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Peace Treaty

In January 1919 in Paris a conference of representatives from twenty-seven nations met to prepare a peace treaty. Germany was not invited. The treaty was to be dictated to Germany.

Among the participants a balanced view of the war's origins did not exist. The treaty declared that Germany had started the war. As described here on previous pages, Germany had supported Austria-Hungary's attack on Serbia but had not chosen war against Russia until Russia had mobilized against it, and Germany had not decided on war against France until it was sure that France was joining Russia in attacking Germany. And the German kaiser, Wilhelm, had not wanted to war against Britain. Britain entered the war living up to its military agreement with France and afraid Germany becoming more dominant on the continent. In other words, the treaty's declaration was false. It was a product of wartime passion and an inability to measure the war's origins with objectivity.

Attending the conference was President Wilson, and he favored reconciliation, but he too thought Germany was the guilty party, and the hostility toward Germany made reconciliation unlikely.

Many in the Allied nations wanted revenge and to "make Germany pay for the war." It was reconciliation with Germany that would have best served the Allied powers and peace. What was needed was repaired economies and a re-establishment of trade. According to Pope Benedict XV, rather than reconciliation the treaty signed at Versailles (just outside Paris) was as a "consecration of hatred" and a "perpetuation of war."

A big issue was France's fear of another invasion by Germany. The French wanted assurance that it would not happen again, as it had in 1871 and 1914. They were not very reasonable. Germany had invaded only when France had decided to make war against them, and best hope for peace between the two countries would be a regime in Germany not motivated by revenge against France for the policies that the French delegation was suggesting. The leader of the French delegation, Premier Georges Clemenceau, was convinced that no agreements on paper would compensate France for the dangers of a German invasion. He proposed dividing Germany into a number of independent states and weakening Germany economically. He wanted to take from Germany the Rhineland – although the Rhineland was clearly a land of Germans. And Clemenceau and the French wanted Germany to pay for the war, including damages to French property and pensions to French war widows and orphans.

Wilson was ineffective and went along with punishing Germany so as not to offend his allies, whose support he wanted to create his pet project, a League of Nations. The treaty that was signed (at Versailles, just outside Paris) redrew the map of Europe with ten percent of Germany's population outside of Germany's new boundaries. Germany was to pay huge sums of cash for years as reparations to France and Britain. A British delegate to the conference, John Maynard Keynes, resigned from his delegation in protest. He denounced the treaty as ruinous for Germany and pointed out that the health of Germany's economy was important to Europe as a whole.

Fear and desire for an unabtainable degree of security had actually made the French less secure. The war and treaty contributed to the economic depression that would appear in Europe in the late 1920s and soon after in the United States. The Social Democrats in power in the new German republic did not want to sign the treaty. The military establishment surrendered in effect, telling the government that restarting the war would be futile. A view would be maintained that the German army had not been defeated but stabbed in the back by traitors including the Social Democrats, Communists and Jews.

In the early 1930s, misery from economic depression and hatred of the Versailles Treaty brought to power a disgruntled veteran of the war, a super-patriot, Adolf HItler, whose goal was overturning the treaty. A Social Democratic government in Germany would have contributed to peace and security for France and Britain, but this was not to be.

The treaty made a lot of people unhappy. Arabic speaking peoples felt betrayed by it. Arabs fighting with the Allied powers against rule by the Ottoman Turks had been promised independence, and they had been looking forward to the independence called for in Wilson's Fourteen Points. Instead they were given a British and French colonialism that made their part of the world more troubled.

Chinese viewed the treaty as a betrayal, favoring Britain's ally, Japan, and against China's sovereignty. Student protests gave birth to the May 4th Movement, whose slogans were "struggle for sovereignty" and "throw out the warlord traitors." It would diverge and grow into China's communism.

Koreans also felt betrayed by the Paris Peace Conference. Wilson’s talk of a just settlement to the war in 1918 had inspired wishful thinking among the Koreans, who yearned for freedom from Japanese rule. The Koreans marched. Japanese forces attacked the marchers and burned Korea's Christian churches. 6,670 Koreans died, 14,611 were wounded, and 52,770 arrested. Across Korea, outrage against the Japanese intensified, and rebellion took the Japanese months to control. Many Koreans – some armed – fled into Manchuria and into Korea's mountains, while at Paris the Peace Conference refused to allow Koreans to plead their case.

Copyright © 2016 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.