Treaty of Versailles

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The Big Four. Left to Right:David Lloyd George of Britain, Vittorio Orlando of Italy, Georges Clemenceau of France, and Woodrow Wilson of the United States, the principal architects of the Treaty of Versailles

The Treaty of Versailles (1919) was the peace treaty which officially ended World War I between the Allied powers and Germany. Although the armistice signed on November 11, 1918 put an end to the actual fighting, it took six months of negotiations at the Paris Peace Conference to conclude a peace treaty. Of the many provisions in the treaty, one of the most controversial provisions required Germany to accept full responsibility for causing the war and, under the terms of articles 231-248, disarm, make substantial territorial concessions and pay reparations to certain countries that had formed the Allies. The American Senate refused to give its sanction to the Treaty[1] and the Treaty was condemned as a travesty[2] by every subsequent German Chancellor and government, and undermined by subsequent events starting as early as 1922 and was widely flouted and ignored by the mid thirties.

Political Aims of the Allies

Prior to Versailles, the political leaders of France, Britain, and the United States had stated their differing objectives for the peace conference. France had wanted Germany to be punished plus the recovery (as they saw it) of Alsace and Lorraine. Britain had wanted a relatively strong, economically viable Germany as a counterweight to French and Russian dominance in continental Europe (although this changed following the Russian Revolution), and the United States wanted the creation of a permanent peace as quickly as possible, with financial compensation for its military expenditures.

The result of these competing and sometimes incompatible goals among the victors was a compromise that left nobody satisfied. Germany was neither crushed nor conciliated.

Aims of France

France had suffered very heavy casualties during the war (some 1.4 million military and 400,000 civilians dead), and most of the western front had been fought on French soil. Thus, French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau wanted Germany to pay. He wanted to impose policies deliberately meant to cripple Germany militarily, politically, and economically.

Clemenceau's intentions were therefore simple: punitive reparations and Germany’s military to be not only weakened for the time being, but permanently weakened so as never to be able to invade France again. Clemenceau also wanted to symbolically destroy the old, militaristic Germany — something that could have been achieved by never allowing the pre-1914 politicians back into politics, and by hanging the Kaiser (who had abdicated towards the end of the war). He also wanted to protect secret treaties and impose naval blockades around Germany so that France could control trade imported to and exported goods from the defeated country. Clemenceau was the most radical member of the Big Four, and received the nickname "Le Tigre" (Tiger) for this reason.

The French government also wanted control of many of Germany's factories and coal from the Ruhr industrial region, which was to be transported to France by train. The French military had taken over towns in key locations such as Gau Algesheim, forcing homelessness upon its inhabitants. In response, German railroad workers sabotaged coal shipments to France and around 200 German railroad workers involved in sabotage were executed by French authorities.

In addition, France demanded the "return" of Alsace-Lorraine to France, which was a territory that had been annexed by France in the 17th century, but was retaken by Germany in the Franco-Prussian War of 1871. Clemenceau also wanted to guard against the possibility of an attack ever coming from Germany again, and demanded a demilitarization of the Rhineland in Germany, and Allied troops to patrol the area. This was to be called a "territorial safety zone".

Much of northern France was in ruins, with extensive damage to historic and important buildings and resources. Clemenceau wanted financial reparations from Germany to rebuild the war-torn country. In all, approximately 750,000 houses and 23,000 factories had been destroyed, and money was demanded to pay for reconstruction.

France, totally ignoring her own pre-war activities and conspiracies, not only wanted to publicly punish Germany; it wanted to preserve its empire and colonies. While America put forward a belief in national or ethnic "self-determination", France and Britain were also strongly motivated by a desire to hold onto their empires. Furthermore, France felt that Germany’s colonies should be taken from it and distributed among the victors.

Clemenceau's aims can be summarized by the 4 'R's, as follows:

  • 1. "Return" of Alsace and Lorraine to France,
  • 2. Ruin of Germany, so it will never attack France again,
  • 3. Revenge for the damage done by Germany,
  • 4. And Reparation, compensation for the damage Germany caused.

