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The Truth About The Treaty of Versailles Watch

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    At school it is rammed down our throats that the Treaty of Versailles of 1919 was an unbelievably harsh treaty which laid the blame for the outbreak of WWI solely on Germany. The resentment and bitterness created thereby led directly to the rise of Adolf Hitler and therefore, WWII.

    This crooked interpretation of the actual history has worked its way into our institutions of learning and become the accepted, standard, official version taught by teachers and encouraged by examiners. It has been accepted almost as gospel by people who really should know better.

    Yet new evidence tells us that far from being a harsh treaty, the Versailles was rather lenient on Germany, too lenient in fact. It was far more lenient than the horrifying treaty enforced on Russia by Imperial Germany in 1917, which saw Russia lost much of its lands in Eastern Europe, which were carved off the former Russian Empire and turned into prospective German puppet states. German defeat in 1918 prevented these highly artificial protectorates from coming into being, instead preserving them as independent nations.

    The truth was that large elements of the German ruling class never truly reconciled themselves to their defeat. Ludendorff and Hindenburg both helped to spread the stab-in-the-back legend in order to absolve themselves of the fact that they were bested by the Entente generals in the conflict. The German press suppressed bad news from the Western Front, so that most Germans were shocked to hear of their defeat, having been fed on a diet of nothing but glorious victories, expecting nothing less than total triumph. (The Kaiser even prematurely ordered victory celebrations upon hearing that German troops were just miles away from Paris in the spring of 1918).

    As Andrew Roberts writes in A History of the English-Speaking Peoples Since 1900...

    "...The received wisdom is that another war broke out twenty years after the Treaty was signed, ergo it must have been flawed. Yet Adolf Hitler had plans of conquest and dreams of scourging the Bolsheviks and Jews that would have led him far beyond the frontiers that any peacemakers could possibly have agreed for Germany at Versailles. To blame Versailles for Hitler's war is, as Margaret Macmillan puts it in her book Peacemakers, 'to ignore the actions of everyone - political leaders, diplomats, soldiers, ordinary voters - for twenty years between 1919 and 1939'.
    "Had the Treaty actually been harsher on Germany - specifically if it had divided the country in two (as happened in 1945) or more (as was the case before 1871) separate entities - then there might have been no via dolorosa of Rhineland-Anschluss-Sudentenland-Danzig for Europe to walk between 1936 and 1939. The problem with Versailles was not that it was 'Carthaginian', as Keynes so eloquently argued in his influential philippic The Economic Consequences of the Peace, but that it left Germany in a physical position to launch her fifth war of territorial aggrandisement in three-quarters of a century to 1939.
    "...A peace that partitioned Germany in 1919, perhaps even returning it to the pre-1870 status of a dozen or so states, might well have prevented a second world war. The problem with the peacemakers of Versailles was not that they were willing to wound but afraid to strike, although admittedly it did not look that way at the time. It was not the Versailles Treaty itself, so much as the United States' and others' refusal to stand by its measures to curb German rearmament, come what may, that exposed the weakness of the security it was designed to instill."-A. Roberts, A History of the English-Speaking Peoples Since 1900 (Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 2006, p.158-159)
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    (Original post by Cato the Elder)
    At school it is rammed down our throats that the Treaty of Versailles of 1919 was an unbelievably harsh treaty which laid the blame for the outbreak of WWI solely on Germany. The resentment and bitterness created thereby led directly to the rise of Adolf Hitler and therefore, WWII.

    This crooked interpretation of the actual history has worked its way into our institutions of learning and become the accepted, standard, official version taught by teachers and encouraged by examiners. It has been accepted almost as gospel by people who really should know better.

    Yet new evidence tells us that far from being a harsh treaty, the Versailles was rather lenient on Germany, too lenient in fact. It was far more lenient than the horrifying treaty enforced on Russia by Imperial Germany in 1917, which saw Russia lost much of its lands in Eastern Europe, which were carved off the former Russian Empire and turned into prospective German puppet states. German defeat in 1918 prevented these highly artificial protectorates from coming into being, instead preserving them as independent nations.

