Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Friday, November 3, 2023

Recommended: Fifty Lessons from the Treaty of Versailles

No Names Needed

By Joseph Brean

Originally presented in the National Post, 8 November 2019

The Treaty of Peace Between the Allied and Associated Powers and Germany was the most important of the many treaties that brought the First World War to a close a century ago. It was signed at the palace of Versailles, King Louis XIV’s lavish palace outside Paris, in the summer of 1919, several months after Germany agreed to an armistice and surrendered.

The peace negotiation was not only an opportunity to punish the aggressor Germany and repay the countries, especially France, that had been so thoroughly devastated by the fighting. It was also a chance to reorder the political world, to lay foundations for permanent peace, to allow new nations to be born out of dead empires, like the Ottoman or Austro-Hungarian, and to reshape the colonial influence of empires that survived, like the French, British, and Russian.

In some of this, the Treaty of Versailles succeeded, if only briefly, until everything was undone by another global war waged by Germany 20 years later. But its failures have become legendary, and today the document signed in the Sun King’s Hall of Mirrors is a lens through which historians view the grandest themes of the 20th century: the fall of empire, the rise of ethno-nationalism and the spread of revolutionary Communism.

In the introduction to Canadian historian Margaret MacMillan’s definitive account of the conference, Paris 1919, the late former U.S. diplomat Richard Holbrooke described what came out of Versailles as “flawed decisions with terrible consequences, many of which haunt us to this day.” He recalled, for example, overseeing peace negotiations in Dayton, Ohio, in 1995 over war in the former Yugoslavia—a conflict made seemingly inevitable, in hindsight, by the impossible agglomeration of diverse nations into one country, Yugoslavia, which was first formally recognized at Versailles.

From Europe through Africa, the Middle East and Asia, the world learned many hard lessons from the Treaty of Versailles. The National Post’s Joseph Brean describes 50 of them.

1. Germany was not permanently weakened. Other countries endured the fighting, but Germany remained a mostly undamaged economic powerhouse that could recover quickly.

2. It should be allowed recover, as the economist and conference delegate John Maynard Keynes argued, against those, such as the French, who were keener on being harshly punitive.

3. It was in the interest of other nations that Germany become a prosperous economy, not only so it could be a trading partner, but as insulation against a return to military aggression.

4. Reparations were not unduly severe in their effect on the German economy …

5. … but the Great Depression a few years later would be.

6. Economic hardship makes for a favourable climate for radical nationalists.

7. By the time Germany stopped paying reparations, after its economy collapsed and the Allied powers agreed to a suspension in the summer of 1932, Germany was well on the road to Nazi fascism. Adolf Hitler would be chancellor a few months later.

8. The Treaty of Versailles thus became a recurring and popular theme of Adolf Hitler’s propaganda, scorned as a “diktat” imposed by an “international clique.”

9. Not giving Germany a seat at the Paris negotiations, nor any real chance to participate in the process other than sign on threat of an immediate invasion and occupation, was a lingering source of resentment, seen by Germans as deliberate humiliation.

10. Self-determination for nations emerging from imperial control was a popular and attractive idea, championed by U.S. President Woodrow Wilson …

Read the remaining 40 Lessons HERE:

1 comment:

  1. This is the best, most succinct, analysis of the failures of the Treaty of Versailles that I've ever read. It is excellent.