Aims of Britain

Though Britain had not been invaded, vast numbers of British soldiers died on the front line in France; so many people in Britain also wanted revenge. Liberal Prime Minister David Lloyd George supported severe reparations, but to a lesser extent than the French. Lloyd George was aware that if the demands made by France were carried out, France could become extremely powerful in Europe, and a delicate balance could be unsettled. Although he wanted to ensure this didn't happen, he also wanted to make Germany pay. Lloyd George was also worried by Woodrow Wilson's proposals for "self-determination" and, like the French, wanted to preserve his own nation's empire. This position was part of the competition between two of the world's greatest overseas empires, and their battle to preserve them. Like the French, Lloyd George also supported naval blockades and secret treaties.

It is often suggested that Lloyd George represented the middle ground between the idealistic Wilson and the German-hating Clemenceau. However, his position was a great deal more delicate than it first appears. The British public, who had been fed the "German sole responsibility for the war" myth, wanted to punish Germany in a similar fashion to the French, and had been promised such a treaty in the 1918 General Election that Lloyd George had won. There was also pressure from the Conservatives (who were part of the national wartime coalition government) demanding that Germany be punished severely in order to prevent such a war in the future as well as preserving Britain’s empire. Lloyd George did manage to increase the overall reparations payment and Britain’s share by demanding compensation for widows, orphans, and men left unable to work through injury. Also, he wanted to maintain and possibly increase Britain’s colonies, and both he and Clemenceau felt threatened by Wilson’s "self-determination", which they saw as a direct threat to their respective empires.

However, Lloyd George was also aware of the potential trouble that could come from an embittered Germany, and he felt that a less harsh treaty that did not engender vengeance would be better at preserving peace in the long run. Another factor was that Germany had been Britain’s second largest trading partner, and a reduced German economy due to reparations would affect Britain’s trade. Moreover, he (and Clemenceau) recognized that America’s status as an economic superpower would lead to the U.S. becoming a military superpower in the future, and subsequently, Wilson’s idealistic stance could not be laughed at if Britain and France were to remain on good terms with the United States. This helps to understand why the League of Nations, Wilson’s main idea (along with self-determination), was apparently jumped at by Britain and France when Wilson arrived at the peace conference. Furthermore, Britain wanted to maintain the 'Balance of Power' — no country within Europe being allowed to become too powerful. If France's wishes were carried out, then not only would Germany be crippled, but France would soon become the main superpower, and so disrupt the Balance of Power in two ways.

Lloyd George's aims can be summarized as follows:

  • 1. To defend British interests by preserving Britain’s naval supremacy that before the war was asserted to have been threatened by Germany, maintaining Britain’s empire and possibly increased colonial expansion;
  • 2. To reduce Germany’s future military power and to obtain reparations,
  • 3. Not to create an embittered Germany that would seek revenge and threaten peace in the long term future; and lastly,
  • 4. To help Germany economically to become a strong trading partner with Britain.

Aims of the United States of America

Since there had been strong isolationist sentiment before and after the United States entered the war in April 1917, many Americans felt eager to extricate themselves from European affairs as rapidly as possible. The United States took a more conciliatory view towards the issue of German reparations and wanted to ensure the success of future trading opportunities as well as favourably collect on the European debts.

Before the end of the war, President Woodrow Wilson, along with other American officials including Colonel Edward Mandell House, put forward his Fourteen Points which in some respects were less harsh than what the French or British wanted, and which the German public thought that a Peace Treaty would be based around, giving them hope, albeit false hope.

Wilson also did not want any more secret diplomacy, e.g. secret alliances, treaties etc. He also demanded that Germany should have a reduction in armaments, and that their army be reduced to a smaller size to make another war completely out of the question. He also wanted other nations to do the same, limiting the risk of war further, as he makes clear in point IV.

