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The Treaty of Versailles was drawn up to aid peace after World War 1. Although it had many provisions, a main one was to make Germany accept responsibility for the war and therefore pay reparations to the Allies. In January 1919, the leaders of the victorious powers (namely Wilson, Clemenceau and Lloyd George: the ‘Big Three’, and Orlando of Italy) met to decide how the defeated powers should be dealt with. The negotiations went on for 12 months at the Palace of Versailles, just outside of Paris. Many compromises were made by the countries involved, and many say that this means the ‘Big Three’ went away unsatisfied by what they received from the Treaty. All of the peacemakers had different aims and attitudes towards the defeated countries, who incidentally were not invited to the meeting. It was signed on the 28th of June 1919. The final treaty was over 200 pages long and had over 440 clauses, including the constitution of the League of Nations. Some of these were very general, applying to the whole of Europe, and others were surprisingly specific, but maybe less important to the state of the nations (for example, “the return of… an African chieftain’s skull to Britain”1). One of the main clauses of the treaty held Germany solely responsible for starting the war (the ‘War Guilt’ clause, Article 231 of the treaty), and Germany was forced into accepting it. They had to pay £6,600 million in reparations, which would have taken until 1984. Initially, horror was the retort from the nation; they hadn’t been represented at the conferences and almost refused to sign. However, threats of invasion from France pressured them into it. France and Belgium had received a lot of damage from German forces, who destroyed Northern France’s industrial production. Even during Germany’s retreat they blew up coalmines to increase the damage for their enemies. So this was an important part of the treaty, especially for those who needed to rebuild their countries or wanted revenge for invasion. France had suffered particularly badly in the war; much of it was fought on French soil leaving many areas destroyed. Clemenceau had one main intention, which was to cripple Germany, both economically and militarily, principally to lessen the chances of another attack, but probably partly for revenge. During the Franco-Prussian war France had lost Alsace-Lorraine to Germany, and this definitely increased tension between the two countries. Predictably one of his demands was for this region to be returned to France. So France’s aims were probably the simplest, to destroy Germany’s army and economy with the reparations. Continental peace and coexistence was less of a reason for the treaty, more a chance to protect their country from further attack. Clemenceau also demanded that Germany’s colonies should be taken and handed out to the victors of the war. He thought the demilitarisation of the Rhineland, which would act as a ‘buffer zone’ between France and Germany, would also help secure their safety. Completely dissolving Germany’s military forces was also another idea Clemenceau was very keen on. The resulting treaty satisfied Clemenceau in some ways, but he didn’t receive everything he wanted. Germany did, in fact, have to pay huge sums to the nations;
Years of Change: European History 1890-1945. By Robert Wolfson
France thought that Article 231 still wasn’t harsh enough for the damages done to them. Another thing that he wanted was for Germany to be split up into smaller countries, France felt threatened by such a large power so close to them. This was unlikely to happen after ‘prussification’ had occurred not so long ago. This was, in a way, a security measure for France, as they predicted Germany would fight back in the future (as they did, in World War 2). Germany’s army was set at 100,000 men, and her navy was completely disbanded, which matched France’s aims. There was no way Germany would be able to attack France again with such a small army, and her previously strong navy abolished. David Lloyd George expressed many different aims at the meetings, but a few were, in fact, similar to those of France - even if they were for dissimilar reasons. An example would be the obliteration of the German navy, which France also sought. However, Britain’s motivation for this was that they had had naval supremacy for a considerable length of time, and before the war Germany had almost built up their navy to a comparable size. Britain considered this a threat, not only during war but also to their empire. Germany had openly been trying to accumulate and empire, and Britain was unwilling to let them take any of theirs. This was another thing that Britain was very protective of, and had felt threatened by the Kaiser’s blatant greed for land. Lloyd-George did not see the complete economic annihilation as a practical idea; he thought that Germany’s strength in monetary terms was important for the development of Europe. He also predicted that another war would be caused by the discontentment in Europe (“We shall have to fight another war again in 25 years time.” Lloyd-George, 