The Versailles treaty

Discuss the opinion that the Versailles treaty was a “conspicuous failure ».

After the end of the First World War, in 1918, about 8.5 million soldiers and over 5 million civilians lost their lives. Over 20 millions of people were estimated wounded or maimed in this war. The most important Empires, as Russian, Austrian, Prussian or Ottoman were destroyed, and the economies of most countries involved had serious problems. Because of the decrease of the European power, USA took its place at the World’s power leader. As America had played a great role in the end of the war, she was considered as one of the “Big three” and the president of the USA, Woodrow Wilson proposed his vision of the peace by the mean of his Fourteen Points plan, which was accepted by the Allies as the basis for peace. After the armistice of the 11th November 1918, the European nations wanted to never know such a war again, so they were wary of writing a peace settlement that would last. The Wilson’s plan was constituted of some suggestions to the Peace conference. These suggestions was about the openness of international agreements, the maritime circulation freedom, the reduction of the armaments, the selfdeterminism, which means people have right to claim the will to have their own nation, the independence of Belgium, Alsace and Lorraine which should return to France, because Germany took them half a century ago, some border’s suggestions and eventually the creation of an international organisation which should settle the disputes between countries and had to maintain peace. However, principles like open diplomacy and freedom of the seas were lost during the negotiations of the treaty of Versailles. Self-determination led to many problems, the League of Nations was a weak organisation, because of the lack of money, and the fact the army was not use. The Peace Conference took place in Paris on 18 January 1919 and the twentyseven countries were represented, and they were there to discuss the terms they would impose to the defeated countries. The lesser allies and the nationalities of the Central and Easter Power wanted to be sure they were independent. In addition, they wanted all to be sure Germany was punished, because she was hold as the only responsible for the war. Although this was a peace settlement, which would decide of the Europe fate, none of the defeated countries were allowed to be present, so they could not defend themselves. The negotiations were dominated by the leaders of the “Big Three”: America, France and Britain. Wilson sought each racial and ethnic groups were able to form a nation state or chose their own government. He wanted the defeated countries to be treated fairly and the end of the militarism. The French president Clemenceau disliked Germany because she invaded France twice before and he wanted to be sure she paid and was so harshly damaged she could not attack France again. He did not think of the interest of all Europe but of revenge on Germany. Clemenceau demanded money compensation from her and the security of the border between France and Germany.

In Britain many people, soldiers or not, died during the war, so anti-German feelings ran high. Because of the public opinion, the British Prime Minister, Lloyd George had to seek revenge too. The Italian Prime Minister felt he had been betrayed: the Allies had promised Italy some territories if she entered the war: the Alps and a part of the Adriatic. Italy attended the Peace settlement to be sure she could obtain them, but some of these areas had not Italian population and the people did not wish to be part of Italy. In addition, the American and British leaders disliked Orlando, the Italian leader. Therefore, Italian claims were not fulfilled and Italy withdrew her delegation from the discussion. The treaty of Versailles was signed on the 28th June 1919, by the representatives of the Republic of Germany in the Hall of Mirrors in Versailles, a palace near Paris. The Allies refused to leave the naval blockade on Germany and threatened her of a new war until she agreed to sign. The German representatives could not participate to the negotiations and the general German feeling was that the Allies had dictated the treaty and compelled them to sign it. The terms of the Versailles settlement resembled a lot the 14 Wilson points plan. The territorial settlement gave the Alsace and Lorraine back to France, and, if that rejoiced France, it shocked Germany. The independent state of Poland was recreated, so Germany lost enormous territory and was separated in two because Poland had a corridor, which gave her access to the Baltic Sea. The Northern Schleswig was ceded to Denmark and the Saar coalfields in Germany were to be administered by the League of Nations for fifteen years, but the economic control was given to France. Finally, Germany lost all her overseas possessions. The Versailles treaty made Germany reduce her army and forbade conscription. Germany was not allowed to have any military aircraft, tanks or heavy guns. The navy had too to be much reduced and submarines had to be forsaken. German sailors made a spectacular protest: they sank their warship in their watery prison camp at Scapa Flow rather than see them turned over to the Allies. The borders along the Rhine were a buffer zone: no army was allowed here. Germany had to pay reparation for the damage caused in France and in Belgium, but also for shipping losses. The sum that Germany had to pay was enormous and worsened the economic crisis. Moreover, when the economy is catastrophic, the extremists’ parties increase: because the population suffered for years, the Nazis could have a rising importance and the German people wanted to blame somebody for their misery. Germany signed also a paper saying she was the solely responsible for the war. However, German population had too suffered from the war and they were very humiliated and shocked that just they had to bear the blame of the war. The river Rhine was internationalised, and the Kiel Canal was opened up to everybody. Austria and Germany had to separate. In addition, there were trial for war crime, and the Kaiser himself had to stand one. Finally, the League of Nations was created to promote peace in the world. The main criticism of the treaty was that it was not a negotiated one. In the following years, Germany had propaganda about that: if they had not had choice, this treaty could not really bind them. The application of the principle of self-determination created many national minorities within states. Furthermore, the peacemakers did not want that much to permit the German people to determine where they wanted to live.

In consequence, many Germans lived in dispersed areas like Czechoslovakia or in the Polish Corridor. In addition, Paris was a very bad choice for the place of the conferences. The city was not neutral at all and that caused a strong French pressure during the deliberations. The German felt humiliated and found the terms of the treaty very harsh, but leaders of allies nations hoped that peace would last, and to assure collective security the League of Nations was created but Germany could not enter before some years, and the Russia too took a long time before joining the League. Moreover, the USA refused to join it because they feared to be too much involved in European affairs, and that weakened terribly the league, so it failed to maintain peace. In conclusion, we can see that if the Treaty of Versailles was necessary because some settlements had to be done, the decisions it took were largely mistakes. Instead of helping Germany to recover from war and resolve the problems which had caused the war, they punished heavily and unfairly Germany, and neglected to asked her opinion. They made plans for a short vision of time: like the 15 years of occupation of Germany, and did not make the right decisions to reconcile the countries. The League of Nations was a good idea, if more countries that were powerful were a part of it.