Here is a section from Woodrow Wilson's speech given during the Paris Peace Conference:

  • 1. 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.
  • 2. 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.
  • 3. 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.
  • 4. Adequate guarantees given and taken that national armaments will be reduced to the lowest point consistent with domestic safety.
  • 5. 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 interests of the populations concerned must have equal weight with the equitable claims of the government whose title is to be determined.
  • 6. The evacuation of all Prussian 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 interests, and of their intelligent and unselfish sympathy.
  • 7. 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.
  • 8. 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.
  • 9. A readjustment of the frontiers of Italy should be effected along clearly recognizable lines of nationality.
  • 10. The peoples of Austria-Hungary, whose place among the nations we wish to see safeguarded and assured, should be accorded the freest opportunity of autonomous development.
  • 11. Romania, 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 guarantees of the political and economic independence and territorial integrity of the several Balkan states should be entered into.
  • 12. The Turkish portions 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 an autonomous development, and the Dardanelles should be permanently opened as a free passage to the ships and commerce of all nations under international guarantees.
  • 13. 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.
  • 14. 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.


Negotiations between the Allied powers started on January 18 in the Salle de l'Horloge at the French Foreign Ministry, commonly known by its location, the Quai d'Orsay. Initially, 70 delegates of 26 nations participated in the negotiations. Having sued for an Armistice and for the war to end, Germany, Austria, and Hungary were excluded from the negotiations. Russia was also excluded because it had negotiated a separate Peace Treaty with the Central Powers in March 1918.

Until March 1919, the most important role for negotiating the extremely complex and difficult terms of the peace fell to the regular meetings of the "Council of Ten" (head of government and foreign minister) composed of the five major victors (the United States, France, Great Britain, Italy, and Japan). As this unusual body proved too unwieldy and formal for effective decision-making, Japan and - for most of the remaining conference - the foreign ministers left the main meetings, so that only the "Big Four" remained. After Italy left the negotiations (only to return to sign in June) having its territorial claims to Fiume rejected, the final conditions were determined by the leaders of the "Big Three" nations: United States, France and Great Britain. The "Big Three" that negotiated the treaty consisted of Prime Minister David Lloyd George of the United Kingdom, Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau of France and President Woodrow Wilson of the United States of America. The Prime Minister of Italy, Vittorio Orlando, played a minor part in the discussions. Germany was not even invited to discuss the treaty. At Versailles, it was difficult to decide on a common position because their aims conflicted with one another. The result was an "unhappy compromise".

On April 29, the German delegation under the leadership of the foreign minister Ulrich, Graf von Brockdorff-Rantzau, arrived in Versailles. On May 7, the anniversary of the sinking of the RMS Lusitania, the Germans finally received the peace conditions agreed upon by the victors. Terms imposed by the treaty upon Germany included partitioning a certain amount of its own territory to a number of surrounding countries, being stripped of all of its overseas colonies, particularly those in Africa, and limiting its ability to make war again, by restrictions on the size of its military and the surrender of the overwhelming bulk of its navy. Because Germany was not allowed to take part in the negotiations, the German government issued a Formal Protest to what it considered to be unfair demands, and soon afterwards withdrew from the proceedings.

On June 20, a new government under Chancellor Gustav Bauer was installed in Germany, after Philipp Scheidemann resigned. Under renewed Allied pressure Germany finally agreed to the conditions by 237 to 138 votes in the Reichstag on June 23. On June 28, 1919 the new German foreign minister, Hermann Müller, and the minister of transport, Johannes Bell, agreed to sign the treaty, and it was ratified by the newly erected League of Nations on January 10, 1920.

Treaty Terms

The terms of the Treaty, which Germany had no choice but to accept, were announced on May 7, 1919. Germany lost:

  • 13% of its national territory
  • 16% of its coalfields, and half its iron and steel industry.
  • 12.5% of its population
  • All of its overseas colonies (including Kamerun, German East Africa, German South-West Africa, Togoland, Tsingtau, their numerous Pacific Islands and German New Guinea)
  • Union with Austria (Anschluss) was forbidden.

Territorial Restrictions on Germany

Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia became independent states (removed from Russia at Brest-Litovsk).

Military Restrictions on Germany

  • The Rhineland to be a demilitarized zone.
  • The German armed forces cannot number more than 100,000 troops with no conscription.
  • Enlisted men were to be retained for at least 12 years; officers were to be retained for at least 25 years.
  • Manufacturing of weapons is prohibited.
  • Import and export of weapons is prohibited.
  • Manufacture or stockpiling of poison gas is prohibited.
  • Tanks are prohibited.
  • Naval forces limited to 15,000 men, 6 battleships (no more than 10,000 tons each), 6 cruisers (no more than 6,000 tons each), 12 destroyers (no more than 800 tons each) and 12 torpedo boats (no more than 200 tons each).
  • Submarines prohibited.
  • Military aircraft prohibited.
  • Artillery prohibited.

