Q.5 (c) “The Treaty of Versailles was merely an armistice for twenty years.” Comment.
The Treaty of Versailles was peace document signed at the end of World War I between the victor Allied Powers and defeated Germany. The goal following World War I was to restore European stability and maintain everlasting peace. However, these goals were recognized by all of the leaders as not easily achievable. French Prime Minister Clemenceau commented on the day the armistice was signed on 11 November 1918, “We have won the war: now we have to win the peace, and it may be more difficult.” The French politician Marshal Foch, as the Versailles Treaty was being signed, stated rather prophetically, “This is not peace; it is an armistice for 20 years.”
The treaty of Versailles failed to achieve long term peace and the Second World War started in 1939. This can be explained by following facts about the treaty of Versailles:
- The Versailles Treaty, hastily put together, was vague, exposed the Allies’ inability to cooperate toward an agreement, and fueled German nationalism from resentment over her treatment by the Allies in the treaty.
- It was a dictated peace: The Germans were not allowed into the discussions at Versailles. It was humiliation of Germany. It would have been reasonable to allow Germans to present their case in the discussion, which would have toned down some of the harsh terms of the treaty.
- National self-determination: Germans had genuine cause for protest on the question of national self-determination. Right from the start of the peace conference the Allies had emphasized that all nationalities should have the right to choose which country they wanted to belong to. This principle had been applied in the case of non-Germans; but the settlement left around a million Germans under Polish rule, and almost three million in the Sudetenland controlled by the new state of Czechoslovakia. In addition, Austria was a completely German state with a population of some seven million. All these Germans wanted to become part of Germany, but the unification of Germany and Austria was specifically forbidden in the agreement.
- The splitting of Germany into two by creation of the Polish corridor and cession to Poland of a large slice of the industrial area of Silesia were most offensive to Germany.
- The loss of African colonies: German colonies were mandated to Allied powers for administration under mandate system, but in reality Allied powers like Britain and France distributed German colonies among themselves, without admitting that they did. This was unfair to Germany.
- The disarmament clause: Germany laid down arms in the hope that her action would be followed by a general limitation of the armaments of all nations as proposed in Wilson’s 14 points, but it did not happen and Germany had good reason to complain. It was ideal to expect that a great nation like Germany would submit for an indefinite time to discrimination in the matter of armament. A small state like Belgium should be superior to Germany in armament and soldiers seems absurd.
- The ‘War Guilt’ clause: Germans objected to solely blamed for the outbreak of the World War. Although Germany was a major factor in the outbreak of the war, she was not solely responsible.
- Reparation: While a huge indemnity was imposed on Germany, her natural resources were reduced. One cannot starve a goose and expect it to lay golden eggs. Later Germany refused to accept the terms of reparations.
- The whole scheme seemed designed to keep Germany in perpetual subjection. The terms were not merely harsh and inequitable but betrayed a lack of sincerity and good faith on the part of the victor powers. Twenty years was roughly the length of time it would take a new-born generation of Germans to grow to adulthood and get ready to come back for revenge for their humiliation in 1919.