“Are ideals confined to this deformed experiment upon a noble purpose, tainted, as it is, with bargains and tied to a peace treaty which might have been disposed of long ago to the great benefit of the world if it had not been compelled to carry this rider on its back? (Henry Cabot Lodge, 1919)”
Indeed, this was an apt description of the parodies of the peace treaty of Versaillesafter the First World War. While powerful nations such as Britain, France, Italy, the United States of America, and Germany sought to establish a treaty that would finally bring peace to the war-torn countries of Europe, each force was still subdivided by vested interests that have no direct intimation to the pursuit of peace. Hence, the treaty itself became a testament of conflicting interests – of each nation’s effort of trying to outmaneuver each other from gaining much. However, the Treaty of Versailles carried the weight of a uniform goal: to crippleGermanyto the point where it could no longer summon the courage and capacity to become a military threat among the nations of the world. Thus, in this pursuit of peace and justice, the offending nation has to be condemned; one has to bear the guilt of atrocities, and pay for war reparations. Instead of working on common avenues of peace, the leaders of the nations worked on ensuring that their respective interests as dominant forces of the world were well represented.
For George Clemencau ofFrance, the crippling of Germany’s capacity to wage another military exercise is of prime importance. Thus,FrancewantedGermanyto exhaust all of its resources into war reparations.Francedemanded for more aggressive measures for support than any other countries involved in the treaty. Clemencau wished to regain the Alsace-Lorraine territory which Germany has taken control after the Franco-Russian War of 1871. This was vital forFrance; Alsace-Lorraine is wealthy and highly-industrialized. It would undeniably strengthenFrance’s force as a country in Europe and significantly reduceGermany.Francelikewise demanded to separate the Rhineland and Ruhr fromGermany, thereby diffusing forces into small partitions which later on would be impossible to wield for invasion and domination.
Yet, according to Trachtenberg (1999), the demands of Francehave far deeper subtexts if taken into account the strengthening of alliance between Britainand the United States of America. These demands were actually not geared to establish French superiority over Germany, but rather to work out arrangements that would enable them to deal with their great neighbor across the Rhine on a more equal basis (Trachtenberg, 1999). While it may be unacceptable or even border to being preposterous to suppose thatFrance was seeking an alliance withGermany after the ravages that has been committed on French soil, an exploration of such possibilities may be needed in order to understandFrance’s political stance in the face of the Treaty of Versailles.
David Lloyd George ofGreat Britainhowever, has his own personal beliefs aboutGermany(Boemeke, 1998). As a politician, he knew that he must reflect his countrymen’s clamor for justice againstGermany. However, he also knew that he must be able to instigate measures to curtail the ascent of Marxist thoughts inRussia– a greater and more powerful threat to the stability of his nations and to other European countries as well. He wanted to utilizeGermanyas a pawn that could prevent the spread of communism. Because of this, while he spearheaded the writing of the treaty, he likewise wanted to ensure thatGermany’s forces would only be weakened and not totally supplanted. Hence, he supported reparations but to a significantly lesser extent thanFrance. He also wanted to make sure thatFrancewould not be able to gain ascendancy as a powerful force in Europe out of the gains thatFrancewould be getting fromGermanyfor war reparations.
Britaindemanded the control ofGermany’s African colonies as war reparation – a stark contradiction toFrance’s equally ambitious demands. By strategically cripplingGermanywith its colonies, it would cease to be a military threat. Yet, it would retain its capacity to bounce back and accomplish significant economic gains for itself. In this manner, Lloyd George would be preventing the institution of another conflict byGermanyand at the same time hinderingFrancefrom gaining dominance over the countries inEurope.
United States of AmericaPresident Woodrow Wilson likewise played a significant role – not only in the Treaty of Versailles but also to the immediate aftermath of war – of Germany’s “inconceivable” defeat and the push for peace talks and settlements. Wilsonsubmitted his “Fourteen Points” and urged for the establishment of League of Nations, an assembly that would address future conflicts between countries in order to prevent another war from happening again. Like Lloyd George,Wilson did not want to drastically crippleGermany for fear of French domination. He also wanted to continue the states’ trading relations withGermany and prevent the spread of Russian Bolshevism to countries that could wield the necessary force to uphold it – the most notable of which wasGermany.
At this period,Italyentered the Treaty in order to claim control overFiume, as its due reparation for joining the war and fighting with the Allied Forces. ThoughItalydid not have a significant contribution to the waging of war compared toFrance,Great Britainand theUnited States, the Italian government’s failure to obtain Fiume led to various struggle in the country, and eventually to the taking control ofItalyby Benito Mussolini.
Germany, however, insulted with the alleged violation of its honor under the Treaty of Versailles.Germanywas forced to sign and acquiesce to the severe conditions in exchange of freedom from foreign dominance.Germanysuffered much loss for its acquiescence, and the people felt betrayed by President Wilson of theUnited States. The supposedly “peace settlement” was transformed into a rash dictate in the economic, social and political policies ofGermany. Indeed,Wilson’s “Fourteen Points” became only applicable to the right of countries to self-determination – to the point of weakeningGermanyand its former allies.
It was said that this fury led to the establishment of Nazi rule inGermany(Trachtenberg, 1999).Germany’s oppression in the face of the unjust conditions provided by the Treaty became a powerful political propaganda that fueled Hitler’s ascendancy asGermany’s despotic ruler.
Historians believed that such conflicts that ultimately led to the Second World War may have been prevented if only Britain and America negotiated a formal military alliance with France, instead of instituting measures to thwart their perceived “France’s ambitions to gain dominance in the entire Europe” (Trachtenberg, 1999). Justice may have been fairly delivered if not one country was condemned and tried for a previously decided fate. WhileGermanyhas played a significant contribution to the ravages of war, it was fueled by other nations as well, which became parties to the prolongation of conflict and further atrocities. Thus, the settlement should have been based upon the principle of “equality and community of sacrifice” (Trachtenberg, 1999) – a common effort of reconstruction, founded upon the true essence of peace and restoration.
Boemeke, Manfred, Feldman, Gerald and Glaser, Elisabeth. The Treaty of Versailles: A Reassessment after 75 Years.Cambridge: German History Institute, Washington and CambridgeUniversityPress, 1998.
Duffy, Michael. Henry Cabot lodge on the League of Nations, 12 August 1919. 22 August 2009. Accessed 25 January 2010 fro www.firstworldwar.com
The Avalon Project. The Versailles Treaty, June 28, 1919.YaleLawSchool: Lillian Goldman Law Library. 2008. Accessed 25 January 2010 from www.avalon.law.yale.edu
The Treaty of Versailles.ColbyCollege. (n.d.) Accessed 25 January 2010 from www.colby.edu
The Treaty of Versailles. History Learning Site (n.d.) Accessed 25 January 2010 from www.historylearningsite.co.uk
Trachtenberg, Marc. Versailles Revisited.University ofPennsylvania. 27 December 1999