Legal Restrictions on Germany

  • Article 231: Germany is forced to accept sole responsibility of war and had to promise to make good all the damage done to civilian population of the Allies. (Also known as the "War Guilt Clause".)
  • Article 227: former German Emperor, William II, charged with "supreme offence against international morality". He was to be tried as a war criminal.
  • Article 228-230: many others to be tried as war criminals.

Territorial Losses

On its eastern frontier Germany was forced to cede to the newly independent Poland:

  • The province of West Prussia, thereby granting Poland access to the Baltic Sea (without having to pass through Germany as previously), while Germany lost its land access to the province of East Prussia.
  • Much of the province of Posen, which, like West Prussia, had been acquired by Prussia in the 18th-century partitions of Poland, was likewise granted to the restored Polish state.
  • The eastern part of Upper Silesia to Poland (area 3,214,km², 965,000 inhabitants), after a plebiscite is held.
  • A significant portion of coal-rich and industrially developed Upper Silesia was also transferred from Germany to Poland, as the result of a later plebiscite (area 53,800 km², 4,224,000 inhabitants (1931), including 510 km² and 26,000 inhabitants from Upper Silesia).
  • From the eastern part of West Prussia and the southern part of East Prussia, a small area to Poland.
  • The area of Soldau in East Prussia, (railway station on the Warsaw-Danzig route) ceded to Poland (area 492 km²)

In addition:

  • Danzig was declared a free city under its own Senate and a permanent representative or governor of the League of Nations (area 1,893 km², 408,000 inhabitants - 98% German (1929)) with special customs rights and a voice in its Foreign Affairs reserved for Poland.
  • The northern-most part of East Prussia known as the Memel Land placed under control of the League of Nations and to be policed by France, (later invaded and occupied by Lithuania without plebiscite).
  • The Hlučínsko Hulczyn area of Upper Silesia was ceded to Czechoslovakia (area 316 or 333 km², 49,000 inhabitants).

Colonial losses

Germany was also compelled to yield sovereignty of all its colonies. Although these colonies were still being developed economically, they had also been symbols of the world-power status that Germany had gained in the 1890s. Article 156 of the treaty transferred the German concessions in the Shandong peninsula (Tsingtau), China, to Japan, rather than surrendering them to China. Chinese outrage over this provision led to demonstrations and a cultural movement known as the 'May Fourth Movement' and influenced China not to sign the peace treaty. China declared the end of its war against Germany in September 1919 and signed a separate treaty with Germany in 1921.

Besides the loss of the German colonial empire the territories Germany lost were:

  • Alsace and Lorraine, the territories which had been ceded to Germany in accordance with the Preliminaries of Peace signed at Versailles on February 26, 1871, and the Treaty of Frankfurt of May 10, 1871, were restored to French sovereignty without a plebiscite as from the date of the Armistice of November 11, 1918. (area 14,522 km², 1,815,000 inhabitants (1905)).
  • Northern Schleswig including the German-dominated towns of Tondern (Tønder), Apenrade (Aabenraa), Sonderburg (Sønderborg), Hadersleben (Haderslev) and Lügum in Schleswig-Holstein, after the Schleswig Plebiscite, to Denmark (area 3,984 km², 163,600 inhabitants (1920)).
  • The area of the German cities Eupen and Malmedy ceded to Belgium. The trackbed of the Vennbahn railway also transferred to Belgium.
  • The province of Saarland to be under the control of the League of Nations for 15 years, after that a plebiscite between France and Germany, to decide to which country it would belong. During this time the coal to be sent to France.

League of Nations

The treaty provided for the creation of the League of Nations, a major goal of U.S. President Woodrow Wilson. The League of Nations was intended to arbitrate international disputes and thereby avoid future wars. Only three of Wilson's Fourteen Points were realized, since Wilson was compelled to compromise with Clemenceau, Lloyd George and Orlando on some points in exchange for retaining approval of Wilson's "fourteenth point," the League of Nations.