    The truth was that large elements of the German ruling class never truly reconciled themselves to their defeat. Ludendorff and Hindenburg both helped to spread the stab-in-the-back legend in order to absolve themselves of the fact that they were bested by the Entente generals in the conflict. The German press suppressed bad news from the Western Front, so that most Germans were shocked to hear of their defeat, having been fed on a diet of nothing but glorious victories, expecting nothing less than total triumph. (The Kaiser even prematurely ordered victory celebrations upon hearing that German troops were just miles away from Paris in the spring of 1918).

    As Andrew Roberts writes in A History of the English-Speaking Peoples Since 1900...

    "...The received wisdom is that another war broke out twenty years after the Treaty was signed, ergo it must have been flawed. Yet Adolf Hitler had plans of conquest and dreams of scourging the Bolsheviks and Jews that would have led him far beyond the frontiers that any peacemakers could possibly have agreed for Germany at Versailles. To blame Versailles for Hitler's war is, as Margaret Macmillan puts it in her book Peacemakers, 'to ignore the actions of everyone - political leaders, diplomats, soldiers, ordinary voters - for twenty years between 1919 and 1939'.
    "Had the Treaty actually been harsher on Germany - specifically if it had divided the country in two (as happened in 1945) or more (as was the case before 1871) separate entities - then there might have been no via dolorosa of Rhineland-Anschluss-Sudentenland-Danzig for Europe to walk between 1936 and 1939. The problem with Versailles was not that it was 'Carthaginian', as Keynes so eloquently argued in his influential philippic The Economic Consequences of the Peace, but that it left Germany in a physical position to launch her fifth war of territorial aggrandisement in three-quarters of a century to 1939.
    "...A peace that partitioned Germany in 1919, perhaps even returning it to the pre-1870 status of a dozen or so states, might well have prevented a second world war. The problem with the peacemakers of Versailles was not that they were willing to wound but afraid to strike, although admittedly it did not look that way at the time. It was not the Versailles Treaty itself, so much as the United States' and others' refusal to stand by its measures to curb German rearmament, come what may, that exposed the weakness of the security it was designed to instill."-A. Roberts, A History of the English-Speaking Peoples Since 1900 (Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 2006, p.158-159)
    I concur with the general thrust. However, you should read historians other than Andrew Roberts whom you esteem too highly. The book he cites in your quotation, Margaret Macmillan's Peacemakers, is an excellent piece of work.
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    One reason Germany saw it as harsh was because they were primarily punished, even though they didn't cause WWI
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    (Original post by tomywomy)
    One reason Germany saw it as harsh was because they were primarily punished, even though they didn't cause WWI
    Not solely but they played a major part.
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    While I agree that it's a myth that Versailles was harsh (it was nothing compared to Brest-Litovsk, Trianon, Saint-Germain or Sevres), I would heavily caution against falling victim to second-option bias and concluding that its leniency directly led to WW2. For a start, it's worth noting that the USSR still came back to become a superpower despite Brest-Litovsk, so even a harsher treaty wouldn't have meant no possibility comeback for Germany. Ultimately the rise of Nazism must be seen as caused by several endogenous German factors, rather than external ones like Versailles. Yes, there was an unwillingness to follow the Treaty's terms among much of the German political and military leadership - but their clear antipathy to, and unwillingness to defend the legitimacy of, the new republican state was far more significant.

    On an international scale, the problem was not the Treaty itself, but the lack of political will of the other powers to enforce it. Britain and France ought to have threatened Germany in March 1935 (the first time Hitler explicitly violated the treaty by introducing conscription and rearming beyond Versailles' set limits), and occupied the country if Hitler failed to back down. Instead they deluded themselves into thinking that they could avoid war altogether. By the time there was something of a political will to go to war, in late 1938, it was too late.
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    (Original post by Cato the Elder)
    A. Roberts, A History of the English-Speaking Peoples Since 1900 (Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 2006, p.158-159)
    At this point 'Ibid.' would do just fine.
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    Let's look at the problems with Roberts' (and your) thesis.

    First of all Roberts is internally inconsistent. In his first paragraph he seeks to argue that the Treaty is not flawed but in the second and third, he asserts that it is flawed but just not in the way others argue it is flawed. The fact the meat is raw rather than burned, means that it still can't be said that it is properly cooked.

    Let us move on to puddings. The proof of the pudding is in the eating. The Treaty of Versailles was flawed because war broke out. The key objective of the Treaty as set out in the preamble was "THE ALLIED AND ASSOCIATED POWERS being equally desirous that the war...should be replaced by a firm and durable peace". It wasn't, and for that very reason the Treaty was flawed. Anything else is merely an argument about the respects in which it was flawed.

