Influence of Treaty of Versailles on WWII
“World War I that ended almost one hundred years ago, following the Armistice on November 11, 1918. The Paris Peace Conference was held to determine the terms under which this devastating war was concluded. A war that was fought for insane reasons and brought devastation to so many families only ended when The Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28, 1919. It had been a war that was brought on by inept bureaucrats and it was “The Treaty of Versailles” that concluded the war between Germany and the Allied Powers. This treaty required Germany to disarm, make extensive territorial concessions, and pay reparations to the Allies. The fact that Germany was required to pay unrealistic reparations during such difficult times was the primary reason that the Second World War was fought a little over twenty years later by bringing Adolf Hitler onto the world stage!” – Capt. Hank Bracker, “Seawater One: Going to the Sea”
Treaty of Versailles: The Motivation and Effects
Jean Martet when quoting Georges Clemenceau, then Prime Minister of France, said: “I know men who profess to like and admire G. Clemenceau, who support the contention that he won the war but not the peace”. Failure by malice to the framers of the Treaty of Versailles, the actions of Mr. Lloyd George in blowing up the repatriation demands of Germany and the actions of the United States in withdrawing from any involvement with the rest of the world are key arguments that many historians including Hertherton and Martet have brought forward as key causes of World War 2. Martet considers the war could be attributed to the deprivation of the League of Nations of half of its influence for peace. Germany alone is to blame because she made no effort to fulfill the terms of the Treaty of Versailles. Although some element of these statements may be true, this post shall not dwell on uncovering these facts. Instead it settles on establishing how the Treaty of Versailles started a domino effect that eventually led World War 2.
Behind the signing of the Treaty of Versailles were three bigwig personalities: David Lloyd George (Prime Minister of Britain); Woodrow Wilson (President of the United States of America); and Georges Clemenceau (Prime Minister of France). Two contradicting prospects marred this process. On the one hand, Wilson inclined towards a treaty based on a fourteen point plan to bring Europe to peace. On the other hand, Georges Clemenceau wanted revenge asserted on Germany. Lloyd, who was stuck in the middle, tried to strike a balance between the two opposing plans to end the war. Rather more importantly, Germany had been expecting to sign a ‘peace treaty’ based on Wilson’s fourteen points, and was unhappy with the new terms of the treaty, but, had no choice than to oblige and sign. Germany’s rearmament of the Fatherland, the remilitarization of the Rhineland, the Anschluss with Austria and the occupation of the Sudetenland were all significant attacks on the Treaty of Versailles on the approach to WW2.
Five questions will serve to bring the reader up to date with the complexities of the Treaty of Versailles: One; how exactly did the Treaty fail in its quest to curtail a new war? Two; did the British public’s displeasure of the Treaty of Versailles play a role in the budding of the appeasement policy of the 1930’s? Three; did Britain demoralize the cause of the Treaty? Four; how did the failure of the treaty and adoption of the policy of appeasement lead to the signing of the Munich Agreement which strengthened Germany’s position on the road to a new war, an event led to the rise of Adolf Hitler? And five; how did the complex and undependable relations of the League of Nations speed up the cogs of war?
To answer these questions it is important to point out some noteworthy events that were taking place at the time, post 1919. Firstly, the Anglo-French relations had significantly deteriorated. This tended to encourage a sympathetic attitude towards Germany. Secondly, Britain realized it needed its former partners in Central Europe for her own prosperity, and had a compromising desire to water down the points of the peace settlement which might have impeded Germany’s recovery. Thirdly, both the British and the French were aware of Adolf Hitler’s actions in Germany, but ignored the situation because they were more engaged with holding back the “domino effect” or the rise of communism. For Britain and France, Germany building its defenses was essential to prevent the rise of communism to the West. Fourthly, and perhaps the most significant factor, was lifting of the “war guilt” on Germany. Henceforth, there was no more reason to blame Germany for falling out with Austria or blame France for supporting her ally; albeit Germany giving Austria a blank check. The German’s stormy blitz on Belgium was merely the “occasion” for Britain’s entrance into the war; the key reason was her ties to the entente and her fear of the consequences of a German victory. In fact, the real cause of the war was the split of Europe into two armed camps. The actions of each state were natural. None was guilty of desiring war, but all were guilty of failing to edit the international anarchy they had inherited.