Reaction to the Treaty

In the eyes of the French people, Clemenceau failed to achieve all of their demands through the Treaty of Versailles. As a result, he was voted out of office in the elections of January 1920.

Britain as a whole was at first content, because it succeeded in securing more favourable German eastern frontiers, e.g. plebiscites on areas previously assigned to Poland (Masuria, southern Warmia, Upper Silesia) and creation of the Free City of Danzig. Even then Britain felt that the Treaty was too harsh to Germany, causing dissatisfaction that might potentially lead to trouble in the future. In the United States, it was seen as Europe’s problem, but it was also widely believed that the Treaty was too harsh.

The United States Senate refused to ratify the Treaty of Versailles in 1919, making it invalid in the United States and effectively hamstringing the nascent League of Nations envisioned by Wilson. The largest obstacle faced in the ratification of the Treaty of Versailles was the opposition of Henry Cabot Lodge. It has also been said that Wilson himself was the second-largest obstacle, primarily because he refused to support the treaty with any of the alterations proposed by the United States Senate. As a result, America did not join the League of Nations, despite Wilson claiming that he could:

"predict with absolute certainty that if the United States of America does not join the League of Nations, then there will be another war within 20 years."

Reaction in Germany

The treaty evoked an angry and hostile reception in Germany from the moment its contents were made known. The Germans were outraged and horrified at the result - since Wilson's idealistic fourteen points had painted the picture of a different outcome. They did not feel that they were responsible for starting the war nor did they feel as though they had lost. The German people had understood the negotiations at Versailles to be a peace conference and not a surrender. At first, the new government refused to sign the agreement, and the German navy sank its own ships in protest of the treaty. The sinking hardened Allied attitudes and the Allies demanded, by ultimatum, that Germany sign the treaty within twenty-four hours. The alternative was understood to be a resumption of hostilities, with the fighting now on German soil.

Faced with this crisis, the German provisional government in Weimar was thrown into upheaval “What hand would not wither that binds itself and us in these fetters?” asked Chancellor Philipp Scheidemann who then resigned rather than agree to the Treaty. Army chief Paul von Hindenburg did the same, after declaring the army unable to defend Germany against Western attack. With four hours to go German President Friedrich Ebert agreed to the terms. The German delegation to Paris signed the treaty on June 28, 1919, exactly five years after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand.

Conservatives, nationalists and ex-military leaders began to speak critically about the peace and Weimar politicians, socialists, communists, and Jews were viewed with suspicion due to their extra-national loyalties. Mainly because of that, had not supported the war and had played a role in selling out Germany to its enemies. These November Criminals, or those who seemed to benefit from the newly formed Weimar Republic, were seen to have "stabbed them in the back" on the home front, by either criticizing German nationalism, instigating unrest and strikes in the critical military industries or profiteering. In essence the accusation was that the accused committed treason against the "benevolent and righteous" common cause.

These theories were given credence by the fact that when Germany surrendered in November 1918, its armies were still in French and Belgian territory. Not only had the German Army been in enemy territory the entire time on the Western Front, but on the Eastern Front, Germany had already won the war against Russia, concluded with the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. In the West, Germany had seemed to come close to winning the war with the Spring Offensive. Some blamed Germany's failure on strikes in the arms industry at a critical moment of the offensive, leaving soldiers without an adequate supply of material. The strikes were seen to be instigated by treasonous elements including the Jews.

Domestic betrayal resonated within Germany, and its claims would codify the basis for public support for the emerging NSDAP, under the form of nationalism. The anti-Semitism was intensified by the Bavarian Soviet Republic, a Communist government which ruled the city of Munich for two weeks before being crushed by the Freikorps militia. Many of the Bavarian Soviet Republic's leaders were Jewish, a fact that allowed anti-Semitic propagandists to make the connection with "Communist treason"

Germany's Technical Advantages

Since neither rockets nor glider aircraft were mentioned in the Versailles treaty, Germany spent money on these technologies, including Wernher von Braun's rocket experiments, which in no doubt helped the development of the future space industry. Large glider aircraft designs led to the design of the large Me-321 during World War II which later was motorized and become the Me-323, the largest land-based plane at the time.