    Roberts is trying to demonstrate that the terms of the Treaty were objectively not too harsh, but that is a fools game. By what standard is he judging harshness? The key thing is that most Germans and very many non-Germans, over the coming years, considered it too harsh. The Treaty did not win the hearts and minds of the vanquished and did not win the hearts and minds of a considerable number of the victors and neutrals either.

    Roberts says a key problem was the USA's failure to stand by the terms of the Treaty; but that is false history. The USA never ratified the Treaty. The text as signed never got past the Senate. Wilson agreed to terms he couldn't persuade his Senators to ratify. That was a problem with the text that was signed. The Senate was under no duty to agree to everything Wilson signed. Wilson knew that he had to get Senate approval and should not have agreed to something he would have difficulty persuading the Senate to agree with.

    Roberts' advocates a peace treaty returning to the pre-1870 status quo, but what had happened in the subsequent 50 years is that a German polity had developed. The citizens of the core of the Empire saw themselves as Germans rather than Hanoverians or Frankfurters. Does Roberts propose they were going to be forced apart at the point of a gun? They would inevitably re-coalesce by means of customs unions and alliances. That polity wasn't broken by 45 years of Cold War separation. How were the allies of 1919 going to achieve it.

    A key problem with the Treaty of Versailles was that there were no transfers of peoples. Versailles and the other peace treaties adhered to the principle of self-determination of subject peoples (or at least those subject peoples who caught the eye of Wilson, Clemenceau and Lloyd George-the Ruthenians and Curalians were not so lucky) but also wished to ensure the new states created were viable entities. Without population transfers that meant that new subject peoples belonging solely to the defeated powers were created. Germany and those peoples wanted reunification from the outset. Silesians and Sudatens did not perceive themselves as Poles or Czechoslovaks and the same was largely true of Danzigers. There were successes, but they were minor ones; the Alanders (Swedes) remained with the newly independent Finland and have not quibbled too much about it.

    When the map of Europe was redrawn after WWII, the same mistakes were not made. When Poland was moved west, the Germans were thrown out of the lands of the new Poland but in addition the Poles were displaced from the city of Wilno to create the new Lithuanian capital of Vilnius. Trieste was divided on ethnic lines between Italians and Slovenians. The Karelians and Germans were removed from what were to become the Russian cities of Viborg and Kaliningrad.

    The Americans, with French support, primarily saw the monarchies of central Europe as the cause of the war and only one enemy monarchy was allowed to survive, Bulgaria. Moreover Finland was not allowed to acquire a German king. They saw the power to make war as being under the personal control of the sovereign and outside civilian Parliamentary control in the defeated powers. This view extended to the causes of the Russian civil war, then underway. That was probably a mistaken analysis. The Austrian and German Emperors went to war because of pressure from their peoples and not in spite of it.
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    (Original post by nulli tertius)
    Let's look at the problems with Roberts' (and your) thesis.

    First of all Roberts is internally inconsistent. In his first paragraph he seeks to argue that the Treaty is not flawed but in the second and third, he asserts that it is flawed but just not in the way others argue it is flawed. The fact the meat is raw rather than burned, means that it still can't be said that it is properly cooked.

    Let us move on to puddings. The proof of the pudding is in the eating. The Treaty of Versailles was flawed because war broke out. The key objective of the Treaty as set out in the preamble was "THE ALLIED AND ASSOCIATED POWERS being equally desirous that the war...should be replaced by a firm and durable peace". It wasn't, and for that very reason the Treaty was flawed. Anything else is merely an argument about the respects in which it was flawed.

    Roberts is trying to demonstrate that the terms of the Treaty were objectively not too harsh, but that is a fools game. By what standard is he judging harshness? The key thing is that most Germans and very many non-Germans, over the coming years, considered it too harsh. The Treaty did not win the hearts and minds of the vanquished and did not win the hearts and minds of a considerable number of the victors and neutrals either.

