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Treaty of Versailles: not exactly as planned: how the treaty "to end all wars' led instead to numerous new conflicts.

Exactly five years after the assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the singular event that ignited World War I, the Treaty of Versailles was signed during the Paris Peace Conference on June 28, 1919. Although it was just one of five treaties signed during the conference that would span into the first month of 1920, this was the treaty that was surrounded with the most controversy. For the next century this treaty and its treatment of Germany would be analyzed and connected to events like the rise of Hitler, World War II and the ongoing conflict in the Middle East. Whatever the intentions of those who drafted it, the treaty would become synonymous with failure in international relations and, despite its purpose, a motivator of conflict rather than peace.


The treaty itself defined a new Germany, one based on the republic that had been in place since the armistice was signed in November 1918. Frederick Ebert led the new Weimar government (called such because the republic's constitution was drafted in the eponymous city), which attempted to establish a liberal democracy in their war-ravaged country. The immediate repercussions of morphing from the mighty pre-war German Empire to the new much-diminished republic created a nation of disillusioned and confused citizens.

The need for Germany to swallow a national pride that had flourished since Otto Von Bismarck unified the German states into a single empire in the late 19th century, inevitably created a social backlash within the country. The defeated Germans were required, without negotiation, to agree to the demands of the victorious Allied nations that had drafted the Treaty of Versailles. The result was a Germany weakened in every aspect: stripped of military and defence capability, drastically reduced in territory, and most detrimental to its future recovery, financial bankruptcy.

The origin of the term 'stabbed in the back' traced back to British General Sir Neil Malcolm, but it soon became a slogan the new Germany would rally behind. Although it was never made clear who specifically had stabbed Germany, it was clear the citizens felt they had been treated harshly by the Allied-imposed peace terms, and that Germany alone was being scapegoated for instigating the First World War.

In the treaty itself, the infamous section 231, also known as the War Guild Clause, states as follows: "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." Germany thus became solely responsible for the millions of lives that had been lost, the loss of goods and resources, and the upheaval and uncertainty that was tearing through international relations.



But in the new republic of Weimar Germany, the Treaty of Versailles had repercussions of its own. People within Germany were looking to assign their own blame as to why Germany had lost the war. And under such harsh consequences, spite and revenge were welling up amongst its citizens.

Conservatives, nationalists and former military leaders began to speak critically about the new republic where socialists, communists, and Jews were viewed with suspicion due to surmised extra-national loyalties. The angry masses claimed these groups had sold out Germany during the war. Known commonly as the 'November Criminals,' this group included those who seemed to benefit from the newly formed Weimar Republic, or were not adversely affected by the Treaty of Versailles.

Renowned British economist John Maynard Keynes claimed the incredible reparations forced on Germany contributed to the Weimar Republic's hyperinflation, which eventually created the political circumstances that allowed for the rise of Hitler. During the dark decade following the treaty, Germany was issuing trillion Mark banknotes and postage stamps with a face value of fifty billion Mark. The highest value banknote issued by the Reichsbank had a face value of 100 trillion Marks. With this instability in the market, everyday survival was threatened, causing chaos in food markets and drastic consumer shortfalls in basic necessities like heat and fuel.

Paramilitary groups such as the popular Freikorps (Free Corps) materialized after an abundance of young men who had been soldiers during World War I were left without jobs due to the imposed demilitarization of the Weimar Republic. These German veterans felt disconnected from society, unable to obtain scarce civilian jobs with their limited skills and training. Therefore, many of them sought stability within the ranks of the emerging paramilitary political structure. The groups were initially polarized in their support for the state, but when Adolf Hitler began his rise to power, many of them quickly offered their support to the Nazis.

In total, the fragile state of the Weimar Republic and the dissatisfaction with the harsh realities of the Treaty of Versailles left the plundered Germany vulnerable to the inevitable collapse of the government.

Although the Treaty of Versailles seemingly met the immediate needs and desires of American President Woodrow Wilson, British Prime Minister David Lloyd George, French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau as well as other Allies, it also created a vacuum in other world affairs. The remains of the pre-war German Empire were to be re-allocated through the terms dictated at the Paris Peace Conference. This also included German interests in the Middle East and Africa. Much of this was politically uncharted territory and other stakeholder nations pursuing their own national interests were visited during the conference, in the optimistic hope of defining a world that would not face global conflict again.