Treaty Violations

The German economy was so weak that only a small percentage of reparations were paid in money. However, even the payment of this small percentage of the original reparations (219 billion Gold Reichsmarks) still placed a significant burden on the German economy, accounting for as much as one third of post-treaty hyperinflation. Furthermore, the provisions forcing the uncompensated removal of resources and industrial equipment sowed further resentment.

Some violations or avoidances of the provisions of the Treaty were:

  • In 1919 the dissolution of the General Staff appeared to happen. However the core of the General Staff was hidden within another organization, the Truppenamt, where it rewrote all Heer (Army) and Luftwaffe (Air Force) doctrinal and training materials based on the experience of World War I.
  • The Treaty of Rapallo was an agreement in the Italian town of Rapallo on 16 April 1922 between Germany (the Weimar Republic) and Russia SFSR under which each renounced all territorial and financial claims against the other following the Treaty of Brest Litovsk and World War I. A secret annex signed on 29 July allowed Germany to train their military in Soviet territory, thus violating the terms of the Treaty of Versailles. The first post-war German tanks and aircraft were tested and exercised under this (see Soviet-German relations before 1941).
  • In April 1926 Germany and the Soviet Union concluded the Treaty of Berlin. Germany believe that this would strengthen her hand in further negotiations with the Western Powers and would permit her to continue her evasion of the most irksome military restrictions, and, finally, would facilitate a speedy revision of Germany's disputed eastern borders; Berlin saw this as a possibility of being transformed into an alliance if Germany was not accommodated in such matters as the evacuation of the Rhineland, reparations, armaments, and political equality. Because the Foreign Ministry regarded Paris as the chief pillar of the Versailles settlement and the main obstacle to its revision the Berlin Treaty was to be used as an anti-French instrument.[3]
  • In March 1935, Adolf Hitler violated the Treaty of Versailles by introducing compulsory military conscription in Germany and rebuilding the armed forces. This included a new Navy (Kriegsmarine), the first full armoured divisions (Panzerwaffe) and an Air Force (Luftwaffe). For the first time since the war, Germany's armed forces were as strong as those of France.
  • In March 1936, Hitler violated the Treaty by reoccupying the demilitarized zone in the Rhineland.
  • In March 1938, Hitler violated the Treaty by annexing Austria in the Anschluss.
  • In March 1939, Hitler violated the Treaty by occupying the rest of Czechoslovakia.

Historical Views

What should we in France have said if after the war of 1870 the victorious Germans had demanded the cession of our fleet, of all our colonies, and of our mines, if they had insisted on our complete disarmament, had imposed a crushing impost on our exports, and in addition had required us to bear the costs of the war! We should have called them thieves, extortioners, and bandits, who dishonoured their victory. ~ M. Louis Guetant, the French publicist and Hon. Vice-President of the Ligue des Droits de l'Homme.[4]

A common view is that France's Clemenceau was the most vigorous in his pursuit of revenge against Germany, the Western Front of the war having been fought chiefly on French soil. This treaty was felt to be unreasonable at the time because it was a peace dictated by the victors that put the full blame for the war on Germany. Many modern historians, however, argue that was an over-simplification.

Henry Kissinger called the treaty a: "brittle compromise agreement between American utopianism and European paranoia — too conditional to fulfill the dreams of the former, too tentative to alleviate the fears of the latter."

In his book The Economic Consequences of the Peace, John Maynard Keynes referred to the Treaty of Versailles as a "Carthaginian peace".

The French economist Étienne Mantoux wrote a reply to Keynes titled The Carthaginian Peace, or the Economic Consequences of Mr. Keynes, in which he claimed many of the predictions Keynes said would result from the Treaty had not come to pass. For example, Keynes believed European output in iron would decrease but by 1929 iron output in Europe was up 10% from the 1913 figure.

Keynes predicted that German iron and steel output would decrease but by 1927 steel output increased by 30% and iron output increased by 38% from 1913 (within the pre-war borders). Keynes also argued that German coal mining efficiency would decrease but labour efficiency by 1929 had increased on the 1913 figure by 30%. Keynes contended that Germany would be unable to export coal immediately after the Treaty but German net coal exports were 15 million tons within a year and by 1926 the tonnage exported reached 35 million. He also put forward the claim that German national savings in the years after the Treaty would be less than 2 billion marks: however in 1925 the German national savings figure was estimated at 6.4 billion marks and in 1927 7.6 billion marks.