1918), so the treaty would have to quell all of this anger, which it was unlikely to do, despite being a ‘peace treaty’. Britain received some of the German colonies, which was one of their aims. Overall, after the treaty they considered it fairly acceptable and were contented for a while. Germany’s military force was weakened, meaning less threat to the empire. However, eventually it was thought the treaty was too harsh on Germany, and also it didn’t deal with Germany’s eastern borders, which Lloyd-George considered a possible trouble spot in the future. Even in Britain the opinion was split on the treaty. Winston Churchill believed that the treaty was the best settlement that could have been reached and “'the wishes of the various populations prevailed'”. However, Harold Nicholson, a British delegate at Versailles, called the treaties “neither just nor wise”. So even in between the powers in Britain, there was some disagreement. Germany’s economy was not in any way protected, in fact it was ripped apart by reparations and debt, eventually crashing into hyperinflation. This was something Lloyd-George wanted to avoid and it negatively affected the rest of Europe. Woodrow Wilson of America had the most ‘utopian’ ideal for post-war Europe. Wilson defended the treaty with “permanency of peace is at the heart of this treaty.” And “... it is nothing less than world settlement”. Many Americans had seen the United State’s involvement in the war as unnecessary, and that little had changed in the Europe after the war. Wilson’s most noted contribution to the treaty were the ‘14 Points’, through which Wilson calls for open diplomacy, freedom of the seas, removal of trade barriers and reduction of armaments in support of his central attempt to address the world's problems. These were ultimately to lead to the League of Nations, which Wilson had a major part in forming; during the signing of the treaty America went into ‘isolationist mode’ and refused to join the League anyway or even sign the
treaty. This was partly to remain on good terms with all of Europe rather than joining with the victors, leaving America with more countries to trade with. Other aims for Wilson was self-determination for the peoples of Eastern Europe and leaving Germany and her economy intact. Out of the three, America was the least harsh on Germany, seeing consideration for the country as the only way to avoid another war in Europe. America was discontented with the outcome of the treaty, which was obviously one of the reasons that they refused to sign it. Not only was the country unhappy with the treaty itself, its eventual failure led to a public anger at the effects of the war itself. All that America had seemingly derived from the war was debt, inflation, prohibition, ingratitude, and influenza from Allies whom she had strained herself to help. Not all of Wilson’s fourteen points actually got into the treaty, and Germany was never even invited to the Palace, so there was no chance of it ever being a complete ‘peace treaty’. Article 10 in the treaty called on the US to support the League of Nations, which received national opposition due to what was viewed as a large amount of unnecessary American casualties during the war. Although America probably softened the treaty, stopping Clemenceau from being overly harsh on Germany, the nation as a whole was unsatisfied, while Wilson defended it to the end. In conclusion, it would be fair to say that none of the Big Three were completely satisfied with the treaty, as each of them had problems that weren’t resolved completely for them. George Clemenceau was satisfied with clause 231, the disarmament clauses of the Treaty, getting back Alsace-Lorraine, and being given Germany colonies as mandates on behalf of the League of Nations. However, he was unhappy that France got the Saar coalfields for only 15 years, and he was angry that the Rhineland was merely demilitarised. France had wanted the Rhineland made into a powerless independent country, and Germany split up. Also, reparations were not high enough for Clemenceau. He wanted reparations so high that Germany would be crippled and paying for. Basically he wanted it to be harsher on Germany. The Treaty also dissatisfied Lloyd-George; although he liked the reduction of the German navy, for it ensured that ‘Britannia ruled the waves’. However, he was pessimistic about the inclusion of the League of Nations, and opposed self-determination, thinking it was unrealistic and would cause problems in the future. His predictions of another war were accurate. Wilson agreed with the self-determination and a League of Nations, but felt let down because few of his fourteen points were included. The treaty was, in it’s nature, a compromise between three conflicting groups, and so didn’t wholly satisfy anyone. However, that does not mean that none of their aims were achieved. It is obvious that the three benefited at least a little from the treaty, receiving land and some compensations for the damage done to them during the war. It could be argued that the Treaty left many tensions in Europe, and so did not fill its purpose as a peace agreement.