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World War II – The Treaty of Versailles

The Treaty of Versailles was a violation of Wilsons ideals. The Treaty is one of the most important agreements (or disagreements) that shaped 20th century Europe socially and physically. Woodrow Wilson on January 22, 1917 in an address to the United States Senate called for a peace without victors, but the Treaty signed by the participating nations was everything but that. The blame for the war was placed on Germany and justified the reparations that were outlined by the treaty for the war.

The terms of the treaty were very harsh to the Germans and they took on great resentment. It was a fragile peace agreement that would be used as fuel to keep hostilities going 20 years later. When the details of the treaty were published in June 1919 most Germans were horrified. Germany had not been allowed to the Peace Conference and was told to accept the terms or else. Most Germans however, had believed that the Treaty would be lenient because of Wilson’s Fourteen Points.

Many people in other lands thought that the treaty was a way of making legal the punishment on the Germans and this was in violation of Wilsonian idealism. The peacemakers should have been able to set aside hatred that was built up from the past in order to come up with a more proper and fair settlement. Instead of doing this, they placed the blame on the Germans by forcing them to pay for reparations they couldn’t afford, insulting them with the accusation of guilt from the war and taking away their territory.

The treaty would only intensify the hatred felt by all the parties involved in the treaty and heighten German nationalism. This was a poor beginning for democracy in Germany and for Wilson’s New World. President Woodrow Wilson had hopes for a New World. For Wilson, the war had been fought against autocracy. A peace settlement based on liberal-democratic ideals, he hoped, would get rid of the foundations of war. None of Wilson’s hopes seemed better than the idea of self-determination — the right of a people to have its own state, free of any foreign domination.

In particular, this goal meant the return of Alsace and Lorraine to France which had been lost to Germany in the Franco-Prussian war, the creation of an independent Poland, the changing of the frontiers of Italy to include Austrian lands where Italians lived, and an opportunity for Slavs of the Austro- Hungarian Empire to form their own states. Several of the clauses of the Treaty were thought to be very harsh. It was going to be almost impossible to pay the reparations. In fact, the German government gave up after only one year, and the War Guilt Clause seemed very unfair.

How could Germany be the only country to blame for the war? After all it had started when a Serbian shot an Austrian. It was felt that Germany had been simply made a scapegoat by the other countries for all that had happened. Looking back it is clear that the Treaty of Versailles created more problems than it actually solved. The treaty broke up empires and changed boundaries. The Germans lost territory and other countries tried to weaken Germanys military potential and strengthen their own to compensate for the destruction of their lands caused by the Germans.

The Germans were unanimously against the Treaty of Versailles. They viewed the terms of the treaty as humiliating and merciless, designed to keep Germany militarily and economically weak. To the Germans, the Treaty of Versailles was not the beginning of the New World that Wilson had promised, but a horrible crime. At the end of World War I, the victorious Allies met in Paris to draw up the peace conditions. Although the Allies had varying expectations and demands, they did agree that Germany should have the burden of responsibility for causing the war.

Germany was severely penalized under the terms of the treaty. However, the League of Nations couldnt to enforce Germany’s compliance, which increased international tensions. The new German Republic struggled and their economy continued to fall. Although 27 nations attended the Peace Conference, the leaders of the United States, Great Britain, France, and Italy strongly dictated the peace terms. Even though each agreed that Germany should assume the financial burden of putting Europe back together, the “Big Four” had different expectations and demands, which they sought.

France demanded a harsh settlement that would eliminate Germany as a potential military threat and it wanted their land back. Italy specifically wanted more territory to add to its empire. Great Britain wanted to keep its strong navy and thought it would be in Europes best interest to help restore the German economy. Finally, the United States sought the League of Nations to be an international committee to break up future conflicts and Wilson was pushing his 14 Points. The fact that Germany was made responsible for ALL the reparations helped to break apart international relations.

The Allies were counting on Germany to pay their war debts. They hoped to use that money to help their own economic problems. The League of Nations was not very effective in forcing Germany to make payments, because it lost credibility when the United Stated didnt join. The new German republic was in a constant state of instability because new radical groups were emerging left and right, trying to attain power. The continuing economic decline worsened the struggle, leaving the German people discouraged and desperate.

The conclusions of the war included the following; Germany was forced to reduce its army to 100,000 men, reduce the navy to 6 warships and was not allowed to have any submarines, destroy all of its air force, give land to Belgium, France, Denmark and Poland, hand over all of its colonies, agree to pay reparations to the Allies for all of the damage caused by the war, put no soldiers or military equipment within 30 miles of the east bank of the Rhine, and accept all of the blame for the war (War Guilt Clause. ) Italy was given the two small areas of Istria and the South Tirol.

The Adriatic coast was made part of a new country called Yugoslavia, which included Serbia and Bosnia. Other new countries were created; Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Finland were formed from land lost by Russia. Czechoslovakia and Hungary were formed out of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The Allies also gave Germany a new form of government based on proportional representation. It was meant to prevent Germany from being taken over by a dictatorship, but it led to the creation of more than thirty political parties; none of them was big enough to form a government on its own.

Aware that a harshly treated Germany might seek revenge, engulfing the world in another destruction, Wilson insisted that there should be a “peace without victory. ” A fair settlement would encourage Germany to work with the Allies in building a new Europe. To preserve peace and to help remake the world, Wilson urged the formation of a League of Nations. What was most significant about the Treaty of Versailles was that it did not solve the German problem.

Germany was left weak but unbroken — its industrial and military power was only temporarily taken away and its nationalist feelings have intensified. The real danger in Europe was German unwillingness to accept defeat or surrender their longtime dream of expansion. In conclusion, had the Allies Powers listened to President Wilson’s hopes for a new world and to his famous Fourteen Points, the settlement would have been peaceful and the Germans would not have been humiliated as they have been and would have no reason to want to seek revenge.

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