Miscalculations Towards World War Two
The “war guilt” debate reached its pinnacle in 1938, with the Anschluss and the Czech crisis. Marriott and Temperley viewed Germany’s annexation of Austria as predictable, and any response by Britain as purposeless. Still to others the Munich Agreement was hailed as representing “the revival in this country of realist statesmanship in the best sense”. Temperley also saw Chamberlain’s policy as realistic and they condemned its critics as idealists. While pointing to the “tribulations” imposed on Germany by the peace treaty as a justification for the Munich Agreement, they revealed a heavier reason for their support of the appeasement. There is little doubt that during the 1930s the British public and its leaders alike clung to the old views inculcated by historians in the previous decade. The views were that a relatively guiltless Germany had been unjustly treated by the peacemakers and that the injustices Germany was attempting to correct were therefore legitimate. As a result, the wave of pro-Germanism that flounced the nation in the wake of Hitler’s remilitarization of the Rhineland is an indication of the scope and strength of these convictions. All this time, the dilemma of French security was scarcely grasped, and the significance of the remilitarization of the Rhineland and the trouncing of the Czech defenses in shifting the equation of power went unnoticed. In a bid to undo the post-war settlement, they disregarded the elementary principles of the balance of power.
Britain’s displeasure on the Treaty of Versailles played a big role in the budding of the appeasement policy, or giving in to someone provided their demands are reasonable. When Germany began arming in 1934, it was felt she had a right to protect herself. As such, the Munich Agreement, signed by leaders of Germany, France, Britain, and Italy, agreed that the Sudetenland would be returned to Germany. The Czech government was not invited to the meeting and protested about the loss of the Sudetenland. They felt that they had been betrayed by both Britain and France, with whom alliances had been made. However, the Munich Agreement was, generally speaking, viewed as a victory and a great example of securing peace through conciliation rather than war. When Adolf Hitler invaded the rest of Czechoslovakia in March 1939, he ruined the terms of the agreement.
The next domino to fall on the road to WW2 was Hitler’s actions following the undermined and weakened peace treaty. Adolf Hitler was sworn as Chancellor of Germany in January 1933. And almost instantaneously began secretly piling stocks of Germany’s weapons and arms. By 1934 he had considerably increased the size of the army and began building warships and an air force. Contrary to Treaty of Versailles which prohibited conscription, Hitler brought into being compulsory military service. In 1936 Hitler directed German troops to enter the Rhineland. At this point the German army was not very sturdy and could have been easily overpowered. Yet, neither Britain nor France was prepared to start another war. In the same year, Hitler also made two imperative alliances: The first was called the Rome-Berlin Axis Pact that allied Germany with Italy; and the second was called the Anti-Comitern Pact that allied Germany with Japan. In 1938 Hitler began taking back land that had been taken from Germany. In March of that year, the leader of Austria was forced to hold a vote of confidence asking the people whether they would like to be part of Germany. 99% of the Austrian people wanted Anschluss and not a union with Germany. The Austrian leader requested France, Britain, and Italy for aid. Hitler guaranteed that the Anschluss was the end of his expansionist aims, and, not wanting to risk war, the other countries did nothing. Just six months later, Hitler did not keep his word and demanded that the Sudetenland region be handed over to Germany.
Quite unexpectedly, The Munich Agreement stated that Hitler (Germany) could have the Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia, on condition that he promised not to attack the rest of Czechoslovakia. In March 1939 Hiltler invaded the rest of Czechoslovakia. Despite Czechoslovakia raising an alarm for help, it was ignored by all and sundry, for neither Britain nor France was prepared to take military action against Germany. However, action was now deemed necessary, believing that Poland was Germany’s next target. Britain and France pledged to take military action against Hitler if he invaded Poland. Chamberlain believed that, faced with the prospect of war against France and Britain, Hitler would stop his offense. Chamberlain was wrong, and on September 1, 1939, German troops invaded Poland, dropping the last domino that ushered in World War 2.