    Roberts says a key problem was the USA's failure to stand by the terms of the Treaty; but that is false history. The USA never ratified the Treaty. The text as signed never got past the Senate. Wilson agreed to terms he couldn't persuade his Senators to ratify. That was a problem with the text that was signed. The Senate was under no duty to agree to everything Wilson signed. Wilson knew that he had to get Senate approval and should not have agreed to something he would have difficulty persuading the Senate to agree with.

    Roberts' advocates a peace treaty returning to the pre-1870 status quo, but what had happened in the subsequent 50 years is that a German polity had developed. The citizens of the core of the Empire saw themselves as Germans rather than Hanoverians or Frankfurters. Does Roberts propose they were going to be forced apart at the point of a gun? They would inevitably re-coalesce by means of customs unions and alliances. That polity wasn't broken by 45 years of Cold War separation. How were the allies of 1919 going to achieve it.

    A key problem with the Treaty of Versailles was that there were no transfers of peoples. Versailles and the other peace treaties adhered to the principle of self-determination of subject peoples (or at least those subject peoples who caught the eye of Wilson, Clemenceau and Lloyd George-the Ruthenians and Curalians were not so lucky) but also wished to ensure the new states created were viable entities. Without population transfers that meant that new subject peoples belonging solely to the defeated powers were created. Germany and those peoples wanted reunification from the outset. Silesians and Sudatens did not perceive themselves as Poles or Czechoslovaks and the same was largely true of Danzigers. There were successes, but they were minor ones; the Alanders (Swedes) remained with the newly independent Finland and have not quibbled too much about it.

    When the map of Europe was redrawn after WWII, the same mistakes were not made. When Poland was moved west, the Germans were thrown out of the lands of the new Poland but in addition the Poles were displaced from the city of Wilno to create the new Lithuanian capital of Vilnius. Trieste was divided on ethnic lines between Italians and Slovenians. The Karelians and Germans were removed from what were to become the Russian cities of Viborg and Kaliningrad.

    The Americans, with French support, primarily saw the monarchies of central Europe as the cause of the war and only one enemy monarchy was allowed to survive, Bulgaria. Moreover Finland was not allowed to acquire a German king. They saw the power to make war as being under the personal control of the sovereign and outside civilian Parliamentary control in the defeated powers. This view extended to the causes of the Russian civil war, then underway. That was probably a mistaken analysis. The Austrian and German Emperors went to war because of pressure from their peoples and not in spite of it.
    I am starting to think that TSR should create an honorary degree just to give one to you
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    (Original post by nulli tertius)
    A key problem with the Treaty of Versailles was that there were no transfers of peoples. Versailles and the other peace treaties adhered to the principle of self-determination of subject peoples (or at least those subject peoples who caught the eye of Wilson, Clemenceau and Lloyd George-the Ruthenians and Curalians were not so lucky) but also wished to ensure the new states created were viable entities. Without population transfers that meant that new subject peoples belonging solely to the defeated powers were created. Germany and those peoples wanted reunification from the outset. Silesians and Sudatens did not perceive themselves as Poles or Czechoslovaks and the same was largely true of Danzigers. There were successes, but they were minor ones; the Alanders (Swedes) remained with the newly independent Finland and have not quibbled too much about it.

    When the map of Europe was redrawn after WWII, the same mistakes were not made. When Poland was moved west, the Germans were thrown out of the lands of the new Poland but in addition the Poles were displaced from the city of Wilno to create the new Lithuanian capital of Vilnius. Trieste was divided on ethnic lines between Italians and Slovenians. The Karelians and Germans were removed from what were to become the Russian cities of Viborg and Kaliningrad.
    I think there is a significant problem with this thesis. The idea that homogeneity brings peace and that ethnic minorities outside their "home country" are inherently a cause of tension is problematic. Apart from that it's now widely considered a rather horrific crime, there are plenty of counterexamples. The huge Greece-Turkey and India-Pakistan "population exchanges" didn't bring peace between countries there. There was no inherent reason why Silesians and Sudetens should have been any more of a problem to Poland and Czechoslovakia respectively than Schweizerdeutsch, South Tyroleans, and Eupen-Malmedians are to Switzerland, Italy and Belgium respectively nowadays. That the post-1945 borders in Eastern Europe have, for the most part, remained secure, has much more to do with the iron fist of the Red Army being present for nearly half a century after their creation than it does with increased ethnic homogeneity.

