Peacemaking, 1919

The treaty of Versailles was the end product of six months of extensive negotiation that would have lasting impact on the western world, leading to the humiliation of Germany and creating a legacy of national anger that was finally rectified with the rise of Adolf Hitler and his Nazi regime.

All the major powers present had important, individual aims. France wished to seek retribution for the massive loss of life and infrastructural damage inflicted on her. Clemencau, the French Prime minister wanted to seek policies that would cripple the German nation militarily, economically and politically. The aim of this was to ensure Germany would not have the chance to rise as a mighty European power again as it had already done. Clemencau faced enormous pressure at home to ensure Germany was well and truly punished for its part in the war, and the Prime Minister was determined to meet the French nations expectations.

Britain’s position was more complicated. Lloyd George, the British Prime minister distrusted Woodrow Wilson’s idealistic vision of self-determination, as this would have negative effects on the British Empire. He also found some of Wilson’s fourteen points to be outside the British national interest, such as freedom of the seas and transparency in international treaties. Meanwhile he was wary that if Germany were crushed as badly as the French had desired in the Treaty, it would create a chasm in Europe that France would be readily able to exploit. This would certainly upset a delicate balance of power in an already turbulent Europe. He faced pressure at home to receive compensatory reparations for war widows and men disabled during the war, but also had to balance this with the fact that Germany was an important British trading power, and if Germany were to regress economically this would damage British trade.

The idealistic progressive notions of President Woodrow Wilson on the other hand led the United States. Wilson advocated in his famous ‘Fourteen Points’ speech to the Houses of Congress in January, 1918, a series of major points of principle that acted as the war aims of the United States, the first clearly expressed war aims of any belligerent nation at this time. The Fourteen points called for greater transparency in international agreements; freedom of the seas and free trade; Disarmament; self determination for a host of countries, including Romania, the Balkans, Russia, Turkey and Poland but excluding Ireland; realignment of territories such as Alsace Lorraine and Italy upon ethnic lines and the establishment of a League of Nations that would assure collective security for all participants.

Wilson’s ideas were what the German public hoped would form the basis of the negotiations. Despite his influence in the proceedings, he couldn’t prevent French and British interests demanding reparations and territories, but did succeed in establishing the League of Nations, although the United States did not get ratification for joining in the Senate, and returned to an isolationist worldview afterwards.

The Treaty resulted in Germany losing over ten percent of its territories and population, along with losing all its colonies and over fifteen percent of its coalfields. Furthermore, Union with Austria was forbidden and Germany had to pay reparations to the victorious powers and sign a war guilt clause

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