Failures of the Treaty of Versailles
In the debate on the failures of the Treaty of Versailles, historians claimed to speak with scholarly authority. Precisely as German officials had hoped, the demise of the belief in its war guilt, which was largely the making of historians, raised the question of whether it was morally bound to honor a peace accord concluded under what was later regarded as the misapprehension that she was chiefly responsible for the war. Liberal intellectuals, disillusioned by the Treaty of Versailles, eagerly embraced the new revisionist history as an argument for changes in the peace settlement. When Adolf Hitler proceeded unilaterally to dismantle the Versailles system in the 1930s, these liberals, frightened by the potential consequences of Britain’s opposition, urged acceptance of his ruinous aggression on the grounds that Germany’s grievances were valid. Shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War, Grant and Temperley noted with great disquietude that the Treaty of Versailles was no longer the public law of Europe. In the commentaries written by Kepi, the Treaty Versailles was only one half of the peace dissonance, the other was the League of Nations. The failure of the League of Nations to keep countries in ‘check’ was also a fundamental faux-pax.
The League of Nation
So far, we have established that the Treaty of Versailles was no longer reliable in maintaining peace in Europe, and as a last resort the League of Nations was expected to uphold peace. The fundamental idea of the League of Nations in the mind of its founders was simple: To them the root of evil of the pre-war system had been secret diplomacy, aggressive imperialism, the balance of power, and the militaristic ambition promoted by autocratic blocks. It was to offer impetus against the restoration of the old system of competitive diplomacy, by bringing all nations in an assembly that solves international problems that could cause international disturbance. It cushioned against risk of war by requiring each member to permit inquiry for a given period into any dispute with another member before it started war like operations, and obliging members to take action against any member violating the rules. Howbeit, the League of Nations did not patently function as the universal clearing house for all the international disputes. From the onset it had many shortcomings working against it. Owing to the constraints of space, this post will only outline the main drawbacks that saw the League of Nations fail to hold back European nations from another war.
Failures of the League of Nations
Firstly, not all countries joined the League. While the vision of the League of Nations had come from Woodrow Wilson, there was a change of government in the United States before the signing of the Treaty of Versailles and the modish incumbent Republican government declined to join. As a direct recompense for originating World War One, Germany was not allowed to join the League of Nations. And Russia was also excluded thanks to a growing fear of “the domino effect” or rise of Communism. Secondly, the League of Nations had no powers. Its main weapon was to ask member countries to discontinue trading with an aggressive country. However, this was not effective because countries could still trade with non-member countries. As it were, in the wake of 1920’s depression, countries were unwilling to lose trading partners to other non-member nations. Thirdly, the League of Nations had no standing army and it relied on soldiers supplied by the member countries. For the same reason, the countries were not keen to get involved and risk provoking an aggressive country into taking direct action against them and failed to provide troops. As a result the League was a “toothless” bulldog. Fourthly, the League of Nations was unable to act swiftly. The Council of the League of Nations only met every four months and decisions had to be agreed by all members. When they called on the League to intercede, it had to set up a crisis meeting, hold discussions and gain the consensus of all members. The tack meant that it could not act swiftly to stop acts of aggression.
The Treaty of Versailles: In Conclusion
Did the Treaty of Versailles ever hold any water in terms of its ability to keep aggressors like Germany in check and maintaining peace in Europe? Arguably, the answer is a resounding no. Firstly, the process of its creation was biased. Failure by malice on the framers of the Treaty of Versailles: The actions of Mr. Lloyd George in blowing up the repatriation demands of Germany. On his part, Martet believes that the treaty which Clemenceau would have made in those circumstances alone — opposites disarmed or Germany shattered — would not have differed very much from the actual Treaty of Versailles. Martet adds that it is not the treaty as it was applied from 1920 onwards that was the onset of its drawbacks, but as it was drawn up, as it was signed on June 28th, 1919, and as it was corroborated by the Chamber of Deputies on October 2nd, 1919. That is a further reason why Clemenceau could feel altogether dissatisfied with his work.