    Ethnic heterogeneity becomes a cause of conflict when it is mobilised and politicised as such, rather than inherently causing tension.
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    This is one of the reasons I reject moderation. Germany should either have been treated with kindness after WW1 or absolutely crushed without mercy.
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    I think an important question to ask is that, if imperial Germany had been in the position of the victor, would they have treated their vanquished opponents with mercy?

    Let's look at a really harsh treaty, the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, which Imperial Germany forced a defeated Bolshevik Russia to sign in 1917. Let's see how that treaty deprived the Russians of 55 million of their population, large tracts of their lands won since 1878 and much of their natural resources. Observe the plentiful number of German puppet states created in Eastern Europe. See this being implemented on a Europe-wide scale, with a German ruling class at the head of an authoritarian, racist, militaristic state holding sway over all of Europe, and a bunch of Slavic serfs at the bottom. See aggressive settler colonialism of the kind that would make Israel look decent to a lot of its haters. See genocides, forced deportations, ethnic cleansings and general unpleasantness continent-wide. See an unpredictable, dangerous and erratic Kaiser empowered to carry out his most vicious, fascistic fantasies (i.e. bombarding New York). See the German Empire steadily pushing Britain into the position of a client state. See an Ottoman Empire empowered (and infected with German-sponsored Islamic extremism) to carry out even more violence than was customary against its minorities. See a German Empire invading South America and challenging U.S. hegemony.

    If you want an idea of how the German Empire treated its minorities:

    "In the German province of Alsace-Lorraine, acquired by conquest from France thirty years earlier, there was discontent when a new German Secretary of State was appointed for the province. He had hitherto ruled the Danish majority in North Schleswig, another German imperial conquest of the nineteenth century, and had been hated for his hostility to the Danes under his control; he had even placed restrictions on the use of the Danish language on all those living in the province.
    "The swift growth of the Polish population in those parts of East Prussia which ,at the end of the eighteenth century, had been part of the Polish sovereign lands partitioned by Germany, Austria and Russia, was becoming a further cause for internal dissent. There was astonishment throughout Europe when, that December, twenty Polish schoolchildren in the town of Wreschen who refused to say their prayers in German, a language they did not understand, were flogged. On hearing their children's cries their parents broke into the school, but were expelled by the police, and several sent to prison for up to two and a half years for having used abusive language to the forces of order. The highest sentence went to a widow with six children.
    "...The policy of trying to turn the Polish-speaking population into a German-speaking one had begun fifteen years earlier, under Bismarck. It was paralleled by the German government's purchase of considerable tracts of land in the Posen region and the settlement of Germans there, but this only further exacerbated the feeling of the Poles against the Germans.
    "The German government was determined to suppress all Polish national sentiment. The Polish language was not allowed to be taught in schools - though it could not be forbidden in homes -and Poles were excluded from the civil service, which included the teaching professions. During a raid on several Polish-language newspaper offices, documents were found which confirmed the desire of the Poles inside the German Empire for a national future for Poland, when it would no longer be divided between three empires. Several editors and thirteen Polish students were arrested and imprisoned.
    "The crisis continued for many months. It intensified when the German Chancellor, von Bülow, in an interview at the beginning of the following year with the Berlin correspondent of the Paris Figaro, characterized Germans as hares and Poles as rabbits, telling the journalist: 'If in this park I were to put ten hares and five rabbits, next year I should have fifteen hares and a hundred rabbits. It is against such a phenomenon that we mean to defend German national unity in the Polish provinces.' The real problem confronting the Germans was not numbers, however, but, as the chief burgomaster of Posen, a Prussian official, commented, the rise of a vigorous Polish middle class. With this group, whose activities in business and the professions were impressive, the Polish national movement was ceasing to be aristocratic, as it had been in the past, and was becoming democratic and radical. Its appeal was thus far wider than it had been half a century earlier.
    Other observers noted that it was not only the Poles in East Prussia, where they constituted 10 percent of the population, but those Poles scattered in many areas of the German Empire, including nearly 20,000 in Berlin, 90,000 in Westphalia and 25,000 in the Rhineland, who were being attracted to Polish nationalism. They published their own newspapers, had their own social clubs, and generally held themselves apart from the Germans among whom they lived."-Martin Gilbert, A History of the Twentieth Century, Volume One: 1900-1933 (HarperCollins Publishers, 1997, p.47-49).
 
 
 
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