The Treaty Of Versailles One of the greatest conflicts in the history of the world, that of World War II, changed the course of events in Western societies for the rest of the 20th Century. Its effects are felt today even today with the final ascent of the United States as a superpower and the decline of Europe. In fact, World War II was the final judgment concerning European domination of the world. However, many have said that World War II was a continuation of World War I, a war which destroyed much of Europe, crippled its domination of the world with its ruinous economic ramifications, and created the lost generation of millions of wounded and dead soldiers. These changes contributed to the downfall of European society.
John Maynard Keynes observes, Perhaps it is historically true that no order of society ever perishes save by its own hand. (1) In fact, the victorious Allies of World War I condemned themselves to another world war with the Treaty of Versailles, particularly with respect to its effects on the vanquished country of Germany. The conditions of the Treaty of Versailles and their inherent weaknesses set the stage in Germany for yet another world war. French insistence upon crippling Germany influenced many of the conditions set forth in the treaty. The chief aims of the French towards the disabling of the German state were concerned the disarmament of Germany, the demilitarization and occupation of Allied military forces in the German Rhineland and Saar Basin for fifteen years, the severe reparations, the cession of German territory.
(2) The Germans ultimately resented the harsh conditions of the treaty, promoting even more animosity between the two nations when plenty had already existed earlier. Germany was forced to give up all overseas possessions, which the Allies administered as mandates. (3) In addition, France resurrected Poland to dismantle Germanys eastern borders. (4) This separated East Prussian from the rest of Germany by the Polish Corridor (5), which contained a large German population. (6) These conditions would later resurface as major issues in Hitlers Germany twenty years later. Furthermore, Article 102 of the treaty established the town of Danzigas a Free City.
(7) The controversy surrounding this provision developed as a sensitive issue to the Germans since the population of Danzig was largely German. To the Germans, these conditions added insult to injury. Unfortunately, the treaty did not stop with these conditions. The Treaty of Versailles has become infamous for the harsh reparations it imposed on Germany. Perhaps even more notorious is the War Guilt Clause contained in the peace. The War Guilt Clause, Article 231 in the treaty, arose out of a controversy during the negotiations in the spring of 1919 concerning the nature of reparations that would be collected.
It was argued whether or not to include war costs in the reparations to be levied or just civilian damages suffered. Prime Minister David Lloyd-George of Britain and Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau, unsure of whether or not war costs would be include, insisted that the treaty assert at least the moral right of the Allies to recover the cost of the war forced upon them by Germany. (8) Lloyd-George maintained that if we do not exact it [war costs], it is not because it would be unjust to claim it (9) This sentiment, though meeting opposition from President Wilsons delegation, resulted in the inclusion of Article 231 in the treaty. The provision, after Germanys Weimar Republic delegates signed the treaty on June 28, 1919, bound the German nation to accept full moral responsibility for all damages to the citizens of the Allied countries and for the precipitation of the war itself. (10) The provision blatantly ignored Austria-Hungarys culpability in the conflict, as that country was completely dismantled by a separate treaty.
The effects of Article 231 were far-reaching. Besides the obvious discontent such a provision would cause in any nation, German governments used it to rally their people against the Allies in combination with the controversial French occupation in the western regions of Germany, most notably Hitler in the 1930s. (11) In addition, although David Lloyd-George supported the clause, Great Britain throughout the 1920s and 1930s showed their ironic guilt over the provision by their continuing policy of appeasement. (12) Hitler proved to be the greatest benefactor of that guilt in the 1930s as he invaded Austria and then Czechoslovakia. The Reparation Settlement imposed on Germany by the Allied Powers grew to be hated by the German people.
The basis for the reparations (which became a euphemism for indemnities) was that Germany was obligated to compensate for the civilian and property damage inflicted upon the Allies, as stated in Article 232 of the treaty. (13) The Reparation Settlement was the worst condition set upon Germanythe country could not possibly hope to meet its demands and maintain financial security at the same time. Chambers et al state, Germany was made liable for sums unspecified and without foreseeable end (14) John Maynard Keynes describes the most crippling of the reparations. Germany had to relinquish to France complete possession and rights to the Saar Basin coalmines for fifteen years. After that period, if the people of the region voted to reunite with Germany, Germany had to repurchase the mines at a price payable in gold. (15) This condition was a slap in the face: the Saar Basin had been a German region for the better part of 1,000 years.
(16) The economic effects of this confiscation of Germanys vital resource were devastating. The second most crippling reparation concerned Germanys merchant marine ships. The Allies forces the German state to give up all ships above 1600 tons, half between 1000 and 1600 tons, and one quarter of its fishing boats and trawlers, including the ones under construction. (17) The dismantling of both Germanys coal industry and its trade capabilities would create the desired effect of the German economy for which the Allies hoped. As far as the matter of monetary compensation, the treaty set up the Reparations Commission to take care of its collection. The Allies refused to rely on German good faith for the payment of reparations, so they included in the Treaty of Versailles the Reparations Commission.
Its base function was the extraction from Germany year after year the maximum sum obtainable. (18) However, Keynes points out the problem in advance of this system: the sum when fixed will prove in excess of what can be paid in cash and in excess of what can be paid at all. (19) The problem indicated here is that no limit on the amount of reparations to be paid by Germany each year had been set, nor had a time limit for the payments to end been established. The Germans kept finding themselves in one hopeless situation after another with seemingly endless debt. In the end, though, the treaty itself hampered the Reparations Commission by not setting any definable limits of payment, and the entire reparations system eventually fell apart.
One of the weaknesses of the treaty was the indecisiveness on the part of the diplomats that created it. The treaty soon proved to be ineffective in practice, partially a result of the misgivings of Georges Clemenceau and David Lloyd-George, respectively Prime Minister of France and Prime Minister of Great Britain. Clemenceau clearly distrusted his British allies, saying, there was no serious opposition to the harshest clauses of the Armistice except among our British allies, who were applying themselves heartily to the task of sparing Germany (20) Paul Birdsall shows the actual British sentiment at the time of the treaty, although his evaluation is not as harsh as Clemenceaus: the British delegates particularly were beginning to show symptoms of that guilt complex that has so profoundly affected post-Versailles British policy. (21) Birdsall refers to the well-known British policy of appeasement concerning the demands of Hitlers Germany preceding World War II, directly a result of the harsh terms of the treaty. Clemenceau apparently held some reservations about the treaty himself. In his thoughts on the French occupation of the Rhineland, as a revenge for the forty-eight year German occupation of Alsace-Lorraine, he says, From distant times warriors of all countries have had nothing but a system of annexation for their policy of aggressive defence, and this conception of an organization of military disequilibrium has merely maintained the warlike habits it had been intended to abolish.
(22) Here, about ten years after the signing of the Treaty of Versailles, Clemenceaus warning sounds hypocritical in light of his ardent participation in putting forth the conditions of the Treaty. The disunity of the Allied leaders contributed to the weakness and ineffectiveness of the treaty. Although originally the Germans had been in support of the Treaty of Versailles, which they believed would be based on President Wilsons Fourteen Points, their hopes o …