In the face of the conquered nervy enemy, the only thing that concerned France was for her to regain her pre-war rectitude and independence, her territorial integrity, her agricultural and industrial prosperity. For Clemenceau, Germany had fired the train and must make amends. So, in the end, harsh clauses were drawn up that included: “War Guilt” stating that Germany should admit the blame for starting World War One; reparations that stated that Germany had to disburse £6,600 million for the damage caused; disarmament that stated that Germany could only maintain a small-scale army and minimal naval ships; and territorial clauses that stated that land was taken away from Germany and given to other countries. Needless, perhaps, to point out is that the Treaty was not objective and failed to account for rules of the jungle. Kepi asserted the jungle had developed two means of protecting itself from the worst of chronic low-less ness. One method had been either for a single or combination of the more powerful states to develop such a preponderance of power that nobody else dared encourage war. The other method had been the creation of a balance of power, where by two or more groups maintain amicable equilibrium that the expense of war and the uncertainty of the outcome act as effective deterrents. Withal, the air in Europe at the time was too delicate for the treaty and there was no balance of power, besides, America and USSR which were new powers distanced themselves from Europe and had conflicting interests and ideologies.
Historian J.A.M Sanchez points out that the Treaty of Versailles failed abide by several instances to the fourteen points. Indeed, many people in these countries are not a little shocked at the moral turpitude of those Europeans who regard this argument with little respect. According to Sanchez, he cannot conceive of a written Treaty which would have incorporated within its clauses so imprecise a formula as is the fourteen points. I should have thought that by now it would be fairly generally known that the fourteen points were as definitive a part of the military campaign of the last year of the war as were the daunt operations of the American Army in the St. Mihiel Sector. Whether they were intended as such is not yet perfectly clear; that they became such is certain. Their wording seems admirably designed to achieve just exactly what they did achieve, a scaling up of the will to win in the Allied block and a weakening of it in Germany and Austria.
Treaty of Versailles: Milestones & Timeline
|January 18, 1919||Paris Peace Conference commences|
|April 14, 1919||Reparations provision set at 5.4 Bn. Pounds|
|June 24, 1919||German scuttle their fleet, at Scapa Flow, |
rather than handing it down to the Allies
|June 28, 1919||Treaty of Versailles signed and reparation |
set at 1 Bn. Pounds
|September 12, 1919||Gabriele d’ Annunzio and an Italian army |
seize Fiume, against the Treaty
|November 19, 1919||United States Senate refuses to join the |
League of Nations
|January 16, 1920||First meeting of the League of Nations|
|February 5, 1920||The German government refuses to hand |
over 890 alleged ‘war criminals’
|February 19, 1920||US Senate refuses to sign the Treaty of |
|March 17, 1920||Kapp Putsch (rebellion) in Germany, |
against the Peace Treaty, fails
|April 6, 1920||French troops invade Ruhr (until 17th |
May 1920) after government troops had
sent troops to Rhineland to stop rioting
|April 25, 1920||Poland invades Russia and Lithuania and |
takes land east of the ‘Curzon line’ agreed in
the Treaty of Versailles
|April 25, 1920||The League of Nations suggests reparations |
of 4.5 Bn. Pounds
|June 22, 1920||The League of Nations suggests reparations |
of 12.5 Bn. Pounds
|July 28, 2020||The Allied block bully Poland into accepting |
Czech occupation of Teschen
|January 28, 1921||The League of Nations suggests reparations |
of 10 Bn. Pounds
|March 8, 1921||French, British and Belgium troops invade |
the Ruhr in Germany (until 30th September
1921) to force Germans to pay reparations
|April 27, 1921||Reparations finally fixed at 6.6 Bn., to be paid |
in installments until 1984
|May 11, 1921||Germany agrees to pay reparations|
|July 11, 1921||The big three agree to hold a disarmament|
|May 15, 1922||Upper Silesia, which had been voted in a |
plebiscite to be German, is partitioned and
given to Poland after an investigation by
the League of Nations
|January 11, 1923||French and Belgium troops, against US and |
Britain’s advise invade Ruhr in Germany
(until November 1924) to force Germany
to pay reparations
|October 16, 1925||Locarno Pact: Peace agreement between |
France, Belgium, Italy and Germany
|January 30, 1926||British troops leave the Rhineland|
|September 16, 1927||Germany denies war-guilt|