and associating themselves for its maintenance.
- Adequate guarantees given and taken that national armaments will be reduced to the lowest point consistent with domestic safety.
- A free, open-minded, and absolutely impartial adjustment of all colonial claims, based upon a strict observance of the principle that in determining all such questions of sovereignty the interest of the populations concerned must have equal weight with the equitable claims of the government whose title is to be determined.
- The evacuation of all Russian territory and such a settlement of all questions affecting Russia as will secure the best and freest cooperation of the other nations of the world in obtaining for her an unhampered and unembarrassed opportunity for the independent determination of her own political development and national policy and assure her of a sincere welcome into the society of free nations under institutions of her own choosing; and, more than a welcome, assistance also of every kind that she may need and may herself desire. The treatment accorded Russia by her sister nations in the months to come will be the acid test of their good will, of their comprehension of her needs as distinguished from their own interest, and of their intelligent and unselfish sympathy.
- Belgium, the whole world will agree, must be evacuated and restored, without any attempt to limit the sovereignty which she enjoys in common with all other free nations. No other single act will serve as this will serve to restore confidence among the nations in the laws which they have themselves set and determined for the government of their relations with one another. Without this healing act the whole structure and validity of international law is forever impaired.
- All French territory should be freed and the invaded portions restored, and the wrong done to France by Prussia in 1871 in the matter of Alsace-Lorraine, which has unsettled the peace of the world for nearly fifty years, should be righted, in order that peace may once more be made secure in the interest of all.
- A readjustment of the frontiers of Italy should be effected along clearly recognizable lines of nationality.
- The peoples of Austria-Hungary, whose place among the nations we wish to see safeguarded and assured, should be accorded the freest opportunity to autonomous development.
- Rumania, Serbia, and Montenegro should be evacuated; occupied territories restored; Serbia accorded free and secure access to the sea; and the relations of the several Balkan states to one another determined by friendly counsel along historically established lines of allegiance and nationality; and international guarantes of thepolitical and economic independence and territorial integrity of the several Balkan states should be entered into.
- The Turkish portion of the present Ottoman Empire should be assured a secure sovereignty, but the other nationalities which are now under Turkish rule should be assured an undoubted security of life and an absolutely unmolested opportunity of autonomous development, and the Dardanelles should be permanently opened as a free passage to the ships and commerce of all nations under international guarantees.
- An independent Polish state should be erected which should include the territories inhabited by indisputably Polish populations, which should be assured a free and secure access to the sea, and whose political and economic independence and territorial integrity should be guaranteed by international covenant.
- A general association of nations must be formed under specific covenants for the purpose of affording mutual guarantees of political independence and territorial integrity to great and small states alike.
Basically, Wilson wanted a general global demilitarization, freedom of the seas, no secret diplomacy, everything international conducted through the League of Nations, decolonization with recognition of the rights of colonized peoples and of the colonizers, self-determination, and the return of Alsace-Lorraine to France.
What Germany Lost
With those fourteen points and the aims of the big 3 done, now we can move onto what Germany actually lost from the treaty and some of the demands that were imposed onto them.
One of the first things the Allies put restrictions on was the German’s military. Their army was limited to 100,000 men, and they were not allowed to have a navy or air force. Rhineland was also demilitarized, their ships were sunk, and their artillery was destroyed as well.
Another cause of World War One was the complicated alliances that broke down. Here Germany was banned from allying with Austria and the League of Nations was also created to avoid future secret treaties and diplomacies.
To further reduce Germany’s capability to rebound, the Treaty of Versailles took away all of Germany’s colonies.
There was also the creation of multiple successor states such as Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Austria, Finland, and Yugoslavia. Alsace-Lorraine was returned to France as well. Here’s also a map showing German territorial losses:
In the Treaty of Versailles, Germany was deemed responsible for starting the war by Article 231 of the Treaty (the “War Guilt Clause”) and provided a basis for reparations. The total sum due was decided by an Inter-Allied Reparations Commission after the signing of the treaty and was set at 6.6 Billion Gold Marks which is equivalent of today’s $33,000,000,000.
Some of the Opinions
Of course, we all know that only twenty years later, a massive war known as World War Two would start.
Many German citizens at the time did not believe that they should accept the sole responsibility of Germany and its allies for starting the war. The treaty also caused great shock and humiliation that contributed to the collapse of the Weimar Republic in 1933. And that’s the time of the uprising of Hitler and the Nazi Party which took advantage of these feelings which resulted in many historians believing that the Treaty of Versailles was one of the major causes of World War Two.
John Maynard Keynes, a famous British economist, also described the peace as Carthaginian referring to how the treaty is designed to perpetuate the weakness or inferiority of the loser. Other historians, as well as government officials from Western Europe that were at the conference, would also describe their actions as hypocritic and to some extent, the exact same as what the Germans were trying to accomplish.
Other historians would argue that the treaty was fair or even lenient from how much damage was dealt with the Allies. Much of the farmland in France was destroyed and could not be used again for a few centuries due to the number of toxic shells and ammunition buried while Germany did not take any hits like those at all.
There are many interpretations of the Treaty of Versailles which are all valid. It’s up to you to make your judgment about it.
What Do You Think
But what do you believe? Given the devastation of the war and recent European history before the treaty, should the treaty be viewed as too harsh, too lenient, or fair?
I challenge you to go out and learn more about European history and formulate your own interpretation!