Keynes also believed that Germany would be unable to pay the 2 billion marks-plus in reparations for the next 30 years, but Mantoux contends that German rearmament spending was seven times as much as that figure in each year between 1933 and 1939.

More recently it has been argued (for instance by historian Gerhard Weinberg in his book A World At Arms) that the treaty was in fact quite advantageous to Germany, the Bismarckian Reich being maintained as a political unit instead of being broken up, and Germany having largely escaped post-war military occupation (in contrast to the situation following World War II.)

The British military historian Correlli Barnett claimed that the Treaty of Versailles was "extremely lenient in comparison with the peace terms Germany herself, when was she was expecting to win the war, had had in mind to impose on the Allies". Furthermore, it was "hardly a slap on the wrist" when contrasted with the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk that Germany had imposed on a defeated Russia in March 1918, which had taken away a third of Russia's population, one half of Russia's industrial undertakings and nine-tenths of Russia's coal mines, coupled with an indemnity of six thousand million marks.

Barnett also claimed that in strategic terms Germany was in a superior position after the Treaty than in 1914, for then Germany had eastern frontiers with Russia and Austria, who had both in the past balanced German power. Now the Austrian empire was replaced with smaller, weaker states and Russia with Poland in between. In the West Germany was only balanced by France and Belgium, both of whom were smaller in population and economically than Germany. Barnett concluded by saying that instead of weakening Germany, the Treaty had made German power "much enhanced". Britain and France should have (according to Barnett) "divided and permanently weakened" Germany by undoing Bismarck's work and partitioning Germany into smaller, weaker states so it could never disrupt the peace of Europe again. By failing to do this and therefore not solving the problem of German power and restoring the equilibrium of Europe, Britain "had failed in her main purpose in taking part in the Great War"

Regardless of modern strategic or economic analysis, resentment caused by the treaty sowed fertile psychological ground for the eventual rise of the NSDAP. Indeed, on National Socialist Germany's rise to power, Adolf Hitler resolved to overturn the remaining military and territorial provisions of the Treaty of Versailles. Military build-up began almost immediately, in direct defiance of the Treaty, which, by then, had been destroyed by Hitler in front of a cheering crowd. "It was this treaty which caused a chain reaction leading to World War II" claimed historian Dan Rowling (1951).

Also See

External links


  1. Peaceless Europe by Francesco S. Nitti, former Prime Minister of Italy, London & New York, 1922, pps:viii & x.
  2. Montegelas, Count Max, The Case for the Central Powers - an Impeachment of the Versailles Verdict, translated by Constance Vesey, London, 1925. pps:255. Count Montgelas's father had been the Bavarian Government’s Ambassador in St. Petersburg, where the Count was born. He was a member of the Reichstag Committee of Enquiry (into the war) in 1918-19, and a member of the Commission sent to Versailles by the German Government in 1919, specially to investigate the question of responsibility for the war. He was one of the four signatories to the "Memorandum", presented on 29th May, in reply to the allegations made by the Commission appointed by the Allied and Associated Governments to report on the subject, and he was jointly responsible, with Delbruck, for the "Memorandum" replying to the "Allied Note" of 16th June 1919.
  3. Weimar Germany and Soviet Russia 1926-1933 by Professor Harvey Leonard Dyck, London, 1966, p.18-19.
  4. Germany Under The Treaty by William Harbutt Dawson, New York & London, 1933, p.13.
  • Watt, Richard M., The Kings Depart - The Tragedy of Germany: Versailles and the German Revolution, London, 1969, ISBN 0-297-17858-X
  • Mee, Charles L., The End of Order - Versailles 1919, London, 1980, ISBN 0-436-27650-X
  • Sinclair, David, Hall of Mirrors London, 2001, ISBN 0-7126-8389-5
  • Brentano, Lujo, What Germany has paid under the Treaty of Versailles (The book in HTML)
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