Unfortunately, the hasty and uneducated decisions to create borders within these territories and establishing new colonies were destined to create only further conflict.

In some notable cases, those who had militarily assisted the Allies in their defeat of Germany were quickly forgotten when negotiations began. For instance, the Arab coalition that had fought to overthrow the Ottoman Turks from the Red Sea to Damascus, under the direction of Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Edward Lawrence, the famous Lawrence of Arabia, was denied their promised independent state.

Four different wartime promises were made by different branches of the British government. In full review, these promises contained inherent contradictions. The Balfour Declaration of 1917 authorized the establishment of Jewish Zionist settlements in Palestine with a provision for the eventual creation of an independent Jewish state. The other promises pertained to post-war control of Syria (which included the current territory of Lebanon). Instead of 'liberating' these people from the Ottoman Turks, France simply absorbed them into their own empire. Britain pulled a similar slight of hand once they realized the vast oil resources that existed in Iraq. Instead of creating an independent Trans-Jordan Arab state (as they'd promised to King Faisal in exchange for his military support against the Turks), Iraq became a British protectorate.

Arab lands in Palestine and Iraq were also destined to remain under British rule until the aftermath of World War II radically changed the ethnography of the region. During this period, British authorities failed to prevent the massive influx of displaced European Jewish settlers. This led to resentment and resistance from the Palestinian population, which culminated in open warfare when the state of Israel was declared in May 1948. That conflict remains unresolved to this day.

The new map of the world that emerged as a result of the 1919 Paris Peace Conference was based on the interests of the Allied powers' drafting of the borders, rather than the self-determination of and civil disputes of the regions--as was originally intended by Woodrow Wilson and the League of Nations.

The League of Nations would soon prove to be a toothless failure in managing this new world. With the United States electing not to be a member of the League it had proposed and participation only cementing the core members of the League, such as Britain and France, it became a tool of appeasement and procedure that failed to halt the escalating conflicts in the interwar period.

For instance, Kurdistan was overlooked in the drawing of the new maps, and rather than qualifying as an independent state it was instead portioned off into Turkey, Armenia, Syria, Iran and Iraq. Over 70 years later and after numerous regional conflicts and hundreds of thousands of casualties the Kurds attained autonomous control of northern Iraq following the 1991 Gulf War. To this day, it has yet to be recognized as an independent nation.

In yet another ironic twist of historic fate, Vietnam's Ho Chi Minh attended the Paris Peace Conference to request independence for his country. However, after a quick review by the imperial powers, Minh's request was denied. Vietnam would remain a French colony. In the world that evolved over the next 20 years, the French were ousted temporarily by the Japanese during World War Two. Subsequently, Ho Chi Minh would proclaim independence for Vietnam in 1945 upon the egress of the defeated Japanese.

This of course started a new international entrenchment. Into the next decade the French forcibly re-occupied South Vietnam with the support of the United States. Militarily destroyed by the Vietnamese army at Dien Bien Phu in 1954, the French withdrew their troops and America took over the military responsibility of propping up the South Vietnamese government. When U.S. President Richard Nixon used the phrase "peace with honour" in June 1973 to describe the Paris Peace Accord to end the Vietnam War, the end was nigh for the South Vietnamese. In April 1975 Saigon fell and was promptly renamed Ho Chi Minh City. A unified, independent Vietnam was finally established 66 years after it was proposed at the Paris Peace Conference.

The Treaty of Versailles can be shown to have contributed to the decision-making of much of the international relations since it concluded. It is easy to draw a line to nearly every modern-day conflict, its span reaching around the globe.


It is also easy to look back on the Treaty of Versailles and the treatment of Germany and see the failures that ensued. But out of a war like nothing before came a peace like nothing before. With both good and bad intentions, the goal was too keep peace. Instead it became a peace to end all peace, and for the next century was seen as the birth of many major conflicts, including World War II. It has since become an example that peace cannot be bred from hatred and fear, and that peace cannot be bred out of the fresh wounds of war.
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Title Annotation:THE GREAT WAR
Author:Tillotson, Donna
Publication:Esprit de Corps
Date:Jul 1, 2009
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